The Velvet Underground and Nico (33 1/3), Joe Harvard
Ringo: With a Little Help, Michael Seth Starr
Cyber Way, Alan Dean Foster
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Alan Dean Foster
Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut
In his introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut says:
A short story, because of its physiological and psychological effects on a human being, is more closely related to Buddhist styles of meditation than it is to any other form of narrative entertainment.
What you have is this volume, then, and in every other collection of short stories, is a series of Buddhist catnaps.
I think 23 Buddhist Catnaps would have been a better title than Bagombo Snuff Box, which has a certain elan but tells you nothing of what lies within. It was a great read, though. My experience of the book was just as Kurt describes his experience of the Saturday Evening Post as a teenager:
While I am reading, my pulse and breathing slow down. My high school troubles drop away. I am in a pleasant state somewhere between sleep and restfulness.
Over and over I would crack open Snuff Box and time and space would drop away. Only once it was over would I return to the cafe or the sofa or whatever. I was bummed to finish this book. A rereading of Welcome to the Monkey House is probably next.
Other than that, it was another slack month for book reading. I finished Cyber Way in the first few days and proceeded to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 Star Wars book.
I know I read Splinter when it came out in 1978; I would have been not quite 11. I remember being perplexed by it. It strikes a very different, much more grown-up, tone than the original Star Wars. This is how it begins:
How beautiful was the universe, Luke thought. How beautifully flowing, glorious and aglow like the robe of a queen. Ice-black clean in its emptiness and solitude, so unlike the motley collage of spinning dust motes men called their worlds, where the human bacteria throve and multiplied and slaughtered one another. All so that one might say he stood a little taller than his fellows.
In depressed moments he felt sure there was no really happy living matter on any of those worlds. Only a plethora of destructive human diseases which fought and raged constantly against one another, a sequence of cancerous civilizations which fed on its own body, never healing yet somehow not quite dying.
Who knew Luke Skywalker was such a deep thinker? As I read on, Splinter became more action-oriented, but occasionally there would be these philosophical asides. How, I found myself wondering, had this book come to be? Remember, this was 1978, before there was an entire universe of Star Wars-related media. According to Wikipedia (which I trust on this subject more than any other):
In 1976, Alan Dean Foster was contracted to ghostwrite a novelization of Star Wars. Foster was given some drafts of the script, rough footage and production paintings for use as source material in fleshing out the novel. His contract also required a second novel, to be used as a basis for a low-budget sequel to Star Wars in case the film was not successful. Though Foster was granted a great deal of leeway in developing the story, a key requirement was that many of the props from the previous production could be reused when shooting the new film. Foster’s decision to place his story on a misty jungle planet was also intended to reduce set and background costs for a film adaptation. Han Solo and Chewbacca were left out, as Harrison Ford had not signed a contract to film any of the sequels at the time of the novel contract.
When Star Wars became the monster hit of all time, the Splinter storyline was abandoned in favor of The Empire Strikes Back. (Elements of it crop up both in Empire and The Return of the Jedi.) But weirdly, they went ahead and published the novel anyway — which appears to have been a pure money grab with no consideration for the confusion it would cause young minds.
In Splinter of the Mind’s Eye there is no hint that Luke and Leia are going to turn out to be siblings — a romantic entanglement between them seems to be assumed, though it is advanced very little among the machinations of the plot. Darth Vader, though featured prominently on the cover, doesn’t turn up until the last chapter — whereupon, during a light saber battle, Luke [SPOILER ALERT] ends up cutting off Vader’s arm.
To read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is to spend time in a weird parallel fictional universe, a branch that was chopped off and left to rot. The Star Wars Industrial Complex later attempted to retcon it into the timeline, placing it two years after Episode IV and one year before Episode V — which is ludicrous. You might as well say it was all a dream.
It’s a good read. Not a great one. Foster tries a little too hard to show off his literary bona fides, shoehorning ten-dollar words into fights with monsters (of which there are many). It keeps moving, though, and at just under 200 pages doesn’t tax the attention span too badly.
Because nothing is ever forgotten in the world of Star Wars, in 1996 Splinter of the Mind’s Eye became a graphic novel. More recently some genius made a trailer for the movie that might have been. I’ll leave it there for 2023; see you in the funny papers.