The Star Wars Name Blender

January 29, 2017

Jyn, Cassian, Baze Malbus, Bistan, Chirrut – these are just a few of the Rogue One characters, an unmemorable blitz of names that reads like the fevered output of the Star Wars Galaxies random name generator. They just don’t have the iconic flavor of Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Obi Wan Kenobi. The easiest name to remember, Saw Gerrara, is due mainly to its simplicity.

Saw Gerrera

But that name presents its own challenges, especially if Saw were a Space Catholic. Probably one reason he kept his inner circle so small was to avoid confusing interchanges like the following:

“Have you seen Saw?”

“I saw Saw on Saturday. He didn’t look good.”

“Why? Where did you see Saw?”

“I saw Saw at the Holy See.”

“Who did Saw see at the See?”

“I don’t know. I’m worried he might be having a personal crisis.”

“He’s probably despondent. The Sith got a seventh seat during a secret Senate session.”

“You’d despair too, if you were seven-eighths machine. Yesterday I had to saw Saw’s seventh finger out of a sewing machine. He was trying to sew his seersucker suit.”

“I’ll bet Saw saw someone at the See to make his peace. He might be looking to the end. I just hope he can fulfill his final wishes.”

“What’s that?”

“Saw wants to see the sea before he dies.”

“I thought you saw Saw at the See on Saturday?”

“… I gotta be honest. I don’t know what we are talking about anymore…”

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The end of “The End of the Affair”

September 26, 2010

The End of the Affair was simply a great book. I had avoided Graham Greene books up to this point. I do not know why since he is often associated with Evelyn Waugh, who is by far one of my favorite authors and one of the best writers of the past century. I think there was something, some odd passage, on the first page of The Quiet American that dissuaded me from continuing. (And that book itself has the bizarre distinction of being one of the few, if any, literary references Baby Bush ever made in his life.) But I found a really good copy of “Affair” at Recycled Books, and how can you stop reading when the book begins with the line, “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead”? No one, as far as I can tell, writes that good these days.

Next up? Our Man in Havana, mainly because I also want to see the film (that way, I’ll have something more than Star Wars to talk about if I ever meet the spirit of Alec Guinness).

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It’s all in a name…

February 25, 2010

I do not remember a time when the words “Skywalker” or “Alderaan” sounded nonsensical and silly. In fact, I don’t know if that time ever existed. They seem like perfectly natural names – a future surname and the name of a planet, celestial in theme but seemingly normal in the natural evolution of language. They were what we would call things, once we ventured into outer space. The name “Chewbacca” was so perfect, he already had his own nickname.

Now, “Starkiller” – that doesn’t sound right. It sounds crude, immature, like the caption, written in pencil, under a comic filled with bulging muscles and bouncing breasts and scrawled in a junior high notebook.

Lucas should get an award for the Star Wars nomenclature (although he damaged his rep with later names like “Dooku”). The names in his universe – at least his first trilogy – are equally iconic and natural. Even with the Ewoks. I remember both times – pre-Ewoks and post-Ewoks – and there was never a time in between when I had to get used to that word. It fit.

The challenge in properly naming things in a sci-fi or “speculative” universe cannot be underestimated. A bad name is like a bad special effect – it takes the reader or viewer right out of the world. Margaret Atwood, for all her diffidence to the label “sci-fi,” should take a lesson from that. For that unabashedly sci-fi epic Star Wars accomplished something she could not. In her book The Year of the Flood, she has a variety of hybrid animals running around, the products of gene splicing, with names like “rakunk” (the combination of a raccoon and a skunk, get it?). One of her characters eats something called a “Joltbar” – seriously. Did she come up with that name in the cab on her way to her publisher’s office?

I am not one to criticize – and I am still reading the book, which is entertaining for the most part (and the Website for the book is a great example of cross-platform marketing). It has some big ideas, expressed well, but as a reader, the names bother me. They strike me as lazy – or the crass attempts by an amateur with paparazzi sensibilities newly introduced to the joys of portmanteau. Maybe she should venture out from the protective shell of “speculative fiction” and see how real sci-fi writers do it.

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