Saga: Volume Eight

March 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

saga8Saga: Volume Eight by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Volume Eight covers issues 43-48 of Saga, which is usually the time when a series shifts into a higher gear, or runs out of steam. Given that this is Saga, though, you should have a good idea which route the comic takes.

Saga has always been about politics, but it’s never been preachy about it. It’s presented Alana and Marko as a young couple in love more than it’s presented them as two different races on opposing sides of a war. The message the authors want to present is clear, but it’s never been drilled into the reader’s head.

Volume Eight opens with Alana going to a backwater planet to have an abortion of the child who died at the end of the last volume. The authors show us both sides of the issue, through the practitioners who provide the service, the unauthorized practitioners who don’t ask questions, and the residents of the planet who oppose the practice altogether. It’s clear the authors are presenting a certain viewpoint, but they do it by presenting a scenario and taking it through to its conclusion instead of beating you about the head with it.

The story continues to be fantastic, with well-realized characters, challenging dilemmas, and thoughtful themes. It’s exactly what the title tells you it will be — a saga — told through the lens of a single family. I like how it’s narrated from the perspective of Hazel, from some point in the future, as it gives it a touch of innocence and wisdom at the same time. I’m interested in seeing how Vaughan and Staples will keep this arc going, and how they plan to conclude it. If they can come to nearly fifty issues and still keep the story this fresh, then I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Started: January 6, 2018
Finished: January 6, 2018

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Choices of One

March 29, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

choicesChoices of One by Timothy Zahn

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This is the second book by Zahn that features the Hand of Judgment, a group of renegade Stormtroopers who tour the galaxy looking to bring real justice to citizens of the Empire. Having seen the corruption and cruelty the Empire hands out, they went AWOL, though they didn’t necessarily defect; they still believe the Rebels are a threat to the Empire, they just go about protecting the Empire in their own way.

I’ve enjoyed this perspective, because it shows that the Empire isn’t corrupt to its core. It’s easy to get caught up in that thinking, since we see the Emperor, Vader, and Tarkin most prominently, but Zahn delved deeper, to show there are still good people who serve the Empire. It’s also enjoyable to see them work with Mara Jade, since her character is complex by the time of the Thrawn trilogy, and we get to see how some of that complexity came to be through these books.

This is a strong book, enough so that I think I like it even better than the Thrawn trilogy. There are three distinct plots happening here, all of which are intriguing, and all of which come together nicely. One of the big reveals seemed a bit obvious, but only because Zahn presented the story in such a way that it was the only possible conclusion, unless he pulled in something brand-new to the story at the time of its reveal. Nothing in the story felt forced or out of place.

The main story is that of Luke, Leia, and Han attempting to establish a new Rebel base near the outer rim of the galaxy, and Zahn captures the three characters well. The most realized characters to me were the Hand of Judgment, enough so that it reminded me of how well Karen Traviss captured the clone troopers in her books. I think authors always do a better job writing their own characters than someone else’s, so this isn’t surprising to me.

Books like Choices of One make me regret that we won’t see any new books featuring these characters. I certainly don’t have a problem with Disney casting aside the old canon for something new, but when I realize we won’t get any new books featuring old characters (Thrawn being the exception), it makes me a little sad. This is one book where I’d like to see more development of their characters.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: January 4, 2018

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Monstress: The Blood

March 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bloodMonstress: The Blood by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

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I read the first Monstress collection last year, and was blown away with its depth of story, world-building, and characterization. That the story was paired with the perfect artwork — glorious and horrifying at the same time — made it that much more impressive, so of course I was going to keep reading this series. I just hate that it took me this long to get around to it.

The story continues to be dense with detail and history, as well as building out the world of Maika on her journey, but none of it gets in the way of the story itself. This time, Maika and Ren are on a quest to learn more about her past and her mother’s machinations, which takes her to sea to find an island of legend. The journey there and her discovery are the heart of this book.

The Blood is effective due to its imagery, both in story and art. Liu balances compassion and cruelty in her story, which Takeda balances delicacy and violence in her art. Overall, this book is creepy and disquieting, and is the kind of story — visually and narratively — that gets under the skin and keeps you thinking. That the two can continue with the strengths that made the first volume so good ensures that I will be reading this through to its conclusion.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: December 31, 2017

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Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too

March 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) ()

aliebnEveryone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

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What a cute book! It straddles the line between schmaltzy and wise, using innocence to talk about some hefty topics. It discusses individuality, loneliness, love, isolation, and friendship, among other things. It’s also immensely quotable; I’ll bet that readers have written down a good many of the lines in this book to remember them in times of need.

The book is about Jomny, an alien who lands on Earth and is tasked with learning about humans. He first encounters trees and animals, and begins using them to collect his data. He’s an innocent soul, with no knowledge of anything save himself and how he respects everyone else, and it’s that approach he takes to his research. It’s drawn in a style that could be called frivolous, but it’s a perfect match for Jomny’s innocence, which never quite crosses over to naivete.

This is a perfect book, with a wide audience. I can see it being useful for readers who are experiencing depression or grief, as it’s a very light story with an affirming message. I understand the author has a Twitter feed that’s reminiscent of this book, so I’ll be making sure I follow him. If this is an example of what he can write, then I’ll be along for the whole ride.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: December 31, 2017

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The Library at Mount Char

March 26, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

charThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

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First things first: This is an odd book. It doesn’t just throw you into the deep end of the pool as soon as it begins; it takes away your arm floaties and confirms that you don’t know how to swim before it does. The story forces you to pay attention to everything, though it’s not inaccessible. It will just take you a while to figure out what’s happening. At one point in the process of reading the book, I compared it to trying to watch two different movies by switching channels constantly on the television. I’m not sure I figured it out until about halfway into the book, but even during that time, I didn’t feel like I was going to give up on it.

It’s also an odd book because it’s hard to categorize. It feels like it’s a horror novel, but it has touches of science fiction, and even weird fiction, so even as you’re trying to grasp the story itself, you’re also struggling with your expectations for the story. It’s not a story that has to be categorized, necessarily, but it doesn’t help the story become any clearer by not knowing what genre this is.

The story has good characters, but what’s strange about the story is that it resonates through its oddness, not necessarily through its characters. You’ll grow to care about the principle characters, but it will take some time to get there, and I feel like it’s worth it, but in the beginning, it’s the novelty of the story that will keep your attention. Later, it will be because you have to know all the answers.

Probably the biggest failing to the book is that Hawkins does give us all the answers. For such an odd book, I would have preferred a little ambiguity, but he decides to make sure we know everything that led up to this story. It all fits, and it’s justified, but I came away from the story feeling like it was a little too pat, and too convenient. It comes together well, and I honestly can’t think of any other way the author could have wrapped it up, but I left the book feeling like it could have had a bit more punch to it.

You’ll note that I haven’t said anything about the story itself. This is intentional. The Library at Mount Char is a book best read with as little knowledge about it as possible. I hope my saying it’s an odd book won’t be too much of a spoiler, but man, I feel like people need to know that ahead of time, because it’s a book that will pay off by its conclusion. I don’t want anyone to get scared off before then.

Started: December 21, 2017
Finished: December 30, 2017

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The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred

March 23, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

hundredThe Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

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If you’re not familiar with the Trolley Dilemma, it goes like this:

You’re on a train that’s traveling toward a group of five rail workers. You have time to force the trolley onto another line, where only one worker is standing, so you can either do nothing and kill five people, or make a choice and actively kill one person. It’s an ethical dilemma that presents choice as the factor in guilt.

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred is a short book that sets the Trolley Dilemma in space. Anna is a newly-appointed director on an asteroid, tasked with collecting refugees from another colonized asteroid, as they begin floating in on derelict cocoon ships. She’s ultimately faced with the challenge of saving either the four thousand refugees, or the eight hundred other refugees on a ferry that is supposed to dock on the other asteroid. Cue the conclusion.

The journey to that decision is an interesting one, which parallels a lot of the trouble the US is having with its current political arena. The incident that spurs the refugees into action involves politics, racism, and classism, so it’s a lot to think about in terms of our own lives, even before the dilemma presents itself. The conclusion, though, feels banal against the conditions that started the action, and it seems to shift the emotional turmoil from the refugees to Anna, who has to make that choice. It seemed like Egan gave short shrift to the people escaping their oppression, even though the bulk of the story was about their struggle.

Egan is a decent writer. His characters weren’t lively, but they were distinct, and he captured their conflicts well. This novella just doesn’t seem like the best place to start with the author. It gave me reason to track down another book of his to see if his longer works would be more satisfying, but this one just didn’t quite zing me the way I hoped it would.

Started: December 29, 2017
Finished: December 30, 2017

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Galaxy of Fear: The Hunger

March 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

hungerGalaxy of Fear: The Hunger by John Whitman

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Well, my hope for the series to end on a strong note was dashed. This final book takes us to Dagobah, where we (of course) meet Yoda, and even have a run-in with Boba Fett while we’re at it. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, though, since the two characters are featured on the cover of the book. This time around, Zak and Tash have to survive in the harsh jungle setting of Dagobah, while Tash finally gets a chance to understand her Force sensitivity.

I’ve like the way the books go back and forth between Zak and Tash being the heroes of the books. They even work together in some books to solve the mysteries, and I like that the stories give readers different people with whom to identify. Plus, it was nice to see DV-9 return, since his character development was interesting in the first six books. I’m not quite sure why Whitman decided to take him out of the story, but if anything indicated this was the last book in the series, Deevee’s return was it.

It’s funny to think that I started reading this series three days ago, and have finished all twelve of them in that time. I guess it helps that I was on vacation at the time, and the stories were short and easy to read. I wouldn’t be opposed to reading more of Whitman’s work in the Expanded Universe, but it looks like these are the only books he wrote for the license. Oh, well.

Started: December 29, 2017
Finished: December 29, 2017

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Galaxy of Fear: Clones

March 21, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

clonesGalaxy of Fear: Clones by John Whitman

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It’s everyone’s favorite Star Wars trope: clones! This time, Zak and Tash find themselves on Dantooine at the abandoned Rebel base we all remember from the first movie, but everyone is encountering people from their past. For Zak and Tash, those people are their parents, who died when Alderaan was destroyed. They have to dig to discover the truth, but the title of the book should give you a clue, even if they don’t get it.

The story feels the most convoluted out of the entire series, but it also feels like it’s the best book so far. I’m not sure how Whitman manages that, but the plot does feel more complex than the others he’s created for the series. Tash and Zak both have to come to terms with the death of their parents, which helps give the story some gravity, since they have to come to terms with their own identities, as well. Their relationship with Hoole develops over the course of the series, too, which has been fun to watch, and it comes together nicely in this book.

The stories continue to be solid adventure stories, which is just what the Expanded Universe needs. The cameos here are less obvious and more natural to the story, which helps them feel less like fan service. I’m hoping Whitman will bring the series to a close with a strong conclusion in the next book.

Started: December 29, 2017
Finished: December 29 2017

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Galaxy of Fear: The Doomsday Ship

March 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

shipGalaxy of Fear: The Doomsday Ship by John Whitman

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Whitman is still reaching to include as many cameo appearances from other media in this series. This time, Dash Rendar from Shadows of the Empire shows up on a luxury space yacht where Zak and Tash are taking a break from their adventures. Of course, this being Star Wars, nothing is ever as simple as taking a relaxing cruise through space, and when they’re the last passengers left on the ship after an “Abandon ship!” claxon, another adventure begins.

The series falters a bit here, as what’s happening seems pretty obvious from outside the story, but the main characters don’t get it. They continue to make poor choices, mostly to keep the story moving, when if they would stop and think about it for a moment, they would realize the truth and stop making stupid decisions. The whole series goes back and forth with this dilemma, with some stories being done well, and others done poorly. These were published pretty quickly, though, so maybe some kinks in the series should be expected.

The story is still easy and fun to read, but it’s hardly the best in the series. At this point, I might be hard-pressed to pick the best, but they’ve all been entertaining to some degree, and fun. Maybe I shouldn’t look any more deeply than that.

Started: December 29, 2017
Finished: December 29, 2017

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Galaxy of Fear: Spore

March 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

sporeGalaxy of Fear: Spore by John Whitman

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OK, if there’s any time a writer is clearly going for fan service over genuine character development, it’s when he includes a video game character into his story. Whitman does just that in Spore by including Jerec from the Jedi Knight game from the mid-1990s. He was a fine character for the game, but pulling him out and using him as a secondary character in a kids’ book is reaching.

Spore takes us to the Ithorians’ planet, where Hoole is looking for a particular mineral to use as fuel for their ship. Their quest for the mineral takes them to an asteroid belt, where they find something far more concerning that just space slugs. By the time it reaches the surface of the planet, though, they discover just how threatening Spore can be.

To be honest, Spore is pretty convoluted. It doesn’t feel anchored, since it takes us from place to place, seemingly on a whim. That we go from needing fuel to finding an ancient crypt on an asteroid, back to the planet, all with Jerec dancing around the periphery of the story, just means we can’t get a grip on the story itself. If not for Zak and Tash there to keep us reminded of the connection to the rest of the series, it would feel like a book outside of the current series.

The story is compelling, just as all of the books in this series have been, but this is probably the weakest of the books so far. I think it’s also the shortest, though. That’s something, at least.

Started: December 28, 2017
Finished: December 29, 2017

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