Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “The Mandalorian Armor” by K.W. Jeter

I 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. There will be SPOILERS in what follows for the novel discussed as well as (possibly) earlier books in the same series.

The Mandalorian Armor by K.W. Jeter

I first read this book around when it came out. It has been the source of many an argument with Star Wars fans for me–something I normally avoid–because it serves as non-canon story for Boba Fett surviving. For some reason, Boba Fett struck me very strongly in the movies–his silent, armored visage demanded to know why–why did he do what he did? 

I was kind of devastated in the second movie when Fett’s canonical backstory was revealed. I don’t want to get into a debate over the prequel trilogy, but my point is that my vision of Boba Fett was shaped much more by the non-canonical than by the canonical, and this book and those following it were a huge part of that. 

The best part of this book is that it establishes Boba Fett as more than his eponymous armor. Is he invulnerable? No, but no one is foolish enough to mess with him. Correction: only the foolish mess with him. And they don’t seem to win. He begins the book badly injured and somewhat vulnerable–certainly more vulnerable than anyone would expect from him as a character. 

The plot here has layers of intrigue on top of each other, with Prince Xizor leading the way in corruption, vying for power with Vader and others as he manipulates the bounty hunters to his own ends. I have a strong dislike for Xizor as a character, having read Shadows of the Empire at a point where his vile manipulation of Leia and others truly impacted me in a deep way. So yeah, having him here was tough; I don’t know that I’ve experienced such a visceral dislike of a fictional character before or since. 

The book ties in extremely well to the movies, because it features so many side characters viewers may have wondered about while also taking place immediately following Return of the Jedi. It’s a great tie-in for the Expanded Universe.

One part of the book that undermined its feel within the Star Wars universe was the technology featured in it. At times, this felt much more like a cyberpunk-type novel with many more gadgets than one would expect in the strange tech-magic universe of Star Wars. It threw off the feel once or twice for me, but suspension of disbelief was never fully destroyed. I think the biggest one was the use of radiation in the air by one of the droids to try to calm an irate character down. 

The Mandalorian Armor is a fun read for those looking for more Star Wars. Its ties to the movies make it feel more relevant than some of the other books, while its main characters leap of the pages. 

The Good

+Great action
+Ties in well to the movies
+Good side characters
+Boba Fett
+The cover is beautiful
+Fun Droids

The Bad

-Uneven pacing
-More cyberpunk than Star Wars science fantasy
-Not a fan of Xizor, but I guess this could be a good thing

Best Droid Moment

Honestly, I most enjoyed the droids introductions as their names were contrasted and the silliness of the same was subtly mocked. The droids were great throughout, though. Snarky droids are my favorite.

Grade: B “It drags at points but provides an excellent jumping off point from the original trilogy while also exploring the mysteries of some of the most compelling side-characters from the films.”

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.

 

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1966

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1966 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I have a short reflection on this year’s Hugo nominees at the beginning.

1966 Hugos– Overall, this was a great year for the nominees. Dune is basically on its second go-round of eligibility the first half having been eligible in 1964. Some voters may have been upset by that (I don’t know), but the novel itself is nearly incomparable. This Immortal is competent, but I don’t think it deserves to be in the same conversation as Dune. It’s fine. The Squares of the City was a novel I discovered many years ago, and it stands up to a re-read in sometimes surprising ways. I even wrote more extensively on it. Heinlein is hugely hit or miss for me, and The Moon… is more of a hit, but even there Heinlein can’t seem to avoid lecturing his readers on his preferred systems. E.E. “Doc” Smith is one of the progenitors of much sci-fi I enjoy, but Skylark DuQuesne, and, indeed, the whole series, barely holds up as readable. The sub-genres represented here aren’t very diverse, but the selection is good nonetheless. Which are your favorites?

Dune by Frank Herbert (Co-Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. Herbert’s motivation to try to subvert the hero narrative makes this even more fascinating than it is otherwise, with its mashup of so many themes. There are questions that remain, though–did Herbert succeed in making an anti-hero hero? Or is Paul Atreides really some kind of true hero? To me, at least, the ending is ambiguous in this regard, even though many fans of the book remain convinced it is phenomenally successful in doing so.

This Immortal AKA And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny (Co-Winner)- Grade: B-
There is little by way of character development or, really, plot here. But Zelazny is such a talent with words that I didn’t mind as much as I would have otherwise. Not as stylistically elegant as some of his other works, This Immortal nevertheless remains almost lyrical in the way it conveys its story. I can also see where many ideas for later science fiction came from, though maybe not directly. What exactly is the core premise of the novel? Is it a push to question one’s own assumptions about reality? Does it go that deep? Is it really just a kind of dressed up old-school sci-fi adventure? It is difficult to tell, in the end. The novel doesn’t reach the stunning heights of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, but you can see his immense talent here nonetheless.

The Squares of the City by John Brunner- Grade: A
I read this book as a young teenager and was blown away. On a re-read sometime later (extended discussion here), I am convinced that I didn’t grasp some of the bigger concepts happening in the novel. Nevertheless, I still loved it in a different way. The book’s main plot is based upon a real-life chess game in which the characters are moved like the pieces from that game that actually took place. That’s cool, but a bit gimmicky. Then, it turns out chess is a major theme in the book, but that the notion of black/white and racial inequality also threads throughout. The main character is a traffic planner brought in to deal with some issues in a fictional South American city in the future. Societal strife, racial tension, and more lurk under the surface and the main character and a rather large supporting cast must come to grips with it. It ends ambiguously and maybe pushes its theme a bit too hard, but it’s superbly written and deeply thoughtful. I love it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: B-
The book was serialized for two years and was eligible this year and next year. What? Anyway, I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It was enjoyable, but the style dragged it down somewhat. It felt very matter-of-fact about even the most intense moments of the book. It’s not as beautifully odd as Stranger in a Strange Land nor as challenging as Starship Troopers. It’s still enjoyable, but the whole plot felt predictable. It lacked the excitement that comes with many other science fiction books. Not bad, certainly, but neither is it spectacular.”

Skylark DuQuesne by E.E. “Doc” Smith- Grade: D
E.E. “Doc” Smith is a major voice in early science fiction, and at the time some put him on par or better than Asimov. His Lensman series was edged by the Foundation Trilogy to be named the best science fiction series ever. I enjoyed the Lensman series pretty well, but this Skylark series has not aged well at all. I read all four books including this one in the series so that I wouldn’t be confused about what was going on, but I’m not sure I really needed to. Skylark DuQuesne is full of space adventure spirit, but also full of ridiculous treatment of women, paper-thin characters, aliens with little to motivate them, and an Ameri-centrism that defeats the notion of the scale the novel needs to make it epic. It’s definitely a pulpy read, but not in a good way.

Links

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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.

2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel: My Reviews

I read as much sci-fi/fantasy as I can get my hands on, and have been working through the backlog of all the Hugo winners and nominees for best novel for some time. The 2020 Nominations were announced recently, and I wanted to read them all so I could review them and talk about/debate them with fellow fans. Without further adieu, here are my reviews!

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders- Grade: C
There are some cool ideas here, and a strong inspiration from classics like 1984 (the government determining times, for example). However, I felt the whole thing was hampered by a lack of enthusiasm from the main characters which led to me not caring very much about the stakes. Moreover, the strangeness of motivation behind some of their acts throttled my suspension of disbelief. Perhaps there are some metaphors or analogies happening here that simply went over my head. I’d love for someone to explain if I did miss some things of import here. Anyway, the whole thing ended up feeling kind of surreal in an off-putting rather than enthralling way. 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine- Grade: A-
I attempted to read this book four times. I say attempted because each time I got sidetracked by something else. It’s dense, and my life circumstances were such that I couldn’t concentrate on it as deeply as I’d have liked to. Finally, it went on a great sale and I grabbed the audiobook along with the ebook. Listening to the book was a great experience, and let me concentrate on it better than reading it on paper. The bottom line for A Memory Called Empire is this: How well do you like complexity in your sci-fi?
A) The more Machiavellian, the better! I want names that I have to write down to keep track of! I want political intrigue I need to chart to follow! 
B) I enjoy complexity quite a bit, but don’t want to inflict pain on myself for trying to follow a story.
C) Complexity is fine, as long as it is spoon-fed to me.
D) I admire the handiwork, but I don’t like it.
Whichever option you chose is basically what I anticipate your grade for this book being. There are names that are nothing like you’d expect. There’s mystery throughout. There are political maneuvers, thrusts, and counter-thrusts. It’s all there. This book is like a combination of the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie with some Iain M. Banks in it. The book has a phenomenal payoff for the investment of energy, as well. The last 40% or so of the book has all the political machinations that you could desire to go along with the central mystery. I love it, but I also had to work to love it. I can’t wait to see what the next in the series does to me.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir- Grade: D+
I don’t know that I’ve experienced as much hype surrounding a book as this one before I’ve read it. I also try to avoid being one of “those people.” You know who I’m talking about: the type of people who talk all loud and proud about how “I read that super hyped thing everyone loves and found it was just mediocre at best.” So instead, I’ll try to focus on real, substantive critique rather than posturing. First, I do not like pop culture references in my sci-fi/fantasy. Veiled references? Sure. If they make sense for the story? Absolutely. But straight up pop-culture references in a novel that doesn’t have a very good explanation for how they come into play for the main character? Hard no. Second, the novel ends up reading exactly like it sounds in the blurb: it’s a sci-fi space necromancer with a sword and cool tattoos and a lesbian who kills stuff and cusses and doesn’t care but maybe she does care more than you know and there’s magic and space castles and everything that’s awesome like skeletons and badassery and it’s there! Whew. There’s no such thing as too much cool stuff thrown together. I firmly believe that. But it has to actually work together, and here we somehow have all of that cool stuff in it without ever having a main character or interesting enough main plot for me to care whatsoever. Moreover, since the cool stuff is being hurled at the reader at a breakneck pace, one cna never really sit back and just absorb how awesome it should be before you’re getting confronted by the next thing. There’s a gothic space palace! What more do you want!? I know: I want to actually have that described to me. I want to envision how gothic it is. I want to feel its movement through space–or the mechanization that keep it in place. I want to read about all of these awesome ideas, not just have them pitched to me as one-liners and then thrown onto an increasing heap of ideas that are never fully realized. And this is what I think made the book so terribly disappointing to me. It had so many cool ideas–it oozed with them–but it never really cashed them in. 

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley- Grade: C
I am so torn about this book. I love so many of the ideas in it. There’s a foreboding sense that aspects of Hurley’s vision of the future are not far off from the reality we may experience if we let greed continue unfettered indefinitely. The trauma of war, the pervasiveness of changing reality through the way that news can shape people’s minds, and the like are all explored here through what is, ultimately, a character piece about a soldier, Dietz. But Dietz is not, to me, particularly likable as a protagonist, and there’s a kind of paper-thin quality to not only Dietz but every other character in the book that made me start losing interest. There are so many cool concepts here, but I don’t know that we ever get to enjoy them as well as we should. It’s a thrill-ride, but one that may not have enough meat on the bones to sustain the interest of all readers. For me, it was a middling read, though I may go back to revisit it sometime. 

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (My Winner)- Grade: A+
Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors, and she did not let me down with this sprawling epic about the twins Roger and Dodger and the strange, weird, magical world they–and we–inhabit. McGuire is a master of peeling away layers of reality so that it seems like you, the reader, haven’t actually thought about everything yet. Maybe there is magic just around the corner. Perhaps there’s a strange, disturbing creature lurking just under that rock. Witches may have a coven over in that moor. These things seem so possible in McGuire’s deft hands, and Middlegame is one of her best efforts yet. The central plot and characters are riveting, to the point that I basically didn’t put this book down until I’d finished it. McGuire writes with a tone that is somehow both light and dark, conspiratorial and friendly. You want to love the characters from the outset, and by the time the action really gets intense, your heart is racing along with theirs. I don’t know if McGuire will explore the world she created in this standalone (so far) novel, but I’d go back in a heartbeat. 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow- Grade: C+
I loved so much about this book. It’s one of those books that is a book about books for people who read books, and those tend to be right up my alley. Harrow created January, a fantastic main character whom I love and for whom I rooted the entire time, but then didn’t really… seem to do anything with her. Throughout the whole book there were echoes about how there are these ten thousand doors and so many possibilities and so much more to reality than we expect, but then that infinite set of possibilities never seemed to get realized for me as a reader. I felt let down by the payoff, which didn’t really even begin until about 60-70% into the book. By the end, I found myself reminiscing about the earlier portions of the book, when I had a character I adored and the anticipation that something big would happen. The prose is lyrical and endearing. Ultimately, I felt the book was merely okay, due to the main plot stumbling along, but it shows immense promise. I will absolutely seek out the next thing Harrow writes, because she has the gift.

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time- Season 2: Episodes 1-11

It’s new guy!

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. I wrote already about Season 1, but I wanted to break season 2 into a couple posts, because there’s so much to talk about! Here, we’ll discuss season 2, episodes 1-11. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

Season 2, part 1

Points of Departure: I honestly did not at all expect that we’d be getting an actual replacement for Sinclair. Sure, they said he was getting moved, but I figured something would happen that would bring him back. At first, I assumed Sheridan would be a placeholder for an episode or, at most, three episodes. But as this first episode went along, it was clear how much development they were squeezing into Sheridan’s character already, complete with a stirring introductory speech and several other moments with the established characters. It became clear he wouldn’t be a temporary member of the cast. It would be really annoying to have such a pivotal character replaced, normally, but the writing for this episode sold Sheridan for me right away. He seems great, and I look forward to seeing the depth they give him. 

Revelations: There’s some scary ships out in unknown space, which I suspect are the darkness that all of the hints in the first season have been hinting about. G’Kar is somehow turning out to not be the worst–he seemed very one-dimensional/bad guy for basically all of the first season but is becoming much more sympathetic now as Londo Mollari is turning out to be much worse than suggested by his initial blustering personality. Londo is probably still my favorite character, though. More plot development for Sheridan, with his sister showing up and talking about his late wife.

The Geometry of Shadows: Okay this was a very silly episode but had some moments. Loved the green/purple thing throughout. Is it silly? Yes, but I especially liked the reaction of the leader when Ivanova tries to calm them down (you’re just doing it for a flag?) “You do same thing for flag for honor!” (something like that). Definitely hinted at the way many people today hold an almost worshipful stance towards the flag. Not trying to get too off track here but it really bothers me that people are more upset by perceived mistreatment of the flag than they are by the fact that people are starving to death or dying because they can’t afford healthcare in our country. The technomages are actually way cooler than I thought they’d be, and the shenanigans with Mollari trying to get in touch with them was fun. What an ominous note, towards the end: Technomage Elric: “The sound of billions of people calling your name” Mollari: “My followers?” Elric: “Your victims.” 

A Distant Star: The most memorable part of this episode for me was Sheridan’s rant where he talks about how opposable thumbs are overrated because if our primate ancestors would have known about politicians, they would have stayed up in the trees. Funny moment for Sheridan there, though I can’t tell if they were trying to play it off as serious. Otherwise the episode dragged a bit for me. The Minbari are worried about Delenn’s change to being a human, but I don’t know why this is a surprise: if some human turned into a cocoon and came out an alien I’d be pretty concerned. Is this a normal thing for Minbari? They don’t really say. 

The Long Dark: Some creepy creature is released on Babylon 5 which turns out to be a reality even though initially it seemed like the ravings of a madman. A few nods to the problems of PTSD and our lack of care for those who go through such situations were appreciated, but this episode is one that felt more like setup than anything else.

A Spider in the Web: Loved this one. I guess I’d kind of thought the Mars thing was just throwing some worldbuilding out there into the void, but it turns out it may have a much bigger impact. Mind control, murder, cover ups, plots, wider intra-human conflict! Everything about this episode hinted at bigger things to come. 

Soul Mates: Mollari tries to figure out which wife he is going to keep, and some hilarity ensues. I definitely called the standoffish one right at the beginning, though. I loved the conclusion from Mollari: “I’ll always know where I stand with you.” I was touched. Delenn’s interactions with Ivanova were kind of fun, too.

A Race Through Dark Places: Babylon 5 as a hub for getting rogue/unknown psychics away from Psi Corps was a cool idea. I’d be sure of all kinds of black market type stuff happening at such a station, and it was fun to see one aspect of this. I also loved the way they thwarted Bester from Psi Corps with the mass deception featuring Talia. Talia’s decision to side with the rogues was great, especially after they made it seem for just a second that she’d gone with Psi Corps. 

The Coming of Shadows: The Cenauri Republic’s Emperor comes to Babylon 5 over G’Kar’s protests. Sheridan pointed out that it wasn’t this Emperor that did all the wrongs to G’Kar’s people, but G’Kar cannot relent. He plans to assassinate the Emperor, only to be thwarted when the Emperor has a heart attack or something similar as he’s at an official event. Then, G’Kar is told the Emperor’s last words to himself about how he wanted to say he was sorry in order to try to stop future conflict. G’Kar is touched by it to the point that he seeks out Mollari for a drink. Unbeknownst to him, Mollari has partnered with the mysterious people who have enabled some serious attacks on the Narn before, and even as G’Kar tries to celebrate a new friendship with Mollari, news comes that the Narn have lost millions of lives in an apparent attack from the Centauri Republic, itself now coalescing around hawklike leadership. G’Kar has to be restrained from physically assaulting Mollari and finally collapses, weeping for his people. The Centauri Republic experiences a kind of coup as well. Fantastic episode.  

GROPOS: Babylon 5 becomes a staging area for Earth Alliance soldiers on their way for a secret attack on rebels. Garibaldi falls for one of the soldiers and after some convolutions, it is clear it is very mutual. Meanwhile, the commander of the forces is Stephen’s (the doctor’s) father, and they have some serious issues to work out. I was not ready for the incredible emotional weight of the scenes between Stephen and his father, including the part about how the thing Stephen always needed to say was that he loved his father. It ripped my guts out and tears were streaming down my face. It was a real emotional hit. The end of the episode was also tough, as we see the side characters we grew to like through the episode–the Ground Pounders (GROPOS), end up dead in the battle. Ouch.

All Alone in the Night: I thought this was by far the slowest moving episode of the season so far. Delenn struggles to find her path among her people, now as an outcast, while Sheridan is abducted and forced to fight. It’s a fine enough episode, with some possible steps setting things up for later, but it just doesn’t move along very much. It was fine, but nothing super special. 

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

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.