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.

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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??

I Dream Of Star Wars

Posted in Fun with tags , , on 25 August 2017 by Megan

If your post about Star Wars diary entries inspires someone else to post about diary entries, and their post is about dreams and you’re inspired to do a post about Star Wars dream diary entries, is that inception? My head’s already buzzing and I haven’t even started!

Pretty much my whole life, I’ve always had extremely vivid dreams. I used to be able to remember them very clearly, but these days, not so much–and that’s not a discipline thing, because I used to automatically remember them and think about them all day, and over the last four years, even as I try to remember, I totally forget by the time I’m on my feet. Star Wars dreams, though, were this unattainable holy grail. I’ve barely ever dreamed about Star Wars, and it feeds one of my theories that if something is part of your conscious thinking, your unconscious won’t produce dreams about it. At least mine doesn’t. I fell asleep during The Omen and had a totally banal dream. And while I have had intense nightmares, including years of sleep paralysis, waking dreams, and exploding head syndrome, they’ve never been connected with anything going on with me.

This is why I can pretty much give you all the Star Wars dreams I’ve ever had, and hope you’ll find them as entertaining as I do, haha.

Tuesday, October 6, 1998

Dear Diary, I had a great SW dream last night. In the beginning; Luke Skywalker, Leia? and myself were solving puzzles so we could escape this locked door-room. 3 of the pictures were STAR WARS, (the puzzles were pictures with multiple choice guesses) I solved those. After we solved them, an ostrich like bird that kept appearing and dissapearing in different places came and said something like: “We thought you would solve them… that is why the… made it SEEM like you (?)…” I don’t remember the rest.

Then Darth Vader is there. He is laying down, Leia & Luke lean over him. Leia leaves. I am now only an observer. Luke and Vader both have lightsabers lit, Vader says “Luke, they told me I was going to kill you” or something. Luke and Vader lean close, or at least Luke does. They turn off their sabers. Darkness.

Now to Han Solo. He is wearing Scout Trooper armour. The helmet breaks. He rips it off, and says to Chewie. “It’s OK with me if you want to go fight those bird-things with the legs, but what the [hell] are you going to do now?” I woke up.

Notice with that one that even though Han very clearly said hell in my dream, scandalizing my innocent little brain incredibly, I wrote heck in my diary. Not because I thought anyone would ever see my diary or care, but because writing the word hell was just wrong. (Yeah, I didn’t start getting sweary for many years after that.) What’s really amazing about this one is I can still really vividly picture the green grass and Han in his Stormtrooper uniform on this alien planet.

(Between October. 6 and December. 3)

(2nd dream, after alarm). Another STAR WARS dream. Kari & I (and Dad, later) were at this one place. We got to rolls of prisoner-herd tape inside (it started as an advertisement for a STAR WARS Nintendo game). I said “we’ve got to get to Leia!” She (KJ) & Dad & I were trying to hide from Stormtroopers. I got lost (and separated) from them. There was a big room with a swimming pool lagoon. The water was green, it was shifty. There were also lots of plants. I heard Stormtroopers going by. I ran out and walked up to a man in charge. “Hi!” I said.

“Hello! Do you want to go out for coffee?”

“Have you found them yet?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

“Where would I be most likely to find them?”

“Down that way,” he pointed.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

I went down that way. Kari was talking to someone, then she turned around and said, “Oh, there you are! I was soo worried!” I told Dad I wanted a CD. We did a few more things, I almost got lost again and we were outside going somewhere. I woke up. Somewhere in here, Kari & I got some small, alien prisoners that disappeared by the end.

I have to admit, this one doesn’t read very well, but I loved it at the time because I felt kind of powerful flirting with the guy for information and/or to trick him. Again, it doesn’t read like that’s what happened, but that’s how it felt.

(Dream 1, before alarm) We were in a place. We saw a church play, and ate some kind of beef & vegetables, someone got burned. Obi-Wan was there every once in a while.

All I can say here is that for some reason, I didn’t write down that I was the one that got burned, and it was because my leg had fallen asleep and it woke me up with pins and needles. I have no idea why I didn’t record it that way.

As I mentioned earlier, I basically never dreamed about Star Wars, so here are a couple more one-offs I don’t really have anything to say about, but they’re entertaining:

Sunday, August 8, 1999 Dear Diary, I’m going to tell you about 3 dreams I’ve had lately about Star Wars: There was a poster girl thing-whoozit that was alive. I was trying to protect my Star Wars notebook that had a picture of Qui-Gon in it. I don’t really remember much more except that I was pretending to be dead & turned into a flat poster whoozit or something. I just remembered that I don’t remember the second. The one I just had just had me holding my notebook & I did something about Qui-Gon snoring.

Monday, August 9, 1999 Dear Diary, SW Dream. M & some people from E1 (Qui-Gon too) were in a Gungan sub going through the planet core. Then we saw Jar Jar Binks out there swimming and being chased by Opee sea killer, Qui-Gon goes out to rescue Jar Jar (of course!) and then they return to the bongo and we get out of there and have a picnic, where I’m Jar Jar and I started talking really high pitched. I said something like “Thank you for save my.”

Thursday, August 26, 1999 Dear Diary, Had another SW dream. Obi-Wan was there. He was in a little space-pod that was rattling around in some big ship. It was graspbed by some Sith dude whose name started w/G. He demanded to speak w/ “his master”, but Sith refused. Then “I” (I don’t know who “I” was) was with these other guys, Bossk was one of ’em, Boba Fett & some gal in Mandalorian Armor.

I also remember once having an insanely detailed dream of being partnered with Obi-Wan while we ran through these tunnels trying to find Xanatos, but I can’t find it in a diary anywhere. Weird!

Diary Posts From A Long, Long Time Ago

Posted in Questions on 23 August 2017 by Megan

Ever notice that when Obi-Wan gets someone to do something, he’s INSPIRING, but when Palpatine does it, he’s cOrRuPtInG?

Anyway, the point is, my decision to obsess over my young self’s diaries is validated, as I’ve inspired another blogger to do the same! Enjoy.

Star Wars Anonymous

I was inspired a few months ago by Megan’s blog posts that included diary entries from 1999 and when The Phantom Menace premiered. It reminded me of when my own obsession began with Star Wars – also in 1999 and due to TPM.

I was 12 years old and though I had seen Star Wars previously, it had never spoken to me in quite the way it did with TPM. I’ve been through this before, so I won’t bore anyone with even more details.

When reading Megan’s posts, I couldn’t go back and dig out my diary because they were packed away for the move. I kind of forgot about doing a post on my past diary entries.

Then I was chatting with Imperial Talker two days ago and mentioned I had once written a Star Wars Anthem to the tune of our (US) national anthem. He encouraged me to…

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A Lot of Special Modifications Myself

Posted in Fun, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 1 August 2017 by Megan

Consider this. The YT-1300 is not a spectacular ship. It’s a freight hauler, an intergalactic semi truck — and an outdated one at that. But what about Han Solo’s YT-1300, the Millennium Falcon, makes our hearts sing and pulses race with excitement?

Surely it’s what he tells Luke in the first minutes of A New Hope: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.”

We love modifications. We love customization. The ubiquitous smartphone is personalized with skins outside and background images inside. And even the default choices for desktop backgrounds aren’t good enough; there are whole websites dedicated to gathering or even digitally creating backgrounds so we can express our individuality. We even alter functionality, using apps and add-ons based on our personal needs. Some tech geniuses even know how to make mechanical adjustments to their devices. And it’s not just our technology.

We customize our living spaces, applying paint and floor coverings to reflect our personalities. Pinterest is full of ideas on how to modify furniture, to turn old dressers into shelves, tables, chairs?! Do a search for “Ikea Hack” and find out how to add a personal touch to impersonal furniture. There’s no denying that human beings love to adjust things to fit.

Until, of course, you start talking about doing it to books.

Meet my Star Wars library. Like the Millennium Falcon, its appearance can be deceptive. You might think it doesn’t look like much, since I restrict my timeline to books set before the Hand of Thrawn Duology and refuse to buy or even read anything published after Disney’s purchase in 2012. But this library, like the Falcon, has it where it counts. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.

Before we explore those, though, I want to say a word about book modification. We take for granted the customization of our technological devices. Even body modification doesn’t earn a double take anymore. But if you announce that you write in your books, you’re stripped of your “book lover” status and thrown into the dark with those disturbed souls who use Readers Digest Condensed Books for craft projects or dog-ear pages instead of using a bookmark.

I took a quiz once about “What kind of reader are you?” and it said people who love their books read them while wearing gloves, never lend them out, never eat while reading–never do anything that would make them change from how they looked sitting on the shelf in the bookstore. Well, that’s a load of bantha poodoo. I love my books. I also write in my books. I eat while reading. And, by the way, gloves are tremendously bad for books! (Seriously. They’re dirtier than your hands and you’re far more likely to tear a page while wearing stupid gloves.) My books are my friends. Why should I ostracize them from my daily life just so they’ll “always look new”? A new-looking book is an unloved book, and that’s a fact.

Specifically about marginalia. I spent ten years as a Shakespearean researcher. Do you know that the untouched, pristine copies were the most useless? Sad books with uncut pages that nobody had ever read? I spent my research days poring over the editions full of marginalia, fingers pointing, angry ink dots, corrections, emendations, insults, exultations. Marginalia is how we anchor ourselves in eternity, hooking our thoughts onto a page that will last far longer than we will. I remember telling one of my nieces, “Always write your name in your books. That makes it special. That makes it yours.”

DSCN2156

And I’m in favor of writing far more than that. If it’s your book, I think you have a right to leave your thoughts on the page. So much the better if you can trade the book with a friend who’ll add theirs before giving it back!

Let’s get specific now. My Star Wars library has every type of modification. And I bet that you won’t even be able to tell a difference as we explore those modifications.

First, the obvious. I have made it my clear stance that I refuse to accept anything set after the Hand of Thrawn or anything published after Disney (except for Scoundrels, because Timothy Zahn earned that right). For me, all that stuff is heresy. It’s not the true Star Wars and I don’t want it in my house. Publishers, however, like to promote their wares wherever they can. Job one for my library was removing all those references: specifically, editing timelines that suggested post-VotF history and removing previews of books I consider offensive.

Next was the more complex job of editing the nonfiction works that posit post-VotF as history. The biggest example of this is The Essential Atlas, which I consider an essential resource, but its “Fate of the Jedi” content has always hindered me. This is the book that actually started me on this path. As you can see, though, the edits are almost entirely unobtrusive.

This kind of work is not difficult even if it is relatively tedious. When you understand how a book is put together, which I learned in Descriptive Bibliography (SLIS-S 684), it’s uncomplicated to excise without damaging or even leaving noticeable scarring. A good x-acto knife and rubber cement are essential. I use plain white glue to reinforce the binding where it’s been exposed. Be honest; you can’t even tell, can you?

In this way, I keep my collection healthy and whole. No compromise, one of my major tenets of love for Star Wars. But what of  the marginalia? You know, even the Star Wars books themselves promote marginalia, with the Handbooks series boasting handwritten notes by main characters.

My notes are chiefly cross-references–an occasion is mentioned in one book and I add a note for the page number and title of the book where the incident occurred. But the most entertaining notes, which I provide for your entertainment, are where I take the Original Trilogy novelizations to task for all their wrongheadedness. James Kahn, especially, writes an absurd adaptation full of unjustifiable nonsense. Thankfully it’s S-canon, but I still have a lot of fun writing saucy notes–and even more fun reading them later.

So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my modified library — and that you’ll be more accepting of modified libraries in the future. After all, if people can get a tattoo because it’s special to them, why can’t I reorganize a few pages in a fictional encyclopedia?

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 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.

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.