Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn

New York: Del Rey, 2006, pp. 453.

Timothy Zahn's original Thrawn trilogy apart, I've read very few of the Star Wars tie-in novels. However, as the launch of Episode VII approaches, I've found myself taking another look at them, starting with those books most closely tied to the Thrawn saga. The first that I picked up was Outbound Flight, which dramatizes the titular event referenced in the Thrawn books--the attempt, led by Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth and backed by the government of the New Republic, to establish a colony outside the galaxy, which went awry in ways that factored into Zahn's earlier cycle.

As it happens, Outbound Flight runs to some 453 pages, which naturally reflects a complex plot tying together multiple threads. As is so often the case, this means that a certain amount of patience is expected on the part of the reader during some rather lengthy exposition. It may have demanded more than it should have, in fact. Much of the first third of the book or so is devoted to an intrigue on Borlak that fed into the main plot, but was in itself relatively minor. It seemed all the more marginal because its principal viewpoint characters were Obi-Wan and the young Anakin--who simply drop out of the story of Outbound Flight prior to its climax, rather than playing any role in the key events later in the tale.

Still, when I got to those events they did justify that patience. Offering plenty of plot twists and action, they culminate in a multi-sided confrontation involving Darth Sidious' agents, Outbound Flight, the Chiss and a party of human smugglers caught in between (among all of whom there are still other, smaller divisions). In writing it Zahn pulls off the considerable feat of making intricate, briskly paced and lucid all at the same time in a technical tour de force that far exceeds anything in the Thrawn trilogy. The book's presentation of the original C'baoth, and the future Admiral Thrawn as a young officer of the Chiss Ascendancy's Expansionary Defense Force, also have their interest, both within these events, and as background to the other books--their depictions lengthier and fuller than the Thrawn trilogy offered. All this helped to make the result a lot more satisfying than I expected, as both an elaboration of the Expanded Universe, and plain old pulp space opera.

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