Sunday, July 31, 2011

Star Wars: Darksaber (Anderson, Kevin J)

Rating: 1/5
Year: 1995
Genre: Sci-Fi / Star Wars
Read again? No.

One Word To Describe It All: Clumsy.

It's been 8 years since the Battle of Endor. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo infiltrate a group of Tusken Raiders so they can sneak out to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, hoping to find some answers.

The Hutts are up to something.

Han & Luke learn that they're trying to build a superweapon.

Luke's also on a personal mission; his girlfriend lost her Force powers.

See, Forceless Callista's soul used to be trapped in the computer core of an evil space ship, but one of Luke's students sacrificed her own life to save the galaxy (another book to buy...for someone else) and the soul took over this body and they fell in love and now Luke makes a pit-stop at Ben Kenobi's old home to see if his ghost will give some love advice and maybe help him fix his girlfriend's broken Force powers.

Her Force powers don't work anymore, see. We are reminded of this in pretty much every scene with Luke and/or Callista (she's the one who lost her Force powers).

And only by getting her her powers (she lost them, remember) can they complete each other. I mean, they can probably shag or whatever, but that's not the plot. This is a True Love Story!

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, the evil Admiral Daala is working to rebuild the Imperial fleet. She's itching to destroy the New Republic and apparently didn't learn from the last time she tried it. She whips out the Total Galactic Domination plan book and sets her sights on blowing up the Jedi School on Yavin 4.

Did I mention that Luke's girlfriend lost her Jedi powers? Gone. Poof. Well, gone except for the Dark Side.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Jedi Knight and Mass Murderer Kyp Durron thinks the Imperials are up to something and goes to check it out. Happily, he gets into a big pep rally in which the Empire's entire plan is laid out in convenient detail via loudspeaker.

Meanwhile a third time, Durga the Hutt has hired the original Death Star designer and has stolen a set of plans for it. All he wants is the superlaser, not a big moon-shaped thing. He's going to use it to extort money from everyone in the galaxy.

The designer puts together a plan: the weapon's going to be a long cylinder and the freakin' laser beam comes out of one end, just like a lightsaber--hence the name "Darksaber." Get it?

Woof: Luke and his Forceless girlfriend go on a tour of places he's been--Dagobah, Hoth--in hopes of jogging her Force ability (why not go to places she'd find significant?). While they're on Hoth, they're attacked by an army of Wampa ice creatures...and their "leader" is the same one Luke disarmed in "Empire Strikes Back." It remembers him and wants to settle the score.

Woof: there's a street scene with a vegetarian meat-alien and a meat-cooking plant-alien selling their wares side-by-side and trading dirty looks. There's your comic relief.

Woof: Admiral Ackbar was Grand Moff Tarkin's personal pilot-slave; Tarkin used to amuse himself by describing his tactics and plans for crushing the Rebellion. Ackbar was rescued and used those tactics and plans in battle. This is particularly sucky, since it takes him from being a master strategist and admiral of the Rebel fleet to being a really good listener.

Woof: a prison planet named "Despayre." Sounds like a pretentious Mercedes Lackey villain.

Woof: Luke, to Callista the Forceless, just before The Big Battle At The End Of The Book:
He smiled gently at her. "All right. I'll protect you with my Jedi powers."
Nice. Way to condescend to your girlfriend,  man. Is it because she lost her Force powers? Dick.

Dialog's melodramatic, comic-bookish, and clumsy. It sounds like something Ed Wood would have put together for a cheesy sci-fi movie.

Characterization is bland, where it isn't just awful.

The book doesn't so much drag as stagger while leading you carefully around like a toddler (remember that Luke's girlfriend lost her Force powers? Well, she lost them). Any "dragging" sensation is from being unable to take the bad dialog, silly plotting, and convenient plot points that duct-tape this book together.

There are some really weird word choices, too--"gunwale" (the upper edge of a boat's hull) in place of "gun emplacement"; "rear engines" where a ship only has engines in the rear (the fighter flew on, its rear engines blazing!!), and a scene where Luke looks into his (Forceless) girlfriend's "open eyes."

This thing reads like the sort of stories I wrote in high school creative writing class. About the only positive thing I can say (aside from being done with it) is that this is the new Worst Book I've Ever Read. I really ought to have it enclosed in a block of acrylic or something.

This is not a "Star Wars" book. This is just crappy sci-fi with "Star Wars" words.

Star Wars: I, Jedi (Stackpole, Michael A)

Rating: 2/5
Year: 1998
Genre: Sci-Fi / Star Wars
Read again? Nope.

This is the only first-person "Star Wars" book I've seen. It's told by Corran Horn, a fighter pilot with the legendary Rogue Squadron.

Horn's wife vanishes during a mission involving a notorious pirate organization--Horn feels feels her "vanishing" via the Force.

His chain of command won't tell him what they know about her mission, so he tries to go over their heads and straight to President Princess Leia by talking to the First Scoundrel, Han Solo. Solo promises to talk to her.

Horn goes to Luke Skywalker, who invites him to come along to be in the first class of his new Jedi School on Yavin 4 and learn the ways of the Force, because that might help him to find his wife.

Horn goes on a 10-week Jedi training course. His wife's gone missing, but he's apparently really cool about it now, so 10 weeks is nothing.

The ghost of an evil Dark Jedi inhabits one of the nearby temples. It possesses one student after another, killing one, putting Luke Skywalker into a coma, and sending another student off on a mission to blow up a star system or two.

Horn and the students cook up a trap...and the bad guy's suddenly gone--but we never see the trap or have a description of that part of things. We're basically told "It's done."

Apparently this is covered in one of the other books and we have to buy 'em all to find out.

That last student returns from blowing stuff up and killing billions of people and is welcomed back into the fold!

What? He's a mass-murderer? Oh, that's okay, he's gonna be a Jedi!!

Oh yeah--when President Princess Leia is notified that her twin brother has been knocked on his ass by an evil ghost and is lying in a coma, she is TOO BUSY to drop her job and come running.

Apparently there's no Family Leave Act in the New Republic.

She finally shows up after, oh, a week.

So the Jedi ghost is kacked, Luke is going to be okay, and it's been 10 freaking weeks since Horn started his training.

He gets a sudden sense of urgency, now that half the goddamn book has gone by without any real plot movement. Seriously--by this point, it felt like I'd been reading for 10 weeks.

So now Horn leaves, hitching a ride with his smuggler pop-in-law, then goes off to Corellia to see his grandfather, then goes undercover for several MORE MONTHS to infiltrate the bad guys....

This book and its protagonist aren't in a hurry; there's never much of a sense of danger, no suspense (he remembers that his wife's missing, but she'll still be missing a few months from now, so it's no big rush), and Stackpole's portrayal of Corran Horn is damn near Mary Sue material.

Wordy. Not in Mercedes Lackey's chatterbox/prissy manner or Brian Daley's raid-the-thesaurus-for-obscure-words or Alan Dean Foster's paid-by-the-syllables styles. Stackpole could easily lose a good bit of padding and tighten the book up a good bit, both in narrative and dialog. Better word choice would make a big difference.

Draggy. The story doesn't go very far very quickly. There aren't any big surprises or twists and when the plot's moving it's in a straight line.

Characterization is weak; none of the Big Name characters--Han Solo, Luke Skywalker--sound anything like themselves. Han comes across like a professor, a bit too formal even when claiming that formality's never been his strong suit. The supporting characters are cardboard cutouts, flat and uninteresting.

Dialog is very comic-bookish...and there's the Industry Standard "spacified" lexicon: Timothy Zahn's "slicer" (instead of "hacker"), "slipped your circuits" instead of "slipped your mind"; and "Nerf and Gumes" for "Pork and Beans," among others.

Stackpole's a good guy and it bugs me to bag on this book so heavily, but I've got to be honest. Give this one a miss.

Star Wars: Hand of Thrawn 02--Vision of the Future (Zahn, Timothy)

Rating: 4
Year: 1998
Genre: Sci-Fi / Star Wars
Read again? Yes

The Caamas situation boils over; the New Republic's weak central government can't keep old feuds from erupting among its members--and can't interfere if there's fighting unless asked to intercede.

Star systems begin petitioning the Empire for readmission, looking to its strength and security to protect them from their neighbors.

The principals split up into teams, each looking for the original Caamas document that would reveal the names of the Bothans who (unwittingly? wittingly?) participated in the slaughter of the planet 20 years ago.

Han Solo and Lando Calrissian go to Bastion, the tightly-defended capitol of the Empire.

Talon Karrde--smuggler, scoundrel, information broker--follows rumors to his old boss, who might have a copy of the Caamas document.

Luke Skywalker finds his way to the world where Mara Jade tracked one of the mystery ships that have been sighted around the galaxy. He finds her and an outpost somehow linked to Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Good second half to the story, but there's that euphemizing of common terms yet again--more skyarches, more avians, and "push comes to shove" becomes "nudge comes to punch." Yet other common words such as ship remain untouched. Since 99% of the whatever language is "translated" for us, why do we need "avians" instead of birds? There are no computer hackers, either--they're called "slicers," which loses some of the flavor of the original word.

At least he doesn't use Brian Daley's "howlrunner"--but there weren't any Space Wolves in the book.

Star Wars: Hand of Thrawn 01--Spectre of the Past (Zahn, Timothy)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1997
Genre: Sci-Fi / Star Wars
Read again? Yes

It's been 10 years since the events of the Thrawn trilogy, about 15 since "Return of the Jedi."

The New Republic is still mopping up from the various crises that pop up every time someone writes another "Star Wars" book. The Imperial Remnant is still causing trouble, even at vastly reduced strength and reach.

Princess Leia is President, but taking a leave of absence to spend time with the family. Acting President Space Horse has everything firmly in hoof.

Admiral Pellaeon is in charge of the Imperial Remnant's military; it's grown obvious to him that the Empire's boundaries are shrinking, its power fading, and he's making the rounds to various government leaders to discuss declaring a truce with the New Republic.

One of the men he meets with--Moff Disra--has his own agenda; he's working with a former Imperial Guardsman and a con man who impersonates the long-dead Grand Admiral Thrawn. The three of them devise a scheme intended to lure worlds back into the Empire. Before long, there are rumors--some hopeful, some fearful--spreading across the galaxy that Thrawn is very much alive and is embarking on a new mission to destroy the New Republic.

Disra is also in under-the-table business with a pirate band working as privateers, hitting Republic shipping on behalf of the Empire. There's a lot of money to be made--and business is good.

The story's Big Controversy centers on the Empire's crushing of Caamas; a document has surfaced linking a small number of Bothans to the genocide. Before long, the New Republic is brought to a near-standstill as its people break into factions, with some demanding justice for the genocide and looking to punish all Bothans for it, others taking up the Bothans' defense and insisting that the actual criminals be brought to trial. President Space Horse is hock-deep in trying to hold things together. It's up to Leia, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian to find the truth about the Caamas document.

Meanwhile, mysterious small ships have been seen in various places around the galaxy. Luke Skywalker's old ex-enemy/sometimes Jedi student Mara Jade goes off after one of them and disappears. Luke--guided by a vision from the Force--goes to find her....

Only two books in this story arc; Zahn turns in another tightly-written, well-paced book with good characterization and several plotlines to keep us wondering what'll happen next.

The only annoyance is the same one I've had with Brian Daley's "Star Wars" books, where common words aren't spacey enough. In place of bridges, we have sky-arches; birds are "avians," spies indulge in "cloak-and-blade" behavior. Bleah. Gonna take a point off for it this time, since Zahn does it more in this pair of books than in the previous trilogy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Star Wars: Thrawn 03: The Last Command (Zahn, Timothy)

Rating: 4
Year: 1993
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Wars
Read again? Yes

Thrawn's been busy. After sneaking most of the Dark Force fleet and crewing the ships with newly-minted clones, he sets his troops to start taking star systems back from the New Republic. He makes a swift strike against the capital itself, launching cloaked asteroids into orbit around the planet.

A mission is put together to steal a piece of equipment that could locate those asteroids--but it's safely protected at the Empire's Bilbringi shipyard.

The only way to stop the flow of clones is to find their source and destroy the facility; it's up to Luke, Han, Lando, Chewbacca, and Mara Jade to find the mysterious planet Wayland....

Meanwhile, the insane Jedi clone C'Baoth suddenly decides to go to Wayland himself, where he's devised a special clone to deal with Skywalker.

The only real problem I have with this book is the identity of that special clone (spoiler!) and how he came to be. Otherwise, it's a good read.

Star Wars: Thrawn 02--Dark Force Rising (Zahn, Timothy)

Rating: 4
Year: 1992
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Wars
Read again? Yes

I pretty much had to have this one once I finished the first book in Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire). I just wish there were more good writers behind the stacks of "Star Wars" novels that followed.

"Dark Force" follows directly on the heels of the first book.

Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO travel to Honoghr, the homeworld of Thrawn's pet assassins. Leia is hoping to make peace with the Noghri.

Luke Skywalker flies out to Jomark, following rumors of a powerful Jedi master living there, not realizing that Thrawn is behind the rumors or that the Jedi is an insane clone. Luke's hoping for guidance in teaching a new generation of Jedi Knights. C'Baoth is only interested in turning him into a puppet.

Han Solo and Lando Calrissian follow leads on the mythical Dark Force, a lost fleet of Dreadnoughts. The New Republic needs ships--and Thrawn's Imperial Remnant wants them, too. Han and Lando find former Senator Garm Bel Iblis, instead; they also find some clues that he knows more about the Dark Fleet than he lets on....

Where Thrawn is a seemingly omniscient Moriarty character in the first book, in "Dark Force" he comes off as a bumbling idiot, now, managing to draw exactly the correct wrong conclusions needed to move the plot along in favor of the Good Guys. It's a disappointing turn.

As with the first book I liked the characterization, plotting, and pacing.