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.

Advertisements

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.

DNpcWfqWAAEjjsv.jpg large

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.”

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: The New Rebellion

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

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Essential Universe

Posted in Fun, Opinion with tags , , , , on 17 March 2017 by Megan

or, 17 trEU books to read in 2017

Some reports say that a majority of people won’t read one book through this year. I’m not here to guilt you, even though I feel guilty enough if I don’t read at least 52 books a year — I just want to inspire you. I really enjoyed the list I put together last year, so I was inspired to do it again!  I’ve carefully selected these 17 realcanon reads to resonate especially with this year! Enjoy.

17. Allegiance by Timothy Zahn (10 years old!)

If your heart, like mine, is an Imperial-occupied zone, what better place to start than by picking up a novel that gives depth and faces to the men behind the white armor? It also introduces a young Mara Jade just starting off her career as the Emperor’s Hand.

16. Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn

Jump straight to the end of the RebeLibrarian timeline, find out why I love Pellaeon with a passion, and watch both Luke and Mara succumb to human feeling and realize they’re falling in love. Read it with Vision of the Future it’s essentially a novel-length prologue. Bantam specifically commissioned this “Hand of Thrawn duology” to capstone the timeline, and, if you like, it makes a perfect and 100% satisfying ending to the Skywalker saga.

15. Union by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m not a fan of comics and I end the timeline at Vision of the Future, so you just know Union must be something special for me to grant it status! It’s a charming epilogue, a lighthearted story about how even Luke Skywalker’s wedding can’t be free of Imperial plots and drama.

14. The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole (20 years old!)

Stackpole’s X-Wing series is a crown jewel of the realcanon, and the development of Corran Horn along with Wedge Antilles’ team of crack pilots is not to be missed if you value your Star Wars soul. These books make me laugh and cry unapologetically no matter how many times I read them.

13. Tales from the Empire (20 years old!)

These anthologies are close to the beating heart of the EU, true expansions of characters and situations we see only vaguely or mentioned briefly on-screen. This brilliant collection includes a novella by Stackpole. Read it now!

Fifteen years ago, we got the second installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Honor that anniversary!

12. The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster

Returning to the Star Wars universe for the first time since 1978, and with his third and final offering to the universe, Alan Dean Foster explores the relationship between a maturing Obi-Wan and Anakin as they work with another master and Padawan. Remember Mace Windu saying that the two of them are recently returned from a border dispute on Anision? This is that dispute!

11. Attack of the Clones by R.A. Salvatore

Although I never liked Salvatore and am never going to forgive him for his bizarre colorblind bungling in this novelization (with a redheaded Obi-Wan and red-eyed Jawas, it’s like he dropped acid before writing this thing…), the book is nevertheless a very important installment into the universe!

Now, forgive me if I mention Disney a few more times before I’m done here. I’ve saved the nine most significant books for last, and while four of them are celebrating 20 years, I admit that Disney doings are the primary reason I include them with such prominence.

10. Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry

If you want to know the trEUth about the Death Star’s construction and get a glimpse into what was happening on the other side during the events of A New Hope, trust Perry and Reaves to get you there! With bonus appearances by some of Reaves’ Pavan Cycle characters, Death Star delivers realcanon you won’t regret.

katarn_df

7. Soldier for the Empire (20 years)
8.  Rebel Agent (20 years)
9. Jedi Knight by William C. Dietz

Kyle Katarn has a complex and compelling backstory, and this trilogy delves deep into his introduction to the rebellion, his first important mission for the same (aka stealing the Death Star plans), and his confrontation with the Inquisitor Jerec, the first Miralukan in realcanon. With breathtaking artwork and an awesome story, it’s an installment that deserves its stellar reputation.

dscn3136

Han Solo is about to get a bad rap. A seriously bad rap. First 2015 had people saying he was dead. Next, rumor is they’re going say Disney came up with his origins all by themselves. Read on and be enlightened!

4. Han Solo at Stars End
5. Han Solo’s Revenge
6. Han Solo and the Lost legacy by Brian Daley

The very first tales of Han Solo appeared in 1979, penned by the same great mind that gave us the incredible radio adaptations of the Original Trilogy.

These books have undeniable historical significance and are a great deal of fun. Eighteen years before the controversy, Han brags about shooting first, and almost a quarter century before Crystal Skull, Han has an eerily similar adventure that even trashes a campus during a speeder chase! Read for the classics they are, the Daley trilogy won’t disappoint.

dscn3423

And now! The number one books you should read this year — the three books you should read if you only read three books in 2017! —

cjwxyobwuamflx7-jpg-large

1. The Paradise Snare  (20 years)
2. The Hutt Gambit (20 years)
3. Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin

Read them before you can be brainwashed into thinking A.C. Crispen didn’t write the definitive edition of young Han Solo’s life! These books are three of the greatest in the entire EU. Who doesn’t love a good origin story? And the origins of how Han knows Wookiee; how he became a great pilot; how he met Chewbacca, Jabba, Lando, and Boba Fett; got the Corellian bloodstripe; and made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs is a nonstop thrill that will never disappoint. Ann Crispin, who died in 2013 less than six months before EU favorite Aaron Allston also passed, is by far the greatest female contributor to the EU. Applause!

dscn4000