Time for the Stars

July 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

starsTime for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein

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I’m not new to Heinlein, but it’s only been recently when I decided to read more of his work. I recently listened to Sixth Column on audio, and found it to be decent, but nothing spectacular. That one isn’t considered to be one of his juvenile novels, though, and Time for the Stars is. I was surprised with how much I liked this book, though I guess I shouldn’t be; everyone else has known for decades how good a storyteller Heinlein was, so it’s finally time for me to discover him.

Time for the Stars is about a pair of twins, Tom and Pat, who learn they’re psychic after they’re tested for a long-term science experiment. See, speaking psychically happens instantaneously, which makes it easier for communication to take place between Earth and deep-space ships. The two of them are recruited for a space journey to look for other planets to populate, one of them to travel into space, the other to stay at home to receive their messages.

Heinlein captures character and setting well, and the story features an interesting interplay of science and psychology. The story is compelling, namely because of the characters, but it has a strong “What’s going to happen next?” feel to it. Heinlein examines the time dilation that occurs in ships traveling near the speed of light, so as Tom, the space twin, only ages a few years through the story, Pat ages decades. Heinlein’s themes work well, too, especially considering this book was published over sixty years ago. He looks at the bonds of family, and how loving and liking your family are two different things. This being a Heinlein book, it starts off with a strong anti-tax, anti-government angle to it, but luckily that’s not the point of the story.

Of course, the biggest critcism of Heinlein is his view of women. They may be smart, capable, and strong in his stories, but they’re still evaluated first and foremost on their attractiveness. This could be a product of the time in which the story was written (women are also relegated to roles of cooks, caretakers, seamstresses, etc., even on a space ship), but for Heinlein to be progressive in other ways, it’s disheartening to see him be backward in this one.

I’m eager to read the rest of Heinlein’s juvenile works. Oh, OK, I’m interested in reading his non-juvenile books, too, but given how I remember Stranger in a Strange Land as a ponderous, overwrought, male sexual fantasy story, I’m more interested in the juveniles right now.

Started: June 19, 2018
Finished: June 25, 2018

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HiLo: Waking the Monsters

April 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

monstersHiLo: Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

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Outstanding!

Really. I can’t say much more than that. If you really must know, then you can check out my reviews for the first three books, where I talk about my love for Judd Winick and the characters he creates. Or you can just take my word for it and start reading the series.

(Though you should really start with the first book if you’re new to the series.)

Started: January 16, 2018
Finished: January 16, 2018

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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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Galaxy of Fear: The Swarm

March 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

swarmGalaxy of Fear: The Swarm by John Whitman

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It looks like the last six books of Galaxy of Fear will just be standalone adventures. I think this is Whitman’s best approach, since the first six, while connected, were standalone, and he seemed to be forcing that connection among the individual books.  The Swarm is a weaker entry to the series, because its theme feels so heavy-handed.

The story has Zak and Tash visiting the S’krrr, an insectoid race of creatures who live in an environmentally balanced park. Of course, once they land, they cause problems for the S’krrr, so much of the story is about showing how actions have consequences. I guess this is a good lesson for anyone to learn (and this is, after all, a kids’ book), but it seems so obvious, and wouldn’t kids have learned that lesson by now? It just seemed like a basic point to make for the story.

Also, Thrawn makes an appearance, which struck me as strange. I don’t remember him being a captain at this point in the timeline, but granted I’ve only seen him in Outbound Flight and the Thrawn trilogy, which are the bookends of his career with the Empire, so I guess it could be. It just seemed more like fan service than actually using a character to its best effect.

Despite my concerns, it’s still a solid read, with good characters and a compelling plot. I just wish Whitman would reach a bit deeper into his stories to make them feel more significant.

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

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Galaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders

March 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

brainGalaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders by John Whitman

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Remember at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, when Luke is walking down the hallways of Jabba’s palace, and he sees that spider droid with the brain underneath? Well, The Brain Spiders is about those very droids. Whitman takes that one throw-away scene and creates a whole mythology around him. I dig the idea, because these are the kinds of stories I most want to hear in the Expanded Universe — the ones that broaden what we already know.

Of course, this also means that we get cameos from existing characters — Jabba — but it makes sense with this story. Whitman includes another theme here, which is nice since the stories feel more throwaway without them. Here, Zak and Tash are finding barriers between them as they each grow up in different directions, and the story helps them better understand and resolve the conflict that’s growing between them. It’s been a common theme with some of the other books, but the brain spiders bring that conflict to the front, and make that conflict more obvious.

This is another solid, if simplified, read, which is standard for this series. The ending here isn’t as strong as, say, The Nightmare Machine (it has way too much hand-waving in the sudden ending to suspend my disbelief), but it keeps your attention and keeps you reading. For these books, that’s about the best you can get.

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

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Galaxy of Fear: Army of Terror

March 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

terrorGalaxy of Fear: Army of Terror by John Whitman

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Army of Terror brings to a conclusion the over-arching story that Whitman has been teasing since the second book. Each book up to (and including) this one has been about an experiment that an Imperial scientist has developed to take over the universe. Here, Zak and Tash stumble across the final experiment, which involves developing an army of ultra-strong warriors. Who the scientist is, and how he relates to them, is as surprising as the mystery itself.

Still, the mystery is self-evident. Anyone paying attention would know where the threat lies, and it’s odd that Zak and Tash are oblivious to it, especially when you consider Tash’s Force-sensitivity. Early in the book, I thought maybe Whitman was playing with the reader’s expectations, and creating a red herring, but nope, what you see is what you get. I was a little disappointed, but it’s my own fault; he hasn’t taken that approach to a story thus far in the series, so I don’t know why I would have thought he was starting here.

Whitman brings the larger story to a close here, which is odd since there are still six books left in the series. I’m curious to see how he approaches the final books. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempted another connection between the books, but since each book has still been an individual adventure, it would be better if he skipped that part all together. At least readers won’t be distracted by their odd beginnings and endings.

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

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Galaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi

March 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

ghostGalaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi by John Whitman

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As Tash’s character develops, we learn that she’s Force-sensitive. She has feelings and intuitions that Zak and Hoole both trust, so when they wind up on a lost space station that gives her bad feelings, they know something is up. That squatters on the station are slowly disappearing is just a confirmation that something bad is happening there.

It’s probably easy to tell what the big scary thing is in this book — a ghost! Of a Jedi! Yes, it turns out that the space station is more than it appears, though only Tash can tell due to her Force-sensitivity. She has her doubts about herself, as any young teenager does, and Whitman balances the story against its theme pretty well. Plus, there are no cameos in this volume, which makes it feel more self-contained in its own universe, which I appreciate.

The books are still hinting at a larger story, and I have to admit, I’m ready for that to resolve itself. That larger story only comes into play through the prologues and epilogues of these books, so it doesn’t feel like it’s a big important part of the story. The characterization carries over from book to book, but the plots are all stand-alone. After reading Jude Watson’s juvenile series (and even Alex Wheeler’s), I’ve gotten used to that larger story being significant. Here’s hoping it becomes a part of the story soon.

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

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