Archive for books

Review: Choices of One

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on 1 September 2016 by Megan

choicesofoneby Timothy Zahn.

It’s sad it took until the last years of the EU for them to do what I’d been telling them to do for a decade: populate the pre-ABY19 era with new stories!! Forming a loose duology with Allegiance, Choices of One takes place before The Empire Strikes Back and has the rebellion, Mara Jade and the Hand of Judgment, and Thrawn and Pellaeon all skirting around each other and a prospective traitor regional governor and a pirate warlord.

Let me get this bit out of the way immediately: I am not a fan of Zahn’s “Aha, gotcha!” twists. He did the same thing to me in Icarus Hunt and I’ve never forgiven him for it. It took this book from 4 to 3 stars for me. That being said: apart from the distracting and irritating climax, this is an excellent book. And if you like stupid “gotcha” twists, and if you liked Icarus Hunt, you will probably love this book and not be frustrated on any level the way I was.

Han Solo keeps hanging around with the rebels and doesn’t quite know why; it’s fun to see the flickers of friendship developing between him and Luke, so you can really understand how he went from “watch your mouth, kid, or you’ll find yourself floating home” to “The temperature’s dropping too rapidly and my friend’s out in it.”

As is typical, though, the rebellion treats its private contractors and new applicants like garbage and Han is routinely pushed around, pushed down, and left out. He flies taxi service for a snooty Alderaanian to a prospective rebel base being offered by a sector governor turned traitor to the empire. Or has he? Mara Jade is there, too, having recruited LaRone and his four mates to take care of this treasonous governor — but all is not as it seems.

Warming and delighting my heart, Gilad Pellaeon and the Chimaera make their first appearances as well, this time with Pellaeon serving as commander under a less-than-able captain as they follow the oblique orders of one mysterious Lord Odo. Pellaeon is the man, the only man, the greatest, and his presence alone will cause me to forgive Zahn for the stupid climax I’m not getting over any time soon.

A solid adventure, with Zahn’s usual precision characterization of these people we know and love so well. Definitely read it paired up with Allegiance; you can revisit my review of that here.

Review: Revan

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on 30 June 2016 by Megan

revan_coverby Drew Karpyshyn.

Ah, Revan. How does one embark on a book about the most popular character ever spawned by a Star Wars computer game? Well, although I’d had this book for a few months, I actually only picked it up to read it because I saw on Twitter that it’s mostly about Lord Scourge. Lord Scourge is the coolest! So I picked it up.

It’s a few years after the events of Knights of the Old Republic II (which I haven’t played; nor have I finished KOTOR 1, but that didn’t make a difference as far as the plot was concerned). Revan, an inconvenient hero kicked to the curb by the Jedi, is having nightmares about a storm-covered planet and some darkness he is sure he and Malak discovered on the Outer Rim. He simply can’t remember what.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in the Sith Empire that remains hidden from the Jedi. The Dark Council are plotting against the Immortal Emperor, and a young Sith lord named Scourge is stumbling across the first threads of this plot.

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Scourge is my homeboy!

Anyway, my overall impression of this book is that it feels incomplete, which is probably inevitable with a book based on a video game and written by a guy who writes video games. The player supplies massive amounts of context to the game, but that style can’t be translated into a novel. It just made it feel like whole chunks were missing; there was no real inner monologue for anyone, and the descriptions were heavy handed. Unlike Joe Schrieber, who invoked the feeling of TOR in me even though I don’t even know if he’s ever played the game, Karpyshyn seemed to be working hard to make sure I never forgot for a minute I was reading a video game.

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Yes, stylistically, I found the book wanting — however, since the reason I picked it up was Scourge, I was not disappointed in that department! Much of the action centers around him, so if you’ve played the Jedi Knight class in TOR and went through his entire conversation arc, you’ll get a lot of blanks filled in. The book also strongly compliments the Revan flashpoints in TOR (Maelstrom Prison and The Foundry), and so in that respect it’s worth every minute to read it.

Canderous Ordo makes an appearance, though sadly nothing to indicate why you can find his skull in TOR (hahaha). HK gets a mention, though not an appearance, and a pregnant Bastila Shan shows up along with T7’s adorable predecessor. It’s definitely an information and companion story goldmine that’s worth reading if you enjoy these games.

It’s also a good background on Revan and what the big deal is with him if you aren’t particularly interested in the games. However, I assume due to being the main character in a first-person RPG, there’s very little development of him as a person or character, and my main impression at the end of the book is that he is by far the most depressing person in the entire Star Wars canon. His existence makes me uncomfortable and I dislike him for those reasons.

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In conclusion: Scourge. All Scourge, all the time, because he is cool. He’s also the most developed and most interesting person in this book, and I would again reiterate that if you read it for him, you will not be disappointed! It’s a fun little video game novel, so really I have no complaints about it.

16 Star Wars Books You Should Read in 2016

Posted in Fun, Opinion with tags , , , , on 13 May 2016 by Megan

And unlike the pitiful Disney “17 Villains” list, I won’t have to scrape any barrels to come up with 16 satisfying realcanon reads for the year.

Yes, halfway through Maul (May) is a weird time to give you a list of books to read for the year. But I’m weird, so that fits just fine. Actually, I was inspired by something I saw on Twitter today and thought, “People love lists, and this would be a great topic for a list!” List posts are extremely trendy, so I’ll try to give this a clickbaity promo line and go from there.

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16. Jedi Search
15. Dark Apprentice
14. Champions of the Force

Together, this 1994 trilogy makes up the real Star Wars: Episode VIII as Luke Skywalker battles demons from his run-on with the Dark Side and founds the Jedi school Yoda urged him to create all the way back in Episode VI. Mon Mothma is poisoned and the Sun Crusher is out to destroy whole star systems while a deranged Imperial tries to kidnap Anakin Solo and turn him into a new model Darth Vader.

13. The Truce at Bakura 

If you want to know what happened after Endor, what the day after Return of the Jedi‘s Ewok party was like, then Kathy Tyers has the whole thing right here for you — since 1993.

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12. Darksaber
11. Planet of Twilight

I know these are both part of the so-called “Callista trilogy” but I will never recommend anyone read Children of the Jedi, ever. Darksaber, however, is one of my favorite books. Soviet-esque Hutts attempt to build a superweapon among their own greedy shortcuts; Crix Madine is a war hero; and Luke gives his weird girlfriend a clip show of the best planets of the original trilogy. Planet of Twilight has some cool moments, a dark side vision of Leia, and the character Leigious Vorn to make it worthwhile.

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10. Ambush at Corellia
9. Assault on Selonia
8. Showdown at Centerpoint

This underrated Corellian Trilogy, which joined us in 1995 but which became my first Star Wars book ever in December 1997, is in my opinion a must-read for every treu fan. A chance to glimpse into Han’s past and the reclusive Corellian system turns into a disaster for the Solo family, as an evil cousin takes Han hostage and a sinister archaeology project flings the three kids into their first big adventure. Also, Lando hires Luke to help find him a wife, and lightsaber-wielding Mara and Leia destroy a government building! Non-stop thrills.

Home stretch! These are books with significant birthdays this year —

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7. Star Wars, From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker

Not really Expanded Universe because it doesn’t expand, this adaptation of the 1977 film is historically interesting and significant, not least of all because it’s the first Star Wars anyone in our galaxy ever experienced when it was published in December of 1976. It turns a distinguished 40 years old this year.

6. Jedi Twilight

This ten-year-old novel may be the first book in the Coruscant Nights trilogy (2) (3), but it’s the fourth book in Michael Reeves’ Pavan Saga, so bonus points if you read Shadow Hunter, Battle Surgeons, and Jedi Healer first! Otherwise, it tells the story of a Jedi in hiding who has become a private eye in the wake of Order 66.

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5. Outbound Flight

Another one turning ten this year: Timothy Zahn’s own prequel to Heir to the Empire, showing how the Chiss made first contact with the Republic and showing us what a lovable old cuss the real Jorus C’boath was in life. Thrawn’s first appearance.

4. The New Rebellion

A book with a mixed reputation, to be sure, New Rebellion is also turning 20 this year and deserves to be remembered for the character of Brakiss, who could have been so much more, and the eerie post-bombing chaos of the Senate chamber. (Who else freaked out when Leia was bleeding from the ears?) The skull-faced villain has his moments. It should not be discarded simply because of an over-the-top scene of Luke lightsaber dueling Mr. Bubble’s evil cousin. Nope! Worth reading.

The gang's all here!

3. Tales of the Bounty Hunters

Bounty hunters — we do need that scum! Visit arguably the best of the short story anthologies from 1996 as some favorite Star Wars authors tell the tales of our favorites, Dengar, IG-88, 4-LOM and Zuckuss, Bossk, and even Boba Fett!

2. Rogue Squadron 

One of my favorites of all time, the perfect book for you if you’re bored with the Big Three and/or Force users and bounty hunting scum just aren’t up your alley. Top Gun x-wing flyboys show you what it’s like to be a real Rogue.

And the #1 book you should read this year —

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Shadows of the Empire turned 20 years old on April 1 (no kidding!). This book is wildly important in the history of Star Wars. You can catch my full review here!

Review: Tales of the Bounty Hunters

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on 15 April 2016 by Megan

talesBHSomething about bounty hunters seems to naturally fascinate people. Equally fascinating as the vigilante, and existing on the same plane of law enforcement as police, sheriffs, deputies, and other old-west versions, bounty hunters were originally simply mercenaries. Like with so many other western or mythological types, though, George Lucas reinvented them in Star Wars.

Bad guys of a different type, bounty hunters aren’t soldiers (i.e. mercenary troops). And even though — or maybe because — the glimpse of them in the films is quite brief, the fans have been gripped by six individuals most particularly. Ever since 1980, these names — and, I imagine, accompanying action figures — have been bounced back and forth among the fans, just names and stats, their stories unknown.

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IG-88. Dengar. Bossk. 4-LOM. Zuckuss. And of course, Boba Fett. Who are they? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Of course the EU exists to tell those exact stories, and in this 1996 collection, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, those stories come to life.

Kevin J. Anderson, Dave Wolverton, and Kathy Tyers return to the Galaxy to give us the first three stories; M. Shayne Bell and Daniel Keys Moran present the final two offerings. Anderson’s short story of the four IG-88s and how they plotted to take over the galaxy is a gem. Repetitive big nose jokes aside, the neat way he connects the Battle of Endor with the self-destructing probe on Hoth is clever, further cementing the history. Shades of Greek irony touch the story as well, as even emotionless droids, caught up in their superiority to organic beings, are not immune to hubris. Fan voting declared James Spader should do the voice of IG-88.

Wolverton gives us the tale of Dengar, a modified Corellian assassin with a grudge against Han Solo. Unlike IG-88, though, the inhuman human can remember emotion even if he can’t feel it, and he adheres to his own moral code — and falls in love. Touching on the character more fully fleshed out in The Bounty Hunter Wars Trilogy, the story explains his weird bandages and grudging glint in his eye. Fan-casting suggests Vin Diesel to play him, and I’m inclined to agree — though Liev Schreiber came in a close second.

I didn’t enjoy Bossk’s tale (Kathy Tyers) as much, though I was impressed that the Scorekeeper — referenced throughout The Old Republic — appeared first here as part of the Trandoshan religion. So did the grudge match between Wookiees and Trandoshans that also comes up in TOR. The story itself is very clever with a good twist, setting Bossk up as the perennially outfoxed short-fuse that he is in the BHW trilogy.

I did like the tale of 4-LOM and Zuckuss — unexpectedly poignant, a friendship story in the classic Star Wars tradition — and though I’m not familiar with anything else M. Shayne Bell wrote, this story was very well done. I’m picturing Seth Green and Breckin Meyer for the pair, with Breckin’s soft-spoken yet stubborn demeanor perfect for Zuckuss. The subplot of how 4-LOM went from being a steward droid to a jewel thief to a mechanical bounty hunter is worth it on its own, but add a dose of what happened to the coughing girl in ESB and the other rebels who got out on that last transport, and you’ve got a winner!

To be honest, the most disappointing story in the batch was that of Boba Fett, and it’s the only one of the six that I’m not going to even bother retconning into my canon. When I read this book almost 20 years ago, the Boba Fett story made me uncomfortable and depressed and was part of how I knew post-Vision of the Future would never be Star Wars to me when Vector Prime came out in ’99. Boba Fett doesn’t seem in character, which isn’t helped by the fact that Moran attempted to name the man and give pre-ANH detail, which authors weren’t supposed to do. But the same way Schreiber fumbles in Lockdown with making Maul a walking, talking real character, all his mystery and interest gets stripped away by a lackluster portrayal. Han’s appearance and the Slave IV, from 15 years after Endor, just adds to the general weirdness. The only one-star contribution in the book, I must say.

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But the rest more than makes up for it, and it remains by far my favorite of the Tales collections. Bounty hunters? We do need that scum.

Review: Shadows of the Empire

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , on 2 April 2016 by Megan

It is a dark time in Star Wars. A time of silence, uncertain hope. A beloved friend is frozen, return certain and yet so far away.

And then . . .

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Yes, I’m talking about the state of Star Wars in 1996: Timothy Zahn’s trilogy had revitalized the fanbase and sparked a flood of novels and comics. But what had teased fans for over a decade was still uncertain — where were the first three episodes?

George Lucas said a lot of things over the years. That Star Wars was going to be a 12-episode film saga — that it was going to be nine episodes — that he’d only ever always planned six episodes. But only three existed in the mid-90s. He’d seen Jurassic Park. He felt the technology was ready to put the Clone Wars on film. Zahn had proved people wanted more stories. But the budget of three special effects blockbusters was dazzling, and the question of the hour was, were people interested in supporting a multimedia franchise again?

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Enter Steve Perry’s Shadows of the Empire, not a novel but a multimedia event across the face of 1996. A New York Times bestseller, but also a computer game, a roleplaying game, a series of actions figures, comics, even its own soundtrack and junior novelization. George Lucas asked and the public answered YES — we are ready to give you so much more money for new films!

Set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Perry’s novel turns to a mysterious blank spot — one of the shortest blanks on the timeline — that had tormented fans since 1980. What happened in those months Han was in carbonite? Why did it take months to rescue him? How could Luke’s Jedi training be complete?

While Luke pores over Jedi relics in Obi-Wan’s abandoned home, building a new lightsaber and studying that which Yoda didn’t have time to teach him, a galactic conspiracy is going on. The Falleen Prince Xizor is more than just an imperial courtier; he is the head of the Black Sun, a galaxy-spanning criminal organization, an underground empire nearly able to go toe-to-toe with Palpatine’s own. Nearly able — and so Xizor must play the game with Palpatine, which sets him into a rivalry with Darth Vader.

This rivalry incites him to attempt to kill that which Vader would most have brought in alive — Luke Skywalker. Realizing far more than anyone else, the century-old Falleen prince knows Luke and Anakin both and sees his opportunity to seize total control if he plays right. And Leia, never the damsel in distress, is nevertheless trapped in a very uncomfortable web as Xizor attempts to make her one of his conquests. The Falleen prince is definitely one of the creepier and more memorable villains of the franchise — and unlike Thrawn, who is only a villain because he happens to be opposed to the Republic, Xizor is a creature of evil.

This book gave us more insight into the lost Bothans and cemented Lando Calrissian as a major character. It also gave us Guri, the female assassin bot, and Dash Rendar, a Corellian smuggler who shows us how Han is definitely not the norm. Oh, yeah, and my vote for the incorrigible Dash:

Fun fact, Dash Rendar made such an impression on George Lucas that he made sure to edit Rendar’s ship Outlander into the Mos Eisley scene of A New Hope in the 1997 edition of Star Wars (aka the definitive edition) — just a wink and a nod there to show that Mr. Lucas has always considered the EU to be just as canon as his own films!

In every possible way, Steve Perry’s first foray into the EU stands on its own feet and as one of the most important foundational books in realcanon.

Review: Hard Merchandise

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 28 February 2016 by Megan

by K.W. Jeter, Book 3.

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Well, it’s the end of Fettuary, y’all, so what else can I do but give you my final review of my favorite trilogy? I told you I might’ve cried during Slave Ship. Now I’m telling you I definitely cried during Hard Merchandise. People accuse me of not wanting NJO/Legacy because I can’t handle sad books and death scenes, but the fact is I just can’t handle soft reboots.

No, the end of this book hurts so, so good that I had to put it down and get my breath before continuing.

Again, as I said, it’s the characters that makes this trilogy such a bright constellation in the EU’s galaxy. As Kuat of Kuat tries to navigate turbulent waters of galactic neutrality in a time of civil war, betrayed by friends and best upon by his own people, Boba Fett likewise tries to unscramble the secret codes of the past and solve the mystery of Neelah the slave girl who saved his life.

One thing about this trilogy, I keep saying it’s about how Fett survived the Sarlacc, but that isn’t really true. His escape and survival is more of a footnote to the first book than anything else. I love how it takes for granted his survival, and how Fett is no longer man but machine when he is in his armor. He’s no cyborg, but he’s not a human anymore, either.

Again it’s a matter of, how can I review the 3rd book without giving any spoilers or repeating myself? This trilogy is masterfully put together, bringing the flashback segments forward from the past to join up almost seamlessly with the sections from the present, making it clear why the flashbacks were even a necessary part of the story.

Each character has a voice, is a living, breathing creation, and at times one wonders if they can even survive at all — even when you know they must! At the risk of tearing down Joe Schreiber, one of my favorites, Jeter is able to write the silently mysterious film character without destroying any of his mystery — a sharp contrast to Lockdown where Maul ceases to be a figure of the Dark Side and becomes a sardonic enforcer. Maybe you like sardonic enforcers; okay, I just thought it spoiled him. But not Fett. Jeter’s Fett is cold yet not amoral, silent yet expressive.

The final scenes are full of tension and heartbreak, leaving the reader shaken and raw like an adrenaline-fueled ride on a new roller coaster. In every way, this trilogy pushes itself and excels in the pushing. A brilliant piece of realcanon that I love every bit as much now as when I first read it in 1998.

Review: Slave Ship

Posted in Questions, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 27 February 2016 by Megan

by K.W. Jeter, book 2.

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The Mandalorian Armor ended on a total cliffhanger, so the first chapter of Slave Ship comes off like an old-timey movie, taking a step back to show you how the hero escaped. Telling you that Boba Fett escapes isn’t really telling you anything new, since this is an entire trilogy about him and he shows up years later.

But we don’t read this trilogy to find out that he survives. We read it to find out how. And as the flashback sequences increase in complexity, the central book of the trilogy picks up its pace with a sense of urgency.

It makes one wonder how Boba Fett and Thrawn would ever do matched against each other. Both of these warriors have a skill at predicting and controlling other creatures’ movements, manipulating them into an outcome that does the best for their own ends. But while Thrawn looks for big pictures, Boba Fett looks only for profit. That makes me think Thrawn would win.

At any rate, I digress. The Bounty Hunter Wars have begun, and Xizor, Kuat, and the Emperor continue to move beings around the galaxy as if they were pieces on a game board. What is the significance of the symbol Nil Possondum carved on the floor of Fett’s cargo hold? In fact, what is Possondum’s significance, anyway, and what’s he got to do with the dancer Neelah? Can Bossk get revenge? Is Boba Fett just waiting for a chance to sell out his partners? Can Dengar survive a partnership with Fett, or will he just be another casualty in the long line of deaths caused by the neo-Mandalorian?

It’s not a bounty hunter’s job to ask questions, but there’s a lot floating around here. K.W. Jeter continues to weave flashbacks with the present, only now he explains that this is Dengar telling the mind-wiped Neelah the story of the old Bounty Hunter’s Guild. Treachery and deception runs rampant, but they might just be closing in on the prize at last.

The thing with this trilogy that I absolutely love are the characters. I hear a lot of people saying they’re bored of books about the Big Three; they’re bored of Force users. They want something else. Yet so few sample this trilogy! Why? There’s nary a Force user in the entire book, and the closest you’ll ever get to the Big Three is the occasional bounty hunter mentioning how much they’d like to catch one for the credits.

They may be the fringes of the galactic population, but these are the plain ol’ mortals of the Star Wars universe. They have strong stories, and Slave Ship leaves one hanging on every bit as much as The Mandalorian Armor. I may have cried. It’s so, so worth it.