Tag Archives: Books

Thrawn – Review

thrawn12f-2-webThis review originally appeared at The Star Wars Report.

It is said that to create a compelling villain an author must make them sympathetic in some way. Villains never see themselves as such, as with the rest of us, they believe they are doing the right thing. Timothy Zahn, in his new book Thrawn, has given us just that; a villain that believes he’s doing what he must to save his people and possibly the galaxy itself from an evil worse that the Empire. Thrawn is a masterpiece in subverting the readers expectations, especially in light of Star Wars Rebels. Many readers will come in expecting the ruthless, cold and calculating character they know from the show, yet that is only one side of the multifaceted Chiss. Zahn has created the most nuanced Imperial to date allowing readers a both, insider and outsider’s look at the Empire.

Breaking the Mold

One of the true highlights of the book is this theme. Both Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce (who fans will recognize as the Governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels) must overcome the prejudices of the Empire throughout the story. The Empire is one of the most elitist and xenophobic places you will read about in literature. The Core systems in the galaxy have very little regard for aliens or people from the Outer Rim or beyond. Each of these characters has at least one of these strikes against them and Thrawn has both. Thrawn and Arihnda must overcome these prejudices. They never feel sorry for themselves or blame the system they are apart of, they simply overcome the obstacles in their own way, though determination, hard work and in Arihnda’s case, foul play.

It’s actually incredible to watch Thrawn continually prove his naysayers wrong and obliterate their preconceptions about him, time and time again. He uses all of his talents and skills to his advantage, making himself invaluable to the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. Strange to think one could learn a valuable life lesson from Thrawn, but he never allows anyone else to define his worth, value or to be held back from completing his objectives. Of course, full disclosure, Thrawn is not a perfect role model, but this was a great theme to see play out in the book.

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The Story

Thrawn is an expansive novel that covers a lot of time. It also allows us to get that look inside the Empire, but from the outsider’s perspective. Because Thrawn is not human, he does not always see things the same way and this sheds light on much of the corruption in the Empire as well as the inefficiencies. The story does a good job of sucking the reader in and created a subtle enough character with Thrawn that you are on his side during the book.

Zahn also creates, for this book, a new person to be at Thrawn’s side, his name is Eli Vanto. Think of him as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock. This is a really fascinating character that, by the end of the book you’ll be begging Zahn for more.

As is mentioned above, the story features Arihnda Pryce. The book is set up to parallel her rise to power and Thrawn’s, seeing the different ways they overcome the obstacles to get where we see them in Rebels. She is not to be trifled with and her story is every bit as interesting as the title character. There are many familiar faces in the book, that fans would come to expect from a story tied in with Star Wars Rebels as Yularan, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Emperor and a few more are sprinkled in .

Conclusion

This review is not meant to be expansive and in many areas I wanted to be vague because it’s a book that just needs to be read and experience. Zahn has done exactly what I hoped for and written the definitive, canon book of Thrawn. It ranks up there with the very best of the new canon and is rated 5 out of 5 turbo laser blasts.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn provided by Del Rey.

Aftermath: Empire’s End – Review

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This review was originally posted at The Star Wars Report.

Star Wars fans’ first taste of the end of the Empire came in Lost Stars as the Imperial characters in that book experienced the Battle of Jakku. It was the first taste of the end of all things for the Empire as seen in The Original Trilogy. Now, in Chuck Wendig’s final Aftermath book, Empire’s End, fans finally have the particulars of what led to the showdown between the Empire and the New Republic over this remote world.

Is This All There Is?

This series has followed two big characters, Rae Sloane and Norra Wexley. Each of these women has been moving closer to the other throughout the story, and it’s in this book that they come face to face at last. What’s most interesting is that even though they are on opposite sides of the war, they find themselves driven by the same thing, revenge. Each woman wants revenge on the person they believe has taken everything away from them. Norra desires revenge on Rae for attacking the New Republic and for brainwashing her husband to help carry out the plan. Rae’s object of revenge is Gallius Rax, who has taken the Empire she loves away from her. As these two women wrestle with how to get their revenge they see that they are truly not that different from one another and are even left with the same question plaguing them: “Is this all there is?” Is revenge truly enough to live for? Their answers will be different in the end, but the outcome will be the same. Revenge is not enough.

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Who is the Enemy?

Building off the previous theme is also this question, “Who is the enemy?” Norra will find that in the end, her understanding of the answer to that question was wrong and she must put aside her presuppositions about Rae, specifically, to fight the right fight.

What is most interesting is to see the way this struggle is mirrored on a galactic scale and how it will plague the sequel trilogy of Star Wars. The New Republic and Mon Mothma specifically have grappled with the challenge of identifying who the enemy is and what actual threat that enemy poses. All throughout the Aftermath series she’s longed to have peace and put war behind her. She might have been too late to act correctly if not pushed by her opponent in the upcoming election to take a strong stance on the security of the New Republic. Seeing the galaxy the way it is and not as she wants it to be is hard for Mon Mothma, but in the fight to bring democracy, the lesson that freedom is never free cannot be lost.

Finding the medium between safety and freedom is never easy. Sinjar says of Mon Mothma she is, “…a woman that wants to give democracy to the entirety of the galaxy. Freedom for all. Oppression for none.” It truly is the noblest of goals. The book does a good job of showing this struggle in all its messiness.

It is fascinating to see how this connects to The Force Awakens. Ancillary materials fill in the details of a senate that does not wish to see the First Order as a threat. Because of their lack of understanding of what’s truly happening in the galaxy, or worse, a blatant disregard for the signs before them, their blindness becomes their doom. A poignant lesson in any galaxy.

Spoilers begin after this point


The Good

The book has some things worthy of praise. The plot. The plot of the book is honestly what many expected from the first book. The portrayal of the inner-workings of the New Republic, seeing characters like Mon Mothma and Leia in their roles, trying to take care of the Empire while at the same time transitioning to a new galactic government, is excellent.

The book also continues one of the best things about the series, the Empire. The power plays and infighting between Grand Admiral Sloan and Gallius Rax as they try to find a way forward for the fledgling Empire are great. Another standout comes in the character of Rax and the revelation of his connection with Palpatine, Jakku, and what’s happening there, ultimately leading to the formation of the First Order.

The Bad

Empire’s End, like the rest of the series suffers from Wendig’s prose; it’s just frustratingly prosaic. There is also a lack of exposition and detail with major plot points, such as the Black Sun and Red Key crime syndicate’s involvement in the attempt to destabilize the galaxy or the full scope of Palpatine’s contingency plan. Each would benefit from more explanation and detail. There are also times throughout  where there seems to be a jump in the story and fuller connection of the dots would be welcome. This is so important because tie-in fiction that’s being written concurrently with a tv series or films will always come in second to those mediums. The major revelations will inevitably be saved for the next movie or episode, and because of this, it’s a struggle for the books to feel important. The Aftermath books suffer from this problem. There really are no major revelations in them and it leaves the series feeling a bit hollow. Therefore good writing is essential to making the reader feel they are being rewarded for their time and that the book is necessary to the canon.

The interludes continue to be an issue. Most of them are unnecessary. With all of the pre-release hullabaloo about Jar Jar’s fate, the actual reveal lacks any punch. The interludes that do work would be better served by being worked into the narrative in a more organic way. The space for the others could better be utilized to flesh out the main plot with more detail.

Most frustratingly, the character’s voices still sound off. Han and Leia do not sound like themselves. Tie-in fiction, when it is at its best, plays like an extension of the show or film it draws from. The best way for that to happen is to capture the “voices” of the characters so that the reader can hear the actor in their heads as they read. Unfortunately for this book, just as in Life Debt, this does not happen.

Conclusion 

Empire’s End is an improvement on the previous two books in the series. The plot is more engaging and seeing the end to the Empire is enjoyable. But with continuing prose, “voice” and importance issues, it’s still not one of the new canon’s best, landing somewhere in the middle with a rating of 2.75 downed Star Destroyers out of 5.

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Rogue One Novelization – Review


rogueonenovelRogue One
 brings to life the crawl from A New Hope, vividly showing us just how difficult that first victory against the evil Empire was and who carried out that harrowing mission. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has also been novelized by Twilight Company author Alexander Freed. He is the perfect choice as author, capturing all the grit of Star Wars‘ first true war film, just as he did in his Battlefront tie-in.

The goal of any movie novelization is to adequately represent the story on screen as well as give you all those little insights as only a book can. It’s here that Freed excels. The way in which he poignantly dives into the psyche of key characters gives the reader a greater understanding of the motivation as portrayed on screen, expanding the resonance of their actions and decisions. It’s wonderful to hear Jyn’s internal wrestling about her father, Cassian’s struggle as he contemplates his orders to shoot Galen or Mon Mothma’s feelings about the Rebellion and the course they are on. Each addition enhances the film and helps make this novelization worth the time and money.

The new canon of Star Wars introduced a new feature that has now been seen in the Aftermath books, Ahsoka and are featured in Freed’s novelization, interludes.  In previous books they have been used to varying degrees of success and the trend is much the same here. Some of the interludes do feel like they add to the story, but for the most part, they don’t feel necessary. Honestly the new canon authors should work harder to integrate this material into the actual flow of the stories or do without it. Here they feel more like interruptions, especially since almost everyone reading the book will be familiar with the flow of the movie.

The rest of the review can be found in it’s original location at The Star Wars Report.

Star Wars: Catalyst – Review

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The Death Star has always been a fascinating subject in Star Wars lore and it’s history just as intriguing. With additions to the story by Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Rebels, the full account has been waiting to be told, until now. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel chronicles the development of the Death Star from The Clone Wars to the upcoming film Rogue One. Author James Luceno masterfully connects the dots, while setting up the characters that will inhabit the movie and the seeds of rebellion in the galaxy that will spawn a new hope.

The Greater Good

One of the most interesting aspects of Catalyst is the ways in which this phrase and idea is used by characters in the book to rationalize everything they are doing. Galen Erso, the main theoretical scientist behind the study of kyber crystals continually has this as his mantra, ignoring any voice inside or outside himself that would warn him about the dangers of his research. He willingly blinds himself to so much throughout the story, believing the false narratives fed to him by Orsen Krennic, head of the Special Weapons Division for the Empire, that allow him to continue his research. Krennic has told Erso that the project is meant to find a way to bring affordable and renewable power to the Empire. It brings to mind Malcolm in Jurassic Park when he says, “…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Erso becomes so enamored with the prospect of the knowledge that he can uncover and the power that he can hopefully unleash for the benefit of the beings of the galaxy, that he doesn’t even stop to consider how his findings may be perverted for other uses. Science never happens in a vaccum.

At the same time the Empire is lying to the scientists working on project Celestial Power, about their true objective, it’s also hiding from the galaxy it’s true intentions towards “Legacy” planets. These are planets that have been supposedly set aside as sanctuaries for preservation from industrialization, like galactic national parks. Yet the Empire employs the same tactics Palpatine did during the Clone Wars, setting up the planets, making it look as though they are arming themselves, giving the Empire licence to step in an annex them. The Empire then strip mines these planets for their precious ores and metals for “the greater good”, aka the building of the secret space station known as the Death Star.  Catalyst is a reminder of the horrors that have been done in the name of “the greater good” and the slippery slope that kind of logic is.  

The remainder of the review can be found over at The Star Wars Report.

Ahsoka – Review

tsc-s23-th-square-1440In 2008 Star Wars fans were introduced to a brand new character that no one expected, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka. She immediately polarized the fan community and it took years for some people to warm up to her. Fast forward to March 7th, 2014 where she walked away from the Jedi order in the last broadcast episode of The Clone Wars, breaking fans hearts but also relieving them as they knew Ahsoka lived. Now, with her fate in the balance once again, fans can’t get enough Ahsoka and they’ve got a new book to keep us satiated.

In this supplemental episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by fellow Jedi Masters Bruce Gibson and John Mills to talk about the new Star Wars book, Ahsoka. We first discuss the Lando casting, our expectations coming into the book, the end of Ahsoka’s world, interludes, becoming something else, the Imperial way, stormtroopers of clones, kyber crystals, Inquisitors, a failing order and our ratings.

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Nutshell – Review

nutshell_mcewanInnovative storyteller Ian McEwan has been exploring the depth up humanity for years. His latest novel Nutshell, just may be his most important and penetrating examination of the 21st century to date. Nutshell is a crime story unlike any other, told from the point of view of an unborn child who bears witness to his mother and uncle’s plot to muder his father. It’s a heart wrenching story of just how far our society has devolved and the mess we’ve created for the next generation.

Lies Will be the Truth

McEwan brilliantly portrays the world of the 21st century though it’s poetry described as, “…Too much about self, too glassily cold with regard to others, too many grips in too short a line.” We’ve become a world of pessimists since, “Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking class of solutions. We excite ourselves with dark thoughts in plays, poems, novels, movies… We’re bloated with privileges and delights, as well as complaints…”.

The picture throughout Nutshell is one of a world reeling with it’s preoccupation with self in light of it’s rejection of any truth outside our own perceptions. The amoral malaise of a godless society is on full display as the unborn child says to himself, “Who knows what is true? I can hardly collect the evidence for myself. Like everyone else, I’ll take what I want, whatever suits me.”Later on adding, “My selfhood would be sculpted by pleasure, conflict, experience ideas and my own judgement as rocks and trees are shaped by rain, wind and time.” There are no more absolutes or truth, just feelings.

I declare my undeniable feeling for who I am. If I turn out to be white, I may identify as black. And vise versa. I may announce myself as disabled, or disabled in context. If my identity is that of a believer, I’m easily wounded, my flesh torn to bleeding by my questioning of my faith.Offended, I enter a state of grace. Should inconvenient opinions hover near me like fallen angels or evil dijnn (a mile being too near), I’ll be in need of the special campus safe room equipped with Play-Doh and looped footage of gambolling puppies. Ah, the intellectual life! I may need advance warning if upsetting books or ideas threaten my very being by coming too close, breathing on my face, my brain, like unwholesome dogs. I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be.

McEwan has nailed us as a culture, “I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be.” We reject the facts that,”Biology is destiny, and destiny is digital, and in this case binary.” With no perceived shackles of “normalcy” or “truth” we seek to control life by the only standard we deem appropriate, our feelings and since they are transitory, who we are is as fleeting as chaff in the wind.

The culmination of this is mirrored in the mother of the story who has helped her brother-in-law kill her husband, so that they can reap the benefits of millions in the sale of the marital house. Her unborn son realizes that, “…my mother is in step with the new times. She may no know it, but she marches with the movement. Her status as a murderer is in fact, and item in the world outside herself. But that’s old thinking. She affirms, she identifies as innocent…Lies will be her truth.”(Italics in the quote from the book).

This is the world we’ve created, this is the legacy we leave to our unborn. Lies for the truth. Nutshell reads like Romans 1 where the Apostle Paul says,

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 ESV)

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The Unborn

Nutshell is tragically pro-life, showing the utter disregard that our society has for the unborn. Since we as a society see reality in only what we feel, biology no longer applies, therefore the unborn are only children if we feel they are. Otherwise they are victims of our perceptions. We exchange the truth for a lie to enable apathy and at worst contempt which facilitates wholesale murder. Nutshell is a reminder to those of us that are pro-life, it is not just saving the precious babies, but caring for it and the mother afterwards. For children who are born and are unwanted, we have a responsibility to step up and provide the homes and families, welcoming them into love. If we don’t, the life we save will be lost to a world that clearly has no regard for it whatsoever.

Conclusion

Nutshell is a tragic masterpiece that illuminates the dark recesses of our world, reminding us that life is ugly and cruel without hope. It’s an important, worthwhile read and one of the best books of the year.

Star Wars: Life Debt – Review

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Last year during the craziness of Force Friday, fans tried to satiate their desire for anything Star Wars with new toys, coffee mugs, shirts and books. In all the mayhem, one book stood out from the rest as the one that people could not wait to devour, Aftermath. This was going to be the start of the new canon, the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi and set up for The Force Awakens. Sadly the reception for the first book, a planned trilogy, was lukewarm at best, leaving fans hoping that the second book would redeem the series.

Themes

There are a couple of interesting themes in the book. The first is the way in which the Empire looks to reestablish itself after all the losses it has sustained. It’s idea, propaganda.They will just feed the populous a fictitious narrative backed up by various acts of staged benevolence to sell the facade. There is an exchange in the book between Rae Sloane and and Gallius Rax that feels chillingly familiar,

“He stops her there. “Rae, do you know much about opera?”….“I know opera, though I am not an enthusiast.”
He clasps his hands together. “Become one. It will make our partnership more rewarding for you. Opera moves me. And yet none of it is real. Therein lies the crux of what you need to understand: Something does not need to be real for it to have an effect. The instruments and song, the drama and melodrama, the pathos and tragedy. It’s a lie. A fiction. And yet what happens on the stage speaks a kind of truth just the same. Facts and truth are separate things. I am more interested in truth than I am fact. I am comfortable with artifice when it suits our needs. And here, it does.”

The idea of truth as weaponized artifice created at will, and that facts are not really important, is the best theme of the book.

Second main theme is the struggle of the New Republic to establish itself in the galaxy, finish the war with the Empire and continue to bring freedom to enslaved planets. It is clearest in the character of Mon Mothma and her reluctance to liberate Kashyyyk or to truly see what needs to be done to finish off the Empire for good. She’s become tired of war, looking at people as numbers in equations instead of living beings with a right to life. She’s looking for ways to demilitarize before the war is truly one, sticking her head in the sand and crafting a narrative for herself that they’ve done enough. It’s powerful, poignant and sadly all too commonplace today. The theme is crystallized in Leia’s conversation with Mon Mothma,

“We argue,” Leia says suddenly, “about whether it is the time to build up the military or to dampen its effect. And all the while we forget that we have the privilege of arguing from comfortable chairs many parsecs away. We argue about what’s prudent or what’s practical while people suffer. Do you know what people want to see from the New Republic? Do you, truly?”
Mon cedes the floor. “Please.”
“They want us to be heroes.”
A moment passes where everyone chuckles uncomfortably. At least until they realize she’s quite serious.
Mon says: “I know. You’re not wrong. And you are a hero, and you helped us all be the heroes needed to get to this point. But such passion and idealism have to be tempered by reality. This is a government. It has a lot of moving pieces.”
Leia stiffens. “And that is where we’ll fail. This isn’t a machine, Chancellor. When did we start to see this as a government and not a collection of people helping people? We’ve started seeing…territories and battle logistics and votes. We’ve stopped seeing hearts and minds and faces. The more we do that, the more we lose. Of ourselves. Of the galaxy”

Frustratingly, the themes of the book are not truly fleshed out to really give them the resonance they deserve. They are there and that is a positive, but they lack the followthrough to ring clear as they should.

The Story

The story is pretty simple. A new leader begins to emerge in the fractured Empire, who has  a plan to destabilize the New Republic. His plan has it’s fingers in every part of the story as he channels his inner Palpatine, using Han’s desire to liberate Kashyyyk in an attempt to deal the New Republic a serious blow and weed out road blocks in the Empire to his rule.

Characters

One of the complaints about Aftermath was favoring new characters over established ones, and that failed to resonate. In Life Debt, readers are given more of Han, Leia, Mon Mothma, Wedge, Chewie and a few others; this should be a plus.

The problem is they are not written in a recognizable way and they lose any recognizable voice (except Chewie). When using established characters, the most important thing in tie-in fiction is to write them so they sound like themselves. When you read the dialogue, you should be able to hear the actor’s voice.

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The new characters do not fair much better. Norra Wexly and her motley crew are relegated to CW melodrama, as bad romances are popping up all over, plus there is a twist worthy of Days of Our Lives. Unfortunately these characters are just not given interesting arcs or written well enough to be stimulating.

Conclusion 

Life Debt is all over the place. It lacks the focus to tell a good story. There is too much going on and none of the stories feels coherent enough to be satisfying. The best storyline is about the Empire as it slowly morphs into what will become the First Order. If this had been the major focus, like Lost Stars it could have been great. I had hoped that with the release of The Force Awakens that Life Debt would benefit from more freedom and opportunity to give us the old characters.

Sadly it all feels as hollow as a burned-out wroshyr tree. Life Debt is rated 2 out of 5 stars.