Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss (2006, Del Rey)
Last week, I began the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss. In my review of the first book, I already discussed the behind-the-scenes and fan community strife that apparently went down in connection to Traviss’s take on Star Wars. I wasn’t there for the clashes between Traviss and some of the fans that happened online, so my opinion that the first book wasn’t so great isn’t tainted by any bitterness toward the author.
In fact, the second book of this series, Triple Zero, is much better than its predecessor. We follow the same characters as in the last book (a crack team of clone commandos and young Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan), along with some new additions, as they go off the grid on Coruscant in an officially unsanctioned mission to dispose of Separatist terror cells operating on the Republic’s capital planet.
My biggest problem with Hard Contact was the fairly light character development in favor of combat sequence after combat sequence. Triple Zero, with a hundred more pages than Hard Contact, manages to have it both ways. Niner, the clone commando who leads “Omega Squad,” is still more or less a blank slate, but over the course of their mission, the reader does get to see Traviss’s other clone characters take on some extra layers. Fi, the squad’s jokester, struggles with constant reminders on the city-planet of the normal life that has been denied him; Atin is forced to work with his abusive training sergeant; and Darman gets serious about his affection for Etain, his Jedi superior officer.
Traviss introduces some new characters in this novel as well, the most notable of whom is Kal Skirata, the Mandalorian mercenary in charge of training Omega Squad and about a hundred other clones. Traviss writes Skirata as a tough, military hard-case, but also gives him a tangible affection for his clone soldiers that is sometimes touching. His most interesting trait may be his open contempt for the Kaminoan cloners, the Republic, and the war that his “boys” are forced to fight.
All of this extra character work is decently balanced with infiltration missions, sting operations, and explosive combat sequences, and the combination makes Triple Zero a much more enjoyable read than Hard Contact.
That said, this book still has some issues.
The Mandalorians have been a significant part of the Star Wars universe for a while now, and they’re some fans’ favorite element of the expanded universe. Like the Clone Wars, I kind of liked it better back when Mandalorians were a mysterious element of the Star Wars universe that nerds like me could speculate endlessly about and never reach solid conclusions—but that’s neither here nor there. The Mandalorian culture is one of the more robustly developed in the expanded universe, and that’s largely attributable to Karen Traviss.
Traviss writes the Mandalorians as a nomadic warrior culture that values family as much as it values killing folks—and they’re really good at the latter. The culture is largely based on the Celts, and Traviss even went so far as to develop elements of a Mandalorian language with vaguely Gaelic phonic conventions, complete with a glossary in the back of the book.
All of this is impressive (the Star Wars universe never had a made-up language before this), but the focus on the Mandalorians and the way Traviss portrays them are the source of most of my problems with Triple Zero. The Mandalorians are extremely competent warriors—and I’m not using “extremely” as an empty intensifier. They, and the clones by extension, are written as being so supernaturally competent in all things military that it very rarely feels as though the characters are in any real danger—a serious problem if you’re trying to build tension.
Furthermore, Traviss pits the Mandalorians and the Jedi against one another culturally and ideologically. The underlying stance detectable here is that the Jedi are naïve, sanctimonious baby-stealers who rely on magic tricks, while the Mandalorians are practical, stout-hearted family men, and true warriors.
The prequels definitely portray the Jedi as a flawed religious order; how those flaws in the Order contribute to Anakin’s fall is one of the most compelling and tragic elements of the prequel narrative. However, these flaws are exaggerated and misrepresented in Triple Zero, and this contempt for the heroes of the Star Wars movies makes this book feel very much unlike Star Wars. Jedi virtues are renounced almost without a thought while Mandalorian virtues are never even questioned.
The most insulting example of this is when Etain becomes pregnant with the clone Darman’s child, and Kal Skirata insists that, because Darman is a de facto Mandalorian, the child must be raised as a Mandalorian warrior, rather than the normal life that Etain initially wanted for the child. Not only does Etain accept this demand; she doesn’t even question it, and we as readers are clearly meant to feel as though this is the right decision. If it’s bad for the Jedi Order to keep children from their biological parents, it’s bad for a Mandalorian to tell a woman how to raise her kid. I know I’m about to piss some fans off when I say this, but the Mandalorian code of honor seems largely like a bunch of tough-guy bullshit to me.
Despite these misgivings, I’m now much more interested in seeing what happens to these characters, especially in the final installment of the series, Order 66. As long as it’s not portrayed as the Jedi getting their perceived comeuppance, anyway.
This printing of Triple Zero also includes a short story, also by Karen Traviss, called “Omega Squad: Targets,” originally published in Star Wars Insider.
The story takes place shortly before the events of Triple Zero and follows Omega Squad on a mission to rescue hostages at the Galactic City Spaceport on Coruscant. The story showcases Traviss’s ability to write tense, action-y prose, and it’s entertaining as far as that goes. Like Triple Zero, it raises questions about war ethics and the relationship between heroism and hard training. For the most part, though, “Targets” is pretty standard-issue action fair.