Survivor’s Quest, by Timothy Zahn

You have got to be the most brazen con artist I’ve ever met.
Better even than Han?  Why, thank you.
It wasn’t necessarily meant as a compliment.
-Mara Jade Skywalker and Luke Skywalker

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Star Wars had faded away to a pleasant memory; the movie Return of the Jedi was years in the past, and there seemed to be no likelihood of new movies anytime soon.  Then one day, I came across something extraordinary-a brand spanking new Star Wars book-in hardcover, no less!  I wasted no time in purchasing Heir to the Empire, and by the time I was done, I immediately wanted the next one.  Unfortunately, it would be a year’s wait…but the point is, Timothy Zahn had written what I felt was a great Star Wars book, and that trilogy of books cemented him as the best Star Wars writer out there (although later books have come very close indeed).

One of the little details that came out of Heir to the Empire was the idea of the Outbound Flight Project, where a bunch of Jedi Masters were to explore beyond the current reach of the Republic during the Clone War era.  The flight was doomed, as the future Grand Admiral Thrawn destroyed it, and that was all there was to it.  Until now.

Survivor’s Quest picks up a few years after the marriage of Luke and Mara.  A message makes its way to the pair from the world of Nirauan, a world where followers of the late Grand Admiral are formulating the Empire of the Hand.  This comes as a bit of a surprise, since Mara kind of wrecked a chunk of their base in Zahn’s “Hand of Thrawn” duology; in spite of that, the Skywalkers learn the reason for the request for their presence.  The remains of Outbound Flight have been found by the Chiss, and the Chiss wish to return them to the New Republic.  Along with Chak Fel and his small squad of stormtroopers, Chiss diplomats, an alien race that owes its continuing existence to Outbound Flight, and a New Republic “diplomat”, the Skywalkers agree to go recover the remnants of Outbound Flight.  Luke hopes to find information on the Old Republic’s Jedi, especially in regards to opinions on a little prohibition they had that he ignored three years ago; Mara, on the other hand, finds herself drawn to the attitudes of the Empire of the Hand, and wonders if perhaps her place should be with them.

Those familiar with Timothy Zahn’s other Star Wars stories will not be surprised that very one of these groups has their own agendas, and the only ones who seem to be fairly honest in theirs are the two Jedi.  Between dealing with possible treachery in their midst and the mysteries contained in the remains of Outbound Flight, Luke and Mara have their hands full.

So:  how does Survivor’s Quest stack up against other Star Wars books?

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I’ve enjoyed each and every one of Zahn’s Star Wars books, and this one was no exception.  It’s unique in the fact that this story is self contained, unlike the trilogy and duology he’s previously written.  In spite of that, he still puts together an intriguing story.  Outbound Flight turns out to be a much bigger project than I’d ever expected from previous works (I just had visions of a small group of Jedi from the Old Republic, not the massive six-dreadnought unit that is drawn on the opening pages of this book), capable of settling colonies if desired.  It also makes it more plausible that there are parts of the Flight that have survived destruction for discovery by the Chiss.

Speaking of whom:  we get a new look at the Chiss society, and their highly defensive mindset (to say the least).  Of even greater interest is the Empire of the Hand at Nirauan; they’re putting together a very different Empire than old Palpatine’s, but there’s enough similarities to give Mara feelings of nostalgia and more; the professional attitude and very nature of some of the stormtroopers accompanying Fel shows the differences as well-these guys aren’t simply blaster-bait!  It does drive me a little crazy, though, since there was no mention of them during the New Jedi Order (that I can remember offhand, anyways).

I’d like to go into some more details about some of the surprises among the wreckage, but that would give away some of the big surprises.  I will say that I made a wrong guess as to the true nature of Outbound Flight (well, it appears that way so far), and a look at what was hinted at in Visions of the Future, when it was implied that there were lots of nastier threats outside the Outer Rim (and here I thought they’d been talking about the Yuuzhan Vong…heheheheh).  And we also get a really disturbing theory from Mara at the end about what kicked this all into motion; I really hope she’s wrong, although I can certain see her points.

For fans of Timothy Zahn’s book, Survivor’s Quest will not disappoint.  It’s a little rushed near the end, but all in all it’s a very satisfying read.

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