Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review - Kenobi

Kenobi - by John Jackson Miller

I highly enjoyed this book, and I wasn't necessarily expecting to.  Why?  Well, despite the title of this blog... I don't really enjoy Westerns all that much.

This book was a Western.  It's about Ben Kenobi wandering out into a little patch of the west.  There were Indians... um, I mean Sand People.  There was a plucky widow shopkeeper, there were powerful ranch hands... you could have changed the names and set this in 1880s Wyoming.

And it was... just lovely.

The EU - No Planets or Species Were Harmed in the Production of This Book.  The book, and its consequences were... small.  You see just a little bit of how Obi-wan becomes Ben, that old Wizard.  And it's understated.  It's not a earth shattering or galaxy spanning affair.  It was just a simple story set in the Star Wars Universe... with realistic characters acting in a realistic way.  And this is something utterly, utterly refreshing.

The EU - A Western In Space? But Nathan Fillion isn't Ben Kenobi - I will admit that I am a Firefly fan... and so, what I will say is that this ended up having very much a Firefly sort of feel... almost what you could see happening if Book decided to exile himself.  But just the gritty, on the edge, but getting on with getting on approach.  It's the best of the Western genre, really, it is.  And it was great fun.

The Bad - Intergalatic Expanded Name Dropping - Yes, I know that there is an extended universe.  Yes, I know who several of these names are, like Kiera Holt, or A'Sharad Hett.  And yes, I know they take up large sections of other times and places in the Star Wars Universe.  But... did they have to be here?  In this book?  I mean, it wasn't terrible that they were here, but here you have such a close, tight book, just about this little out of the way place -- I don't like the random "must run to wookiepedia" sort of character dropping normally, but this stood out a bit more brashly, precisely because the rest of the book was so close and... local.

The Ugly - Nothing.
Seriously, there wasn't anything ugly about this book.  I guess I could see how some people might not find a character to latch on to, but there's nothing that makes me say "ugh."

Just a solid book.  This will be in the stack that I re-read.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crucible. Yeah. By Troy Denning

I can't do it.  I just can't write up a normal review with the Good and Bad things with this book.  I mean, there are parts I liked and such, but, just, no.

Here's the problem with this book.  There's too much "inside baseball" and too much power.

The main villains are Columi.  That's not a common race - but they only get a passing description.  There's even reference to their mother.  And I went "Huh?"  Keep in mind that I have purchased every non-juvenile bit of Star Wars fiction to come out in the past 20+ years, and I actually reread them. 

And here I am, reading the book, and my reaction is "Huh?  What are they talking about?"  Because this information was not given in a "these are hints the author is including to provide motivation" but rather pointing to a backstory.  And thanks to wookiepedia, I found it.  A Choose Your Own Adventure style segment in a role playing supplement... from 1990.

Written by Troy Denning.


How in the world am I supposed to be expected to remember that?  Or why would I have been expected to have READ that, ever?

And it goes on.  I thought this was supposed to be a stand-alone novel.  Apparently "stand-alone" means "We won't call it the 10th book in the previous series, but we will just make it totally dependent on the previous, forgettable series."  This book required me to remember more things from the previous book (Apocalypse by... you guessed it) than most of the books in the series did.  When the book requires me to remember small, throwaway details from a previous series so that I can try to understand an obscure journey through an esoteric meta-plot that I think is dumb anyway... yeah, that no longer feels like the Star Wars Universe that I know and love. 

Come on Reboot!  Help us, J. J. Abrams, you're our only hope!

And of course, the other problem is, well, Denning's solution.  To everything.  MORE POWER!  To have a better fight, just give everyone more power!  The fight's going to be better if they are level 85 and not level 25... because level 85 means "more drama!"


And it's just unsatisfying.

To be fair, some scenes were great. I thought there was some great Sabacc scenes.  But yeah.  No more.  No more Denning.  Please.  Because I am a sucker and I will buy it and read it, but please, no more.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"I, Jedi" construction theory

I am re-reading "I, Jedi" - I'll have a review up in a bit, as well as reviews of 3 or 4 newer books, but I have a brief little theory.

"I, Jedi" was originally conceived as a trilogy.

The first book was going to be entitled - "I Fix the Jedi Academy Trilogy"
The second book was going to be entitled - "I Show Future Star Wars Authors What an Investigation/Cop book Looks Like."
The third book was going to be entitled - "I Can Create Interesting Force Heresies"

At least this is my theory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Troy Denning - Apocalypse

Okay - let me just retype the first paragraph of the book and use it to discuss what was... frustrating with the whole book.

The starliner swung into orbit around the planet Coruscant, and beyond the observation bubble appeared the glittering expanse of a billion golden lights. Through a thousand centuries of strife, those lights had continued to shine. Nothing had dimmed their brilliance - not the Rakatan enslavement, not the tyranny of the Empire, not the chaos of civil war. And they continued to shine now, in this new age of creeping shadow, when enemy impostors ruled the Galactic Alliance and Sith Lords slept in the Jedi Temple itself. But all those gleaming lights made Jaina Solo wonder whether Coruscant's trillion residents actually cared who won the coming war - whether it mattered that they were living under Sith rule, so long as those billion lights continued to shine.

When I read this paragraph for the first time... I sighed. I knew what was coming. First, there would be careless continuity and needless sops thrown to the rest of the EU. Why would Jaina Solo be thinking about... the Rakatan enslavement... I mean, no one knows about it in Star Wars the Old Republic. Oh, but wait, there's stuff about it The Old Republic, better throw in a tie in line. Of course, you know... I think you didn't really have Coruscant being a world city back then. And, well, didn't it get wiped out by the Vong? Which leads to...

Second, the drama of the indifferent. Sure, I mean, I know there is this massive one-upsmanship that comes up in the EU (and yeah, if Abeloth isn't just an attempt to one up every villain ever)... and so of course there's going to be some sort of massive danger to Coruscant... but... well... who cares? I mean, story wise... oh no... you mean the planet that has been bombed and attacked again and again is going to be... sort of attacked again? Oh NOES!

Third, oh, look, Jaina's talking. Now, I like Jaina as a character... but is she the main character? Well... sort of, she takes more of the narrative. Or is Ben the main character? Or is it Luke still?

See, the thing that made the Star Wars movies such a good success is that they were hero stories - that you saw the hero's journey... Luke goes from kid to mentored student to independent to hero. And even in the later movies, there is growth. In the prequel there is a fall. And in this series -- who is the main character who grows... or falls... and what is their story?


I'm waiting.

And I still am. I mean... this could have been a wonderful Ben story... but he's just sort of a side kick. It could have been an interesting Luke story... but, pyrotechnics of Jedi awesomeness is more of Denning's approach to Luke's growth (sort of like leveling with a force user in The Old Republic... oh, hey everyone, look, Luke's got a new button to press!).

The EU - Okay... there's a lot of action, if you like action. A few nice twists... even if the situations come up in a slightly random or hackneyed way.

The Bad - I know a lot of people say that Denning writes such wonderful combat... no, he writes long, tedious slugfests that immerse the reader into the fatigue the warriors themselves feel by making them worn out themselves. I mean, we have basically a week long, hand to hand combat raid show up in here. Really? That's the fast paced, exciting approach? And half the time you don't even know what immediate goal is meant to be accomplished... really?

Hey, blogger, doesn't this bad sort of contradict the EU? Eh, I supposed, which leads to...

The Ugly I just want a good story. I want a tale that flows and makes sense and is clear. I want there to be surprises and twists and turns... but I want a narrative consistency, a flow. And this book didn't have it. Loose threads don't really get resolved... and the things that get resolved weren't pressing from what came before in the series. If you look at the events of the last two pages -- those could have been awesome completion moments... but what really in this book or in the series led up to them - made them the focus or the resolution of the series and of the book?

And so... it just falls flat.

Grade: C- It's a below average book. In terms of telling a story, of weaving a tale, it just doesn't work. I think this shows a weakness of the multi-author series that we've had -- I can see the plot points that Denning was assigned to get to, the events that he was supposed to cover... but he just came to them in a sadly less than artful way. The individual paragraphs could be well done, the sentence structure was well done... but things just didn't add up as a whole.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review - Ascension, by Christie Golden - with Alluded Spoilers

Review - Ascension, by Christie Golden

Dear Papa,

I'm so glad that you thought of me and sent me this new book by Christie Golden and that I didn't have to do something like walk 1 mile to a bookstore and shell out my own money for it. It was so thoughtful of you - and I can't express how much I enjoyed this book.

Everything in this book was so new! It's not as though this is just a rehash of old plot devices, or recycles old villains - these are things I've never, ever come across in Star Wars. I mean, who would have ever thought of a scene with Ben in a dark cave not seeing another Jedi getting killed - oh, that will have interesting ramifications. Or the politics... who would have thought that the villains would want to try to control the media... or try to take over the government. So creative!

I also liked how brief the combat scenes were, especially the ones that killed off major characters. I mean, like, who cares about art and grace in describing a scene, taking us there. Simple narrative can just tell us what happened - that's so much nicer and quicker. Why spend more than a few paragraphs on highly emotional duals... and certainly less time on a Parent-child dual than on the much more serious event of a boy reading a girl's diary (oh, but even there, she didn't show too much diary... just told us that they read, that they wrote).

I just can't believe how good this book was. I mean, nothing here was hamfisted -- there was a little too much emotional introspection, that was by far the worst part.

Oh, yeah, before I forget, Papa ... Daala is so cool. Who wouldn't want to follow her devotedly... I mean, what sexist, woman hating Moff wouldn't cower before her simply because she has a rag-tag fleet... we all know how much Imperials respect rag-tag fleets. And then how she just stands on her own with brilliant tactics, not relying on anyone else to save her - it was like reading a Spice Girls song about Girl Power.

Well, Papa, I could write more - there are so many wonderful details where she did everything perfectly... I mean, nothing was wrong with this book (except for the slightly emotional focus... ew...).

All of my love -- strangle some kittens for me,

Your loving daughter - Vessy

So. This book.


The Bad - Misplaced Emotional Tone In all seriousness, there are times I do like how Golden writes - I like the way she does show some emotional interplay... but she only gets to the emotion *after* the fact... never showing the emotional play during the dramatic events. What's a good way to put it -- it's sort of like reading a newspaper review of an event and then post-game commentary rather than watching the event and listening to good play-by-play. I enjoy good post-event commentary... but I don't buy a novel to hear about something - I buy a novel to be taken there, to be put there. And that is the main weakness (voice-wise) with this book.

The Ugly - 1. Wasted Deaths Again, I don't mind deaths in Star Wars -- I love Anime, where deaths have a point, where they bring with them weight or introspection. There can be weight from the scene itself (you can have a beautifully written death scene -- as in the previous book), or the lasting impact of the event. And the deaths here just seem... wasted. There's no awesome battles (that you see on camera) that are awesome. Just... oh, look... he's toast. Even the one that should be obviously huge... apparently only is huge for 10 days of book time.

And yeah... thinking back... name characters drop off like Officers on the Executor in this book. And that's almost how they are treated... it's rather sad.

2 - Haven't We Been Here Before? I know there are no truly new plot twists and turns - but, yeah. Haven't we been here before? Seriously - wasn't this the main plot of... oh, the politics of the prequels and the establishment of the Legacy of the Force series?

3 - The More Jedi Around Him, the Dumber Luke Gets I think this may be part of the current idea in Star Wars Calculus that I hadn't gotten the memo about. While Luke was off on his own - he was brilliant, he was wise, he was perceptive. In this book, he's... not. And it seems that the more Jedi are around, the worse his decisions are (almost as though you have to have Luke botch to give the Jedi something to do... instead of Luke putting his forces where they *need* to be).

I mean, seriously -- Hmmm, do you keep the gal you are worried about falling to the dark side, whom you have said that you will train, right next to you in the dangerous situation... or do you SEND HER TO THE TUNNELS WHERE THEY TESTED SITH APPRENTICES? Hmmm... I don't know, it feels dark ahead -- you go off in those tunnels of testing there.

Really? Really?

Character Stupidity to drive to a repetitive plot point is... tiring.

Oh, did you note that there was no The EU? Well, that's because I'm a bit cranky. I mean, the book flowed well, it was nice technically. But put it this way. If the Olympic figure skater who got 8th place at the 2010 Olympics showed up in 2014 and did the exact same routine, but lacking passion and enthusiasm, would you really spend much time talking about how nice that nice double jump was?

The Grade - D+ I wanted to like this book, I really did. Seriously - I wanted to. But it just didn't give me enough -- and what it did was just too brief, or something I'd seen before.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review - Rogue Planet - Greg Bear

Review - Rogue Planet - Greg Bear - May 2, 2000

Setting: Between Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones

This is an interesting book for me - it is the forgotten book. Literally. I purchased just before I went to spend a summer living in Austin with my best friend from college - we were both in Grad School, and I figured hanging out in Austin with him would be sweet (and it was). This book came out just as that summer started -- and I left the book in Austin. I had loaned it to my bud for him to read... and then... summer happened. And whenever I'd swing by his place for the past decade, I'd see the book on his shelf (he had read some other Greg Bear stuff)... and it just sort of never ended up coming back home with me.

In fact - for this rereading - I picked it up on kindle. Ah, things we wouldn't have thought of a decade ago!

The EU - A Carefree Yet Growing Anakin and Obi-Wan - On of the things I found just totally refreshing in reading this book is how Anakin and Obi-wan were protrayed. Apparently they had spent three years on Coruscant training, but now, they have their first adventure. And it's clear that they both have grown some... but just some. They seem... young. Eager. Full of doubts. It was a very nice characterization - especially Anakin dealing with anger and loss... maybe one of the best internalized views of struggles with the darkside.

The Bad - Ah, Star Ship Design, the Greatest Adventure of them all! Okay, I understand that not every adventure that you have your characters go on needs to be some massive, huge, epic thing. But... well, Anakin and Obi-wan go to a planet and make a ship. And stuff happens around them - but they don't really do anything to change what happens... I mean, if Anakin and Obi-wan hadn't been there, would this book have turned out any different? Not really - they were incidental to the plot... and that's sort of... odd for your main characters. Especially when the ship you spend most of the book making... doesn't get to stick around.

The Ugly - Continuity botches and hits The main point of this book, really, was to flesh out the world of Zonoma Sekot. So much time is spent on examining this neat and awesome world. And why? Well, you've got to somehow tie up some loose ends in the New Jedi Order series and the big evil Yuuzhan Vong (the Far Outsiders). And while it makes for an interesting thing in the book itself... knowing how this fits into the rest of the later series seems sort of contrived -- neat, but contrived. Almost like you are retroconing yourself. And of course, it was sort of nice to see Tarkin -- but, yeah, I guess in Attack of the Clones we find out he didn't quite do some of the stuff here.

Now, is this really ugly? Eh - probably not. But as you introduce here the idea that Zonoma Sekot thinks of the force in a heretical way... not really a good idea to say, "hey, let's use that wandering heretic planet to redefine the Jedi." Given that ugliness, this gets swept up in that. Besides, especially reading it a few years after everything plays out... Zonoma Sekot got pushed way too much here.

The Grade - B- This book has quite a few redeeming qualities to it -- I enjoy the thoughts that you get to see in it. They are interesting and compelling. But interesting characterization is just one aspect of a good Star Wars book -- you need a fun adventure. This... not so heavy on the adventure.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

Review - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter - by Michael Reaves - January 2001

The first Hardcover of the new Millenium, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was a book placed prior to the events of The Phantom Menace. It seemed there were a slew of them, as there was some confusion or secrecy over what would happen in Episode 2. As such, books that worked as lead into to what would become known as "Attack of the Clones" came slowly - and instead, we got books full of background. Let's consider this one.

The EU - Lots of Maul - While I am by no means a Darth Maul fanboy, I do recognize that one of the things that makes the Star Wars Universe great (or crappy when it is missing) is the presence of a strong villain. The first time you see Darth Vader is perhaps one of the greatest villain entrances in movie history.

With Darth Maul - well, he, too, was just bad and freaky and intimidating when you saw him. (Note: Lucasarts was Stupid with a capital S to put an image of the dual bladed lightsaber in the trailer... it was awesome in the trailer - but imagine if you had no clue about it when you first saw it pop out at the end... AWESOME!) But the thing is -- he lasts, what? Half a film? He was gone very quickly, cut from the universe as it were.

This book focuses on Maul, with probably 35-40% of the narrative being from his perspective - and it is interesting. Reaves does a great job with this established character. If you are a fan of Darth Maul, seriously, pick it up.

The Bad - Foolhardy Characters - I will be honest. I really, really dislike stupid characters. I don't mind characters with flaws that lead them to their destruction - but I don't like stupid characters. Nor do I like it when characters do something that is out of character for them that leads to their demise. They should die as they are - not because of... well, it would be neat if they died.

The main character, Lorn Pavan, is presented as a hardscrabble, tough as nails character. He's gritty, fun -- and then has a complete change of face/character -- which leads to his demise. He has won, but a sudden change of heart leads to bad things. And we get to listen in on his thought processes, and even he knows that it is dumb - and yet does stuff anyways. This is not character development - this is character suicide done via artificially rapid character change.

The same thing happens, to a certain extent, with the young Jedi character early in the book - there's too much hearing in the thoughts, "I know I shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway." This doesn't make the character passionate, or reactive, or engaging, or decisive, or any other positive characteristic that can lead to trouble - no, if you know you shouldn't and it goes against your better judgment and how you've survived all your life, and you do it anyway - you are just being a fool.

The Ugly - Thesaurus Boy Strikes - I am good with words. I got a 790 on my SAT verbal, and after hitting college I studied Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, and Latin, with a cursory glance at Arabic and Italian (and the Spanish I had taken in High School). I know English vocab better than most.

Reaves gets fixated on obscure words. I don't know why - maybe he's an avid scrabble player and these are words he won a game with. Maybe he was doing some drafting while the national spelling bee was on in the background. Either way, some words just stick out like sore thumbs, for his use of vocabulary isn't "advanced" - but just peculiar. For example, he uses the word "Monad" at least three times in the first half of the book. Really? That's the word you want to use to describe a vastly tall building that stands by itself (he explains it the third time he uses it). Again, I know what a monad is -- but how many people just picking up the book do? There were 5 or 6 other words (obstreperous, some others that I can't find at the moment) that just seemed totally out of place.

And I'm not against having advance vocabulary in a book - but the whole book needs to be written at a high level, not just random 10 cent words that pop up now and then. If you want to write at a high level - write at a 10th grade reading level -- don't write at a 5th and then throw a random 14th grade word it -- they stick out like sore thumbs, and all it's going to do is confuse some poor kid who is reading the thing.

And I bring this up because it really is one of the main disappointments I have with this book (and his others in the Star Wars universe) - they distract and jolt the reader out of the flow of the book and story - making you more focused on the writing rather than the story. Like a giant piece of road kill, you have to swerve around it -- and then you are no longer focused on your nice, scenic drive.

The Grade - B+/C+ A split grade here - if you are a Darth Maul fan, B+. You will highly, highly enjoy this book. If you aren't -- well, it wasn't by any means bad, but there are some flaws, some things that made me highly annoyed with the characters and the writing. It's not a bad story - but if I pull it out and read it again, it will be because I'm in the mood for some Maul, not because I'm in the mood for this book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Does Everyone Hate the Jedi?

In the newer Star Wars books, some fans are left to wonder, "Why does everyone hate the Jedi?"

The answer? Given how things have gone since the New Jedi Order books came out, they deserve it.

This has been the great weakness of the past decade or so of Star Wars fiction. We have had too many authors who have written Jedi that are cruel, caustic, and just jerks. Now, this isn't to say that I don't think you should write flawless Jedi, but let's consider a few things.

1. Jedi are supposed to be guardians of peace and justice. They should be good and selfless. Their flaws should flow out of this - where they do too much, or things like that. Not petulance.

2. Flaws should fit what a group is. The Jedi of the Prequel Trilogy had fossilized. They had developed sort of a white-tower approach that detached them from others. This is a believable flaw. The Jedi had fostered too much of an "otherness" -- and this makes sense because they had discipline that was no common. Likewise, their flaws shouldn't be the same flaws we'd expect in a den of scum and villainy. If they are, then they are rightly to be despised.

3. The main characterist of a Jedi is not power or skills, but philosophy. When you undercut all philosophy, you just get bullies.

I hope they work on this, I hope they try to fix this. The Jedi are supposed to be more than just Bullies that we put up with because they protect us from other, big bad bullies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review - Cloak of Deception

Review - Cloak of Deception - by James Luceno

Cloak of Deception was one of the long line of Star Wars books that I purchased, enjoyed, but don't often think of. Basically, there are two types of Star Wars novels - there are the novels that are the further adventures of our heroes in the Star Wars Universe, full of tension and new ideas... and then there are books like this. There were a lot of novels that were published to be tie-ins to the Prequel trilogy.

I tend not to think of the tie-in novels that often... they are the novels of Dramatic Irony - they pull back the curtain of what we end up seeing in the films, or expand characters. While that's not what I generally want -- rereading this book reminded me that some of these actually can be really, really good books. So, let's review.

The EU - Qui Gon and the Masters I found that I really enjoyed getting to have Qui-Gon be the, if not main, one of the leading characters in the Novel. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Qui-Gon and the various Jedi Masters. Luceno did a very good job showing their respect for Qui-Gon, but their worry about his slightly rebellious, indifferent-to-the-future approach. Very well done.

The EU - Captain Cohl - Cohl was the... villain? At least the hard scrabble foil - and he was well written. You disagree with what he does - but you almost feel sympathetic for him. He was an interesting character - and one of the better 1 book characters that comes up in the Star Wars World.

The Bad - A Touch Plodding - There are times when the book comes across as a touch plodding, and this is in part because tries to build suspense when we already know what is going to happen. Is Valorum going to be killed? Well, as he shows up in the Phantom Menace -- well, no, he's not going to be killed. Because the audidience knows the Film that follows this, we are automatically in a position of dramatic irony. Luceno tries to build suspense and moves with a slightly slower pacing. If we were worried about the characters, this could be really good. As we know they live and do fine... it just plods. If I handed this to a person before they had seen the Phantom Menace, it might have played better -- or if it was released before hand. The problem -- it was released in 2001.

The Ugly - nothing really There wasn't anything really ugly with the book. That's nice.

The Grade - B I'm going to give this book a solid B. I like Luceno's writing style, and he would have built good suspense if we hadn't already known what was going to happen. It does give us an interesting view of characters, it's a solid story, some nice twists. A surprisingly solid book.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review - The Swarm War - by Troy Denning

Review - The Swarm War - by Troy Denning - December 27th, 2005

I walked over 3.5 miles in Houston to a Barnes and Noble to buy this book. I had gone to visit some friends in Houston, but they weren't due home for another day (I arrived early) - and so, I walked and bought this book. It was a long, long walk - it was hot (especially after being north and used to temps around freezing) -- it was almost Sadistic....

Let's review.

The Good - Luke Finally Shows Mercy - One of the best things about this book is the fact that Luke shows mercy to Raynar. Instead of taking the easy, the quick way, there is compassion. Wonderful. There's only a problem...

The Bad - The Carnage Seriously - I think more people died in this book than died in Alderaan. And where else do we hear about bodies pilled up 10 deep? Really?

The Ugly - Sadism and Sadistic Jedi - While reading this book, I think I determined upon what it is that I tend to dislike the most about Denning's books. His Wookiepedia page notes that he has done a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.

D&D is a often a dark, brutal universe, akin to the bloody medieval tales - full of hacked limbs and gore. That's not Star Wars.

There is just too much sadistic death in this book. Even for humor. Take Wuluw - the communication Killik. It always dies... and the replacement always jokes about it with Jaina. It's like what Lucas did with the various R2 units getting shot off Padme's Nubian in Phantom Menace -- but with tons and tons of living beings.

And the Jedi become sadistic. Even Han and Leia. For example, on page 125, Han just sort of shrugs off the fact that he lied to a hitbug who then kills two squibs. No impact. Yeah, Han will shoot first, but still, that's just... too sadistic. Or the torture scene... really? A torture scene? You show the droid with a big, giant needle -- you don't describe a scene from Resovior Dogs.

And here is what is so sad about this -- Luke, by the end, shows mercy and compassion. Denning treats this as though it is totally exceptional. In fact, even the other masters have no clue about this.

Except - it's the very heart of what it IS to be a Jedi. Or it was.

And while Denning moves the Jedi back towards this idea, rather than the power hungry stuff -- well... its less than satisfying. And the Sadism remains... even in other books.

So, what does this mean? The Grade - C- Even as much as I'll complain, Denning does have a tight narrative -- he's probably one of the better technical authors in Star Wars... but I just don't like his world view, his approach. It seems off. The Jedi should be paragons of wisdom and compassion -- warrior monks, not just some type of D&D class with an awesome weapon and psychic powers. And I don't know if Denning really, really gets that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review -The Unseen Queen

"The Unseen Queen" - by Troy Denning - September (or so) 2005

Let me just dive in.

The EU - R2's memory scenes. I'll admit it, I kind of like the idea of Luke getting to watch Revenge of the Sith bit by bit and R2 being worried that seeing it would hurt him. And introducing Allana was nice... I guess.

The Bad...

Well, you might have noticed that the EU part was short. Um, so was this book, in comparison to the Joiner King. As I moved to the Unseen Queen, I noted that the book was smaller -- (333 pages instead of 443 for JK). And as I opened it to read... the font was bigger. You know how when you didn't have a long enough paper and you would kick up the font size on your paper... eh... that's exactly what happens here.

And it shows. There just wasn't enough... meat here.

Seriously - in the first book, it was nice to see our good old heroes in Action - Luke and Han and Leia out and about. In this book... um... Han and Luke are in a bug prison hotel for what, 85% of the time? And Leia also gets to spend some time sitting in the poke. And as for the rest... well...

Okay, we get it - Jacen is starting to follow his Grandfather's footsteps. That's neat. But... something just wasn't full, wasn't fleshed out.

The Ugly - The Jedi Masters Needing Naptime - I am visiting some friends who have children. There are several kids between the ages of 1-3 and they all play together rather well, until they get tired. Then you need a parent to corral them in and maybe make them take a nap.

I think that when Troy Denning decided to write the Jedi Masters and needed inspiration, he visited a Day Care Center. I mean... okay, they aren't "Luke Skywalker" - but these other guys are Jedi "Masters". They are people who have spent their life mastering themselves, their awareness of the world around them.

Would they really be that cranky? Or petulant? I mean -- really, Luke isn't there to tell them to behave or what to do and suddenly they sound like a bunch of Junior High Students? Really? Really really?

See, I thought part of the whole job of the New Jedi Order was to introduce some new heroes into the mix - other people who could do exciting and heroic things, who could take some of the story lines. Then why is Corran Horn in this book less mature than he was in "I, Jedi" before he's even a Jedi? Or Kyle Katarn less disciplined than he was when I was playing him with the "LAPOSTAL" code and lobbing thermal detonators at every storm trooper in sight? This is just really lousy and foolish.

But I think that's part of the problem -- the Jedi have just become sort of... foolish.

And yes, the combat was entertaining, and the grammar and flow was good... but I don't like stupidity in my characters. I don't want stupid villains, I don't want stupid heroes. It's like Troy Denning saw the "for dummies" series, and thought it was a great idea, but had miss read the series title and thus decided to write "Star Wars *of* Dummies" instead.

Final Grade - D+ -- Really, just blow average. Not a lot of tension, not a lot of action, not a lot of wisdom... not a lot of a grade.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review - The Joiner King - Troy Denning

Star Wars: The Joiner King (Dark Nest, Book 1) by Troy Denning. July of 1995

Mumblemumblemumble-this was a decent book-mumblemumblemuble.


Rereading this book has made me ponder the ways in which I approach the past decade or so of the Star Wars Universe. I am not generally a fan of Troy Denning's... or so I thought. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say - I'm not a fan of what happens in Troy Denning's books. Looking at the book itself - things were fairly well written - there was excellent (excellent) pacing. The combat scene with Saba was wonderful... indeed, much of why I like Saba comes from Denning's writing of her (things come back to me, things I had seemingly blocked out).

So I give my grudging respect to Denning, and now I must engage in a chicken-egg debate in my head.

Why is there so much cruddy stuff in Denning's work? Is it that Denning imports cruddy stuff, or is it that Denning is bold enough to take on things that are difficult - like correcting things where the Meta-plot had gotten off course, or even killing off major characters?

The truth is probably in between. I think I respect Denning a bit more because he does try to correct things... I just then don't like the way he corrects them. Two wrongs don't make a right. Now, are his wrongs as bad as the ones he corrects... I don't know.

The big place where this hits for me is the whole "modern Jedi" theme that the Fiction books had developed out of the New Jedi Order where basically the idea had boiled down to there no longer being a light or a dark side of the force. That's the situation into which Denning has been placed. And while the assertion of this utterly stupid philosophy annoys me... maybe I'm too harsh pinning blame for this on Denning, as he does bring it both into focus and into questioning.

For example, consider the following:

"Now I really have a bone to pick with those Dark Jedi," Han said. "And with Raynar, too. Why couldn't he just let bugs act like bugs?"

"Because he's a Jedi," Luke sounded almost proud. "And he was trained in our old tradition - to serve life and protect it, wherever he found the need."

"Yeah, well, he won't be protecting much life when that border conflict gets out of hand," Han said.

"Yes, now many more livez are at risk," Saba said. "Nature is cruel for a reason, and Raynar has upset the balance."

"The law of unintended consequences," Mara said. "That's why it's better not to intervene. A modern Jedi would have held himself apart and studied the situation first."

"And we're sure that's a good thing?" Leia asked. She was as surprised as anyone to hear herself asking this question, for the war had hardened her to death in a way that should would not have believed possible twenty years before. But the war was over, and she was
tired of death, of measuring victory not by how many lives you saved, but how many you took. "How many being would have died while a modern Jedi studied the situation?"

Luke's confusion filled the Force behind her. "Does it matter? A Jedi serves the Force, and if his actions interfere with the balance of the Force -"

"I know," Leia said wearily. "I just miss the days when all this was simple."

Sometimes, she wondered whether the tenets of this new Jedi order were an improvement or a convenience. She worried about what had been sacrificed to this new god Efficiency - about what had been lost when the Jedi abandoned their simple code and embraced moral relativism."

+ + + + + + +

So. What is Denning doing? Is he just frustratingly good at showing the moral and ethical flaws the NJO series had jumped into when they introduced all their tomfoolery with the Jedi code and the force at the end of the previous series? Does he not combat it enough?

See, here is the problem -- NJO left the Jedi abandoning their code. This is bad. The proper response is to have them return to that code - where peace and serenity is what saves the day. That would have been a repudiation -- and then really set the stage for Jacen's fall (in his rejection of that serenity and peace).

Instead - and this is jumping ahead, I know - Denning will make the Jedi, and in particular Luke, more powerful. As though power is the answer to the problem. The problem isn't that the Jedi weren't powerful enough (and we need an author to show us that Jedi can be powerful without the "freedom" of action moral relativism gives) but rather that the Jedi Code is what hones a Jedi into a willing and active conduit for the Light Side of the Force.

He spots the problem, but then answers it the wrong way. This is the seat of my frustrations. That, and things do have a tendency just to get way too dire when he writes.

All this aside, as a big giant EU/Bad/I don't know ball of confusion, by in large, I really liked the book. I enjoyed it. The Dark Nest is a neat idea - a little too Sci-Fi for my taste, but creative. The moving of the strike team Jedi towards being Joiners was very well done. I enjoyed how he characterized Han and Leia - especially Leia.

So I don't know. The whole discussions on the force frustrate me (as do most moral relativism arguments -- it's a lousy and sloppy philosophical system) - but the book is well written.

I shall give it, and this surprises me, a solid B. I was expecting to hate it -- and there are many things I don't like about it in the least, but there are good, interesting characters... and even if they are approaching philosophy in a fool hardy way -- well, those are the cards you are dealt.