Tales from Jabba’s Palace

July 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

jabbaTales from Jabba’s Palace, edited by Kevin J. Anderson

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One of the things I like about these anthologies edited by Anderson is how the stories interweave to tell a larger story concerning the scene from the movie. These aren’t standalone stories about each character; they’re stories that, together, form a larger picture about what’s happening behind the throne room. It’s a clever idea, made admirable by how Anderson had to work with the authors to make sure the stories worked together. It makes me wonder if Anderson came up with the backstory, or if the authors worked together to create it.

Like any anthology, though, the stories are mixed, with some good ones (A.C. Crispin’s take on Yarna was especially good) and some bad ones, with a lot of them just being mediocre. They do a lot to fill in backstories, which seems to be the primary purpose of a lot of the Expanded Universe books, but as stories, they’re not always the best. It doesn’t help that some of the more notable characters, like Boba Fett and Oola, don’t get the kind of attention one would expect. There’s more opportunity for comedy with these characters, though, which isn’t something you see too often in the books. Salacious Crumb’s and the Gamorrean guard’s stories stand out in that respect.

Despite liking Crispin’s story, I had issues with it being the tale of the “Fat Dancer”. I mean, the frog-thing from that one two-second scene gets his own story, and is named in the title, but here we get “Fat Dancer”? She has a name, folks. Why reduce her down to one characteristic? Given that the story was written by a woman, I was surprised this was the approach taken to it. It was disappointing.

So, it’s a little good, and a little mediocre, though none of the stories were bad. This is part of the reason I’ve stopped reading anthologies, save for ones where I have a reason to feel all the stories are of high quality. I just prefer stories with more room to breathe, and written by authors I know and trust to take me on a good ride.

Started: June 22, 2018
Finished: July 1, 2018

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Post Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror

July 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

mortemPost Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror, edited by Paul F. Olson & David B. Silva

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The next book in my Abyss project is Post Mortem, an anthology of short stories. I’m not particularly fond of anthologies. I’ll usually find a few gems, but, save for the rare exceptions like The Best of Pulphouse, I’ve never read an anthology where I find more good stories than bad ones. The good news is that ghost stories tend to work best as short stories, since they tend to leave off with the main character being haunted, and don’t need lengthy conclusions.

The opening story, “Each Night, Each Year” by Kathryn Ptacek, is the perfect opener, as it was evocative and personal. Gary Brandner’s “Mark of the Loser” follows, and it felt more gratuitous and pointless, and was too predictable. It didn’t leave me with the kind of feeling Ptacek’s story did, but it helped set the stage for what kinds of stories were to come.

Charles de Lint’s “Timeskip” feels a little forced at first, but when I looked back on it, I found it was organic. De Lint defines his world, populates it, and sets the rules, and then lets the story play out as it will. That it’s spooky is just the icing on the cake. Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem’s “Resettling” follows, and was, of course, top notch. They understand horror well, and balance personal relationships with ghosts remarkably well, and not just with this story.

“Servitor” by Janet Fox was a bit more on the gratuitous side, but was more thematic. Thomas Tessier’s “Blanca” was the same, though it’s more brooding and cultural. It reminded me somewhat of “Ma Qui” by Alan Brennert. “Nine Gables” by James Howard Kunstler was another story where personal relationships parallelled the haunting, but I didn’t find it to be as effective as the Tems’ story.

Charles L. Grant’s “The Last Cowboy Song” was the one I most wanted to read, and I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from being a quiet horror story, it was more about the positivity of ghosts, instead of about being haunted. It runs counter to “The Ring of Truth” by Thomas F. Monteleone, where the ghosts are hunters with a vengeance.

“Eyes of the Swordmaker” by Gordon Linzer was the outcast of the book, for being set in ancient Japan, and for being the most evocative of all the stories. It’s genuinely spooky, and it makes the hauting a personal choice. This might be my favorite of them all. Ramsey Campbell’s “The Guide”, on the other hand, just doesn’t make sense to me. I feel like I should appreciate Campbell more, but I never can figure out what’s happening in his stories, or what’s supposed to make them frightening.

P.W. Sinclair’s “Getting Back” was decent, but nothing spectacular. The same could be said about “Walkie-Talkie” by Donald R. Burleson, “Major Prevue Here Tonight” by William F. Nolan, and “Brothers” by David B. Silva, which is a shame, since these stories made up a large part of the end of the book. Melissa Mia Hall’s “The Brush of Soft Wings” was a nice, moody respite, and the final story, Robert R. McCammon’s “Haunted World”, is a vivid, concerning story, even if it’s not really about being haunted. I remember this story from the first time I read this anthology, and I think it also showed up in Blue World.

The book concludes with an essay by Dean Koontz about ghosts, which is a shame, since I don’t consider Koontz to be an authority on horror. Yes, I know he got famous for writing it, but his horror fiction has never scared me, and never made much sense to me. He’s a fine enough writer, but horror? Please. He’s more a suspense writer than anything. I guess they couldn’t get Stephen King to write it.

Post Mortem bucks the trend for me by being an anthology with more good stories than bad. Plus, considering how bad some of the other Abyss books are, the book also stands out for being one of the better books from the line. Overall, I’d recommend it to readers who like decent ghost stories, though it’s still a bit of a mixed bag.

Started: June 14, 2018
Finished: June 29, 2018

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Tales from the Empire

July 13, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

empireTales from the Empire, edited by Peter F. Schweighofer

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Before Timothy Zahn restarted the Expanded Universe with the Thrawn trilogy, West End Games did a lot of expanding themselves, not just with their Star Wars RPG. They published stories in their own magazine, with the intention of shedding more light on characters, settings, and races that were featured in the game materials. Tales from the Empire is the first of two collections Schweighofer put together using some of those stories.

Like any anthology, Tales from the Empire is a mixed bag of quality, with some well-written stories (Patricia A. Jackson’s “The Final Exit” and Michael A. Stackpole’s “Missed Chance” stand out) and some other stories that are less interesting. In his foreword, Schweighofer discusses how he collected stories by well-known authors (Timothy Zahn and Stackpole, for example), but he also collected stories by lesser-known authors. I liked Erin Endom’s “Do No Harm”, since it was written by a medical doctor, and had a lot of medical detail, but the other newbie stories were just OK. I didn’t actively dislike any of the stories (save for Side Trip, a novella co-written by Zahn and Stackpole; it just didn’t live up to its potential), but there were only a few stories I expect to remember years from now.

One thing I did like about the anthology is how the stories focused on characters outside of the Skywalkers. There might have been a reference or two here and there, but for the most part, we had a chance to see other people who played an important role in the universe. By the same token, the stories weren’t able to rely on character development from other sources, so it took longer to get a sense of them, in what were already shorter works. Still, I like that the authors recognized that there were other characters in the universe worthy of their own stories.

I can appreciate what West End and Schweighofer did for the Expanded Universe, especially in keeping the license alive, but I can’t help but feel like these stories would be better for players of the RPG. They rely so much on material created by the company, other readers will miss some of the references. Plus, unlike the anthologies edited by Kevin J. Anderson, the stories aren’t based on a famous event, making them more esoteric. As a result, it felt like the collection missed the mark with me.

Started: June 10, 2018
Finished: June 20, 2018

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Five Stories High

April 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

fiveFive Stories High, edited by Jonathan Oliver

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If not for Tade Thompson, I never would have read this book. When I was looking for the rest of his books after reading Molly Southbourne, this one bubbled up, and when I saw that K.J. Parker was also a contributor, I knew I was going to have to read it. Two of my new favorite authors writing ghost stories? Sign me up!

The book features five stories, all interconnected through a single house, where strange things happen. The editor weaves a sixth story among the rest, through interludes, but the stories all occur in the same place. Nina Allen introduces us to Irongrove Lodge through her novella Maggots, which is a disconcerting look at how difficult it would be to replace someone in your life. It’s an effective piece, and it highlights how focusing a lot of attention on the ordinary and mundane can raise the tension, as the reader asks himself, “What’s so important about this plain old stuff that the author wants us to see it in such great detail?”

Parker’s story follows, and could easily have been set among his other novellas featuring Saloninus. Priest’s Hole is, as far as I know, Parker’s only non-fantasy work under that name, even though it reads exactly like his fantasy work. That it’s set in the modern day is so weird, though. Parker still sets up his story for a nice, unexpected dunk shot, but where those endings felt so profound and emotional in Purple and Gold and Mightier than the Sword, here it felt anticlimactic and confusing. The motivation of the character didn’t fit with his personality, and I found myself questioning why he would do what he did.

Thompson’s story, Gnaw, is smack in the center of the collection, and is easily the best of the bunch. It’s creepy af, and is full of foreboding atmosphere and disturbing imagery. I think it helped that I read this story all in one sitting (the others took me a couple of days at least to finish), but it reminded me a lot of what worked so well in Molly Southbourne. I’d be totally fine if Thompson decided to focus just on horror for the rest of his career.

The next story, The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances, was by a new-to-me author named Robert Shearman. It’s a strange story, reminiscent of the “new wave” of horror, but here the surrealism of the story eludes me. The story feels random and pointless, but at the same time, it feels clear that the author had something in mind for this story by writing it. What it is, though, is beyond me. I can’t even remember many of the details, save for it having an irreverent tone.

Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz concludes the collection, and it reminded me a lot of Wylding Hall, in that it’s a recollection of past events by several different people. Lotz captures the different voices well, and does a good job of having us believe the victim is innocent. She gets an assist from the other stories in the volume, since by now we know Irongrove Lodge is up to something, enough so that this would have read differently had it been the first story in the collection. The story fails a bit by bringing in the character everyone else is talking about and giving us her perspective, but it works well in every other respect.

The linking story, written by the editor, doesn’t add anything to the collection, and I feel like the book would have been better off without it. There’s also a lot less haunting than I would have expected based on how the book is marketed, but the stories still have a disconcerting edge, especially Thompson’s contribution. I’m not sure how well these stories would read separately, since the later stories seem to build off of what’s come before, but they’re all available individually if you just want to read the stories by the authors you know you like.

Started: January 22, 2018
Finished: January 30, 2018

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Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina

January 24, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

mosTales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, edited by Kevin J. Anderson

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I don’t read a lot of short stories, and I don’t read many collected anthologies, but I do read a lot of Star Wars, and since I’ve come this far into the project thus far, I powered on through this book. Like most anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, with some stories being more impactful than others, but this one elevates itself a bit by being more than just a collection of stories.

Most of the stories in Tales are interconnected. Some are connected more than others (there’s a pair smack in the middle of the book that couldn’t exist without each other), and on the one hand, it’s a little annoying, since I want my stories to stand well independently. Still, it’s impressive to look at the stories as more than individual stories and view the effort that went into making all of them relate to each other.

Because this is a collection of stories featuring the characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina, it means we get to see that familiar scene over, and over, and over again, since that’s the one moment that brings all these stories together. It’s interesting to see the different perspectives on the scene (and I’m talking about the whole thing, from when Obi-Wan and Luke enter, to when Han leaves), but it does try one’s patience.

We get some big-name characters here — Greedo, Dr. Evazan, and Ponda Baba the largest of them — but for the most part we learn about the tertiary characters who flash by only momentarily. The authors take the opportunity to add their own flair and detail to the Expanded Universe, not content just to tell us about what happened in the cantina. Instead, we get authors who create worlds and cultures and characters that last longer than just a momentary glance in a cool scene. They also delve into giving Tatooine further context, with a few of the stories talking about life on the planet and what it means.

My favorites of the bunch were the moisture farmer’s tale by M. Shayne Bell, Greedo’s tale by Tom and Martha Veitch, and “Nightlily” by Barbara Hambly. I also liked the story that concluded the anthology, which told about the Wolfman and the Lamproid, and was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. The rest were passable, with only one or two that didn’t do a thing for me. For an anthology, that’s a pretty good ratio. I like the conceit of the anthology best, and I’m hoping that the other books in the Tales series will follow this example.

Started: October 28, 2017
Finished: November 4, 2017

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Dark Screams: Volume Six

October 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

screams6Dark Screams: Volume Six, edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

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Like the other two volumes of Dark Screams I’ve read (one and two), I bought this because it was only 99 cents. Also like the other two volumes, the stories are a mixed bag. To make things worse for this one, the bulk of the collection (nearly sixty percent!) is made up of one long novella, which had already been published by Cemetery Dance, at which both of the editors work. Even at 99 cents, I feel a bit gypped.

It starts out with “The Old Dude’s Ticker”, an unpublished story of Stephen King’s from when he was publishing short stories in men’s magazines. It’s a retelling of “The Tell-tale Heart”, and in the foreword, he notes he’s “not sure what [the editor]’s problem with it might have been”, but having read it, I feel like I have some insight. It’s not original or interesting, nor does it have anything to say.

Lisa Morton’s “The Rich Are Different” follows, and is about an author who visits a wealthy family which served as the inspiration for a scathing novel about the rich. It’s well written and engaging, and it kept my interest, but the twist at the end was a bit stupid.

“The Manicure” by Nell Quinn-Gibney is the next story, and tells the story of a woman who has a neurosis about her nails. It’s effectively squicky (Quinn-Gibney channels a feeling we’ve all felt and can respond to), and it has a suggestive ending I appreciate.

Norman Prentiss contributed a story, “The Comforting Voice”, and it’s the second story of his I’ve read. I like his style, and he has a way for honing in on the things that disturb, so I’ll likely add him as an author to follow. This story is about family and children, and touches on darkness without delving into the supernatural. Like any good short story, it ends without resolution, and leaves the reader thinking about the future.

“The Situation” is Joyce Carol Oates’ contribution, and she’s an author who’s often over my head. The story is a brief one, and is another of her examinations of cruelty, paired with some disturbing imagery. It opens with one scene of cruelty and ends with another; either one will be the more wrenching of the two, but which one bothers you the most depends on what you bring to the story. Highly recommended.

The last story in the collection is The Corpse King by Tim Curran, which is the novella I mentioned above. It’s descriptive and atmospheric, and feels like a well-written story, but it doesn’t do much for me beyond that. It’s set in 19th-Century England, and concerns a pair of grave robbers. Curran paints about as bleak a portrait of the time as possible, spending several thousand words telling us how unpleasant life is at that time. That the main characters are desecrating graves and stealing bodies makes them about as sympathetic as lampreys, and Curran makes sure we know how disgusting it all is. The novella is mostly description, which gets somewhat old (seriously, how many times do we need to have the smell of putrefaction described to us?), and it suggests that Curran revels in being disgusting. The whole thing felt juvenile to me, especially when he has his characters talk to each other in crass banter. It got old fast, and I went through the whole thing waiting for it to get better. It never did.

So, out of six stories, three seem worthwhile, and they make up a small percentage of this collection. The three good stories are enough for me to rate the entire thing three stars, but by themselves, they would be at least four. The deadweight of the other stories drag them down, but for 99 cents, I’d recommend those three stories. Try to avoid the others, if you can resist them.

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Dark Screams: Volume Two

September 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

screams2Dark Screams: Volume Two, edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

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For the most part, I’m not interested in short stories. I’ve read some that have made a tremendous impression on me (“Chivalry”, anyone?), but I’m more interested in longer fiction. I think it’s because I want to read a story with a narrative arc, and shorter fiction seems to be more focused on an image, or an emotion, or a particular scene. I wouldn’t have read either of the two Dark Screams volumes I’ve read, save for they were on sale.

Volume Two collects five short stories from a mix of well-known authors and lesser-known authors, with a couple of reprints, much like Volume One did. It starts off with Robert R. McCammon’s “The Deep End”, from 1987, which is about a haunted swimming pool. It hearkens back to McCammon’s heyday, and the story reflects that; it’s a decent story that’s well-paced and compelling, even if it is a little laughable. It’s solid, but nothing groundbreaking, and unfortunately it’s the best of the bunch.

Norman Prentiss makes his second appearance in the series with “Interval”, a story that’s effective, if disjointed. Prentiss builds tension well in this story about a plane crash, but he seems to have trouble deciding on what kind of story he wants to tell. It starts off as a suspense story but then goes full-horror at the midpoint. The supernatural element felt silly, but Prentiss created an effectively creepy scene near the end of the story.

“If These Walls Could Talk” by Shawntelle Madison follows, and is pointless and forgettable. A woman travels to a remote house to prepare it for filming, but winds up being a victim of a past connection. The imagery and setting are good, but it lacks that narrative arc I mentioned above. It feels incomplete, like it’s the opening chapter of a larger work.

Graham Masterson is up next with “The Night Hider”, a ridiculous story about the wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis. The dialogue is stilted, and the characters are unconvincing. They make stupid decisions just because the story needs them to, and they’re so thinly drawn that there’s no connection to them. Masterson is a well-known author, and this is a newly-published work, so it surprises me that it’s such a poor story.

Finally, Richard Christian Matheson wraps up the anthology with “Whatever”, a story about a popular band from the ’60s and ’70s. I like RCM’s short-short fiction, and one thing I noticed with this work is that he writes his stories like they’re prose poems, with his short sentence fragments that convey a moment, an item, or a feeling. It gets tiresome in his longer works, and this story takes up a good third of the entire anthology. I don’t understand its place in the “dark” category, but this is also the other reprint, so maybe the editors were just going for name recognition here.

I don’t expect to read any more releases in this series, even if they go on sale. The quality isn’t that great, and reviews of later releases suggest that the quality keeps going down. The best story in the collection is solidly mediocre, at best, and the rest of the works just aren’t worth the time.

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Dark Screams: Volume One

July 6, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

screamsDark Screams: Volume One, edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

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For the most part, I avoid short story collections unless they’re by authors on my Must Read. Everything. Right Now. Or As Soon as It’s Available. list. The last significant anthology by various authors I’ve read (not counting Six Scary Stories) is 999, from way back in 2000. This collection was only 99 cents, though, and it included a rare Stephen King story, and I couldn’t resist.

The first story — the headliner — is Stephen King’s “Weeds”, a story not reprinted since its initial publication in 1976. “Wait!” I hear you saying. “It was in Creepshow!” Well, yes, it was, but after reading this story, you’ll find they’re very different. Sure, the high points are still there — Jordy Verrill, a simple-minded handyman finds a meteor that sprouts grass on whatever it touches, taking over Jordy and his house — but the version in Creepshow is remarkably better. There’s something scarier about a passive threat to the planet than a thoughtful, malicious one like King presents in the original story. Still, it’s early King, when his style wasn’t quite as overwrought as it is now, and it’s fun to be able to go back and experience it again.

“The Price You Pay” by Kelly Armstrong is the next story, and might be better classified as a thriller than a horror story. It’s about toxic relationships, and how men and women react to them. It’s somewhat pedestrian, in that this is a story written and read time and again, but the author mentions that in the story itself, making me question if that’s the point. Stories like this are only relevant when they affect you in some way, otherwise they’re just “the same old story”. That alone makes it thought-provoking.

Bill Pronzini’s “Magic Eyes” follows, and is about a mental patient keeping a journal. He’s in the hospital because he killed his wife, but of course that’s not his take on things. This is another kind of story we’ve read several times (if we’re fans of horror, that is), and there’s not much to it to elevate it above all those other tales. At the very least, Pronzini creates an effective reliable narrator, while showing us that he’s the opposite.

Next is “Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark, a pointless story about abduction and survival. And mindless killing. It’s stories like these that remind me why I’m not as into horror as I used to be, and makes me question why I was into it as much as I was when I was younger.

Concluding the anthology is Ramsey Campbell’s “The Watched”. Campbell is a hit-or-miss author with me, with more misses than hits, but his short story “The Words That Count” is a favorite of mine, and is especially chilling. This story isn’t quite as resonant, but it’s definitely creepy. Campbell captures the proper atmosphere of the story, and creates some haunting imagery. It’s a bloodless horror story, and is more effective for it.

Armstrong’s and Campbell’s story are worth the price of the collection, and King’s story is an amusement, especially for his Constant Readers. The rest are just okay, though more hardcore fans of horror might find the stories more to their liking. The collection overall doesn’t inspire me to read the remaining volume, even though some heavy hitters like Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, and Jack Ketchum are among the featured authors.

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Hearts in Suspension

March 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

suspensionHearts in Suspension, edited by Jim Bishop

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I’m not much of a reader of non-fiction, but I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, and the lure of reading new material by him — recently written, and some of his earliest writings — drew me to this book. It’s a collection of essays by King and some of his contemporaries from the years he attended the University of Maine at Orono, since 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of his starting college there. The book also includes the novella Hearts in Atlantis, included in the collection of the same name, which is King’s take on what the 1960s meant to him.

“Five to One, One in Five” is King’s essay, which introduces the collection. It gives some background into Hearts in Atlantis, so much so that it shows how autobiographical the novella is. He based characters in the story on real people he met at college, and it’s interesting to see these two pieces together and see how one influenced the other. That’s true of most fiction, but anyone who doesn’t see how King’s life influences his fiction hasn’t read enough of either. The man wrote himself into The Dark Tower, for crying out loud.

The rest of the essays are a bit of a mixed bag. You can tell the writers from the non-writers there, but each of them do their part to convey what the 1960s meant to them. Not all of them talk about King; some mention him only once or twice; others put the focus of their essays on him. You find a lot of repetition there, too, since so many events of the 1960s — the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam, Kent State, and the Great Chicken Crisis are common refrains — tie them all together. It’s to be expected; big, momentous events like that present a shared experience that links people together, and the 1960s were a big, momentous time.

I don’t see this book having much appeal to a casual reader, but for folks who have read all of King’s books, read up on his life, read books about King, and maybe even traveled to Maine in the hopes of meeting the man, this book will be of great interest. If nothing else, it will allow you to re-read one of King’s most affecting stories and see it in context with real life.

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Lost Tribe of the Sith

January 25, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

tribeLost Tribe of the Sith by John Jackson Miller

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I decided to read the Legends books in chronological order instead of in publication order, which might not be the best approach. On the one hand, I have the story told to me in the right order, but on the other hand, I wonder if the stories will give too much away for future books. I dug in and read Asimov’s Foundation series in publication order, which was the right decision, since reading earlier books would have ruined some of the suspense of the later books, since Asimov wrote of mysteries that had yet to be solved in his prequels.

Anyway, I now understand that this series of novellas is intended to create the antagonists for Legends of the Force, a series of books that actually falls near the end of the Legends Extended Universe chronology. The thinking was that the Sith Lords had been defeated, and instead of bringing in a bunch of bad guys who had never been seen before, the publisher decided to create a lost tribe to serve as the antagonists for that series. Such was the birth of this book, which collects eight ebook novellas that told the story of that tribe.

(I should note that the Sith are a race of beings in the EU, as well as a class of Dark Jedi. I didn’t know this until I looked it up when parts of the stories didn’t make much sense.)

Precipice, the first novella, tells of a group of Sith who crash land on a hostile planet called Kesh. The group loses members to the native predators, as well as to mutiny, but it’s indicated that they are unable to make contact with anyone to rescue them. And of course, it’s the Jedi who put the Sith into that position. Skyborn, the next novella, shows what happens after the crash, when the native population, still making the transition from mythology to science, discover the Sith. The Sith take the opportunity to pretend to be the gods these people worship, as they come from the sky, and the Sith have crash-landed on their planet.

Paragon is where the story begins to pick up speed, and highlights how these novellas don’t really work as individual stories. As chapters of a novel, they work well enough, but when you look at them separately, they don’t have the cohesion of a single story. Characterization for the key characters is found in the preceding stories, including their motivations and names. The preceding stories serve as exposition, while the rest of the stories become more involved with plot.

Paragon is set fifteen years after the crash-landing, when the Sith have come to realize that they won’t be leaving the planet. An apparent plague overcomes one of the lake towns on Kesh, killing all the residents. It spreads to other lake towns, and the Sith become concerned over their own vulnerability. The truth devastates not only Kesh, but the Sith (the race) survivors, as well.

Savior follows Paragon, ten years later, when the remaining Sith choose to move from their temple near their crash site to integrate with the Kesh. The Sith are still revered as gods. Mostly. It turns out there’s an underground group of rebels who suspect or know the truth about the Sith, and hope to defeat them for good. Seeing as how this story doesn’t even mark the halfway point in this collection, you can guess how well that goes for them.

The story then jumps ahead nearly 1,000 years for Purgatory. The Sith have settled in to the planet fairly well, establishing their own system to rule the planet. Unfortunately for them, their isolation isn’t complete, as the story reveals an adversary in their midst. Sentinel continues that story, highlighting an unlikely alliance between one of the discredited Sith and someone else living on Kesh.

Pantheon jumps ahead another 1,000 years, this time showing the Sith’s ceremonies, as well as their self-serving interests and how they will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Sith. Oddly, the collection begin to take on a weird sense of humor at this point, even invoking some slapstick comedy. It’s not a complete destruction, though, as Secrets shows, but a group of people who live only for themselves doesn’t much guarantee the survival of the group as a whole. Not until they find another reason to pull together a group, that is.

Pandemonium is the last novella in the book, though it could be considered a novel all by itself. It comprises about a third of the entire book, and concludes the series of stories that have preceded it. It jumps ahead about 25 years, and covers the events surrounding why the Sith decided to work together again. Knowing Sith, though, the only thing that will bring them together is an opportunity to destroy another group. Hence the name of the novella.

I’m surprised that these novellas were originally released individually as ebooks, since many of them don’t work as standalone stories. They seem to work better together as pairs, and even then, the pairs are part of a larger story that concludes with a story that was never available by itself. It seems like the release schedule was more about marketing (and I guess they all are, really), but it felt a little cheap, and besides, the stories themselves didn’t stand out as great works.

I think the book succeeds in what it set out to do — establish the lost tribe that would serve as antagonists much later in the EU — but I didn’t feel like the stories were all that good. The characters didn’t seem fleshed out (which, granted, could have been due to the length of the works), there seemed to be more telling than showing, and a lot of the action occurred off-screen, or between chapters. I can’t help but feel like the events would have been better seen, though I will admit that the scope of this series of stories — over 2,000 years — prohibits too much detail.

So, I like it for what it conveys about the EU, but I can’t say I was wild about the style, or the stories themselves. It seems like the idea was better than the execution, which I’ve heard can be said of a lot of the EU material. I look forward to when the stories return to being as good as their ideas.

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