Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through “Darth Bane: Path of Destruction” by Drew Karpyshyn

path-of-destructionI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, the beginning of the Darth Bane trilogy, which is set a millennium before the original trilogy. It provides a background for how the Sith came to be as they appear in the films. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

I’m going to throw this one out right at the beginning: this is one of the best Star Wars books I have read, and one of the few that is capable of standing on its own right as a great science fiction novel (it would be good without the Star Wars franchise/branding). That it does have Star Wars branding serves either as icing on the cake or, unfortunately, to ensure that many won’t enjoy this exceptional plot arc (as they won’t read Star Wars books no matter what).

The story is somewhat straightforward: a man who lives in extreme conditions finally snaps, ultimately engaging in a life that combines elements of mercenary work with even more questionably moral acts. A secret power is discovered inside him that brings him to the attention of the powers that be, and he is recruited, ultimately raising through the ranks.

But the story has its share of major twists and turns. The Sith society is an ancient one, but the man, now calling himself Darth Bane, sees it as a departure from what the Sith ought to be. Power has been distilled and distorted, making a group of weaklings the dictators rather than spurring all on to greater feats of maleficent gains. So Bane goes back to the source, exploring the secrets of the long-dead Sith race and ancient masters. In doing so, he discovers the way to fix the Sith: to destroy them.

The war between the Sith and Jedi rages on, but Bane uses it–and the Jedi–as his tool to destroy the Sith. In doing so, he re-forms them from the ashes. He is the only Sith Lord, and his chosen apprentice is the only apprentice. The apprentice must always seek to kill the master, but only once the apprentice is sure that all that the master has taught that is worthwhile has been taken from him or her.

It’s a much darker tale than most of the Star Wars universe. The Jedi seem morally ambiguous rather than as knights with shining lightsabers. Why are they drawing out a war that could (maybe) be halted? The “bad guys” are the only perspectives given in the novel, and Bane becomes a first-rate antihero. The shades of the past that decorate the pages–ancient secrets, lost artifacts, and the like–provide phenomenal flavor to the world. The characters, though few, are deep and complex–moreso than one might expect for “evil” characters. The pacing is well-done as well.

In short, Path of Destruction easily stands out among the best Star Wars novels. If there is a problem in the book, it is one that constantly impacts the Star Wars universe–some resolutions are gained too easily. There is an air of convenience about some of the plot points, but unlike some of the other books in the Star Wars universe, this one doesn’t ever fall into contrivance.

Another great aspect of the novel is that it (and its successors) never falls prey to the pitfall of over-reliance on the franchise. Indeed, a noticeable lack of droids helps set the tone of the series. It is supposed to be 1000 years before the other books and movies, so different technology ought to be expected. The use of the Sith is equally smart, making them as intimidating as one might expect.

Drew Karpyshyn has given a sterling contribution to the Star Wars universe with Path of Destruction. I highly recommend it and its sequels to readers.

The Good

+Fascinating characters
+Darker tone than much licensed content
+Great pacing
+Excellent use of the license

The Bad

-Somewhat simplistic solutions to problems

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A+ “A phenomenal novel on its own merit, Path of Destruction is an exciting entry in the Star Wars universe that makes it seem broader and perhaps more real than it did before.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Trek : Deep Space 9 Season 1 “Battle Lines” and “The Storyteller”

"This seems bad."

“This seems bad.”

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Battle Lines”

Synopsis

Kai Opaka, the religious leader of Bajor, visits DS9 but promptly departs with Sisko, Kira, and Dr. Bashir to see the wormhole. Something goes wrong and they end up stranded on a planet in which war is constant. Opaka appears to die in the landing, but later shows up, very much alive. Apparently there’s a virus on the planet that invades once someone dies and keeps bringing them back to life. Opaka stays behind on the planet to attempt to usher in an era of peace there, believing she has found her calling.

Commentary

First, the way the planet works reminds me of one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, Hyperion. I won’t spoil anything beyond that because the book is an absolute must-read.

Anyway, the episode is kind of weird and really shows how willing Starfleet is to bend over backwards for Bajor. I mean seriously, let’s just go on a field trip through the wormhole on a whim? Does anyone ever wonder how they fuel their starships and how wasteful such a trip might be? But oh well, they want to get along with Bajor and I’m willing to buy it. Plus, the episode is weird but deliciously so. It’s a kind of strangeness that made me want to keep watching and learn more. And, realistically, we only learn enough here to want more. Could the thread be picked up in a later episode? I don’t know, but I’m going to go ahead and guess it might be.

We also got to see a little more development for Major Kira, as we discover through her sorrow over Opaka’s death that her faith seems clearly devout. I’m interested to see more development in that direction, too.

Grade: B+ “It’s weird, but in a good way.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “I liked the way it developed the character of Kai Opaka.”

“The Storyteller”

Synopsis

Chief O’Brien and Dr. Bashir go on a field trip to help an endangered village on Bajor while Sisko greets Varis Sul, the leader of a Bajoran faction that is threatening civil war on one part of the planet. As Sisko–along with his son, Jake, and Nog–manage the delegates, O’Brien and Bashir discover the threat facing the village is some kind of entity that feeds on fear. O’Brien is given the mantle of “Storyteller,” but the apprentice storyteller is not pleased. Nog manages to give some decent advice to Varis Sul, leading to her listening to Sisko on how to potentially compromise on the dispute. O’Brien manages to pass the mantle of storyteller onto the apprentice, and they discover the whole thing was probably manipulation by the previous storyteller to push the apprentice to his full potential.

Commentary

As I write the synopsis, I again realize how convoluted the plot is. This is an example of a problem that not-infrequently plagues Star Trek in every form: it’s one episode that is made up of more than one episode’s worth of plot ideas. Either of the main threads could have been stretched into an episode, but instead we get two rushed episodes in one.

The main problem with the Varis Sul storyline is that they treat her so much like a child while still trying to say that she’s so much more than a child. There are a few too many moments where people explain things in a rather condescending way to her, along with too many moments where she acts in ways that I realistically think someone in her position could not possibly not know to not do. Oh well.

The O’Brien/Bashir dynamic made this episode click for me. Snarky O’Brien was epic, and shows once again the greatness of the actor who plays him. Love that character. Seriously. It was so fun to see him get thrown into a situation that made him so uncomfortable, and it was played up well. O’Brien is turning out to be this series’ Worf. Good stuff.

I do like the Jake/Nog dynamic, but that is at least partially because as a kid I totally loved them. But hey, nostalgia’s not necessarily a bad thing, right?

Grade: B+ “It’s a stretch, but I loved snarky O’Brien so much.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was an interesting story, but the resolution felt a little contrived.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9- For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “Hunting Eichmann” by Neal Bascomb

Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb

Review

A chilling message and warning is contained in the pages of this fascinating story of capturing one of the worst mass murderers of all time.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity” by Sir David Dalrymple

An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity by Sir David Dalrymple (1786).

Review

Dalrymple shows, exhaustively, that Edward Gibbon is deeply mistaken in his theses about the rise of Christianity in his famous historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #11-15 scores and comments

hyperion-simmonsI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

11. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov Grade: B+
“Asimov can write characters, though he still refused to give them much fleshing out or description. There is much to contemplate in this inter-related collection of stories. Is it a dystopia? A utopia? Yes and no to both questions. It’s a tale of hope as well as a story of warning. I enjoyed this one.”

12. Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein Grade: B+
“Heinlein created a somewhat surreal story with a surprising lack of actual trooper-ing happening. I mean, there’s a lot of lead-up to fighting scenes, but very little of the action is portrayed. It’s good, but not quite as good as I was expecting. Hey, it’s better than the movie!” 

13. Ringworld by Larry Niven Grade: B-
“I enjoyed this one, but it felt strangely verbose without going too far. Lengthy portions went by in which it felt like little-to-nothing happened. There is clearly more going on than meets the eye, but readers never get to access it fully. It also felt a little difficult to follow at points. Not a bad book, but I had really high hopes and didn’t feel like they were fulfilled with this one.”

14. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: B+
“It’s a fascinating premise that kept me enmeshed in the story throughout. The middle drags a little bit, because there is so little action, despite it clearly being more of an action-oriented novel. It is overall a great novel with an ambiguous ending.”

15. Hyperion by Dan Simmons Grade: A+
“I’m embarrassed that I hadn’t read this one before. The stories contained within this novel are immersive and beautiful. It made me laugh, it made me cry. Each tale contained herein is magnificent and worthy of standing on its own, but the fact that they are interwoven into one overarching plot is astonishing. The depth of this book is limitless. One of the best books ever, it is a thing of beauty.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 Season 1 “The Nagus” and “Vortex”

Well... he's not _that_ heavy!

Well… he’s not _that_ heavy!

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“The Nagus”

Synopsis

Grand Nagus Zek, leader of the Ferengi business empire, visits Quark’s and asks to convene a meeting of the Ferengi higher ups. As the meeting goes on to discuss ways to exploit the Gamma Quadrant, Sisko fights with Jake over the influence Nog is having on him. Jake resolves to remain friends with Nog despite the difficulties their friendship faces, and Sisko, discovering that Jake is teaching Nog to read, realizes what a good influence they’re having on each other and relents. Meanwhile, Zek names Quark the future Grand Nagus, just before his own apparent death. As Quark takes on the role of leading the Ferengi, a plot to take the position of Grand Nagus is exposed, and Zek shows himself just as Quark is about to be killed by Quark’s brother, Rom and Krax, Zek’s son. He notes that Krax still has much to learn, but Quark commends Rom for his nefarious plot and makes a new role at the bar for his brother to fill.

Commentary

I think this is a great example of how to make an episode fun. There was character development for Quark even as he stuck to his role. There was a great deal of humor without ever taking away from the seriousness of the plot–difficult to do. Most importantly, it made the Ferengi much less of a joke than they have been so far in the Star Trek universe. This was a pretty fascinating episode, even if some aspects of it were hard sells.

Quark’s role came to the forefront and it is made clear here that his character alone is capable of carrying an episode. That’s an important thing for a show like DS9 to learn early and to succeed at- realizing that individual characters are perhaps just as important as the overarching narrative. Here, the show succeeded dramatically in a funny, breakthrough episode for one of the stars. Making it a clear reference to The Godfather in many ways–including the hilarious scene where Quark mimics Don Corleone from the movie–was an added touch that really sold the whole concept.

Grade: A- “A vastly entertaining episode that is maybe just a little too hard to buy.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was just so fun to see the Ferengi culture. It was also hilarious.”

“Vortex”

Synopsis

When Croden, a newly arrived alien on DS9, gets in a fight with two Maradorns and kills one of them in the ensuing firefight, he is taken into custody by Odo pending trial. However, when Sisko and Kira make first contact with Croden’s homeworld, they demand his immediate return and basically say to leave them alone. Sisko orders Odo to return Croden to his home, where he will certainly be executed. Meanwhile, Croden has been telling Odo he knows more about changelings, giving a name to Odo and hope of the existence of more like him that heretofore he knew nothing about. As Odo transports Croden back home, they are attacked by Ah-Kel, the surviving Maradorn. To escape, Croden takes the controls, ladning them inside the vortex that he hinted Odo might find more of his people. However, there are no more changelings, just Croden’s daughter who had been hidden away in stasis after his family was killed for his alleged crimes. Odo is hurt as they try to flee, but Croden gets him back to the runabout. They manage to destroy Ah-Kel’s ship in the vortex, and are hailed by a Vulcan vessel, to whom Odo gives Croden and his daughter as refugees he found in the vortex.

Commentary

Odo’s character got a ton of development here, and it is the first episode that shows how much potential his character has for the rest of the series. What are changelings? Are there more like Odo? How did he get separated from them? Will they be friendly? These are just a few of the questions that come up in this episode that it would have been difficult to even formulate earlier in the season, because there wasn’t enough that we knew about Odo to ask these questions.

To be fair, there are some real stretches here–how can Odo make himself into a glass that gets broken apart (presumably light enough to carry on a tray) and then have Croden complain about how heavy he is? Where does all that mass go? Answer: don’t ask questions! But I don’t mind those stretches as much when they’re fairly superfluous to the plot.

The plot is the star here, too. Odo is shown to be more than just a hardhearted mean policeman on the station. He has feelings about right and wrong, and a strong sense of justice that transcends laws even among species. Croden’s people are an intriguing aside, but according to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion by Terry J. Erdmann with Paula M. Block, they never show up again. Oh well. By the way, get that book if you want some really cool facts about the show as we go along.

With “Vortex,” we get hints of how interesting DS9 could shape up to be. Will it pay out dividends or just sink under expectations? We’ll have to keep watching!

Grade: A “Hey, Odo is a character!”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was really impressive character development for Odo along with an interesting plot to keep things moving.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9- For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #6-10 scores and comments

do-androids-dreamI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

6. 1984 by George Orwell A
“We live in an age of dystopias, but Orwell’s remains head and shoulders above the rest. It is chilling in ways that few books manage to approach. People of varied political backgrounds continue to point to it as a warning, and than in itself is a kind of fulfillment of Orwell’s vision of the future. An excellent work.”

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Grade: B-
“There’s almost no character development, and there is way too much inner dialogue vs. action. It was a solid premise, and I definitely understand how it received its status as a classic. I just felt it was a little unfulfilling.”

8. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: B
“I actually liked the first half a lot more than the second half. Watching the development of human thought and technology over time was more interesting than reading about some guy going on an acid trip by means of alien encounter. It got too weird.”

9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick Grade: A
“It bears little resemblance to the film ‘Blade Runner,’ but that wasn’t a bad thing. It’s surreal, entertaining, and befuddling all at once. One of the few novels to balance well a combination of suspense and humor. It has its share of action and surprises. I loved it. Also, it spawned a whole lot of cool book covers.”

10. Neuromancer by William Gibson Grade: A-
“Gibson predicted much of the future and coined a number of terms and ideas in his prophetic novel. However, the dialogue-to-action ratio is too high and the world and characters feel somewhat empty and lifeless. It’s well-worth the read, though I think other books in the cyberpunk genre are better, even though they do rely on Gibson for inspiration.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.