Hard Merchandise

September 6, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

merchandiseHard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter

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*yawn*

For better or for worse, I have committed myself to reading all of the Star Wars books. Some have been exceptional, most have been mediocre, but only one so far has been downright bad and embarrassing to read. Jeter’s entire Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy, though, is the first one I’ve read that was outright boring.

The characters in this series are flat, the plots are unengaging, and the action is more likely to put you to sleep than to keep you interested. It’s a shame, too, because Jeter’s ideas are pretty cool, and his outlook on the Expanded Universe is a bit darker than expected, but he doesn’t do much with those ideas. It doesn’t help that the character everyone probably wants to read about — Boba Fett — feels more like an incidental character, since Dengar and Neelah come across as the central characters for the entire series.

Speaking of Neelah, at one point in the book, around the 100-page mark, Jeter refers to her as “the female Neelah”, which threw me. Irrespective of the fact that this is the final book in a trilogy, in which she’s featured prominently in the story, this isn’t even her first appearance in this book, where she’s already been established as female. Why make such an odd distinction in the narrative? It wasn’t even a quote; it was part of the narrative.

I’ve been more engaged reading program code, or watching a PowerPoint presentation, than I was reading this trilogy. It’s just terrible, moreso because it had the potential to be something a lot better. I wouldn’t recommend this book or series at all.

Started: August 21, 2018
Finished: September 2, 2018

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Slave Ship

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

slaveSlave Ship by K.W. Jeter

—–

After being so disappointed with the first book in this series, I went into the second book with lowered expectations. It helped at the start — it felt like it was a little bit better — but by the first third of the book, it felt like I was reading the first book all over again. It wasn’t engaging, and I felt myself lucky if I were reading twenty pages a day.

Like the first book, Slave Ship flips between two timelines, one during the events of The Empire Strikes Back, the rest about halfway into the events of Return of the Jedi. This time, I at least recognized that Jeter was using a framing device by having Dengar telling Neelah what happened in the past. I don’t remember that being the structure in the first novel, but as long as it took to get through it, and as hard as it was for me to pay attention to it, I could have just missed it.

Also, by this book, the Bounty Hunters Guild has been disbanded, which was news to me. Did it happen in the first book and I just missed it? (I’m willing to admit this is likely the case.) Or is it like the Clone Wars and it happened between entries in the series? Now, don’t think that you won’t know this is the case, though; Jeter tells us over and over again that it’s been disbanded, thanks to Boba Fett. It’s sort of like “With great power comes great responsibility” in Spider-Man: You’re going to hear it again and again and again.

Jeter still has some cool, cyberpunky ideas, which are rarely seen in the Expanded Universe, so I think it’s refreshing to see them here, but he doesn’t do much with those ideas. His characters are flat, the plot seems forced, and he uses a lot of info-dumps. His action scenes are also flat, and since there are a few battles that take place, that’s unfortunate.

Speaking of characters, that of Boba Fett feels off. I know he’s supposed to be a ruthless character, but Jeter makes him this emotionless, manipulative character who doesn’t quite gel with how I perceive him from the movies. Ruthless is one thing, but sociopathic is a little different. Plus, we never get any of Fett’s point of view, so we never know what his motivations are. I’m sure that’s intentional — Fett has always been a mysterious character — but as much as he’s featured on the covers and summaries of the books, I expected a bit more attention paid to his character.

So, I’m going to finish the series (I’ve come this far, and I’ve already committed to reading all the EU books, for good or ill), but the second book hasn’t given me any reason to change my mind on its quality. I’m tempted to just read the Wookieepedia entry for the third book so I can jump ahead, but I’m a slave to my projects. I won’t expect it will change my mind about the series, though.

Started: August 9, 2018
Finished: August 21, 2018

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The Mandalorian Armor

August 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

armor The Mandalorian Armor by K.W. Jeter

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K.W. Jeter is supposed to be this wunderkind author, hailed by Philip K. Dick and other authors, so I had high expectations for this book. I mean, this was the guy who had been tagged to write the authorized sequels to Blade Runner! Of course this book had to be good, right?

Well, with that kind of set up, you probably know where this is going. I disliked this book. I didn’t hate it, but neither did I care about anything that happened in the book. This is the first book in The Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy, so I expected Boba Fett to feature here, because what book about bounty hunters wouldn’t feature Boba Fett? Instead, he’s a secondary character at best, since Dengar feels like the main character.

Now, to be fair, this isn’t the first book in the Boba Fett trilogy; this is about all the bounty hunters and the Bounty Hunters Guild. It’s also the start of a trilogy, so there’s a good chance Boba Fett is going to find his way back to being a main character. It’s just odd how Jeter approaches the telling of the story, since the opening scene of the book appears to be after the titular war.

The book opens with Dengar finding Boba Fett, battered and weak, outside of his armor, next to the remains of the sarlacc. He rescues Fett, and we settle in for a story set after the events of Return of the Jedi, but then the book flashes back to events that take place between Empire and Jedi. Jeter flips back and forth between the two timelines, but the bulk of the story takes place earlier, which just didn’t work for me. At the very least, it reduces the tension of the story, since we know some of the characters featured in the earlier timeline are going to make it to the later one.

Most of the book just felt so boring. It was hard to care about the characters, and the plot meandered enough that I had to force myself to come back to the book. At one point, Palpatine and Vader are having a conversation with Prince Xizor of Black Sun, and that conversation goes on for about forty pages. The conversation was important — it layed out much of the plot and hinted at the machinations that would take place ahead — but it went on way too long. The dialogue felt forced and insincere, in that it became more an infodump than a convincing conversation between a few characters. It was way too much speech and not enough action.

Speaking of action, what action there was always felt flat and unemotional. Maybe it was due to my lack of caring about the characters, but once things did get going, I always felt like a distant observer instead of being right there in the action with them.

This was a book with so much potential. I mean, I know someone who, after learning that Disney wasn’t going to do a Boba Fett movie, turned to this trilogy to get his Boba Fett kick. I’m going to have to tell him to skip it. On the one hand, I hate to do it, because he really wants a good Boba Fett story; on the other hand, I have to do it, because I don’t want him to subject himself to this book. Me? I at least have a reason to keep trudging on, but now my expectations won’t be so high.

Started: July 25, 2018
Finished: August 9, 2018

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Return of the Jedi

July 26, 2018 at 4:25 pm (Reads) (, , )

jediReturn of the Jedi by James Kahn

—–

Return of the Jedi is my least favorite of the original trilogy of movies. I’ve never been convinced that Vader showed any signs of having good in him before this movie, and the way Luke keeps telling everyone that he does never made much sense to me. It’s a sticking point for me, and I have yet to see anything in the movies that resolved it for me. When I started this novelization, I was hoping the book would give more insight into how Luke knew that about his father.

Unfortunately, the novel sheds no additional light on on Luke’s revelation. Instead, it makes Vader out to be even more cold blooded, enough so that he struck me as a character who was less likely to have any good in him than in the movie. The novel does go into a little more depth, adding dialogue that was likely cut from the script before filming, but it doesn’t resolve that central issue I had with the book.

The novelization is a bit tell-y, and the characterization feels weaker since Kahn appears to rely on readers being familiar with the characters from the movie instead of developing them in the story itself. It’s a decent enough read, and would entertain someone looking for a quick read, but I don’t see why anyone would choose to read the book over seeing the movie. It doesn’t add enough to make it a necessary read.

Started: July 6, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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Tales from Jabba’s Palace

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

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

—–

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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Tales from the Empire

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

empireTales from the Empire, edited by Peter F. Schweighofer

—–

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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Shadows of the Empire

June 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

shadowsShadows of the Empire by Steve Perry

—–

I have a vague memory of when this book came out, thanks in part to being a LucasArts fanboy for many years. I remember it was a major multimedia release, with the game, the book, the comic book, and probably some other materials all tying together to tell the whole story. I remember playing the game, but I never delved into the other material.

Shadows of the Empire was among the first of the Expanded Universe releases after Timothy Zahn rekindled interest in it with the Thrawn trilogy, and it shows. It’s a solid read, with enough throwbacks to the original trilogy, along with new characters to breathe new life into the EU. This was the first novel that addressed what happened between Empire and Jedi, and it introduced Prince Xizor, a character who is still prominent in the new canon.

In the story, Xizor is making a play to replace Darth Vader to become the Emperor’s right hand through a plot to kill Luke Skywalker. At the same time, Leia is trying to track down Boba Fett and rescue Han from Jabba, and Dash Rendar signs on to help them. Dash is a stand-in for Han, which is unfortunate since he comes across as a carbon(ite) copy of Han in some parts of the story. I’m not sure how much that decision came from Perry, and how much of it came from Lucasfilm.

This is one of the stronger titles in the EU, and is definitely among the must-read books in the universe. I might have to see if I can find the game to see if I can get any more details about the larger story.

Started: May 5, 2018
Finished: May 12, 2018

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Tales of the Bounty Hunters

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

talesTales of the Bounty Hunters, edited by Kevin J. Anderson

—–

Man, it feels like it’s been a couple of months since I’ve read anything for my Star Wars project. I got bogged down with a long, dense series of books that took a lot of time to read, so it was nice to return to the Expanded Universe, even if it was in a collection of shorter works, and not a full novel. I much prefer the novel-length stories, but I did commit to everything in the EU, so here we are.

The first story of the bunch is Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88 by Kevin J. Anderson, and it’s pretty stupid. Parts of the story don’t make much sense (for the arsenal Anderson builds in to it, along with its weight, it would have to be about twenty feet tall), and by the end, the assassin droid tries to implant itself into the central computer of the second Death Star. It’s not written well, either. It has lots of telling, and some of the dialogue is laughable.

Payback: The Tale of Dengar by Dave Wolverton follows, and is a better-told story, but it smacks of a juvenile story. This isn’t a surprise, since Wolverton has written a few juvenile books for the EU. I like how Wolverton develops the character, but his characterization isn’t the best. I didn’t feel any connection with any of his main characters, and given how he ends the story, that’s pretty critical. Speaking of the ending, it’s a little ridiculous.

The next novella is The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk by Kathy Tyers, and I had a hard time following parts of the story. It doesn’t seem like a difficult story, but I kept checking out, so I lost some of the threads. Tyers telegraphs some details about the ending of the story by making some small parts of the story strangely significant when they’re revealed. It’s not the most gripping tale, but that could be due to the fact that Tyers doesn’t make Bossk at all likeable.

The best story in the collection is Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM by M. Shayne Bell. It’s a touching story of redemption, loyalty, and friendship, made effective by Bell’s characterization skills. He focuses on three characters, the titular bounty hunters and a Rebel commander, and even though the story is short, it resonates because of them. Some parts of the story were convenient, but the rest of it was so effective that I can overlook them.

The anthology wraps up with The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett by Daniel Keys Moran, featuring everyone’s favorite bounty hunter. Unfortunately, Moran doesn’t do much with the story. He attempts to, going further back into Fett’s life to establish an origin, and then takes him far beyond the events of Return of the Jedi to tell us about his end. This doesn’t work as well as Moran thinks it does, not just because the ending is a cop-out with no real conclusion. He spoils a lot of the later books in the chronology, since this story spans so much time. That’s on me, since I chose to read these in chronological order, but it still goes a lot further than expected. Plus, it’s hard reconciling this story with the canon Lucas established in the prequels (though I’ll admit, what Moran does with the character is far better than what Lucas did with it).

If I were to recommend this book, it would only be for Bell’s story. The rest don’t have enough OOMPH to make them stand out, despite having a lot of potential. As anthologies go, though, this isn’t a bad one, since the stories are longer than short stories, and allow for more development. It’s just a shame the authors couldn’t all make something better out of the source material.

Started: April 28, 2018
Finished: April 29, 2018

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The Empire Strikes Back

April 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut

—–empire

Reading a novel that inspired a movie is one thing. You get a lot more detail and background into a story than what winds up on the screen, and it’s usually worthwhile to read a novel after (or before) seeing the movie that was inspired by it. Novelizations are different, though. You usually just get a rehash of the events from the movie, with a few extra scenes thrown in for flavor.

The Empire Strikes Back is first and foremost a novelization. It’s like reading a narrative of a screenplay, which is exactly what it is. By itself, it lacks emotion and connection, since Glut doesn’t delve any more deeply into the characters than the movie does. I would actually expect it to have more emotion, since I already have the characters and events imprinted on my brain, but somehow it still comes across as dry and inactive. Glut’s descriptions are fine, but it’s hard to tell if they’re evocative, again because of my memories of the movie. Events move quickly, and feel emotionless. This was the case with the novelization of Star Wars, too.

Strangely, I don’t remember this being the case with the prequel novelizations. Events moved quickly there, too, but I felt more of a connection with the characters. Is it due to narrative styles changing over nearly forty years, or is it because I’m more familiar with the original trilogy than I am with the prequels? I guess I won’t know for sure until I get to the novelizations of the new trilogy.

This isn’t a book I would recommend, since it doesn’t add anything new to the universe (aside from the fact that Yoda was initially supposed to be blue), and since the movie does such a better job with presenting the characters. It makes me wonder how many people still read novelizations of movies, since I haven’t come across one that does anything better than the movies themselves.

Started: February 7, 2018
Finished: February 11, 2018

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Razor’s Edge

April 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

edgeRazor’s Edge by Martha Wells

—–

I have a friend who has been pushing me to read Martha Wells, so I was pleased to see that she had contributed a novel to the Star Wars universe. I figured it would give me a chance to see what she can do, without having to put any of my other reading projects on hold, since this was the next book in the chronology. The good news is I’m impressed with what she can do.

This book is the second of a planned trilogy called Rebellion and Empire, each one featuring one of the three central characters from the original movies: Luke, Leia, and Han. Razor’s Edge features Leia, but where Honor Among Thieves was an all-Han novel, Razor’s Edge features all three characters. The story is still Leia’s, though, since the story focuses on Alderaanian pirates and how the destruction of the planet, and Leia’s role in the Rebellion, affect them, before and after they meet her in the story. The events become more involved as the story progresses, but that theme pervades much of the novel, and that’s the how and why this book is Leia’s story.

After finishing the book, though, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like Leia got the shaft here, that she deserved a better story than this one, and that the story was serviceable, but not memorable. It took me some time thinking about the story and its themes before I realized that Leia was the focus here, and that her actions were important. It’s more subtle than what Corey did with Honor Among Thieves, and it also make me think this will be the book I remember most out of this trilogy after months and years have passed.

If this is a sampling of what Martha Wells can do, then I look forward to reading more of her books. Thanks to that friend, I’ve already added more of her books to my to-read stack. Now I just have to work the rest of them into all of my different reading projects.

Started: January 19, 2018
Finished: January 27, 2018

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