Archive for the Reviews Category

Review: Dynasty of Evil

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on 19 November 2017 by Megan

by Drew Karpyshyn

If the fact that it’s taken two months for me to drag myself back to this trilogy isn’t enough of an indication, the only positive thing I can say about this book is that I enjoy the cover art.

This trilogy went from 4 stars to 2 stars in an out-of-control fireball of suck.

Right, say something nice about it, Librarian. Something nice. I can do this. I can think of something nice to say. Um . . . I like the cover. I really like the cover. The colors are nice, the tattoos are cool, it just looks good.

Nothing inside the cover makes me that happy, I can promise you that. For a brief time this summer, I really thought I had misjudged Karpyshyn, that Revan was a bad anomaly, that this writer deserved his reputation. But then I was so bored by Rule of Two, it took everything in me to force myself to finish the trilogy. Remember how I said I took 50 minutes for my half hour lunch breaks during Path of Destruction because it was so interesting? And how Rule of Two had me wrapping up in 15 minutes instead? Well, I kid you not, but Dynasty of Evil actually had me skip lunch several days because I did not want to read and preferred to stay at my desk working.

Karpyshyn started off with a bizarre premise, that human beings are nearing death when they reach mid-40s. Bane broods on his impending mortality with more illogical intensity than Raymond on that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. And it’s not because of what happened with his orbalisk armor, because Karpyshyn never mentions the armor in connection with Bane’s sense of coming old age. A weird hang up for a guy obsessed with achieving immortality.

The Sith obsession with immortality could have been developed in several very interesting ways, especially connecting it with Palpatine and the inherent fragility of the Rule of Two, but Karpyshyn was too busy describing the minutiae of everyone’s wardrobe to bother with inner monologue. Perhaps he exhausted his entire supply of “complex character juice” on the first novel. This book was 90% padding–like most Del Rey novels, we could’ve had a much higher quality duology, but how could they charge $23.97 for that? Eh?

Anyway, it stitches up the plot more or less, but does so in the least engaging way possible. The final duel between Zannah and Bane is the only interesting moment of the book and actually lasts 3 or 4 pages longer than it should, so it doesn’t stay interesting long.

I hated it and it poisoned all my good memories of the first book. I will never read or reread any book by this guy again.

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Review: The Ruins of Dantooine

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on 14 October 2017 by Megan

by Voronica Whitney-Robinson

Not gonna lie, I’ve been avoiding this book for years. I didn’t like the cheesy cover, I was ambivalent about SWG being a legitimate source of canon, and seriously, what kind of name is “Voronica”? But if a book that disappoints me can fill me with more passionate hatred than one I simply didn’t like, a book that takes me by surprise and impresses me deserves all the love I can throw its way!

I think I am seriously living in the second-most stressful series of months in my entire life right now. Having Scribe out to visit in September was the highlight of the last 3 years, no doubts there, but it was immediately followed by me stupidly getting my truck laid up in the truck hospital. My sister and I had been planning this trip to Portland for a few months now, but there was a lot of disappointment there. Wildfires kept us out of a lot of what we’d counted on doing, and on our last night there, our brother called to say Mom was in the hospital. (She’s home now and recovering quickly.) I’m still not stress-free because next weekend I’m delivering a paper I haven’t finished at a conference I somehow have to get to (I hate driving!). Aiiii.

Anyway, my point with unloading all that is that The Ruins of Dantooine did something Star Wars has been doing for me for 20 years: salving my stressed out soul.

I was initially skeptical of a protagonist named Dusque Mistflier, but the book is absolutely worth four stars. Dusque is an Imperial scientist who travels the galaxy capturing and studying creatures the Empire might find of interest. When she finds herself wrapped up in a rebel plot, including the handsome agent Finn Darktrin and a holocron hidden away on Dantooine, all her quiet anti-Imperial doubts begin to explode.

Naturally the Empire is out to get this holocron as well, which is why the rebellion’s got agents trying to get there first. It’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style race for the artifact where there can only be one winner. Loam Redge is an Imperial Inquisitor whose job is to track down Force-sensitives; he’s also after the artifact and I enjoyed his character very much–not least of all because I suspect he’s the little blond kid from Revenge of the Sith whom Anakin rounds up in the Council Chamber with other young Force-sensitives to be trained as Inquisitors for the New Order.

I never got a chance to play SWG, but I gather the whole premise was very much how this book feels: Who is the Star Wars Everyman? The laypeople? The Joes and Jainas? This book gives rather regular people at regular jobs: concerts, paychecks, gas stations. Family drama. And all worked in with the bigger theme of galactic intrigue and spy games.

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As a fun additional note, I picked it up here, in the Star Wars section of the largest bookstore in North America! Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, has a fantastic selection of realcanon, including some beauties I’ve never seen in a shop before! I could’ve spent $300 if I had it (and room in the suitcase going home).

So in many different ways, The Ruins of Dantooine is a great book that I found in the perfect location and which got me through a tough week. Good job, Voronica! Too bad there weren’t more in this series.

Review: Rule of Two

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on 30 September 2017 by Megan

by Drew Karpyshyn

Well, that didn’t last.

I had very high hopes for this one on the basis of the last one. I’ve also been waiting to read this one for about 6 years. See, this was the one I bought at the Friends of the Library bookstore in Bloomington during my, “I really need to get back into Star Wars” phase. I went ahead and bought it because I knew all Old Republic materials would have to fit into my timeline, since it’s an open-beginning timeline.

Path of Destruction ended on a pulse-racing finale with the Valley of the Jedi, the thought bomb, the miner Des totally transformed into the dark heart of the Sith, Bane. Departing the scene of the explosion, he comes across a lost little girl who used the Force to explode Republic troops. He adopts her as his apprentice Zannah.

I was very much looking forward to exploring the master-apprentice dynamic between the two of them, with Bane such an Imperial scholar with a revolutionary idea. However, Karpyshyn discards most of this potential without a second thought by jerking the action forward ten years and then proceeding to sprinkle the rest of the book with liberal flashbacks–pages and pages of italics (not that easy to read) inspired by things as simple as, oh, Zannah opening a door. This completely disrupts the action, since by the time the flashback wraps up 5 pages later, you don’t remember why she was opening the door in the first place. And the flashbacks are so frequent and so close together that there was no reason not to simply continue telling the story chronologically without the ten year skip.

The orbalisk armor and quest for immortality are extremely interesting, as are the machinations of two Sith who know the other will attempt to kill them when they aren’t useful any longer, yet who must decide when that usefulness has actually expired so they can make their move. But the padding in this book was heavy, with a lot of preoccupation on what people are wearing in addition to the endless flashbacks.

I kept trying to be curious about what was coming next, but in a far cry from my stretched lunch breaks of Path of Destruction, this book had me wrapping up as soon as I was finished eating and heading back to my desk only 15 minutes later because I was too bored to read another chapter. Toward the end, I found myself muttering, “Blah blah blah get on with it” under my breath a lot. Very disappointing.

Review: Path of Destruction

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on 29 August 2017 by Megan

by Drew Karpyshyn

Had this book for awhile, and with The Alliance book group choosing it to read for August, I figured now was as good a time as any to finally pick it up.

I buckled in for this one because I did not enjoy Revan much and figured it’d be much of the same shallow and incomplete writing that bugged me in the other Karpyshyn I dragged myself through. Plus, the Old Republic era just doesn’t interest me much, so it two major handicaps right up front.

I was pleasantly surprised! Des is an interesting, compelling character with actual complexity, quite unlike Revan. He’s a simple miner on a hellish planet, getting through day after day and brooding on the death of his father. He plays sabacc, has few friends, and also has a secret–he’s aware of a dark power within himself that he knows nothing about.

I appreciated how the book highlighted Republic hypocrisy and indifference to the galaxy’s wellbeing as a whole. I liked the portrayal of the warmongering Jedi (there’s a reason Bib Fortuna says, “Bargain rather than fight? He’s no Jedi”). And my pulse kicked into overdrive when I saw “Ruusan” and realized that this was the prequel to Dark Forces 2 and the Valley of the Jedi adventure, long one of my favorite things in the entire EU.

I chewed through this book pretty fast. I remember stretching a few half-hour lunch breaks into 45 or 50 minutes just so I could get to a good stopping place. It made fun connections with SWTOR–first Des is a nobody, then he’s a trooper, then he gets picked up to go to the Sith Academy. It was fun tracing his journey against roles familiar to me from playing TOR.I also loved the character of the Sith instructors at the Academy, and how Bane moves forward and backward on his journey. Recoiling from the power of the Dark Side, he renders himself unable to use the Force at all. He educates himself in the Sith ways in the library, a plot point which is hard for me to resist. Some of the best lightsaber combat I’ve read in a novel, too.

While some parts felt needlessly swift and brittle, it is overall an engaging and fun read that I’m happy to finally have picked up. Looking forward to the next one. Has Karpyshyn redeemed himself??

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 than 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 shown and not told, 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.

Review: The New Rebellion

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on 29 June 2017 by Megan

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Seventeen years ago, I had a crush on a boy in youth group whose Star Wars Nickname was Luke Skywalker, either because he was blond or because he was sort of the teen in charge. At least he was the one giving everyone Star Wars nicknames, and the one he gave me was Mara Jade, because my name starts with M and also “you kinda remind me of how she acts.”

Obviously, we were all intensely into Star Wars; though he hadn’t read enough of the books to know why I was secretly thrilled and all warm and fuzzy at being made the Mara Jade to his Luke Skywalker, he had read The New Rebellion, which is why I’m even recounting this memory lane business. That and apparently 2017 is the Year of RebeLibrarian’s Nostalgia That Just Won’t Quit.

The way he summed up Hugo-winner Rusch’s contribution to Star Wars was, “It was okay, I don’t know. She just wanted everything to be the worst ever.”

And that assessment has always stuck with me every time I’ve re-read it. Because, indeed, The New Rebellion is a decent book — well-written, with good pacing and decent characterization, even some imaginative contributions to the universe — but something about it just keeps it from earning more than mediocre status.

That something is the author’s desperate need for everything to be THE WORST THREAT EVER. (So desperately that characters will repeatedly say “I think this is the worst we’ve ever faced,” or variants thereof.)

It’s thirteen years since the Emperor was defeated at Endor. The New Republic is an established government; Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy and the Solo family are also equally established. Our heroes have faced down warlords and masterminds, their own shortcomings and weaknesses, and emerged victorious. The danger of complacency is real.

A new villain with great potential has cropped up on the edges of the galaxy: he rightly sees the New Republic’s inefficiencies and weaknesses, but decides in order to resolve that, he must become the new Palpatine. Capturing Luke Skywalker for his Darth Vader is an attractive bonus. A villain’s megalomania can be forgiven, but the author shouldn’t share his egotistical belief that the galaxy has never faced a worse crisis than his appearance.

The New Rebellion has a complex plot that plays well together and even follows Lucas’ established pattern very well. While the EU routinely shuffles the children off as inconvenient baggage, Rusch at least incorporates parental behavior from Han and Leia, with Han even asking Leia if she’ll be all right weathering a crisis without her husband and children for support — because families, even the incorrigible toddlers, are a source of strength for one another. Leia suffers when she comes home to an empty apartment after being buffeted by hostile political colleagues.

Also praiseworthy is how Rusch makes Lando and Chewbacca more than catchphrase-spouting placeholders. The real friendship between Lando and Han is clear. Rusch has a very Lucas-like ability to juxtapose horror and humor. She also underscores Han’s reputation as a moral man even during his days as a smuggler. Threepio and Artoo have more than titular roles, and the character of Cole Fardreamer is an interesting and compelling one. Far better than yet another sequence of Luke and Artoo aimlessly wandering off alone in search of a planet or person that may or may not exist.

Luke squaring off against a flock of Mr. Bubbles is one of the low points of the Star Wars history, and the action in some places is belabored. The mystery, however, completely holds up, and however many times I’ve read this book in the last two decades, I never can remember how the villain was able to bomb the Senate hall so effectively. And I know I wasn’t the only Star Warrior who sat watching the TV on 9/11, gnawing my lip and remembering the descriptions of The New Rebellion as I watched survivors staggering through debris.

Maybe I’ve been too hard on this book. It’s certainly got a lot going for it, far more than it has going against it. I guess really the only thing it’s got going against it is there’s a lot of “tell, don’t show,” and Rusch is infatuated with very short, brittle sentences. But there’s excellent balance between all the players, particularly in elevating others to stand equal with the Big Three, so let’s give her the full three stars, yeah?

Review: Fanboys

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , on 7 January 2017 by Megan

All right, so this is not a canonical entry. But it’s the seventh greatest movie ever made. I watched it yesterday and was so hit between the eyes at how excellent a film it is that I wanted to review it for you today.

First of all, Fanboys is a movie that could never be made today. All the 1998-authentic fanboy language could get you arrested in the ironically-named “free world” today, but far more striking, imagine supreme hateboys Harry Knowles and Kevin Smith doing appearances in a film that welcomes and praises Lucas’ films for what they are? Geddouddatown. Even beyond that, a group of fanboys like the ones who created the film would no longer be interested in making a heartwarming tale about how Star Wars unites us, binds us in a commonality of love for one man’s genius adaptation of a mythological staple. In the 2010s, “fanboys” are more interested in division and discord than they are about the things we have in common. In a post-2014 version of Fanboys, the protagonists wouldn’t be assaulting Star Trek fans for their differences. They’d be attacking other Star Wars fans who have the gall to love the prequels or call the EU “canon.”

My point is, the world was so much better back before 2010. But I digress. Let’s review the awesome movie, eh?

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I first learned about this movie back in ’06 or ’07; it was a preview before a horror movie (maybe Pulse?) oddly enough, and I was instantly hysterically looking forward to it. A movie about Star Wars fans? A movie about Star Wars fans so excited about Episode I that they go to steal a print? SIGN ME UP. (Remember that before 2011, fanatical prequel hatred didn’t exist or was so rare as to be unheard of.) But the film’s release was delayed and I forgot about it on and off until 2009 when I was finally able to score a copy. I watched it with a best friend as we were on a road trip from seeing another best friend in Maryland. We were staying in a place called . . . well, I forget what it was called, but here’s the last ever picture of me as a person who had not ever torn a toenail off, and the bag that I tore the toenail off with about 12 hours after this picture was taken.

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Also, this is where I was and what I looked like when we watched Fanboys for the first time. I have a weird memory. Okay, so I first saw Fanboys in 2009 right before ripping off my big toenail and experiencing the 2nd worst pain of my life, so that’s fun trivia. The point is that in 2009, I had never encountered any prequel hate despite being a big time fanboy who spent lots of time online with other fanboys. The concept of prequel hate was so foreign to me that I thought the last line of the movie was a joke, and I still inevitably take it as a joke (“What if the film sucks?”)

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It’s Halloween 1998. Windows, Hutch, Linus, and Zoe have been friends since they were kids, and they all love Star Wars — even if Zoe is a stereotype girl who scoffs at their passion; that myth is a little frustrating in its perpetuation — so much so that they reminisce about their childhood plot to drive to Skywalker Ranch and watch Episode I before it comes to theaters. Enter Eric Bottler: he used to be the gang’s fourth, but after graduating high school, he spent three years not talking to any of them except for, apparently, Zoe. After Hutch and Windows see the hostility between Eric and Linus, they take it upon themselves to meet with Eric the next day and tell him something incredibly important — Linus has terminal cancer and has less than six months to live.

This is where Star Wars fans understand each other in a way no one else does. The blow that Linus probably won’t live to see Episode I is as strong on its own as the blow that he is going to die and that Eric has spent the last three years alienated from the man who used to be his best friend. In a desperate attempt to redeem that time, Eric convinces them all to join him on a cross-country road trip to steal the Episode I film like rebel agents obtaining the Death Star plans.

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Ebert, who so rightly hit the nail on the head with his review of Episode I, really missed the point of Fanboys and said it was weak for taking itself too seriously. But that’s just the point. Fanboys take themselves seriously because no one else does. And this is a serious film. As Eric struggles to reconnect with lost friends, and his own lost self, Linus struggles to come to grips with his impending mortality. Windows struggles to make his relationship with females work, and Hutch struggles to make something real of himself. With the backdrop of Linus’ illness (almost tragically cut from the final version), Fanboys is no more a geeky comedy than A New Hope is a Kurosawa film with lasers. There’s something more to it. It follows Lucas’ lead, incorporating the patterns of mythology and elevating its subject matter in a way you’d never expect. It’s a film that can make you laugh as well as cry while celebrating something we all had in common when it came out, before the dark times, before the Disneypire.

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So, yes, Fanboys is both hysterically funny and deeply moving. There are parts of this movie that I’ve wrapped up and stored in my memory to help when things get hard. As I struggled through a year full of unemployment, almost literal homelessness, and a tragic death in the family, I could turn to this film and be reassured that no, it’s not trivial to love Star Wars. Star Wars is not trivial. There’s more to it.

In closing, I’d like to give you my two favorite lessons Fanboys takes from Star Wars. First, regrets can shape you but they shouldn’t define you. Everyone has mistakes, but don’t wish you could undo them. “You’ve got to keep the flaws. Crappy effects, real puppets. That’s what makes it so good, you know?” Linus explains in his last scene. Sometimes I feel like I wear regret like a cloak, and I almost burst into tears hearing that last night as I rewatched it.

Second, “You just gotta find your Death Star. The greatest thing Luke Skywalker ever did was take down that Death Star. You just gotta find that one great thing you can do that makes you live forever.” That’s what Hutch tells Eric as the latter struggles with an ocean of indecision about what to do with himself. Everyone, every life has a “Death Star,” one great thing; you just have to find yours. It’s out there and you will have it one day. That’s a guarantee.