Crystal Zevon: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

Crystal Zevon’s biography of perennially misunderstood and mis-marketed songwriter Warren Zevon takes a holographic approach to the musician’s life (and death). Crystal Zevon (a former wife) provides chunks of bridging text, but the book consists mostly of brief chronologically-arranged snippets from an impressive array of Zevon’s family, friends, lovers, collaborators, and (most importantly) excerpts from Warren Zevon’s own copious journals. The book does a remarkable job of assembling a multi-dimensional portrait of a complex and, in many ways, contradictory character.

In her acknowledgments Crystal Zevon writes,

Over the three years [of writing the book] I … fell in and out of love hundreds of times. There were weeks when I was sure I’d hate him forever; nights when I’d cry myself to sleep missing the sound of his voice; and many moments when I wondered how I could expose what he’d asked me to expose … I’d made a promise to tell the whole truth — “even the awful, ugly parts.”

I suspect that many readers will have an experience similar in character, if less intense and personal. I’m glad I read Miles Davis’ autobiography Miles first; that was a formative experience for me in resolving conflict between enormous respect for a musical talent, and repugnance at the man behind that talent sometimes being a real shit. There were many points in Zevon’s story before he got sober where it was hard to have any sympathy for him at all. Even the sober Warren Zevon was hell on anyone he was romantically with, and often hard to deal with for most who knew him. It seems unlikely, for instance, that the world would have had any of his “comeback” records from the mid-80’s on, if not for the perseverance of Andy Slater:

..when [the record company executives] got to Warren, somebody said…”We’re going to terminate him.”
I stood up and said, “Terminate him? He’s the best artist we have.”
There’s all this harrumphing and one of the principles said, Slater, he’s 180,000 dollars in debt [to the I.R.S.], he doesn’t live her anymore, he has no record deal, and he doesn’t want to work.” I said, “Yeah, but he’s a great artist. And he’s the best writer here.” This guy says, “Then you manage him.”

After weeks of coaxing, Slater gets Zevon started on the road that led to his album Sentimental Hygeine, and his first substantive experiences with sobriety. Throughout their association, Zevon continues to use Slater hard:

I got a call from Warren. He said, “I’m in big trouble, Andy. You’ve got to help me. This girl is pregnant. I’m not in love with her, and I don’t want to be with her, and she’s going to have the kid. You’ve got to come here and explain my life to her.” I said, “Okay.”

but ultimately, even Slater gets fed up:

When I went to rehab, Warren was finally in good financial shape, sober, had a healthy touring base, and was about to release a new record. I called him from treatment… I said “What’s going on? How’s the record? blah blah blah.” He said, “Yeah, it’s going fine. I’ve got to talk to you about something.” He says, “Look, Andy, I just got off the phone with Irving [Azoff]. He said that if I fire you … he’ll really work my record and I’ll get better promotion and marketing… I think I’m going to do it.”
I hung the phone up, and thank God I was in treatment…It was devastating to me because here was somebody I had been friends with for almost ten years. I had … made it my mission to get him back in the record business when he was drunk and living in Philadelphia. I had taken him to rehab three times…Then, when I had a problem, he wasn’t there.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is subtitled “The Dirty Live and Times of Warren Zevon.” Like all of the chapter titles, it’s a phrase drawn from one of Zevon’s song titles. Crystal Zevon admits to drawing a veil over the most baldly pornographic of Zevon’s reminisces, but there are racy bits a-plenty:

I invited Jeanette over and we made love, wonderful. Feel great. Went to the tanning place. Sure enough, there was Susan & before I knew it we were fucking on the carpet, then on the tanning bed.

But in addition to the typical trashy rock star excesses of sex, booze, and tax woes, and the less typical excesses of Calvin Klein gray shirts, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead offers more than the usual share of insight into Zevon’s artistic process. And that’s ultimately what makes it a compelling and moving read.

Needs More Demons? Ye gods, no.

Glen Matlock: I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol

I’ve whined recently about how the London punk scene of ’76-77 gets such a disproportionate share of media attention. So why’d I pick up Matlock’s book? Because his is one of the first-person perspectives I haven’t seen. Lydon’s and McLaren’s versions are amply documented. But Matlock’s part in the Pistols actually ends when Sid Vicious joins the band, and much of the Sex Pistols legend as punk icons kicks into high gear.

Matlock’s musical contributions to the band also fascinate me. I’m convinced that the strange alchemy between Matlock and Steve Jones is at least as important to the band’s enduring success as Lydon’s characteristic sonic sneers and McLaren’s image-mongering. Matlock wrote lovely pop songs and Jones stripped away the fiddly bits and reduced them to their elemental essence. (The fantastic EMI documentary Never Mind the Bollocks has many examples of this process in action).

Matlock (with help from co-author Pete Silverton) proves a breezy and entertaining narrator unburdened by false modesty. He’s got about as little patience for the myth that the Pistols couldn’t play as I do. He portrays McLaren as more of an opportunist than a master manipulator, and since he worked in McLaren’s shop even before it was renamed Sex, his is presumably a well-informed opinion. His account of the infamous Anarchy tour is markedly different than the others I’ve read; he was insulated from the press furor and mostly remembers being dead bored in hotel rooms.

A brief quote will give you a feel for the book’s flavor, and also show why Matlock didn’t ultimately fit well with the band:

…What they were interested in was prostitutes. It was all, let’s go and get Glen a tart. It may sound like I was a party-pooper but I wasn’t interested. One, I had my eye on a girl at the Paridiso [the club where the band was booked]. Two, I had a couple of songs to work on and one of the songs I wrote there turned out to be “Rich Kids” which sold 100,000 copies, thank you very much. So sod going off after a tart.

I read the original 1990 edition, but indicates that Matlock has revised the book with new material covering the recent reunion tours. Dang. I might have to read it again.

Needs More Demons? Not really.

Laurie J. Marks: Fire Logic

A curmudgeonly speculative-fiction fan I used to know had rules for avoiding crap books that went more or less like this:

  • Nothing with swords or dragons in the title or the cover
  • Nothing with a map of imaginary places at the front

There are many counter-examples to prove the rules, and even more bad books not filtered by them, but they do eliminate a lot of books I’m pretty sure I don’t need to read (I’ve had my lifetime quota of lame Tolkien knockoffs, thanks). I usually think twice before picking up a sword-y or dragon-y book, and the presence of a map is not likely to sway me toward an impulse purchase. Fire Logic has a big sword on the cover and a map in the front. I’d also be inclined to add a rule about titles that define the context of a series: Fire Logic, especially once you learn a little about the set up, implies that Earth Logic, Water Logic, and Air Logic will follow. Poor Fire Logic had three strikes against it before I’d read even a word.

So why did I read it? The third volume in the series is published by Small Beer Press. I have great faith and trust in their editorial judgment; their track record of publishing the kind of books I like is virtually flawless. In their promotional material, clearly aware that their audience might be leery of a mainstream fantasy tetralogy, they went to some pains to assure potential readers that this was not a standard issue heroic fantasy.

And indeed it’s not. What struck me most about this novel was its sense of place. Shaftal, despite a name that still strikes me as silly, feels like a nation where people could really live, not a sketchy setting for events of import to befall heroes and villains. There’s no incarnation of evil bent on utter subjugation of the world; there are invaders and a resistance, and the readers sympathies — and many of the characters’ — are tugged back and forth by the choices that people make. There is magic, but it’s not of the gaudy, lightning-bolts-from-the-fingers variety. Marks doesn’t belabor the principles by which magic operates, but they nonetheless feel internally consistent (a neat trick).

Marks’ society is very thoroughly egalitarian, few of the central characters are heterosexual, and nobody in the novel makes a big deal over anyone’s gender or sexual preference. It makes many of the standard fantasy genre tropes look very reactionary. I’m no expert, but I certainly can’t think of any fantasy set in a pre-industrial society as gender-neutral as Fire Logic. (In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ day, heroes could of course stumble upon cities, islands, or planets ruled by women — but ultimately that seems just as non-feminist: “Oh look, Dr. Jameson! The women are in charge! How very queer indeed!”)

On the down side, much of the plot was a little too military-oriented for my personal taste, and while Marks’ characters usually emerge as well-rounded, I could wish they were fundamentally a little farther from standard-issue fantasy types in aspects other than sexual orientation. Marks’ dialog has a realistic flow and is blessedly free of faux archaisms, but that makes her prose look a little dense and early 20th-century by comparison. But the bottom line is that I liked Fire Logic quite a bit, and I look forward to reading the next volume.

Needs More Demons? Nope.

Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (eds); Slipstreams

Pretty much ever since the genres science fiction, fantasy, and horror have existed as distinct marketing categories, there have been periodic movements seeking to un-define them as such. In the 60’s there was “The New Wave.” In the 80’s some bruited about the awkward, demi-hemispherist phrase “North American magical realism.” And more recently, an unruly amalgam of authors have had their work variously labeled as “new wave fabulism,” “interstitial writing,” and “slipstream.” I dislike “slipstream” least of these terms. It’s less clunky than “new wave fabulism” and not burdened with mis-associations to 20th-century European cinema, the first New Wave of science fiction, or ridiculously big hair and synthesizers. “Interstitial writing” implies a negative relationship where I think an additive relationship is appropriate; existing in the interstices between genres suggests “neither fish nor fowl” instead of the more accurate “both fish and fowl.” Also, it’s hard to spell. The literal meaning of “slipstream” — the reduced zone of pressure behind a moving object (a.k.a., why birds fly in “V”-formations) — doesn’t apply either, but at least it suggests something hard to get a hold of.

The urge of speculative fiction authors to escape their marketing categories is driven, it seems to me, by sour grapes on both sides. Genre authors who aspire to more than simple escapist tale-telling resent the prestigious awards and publication venues available to “serious” or “literary” authors (most famously The New Yorker). On the other hand, “serious” authors resent the megabucks available to the upper sales echelon of the genre authors.

The debate may seem silly to anyone outside it. Works of “serious” literature have frequently incorporated fantastic elements since the very dawn of literature, no matter when you choose to place the dawn (Homer, Beowulf, Milton, Rabelais…). And many of the canonical great authors wrote their books in an era where the novel was considered an intrinsically frivolous and unworthy work; the idea that critical acclaim should come during an author’s own lifetime is a comparatively new one. But SF writers take their genre-name wrangling very, very seriously. And it’s true that the likes of Dickens didn’t invalidate their work by publishing in markets geared toward the cheap seats. And it’s also true that the prestige markets nowadays are publishing work from writers like Chabon, Lethem, Saunders, and Wallace that are much like the best of the work in the best of the genre publications.

Of course, the advocates for the best of the genre authors tend to downplay the fact that there is also an awful lot of purely escapist genre work published, and a great deal of that, bluntly, is badly written and unworthy of more serious consideration. You know — all those books with dragons, bare-chested strong-thewed warriors, and/or battling spaceships (let’s ignore for the moment the confusing irrelevancy that a tiny fraction of books with those illustrations are actually not crap).

Many smarter minds than mine have considered the problem of how to distinguish the good stuff. I’ve come up with my own test, the Is-it-bigger-than-a-breadbox? test. Here’s how it works: You could describe Hamlet as a ghost story in which a vengeful spirit convinces a young man to murder his uncle, ultimately leading to his own doom. But if you describe Hamlet strictly in genre terms, you fail to capture the essence of the play. It doesn’t fit in the ghost-story breadbox. In the same way, if you describe Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” as a ghost story in which a vengeful spirit claims the life of two children, you fail to capture its essence; it doesn’t fit in the ghost-story breadbox either. In fact, that description isn’t necessarily even accurate, and part of the story’s essence (I’d argue) is that it doesn’t fit in the breadbox; it defies the narrative expectations of the conventional ghost story.

The breadbox test has a catch, which is this: If the story fits into different genre breadboxes — ghost-story and hardboiled detective fiction, say — it’s still breadboxable. To escape the conventions of genre, a work has to fail to fit in any genre breadbox.

This is the great failing of Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers’ theme anthology Slipstreams, one of several recent books released to capitalize on interest in this movement. In Helfers’ introduction, he confesses that he doesn’t quite get what this slipstream stuff is supposed to be (I have the distinct impression he hasn’t read any of it), so he asked his authors to submit stories which combined two genres. Unfortunately, few of the results are impressive; most have a paint-by-numbers predictability to them.

Far and away the best story was Jane Liskold’s “Menu for Life…and Death.” Despite a title which telegraphs more of the plot than it needs to, this combination of cookbook and fatal love triangle was striking and unusual. Other than that, I liked the stories where one of the other genres was detective fiction best, although that may be because I generally prefer detective fiction to westerns or war stories. Robert Sawyer’s “Biding Time” actually suggested a new (to me, at least) motive for murder that arises from its science fictional conceit. Michael M. Jones’ hardboiled Santa “Claus of Death” is about as predictable as the lame title, and not even internally consistent, but I thought the St. Nick à la Chandler was still kinda fun; ditto the vamp sleuth of Tanya Huff’s “Critical Analysis.” Two stories demonstrate Summervillain’s First Corollary of Crap Historical Fiction: If you’re in late 19th-century London, you can scarcely take a step without tripping over Jack the Ripper. (Summervillain’s First Law of Crap Historical Fiction: No matter where or when you are, you can scarcely take a step without tripping over a famous historical personage.)

The primary reason I picked the book up was the inclusion of a story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, a writer of whom I’m a big fan. “Marrow Wood” doesn’t give her an opportunity to showcase her strengths; it’s too short to allow the compelling character development that marks her novels, and her take on faery magic is more standard and less distinctive than I usually expect from her.

When I was younger, I devoured Alan Dean Foster’s novels by the dozen, but his entry here — a tall tale/deal-with-devil hybrid — is particularly awful. Sentences like, “The result was a climatological confusion that often left him squinting to see through the resultant heavy fog,” cry out for a stern editorial hand. Russell Davis’s “The End of Spring” is perhaps the most ambitious story here, and the closest to slipstream as I define it. But it’s also one of the weakest; it punishes the reader with flat, repetitive present tense; the sentence, “The man sitting in his pickup truck is staring at the ridgeline and thinking about patterns,” appears multiple times; one of its genre components is perhaps apotheosis (if that can be considered a genre), but another is armchair psychiatrist babble.

Needs More Demons?
No, but needs more good writing.

Jennifer Trynin: Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be

If I were dictator of the world, everybody who wanted to form a band to play in front of people would be legally required to watch Standing in the Shadows of Motown first, and everyone who wanted to sign a record deal would be required to read Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be. In my dictatorial fantasy, this leads on the one hand to more bands that go back to the basement until the members learn to listen to each other, and on the other to fewer bands that sign contracts that will probably kill the band. I’m extra-sensitive on the latter point right now; a local band I like just signed a P&D deal with a Warner’s affiliate, and while I wish I could be happy for them, and hope I’m proven wrong, I think it’s unlikely the band will survive the experience. The last dozen or so sure didn’t.

But Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be is by no means only for aspiring record-deal-signers, or obsessive students of music culture. In fact, one of the awesome things about the book is how thoroughly outside-the-industry Trynin’s vantage point is. She found herself the object of an archetypical major label bidding war without having much prior knowledge of how such things work, and she doesn’t expect the reader to bring that knowledge either, nor does she get bogged down with business specifics. Although I think this memoir works well as a cautionary tale, it’s also a highly entertaining rags-to-riches-to-rags story, and Trynin brings the same sort of not-quite-what-you-expect sly wit and acuity to her prose that she once brought to her songs.

Needs More Demons? No. The only thing I want to change about this book is to tack on a feel-good happy ending where Trynin had a long, productive, if perhaps niche-y career as an independent artist. Unfortunately, although she played guitar with Loveless for a while, that hasn’t exactly come to pass so far.

While I don’t want to change the book, I do hope somebody assembles a glossary of all the names-changed-to-protect used in it, and I’m not steeped enough in Boston-ania to get very far. “Flint Raft” would seem to be Gravel Pit. “The Front Load” seems to be The Middle East. And…? Please feel free to help in comments.

Marcus Gray: The Last Gang in Town

I found Gray’s enormous, dense history of The Clash mostly fascinating, but the obviousness of Gray’s authorial agendas bugged me. The book is subtitled “The Story and Myth of the Clash,” and Gray spends a lot of effort looking for the points of divergence between the (hi)story and the myth of the band. He provides ample substantive examples of The Clash’s revisionism of their history and politics, e.g., subsequent claims that the “SS” in London SS, an early Mick Jones band and one of the earliest punk acts, was not a Nazi reference. But statements to the effect that Paul Simonon was born nearly 3 miles from Brixton he always claimed as his birthplace struck me as faintly ludicrous. If Gray were set loose in my own backstory he’d doubtless take me to task for claiming I lived in Baltimore, when in fact I always dwelt a quarter mile or more outside the city line — as well as for the shifts of my evolving political consciousness.

Gray also attempts to force events into his personal view of punk, in which the Clash (for example) are a force of positivity, and Nirvana (very explicitly) is a negative force. That’s fine. Gray is in good company, as far as I’m concerned, with many who fundamentally misunderstand Cobain’s art, and I prefer to view the punk subculture through rosy glasses sometimes myself. But in his quest to whitewash punk, Gray suggests that Sid Vicious might have been the lone bad egg in the early punk scene, and single-handedly tainted the whole movement with violence. That strikes me as not only absurd, but also as exactly the sort of revisionism for which Gray is quick to take The Clash to task.

I was also a little frustrated that something like half of the book goes by before the Clash record their first album. There was rich detail about proto-Clash London SS and the 101ers, but like many punk documents, Last Gang in Town devotes much of its length to the first flowering of punk, at the expense of everything after those first few months, which have already been minutely analyzed elsewhere.

Even though I often disagreed with Gray in particulars (I’m afraid my friends may have found me tiresome on the subject in the weeks I spent with this book) I found him thought-provoking throughout, and often both informative and insightful. Somewhat to my surprise, when I found myself facing a copy of Gray’s similarly-sized It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion, the lizard brain shrill of “buy this, buy this!” quickly won out over my top brain’s sombre muttering of “this guys annoys us.”

Needs More Demons? Maybe. But The Clash had plenty of their own.

Laurie Lindeen: Petal Pusher

Laurie Lindeen’s rags-to-well,rags chronicle of her band Zuzu’s Petals reminded strongly of Tommy Womack’s excellent and thematically similar Cheese Chronicles, with the added fillip that Laurie hooks up with someone Much More Famous midway through the band’s career arc.

Almost all of the book is written in the present tense. Lindeen is sometimes deliberately cagey about whom she implicates in various activities, with a two-of-us-got-busted (not saying which two) story being the height of obfuscation. She’s also sometimes cagey about when an event took place in relation to other events. The book more-or-less follows the band from slightly-pre-inception to its eventual disintegration. In the beginning of the book she’s flashes back from the band history to her pre-band life, but later when she flashes back from mid-to-late band timeline to earlier band timeline it gets a little confusing, and that confusion is my chief criticism. The frequent jumps backward and forward in time stop the book from being frontloaded with a lot of “here’s my life before I began to rock,” and Lindeen generally ties the flashback thematically to an event in the current timeline, but I still could have done with a little less backstory.

I’ve never been on tour, but Lindeen’s descriptions carry jolts of recognition for me anyway. If I mentally string together all the out-of-town shows I’ve played, I get a similarly grimy and unglamorous mental picture. Lindeen likes a lot the same bands I like and hates a lot of the bands I hate, and I found her a generally agreeable tourguide even when she was being kinda grumpy (she acknowledges her grumpiness, which helps). The writing is a little rough in places, but she manages quite a few very trenchant observations and made me laugh out loud several times.

I read a publisher’s galley, so I feel like it’s not fair to pick on the copy-editing. But there were a few errors so strange and confusing, that, fair or not, I was amused and bemused, like the word “nice” with a gratuitous circumflex — yes, nicê — and “die” instead of “the” on multiple occasions.

Needs More Demons? Nah.

Leslie What:Olympic Games

It was Leslie What’s contributions to Small Beer Press’s pretty-much-mostly slipstream zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that made me really take note of her name. Her stories for that magazine fit what I think of as the general mode of slipstream (or interstitial, or new-wave fabulist, or whatever you want to call it) fiction.

My inadequate definition of slipstream is that it almost always uses some of the trappings and motifs of speculative fiction, but compared to “traditional” fantasy or science fiction it’s much more concerned with literary qualities like style, voice, mood, and theme. It’s correspondingly less concerned with plot, and, to a lesser extent character development (at least in a realistic mode).

Although Olympic Games sprouted, more or less, from the slipstream story “The Goddess is Alive and, Well, Living in New York City,” the novel itself strikes me as more fantasy than slipstream, and it takes off in tangents that give the whole work a different feel and larger scope. This is definitely to its benefit; I found myself much more caught up in the story of the supernally-gifted, reclusive artist called Possum, and his ensorcelled love Penelope, and less interested in the modern world doings of Zeus and Hera. For the most part I thought What did an excellent job of steering clear of genre clichés, despite the familiar territory. The tone is mostly light, but never broadly comic, and certainly not without emotional resonance. The novel reminded me in bits and pieces of several different authors, but it didn’t seem specifically derivative of any one particular voice.

A quibble I can’t stop myself from including: If I’d judged this book by its cover, I never would’ve picked it up. Michael Dashow’s cartoonish illustration evokes the wrong mood entirely — it seems much more suited to a more overtly comic fantasist like Robert Asprin or Terry Pratchett.

cover illustration of Leslie What's novel, Olympic Games

I sometimes feel a little hamstrung by using Needs More Demons? as a metric, but, anyway, it doesn’t.

John MacLachlan Gray: The Fiend In Human

I think the first time my friend Marty and I had a conversation about books, he said something like “I read classic literature [which gave us substantial common ground] and thrillers about serial killers.” [which didn’t much increase it] and he expressed a distinct lack of fondness for modern “serious” fiction.

We’ve spent plenty of time since discussing our respective tastes in entertainment media, and I have a high opinion of his judgment. Enough so that when for Christmas he gave me a copy of what was obviously a novel about, among other things, a serial killer, I actually read it instead of just reading a summary on the Internets. (To be fair here, I gave him one more-or-less “serious” modern novel and in short order convinced him to read another one.)

And in fact, The Fiend in Human is an excellent example of the sort of serial killer fiction that actually appeals to me, not least because several of its characters actively question the role of the press in turning criminals into quasi-heroic figures, not to mention the risk of inspiring copycat crimes. Further, it’s set in a compellingly detailed Victorian London. It also has a dash of post-modern narrative “difficulty;” most of it is written in a present tense with vocabulary and sentence structures that often evoke 19th-century prose styles (“To Whitty’s surprise, the inert gentleman across the table speaks in a distant, weak voice; the open mouth does not perceptibly move,” but that also admit much more modern constructions, like the one-two-three punch that opens the first chapter:

There is something unspeakable in Whitty’s mouth. Is it a dead animal?
No, it is his tongue.

This odd marriage of styles is intermittently broken up with snippets of proto-yellow journalism penned by the protagonist, Edmund Whitty, which adhere more strictly to 19th-century prose conventions (like the dread, stilted, and infinitely conventional past tense).

One of the reasons I prefer “mysteries” to “thrillers” is that I like the puzzle aspects of whodunnits — I don’t much care for the novelistic device in which an early scene from an alternate viewpoint establishes the identity of the evildoer, so that the reader is in on the joke while the detectives flounder around. The Fiend in Human walks a tightrope between these styles; the reader knows a big piece of the mystery for certain before Whitty does; the astute reader will probably figure it out many chapters before, and the serious mystery devotee will probably catch a subtlety that eluded me.

Fortunately The Fiend in Human has much more going for it than a twisty plot; there’s some real depth to the characters, some real thematic depth to their actions, and the sheer brooding, grimy presence of Gray’s London is a marvel (his descriptions of the infamous London fogs were especially noteworthy).

I found a lot to like, and I was quite content to accept Marty’s loan of a sequel, but I also found it a little grim for my taste. Edmund Whitty and his seamy milieu are vividly drawn, but far from pleasant, and I think I need another escapist book or two before spending more time in John MacLachlan Gray’s hands.

Needs More Demons? Absolutely not; Whitty has plenty.

Barbara Hambly: Children of the Jedi

I liked Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels a lot, even if they were a somewhat guilty pleasure. Many other people apparently liked them too, because LucasFilm and Bantam Spectra cooked up a chronology spanning some fifteen years after Return of the Jedi and found writers to fill it in with dozens of novels. The back cover descriptions and the lush front cover paintings of these books touched some eternally-thirteen-year-old part of me, and I bought more of them than I will admit. Unfortunately, the adult part of me found most of them so badly and baldly written as to be totally unreadable.

Lately I’ve ditched several of these novels via Bookmooch. I’m happy to connect the books with people who really want them.

But initially I held back a handful I thought I might actually read someday, because they were written by writers whose work I already knew and had enjoyed in the past. Barbara Hambly’s Children of the Jedi was the first of these. I’d read one or two of Hambly’s fantasy novels and remembered them favorably — not great, but not as thoroughly cliché-ridden as some of the other fantasy novels I’d read.

Children of the Jedi turned out to be a perfect book to read while feverish. It wasn’t as clunky as some of the Star Wars novels that had failed to draw my interest, but it wasn’t exactly challenging either. Structurally it’s a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, cross-cutting between widely separated events in bizarre, extreme, environments. Luke Skywalker, See Threepio, and the requisite motley, unlikely, collection of allies find themselves marooned on a decrepit battle station ruled by an insane supercomputer, and haunted by a strange entity. Meanwhile, Han Solo and Princess (now Chief of State) Leia, and their assorted pals and foes try to unravel the mysteries around a secret enclave of Jedi children on a crazy planet where life exists only in fragile enclaves between a wintry surface and a volcanic molten hell. Ultimately (of course) the disparate plot threads collide, and derring-do, tense chases, Dark-Side-of-the-Force hijinks, and things-blowing-up-real-good ensue. Children of the Jedi evinces the same sort of plot flaws the original movies showed throughout — the Force has a strange tendency to become much less useful when the author needs to make it difficult for a character to surmount obstacles. I was particularly annoyed that Skywalker mysteriously, but conveniently, forgets many of the uses to which his lightsaber can be put.

Children of the Jedi trots out plenty of the standard riffs, with various folks expressing the signature “bad feeling about this” on no less than four occasions, and plenty of arms and/or hands being de-attached with lightsabers. It has some references to other series books that felt very clumsily grated on, and I think it would have be stronger if it were cut by twenty percent or so. But it also offers some quirky touches that I appreciated, like the weary ex-stormtrooper who embroiders flowers on his homespun clothing. And it kept me from focusing on how rotten I felt for a few hours — it delivered all that I asked, and expected, of it. Maybe that’s not such faint praise.

Needs More Demons? Not really.