Hacking The Dark Side

Hacking The Dark Side
A Review of Drew Karpyshyn’s “Star Wars The Old Republic: Annihilation” (Del Rey, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille
Drew Karypyshyn’s “Star Wars The Old Republic: Annihilation” is a Star Wars novel with a touch of cyberpunk. Karpyshyn explores the interaction between human and machine with a significant amount of The Force in between. The narrator, Theron Shan, is a black ops operative for the Republic. The child of a Jedi, Theron was rejected at birth by his mother, Satele Shan, because Jedi are not supposed to have children and aren’t permitted to create bonds with others. Theron, though he wasn’t raised a Jedi and didn’t have capabilities in the force, was trained to use some Jedi techniques by his adopted guardian, Ngani Zho. In addition to his training, Theron is equipped with a cybernetic implant in his eye and a spike, a device that allows him to hack into systems. 

Karpyshyn plays with the notion of prostheses and cybernetics when he creates an enemy for Theron, the Sith Lord Darth Karrid. Karrid has inherited a ship from her Sith master called The Ascendent Spear, a ship that is feared by the Republic because of its might and its level of success in battle. The Ascendent Spear holds multiple secrets, the greatest of which being its infusion with Dark Side energy and the fact that Darth Karrid is able to integrate herself into its systems and control it with her mind. The Ascendent Spear becomes a prosthesis for Karrid, an extension of her mind as well as her abilities in the force. Karpyshyn explores the border between human and machine as he integrates consciousness and technology, wrapping the two of them together. 

As much as this novel is an exploration of the relationship between human and technology, it is also a story about the personal interacting with the political. Satele is the Grand Master of the Jedi Order and, despite the demands to dissociate herself from her son, she still feels some connection to him and guilt at his abandonment. Her roles as mother and leader conflict with one another when she is forced to put Theron into battle.

Satele also fears for Jace Malcolm, former war hero and Supreme Commander of the Republic Military, who has to navigate the confusing murky territory between justice and revenge. Satele fears the potential of his war against the Sith Empire to turn him to the dark side of the force.

Karpyshyn invites the reader to question whether the personal can ever be separated from the political and how much the desire for revenge can motivate decisions in war. 

To find out more about Drew Karpyshyn, visit his website at http://drewkarpyshyn.com


A review of Don Bassingthwaite’s “Who Plays with Sin” in Bending the Landscape: Original Gay and Lesbian Writing: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cyberpunk, with its attraction to marginalized characters who live on the edge, has needed to be queered for some time, so it is refreshing to encounter a fantastic queering of the genre by Don Bassingthwaite. “Who Plays With Sin” is timely in its exploration of the ways that data can be manipulated and the ways that surveillance invades every aspect of our online presence…. and the ways that those online presences can be employed to either shore up or destroy reputations.

Thunder doesn’t conform to the typical assumptions about internet specialists, nor does he conform to assumptions about gay men. He is burly, strong, and tall, which works well for him in his position as a spider, a web master who uses the internet to seek out truths. His ability to resist stereotypes allows him to throw off those who see him, not conforming to their expectations and therefore giving him an edge in their dealings… particularly since Thunder’s world is one of rampant homophobia, where queerness has been made illegal and LGBTQ people are frequently imprisoned for their sexuality.

Thunder is a figure of resistance, resisting the passification and disempowerment of queer people. Even Thunder’s reaction to the pathologized, passivising term “homosexual” evokes a strong reaction from him: “Say ‘faggot’, say ‘queer’, say ‘gay-boy’. Even as insults, they had a raw power. Primal, street-level, animal-level. There was sex in the words. Say ‘faggot’ and there was a cock in your mouth – whether you enjoyed it or despised it, it was there. ‘Homosexual’ was cold. Clinical. Dead. Desexed, but with implications of perversity and mental illness. It was a safe word for straights, no more dangerous than a sterile tongue depressor.” Thunder illustrates the way that words can be re-appropriated for empowerment and that any image of queer people can be complicated by techniques of resistance.

This is perhaps why when he is approached by a man named Carter, who claims to be the victim of a corporate blackmail to make him seem as though he is gay and therefore subject to the potential loss of position and exile, Thunder tries to assist him to uncover the roots of this manipulation. But, Don Bassingthwaite doesn’t provide easy answers for his characters and this is a tale of convoluted messages and systems of resistance and oppression. There are no simple answers, and every message is complicated. In a world of surveillance and manipulation, nothing is easy and Bassingthwaite reminds readers that the web is always full of spiders.

To read more about the work of Don Bassingthwaite, visit his website at http://dbassingthwaite.com/ .

You can find out more about Bending the Landscape at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bending_the_Landscape .


Speculative SEXtember