Myth Alliances

December 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

alliancesMyth Alliances by Robert Asprin

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I resisted going this far into the Myth Adventures series. Even when I was younger, I felt like the books became less and less charming as they went along, and after so many years had passed and Asprin returned to the series with a co-writer, I felt like the magic would be gone. But I’m a sucker for an unfinished series, and someone did tell me these books were better than I would think. What I should have done was reflect on how bad I thought they would be and ask if they could be worse.

Well, it turns out my initial thoughts were correct. This book doesn’t even feel like Myth Adventures book. I expect that Nye wrote the bulk of the book based off of Asprin’s notes, because nothing about the book feels anything like the older ones. The last two books in the solo Asprin books were a let-down, but they still read and felt like Myth Adventures books. Myth Alliances feels like someone trying to pick up someone else’s series and hoping for the best. Which, I guess, is exactly what it is.

How could this book go so wrong? Well, Skeeve makes a gross assumption about the antagonists who aren’t really antagonists, the plot and jokes feel forced, and the dialogue falls flat. It doesn’t help that the illustrations don’t have the whimsical nature of Phil Foglio’s, partly because they’re computer generated, but mostly because they look remarkable lifelike (well, the humans do, at least; you can see how bizarre the Pervects on the cover look). The story is boring, since the entire thing hinges on the fact that the conflict is a big misunderstanding on Skeeve’s part. It’s one thing when it’s not quite clear from the get-go, but the story meanders from Skeeve as the narrator to a third-person omniscient narrator to get the Pervects’ points of view, so we know from about the third chapter what’s going on. The entire thing feels frustrating, and worse, pointless.

The authors manage to pull everything together for the ending, but maybe I was just so happy to see the end of the story that I mixed up the source of my emotions. It’s definitely the worst of the bunch so far, and it’s an inauspicious start to reading the second half of the series. I’m still planning on finishing out the series (I already bought the dang books), but so far my feeling is that fans should just stick with books one through twelve (omitting the eleventh one).

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Born Standing Up

December 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

bornBorn Standing Up by Steve Martin

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I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I like behind-the-scenes trivia quite a bit. Of particular interest to me are analyses into the creative process, and several years back, read a piece from this book where Martin described how he developed his stand up act. It was fascinating, enough for me to think, I should read that whole book, but then nothing ever came of it. Earlier this year, I found the book on sale on Audible, and figured the time was right to catch up on the whole thing. That Martin himself reads the book was a bonus.

The book is less biography and more memoir, since Martin only writes about his life up to the time he stopped doing stand up. That means the book skips over his career as an actor and writer, but seeing him develop from a young kid selling maps to Disneyland to being such a popular comic that he has to start wearing a white suit in order for the people in the back rows to see him is an amazing journey. He writes about how he started doing magic, how he took up the banjo, and how he developed all of his interests into an act that was less about comedy and more about entertainment. All of his diverse interests intersected into an absurd, surrealist act that stood above what other comics were doing at the time, making Martin stand out above it all.

It’s interesting to me to see how seriously Martin took his comedy. I imagine this is true of most successful comedians — it takes analysis and refinement to perfect an act — but Martin talks about it in a clinical way that makes you realize he didn’t just come up with his act on the fly. All of his bits were calculated, and he had tons of material waiting in his head so he could respond to the audience’s mood as he performed his act. I’ve seen and listened to enough of it to recognize some of the bits he discusses, and it’s impressive to read how much he worked to make it look spontaneous.

Speaking of the bits he discusses, I expect that Martin was the only choice for reading this book. There is enough of his own act included in the memoir that only Martin could convey them correctly. Not even professional readers could get the right timing down on how he ends his “Ramblin’ Man” song, or if they could, it wouldn’t be as impressive as how Martin himself does it.

On top of the memoir being an intimate look into Martin’s process, the book is also well-written. Martin is a writer as much as he is a comedian or actor (or magician, or banjo-player, for that matter), and it shows in little turns of phrase he uses here and there. It’s a good book, more so if, like me, you’re interested in the creative process, and the audio version of the book is a great edition to read. Er, listen to. Fans of Martin shouldn’t pass it up.

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Myth-Told Tales

December 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

toldMyth-Told Tales by Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye

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Take a look at that cover over there. It’s horrible, isn’t it? It takes several seconds to figure out what’s going on there, since it’s muddy and washed out. You might think that the resolution is due to it being a poor image, but no, the cover actually looks like that. For a series that has been graced with colorful, vivid, humorous illustrations, this introduction to the new books, with a cover like this, is questionable.

The foreword to this book explains how Asprin and Nye, facing the prospect of writing additional books in his series, opted to start out slowly, writing a few short stories to test their styles together. The book contains three short stories, one narrated by Skeeve and featuring him helping Bunny in a beauty pageant, one narrated by Chumley and featuring him, Tananda, and Guido running a beauty parlor, and one narrated by Aahz, featuring him and Massha helping locate the source of some strange goings-on surrounding a dragon-princess hunt.

The writing is reminiscent of “M.Y.T.H. Inc. Instructions”, the bonus story included at the end of Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. that was written by Nye. They manage to maintain a similar style, though they’re definitely different. Having read all of Asprin’s solo books back-to-back like I did, it’s easy to see the difference in style, though it still feels familiar. I’m not sure it would have been as noticeable had I not read the others so closely to the time that I read this one, but it’s definitely different. How could it not be, though? It’s including a whole new writer!

I hadn’t planned on reading any of the Myth Adventure books beyond Asprin’s original twelve books, but after talking about the series with a friend, and him telling me that these co-written books “aren’t as bad as you think”, I decided to give them a read, too. This is an auspicious start, but then again, I disliked the short-story nature of M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link, too, and this book is also comprised of stories. Maybe they’ll pick up with the actual novels that follow.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Shattered Peace

December 27, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads)

peaceJedi Apprentice: The Shattered Peace by Jude Watson

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The Shattered Peace takes us to a new location, the planet Rutan and its moon, Senali, which has its own race of people. Having been at war for a long time in the past, a peace was established by trading heirs between the planets, the idea being that the ruler of one civilization won’t destroy the other because their child is there. The problem arises when the heir of one family doesn’t want to return to his home planet, as his loyalties have divided.

This book is a standalone book, with few references to previous events in the series. The previous arc, with Xanatos, has concluded, so Watson may be gearing up to create a second arc. The initial books in the entire series also felt slightly disconnected until Watson’s ideas gelled together into a cohesive arc, so I expect that will be the case with this second half of the series.

The book is still good, touching on themes of family, loyalty, and responsibility, with Qui-Gon being the voice of reason regarding both sides of the argument. Watson looks at family ties that are non-traditional, but still manages to examine both sides of the issue. I think it resonates well, and would be effective with its target audience. As is typical with the books in this series so far, the story is simplified, but not simple, and the reader will identify with Leed, who is torn between the family to which he belongs, and the family to which he feels like he belongs. Overall, it’s an effective story with something important to say.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Fight for Truth

December 26, 2016 at 8:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

truthJedi Apprentice: The Fight for Truth by Jude Watson

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With Xanatos defeated, Qui-Gon can return to taking on standard missions, such as traveling to distant planets to evaluate children for their admission into the Jedi Temple. This is how he and Obi Wan, along with another Master/Padawan team, Adi and Siri, wind up on the planet Kegan, which is shrouded in mystery, hidden beneath false smiles and a seemingly content populace. When Siri and Obi Wan go missing, the stakes become higher for the two Masters.

The antagonists in this story are more subtly drawn than Xanatos was. Watson gives them more depth, in that they think that they’re doing the right thing, misguided as they are. Watson channels Dolores Umbridge in these characters, and makes the reader quickly root against them and for the two Padawans as she sets up a system that is clearly unfair to them. Add in some foreshadowing of the entire Star Wars story, and we get a nice, tight, tension-filled story of adventure and character.

I read that Watson has written more books for the EU than any other author (thirty-seven!). I’m not sure if this series is where she started, but as these stories get better and better, I’m not surprised that LucasBooks kept asking her to write more.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Day of Reckoning

December 23, 2016 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

reckoningJedi Apprentice: The Day of Reckoning by Jude Watson

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Xanatos, Qui-Gon’s old apprentice, has finally managed to bring his old Master to his home planet of Telos in a last bid for revenge. There, he draws the Qui-Gon and Obi Wan after having attempted to destroy the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, but when the two Jedi arrive, they find the citizens more interested in a financial lottery than anything else the government is doing. The two must learn the secrets behind the lottery while carrying false murder charges against them.

Watson continues to develop her characters across books, this time bringing Xanatos’ story to a close. The series began with the conflict between him and Qui-Gon, and by bringing it to a close in this book, it feels like the series would end here (there are twenty books in the series, this one being volume eight, so spoiler: it doesn’t), but it does make me wonder what Watson will do to carry the series along after this. I don’t doubt her capabilities, but I’m curious to see what the next multi-book arc will be.

It’s true that it feels like this could have been the end of Jedi Apprentice (and it could have been, for all I know, but demand inspired Watson to continue it), but at the same time, there’s something that feels false about how it ended. It’s not that Watson cheated the readers, but the ending comes with a sense that not is all as it seems. Have we seen the last of Xanatos? It seems so (the juvenile novels seem to be more straightforward and less prone to subtle story developments like this), but who knows? I understand Thrawn makes an appearance after his death in Zahn’s original trilogy, so anything is possible.

The tension of the stories is becoming more palpable as the series progresses. I found myself not wanting to stop the story, since the events kept moving forward with the right amount of teasing the details. Watson jumps from perspective to perspective as she alternates chapters, meaning we’re getting different characters’ stories told to us one piece at a time. It’s a familiar technique, but it works. With eight of these finished, that means I only have twelve more to go! Maybe I’ll finish them before the end of the year.

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

December 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

wishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes, et al.

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The Princess Bride is among a lot of people’s favorite movies. I think it’s safe to say that one can judge the worthiness of a friend by asking them what they think of the movie; if they don’t say that it’s one of the best stories ever, they’re probably not worth the time.

As You Wish is Cary Elwes’ autobiography about making the film. He gives the reader a lot of information about the production itself, including some of the pre-production details that he learned while making the movie. He speaks of how wonderful Rob Reiner is as a director, how wonderful Robin Wright is as an actor, how wonderful Andre the Giant was as a person, how wonderful William Goldman is as an author and screenwriter … he pretty much talks about how wonderful it was to make the movie. Based on this book, one can only wish they had been a part of the movie, just to get to know all of the people involved.

Aside from Cary’s insights, the book includes a lot of thoughts from other actors and principles in the movie, so we get more than just Cary’s take on things. Everyone involved seems to agree, though, that it was a wonderful experience to make this movie. The people involved all seem to be good-hearted, warm individuals, which is no surprise, since the movie gives off a similar vibe. I listened to this as an audiobook, and the production brings in the individuals to tell their own parts of the story (save for a few people, who have a stand-in to read those parts).

The book does have a lot of repetition, which is its only downside. On top of that, Elwes covers a lot of the story of The Princess Bride, and one point explains the entire plot from start to finish. I’m not sure why he felt the need to go into that much detail; surely the only people reading this book are the ones who already know and love the story, right? I can overlook his repeating some of the most famous lines from the story, since that part of the book is where he’s highlighting Goldman’s writing talents, but the rest of it seemed to be there just to pad out the page length of the book. Myself, I would have preferred to know more about what went on behind the camera.

To his credit, Elwes covers the behind-the-scenes details I wanted to know (the background behind the sword fight is lengthy, and is the running teaser throughout the book), and how much one will enjoy the book is probably contingent on how much one likes to know behind-the-scenes trivia. Myself, I love it; as soon as I see a movie, I bring up IMDB and check the trivia for it to see what kinds of neat details I can learn. Others, though … well, what are they doing reading this book if they don’t like that sort of thing? It tells us right there in the title — Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

The book is a joy to read, and even more of a joy to listen to, and it makes me want to re-read the book and re-watch the movie. I already know that both are wonderful stories, but Elwes’ excitement about both, and his pride in having been involved with making the movie, is contagious enough to make me want to revisit them both. His recollections make me wish I could be involved with something as memorable and important as The Princess Bride.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Captive Temple

December 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

captiveJedi Apprentice: The Captive Temple by Jude Watson

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At the end of The Uncertain Path, Obi Wan and Qui-Con return to Coruscant to the Jedi Temple from Melida/Daan after an attempt is made on Yoda’s life. In The Captive Temple, we catch up with that story, where we learn more about that attempt, and what Qui-Gon and Obi Wan so to try to stop the assassination and sabotage. Underlying the events is the broken trust that exists between Obi Wan and Qui-Gon, as well as the trust Obi Wan has broken with the Jedi Council. It’s up to him to prove himself, not just to his Master and the Council, but to himself.

Once again, the overarching, connected stories of this series make the individual novels stand out. The first couple of books were interesting in that they were a part of the Expanded Universe, but as the series continued, and developed further into its own mythology, it took on greater shape, and greater depth. The stories are still simplified (examined from an adult reader’s standpoint, they rely heavily on coincidence to keep the plots moving and to resolve them), but they succeed because of the recurring characters. Despite each individual book being too short to allow for one character’s development, Watson uses multiple books to draw a clearer picture of the secondary characters.

It’s still not a perfect system. Xanatos comes across as a bit too cartoonish, being evil just to be evil, going so far as to have one of those “You can catch me, but only at the cost of your friends’ lives! BWAHAHAHAHA!!” moments near the end of the book. At the beginning of the book, Obi Wan is a bit too whiny and immature, but he’s thirteen at the time, still learning his discipline, and by the end of the book, his outlook has changed, and he shows maturity.

Overall, I’m understanding why this series is appreciated by adult readers. I feel like I’m setting the bar fairly high for future juvenile EU books, but I guess I did the same thing when I started reading the Thrawn trilogy first in the adult EU.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Uncertain Path

December 20, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

uncertainJedi Apprentice: The Uncertain Path by Jude Watson

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Picking up at the end of Defenders of the DeadThe Uncertain Path continues the story of Obi Wan after he leaves the Jedi Order and quits as Qui-Gon’s Padawan. This is big stuff, despite the fact that Episode I tells us that this won’t last, because if anyone were ever born to be a part of the Order, it’s Obi Wan Kenobi. We have to remember, though, that the Obi Wan we see in this series is only thirteen, and still succumbs to the temptations and impetuosity of youth.

The story continues that of the war on Melida/Daan, where a tenuous peace has been made among the two factions and the Youth, after the Youth have disabled all the starships. The challenge now is to maintain that peace, and Obi Wan is a part of it, having been nominated to be on the council made up of the Youth, the Melida, and the Daan. Obi Wan is now seen as an outsider by the other members of the council, and his contributions to security, as well as to the new government overall, are questioned. The more Obi Wan feels like an outsider, the more he craves Qui-Gon’s counsel.

I like the way Watson plays around with our expectations of the characters, and giving us alternate views into what makes a Jedi. Even in the movies, Qui-Gon is different from Mace Windu, both of whom in turn are different from Yoda, and how each character uses the Force differs. Obi Wan is different, too, partly due to his age, but also due to him being as different from those other three are as they are to one another. The book gives us a glimpse into the early days of Qui-Gon and Obi Wan’s relationship, before they had established a full trust with one another. This book and the previous one put that trust to a test.

The stories are getting more developed, thanks to the recurrence of certain characters and settings, and as such, they’re getting more interesting. It’s easier to get caught up in the events, since we see so many familiar faces, and despite the fact that the Jedi don’t always act as we would expect them to, their motivations are at least consistent. The series is getting better the more I read it.

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Jedi Apprentice: The Defenders of the Dead

December 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

deadJedi Apprentice: The Defenders of the Dead by Jude Watson

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Book four in the Jedi Apprentice series isn’t playing around. The stakes here are high, and the events are unexpected. Qui-Gon and Obi Wan are on a new planet, Melida/Daan, so named because two factions have been at war with one another for centuries, and can’t agree on the planet’s name. The two Jedi are there to rescue another Jedi who has been captured by one of the factions, but while there, Obi Wan falls under the spell of the Young, a third faction made up of the children of the other two factions who want to bring about the end of the eternal war.

Like the previous books in the series, The Defenders of the Dead takes on a hefty theme for a juvenile novel, this time the effects of war on a culture. Watson doesn’t glamorize war, but instead shows us the tragedy that befalls family, and how holding on to a grudge can cause so much pain. The Young are depicted as the heroes of the story, but even then, their methods are questionable, enough so as to drive a wedge between Obi Wan and Qui-Gon. By the end of the book, we see how severe that wedge is and how much it divides the two Jedi.

Also like previous books in the series, this novel sets us up for another book which will follow immediately after these events. The story arcs aren’t necessarily complex, but they rely enough on earlier events and future stories that they’re reminiscent of how Gravity Falls accomplishes the same thing. With The Defenders of the Dead, though, this is the first incident where the two books (or more?) serve as a single story broken down over multiple volumes.

So far, this has been the best book of the bunch for me. The emotion in the story is sincere, and the tension palpable. Some of the motivations of the characters (specifically Qui-Gon and Obi Wan) are questionable, but only once you’ve finished reading the story. Chances are, you’ll be too caught up in the events to think too much on whether or not the characters are acting as you would expect them to.

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