Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Splinter of the Mind's Eye

Alan Dean Foster Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978)
Yes, I know, but I used to gaze at this as it sat on the shelf amongst all those other lurid science-fiction titles in the little room with the books at the rear of Martins newsagent, from which I dispensed my paper round. This was the pre-VHS age, back when it was only really possible to relive the moving image by reading the book. I was twelve or thirteen and my mind boggled at the possibility of there being a book comprising an as yet untold tale of Luke and Leia and the rest, something which wasn't a film but seemed more legitimate than a comic strip, particularly when that comic strip involved a giant green rabbit; but being a novel and therefore short on pictures, it was War and Peace so far as I was concerned, as were most books not featuring the adventures of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor. Splinter of the Mind's Eye was for bigger boys, and so I never bought it or read it; and found it difficult to resist when I saw this copy more recently, seeing as how I am now myself a big boy.

Rummaging around in the February 1980 issue of Amazing Stories, as you do, I find an article on Alan Dean Foster in which Tom Staicar writes:

George Lucas contacted Foster to work with him on the story to be used as the sequel film. At that time, Lucas had to be cost-conscious about special effects requirements as it was not yet known whether Star Wars would break even or not. The writer was told to keep expensive starships and planetary vistas to a minimum and, with this in mind, Foster and Lucas developed the story.

So this would have been the second film had the first one gone tits up. I read The Empire Strikes Back as a comic book adaptation, and I'm almost certain that I've seen the film several times, but I still can't remember a fucking thing about it beyond lots of snow and freeze-dried Han Solo, so I'm not sure this wouldn't have been the better film; although of course all of this is predicated upon one regarding Star Wars as something other than a steaming pile of horse shit in the first place, and I go back and forth on that one.

One consideration which becomes apparent whilst reading Splinter of the Mind's Eye is that Star Wars is fine as a film, and it really doesn't need to be a book. I still think it's a shame how its arrival more or less killed off the thoughtful, largely dystopian science-fiction movie of the seventies, replacing it with a Dorito-chugging blockbuster narrative amounting to Flash Gordon with knobs on, condemning us all to forever experience mainstream culture as something aimed at a twelve-year old; which was never really the fault of Star Wars itself which, as a film, promised only certain specific things and did them extremely well. It was Flash Gordon, but Flash Gordon treated as a biblical epic of the fifties or sixties. As such, it never really needed to be deep or meaningful with well-rounded characters, because epic was the whole point.

This, I would suggest, is why it doesn't quite work on the printed page, or at least doesn't for me. Splinter of the Mind's Eye is pretty much a sword and sorcery quest narrative, much like Star Wars itself, in which Luke and Leia hear about a powerful gemstone which amplifies the Force, and set out to obtain the gemstone only to be thrown in prison by the local big imperial cheese on this swampy, jungle planet, but he throws them in the same cell as these big, hairy monsters, hoping the big, hairy monsters will either eat or shag them, but Luke used to read about big, hairy monsters when he was growing up on Tatooine and so he knows their language and so they team up and the big hairy monsters bend the bars of the cell and they get away and go to look for the gem, and they have roughly the sort of adventures which befell Frodo Baggins before locating the gem, but someone has grassed them up to Darth Vader who decides that he also wants the gem, and some other stuff happens. Luke occasionally looks at Leia's bum as she's bending over to pick something up and thinks Cor! I wouldn't half like to have a snog with her because he doesn't yet know she is his sister, and Leia occasionally complains about getting her princess clothes all muddy, and the little, fat robot makes an electronic farting noise and the English robot says that he shouldn't have to put up with it, and I realise I probably should have read the thing when I was twelve and better able to appreciate it.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye isn't bad, although it may be significant that I'm left without any real idea of why it should be called Splinter of the Mind's Eye. By the time he came into the orbit of George Lucas, Alan Dean Foster had acquired a reputation as someone who wrote fast and who understood the moving image. I suspect it would be unfair to call him a hack, just as it would be unfair to term Star Wars mass-produced generic science-fiction landfill, given that both date from an era in which some level of craft was still required. The narrative of the book was familiar even back in 1978, and as a novel it attempts to squeeze characterisation from characters with no real depth, but at the same time it's tightly written and efficient if lacking in surprises. Strangest of all, Splinter of the Mind's Eye has made me want to watch Star Wars again, which I suppose must count for something or other.

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