Star Wars: Winner Lose All–A Lando Calrissian Tale

Released in early December in preparation for Zahn’s upcoming novel Scoundrels (released today — my copy is in the mail), Winner Lose All — A Lando Calrissian Tale is an e-book novella featuring Lando in a high-stakes sabacc game. The game — with a ten-million credit buy-in — features a rare and valuable piece of art. A small statuette, designed by a mysterious artist, which is completely identical to its twins (of which only seven exist in the galaxy). But an attempted break-in reveals that nothing is as it seems.

Winner Lose All is a surprisingly good read, which shouldn’t be too astonishing as its written by the master, Timothy Zahn. That isn’t to say he hasn’t written crap (I’m struggling to get through Vision of the Future), but this novella has Zahn doing what he does best: taking a small group of characters, some original and some not, and having them interacting and working together.

The plot focuses around a sabacc tournament and its sponsor, a crime lord named Jydor. Jydor has owned a Tchine — a rare and valuable piece of art — for years and for some reason decides to have it as the prize. As it turns out, however, a trio of thieves who are planning to steal his less valuable collection items (because all his security is focused on protecting the Tchine) find something unusual: another Tchine in his vault. The Tchine is a rare piece of art because only seven exist, they’re all identical, and they can’t easily be duplicated… which means Jydor’s second Tchine is either a fake, or someone else’s. And because Tchines are so rare, any news about them being sold — or stolen — travels fast.

All in all, I really enjoyed Winner Lose All: it’s a fast read and a fast-paced work of fiction and feels like a great heist movie. Zahn doesn’t get bogged down in details of technology or planets or aliens or anything like that (which I’ve noticed a lot of authors do) which is a nice change of pace. Calrissian is of course a very compelling and awesome character, so it’s nice to see him getting some development, too. The big sabacc tournament doesn’t get the treatment you might expect, though. While the plot tends to revolve around it, it doesn’t get too much mention, which is nice, because I don’t care about Pure Sabaccs or Idiot’s Arrays or any of the stupid card hands that authors love to go into far too much detail about.

One complaint I do have, after a day or reflection, is that Lando doesn’t get enough screen time as it were. The main actors are the thieves he teams up with — Zerba, a male Balosar pickpocket/card cheat, and Bink and Tavia, a pair of twins. That’s to be expected, I guess, but calling it “A Lando Calrissian Tale” and then spending the whole book talking about stuff that happens around him is a little lame. Lando gets some of the best lines, but he isn’t that influential in the story. Despite that, Winner Lose All is a great read and a great preview of things to come in Scoundrels.

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