Archive for July, 2017

Review: Deceived

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on 28 July 2017 by Megan

by Paul S. Kemp

I could title this review “how to slash a rating in half in the last 20 pages and make a reader go from ‘I see why people like Kemp’ to profanity-laced ‘Kemp is garbage and I will never read this again or anything else he ever wrote.'” Because up until page 239, this was solidly at 4 stars, better thanĀ Revan, and certainly delivering on everything anyone could want from a TOR novel.

I remember in Jude Watson’s Defenders of the Dead how I threw the book across the room when a main character did something totally out of character in the last ten pages. I wasn’t angry when I read this one, though. Just deflated.

Let’s start with the plot description and the other decent stuff first, though.

Deceived is based on a video game, even more directly on a trailer for the videogame, so it was really exciting to get some depth behind the trailer, to put names with the faces and know who those characters were, what was going on, how it relates to the game I play.

It was also amusing to pick out the obvious archetypes from the game imported into the book: Malgus the Warrior with his Vette-companion Eleena, the Knight Aryn with companion T7, the Smuggler Zeeveld — even more fun to have the book identify Aryn and Z as former troopers, as my knight Vish’wecor’annik is a former trooper herself and it confirms my lore. The Agent (Sniper) Vrath was easily my favorite character, but I’ll return to that.

The book has some standard flaws. I found the character development limited, though nowhere near as shallow as in Revan; psychology and memory were provided for the characters, but everything in the book was told and not shown, making for a rather flat experience. There were too many paragraph breaks to ever really settle into a single string of action. It’s interesting, I notice people complaining all the time about how many cuts are made in action movies, and how praiseworthy single-shot scenes are, but nobody ever takes me seriously when I observe that paragraph breaks in novels shatter the flow of action. But it’s a great way to pad pages when you have no idea what to do.

Still, as I said, up until page 239, I was willing to round up my 3.5 rating to 4 stars for Goodreads. I wished there was more depth of character and less telling me how characters feel rather than showing me — but that tell-don’t-show goes back to Lucas himself and therefore is a core thing in Star Wars. The action centers on Malgus, betrayed in his attempt to flatten the Republic, and TOR players will see the seeds of his rebellion and New Empire planted here. Aryn is a Jedi Knight who breaks through the Imperial blockade on Coruscant to hunt Malgus and avenge her master’s death. She uses her old comrade-in-arms Z-man to do so, as he’s been hired by the Exchange to get a load of spice through that blockade.

Star Wars’ classic philosophical themes try to grow here as the marine-turned-smuggler wrestles with his conscience and the Jedi Knight comes to terms with her passion and anger. For whatever reason, though, Kemp can’t follow through with them and the book feels like a cup of tea that smells amazing but wasn’t allowed to steep and therefore tastes like nothing more than hot water. As always, books that disappoint me earn my sharpest criticism, because I was expecting something more and the end left me deflated and angry that I’d been drawn in.

The following paragraph contains explicit spoilers, as I intend to outburst fully on what infuriated me about this book, which requires a pretty detailed summary of those last 20 pages. If you don’t want to know, then consider this the end of the review: a decent book that started well-told but fizzled out like a wet sparkler.

It’s one of my beliefs that death in a book has to be meaningful. Unfortunately, I never wrote the post I meant to about “beautiful book-death,” what it takes for death in a novel to be acceptable, even praiseworthy, cathartic, reassuring even in pain. I can tell you, though, that this book failed, and that the alternative to “beautiful book-death” is “obscene, offensive book-killing,” and that in under 20 pages, Kemp went from 4-stars to “I wish you hadn’t done that” to “massive overkill and eff you too, author guy who apparently hates readers.”

First, as I said earlier, the sniper Vrath was easily my favorite character. I like snipers. I play snipers. I’m sure that has more than a little to do with how relatable I found him. I was also amused that his surname was Xizor, an obvious nod. I understood he was Z’s foil as Malgus was Aryn’s, and admired the clever way he went about doing his job to keep the Exchange’s spice from getting to Coruscant. Two former soldiers from opposite sides, working toward opposite goals, with more than they suspect in common — Vrath was demonstrably honorable, probably wrestling with the same things Z was. I was excited and curious when Vrath ended up Z’s prisoner — but with all the buildup, Z just throws him out an airlock. This was followed two pages later by Malgus stabbing his lover Eleena through the heart because his love for her is a liability.

One blindside could have been acceptable, but two deaths with no buildup, no potential for catharsis, and no emotional payoff was too much. I find it disgusting when death is used for a cheap thrill, so my final word on this book is disgust.

Advertisements

My Heart Is an Imperial Occupied Zone

Posted in Fun, Reviews with tags , , , on 22 July 2017 by Megan

Or, Merry Christmas in July.

Anyone spending any amount of time on this blog should know by now that I am deeply loyal to the Empire. Not to Emperor Palpatine — who was a corrupt Sith Lord focused on himself and more concerned with gaining power than making the lives of Imperial citizens better — but to the Imperial system, which strikes me as the only viable, logical method of government for such a huge and diverse stretch of territory. I stand with Admiral Pellaeon in the pursuit of forming a bastion of the new order, a system focused on the citizen and resistant to the pettiness of easily-corrupt bureaucrats.

As such, I admire the boys in white, who keep our Empire safe. I salute the officers in their attractive, professional uniforms. I shun the old Republic and the frail senators creating civil war and dissidence in their quest, not to make lives better, but to get their old jobs and positions of power back. Pax Imperius!

So it was an obvious move when a friend gave me The Imperial Handbook for Christmas last year.

Now, The Imperial Handbook occupies a strange place. It was published in 2015 after Disney|Lucasfilm decanonized the EU. But it’s part of a series of handbooks that are squarely part of the EU. (Things like this are why Disney|Lucasfilm can’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of what they’ve done.) I’m not particularly acquainted with the history, such as whether it had already been completed by April 2014, but the rest of the series has been cast out by Discanon. It doesn’t contain anything from Discanon, and that’s all that matters insofar as marking it official “realcanon.”

The concept of the series is that they are meant to be in-universe reference guides, not unlike The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, containing information written from the point of view of characters with the intended audience of “other people who live in the GFFA.” This was ostensibly written by Imperial information services to be disseminated among officers of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. Of course there are lots of little things that break such immersion (officer’s handbooks aren’t usually dotted with attractive watercolor artwork, and at least one ship is mis-identified), but it’s cute and it’s fun and I accept the conceit.

It’s also been annotated by leaders of the rebellion, which allows me to dismiss certain errors in the text (such as an attempt to emphatically claim a government-sanctioned racist policy that could never exist in a galaxy like the GFFA). I just assume that the rebel leaders made their own edits before circulating it as propaganda among their own crew. Gotta make the boogeyman boogeyer if you expect those bright young pilots to die getting your position of power back!

Ultimately, the book is a valuable if somewhat shallow resource. It needs supplementation, but its bullet-point break downs of branches of service, visual outlines of rank, armor, equipment, and bonus essays by such figures as General Veers and Baron Fel make it invaluable. My library would be grossly incomplete without it, despite its few minor shortcomings.

Review Redux: Death Star

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , , on 12 July 2017 by Megan

I know I keep saying “This is probably the only time I’m going to re-review something…” I should probably stop saying that.

Death Star Cover

Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. Actually really good.

So, I first read this book back in 2011 when I was “getting back into” the Star Wars books. At the time, I dismissed it as an unnecessary rehash of the events of ANH. I didn’t consider that it added anything to the overall saga and promptly forgot about it.

To be honest, I have always been about as reluctant to give Del Rey Star Wars books the time of day as they have been to give credit to any other publisher but themselves. (Note the fact that Del Rey claims they published the first Star Wars book, when that was in fact Ballantine.) But I’m not too proud to admit I made a mistake here. In fact, as an information professional, I’ll go ahead and state plainly that before 2014, when Disney|Lucasfilm made it imperative to research the history and actuality of the Star Wars canon, I made a lot of mistakes about Star Wars and George Lucas. That’s over now, I hope ;)

Awhile back, feeling annoyed about Jocasta Nu and the fact that people never seemed to bother correctly differentiating archivists from librarians (another mistake I myself made in the past, until I got an MLS and the confusion was impossible), I asked around to find out of there were any legitimate librarians in the entire canon. What people told me completely flabbergasted me.

“There’s an Imperial librarian in Death Star,” they said. What?! But I read that already! I read it while I was in library school! You’d think I’d remember there being a Star Wars librarian, especially since I’m trying to create a cosplay of a librarian in the Imperial navy! Maybe I had done the book a deep injustice.

I had.

Death Star is a great read. It fleshes out A New Hope, giving depth and feeling to characters that in 1977 were little more than extras adding ambiance to our cowboys-in-space Bildungsroman. Michael Reaves and Steve Perry are responsible for some of the high points in the EU, and together they weave a crowded ensemble into a high-tension story leading up to the moment seared onto all our imaginations, when Luke Skywalkers sends those proton torpedoes into the small thermal exhaust port.

An escaped convict, a bartender, her bouncer, a gunner, a librarian, a doctor, and a soldier tormented by strange dreams . . . They are all drawn together by this floating fortress, this “Death Star” that combines the most powerful laser ever conceived of in the galaxy with the largest space fortress ever built. Telling us the “other side” of the story we know so well, Reaves and Perry explore why people serve the Empire, what made soldiers volunteer to work someplace that could destroy planets, what went on in Tarkin’s final days. Even when we know exactly how the story ends, the psychological weight bearing down on the characters creates a high-tension narrative and leaves us not sure what to hope for.

I was so inspired by the character of Atour Ritten that I decided to adapt my Imperial librarian costume, already in-progress, into a cosplay of this proper librarian. I was impressed both that Reaves and Perry captured universal librarian behavior so well, but also that I had spontaneously chosen the correct rank (Commander) for my cosplay! And now I’m thinking I should do a post specifically on my upcoming costume. Hmm.

Anyway, Death Star is not disappointing; it is essential! I apologize for ever disparaging it.