Archive for Aaron Allston

Review: Starfighters of Adumar

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 22 March 2015 by Megan
Coup de grace

Coup de grace

by Aaron Allston.

This week on According to Wedge, Ernest P. Worrell joins the diplomatic corps! Or Everybody Loves Jensen. Or The Fresh Prince of Adumar. I’m trying to say that Allston writes everything like it’s the script for a cheesy 90s sitcom guest starring Jim Varney. And I mean, I like cheese. And I don’t mind Ernest. I’d say I just don’t want him in Star Wars, but that isn’t true because I don’t even mind Jar Jar Binks. It’s just like the penne I had for lunch — it’s just too much cheese. And maybe you think there’s no such thing, but believe me, there is when it overwhelms all the other flavors and you’ve just got a mouthful of chewy goo.

I have to say that anybody who ever gushed about how awesome and funny Aaron Allston is has lost their right to ever complain about Jar Jar again. Goofy overdone accents? Check. Implausible clumsy escapades? Check. Trying way too hard to be funny one-liners? Double check. All of Aaron “Heavy Handed” Allston’s trademarks are here — but really it is his best one, a huge improvement over the first three, and I give it a fair rating.

I had actually decided not to read it. It got to that point. I was so miserable through his first three, and Isard’s Revenge was such a high point, that I decided I wouldn’t ruin what was left of my memory of the Golden Age of Star Wars books and I’d just leave this one on the shelf, unread and unscathed. But a member of “The Star Wars Group on Facebook,” as I eternally call this place, told me not to be afraid of it. He swore it was different, said it was better. So I said, okay, I’ll read it.

Stylistically, it is leaps and bounds ahead of the other three. No more machine-gun section breaks. (He never had staccato paragraphing; God bless pre-2000 books for that.) Aaron Allston still solidly belongs to the speechmaking camp of storytelling: “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em; tell ’em; and then tell ’em what you told ’em.” He’s a bit better about showing rather than telling . . . now he tells me, sort of shows me, and then tells me twice, rather than just straight up telling me. Also, I’ve seen episodes of Say Yes to the Dress that obsess about clothes less than this book does. I got curious, so I had to count — as a sample, in 86 pages, roughly 21 paragraphs were dedicated to describing people’s clothes. That was pretty consistent throughout the 291-page book — but let’s stop here to give credit where it’s due! That’s almost half as long as Wraith Squadron, and much shorter than either of his other two. It was concise, to the point, and didn’t have a quarter of the repetition the other three did. It took me until the halfway point to get bored. It’s a very good effort on Allston’s part, comparatively.

Enough with style. On to the plot. It’s 01151, or 13 ABY, and Allston starts with a break up scene. This scene was to prove nothing but hitting delete on one of my favorite characters whom Allston apparently can’t abide. But once he was done trying to play Stackpole and got on his own feet, chapter 2, he did much better. So: Wedge wants to take a vacation, but instead ends up heading up a diplomatic task force to Earth um Adumar. Because it’s a planet whose entire culture is built from Top Gun, and they will only listen to fighter pilots, and they have awesome weapons technology the Republic wants. Wedge, not as enslaved to duty as Leia, but still easily extorted into the whims of the Republic, agrees to go and takes those men who have been through the most with him and whom he trusts the most — Tycho, Wes, and Hobbie.

At first I was cringing in anticipation of Tycho’s portrayal by Allston, but fair is fair and he did a good job. In and among the incessant outfit-describing. Dear lord, man, they wear clothes; we know. Let’s get to the point. Everybody on totally not Earth even though it’s obviously Earth Adumar is obsessed with dueling and slaughtering one another for honor like it’s 18th century Russia with lasers. There’s wires everywhere; and “flatscreens” instead of holos; there’s a whole bunch of fractured “nations” instead of a one-world government; and I’m surprised there weren’t any sly backhanded jabs about pollution. And yet, even though I was annoyed that he was self-inserting our planet and doing so in a completely not-subtle way, this made for a good plot — and a good plot that he didn’t butcher as he did in Iron Fist.

Wedge ends up being in the thick of some geopolitical intrigue; not only does the Empire already have some agents courting the same planet for the same weapons technology — technology¬† that could still reasonably turn things around for the dying Empire — but then Wedge inadvertently triggers a planetary coup. There’s an assassination attempt, and a New Republic politician more annoying than Borsk Fey’lya, and some atmospheric dogfights that I’ve seen praised highly (though to me, all battle scenes are boring, and even more pointless in print than they are on screen. In the wise words of my mother, “Nothing ever happens in a car chase.” Or any non-lightsaber-duel battle).

In all, Starfighters is a decent contribution to realcanon, if a tad on the repetitive side, and a little overwhelmingly preoccupied with telling me what everyone is wearing every time they walk in the door. In honor of this, allow me to close the review by saying I read this book while wearing blue jeans, super fuzzy polka dot socks, a gray long sleeved t-shirt, and a black Star Wars t-shirt with Boba Fett and the caption Poker Face on it. Now, wasn’t that just thrilling and add so much to heighten the drama of the review?

Review: Solo Command

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 19 October 2014 by Megan
The face of my misery.

The face of my misery.

by Aaron Allston.

I remember when this book came out — or rather, I remember the first time I saw it when it first came out. It was 1999, and the Golden Age of the Star Wars novel (also known as the Bantam Era) was coming to its end. Not that I knew it at the time, of course. After all, it had only been three years since I first saw Star Wars, and fueling my obsession was the desire to know absolutely everything ever. “Knowledge is power, and I will be the most powerful Star Wars fan ever.”

The only problem was, I was not quite 14 and had no money and my parents thought I dedicated too much energy to Star Wars already — that is, talking about it and watching them — so unlike every other Star Wars fan ever, I actually didn’t have any books, toys, or posters at that point. But I remember walking through the mall and seeing this outside of B. Dalton on one of those cardboard displays: Wow, it’s a Star Wars book with the Falcon on it, and a funny pun about Han’s name! I bet that’s cool.

And I promptly forgot about it for like ten years. Because, as I said, I just couldn’t get myself through Wraith Squadron, and with so much else to read in the world, I just never felt the lack of this book. Honestly now, if it weren’t for this website, I probably would not have finished Wraith Squadron this year and just sadly kissed goodbye any possibility of my reading Michael J. Stackpole’s book 8 because books 5, 6, and 7 have not been worth it.

With all apologies to the late Mr. Allston, these books are the Expanded Universe equivalent of a root canal. I haven’t hated a writer this much since James Luceno, and with his every word choice grating at me, I’ve exhausted my capacity to be polite and neutral about his work. In fact, the only way for me to get through this review is to do something completely unorthodox. It’s taken me months to force myself to pick this up and read it. And I hadn’t even finished the first chapter before I thought, “Gee, there’s a lot of section breaks going on.” And then a character revealed that a period of several days had passed between page 1 and page 12 (chapter 1 is 23 pages long). And immediately, curiosity demanded satisfaction: I flipped to the end of he book and counted just how many section breaks there were.

This. Is. Ridiculous.

This. Is. Ridiculous.

The result was 225. In an 18-chaper book of 341 pages, a total of 225 section (or scene) breaks occur. I cannot possibly be the only one who thinks this is excessive. I know some people think I’m stupid picky about the quality of what I read, but I cannot be alone in thinking breaking the scene an average of 12 times per chapter is disruptive and makes it hard to focus. I’ll be honest with you: I’m still on page 12. I am going to write this review as I read the book, because I will never get through either any other way. So let’s go.

The book starts with an assassination attempt on Admiral Ackbar. So far, so good, although it surely didn’t need 12 pages to explain that. The Wraiths are given orders to join up with Han Solo’s task force against Warlord Zsinj, but they have to go in undercover and insignia-free — surely no shock for a covert ops squad. So they go to some planet do to some stuff. Look, I’m sorry, it’s just impossible to care about: these might as well be paper dolls ticking off points on a checklist: “X-wing firefight, check; male character hits on woman who kisses then rejects him, check.”

Of course all the Aaron Allston tropes are here: heavy-handed humor and ham-fisted exposition. Lots of irrelevant filler posing as comedic interludes, plenty of tell-don’t-show, and all the senseless over-description of ships, characters, and locale that ever puffed up 150 pages of plot into a 350-page feature-length novel. Not to mention distressing racial stereotypes (especially in his treatment of Voort and Chewbacca) and absurd characterizations of females.

What I’ve learned is that people who enjoy the later era of the EU — the Del Ray period, the NJO and later stuff, the stuff pumped out by James Luceno — they adore Aaron Allston and can’t get enough. So by all means, if you like that, you’ll like this. As for me, this swims to the very lowest level of realcanon and remains there, never to be reread or recommended by me to anyone.

Review: Iron Fist

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 12 October 2014 by Megan
Onto Book 6

Onto Book 6

by Aaron Allston.

In case you were under any apprehension whatsoever that you were reading Michael A. Stackpole’s X-Wing series, Allston is back with a whole new set of very clear assertions that you aren’t.

This time, the woman who has infiltrated the squadron in order to be a turncoat is already known by the reader to be so. So that’s different.

Oh, and this time when Corran that guy who is not Corran crash lands and everybody thinks he’s dead, somebody else has crash landed with him; that’s different, too.

And the Twi’lek is an angsty female, not a lawyer. All very, very different, you see?

I’m afraid to say that once again, my predominant response through most of this book was <sigh>. Aaron Allston never learned about “show, don’t tell,” and quite possibly was getting paid by paragraph break, because there are a dozen per chapter and they make what little action there is impossible to follow.

I mean, there are things I like, or at least wanted to like. The glimpse into the Zsinj-hunting referenced in Courtship of Princess Leia, for example, and the idea of a group of commando pilots used for black ops. The plot generally focuses on this, as the Wraiths try to take on a Star Destroyer called Iron Fist. Also, something to do with a hit on Kuat? I don’t know, the man makes paragraph breaks like they’re going out of fashion. As soon as I got a rhythm going, he’d break it up! Surprisingly high body count, but with little to no character development and brittle action, it’s hard to be interested when another one bites the dust.

As far as the Ewok gag is concerned . . . Fully 23% of this book is, “Hey, remember the time in the last book when Jenson said the next candidate was an Ewok and Wedge flipped out?! Wasn’t that hilarious?? Remember that? It was so funny!” Allow the guys of MST3K to give you a visual example of how this humor affected me:

I was hoping that Wraith Squadron was an anomaly, an uncertain author getting used to his new boots. Unfortunately, this second attempt is as dismal as the first, and I see clearly where the decay of the EU began to take place. I’ve said before that two of the reasons that I never read NJO are that I like things to have endings, and also that I didn’t want a gritty Christopher Nolan’s Star Wars full of sales-boosting pointless deaths. Another reason, and perhaps the very first reason, was that the writing was beginning to get bad. I know Stackpole wrote some, but R. A. Salvatore, Troy Dennings, Matthew Stover, and James Luceno are practical illiterates whose terrible writing gives me almost physical pain. Add Aaron Allston to the list. In all, continuing the X-Wing series has been very disappointing and I hope, hope, hope that Stackpole makes it worth it.

Review: Wraith Squadron

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 5 October 2014 by Megan

Allston’s first contribution

by Aaron Allston.

This is a story about how I affirmed my trust in my own instincts. Twice upon a time, I tore through the first four X-Wing books and picked up the fifth with complete faith and trust that it would continue in the same pattern of awesome. Twice upon a time, I put Wraith Squadron down with a heavy sigh after the first half dozen chapters. Once, in 1999, I was too bored to ever continue and it sat on my “unfinished” shelf for over a dozen years. The second time was this year, and if it hadn’t been for my alphabetical challenge (this was the book for X), my commitment to review it for this site, and my desire to get to the Stackpole book I’ve never read, it would have gone right back on the unfinished list as a permanent resident.

I’m sorry; I know people love this book. You can take that sentence as my sorrow that anybody could love it, or sorrow that I couldn’t join them. Both are probably true. I actually am sorry I didn’t like it, since Allston died back in February, and I’ve kind of used his death as a rallying point for realcanon (the man dies and suddenly his books get thrown out the window?). But it was not a good book. It was about 150 pages too long, and it was also abundantly clear that the author made video games for a living, with page after page of clunky space battles that felt like reading the player’s guide to Flight Space Fighter Sim 3000xe IV: More Splodey.

Here’s something Aaron Allston really, really wants you to understand as you read this book: it is NOT Rogue Squadron. Okay, it’s called Something Squadron and it’s about Wedge putting together an eccentric group of pilots to the chagrin of a disgruntled admiralty. BUT there are two quirky nonhumans instead of one. And his second isn’t under suspicion from the New Republic; one of their pilots wants to kill him. Oh, and the guy who TOTALLY isn’t Corran because he’s not even Corellian, see, he gets with his chick in the first book, which is different. And the chick who makes him analyze his feelings and stuff isn’t Mirax and there isn’t a triangle, so, it’s different. So, just to be clear, this is totally not a slower-paced, more boring version of Rogue Squadron. And Allston made me aware of this on every page he possibly could.

Dear, sweet Wedge, ask the plot to stick around?

Dear, sweet Wedge, ask the plot to stay?

Now, I liked the plot. It’s too bad the plot couldn’t hang out for more of the book, because I really liked what it had to offer: the re-form of Rogue Squadron is so successful that they’ve lost their effectiveness in the covert ops department. Wedge decides to take some commandos who also happen to be pilots and make an undercover team, the dagger in the boot to compliment Rogue Squadron’s more direct sword. Janson, Wedge’s gunner from the Battle of Hoth, reappears as the second in command, which I was very excited about, and I was also extremely hopeful about finally getting to see Warlord Zsinj after hearing his name so much. I even appreciated the hints about The Courtship of Princess Leia, because I love it when the books reference each other to tighten up their connections.

Unfortunately, the plot had to duck out early because it had a thing at a place, and the 403-page book tried to make up for its absence with lots of explosions, relationship stuff, and, um, paragraphs. For awhile, I thought the relationship stuff might get some positive points, because the girl shuts him down for not actually loving her but only wanting to be in love with someone like her; however, predictably, she gives her personality the boot and decides to suck face with him in the concluding chapters.

More embarrassing than his treatment of people with ovaries were Allston’s racial stereotypes. Wedge and two of the pilots literally go undercover as Mexican desperadoes with ponchos, sombreros, and terrible haircuts/mustaches. And let me just say now that if a racial stereotype is so overt that I notice it, it is bad, because 9 times out of 10, that kind of thing sails straight over my head. And, because I’m an equal opportunity equal opportunist, I also got extremely upset over his treatment of nonhumans. Aaron Allston was completely oblivious to the fact that Gammoreans are not literal pigs and gives us a character like Rocket the Raccoon in that galaxy movie — not only is he called Piggy (something I cringed every time I read it — how does this galaxy even have pigs? — how is it ever okay to call someone Piggy unless her first name is Miss and she has golden curls and is voiced by Frank Oz?), but he also had to be totally genetically modified and crammed with cybernetic hardware in order to function as not a brainless animal. I thought it was sick.

And finally, far more distressing than his treatment of females and nonhumans, the much-touted “humor” that was the first thing out of everyone’s mouth the moment I mention Wraith Squadron. Here’s the thing: I have laughed out loud often throughout every one of Michael A. Stackpole’s books. He’s wry and clever and can suggest humor with the twitch of a character’s eyebrow, an unexpected meeting, or the consequence of a character’s action. Humor in this book was more like getting aggressively beaten with a Three Stooges Box set. He might as well have written in the pratfalls. A laugh track would have been more subtle. There were only three jokes, which were repeated an average of, oh, well, every 10 or 15 pages for a total of some 30 times. They weren’t funny the first time, and by the 20th, I was wanting to beat my head on the desk just to feel better. I was so weary by the time I finished this book. But I did try. Canon, obviously, but far from readable. Yub, yub, or whatever.