Archive for Kevin J. Anderson

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.

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Review: Champions of the Force

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , on 18 May 2014 by Megan

Kevin J. Anderson, Jedi Academy Trilogy #3.

Book 3

Book 3

I will admit that there was a certain lack of enthusiasm as I embarked on this third book in the acclaimed trilogy. As I got to the halfway point, I had a pair of linked epiphanies. First was a realization of what makes the third book in Reaves’ many several trilogies so weak, which was also at play here — the books really betray the fact that the writers are operating under a severe deadline and trying to milk three books out of a two-book plot, specifically by the fact that the third book spends a good chunk of its pages rehashing what happened in the first two. That device is certainly more useful when it’s been a year since the reading (or however far apart they were released) than when it’s been a week, but after a third iteration of how Luke found Streen and Gantoris, a third description of how Kyp’s family was torn apart by the Empire, and a third rehash of  Qwi Xux’s brainwashing under Tarkin, a certain weariness overtook me.

The second epiphany was that Kevin J. Anderson was clearly writing with a television show in mind. I realized this when I finally placed certain sight gags time-honored by countless of 90s shows from Everybody Loves Raymond to The X-Files and the overly-dramatic chapter endings reminiscent of a pre-commercial-break hook. Oh, Mr. Anderson, this is a book, not an episode of Twin Peaks! I experienced some frustration there.

Archaeological remains

Archaeological remains

According to my initial research, I dated this book at 01148 but now I think it’s probably more like 01149. It picks up  pretty much right after the events of book 2, which further suggests that Anderson really only had two books’ worth of material but had to write a trilogy because “duologies” are so awkward. Luke’s spirit has been knocked loose from his body and Leia comes to Yavin IV in a desperate move to help. Kyp Durron is wreaking havoc with the Sun Crusher. Qwi Xux is trying to recover from his brutal erasing of her memories. Wedge is preparing to invade Maw station.

I like that Han has a chance to do more than spout catchphrases; he chases after Kyp, taking more of a mentor interest in him as he tries to save the boy from his descent to dark side madness. Chewbacca being elevated above comic relief is nice, and Wedge’s taking care of memory-wiped Qwi Xux is a new facet of his military commander personality. Anderson was a little heavy-handed with the two-and-a-half-year-old Jedi twins in the first books, so it was nice that they were toned back in this one. (He credits a child in his dedication, which suggests that he recently discovered little kids and for some reason had to pump the book with charming little kid foibles. The scenes go on a little long, but I still want to buy a stuffed bantha cub. . . .)

And yet I struggled to start this third one because its first chapter is my absolute least favorite scene in any Star Wars book. (If you’re concerned about a spoiler from a book almost old enough to order alcohol in the US, then cover your ears.) Kyp Durron, having been seduced by Exar Kun into tampering with dark side powers, has stolen the superweapon Sun Crusher from the heart of Yavin IV and gone tearing off to wreak havoc on the Empire. His first stop is the Imperial training base on Carida. He demands knowledge of his press-ganged brother, they put him off with a story about his being dead, and Kyp fires the super torpedo into the heart of the Caridan sun. With twenty minutes to spare, the administration discover his brother on the planet and he makes a mad dash to rescue him. He fails and watches his brother incinerated before his eyes because of his own action.

I find this scene the most frustrating and pointless, and therefore most painful of any scene in any book I’ve ever liked.  Maybe Kyp would have believed their false report and pushed the button. But at the very least, he would have been able to use the Force to drag his brother onto the ship and to safety. This is the kid who could pilot a black hole cluster with the Force — there’s no reason he would try to use the Sun Crusher’s tractor beam and not the Force. Also,  there’s no catharsis in Zeth’s pointless death. Kyp the fratricide should  have become  irredeemable, a psychotic mess. Anderson either kills the brother 1) because Kyp must be punished for his deeds, “justice” — or 2) he had no idea what to do with a brainwashed Stormtrooper zombie. Possibly a touch of 3), cheap emotional jarring for the reader. And I hate that.

Coffee and 90s paperback smell, mmm

Coffee and 90s paperback smell, mmm

But. That being said. Regardless of the lackluster finish on the trilogy, there are many aspects of this book that make it a worthy successor to the two I love so much. Disembodied Luke makes for a surprising twist in the plot as he and Exar Kun trade bodiless threats and he relies on his untried students to save him when he can’t even communicate with them. There is wisdom in the declaration that shadows are eliminated by flooding them with light.

Review: Dark Apprentice

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , on 11 May 2014 by Megan

Kevin J. Anderson, Jedi Academy Trilogy #2.

Introducing Exar Kun

Introducing Exar Kun

This book is set some time after book 1, apparently: anywhere from six months to a year may have gone by since Jedi Search. (Within the first few chapters, Luke observes that it’s been 11 years since the Battle of Yavin, while book 1 was 7 years + 3 years since Yavin.) Han Solo has been getting young Kyp Durron a taste of freedom after the ravages of the Kessel spice mines; he and Leia are still adapting to actually raising their two-year-old twins while Leia takes on increasing responsibility under a withdrawn Mon Mothma’s leadership.

Luke Skywalker has added to the number of Jedi trainees, having assembled quite a number of them at his Jedi “praxeum” on Yavin IV. Although Gantoris becomes increasingly creepy, no one notices anything untoward until it is too late . . .

Also running amok, the crazed Admiral Daala, who has spent ten years in isolation at the secret Imperial base hidden in the Maw black hole cluster. She and her small fleet of Star Destroyers are determined to cause as much trouble as possible for the rebellion, while the present head of the Imperial faction — a warlord in charge of the Imperial training planet on Carida — is desperately seeking out Vader’s youngest grandson, Anakin Solo.

Whew! When I took this book out of storage, opened it up, and took a deep sniff, I was so transported to being twelve in the Champaign County Public Library.

That was before I drank coffee.

That was before I drank coffee.

Back then, my method of finding new Star Wars stuff was to walk briskly through the stacks at CCL — this tiny library has never separated things by genre, only hardback vs paperback — and look for the Star Wars stamp on a spine. It was January 3, 1998, and I wrote in my diary, “Kari drove Dad & I to pick up Heather. We stopped at the library and I got ‘Dark Apprentice’.” Heather was my ten-year-old niece. Mostly what I remember is ignoring her the entire night in favor of reading. I sat next to my closet door, slightly cracked, to read by the fluorescent light with my knees up to my chest. Heather’s adenoidal snoring hummed in the background as I turned pages, breathless with shock as Luke fell into a coma and the vengeful spirit of Exar Kun seduced Ganatos and Kyp Durron to the dark side and destruction.

Nevertheless, it was three days for me to finish the 300-page book. On January 6, I wrote, “Today was good, I finished Dark Apprintace, Dad checked out Champions of the Force for me. […] Almost done with Champions of the Force. I’m discovering all kinds of interesting info. I have to watch Jedi.”

CCL didn’t own the first book, just the last two in paperback, and I literally cried the day I came in to check out Dark Apprentice and found they had discarded the faded paperback. The scent of the book doesn’t change.

I had never really considered just how much fantastic stuff my imagination culled form this trilogy, including the mysterious Massassi structures of Yavin IV, the power of holocrons, the disembodied and disgruntled spirit of Exar Kun — the dark and terrifying spice mines of Kessel, the intrigue of Maw Installation — but there is plenty to love. And, yes, even though this the fifth time I’ve read this book over a period of 16 years, I gasped out loud when Lando challenged Han to another round of sabacc to determine ownership of the Falcon.

Ah, the Falcon!

Ah, the Falcon!

This book was responsible for me thinking Kevin J. Anderson was my favorite author for a long time. Now, I find his portrayal of female characters (specifically Daala, a cliche “strong female character” who got her position by sleeping with a nasty old man and who checks herself out in the mirror thinking about her hair a lot) pretty cringe-worthy, but putting that aside . . . I love this book!

Review: Jedi Search

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , on 4 May 2014 by Megan

Kevin J. Anderson, Jedi Academy Trilogy #1.

I’ve been meaning to review every Star Wars book in the realcanon for years now, but I was mostly waiting until my life was in order. Well, life is not getting in order, and now that there are so many questions out there about Star Wars canon, canon novels, Star Wars books, etc., it seems more important than ever to get a start on this. In order to review properly, I decided to re-read, and I almost started with the first Star Wars book I ever read — Assault on Selonia. But instead I thought nostalgia would be better served by going  back to my first favorite — the Jedi Academy Trilogy — followed by the Zahn trilogy that kicked off the expanded universe canon.

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First read 1998

The plot, in brief: the New Republic is struggling to rebuild after the ravages of the imperial rebellion of the year before. Dreadnaughts have decimated Coruscant. Luke is haunted by his experiences with the dark side as the Reborn Emperor’s chief lieutenant. Leia is handling increasing responsibility at the heights of republican government, subordinating the demands of her husband and children to the requirements of the galaxy. She and Han have three children, who have been mostly relegated to the care of a nanny on a hidden planet in order to protect them. Jacen and Jaina are two years old, and Anakin is a mere newborn.

The book starts with Han and Chewie on a diplomatic mission to Kessel, looking to bring the rogue world into the republic for fun and profit. Unexpectedly attacked and pushed to a crash landing on the surface of the spice mining planet, Han finds out he has no friends there and this ambassador stuff is more complex than he thought.

Meanwhile on Coruscant, Luke goes before the senate to ask for support and a planet on which to start a training facility for a new generation of Jedi Knights. He goes out on a mission to locate Force-sensitive hopefuls to populate the school with, while Leia is a complete harpy about Han being gone, and her two-year-old twins are brought home for the first time.

Lando and the droids make up a final sub-plot as they assist Luke on his search for Jedi candidates before turning their attention to an investigation about what’s become of Han.

Jedi Search, the first book of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, was published in 1994, and Kevin J. Anderson made an executive decision to reference the events of Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire, thereby making them canon (and directly defying Zahn’s desire not to canonize the Emperor Reborn etc.). According to realcanon timeline (that is, the dating system I built), this book takes place in year 01149, or 11 years after A New Hope.

I calculated this awhile  ago

I calculated this awhile ago

The last time I read this book, I remembered being disappointed and thinking it had aged poorly since the first afternoon a 14-year-old rebel librarian-to-be triumphantly acquired the book on tape. (Our library notoriously only bought two random books of any given trilogy, and I read Dark Apprentice and Champions of the Force twice before I managed to get the first book in any capacity.)

However, Friday evening, after a long and stressful work week, a week also filled with the adrenaline of revamping this site in a desperate defense against the Darth Disney betrayal of all things Star Wars, I went to my storage unit and opened the first box on the top pile to take out these seven books for review. I went to bed, tucked up with two cats and a couple of chocolate chip cookies, and opened my very glistening, very like new copy of Jedi Search and drew in a deep breath. The smell of these 90s Bantam books is the most incredible thing — it is by far my favorite scent. It’s outright delicious.

And then I was off and reading. No disappointment. I can’t remember what I was so harsh on the last time. This book is a great adventure and a worthy successor to the films. The first glimpse of Kessel, the hints of truth behind Han’s boast of “making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” the shock of a crash landed Falcon . . . Yes, it’s cliched and catchphrasey in places, occasionally illogical, but on the whole, Kevin J. Anderson weaves an adventurous story that brings forth two new dangers for our heroes: a lost batch of Imperials who didn’t know the Emperor was dead (reminiscent of the Japanese troops still fighting WW2 thirty years after surrender), and a “dark man” preying on the minds of Luke’s prospective trainees.

Sixteen years later, I still love this book, and I’m super excited to tell you about Dark Apprentice next week — if seeing Return of the Jedi made me a Star Warrior for life, then reading Dark Apprentice made me the Expanded Universe patron I am today! Find it on Amazon (here) and Goodreads (here).