In a galaxy not so far away

The Price of the Stars — Debra Doyle & James D. MacDonald
Mageworld, book 1

Price-of-the-Stars

Back when I had my store, 1992’s The Price of Stars was pitched to me as the sort of book people who like Star Wars would like. It happens I don’t particularly care for Star Wars myself, although I am not hostile to the source material Lucas was — “inspired by” won’t attract lawsuits, right? Let’s say “inspired by” — but since my personal preferences have played almost no role in what I’ve read in the last thirteen and a half years, I have read many Star Wars novels. So. Very. Many. Stars Wars novels. Against my will, I am something of an expert in this field and so I can say with some authority that this should appeal to fans of Star Wars. Early Star Wars, that is. Not the current stuff.

In a universe where magic and science co-exist, the Mageworlds once plotted domination of the entire galaxy. Well before the novel opens, the Mages were beaten back to their homeworlds by an alliance of Adepts and more mundane forces; no doubt the Mages have learned their lesson and will never trouble the galaxy again.

Beka Rosselin-Metadi is the child of two war heroes, Jos Metadi and the Domina Perada Rosselin. Although she could have a life of high rank and public service if she wanted it, she doesn’t want it. She would much prefer to be a star pilot and she wants this badly enough that she runs away from home.

As the book opens, her father approaches Beka with an offer: she can have his ship, the justly famous Warhammer, and all she has to do to earn it is find out who was behind the recent assassination of Domina Perada Rosselin. Beka is quite open to the idea of tracking down the mastermind behind her mother’s murder.

Beka has a ship, determination, and a mentor named the Professor. Now all she needs is a ragtag band of adventurers and a series of plans, each scheme more audacious than the one before!

I will give Beka this: once she realizes the trail of evidence is just a bit too easy to follow, it doesn’t take her too long to ask “Cui bono?” It’s not the people out at the messy end of the plots winding across the galaxy, because not only are them intended as sacrificial pieces, others end up that way when they disappoint their masters once too often1. Whoever is manipulating things is careful to stay in the shadows; that alone is enough to suggest an obvious set of suspects.

The only problem is that verifying her suspicions will require infiltrating a Mageworld fortification.

I can see why, back in the long long ago, this was pitched to me as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Star Wars. It would be amazing if the parallels between the Star Wars stories and this novel were not deliberate. Unconscious imitation or parallel development2 would very remarkable but not impossible. However, the fact that Beka’s parents appear to be a thinly disguised Han Solo and Princess Leia makes me think that the parallelism is quite deliberate.

While the Star Wars books I have read are all post-2001, my memory of Star Wars tie-in novels suggests that the tie-in line was in something of a doldrums in the late 1980s and early 1990s and that the turning point was Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, which came out in June 1991. The Price of the Stars was published in … Oct 1992, sixteen months later. It could all be a coincidence but that seems like just the right time lag for someone inspired by the success of Heir to the Empire to write and publish their own swashbuckling space adventure.

Of course, maybe Doyle and MacDonald or someone at Tor thought “It’s a shame the actual Star Wars tie-in novels are not all that. I bet we could fill the niche Lucas is leaving empty,” only to get big-footed by Zahn.

[Kirk] ZZZAAAAAHHHHHHHNNNNNNN!!!!!!! [/Kirk]

In any case, Lucas’ original Star Wars was filled with … homages to older works so I can only assume that if elements of this stories were intended as homage to Star Wars, Lucas and his company would rejoice to see that custom continue.

Yet, despite the parallelisms, the Mageworlds aren’t a one-to one mapping of Star Wars. For one thing, even when the Mages are trying to be subtle, the Mages are less subtle than Palpatine and Vader. In the Mageworld universe, the Republic was never taken over from inside; the Mages didn’t spend millennia hiding from the Jedi-analogs (well, not as of the time of the novel), and there are entire skill sets they never acquired. For another thing, there’s a scene in this book that seems to exist purely to answer the question “what would have happened had Obi Wan accompanied Indiana Jones into that native temple at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc?” Nothing good for Obi Wan, I can tell you.

Modern readers should be aware that when I assert that The Price of the Stars is analogous to Star Wars, I mean that it is analogous to the comparatively hopeful Star Wars of two generations ago. In the decades since, the need to keep filling the demand for new Star Wars novels meant that the authors had to keep coming up with new threats to menace the characters. That first movie may have (eventually) been called A New Hope but what actually followed the eventual restoration of the Republic was decades of strife, alien invasions, attempted Imperial restorations and various degrees of civil war that make the Taiping Rebellion look like a warm embrace between close friends. If you’re looking for something like the old Star Wars that isn’t actually Star Wars, this is what you were looking for, whether or not you knew it.

A Kindle edition of this appears to be available from Amazon.

1: The bad guys are yet another bunch of villains whose workforce pension needs are probably quite modest.

2: For example, Man Thing versus Swamp thing. And poor Charles Sheffield discovered on two different occasions that other authors had, independently, written works using same original idea Sheffield was exploring. The central conceit of Robert Forward’s The Flight of the Dragonfly, paralleled  that ofwhat became Sheffield’s novel Summertide; Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise involved building orbital towers, as did Sheffield’s Web Between the Worlds.


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