You should know by now that TF.N is in the middle of a week-long focus on Star Wars author Abel G. Peña.
All four parts of our interview with him are now on-line, so today, we're shifting the emphasis slightly.
Abel is, of course, known to Star Wars fans primarily as a writer: a wordsmith and an alchemist of ideas.
So, what follows is my personal review and response—perhaps homage would be the better term—to one of my favourite pieces of his Star Wars writing....
Check back tomorrow for another update!
Droids, Technology, and the Force: A Review by Paul Urquhart
Droids, Technology and the Force: A Clash of Phenomena is a quintessential piece of Abel G. Peñaís writing.
As with much of his work, the theme seems deceptively simple. Itís about the technology of the Star Wars Galaxy, and the way it interacts with the Force, the mystical energy field that binds the Galaxy together. However, that simple descriptive statement disguises a much more complex question: what is the nature of that interaction?
Perhaps the most obvious thing to say is that the questions being posed here arenít just about Star Wars. Science fiction and fantasy are often a means of confronting issues that have relevance and resonance in a wider world. In this case, that means questions of how technology interfaces with instinct and intuition, and how consciousness relates to physical reality.
You could say that the theme of the piece is about the shared frontier where science and spirituality meet, although I wonder if thatís being presented here as rather a false duality, masking the underlying cohesion and mystery of existence. More fundamentally, Droids, Technology and the Force can be read as a meditation on the imponderable question of the origins of consciousness, on the nature and definition of life—and of reality.
Of course, this is also a virtuoso piece of Star Wars writing. It is a seminal discussion of a topic (or two) that will probably occur to most people whoíve ever paid even passing attention to the Star Wars movies. How Ďaliveí are the droids—or perhaps, more precisely, how like us are they? And how does the seemingly-imponderable mysticism of the Jedi work within the high-tech setting of an interstellar civilization?
In exploring these topics, the article synthesises a vast body of information, culled from a bewildering number of different Star Wars stories. That approach is typical Peña, and appropriately enough for an article dealing with concepts of interface, it works to more than one aim: it creates a narrative tone for the piece, a Borges-like sense of depth and Ďrealityí for the reader, and a feeling of intellectual satisfaction for the dedicated fanboy who can follow all the allusions being made.
And, given that Droids, Technology and the Force was released in the run-up to Revenge of the Sith, all of this falls in place very neatly around the figure of the lightsaber-wielding cyborg General Grievous, a character for whom Peña himself would later develop the backstory, and who serves as an existentialist statement of the awkward questions that this short article is asking.
At this point, though, I think itís worth taking a step back. Thereís a combination of two topics here, one that is so productive and effective that it might be easy to overlook how separate they seem when placed side-by-side on the page. What, exactly, is it that unites artificial intelligence, and the Force?
Well, itís worth bearing in mind that both topics are ultimately aspects of Star Wars, complimentary elements of the wider themes that George Lucas set out to explore in the 1970s. And thus, we return to the abstract questions outlined at the start of this review.
But, of course, as we cross that border again, we find ourselves confronted with another juxtaposition, and another connection, one between truth and fiction. The universal themes of metaphysics are combined with a piece of what is essentially narrative fiction. But what better way to ask questions about the nature of reality and intelligence?
Is there perhaps a parallel between the act of contemplating the oddly-expressive face of a droid, and the act of reading a story: does the creation look back at you, taking on a life of its own, and calmly posing questions of the reality thatís borne it?
In fact, these questions (and a number of others) are announced at the very start of the piece. Abel G, Peña is credited here as Ďtranslatorí, from an original by Tam Azur-Jamin. That name might not mean much to many readers, but itís a typically Peñaesque detail.
Tam is a very minor character in the New Jedi Order novels, mentioned a mere handful of times over the course of nineteen books, with dialogue in just one or two scenes. Almost the only thing we know about him is that his father is a cyborg Jedi Knight who mysteriously disappeared fighting the Yuuzhan Vong.
Not only does that make him an appropriate character to tell this story, but the unanswered questions over his fatherís disappearance give him his own private reasons for being interested in this subject—underlayering the apparently factual and common-sense treatment of information here with a hidden depth of psychological drive... and also, incidentally, creating narrative connections to events chronicled elsewhere in the authorís oeuvre.
And of course, rising back to the surface of the story, that choice of narrative point-of-view frames two important questions that circle back to the perennial quest to understand the nature of reality: authorial bias, and the treason of translation.
You might think that would be the end of it—but a sharp-eyed friend tells me that the text of the article has subtly changed at several points in the months since it first appeared on-line.
Just when the readers think theyíre tightening their grip on what theyíre being told, it slips further from their grasp again....