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

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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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Splinter of the Mind’s Eye

April 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

splinterSplinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster

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So. Here it is. The first book in what would become the Expanded Universe. I don’t think I saw this book when it came out (I would have been six), but man, once I knew about it, it was almost all I could think about. I never got around to reading it, but man, back when this was one of only a few books set in the Star Wars universe, it was huge.

Reading it now, I have to force myself to think about it in terms of its original context. As Foster tells it, the novel is made up of a bare-bones idea Lucas had, which would have been a sequel to the first movie had it bombed, so a lot of the ideas don’t mesh with anything that would come later. Plus, in reading it, I had to remind myself that anyone reading it at the time of its release wouldn’t know if Luke and Leia would survive the story. It was a weird experience overall, but I tried to keep all that in mind as I read it.

The thing is, it’s still not that great a book. Foster didn’t have much to work with, but he still seems to have a gross misunderstanding of the characters of Luke and Leia. Luke is more of a pushover than he was in Star Wars, and Leia goes from being a capable, headstrong woman to a self-involved shrew with no patience. It doesn’t help that Foster includes some misogyny in the way the male characters treat Leia, but that’s not a misunderstanding of character as much as it is just a poor thing to include in the story, even in 1978.

The story centers on Luke and Leia, on their way to a planet to convince them to become part of the Alliance, crash-landing on another planet and getting caught up in a quest for a mysterious, Force-sensitive jewel. It’s fairly standard stuff for the EU, but it feels insubstantial in a lot of ways. I felt that way about The Approaching Storm, too (and if I’m being honest, Splinter doesn’t feel as insubstantial as that novel), but it seems Foster spends a lot of time following Luke and Leia about this planet. The action scenes are fine (if somewhat brief in comparison), but there’s more following that anything else. This book also had the same problem of the narrative feeling somewhat stilted, where I was having to read sentences a few times to parse them.

What I did find interesting is some of the ideas of the EU that were laid down here. Foster makes explicit the Emperor’s xenophobia, which I didn’t think became a thing until Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. I mean, yes, you can watch the original trilogy and assume Palpatine has a thing against non-humans, but I thought the explicit policy wasn’t stated until then. In fact, between this book and the novelization of Star Wars, I’m surprised with how much of the prequels Lucas had in mind while working on these stories.

In the end, I think Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is better read as a curiosity than as a formal entry into the EU. I also think it’s important to keep its context and era in mind when reading it, and expecting it not to match all that we come to know about the Skywalkers and their place in the universe. Afterward, I’d recommend checking out the entry for the book at the Wookiepedia to see how fans have shoehorned the consistency issues back into the canon. At the very least, it’s an entertaining read.

Started: January 15, 2018
Finished: January 17, 2018

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The Ruins of Dantooine

April 6, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

ruinsThe Ruins of Dantooine by Voronica Whitney-Robinson & Haden Blackman

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Well, I thought I had hit rock bottom in the Expanded Universe with the L. Neil Smith books, but little did I know the worst was yet to come. The storytelling here is about as subtle as a brick to the head, and as exciting as watching Two-and-a-Half Men. It’s terrible.

Neither the story nor the characters (or even the plot) in this book are that deep. It’s part of the Star Wars Galaxies computer game, and having not played the game, I don’t know how much of the story might relate to the game. I do know that it doesn’t matter. The two main characters, Dusque and Finn (not the same Finn from The Force Awakens, mind you) are as flat as a dinner mint, with questionable motivations, and even if they do feature in the game, what the author does with them is criminal.

The entire book is told in a dry, clinical style, and relies far too much on telling. There’s no emotion or feeling connected to anything that happens in the book, so we don’t care much about what happens. Near the beginning of the book, Whitney-Robinson tells us that Dusque is a feminist, but she neglects to show us how she is. In fact, as much as she depends on Finn and becomes a damsel in distress, I don’t know how the author expects us to believe her statement about Dusque.

She also telegraphs the truth behind Finn’s character, enough so that part of me wondered if she were setting him up that way to play with our expectations of him. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, because there’s nothing else in the story to suggest the author would do something this subtle. In the end, I can’t say I was disappointed to find out that he was exactly the character she was leading us to believe he was.

The whole book feels like a juvenile book, which in itself is an insult to books like the Harry Potter series, or any of Jude Watson’s EU books. Those books used subtlety of character and plot to make the stories more engaging and significant; The Ruins of Dantooine just barrels on through like a train determined to come into the station on time. It was a fast read, yes, but it certainly wasn’t a good read. I can’t say I’m surprised that Lucas only released one book in this particular franchise.

Started: January 14, 2018
Finished: January 14, 2018

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Honor Among Thieves

April 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

thievesHonor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey

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This is my first Corey novel. It isn’t the first one I’ve wanted to read (The Expanse is on my list), but it’s the first one I’ve read, though it certainly won’t be my last. This is the kind of Star Wars novel I’m most interested in — the one where an established science fiction author tackles the Expanded Universe.

This is a pretty impressive read, not just because the authors capture the characters of Han, Leia, and Luke so well, nor because they give the story an appropriate sense of humor. Those traits themselves are impressive, but what surprised me the most about this story is that it’s one plot. Zahn’s Choices of One was equally impressive for its three distinct plots that served one story, but here we just have the one, with Han trying to run a routine recovery mission for the Alliance. Star Wars being what it is, such a simple plan develops into something far more involved and important, but the story never deviates from Han, nor does it shift to anyone else’s perspective.

Something else I liked about this book was the importance of its female characters, and how much they led the events of the story. If The Last Jedi was commentary on toxic masculinity, then the authors planted the seeds for it in this book here. It’s refreshing to see Han, the macho smuggler whose fragile ego prevents him from ever showing vulnerability or sensitivity (note: this story takes place before The Empire Strikes Back), defer to the plans of Leia and Scarlet when his own won’t suffice.

Honor Among Thieves was a great introduction to Corey. I’ve heard enough good about The Expanse to be eager to read it, but having seen what the authors can do with an established universe, I’m now even more eager to start on that series. This book also makes me want to read more about the universe through the eyes of long-established science fiction authors. I only wish LucasFilm would employ more of them.

Started: January 6, 2018
Finished: January 9, 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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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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