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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Starting Review - The Joiner King by Troy Denning

I can do this. I can do this. It's not that scary. I can go back - I can reread Denning's trilogy.

And I'm not referring to the presence of giant bugs all over the place (given that I dislike bugs). No - I'm referring to the view of the Jedi coming out of the NJO. What is that view of the Jedi? I will call it the Petulant Teen Jedi Syndrome - or PTJS.

I have read the prologue and one chapter. PTJS has reared its head in a massive way. For example, Jacen Solo, who is studying with the Fallanassi at the moment, just gets up and leaves training. When he is warned by his instruction, Jacen thinks, "The war had brought the Jedi to a deeper understanding of the Force - one that no longer saw light and dark as opposing sides...."

I'm sure the folks who pushed this view on the Star Wars Universe thought it would be hip and edgy and maybe even all Postmodern-tastic -- but in reality, it's just acting like a teen. I have power, I know what is good, don't tell me something is good and something is bad, I have wisdom, I know what is good.


Then of course, Luke Skywalker is just as bad. How is Denning's Skywalker just as bad? In the first chapter he:

1. Reads a guy's mind - not for anything important, but just to impress him by telling him his name. But this is okay because it was just surface thoughts, not really prying.
2. Thinks no one should exercise any authority over anyone else, especially in the Jedi -- because a Jedi "Master" would never tell a knight what to do.
3. Doesn't even remember what the Jedi are. In Star Wars: A New Hope, what is the first thing Obi-Wan says about the Jedi? "For over 1000 generations the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic" Yet, what does Luke think here? "It [the Jedi Temple] also served as a constant reminder to Luke of his greatest fear, that the Jedi would start to perceive themselves through the eyes of others and become little more than the guardians of a grateful Galactic Alliance."


Really? Obi-wan describes the Jedi, defines them as guardians of peace and justice. Luke, now beyond good and evil, has as his greatest... FEAR... that he would just be viewed as a guardian to grateful people.

How petulant! I mean, really - I don't want to care what anyone thinks of me, I just want to be who I want to be, and I don't want any responsibilities - blah blah blah.

And the thing is - a lot of the book I know I will like -- I do like the action, the combat. That works well. But just the worldview of what a Jedi is or is supposed to be... these aren't heroes.

These are petulant teens. I mean, if I were running an epic level roleplaying game with some teens, this is what I'd expect them to be like.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review - "X-Wing: The Bacta War" - by Michael Stackpole

X-Wing: The Bacta War - by Michael Stackpole - February, 1997

I do have a romantic soft spot for this book, because although the date says "February, 1997", it was actually released in January - and so, as I stood in line (4th down in Norman) to get tickets for the release of the Special Edition of Star Wars, this was the book that kept me company. The Bacta War is the 4th book by Stackpole in the X-Wing series, and it really closes off an arc, wraps things up, and leaves us with a nice, solid ending. Let's consider it.

The EU - Space Pirates - It's nice to know that this came out before the whole resurgence of Pirate lore. Stackpole wasn't just trying to follow some cultural trend - he just wrote a book that basically gave us a roving band of good hearted space pirates with X-Wing fighters. It sets Star Wars characters outside of the normal theme (the Rebels vs. the Empire) but in a setting that is close and related. There's no worry about legitimacy - just bringing down a tyrant through piracy. Neat approach.

The EU - The Errant Venture - This is the book that gives us what may be the most endearing Star Destroyer in the entire Expanded Universe - the Errant Venture. In some ways, Booster Terrik does a ton of scene stealing in this book, and the tale of how a known smuggler ends up getting his hands on a massive Star-Destroyer (soon to be casino and mobile Jedi school) is neat. And do you know how we can tell it was a good idea? It still shows up in books 14 years later and no one has tried to destroy it yet.

The Bad - The Insanity of Ysanne Isard - Isard had been a fantastic, cold, calculating villain for the previous three books. She had used and acquired minions (like Loor and Vorru) who were in themselves capable foils. But in this book... she falls apart - and I'm not sure what it adds to the story. Vorru and the treacherous Erisi see her insanity... but it doesn't move them to repentance, to a change of heart. They just jump ship, or try to at least. There's no redemption that stems from it, there's no turning on and bringing each other down (where it's a moral lesson) - it's just... there. The villain is weakened so the heroes' victory seems just slightly lessened... and Isard's own internal fall doesn't add anything.

The Grade - B+ I will always enjoy re-reading this book. I enjoy it quite a bit - it is fun. But the demise of a villain needs to be done artfully -- and Isard's fall just drops this one from out of the A range -- but still, it's a fun one to read.

Dear Lucas Arts - How about a New Major Plot Device

Dear Lucas Arts and Del Rey,

There has been something bugging me about Star Wars books for the last 7 years or so, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There has just been something slightly off about the Universe, a flavor that seems strange.

I have figured it out.

When Fate of the Jedi ends, and new series come out, can they please, please be about something other than Jedi going crazy? The major series since NJO have all been about Jedi going crazy.

1. Denning's Killik Trilogy - Jedi answering strange calls and acting crazy.
2. Legacy of the Force - Jacen responding to visions by going Sith and crazy.
3. Fate of the Jedi - Oh look, lots of young Jedi influenced by Abeloth going crazy.

The only novel in the time line post NJO that hasn't been about Jedi going crazy was Millennium Falcon - except even it has a crazy Jedi popping up in it.

Can we have a different idea or topic that moves or spurs the plot? How about villains that the heroes fight against - that's a good, classic one.

Thanks to all concerned,

The EU, the Bad, and the Ugly

Thursday, June 16, 2011

X-Wing: The Krytos Trap

Review: X-Wing: The Krytos Trap - by Michael A. Stackpole - October 1996 (Book 3 of the X-Wing series)

The EU - Jan Dodonna's Appearance - I think the neatest part about this book is the appearance of Jan Dodonna. Who is Jan Dodonna, you ask? He's the old Rebel leader in Star Wars who organizes the starfighter attack on the Death Star and shares worried glances with Princess Leia during the attack. And then in the next movie... well, he's not there.

I'm sure there was probably some very practical and simple reason... if I looked around, I might be able to find it out. However, you have this rebel leader who shows up, and then he's not around anymore. That's okay - all the rebel leaders other than the main characters to that. But Stackpole has Corran Horn find him - and what this does is it just ties the story nicely and neatly back to the movies. And Dodonna's just a minor character - this isn't earth shattering, this isn't something so massive that it alters the main story-line of the Star Wars Universe. But it makes this book seem to fit in so well with the films. It is a nice touch and a neat characterization.

The EU - Head Games There are a lot of neat head games in this one - perhaps a bit much if just taken on its own, but as the series has led to this point, they fit. Between Tycho's trial and Corran getting messed with (and Diric's fall), you get some neat mind play. Mind control ends up being a theme that can easily be a little too "Sci-fi" for my taste - but it is done here respectfully. Also, you see both sides of it - and you get some nice resolution for Tycho, who ends up being one of my favorite characters in the squadron.

The Bad - Super Star Destroyer Highrises Okay, I'll admit that it was a neat twist to have Corran and Isard on Coruscant all the time... but the building is actually a Super Star Destroyer? A 19KM long ship - and it went unnoticed. I mean, I know there are tall buildings... but that wide? And yes, there are lots of buildings, but still, suspension of disbelief. A regular Star Destroyer would have been better - or just a giant lab section that shoots out and then rendezvous with the big ship. A little silly -- and just a touch of the "oooOOOooo neat weapon" problem. Just a touch.

The Grade - B+ This is the X-Wing series being what it is - a fun adventure in the Star Wars universe with the B-list characters doing important things... not the *most* important things, but that second tier of importance. This is something I appreciate -- it opens up the Universe for me to think of my stories; shows me how those stories might fit in. And that is a good thing.

Review - "Conviction" by Aaron Allston

"Conviction" by Aaron Allston.

I make no bones about it - I enjoy reading Aaron Allston. I like his sense of humor, although I can imagine that some find it to occur a bit too frequently. But when it boils down to it, I like his books, I like how he hands characters and situations. But let's get to the EU (good), the Bad, and the Ugly.

The EU - Luke Skywalker Has a Mind - You know, considering that Luke Skywalker is the Jedi "Grand Master", he hasn't been all that on the ball in the last two series. Let's face it, Legacy of the Force can almost be viewed as the tragic story of Luke Skywalker being blind to Jacen's fall. Seriously - Luke ignores the signs, ignores Mara's warnings (even to such an extent where she feels she has to go after Jacen alone!).

This plays off of a whole Post-New Jedi Order theme. Luke Skywalker's "power" is shown primarily more and more in his ability to do bigger and bigger tricks. This isn't a theme I like - it's the anti-Zahn approach - it throws the ideas focused upon in the Thrawn Duology on their head.

Until this book. Seriously - the ending of this book all drives to Luke Skywalker, Jedi Grand Master, kicking all sorts of butt, not because he can spin Midicholorians around quicker than anyone else... but because he is wiser, he out thinks people - he understands other people... Abeloth, Vestara, Ben, the Sith... and because he understands, he is victorious.

And it is wonderful and it is beautiful. He acts like a Wise Jedi Master... not just the most powerful Jedi bully. And this is a wonderful thing.

The EU - Querdan Dei - Querdan Dei is a one-book villain. Every book needs them - the villain of the day. The immediate, yet temporary foil. He's not the giant villain, maybe more of a level boss. Yet Allston creates a complex and deep character here, strong enough where the story can take his point of view and be interesting and compelling... (and the last page that Dei gets is just a wonderful bit of writing, really, it is. Troy Denning... go read that a few times before you try to have write a death scene.).

This just gives this book a bunch of depth. One of the wonders of good writing, a good universe, be it Star Wars (properly done) or Tolkein or what have you is the illusion of depth - that there is far, far more than you see. You get Dei give passing commentary on the other members of his family and how his approach differs from theirs. I don't know if we will run into any of this family -- we don't need to. That passing reference created depth of universe... and it's an interesting universe. A Star Wars author doesn't have to reveal all the secrets of the universe - he just needs to hint at them and let the reader's imagination take over.

The EU - Letters to Papa For the first time in this series, Vestara seems like an actual character who could seriously grow into a love interest and mate for Ben Skywalker rather than just some drawing room idea where someone said, "wouldn't it be cool if we made a Sith hottie for Ben? Yeah, that'd be awesome!" And Allston does this by having Vestara go through an interesting thing... she composes fake letters to her father, but she writes these letters as though she were like Ben or Luke in order to "understand her enemy". And she evaluates them... and you see character growth and development.

This really is a beautiful device... instead of just an assumed "oh, yeah, they are going to have to get together because that would be cool" you start seeing character growth and development that would cause them to grow together.

You know... like what Zahn did with Luke and Mara. Not what happened with all the other "oh, here is the perfect love interest for Luke that just falls out of the sky, because after all, all relationships just fall out of the sky" one dimensional tarts that got written for him. Just well done and with a neat literary device.

The Bad - Tahiri? - Okay, I sort of like Tahiri as a character, more than I have any right to as I never read the Juvenile books. I only know her starting in the New Jedi Order books. And I even sort of find the idea of her trial (and I'm guessing her upcoming redemption) to be a fascinating idea.

The only problem it doesn't belong in this book.

Seriously - it just drives the plot into a screeching halt. It's fascinating... but then you leave it, and then 5o pages later when you are off entranced in something else - bam, a bit of Tahiri. It's jarring... and it's a shame because it could be a fascinating story.

I think the whole Tahiri arc from the entire series would have been much better served if it were approached in the same way that Traitor was done. Have it be "Tahiri's Trial" - a completely separate story that parallels the main story. That way we can appreciate it.

Actually, this gets to a qualm I have with the whole FOTJ series -- it jumps all over the place too much... and it seems like it is... stretched to make a full 9 book series. My solution. Rearrange and cut. How?

Book 1. Start earlier than this one than Outcast... show some early adventure of Valin so we know who he is (as a real character - seriously, when had Valin taken any narrative in any other book -- why should I care about *him* -- this stinks for Corran and Mirax who I know, but who is their kid)... show increasing tension between Daala and the Jedi... then 85% of the way through the book have Valin go mad, then other Jedi, and conclude the book with Skywalker's exile.

Then we break the series up into bit. What do we have?

A Three Book Series following Luke in Exile -- cover the events from Kel Dor up through to the end of Conviction in three books, focusing just on Luke, Ben, and Vestara. You don't need to jump to the other plots... Luke is exiled... you can maybe have a cryptic messages coming in.

A One Book Story about The Jedi versus Daala - slightly modified to where you have the Jedi trying to thwart Daala's tyranny... and have the climax of this book be her deposing then the government being resettled (maybe have Daala refuse a recall vote, so it is clear that the Jedi are defending Democracy) and the Jedi free to come to Luke's aid (other than the few rebellious ones who had jumped out to help earlier)

A One Book Story about the Trial and Escape of Tahiri

Then the big 1 book Conclusion that wraps everything up - Abeloth, the Sith and it all.

The One book story on Politics could be released between the 2nd and third Exile Books, the Tahiri could be right after the last Exile book - and then everything is ready to go. From 9 books to 8, but you are really dropping almost to 7 books and adding a completely new first book to establish the new background. It would have worked much better.

Of course, this really doesn't have much to do with Allston's book. Not directly - but instead of neat stories that just sort of fill us in on what the "main" or "favorite" characters are doing... just focus on stories that move the plot. So yeah... Kessel and the whole Slave thing... gone from the series. Work Leia and Allana in another way.

The Ugly - The Cover Flap Dear Lucas Arts and Del Rey. When your cover flap begins "So and so has been _______" an the events of that blank don't happen around page 189 of 366, this is a drastic, drastic flaw. See "has been _____" is what we call a "perfect passive" - which denotes a past occurance which has present implications. The problem is that when I pick up the book and read the cover, this was not yet a pass event.

You failed. You gave out your own spoilers. Seriously ... I mean, is this meant to be the cover text for the next book, because it would make sense there almost. Oh well.

The Grade - A- I enjoyed the book. I loved Allston's writing, his use of some very neat rhetorical and literary devices was excellent -- and he accomplished what this book was supposed to do quite well. Now, some of the overarching aspects of the series that I find annoying were annoying here too... but that's an editorial thing, not on the author or this specific book itself. When viewed on its own merits, this book is good, very, very good. Perhaps the best writing Allston has done (although there are other stories I like better).