This was a great read. I read it for a class on Race, Gender, and Science Fiction as part of my degrees in Queer Ethnic Studies and Racial Resistance.
Afro-futurism is a super interesting literary space with very different perspectives from mainstream science fiction.
This story was also adapted into a graphic novel. I read both.
The story follows a character who lives in a very Snow-Crash-style walled suburb amid a vast dystopian landscape. The streets outside the enclave are a lawless chaos of resource conflict and drug addiction where violent drug-fueled mobs murder people on sight to steal any resources they have.
Water and food are scarce and most people go hungry or die of thirst or contamination.
The arc of the main character is the development of her philosophy of building secure and remote communities which can grow food, manage their resources, and protect themselves from the outside world while focusing on building an internal education system to focus on rebuilding some kind of society at least locally.
I see these ideas as very closely aligned with the evolution of my own personal philosophy of futurism over the last few years. We are not far from a future like this. Unless we act now to start planning to survive it, we won’t.
How to describe how this book fits into the story of Thrawn? So this was the first Thrawn book which was published. I became aware of it after I finished the first Thrawn trilogy. So I’m ironically reading it last, but probably it should come first. There is a special sadness knowing this is the end until more books are published, but it’s a consonant note to end on.
In terms of the story, this book takes place after book nine and before book six. It’s all out of order and that’s part of the magic. I don’t think there is any correct order to read these books in. Honestly you could shuffle them all into any order and they would be great.
The whole story is super interconnected and tangled and not linear in any normal way.
This story ties a lot of loose threads together and fills in a few blanks between many of the storylines and characters from the other books. Particularly C’baoth, Ar’alani, Doriana, and Cardas.
Spoilers and Theories
I really don’t know what to make of Ar’alani’s role in this story particularly given Thrass’ role. It low-key seems like Thrawn and Ar’alani are playing Thrass against the syndicure but also it high-key seems like maybe that was not thought out at this point so it will probably be retconned later or something.
I also found it interesting to see the emphasis on Cardas. He had a very brief role in the third series but like a super lot of back story which tied in with Yoda, so it seems like that will eventually be developed further. I wonder if he will get his own spin-off, though I’d rather see one about Karrde first.
The whole Doriana/Thrawn thing answers a question I had from book six when Thrawn meets Sidious and Sidious asks him some questions and then he’s like “IT IS YOU!” Like obviously they knew about each other somehow but this explains that.
First of all, having now finished the ninth book in this series, I can’t tell whether Zahn loves communism or hates it.
On the surface, I am offended by Zahn’s unfiltered contempt for syndicalism and admiration for imperialism. But is that really the point? I find myself agreeing with his every critique of ancom as someone who lives it every day, and wondering if he’s trying to make a deeper point…
Wow that’s a lot of titles, let’s break it down. It’s a Star Wars book. The title of this trilogy is Thrawn Ascendancy which is the fourth book series about Thrawn the character. The title of the book is Chaos Rising.
The overall arc of this quadruple-series forms a compendium of loosely related books focusing on a single eponymous character. The first series begins with Heir to the Empire and tells the story of the end of his life. The second series starts with Specter of The Past and tells the story just after his death. The third series starts with Thrawn and tells the story of his early Imperial career. The fourth series in the series of serieses starts with this book, Ascendancy and tells the story of his career in The Ascendancy’s Expansionary Defense Fleet before he joins The Empire. I suspect the Ascendancy series will end with him somehow orchestrating the events of the Thrawn series. All the books kind of jump all over the place in time. This one is split between his memories of childhood with Ar’alani and their time together in The Expansionary Defense Fleet.
This enormous number of books is primarily focused on one character and his semi-disingenuous service to a fascist empire. In reality it always seems like his real loyalties are to his original career with The Ascendancy, a syndicate which has become deeply corrupt and oligarchic over a long period of time.
This high-key resonates with me as someone who works at a global ancom ngo and suffers daily through the tumults of a committee life, replete with unofficial oligarchs representing obscure semi-secret power blocks who constantly use the overall mission as a means of scoring points towards irrelevant competing social interests rather than advancing the actual mission of the organization.
One of my favorite lines in the whole series comes during the previous book, Treason when Eli Vanto explains that he has no idea what the third-part of Chiss names means (Chiss have a three part name), but it seems to have some connection to some social concept that he doesn’t understand. This is exactly how Thrawn feels about literally everything, and I can 100% relate to that. In this book, Ar’alani defends Thrawn from a political attacks while explaining to her subordinate that the people attacking Thrawn don’t care that he was right; they just hate him in general because he isn’t like them or because they can’t understand him; they are missing some sense of solidarity with him precisely because his tactical brilliance makes him an unpredictable factor in their mental calculations.
Thrawn knows that this is a weakness for him, a blind spot as he would say. He commits to trying to explore and understand politics as an important realm of tactics. This is a challenge which Ar’alani says he will never overcome even if he tries. She compares it to someone trying to learn music but just being tone-deaf. She talks about her hope that she or someone like her will always be there to defend him.
Part of this story which is really interesting is the way Zahn starts by showing us Thrawn as a member of a racial minority group in a fascist state who seizes power through tactical brilliance by defeating those who have power over him. At every point, his efforts are two-fold. He is trying to ascend in the ranks while also trying to understand both the opponents he is facing and the opponents he will eventually face. It’s very interesting to see the evolution of the character through the books to an earlier time in his life when he faces similar challenges within his own racial group on the basis of class.
Throughout Chaos Rising, we see nine ruling families in the syndicure which constitute “official” power-blocks. They leverage every possible thing that happens throughout the universe as an excuse to get one over on one another. They do this in the name of leading The Ascendancy. Many people see their own personal short-term interests as the same as the interests of the overall group, without any real regard for the real needs of the overall group or the overall mission of the organization. This 100% resonates with my experience in the queer nonprofit world; most people in leadership give zero fucks about the purpose of the organization, they are only interested in scoring points against one another in the eyes of their power-blocks. I suspect this is a deeper truth about humanity and its inherent flaws and limitations, especially with regard to the inherent and inevitable chaos that comes from the effects of small-group tribalism within large groups. This seems to be what Zahn is trying to touch on in this book.
These nine official power-blocks in the story are made up of countless unofficial power-blocks which are all spending all their time and energy on infighting while there are serious existential threats coming at them from every direction, going unacknowledged and unchallenged. In many cases, political infighting leads to the leaders actively suppressing the truth of the existential threats facing the larger community in exchange for politically expedient short-term victories over one another. This is the most germane thing I have read in a long fucking time. This is the modern world in a nutshell.
Thrawn is set apart from the rest of his people by his devotion to focusing on directly confronting existential threats and real mission goals rather than wasting time and energy on infighting and scoring political points within The Ascendancy. I can not underline this enough. This alone is the reason I have read nine books on this and why I will continue to read however many more Zahn decides to write.
I had assumed this book would be about Thrawn’s exodus. In fact,as you may expect, there is a twist.
Just as I was about halfway through this book and dreading the end of the Thrawn series, I head the news that a new Thrawn book has just been released and that it’s the beginning of a new series! I’ve become quite a Thrawn fan. These books have given me a lot to think about and convinced me to focus more on the tactics of long-term strategy and less on politics.
A long time ago I read Atlas Shrugged and reflected at the time that the character of Francisco was unrealistically ideal in every way, a perfect Nietzschean ubermencsh. He was an ideal constructed as an impossible goal to which people should aspire. I can’t help thinking the same thing about Thrawn in this series. His tactical brilliance is based on his identity as an alien; he has some kind of magical superpower. His accomplishments are not something that would really be possible for people to do. In a way the two are similar, and yet I can’t help contrasting Thrawn with Francisco. Aspiring to be like Thrawn seems far better than aspiring to be Francisco.
Taking a tactical perspective on accomplishing feasible long-term goals seems just objectively virtuous, whereas pursuing those Nietzschean ideals of being the all-around perfect person is not only impossible but also bad as an incremental process. Taking a step towards being more like Thrawn would make most people better at whatever they are trying to do; taking a step towards being more like Francisco would not.
10/10 for this whole series. Would absolutely recommend.
This book reminded me a lot of the Tarkin book. Thrawn and Vader go on an adventure. It’s very interesting to see the way Palpatine is trying to get them working closer together, and the way Thrawn accomplishes the same discovery Tarkin made about Vader’s origins.
This story is an A/B story. We jump back and forth between two adventures. The second one is from some time before, when Thrawn and Anakin went on a very similar journey to the same locations for a different reason.
This is the first book of the third and final Thrawn series.
This series is a prequel to the first series. This book, Thrawn, is an origin story. It starts when he first joins The Empire and ends with him as a Grand Admiral in The Imperial Fleet. It also follows the story of his student and acolyte Eli Vanto.
This is the first book that tells the story from Thrawn’s perspective. It’s interesting the way the author describes Thrawn’s perceptions but not his conclusions. I especially like the way the author somehow makes Thrawn more mysterious by telling us more about him.
During the final throne room scene, I reflected on several things. First, the fact that in legends, Jedi and Sith can read minds. Second, the fact that Thrawn cautioned Palpatine against using a single super weapon at the cost of a large versatile fleet. Third, the fact that Palpatine reacted by saying Thrawn’s thoughts were laid bare and that Thrawn was concerned that Palpatine would turn the death star against the Chiss.
Palpatine was completely wrong which is hard to imagine. But consider the fact that Luke could not read Chiss minds; he could only tell where their focus was directed. Thrawn was not concerned with protecting the Chiss from Palpatine; he was concerned about protecting the Chiss from the Vong, and he knew that a single super weapon would not be effective against the Vong, much less the myriad other threats which he joined the Imperial Fleet to protect against.
Palpatine could not see the bigger picture, and he lacked the imagination to see outside his own narrow perspective despite the fact that Thrawn had repeatedly told him there were a hundred existential threats in the unknown regions. I predict that this moment will come to be the central tension between Thrawn and Palpatine.
This is a great book. I’m looking forward to the final two in the series!
I wrote at length about each chapter of this excellent book. It is both a primer on the history of the struggle of native people and also a vision of the future. Estes shows many examples of what white settler colonialism is, how it has been successfully countered, and what a possible future might look like.
Specter of the Past is part one of the hand of Thrawn Duology which itself is the sequel to the original Thrawn Trilogy and the prequel to the Second Thrawn Trilogy. It’s all about Thrawn even though he’s been dead a decade at this point.
I was very excited to see a lot more of Karrde who has become one of my favorite characters. It’s interesting to see the imperial remnants breaking apart and trying to do different things without ever admitting it. It’s cool to see the Noghri doing well and expanding their horizons. This was a satisfying read which has me feeling excited about the next book, Vision of the Future!