Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Hard Merchandise” 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.

Hard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter

Hard Merchandise gives us the payoff of the first two novels in the trilogy, The Mandalorian Armor and Slave Ship. The payoff is… okay. The core of the novel isn’t bad, but a lot of the window dressing has issues. 

Suspension of disbelief, I have to say, was somewhat difficult at parts of this trilogy in general. First, the notion that the Bounty Hunter Wars would even be more than a flicker as far as the galaxy goes. I should have marked it, because I don’t remember the exact scene/wording, but somewhere in Hard Merchandise we have some character make an offhand comment about how there are basically no bounty hunters operating any more because the Guild has had some problems. And I was just shocked, because it seems impossible that in an entire galaxy there would be like two bounty hunters operating due to some conflict in a single organization. It’s baffling that that would even be a possibility on a planet, let alone over a huge number of planets and civilizations. I’m pretty good about granting huge suspension of disbelief to sci-fi, especially science fantasy like Star Wars, but this pushed my limit past breaking.

I did like the many tie-ins to the core movies and broader Star Wars franchise the novel had. Giving us explanations for specific people at Jabba’s palace and even some more background on Return of the Jedi was great. Fett’s investigative skills weren’t always on display, but when they were, it definitely made him into a more interesting character. The back-and-forth with Xizor’s enemies and friends (both together?) was interesting enough to keep me going. I have just started watching “The Mandalorian” TV series, and I’m curious to see if anything from this trilogy gets pulled into the show.

Honestly, though, the best characters in the series were probably Dengar and Neelah. Dengar is largely a tough guy with a heart figure, but he’s done well enough that I don’t mind the cliché. Neelah, on the other hand, is the memory-loss cliché but her character growth and development are probably the highlight of the series. She goes from being an unknown figure to a major player due to her connections with the weapons manufacturer Kuat Drive Yards. And the Kuat scenes are among the best in the book with the intermingling of corporate backstabbing with pseudo-nobility. It’s a great thread and honestly would make a decent cyberpunk type world to explore further. Apparently that’s Jeter’s background, so it doesn’t surprise me that those aspects of the novels were done well. In Hard Merchandise, I found myself reading as much to find out what these side characters were up to as I was reading for Fett. 

Hard Merchandise is a competent conclusion to a series that left me wanting more. I wanted more development, more explanations of what was happening, and more to believe in. But with some strong side characters, the series is worth reading, especially for those interested in non-canonical ways Fett developed. 

The Good

+Yet another great cover
+Good characterization for some side characters
+Great tie-ins to the movies…

The Bad

-The tie-ins are sometimes forced
-A little bland

Grade: C+ “A competent conclusion to a trilogy that left me wanting more.”

Links

Star Wars Hub– Read all my posts about Star Wars 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!

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.

Watching Babylon 5 for the first time- Season 3: Episodes 5-8

Not as such…. no.

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. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

Season 3: Episodes 5-8

5: Voices of Authority
Marcus Cole has a great voice. I could listen to his character talking all the time. I hope he gets a bigger place in the series going forward. Anyway, it’s becoming more and more clear the Earth government is trying to butt in on the running of Babylon 5 more than it seems they did before. And Zack Allan continues to spy half-heartedly for the Night Watch, a group that just seems scummier every time they show up. Ivanova sees proof positive that the former VP–now President–had the President assassinated, which seems like enormous news. I was surprised how quickly it managed to get leaked to everyone. I kind of expected this thread to be drawn out more as characters collected evidence, so I’m curious to see how this will play out. The notion of “ideological purity” being pushed by this horrible person from Earth is almost fearfully easy to see happening in real life. 
Contact with the “First Ones” was fascinating as Ivanova goes to talk to some terrifying burning mask people who answer merely “Zog” when she asks if they’ll help fight the Shadows. “Zog yes or Zog no?” was a great line! Ivanova still hasn’t fully developed as a character for me, but I enjoyed her frustration here. Her play to get these First Ones to join was also a great moment. 
There were many, many things that happened in this episode, and so many of them also seem to be forward-thinking. I enjoyed it, even though it watches as a kind of set up episode.

6: Dust to Dust
Vir is back! I was wondering if we’d ever see him again after he got sent away. I hope this means some more back and forth with Mollari, because he was my favorite in season 1, and having him turn into a serious villain has been rough. I want some more lighthearted moments with Mollari! I also hope there’s a redemption ark for him at some point, because he has really dug himself in deep. Anyway, can we talk about how Ivanova was going to blow up Bester to stop him from coming on board? She does not mess around. I loved how the way to fight back at Bester was getting more psi users around. 
I have to admit that there was no way I would have guessed G’Kar getting some Dust to try to turn himself into a psionic user would be a plot point. Yet somehow it works, because he goes straight for Mollari and forces the Centauri to reveal his awful past and plans. And, of course, humans are garbage again as the Psi Corps is a terrifying monstrosity of non-caring idiocy. 

7: Exogenesis
We have an “Aliens” moment right at the beginning of this episode, and I have to admit I was worried it was going to devolve into a kind of creature-of-the-week scenario. Yet Babylon 5 once again did not let me down. I love Star Trek, so take the following with that in mind: Babylon 5 has yet to disappoint me in the way Star Trek does time and again with some awful monster thing being a one-off that never shows up again. I don’t know if these parasite memory things ever show up again, but the way this plot played out worked super well and turned my fear of “Not again!” (thinking so many Star Trek episodes) into a delight for the great plot. Making the parasites into a kind of sympathetic creature that also is taken in by choice was not the twist I expected.
Marcus Cole… seriously, I adore him. His voice is amazing, and when Dr. Franklin asks him about whether he told anyone (for real) about them going to check on the possibility of horrible aliens, he delivered my favorite one-liner of the show so far: “Not as such, no.” It was a wonderful, hilarious moment in what is an otherwise intensely serious and even heart-rending episode. The sad part is especially felt by Marcus Cole as he basically undercut his friend’s desires without even intending to, forcing him to be separated from what he wanted–unity with some alien hive mind. Not sure the ethics of this strange situation, but that is just another thing that makes Babylon 5 so good.
Ivanova and the flowers–I thought this was hilarious too, and when she throws them at Marcus and he’s all like “She likes me!”–delightful. I don’t know if this episode is well-liked by fans or not, but I loved it.

8: Messages from Earth
I love archaeology in my sci-fi, but this episode did not scratch that itch as much as I initially hoped it would. I kinda thought we might see some epic journey of discovery and archaeology related to the Shadows, but instead we basically just get some woman saying she found one and then boom, there they are. Sheridan and the Minbari go to stop humans from taking over a shadow, certainly with ill-intent. I enjoyed Sheridan’s story about his dad on the rain. I recently lost my dad, and it just really reminded me of how gentle and kind my dad always was. Delenn playing rain on the ship was also a great character moment. 
Using Jupiter to crush the Shadow was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed the special effects and the intensity of it. Marcus Cole showing up with a flow chart to explain to Ivanova where everyone fits–including his parents–was also a truly fun moment. He’s quickly becoming my favorite character. 
Earth is also under martial law, now, apparently. Using the thwarting of evil plans as a stepping stone to more power is par for the course for awful people, and we again see the leadership of Earth is perhaps irreparably corrupt. It will be fascinating to see how this develops.

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.

Sci-Fi Hub: Vintage Sci-Fi, Hugo Awards, British SF Awards, and more!

Here, I’ve collected my links to all the various series of reviews (and other hubs) related to science fiction. Here, you can explore vintage science fiction, Star Wars related novels, recent works that I enjoyed enough to review, many Award winners and my own opinions on which should have won, Babylon 5, and more! Some are links to other Hubs (like the Babylon 5 Hub) so you can use this post as your launching point for many, many reviews of books, television shows, and movies. 

Contemporary Science Fiction Reviews 

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– I highlight two science fiction works that I read recently and adored. There’s a space unicorn! There are Stars… that aren’t claimed! 

A Masterpiece of Science Fiction: “Days” by James Lovegrove– It’s pretty rare that a book nails the feel of reality so well while also painting a thin layer of unreality over it. Lovegrove’s simply phenomenal acerbic critique of unfettered capitalism is set within a Gigastore, and it just gets better from there. It helped keep me sane during peak shopping season. 

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– I love when things get goofy, though I have to be in the mood for it. Each of these hit me in the right mood, and they’re gloriously witty science fiction reading. 

A Stunning Epic – “Empire of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio– Books get compared to each other all the time–it’s a way for fans to easily recommend works to others. Here, the book is often compared to Dune, and it’s one of those rare times the comparison sticks. Ruocchio’s worldbuilding is as complex and epic as that comparison demands, though he takes it in a different direction. The good news is it’s a series and Ruocchio continues to reliably deliver them! 

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis- A Steampunk Delight– Steampunk is one of my favorite subgenres, but I find it’s rare that I find books in that subgenre that I enjoy. I don’t know if it’s that my taste is off, or that maybe I just like the genre due to video games, but that’s what it is. Anyway, I adored this book by Robyn Bennis. It had great characters, superb action, and steampunk goodness.

Remembering Ben Bova (1932-2020)– Bova’s passing impacted me deeply when I read about it. I’d been reading his books for more than 20 years, and his impact on my life as a reader went back into my childhood. I wrote a bit about my own journey reading his novels and the impact they had on me.

Vintage Sci-Fi

I read and review individual Vintage Science Fiction Novels

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg– I can’t stop thinking about this haunting road trip horror/fantasy novel.

The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker– A haunting, poignant look at time travel that is a must-read for sci-fi fans.  

The Haunted Stars by Edmond Hamilton– I’m a sucker for space archaeology, and this book with shades of red scare, Star Trek, and more drew me in.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold– The start of the Vorkorsigan Saga is a rip-roaring adventure that I love even after multiple reads.

Cobra by Timothy Zahn- A surprisingly thoughtful look at combat, PTSD, and more.

The Squares of the City by John Brunner- A novel I adored but probably didn’t understand as a child has even more meaning when reading it as an adult. And what could have been a gimmick is actually a fun way to organize a book. 

Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov- Asimov can (kind of) write characters! I enjoyed this one pretty well. 

Past Master by R.A. Lafferty- One of those novels that makes you sit back and think on every page. It’s a phenomenal read that has a central plot with a surprising premise. 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing by Kate Wilhelm- A surprising, quiet novel that will keep you thinking long after you finish it. Certainly one of the more surprising Hugo winners. 

The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg- What if the same problems facing time travel also faced predictions of the future? Silverberg twists the time travel formula by… not time traveling. 

Dragonflight by Anne McAffrey- The worldbuilding of McAffrey shines as the major star in this novel of science fantasy

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” by Cordwainer Smith- Love as Resistance– I wrote a post about how a short story from Cordwainer Smith shows how activism can work through love. 

Two “First Contact” series you should read (and probably haven’t)–  I wrote introductions to a pair of series that relate the first contact of humanity to various aliens. I think you should read both of these series! 

“We the Underpeople” by Cordwainer Smith– Actually a review of a modern collection of Smith’s stories and the novel Norstrilia. This post actually predates my “Vintage Sci-Fi” post format, and I’m hoping to eventually update it. For now, enjoy this review of this spectacular collection.

My Read-Through of the Hugos

These posts are a series in which I read through and review every single Hugo Award Winner and Nominee. I also pick my own winner out of the batch, which doesn’t always align. 

1953– There’s only one book, so is it a surprise that I picked it for my winner?

1954- No winner for Best Novel.

1955– This year’s winner is widely considered the worst book to ever win a Hugo. 

1956– Red scare of the best kind.

1957- No Winner for Best Novel.

1958– Only once choice again, but this one was great.

1959– A few contenders, but I picked one that got me thinking.

1960– How could anyone have picked anything but space pirates? I mean really.

1961– The voters got it right on a fantastic novel this year.

1962– The rise of Heinlein. Also, Plato’s Cave.

1963– I dusted off a classic here. (Sorry.)

1964– Easy to pick a winner this go-round.

1965– The voters were perhaps most wrong this year of all the years so far. My goodness, they voted for a yawner over an intense, wild classic.

1966– It’s not fair that these other books had to compete against Dune, because there were some good’ns. 

1967– I cried a lot over my choice of winner here.

1968– Space poetry written by Zelazny. 

1969– I get hooked on Lafferty.

1970– Not the strongest year, but it does feature an all-time classic.

1971– A strong demonstration of why I choose to read lists, as I discover a mostly-forgotten classic!

1972– Yet another year Silverberg should have won the Hugo.

1973– Guess who should have won this year? Yep, and this may have been the biggest miss on SIlverberg so far. 

1974– Honestly I thought this year was a pretty mediocre year. My winner didn’t even break into the “A” grade range.

2020– A fantastic mix of genres and authors. 

Lodestar Award for Best YA Book

2021– While the lineup is great, I believe there is one clear winner, and it’s a fantasy novel steeped in African lore.

Reading the British Science Fiction Association Awards

I randomly pick some BSFA Winners to read and review. 

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod (2008)– This book was essentially written for me. I love it so so much. 

Indie Fiction

These reviews are largely of indie or self-published books that I thought were worth your attention.

Indie April Highlight: “The Sword of Kaigen” by M.L. Wang– Need some steampunk wuxia in your life? Have I got a book for you!

Indie April Highlight: “Awaken Online: Catharsis” by Travis Bagwell– My introduction to LitRPG happened through this thrilling combination of gaming, AI, and real life. 

Indie Highlight: “The Wings of War” by Bryce O’Connor and “The Ixan Prophecies” by Scott Bartlett– I review a pair of indie works that will give you your money’s worth. 

Self-Published Science Fiction Contest

Eclectic Theist was part of the first-ever SPSFC! Here are my posts as I write about the ongoing contest.

SPSFC Round 1– I briefly review the first 3 books that I dipped my toes into here, and discovered at least one gem.

TV

“Invincible” – Getting Hooked on a new superhero show (Episode 1)– Superheroes are all the rage but this first episode blew up my expectations in a big way.

Star Trek posts (I have not yet created a Hub for Star Trek)- I’ve reviewed many episodes of Star Trek TNG and DS9, and this link will let you explore those.

Babylon 5 Hub– My links to all my reviews related to the world of Babylon 5. I started with the television show and plan to work through all the novels and comics as well. 

Other Hubs

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– All my reviews related to Warhammer/40K/Horus Heresy fiction can be found here. Read grimdark to your heart’s content!

Babylon 5 Hub– My links to all my reviews related to the world of Babylon 5. I started with the television show and plan to work through all the novels and comics as well. 

Star Wars Hub– Reviews of many Star Wars: Expanded Universe novels are here, along with a few reviews of the new “canon” novels.

Star Trek posts (I have not yet created a Hub for Star Trek)- I’ve reviewed many episodes of Star Trek TNG and DS9, and this link will let you explore those.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 8: “Battle for the Abyss” by Ben Counter

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter

The setup for Battle for the Abyss is exciting: a heretic fleet is dispatched to destroy the Ultramarines’ homeworld, and the outgunned Ultramarines must try to chase down the spearhead of the assault, the Furious Abyss and stop it before it reaches Ultramar. The Word Bearers–the heretics–continue to be the more interesting characters in the series, with their lore coming front and center at multiple key points throughout the novel. By contrast, the Ultramarines in the novel are sympathetic for being in a sort of David-and-Goliath scenario, but are otherwise not very interesting.

The action and fighting is intense throughout the book, though it’s not always clear what ends are being pursued beyond merely having more action scenes. The added complexity of daemons from the warp make for a more interesting battle, but also seem to take away from what could have been a compelling heretic-loyalist conflict. Instead of having the focus be on loyalties upheld and broken, it changes it to a three-way fight for survival alongside the other, more personal conflict.

Unfortunately, like some of the other books in the Horus Heresy, this one reads very much like a short story that overgrew the bounds of a novella and was pushed into the length of a novel. There are far too many scenes of exposition, too much standing about making decisions, and surprisingly little by way of character development given the page count. For this book to work as a novel, there needed to be much more character development of some of the main actors. As it stands, they feel mostly like cardboard cutouts set up simply to be knocked down.

Battle for the Abyss is a competent entry in the series that suffers the defects of several of the other works in the series. That said, it is also one of the more action-packed works in the series to this point, which moves it along swiftly enough. In my opinion, the problems in the book somewhat outweighed the great ideas and setup.

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– Links to all of my Warhammer-related reviews and writings can be found 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.