I just learned that A.C. Crispin died of cancer last month.
I feel ashamed to learn this belatedly. Earlier today, I’d been raving about her Han Solo trilogy, how they excited me as a young reader, how they shaped my tastes and aspirations.
I was a nerdy sci-fi-loving pre-teen when I found The Paradise Snare in – I think – London’s Science Museum, back when a £4.99 paperback presented a considerable investment for your weekly 50p pocket money. A vivid memory: standing on the Circle line, a plastic carrier bag swaying on my wrist, unable to shut this book.
Here were gunfights, aliens, drug-fuelled religious cults and a love story with teeth. It was funny and dangerous and probably not appropriate for a child, but when these things are smuggled in genre fiction they end up in kids’ bedrooms, and why not?
My Star Wars obsession was the kind of love you can only sustain during the 12-16 age gap. When you lived in Suffolk, never more than six feet from a tractor, escapism wasn’t so much a pastime as an essential coping mechanism, and I must have read and re-read those books scores of times. I may even have loved them – whisper it – more than the films.
Unlike Brian Daley’s high-camp Solo novels published in the ’70s (featuring a droid called Bollux – oh dear), Crispin peeled back the swashbuckling to provide a compelling, surprising backstory for this character who started off as a wisecracking space cowboy played by a painter and decorator. “You can write this shit, George, but you sure as Hell can’t say it”.
This was pre-Internet, at least in my house. I didn’t know who A.C. Crispin was, let alone whether this was a man or a woman. I only knew this was someone whose imagination excited me, and perhaps that’s how it ought to be.
It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1997, if you wanted to even begin to experience the kind of shared fandom excitement you take for granted now on Tumblr, you had to get someone’s dad to drive you to a seaside shack in Clacton for the delight of being breathed on by lonely men in all-too-form-fitting Starfleet uniforms. (Actual experience, let’s not dwell on it). Fan fiction was something you stored on a floppy disc and kept to yourself. In the acknowledgements of the final book in the trilogy, Rebel Dawn, Crispin thanked ‘The Star Ladies and all my on-line friends’. Whoa. There were people online like me? Female people? Who get thanked by authors?
I’d been putting together little handwritten books since I was small, but reading Ann Carol Crispin’s Star Wars tie-ins made twelve-year-old me realise the adventures in your head were something you could write down for other people and therefor make real. All these years later, I haven’t forgotten how her books made me feel. And I’ve never stopped writing.