Archive for books

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??

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.”

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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?

My Heart Is an Imperial Occupied Zone

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

Or, Merry Christmas in July.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Redux: Death Star

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

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

Death Star Cover

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

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

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

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

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

I had.

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

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

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

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