Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Slave Ship” 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.

Slave Ship by K.W. Jeter

Maybe middle book syndrome is a real thing. That’s what I think any time I run into it. It’s probably selection effect. Slave Ship suffers monumentally from pacing issues. I found myself skimming at multiple points because it felt like nothing was happening. On top of that, the interesting characters seemed to fall into the background as more new characters and conflicts were introduced. 

On the plus side, I adored Kuat of Kuat in this novel. I don’t think that when I first read these books as a kid I understood how entertaining he was. The world building surrounded Kuat Drive Yards was also some of the best writing in the book.The interplay between Prince Xizor making a power play and Vader trying to play Xizor was good, too. But again, these are characters that should have been on the side of what was, before, a story of Boba Fett and Dengar with Bossk as a villain.

I did not enjoy the bounty hunter scenes all that much here. Bossk seems very one dimensional, though the bomb on a ship stunt Boba Fett pulled on him was great. On the flip side, I guess my perception of Fett as having some kind of Mandalorian honor may have been overblown because he just turns traitor, seemingly, on his team. I didn’t like that choice for his character. It didn’t have the right feel. I wonder how it will play out in the third book.

Slave Ship is a merely okay read. It’s a desert of boredom punctuated by enough oases of excitement to keep me reading. That was a silly sentence, but there it is. I hope the third book redeems it, because the first was fine.

[Edit: I accidentally published a partially finished/edited version of this the day it was published. My apologies. I’ve made corrections and edits now!]

I read this before I saw any episodes of “The Mandalorian.” In fact, I’ve since finished the trilogy and only then saw the first two episodes of the show. I was already surprised by a few things that seem to have been potentially lifted from these pages.

The Good

+Awesome cover
+Prince Xizor / Vader rivalry
+A few good moments for certain characters
+Kuat of Kuat

The Bad

-Pacing problems abound
-Weak characterization
-Very little seems to be important or happen overall

Grade: C- “Not particularly impressive, but not awful either. It’s a bland read which suffers from the alleged middle book syndrome.”

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.

Ken Scholes’s “Psalms of Isaak” – A Haunting Science Fantasy

Inevitably, when you read a lot of sci-fi fantasy, you discover works that you find to be absolutely marvelous but that go by relatively unnoticed by many other readers. Books that you feel deserve awards and widespread sales disappear from publication and booksellers’ shelves. There are several series or standalone books that fall into that space for me. Ken Scholes’s genre-defying “Psalms of Isaak,” a five book series filled with horror, wonder, and hope ranks very highly among them. There will be light SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

My Journey to Reading the Series

I bought Lamentation, the first book in the series, when it first came out in paperback. It languished on my shelf, showing off its beautiful cover art (are those… cowboys in front of a ruin? or warriors riding around?). I lost it in a move but couldn’t shake the image of the cover from my mind. I grabbed it in paperback again, but it was purged when I was getting ready for another move–after all, why keep just the first book in a series I wasn’t sure I’d even like? Finally, as I browsed for audiobooks available through the library, I saw that alluring cover once again. Knowing I like listening to books, and that this one in particular seemed to be haunting me, I dove in.

I was in for an absolute treat. Lamentation has nearly everything I could want in a science fantasy. It has an awesome sense of vastness of the world, both in space and time. There are ruins and mysteries lost to the past. There are subtle hints of technology that may be recovered. There are mysterious steampunk vibes mixed with those of fantasy. Truly wicked villains populate the whole series, while interesting main characters manage to keep hope alive in the darkest of times. The book was brilliant! I immediately grabbed the next one on audio and went through them all. I rarely read series back-to-back, enjoying a break in between with other books, but I couldn’t stop with the Psalms of Isaak and continued all the way through.

What Genre is it?

One of the many things that makes this series so excellent is its ability to defy genres. At its core, it’s a kind of epic fantasy, with some feeling of the hero’s journey happening throughout. But it also has clear elements of science fantasy, with some fantastical elements scattered throughout seemingly explainable with scientific means and in-world rules. Additionally, there is a helping of steampunk swirled in. Ancient artifacts are scattered throughout, as well–one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy tropes. Each time I started a new book in the series I struggled with which genre to file it under, and I ultimately just piled on the labels so that I could find the books if friends asked for recommendations.

On top of all of that, though, there is an evocative sense of religious crisis. I read some autobiographical stuff from Scholes as I read through the series and it appears he has had his own crisis of doubt–I’m unsure where he came out of it. That sense is mixed throughout this series as religion plays a major pot in many of the plot threads. It adds yet another layer of both hope and dread.

Read It!

I hope I’ve sold you on the Psalms of Isaak, because it is a series that is well-worth your time. I’m nabbing the audiobooks on Audible as I get credits. It’s a wonderful journey through a fantastic world, filled with so many vibes and ideas that you might think it’s overwhelming. But it’s not. Scholes does a great job grounding readers in this haunting place, and his storytelling will make you want to stay there forever.

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!

SDG.

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub

I’ve enjoyed reading books from the Black Library for quite a while, and I’ve been reviewing them on here almost since the site first started. I decided to gather all my Warhammer reviews into once place with this hub. I’ll be chronicling my read-through of the Horus Heresy (first time through). I will also be reviewing other works, both from Warhammer fantasy and the 40K universe.

Posts About Warhammer Novels

This category includes links to my other site, where I have a few posts discussing issues like worldview in Warhammer novels and what they might have to teach us and make us think.

A World of Darkness and War- “Eisenhorn” by Dan Abnett– I reflect on the grimdark world of Warhammer and what themes there we might see in our own world.

Horus Heresy: “Horus Rising” and “False Gods” – the False Gods of statism and totalitarianism– total allegiance to the state and totalitarianism are two major dangers discussed in the early parts of the Horus Heresy. I talk about how we can turn the state into a false god.

Horus Heresy Reviews

Reading the Horus Heresy, Books 1 and 2 “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett and “False Gods” by Graham McNeill–  The Horus Heresy starts off on strong footing with a surprisingly thoughtful pair of novels that establishes quite a bit of lore while getting main characters and threads going.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 3: “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter– The Horusian faction takes action for the first time, putting rebellion into action as they work against the Emperor. Some really awesome scenes in here from an author I’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4: “The Flight of the Eisenstein” by James Swallow– A cool premise that gets dragged out a couple hundred pages too long. Check out why I think so in this review.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4.5: “The Kaban Project” and Others– A few amazing short stories in this collection, especially “The Kaban Project,” which is awesome.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 5: “Fulgrim” by Graham McNeill– A dark, metal science fiction epic. It’s also surprisingly thoughtful at points. May be my favorite of the first 5+ books. See my review for why.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 6: “Descent of Angels” by Michael Scanlon– More of a science fantasy than I expected, this book reads like a Star Wars book.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 7: “Legion” by Dan Abnett– Was I confused by one of the most opaque legions? Probably. Read the review and tell me what you thought of this one.

Warhammer 40K Reviews

Microview: The “Eisenhorn” Trilogy– the books that got me into reading Warhammer fiction. I write a small review of why I enjoy them to this day.

Book Review: “Double Eagle” by Dan Abnett– Abnett is one of my favorite authors of Warhammer fiction, but I wasn’t thrilled by this one. Nevertheless, it remains a fan favorite for many. Read what problems I found with the book here.

Warhammer (Fantasy) Reviews

==Pending==

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1967

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1967 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 included a brief overview discussion of the year’s nominees at the beginning.

1967- I think this year’s nominees were one of the best so far. Whether we’re talking about the absolutely heart-rending Flowers for Algernon or the familiar-yet-otherworldly Day of the Minotaur, this was a great year. Even The Witches of Karres at least has value as understanding where later ideas developed from. Babel-17 made me realize I should go back and re-read some Delany novels, perhaps finding more enjoyment the second go-round. I liked Babel so much that I’m convinced I may have missed something. Somehow Heinlein gets another year of eligibility for The Moon… and wins? I don’t understand. It’s a fine novel, but I don’t think it needed to be brought in to compete with the others this year, and certainly some of the competition was better. Which did you like?

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany- Grade: A
Babel-17 is through-and-through a concept novel. I don’t know if that’s a real term, but its how I refer to books that have an idea that they’re about more than characters or a main plot. To be fair, Delany makes some interesting characters in this book, but they’re not what it’s about. What it’s about is language and how it may shape the way we think and act. Indeed, if we have no word for something like a computer or any of its components, how could we even begin to understand it? More abstractly, what if something like “nationalism” was an unknown term or concept? How would we relate to others and the space in which we live? These are some of the types of questions Delany asks in this fascinating piece of science fiction. I liked it enough I may actually go back for another try at his alleged magnum opus, Dhalgren, which I initially abandoned fairly early on. This is first rate idea-driven sci-fi.

Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann- Grade: B
Impressive for its prose, especially for its time, this novel is one of the earliest attempts (I read a few places it might be the earliest) to re-tell Greek myth for the modern audience. The downside to the novel is found in the times when a few anachronisms from the time in which it was written sneak in–yes, there are a few clear “flower child” type scenes, as well as a few cringe-worthy comments about women. On the flip side, it seems Thomas Burnett Swann was trying to subvert some of the latter through the narrative, which has women acting independently and with authority at times. Day of the Minotaur is also nearly lyrical in its prose, something that was not often attempted, to my knowledge, at the time. It’s a quick read that’s worth looking into for readers interested in mythical re-tellings.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (My Winner)- Grade: A
Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner)- Grade: B-
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 beautiful 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. Also, apparently it was eligible both in 1966 and in 1967?

The Witches of Karres by James M. Schmitz- Grade: C
How do you fairly evaluate a novel that seems like a possible precursor for many other ideas? The Witches of Karres has many of the elements later space operas would absorb, and the breadth of some of it is surprising. But it’s also… not very good. The ideas are there, but the execution is not. It reads about like what you would expect from an antiquated sci-fi adventure trying to grow beyond the bonds of the usual simplistic narrative. It’s admirable that the concept was developed here, but reading it for reasons other than history is not highly recommended.

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.

Babylon 5 Hub

Don’t mind us, just making an incredibly addicting space opera TV show.

I have been watching and enjoying Babylon 5 so much. I’ve had so much fun talking to longtime fans about the show, too. I realized as I have been watching the series and collecting the books and comic books that I’m planning this for the long haul. So I decided to make this post to be a kind of hub page to point to for all Babylon 5-related posts. Please do not post any SPOILERS on this page.

Plans For This Page

Many readers have already told me how much they enjoy my reflections on the episodes as I’ve been watching the series. I decided to trim the amount of episodes per reflection so I could talk more about them, because the show is so fantastic. Truly, I love it. Since starting the series, I have gone and grabbed all of the official canon novels, as well as the comic books online. I’ve gotten some related works, like a couple books about the whole series. I’m contemplating just gathering all the novels so that I have them because my collection feels incomplete without every single one. Basically, I’m obsessed. It’s a show that is basically captures what I want in a TV series as a huge sci-fi fan. I don’t have enough superlatives. 

Anyway, this page will collect links for all my B5 related content. For now, I’m on my first watch of the whole series, but I plan to re-watch it, read novels/comic books/related books, and give you all reviews and discussion as I go. I’m very excited for this, and hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

TV Series Reflections

Watching it for the First Time Reviews

Babylon 5: Season 1 Signs and Portents– My review of the first season, as I enthusiastically begin my first-ever watch of the show. I highlight some favorite episodes and share some thoughts on where I think it might go. From what other fans have told me, some of the my opinions (i.e. my thoughts on “Believers”) are off of the norm. I especially am surprised by how many people say they think Season 1 is weak. I adored it. I can already tell you season 2 is better, but for me, Season 1 was 5-star television already. 

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time- Season 2: Episodes 1-11– I split season 2 into two posts, and this is the first. Several episodes in this part of the series blew me away. GROPOS hit me hard with a relative’s health. Other episodes were impactful in other ways. It was fantastic.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time- Season 2: Episodes 12-22 The last half of season 2 has some huge reveals and some episodes that have perhaps even greater impact than when first filmed. Watching “Confessions and Lamentations” during the global COVID-19 Pandemic was surreal. “And Now For a Word” is just great television all around. Once again, a number of fantastic episodes, and I loved writing about them and hearing fans’ reflections on them, too.

Re-Watch Reflections

=Pending finishing the series=

In-Depth Episode Review(s)

“Passing Through Gethsemane” – Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity– I talk about the major religious themes in this fascinating piece of art. It may be the first time that TV has ever touched me on such a spiritual level.

Novel Reviews

=Pending Finishing the Series=

Comic Book Reviews

=Pending Finishing the Series=

Related Works Reviews

=Pending Finishing the Series=

Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Year of the Quiet Sun” by Wilson Tucker

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is over (it’s in January), but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop reading vintage sci-fi. After great response to my posts during January, I’ve decided to make it an ongoing feature to read and review individual vintage sci-fi books. As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like.

The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker

I like lists, so I’ve been reading through all the Hugo Award winners and nominees from the beginning. This brought me to The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker, an author whose work I’ve not read before. It’s about time travel. Time travel is difficult to do well, in my opinion. I’ve even written a piece on the problems I see in most time travel-related fiction. Basically, they tend to fall into the error of being historical fiction with some sci-fi trappings or going down the endless whirlpool of time travel paradoxes. Tucker completely avoids the first possible error and only touches the second. There will be SPOILERS in my discussion.

Basically, The Year of the Quiet Sun is a bleak story of the future. But there is much more going on in this pithy novel than that. Brian Chaney, a biblical scholar and demographer, is enlisted by Kathryn van Hise to go to the future in order to test a time travel machine. Chaney caused much controversy already in his publication of a midrash that predates the New Testament by a couple hundred years that appears to be the basis for the book of Revelation. That was a mistake. Now hated basically worldwide, he just wants a quiet life away from the public eye. Chaney and others are sent to see what the next election will foretell the current President. Such an act is so perfectly cynical in its political lack of finesse that it plays even better today than it ought. After all, who couldn’t see our current leadership using such a fantastic tool for such a short-sighted goal? 

Anyway, they find that the President did get re-elected while also viciously crushing a coup attempt. But when the characters go forward in time even farther, they discover apocalyptic war and societal breakdown, resulting in the death of one character and Chaney finding the base from which he’s traveled in disrepair. When he speaks with Kathryn, he notes all the horrible events and how the time travel project itself essentially presaged them. He asks how he gets the information back in time to prevent the awful future he now faces, and Kathryn points out that because the nuclear reactor is burned out, he cannot return. And here we find that Chaney is, in fact, a black man and due to various ways the wars played out, he is distrusted completely due to the color of his skin. Kathryn, we find, is the only one who won’t be terrified of him purely based on his race. And thus big reveal, coupled with his own plight, is where we readers are left, contemplating the horror of the whole scenario. 

The book isn’t flawless. It suffers from no small amount of misogyny. Women are mostly judged on their looks, and the word “cad” is used in a teasing light. Serial sexual harassment is funny, right? Wrong. Thankfully, this doesn’t become an overwhelming part of the narrative, though Kathryn never rises much above being a foil for Brian’s–and other characters’–fantasies. The *short) length and pacing of the novel are limiting factors. Leaving me wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the slow burn at the beginning of the book sparks and explodes into the climactic scenes so swiftly that I wish Tucker had developed the actual time traveling scenes more fully. The final plot twists came in a storm that had me flipping back several pages to see if I’d missed something.

The edition I purchased of the book includes an introduction to the work which features a lengthy quote from Tucker about the novel in which he states that others have found themes in the book he didn’t intend to include. He doesn’t discourage this, but instead rather modestly basks in the wonder of having created something people read and enjoy so much. It’s a neat moment, but having read the theme that he specifically talks about–water as a recurring event that cleanses throughout the book–I can’t help but see it as a major theme of the book! This, despite Tucker denying it! But that’s what makes this book so good, in my opinion. Something that makes it last. It is completely full to the gills of these themes. What exactly is meant by the Qumran Midrash–somewhat erroneously taken as a fictional account rather than commentary–in the book? The parallels with Revelation are telling, and the lake of fire being paralleled by the literal lake of radioactive fire that was Lake Michigan’s future is also spot on. Is the finding of an ancient text disproof of Christianity? Tucker doesn’t push that narrative and in fact seems to be urging more care given to reading ancient texts and, interestingly, texts about ancient texts. 

Then, the final twist: having Chaney revealed as a black man was surprising in many ways. First: it confronts readers about their assumptions. Yes, I assumed he was white because the book was written in the 70s as sci-fi. More to the point, I assumed he was white because I always assume main characters are like me. Intentional or not, this made me think about implicit bias and racism that can occur–something I’m clearly capable of being guilty of as much as anyone else. Second: the plot twist forces readers in to the uncomfortable position of thinking about their own racial fears. Third: it twists itself into circles because the black man is feared–exactly what is being confronted in America today and certainly no less so in the 70s when the book was written. It’s an ingenius twist that isn’t quite given enough time in the plot to stew and simmer. But that doesn’t take away its power. In fact, it may amplify it. The twist leaves readers with it as one of the final impressions in the novel and makes us think about it, discomfort and all.

The Year of the Quiet Sun is a somber, subtle read. It requires attention to details and searching for meaning. Tucker filled this book to the brim and overflowing with themes–intentional or not–that demand reading and re-reading and careful reflection. For this, I would consider it a masterpiece-level work. It calls for reflection. Read the book, please! Go! Do so! And do it with an open mind, ready to reflect. This isn’t a “fun read,” but it’s a great one.

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!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

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 12-22

My Feels Exactly

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 12-22. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

Acts of Sacrifice- “When you have been crushed beneath the wheel for as long as we have, revenge occupies your every waking thought” = G’Kar. That’s a powerful moment in the show, and indeed in the series, so far. Contrasted with Mollari, who is clearly becoming lonely as his actions and those of his people ostracize many others on Babylon 5, the plight of G’Kar is even more pronounced. But is it possible–I don’t know, having never seen the series before–that Mollari will see redemption at some point? The title, could it hint at a future act of sacrifice Mollari must make to abandon the horrors of his people, or at least the hawklike faction that has taken over? Perhaps the title also pokes fun at Ivanova’s own act of sacrifice as she is relentlessly pursued by a creepy alien who sees humans as an ‘inferior’ race but nevertheless wants to mate with one. That side-story was the comedic value for what is otherwise a deeply serious and even disturbing central thread.

Hunter, Prey- Here we see some intrigue on the Earth Alliance front as it turns out the VP wasn’t on the President’s ship when it blew up. Of course, that’s the big reveal here, though we learn some more about the Vorlon (they have weird ships that are alive?) than we did before as well. Sneaking out the fugitive on the ambassador’s ship was fun, though somewhat predictable even from early on in the episode. 

 There All the Honor Lies- Sheridan is accused of murder, and seeing how they clear him is interesting. I especially enjoyed the scene with Kosh and the “one moment of perfect beauty.” Otherwise, establishing that the Minbari are more complex than they have been presented so far was a big win for the episode and series. I loved the merchandising side-story and the thing at the end with the Sheridan bear was just perfect.

And Now for a Word- I think this might be my favorite episode so far, largely because they so cleverly use the format. The ad with the subliminal messaging “Trust the Psi Corps; The Psi Corps is Your Friend” was so on-point for the series so far and just contributed to the overall cheesiness–intentional–of the episode. You can tell everyone had a ton of fun with this episode, but that doesn’t do justice to just how serious the core plot is, as the Centauri/Narn conflict continues to escalate, centered around Babylon 5. Definitely among the great episodes of the excellent series.

In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum- Sheridan is a bit more hot-headed than our previous commander, as this episode shows. He imprisons a man with very little cause (definitely illegally, at that) because he finds that he may have information about his late wife. Of course, that man happens to also be the weird guy with attachments to the Shadows that Mollari has had so much success–and trouble–with. Morden, the man, is also a danger to everyone, and so many try to intervene, ultimately leading to Sheridan (and we, the viewers) learning more about the history of the universe and the First Ones. The Nightwatch seems like clear scum, but we see Zack, a minor side character, has joined them for some extra money. I don’t imagine that will go well. This episode feels more like set up than anything else. Also, Sheridan saying Girabaldi was right and he was wrong seems like a lie from Sheridan, which makes the latter even more interesting.

Knives- I adored the opening of this one with the Centauri opera. Most of this episode seems like a one-off, but the twist of Mollari taking out his compatriot in order to save his honor was a good twist. Mollari as heel is becoming more and more compelling. 

Confessions and Lamentations- Watching this episode in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was tough. The scene with the Minbari meal and Sheridan was fantastic and funny. I was very unprepared for the fact that they basically just blow away an entire civilization in this episode, however. I mean seriously, we just see these Markab just here and there, and suddenly this disease wipes their civilization out. Boom, gone. It’s just a stunning moment in the show. And its overlaid with some idiots at the bar talking about conspiracy theories, which hit so close to home right now as well. “Nothing changes.” That’s right.

Just a well-adjusted, normal family!

Divided Loyalties- Winters is a plant, and I couldn’t believe it. After we saw her betray the Psi Corps in the last round, it turns out she was an agent the whole time and this spells all kinds of nefariousness about the Psi Corps. I loved it. 

The Long, Twilight Struggle- Babylon 5 is an unparalleled epic. This episode proves that yet again as we have a totally awesome space battle. Then, we see Mollari, who has continued a dark journey, looking out from the side of a Centuari ship as he oversees the bombardment of the Narn homeworld, blasting it to oblivion. It’s a horrible moment for a character I adored in the first season. Is it possible to have redemption from this? Then, following that, we get a speech from G’Kar that is absolutely fantastic: “No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years . . . we will be free.” Wow

Comes the Inquisitor- I felt this episode was mostly setup. One of those episodes I may look back on and think it was extremely important, but in the moment it was merely okay. The stakes weren’t super high because it seems a given that our mains will survive the encounter with this random guy from the 1800s. It’s a fine episode but nothing too special.

The Fall of Night- I knew the Nightwatch was garbage! And Zack pays for his alliance with them in guilt, big time. Sheridan gives a Narn vessel sanctuary on Babylon 5 and does what he wants with legal precedence to get away with it, in the end. Sheridan survives an assassination attempt because apparently the Vorlon are angels. The Centauri-Earth alliance begins, somehow, and this seems like an obviously awful thing going forward into the next season. And, at last, we see the Shadows get revealed to the broader galaxy.

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.

“The Night Sessions” by Ken MacLeod – Reading the British Science Fiction Association Awards – 2008

I continue to search for ways to expand my sci-fi/fantasy reading, and decided that alongside my Hugo Award list I’d start reading the winners of the British Science Fiction Association Award. I’m not reading them in any particular order, just as whatever strikes my fancy.

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

I cannot adequately describe how much I adored this book. It basically has everything that I love mashed into one fantastic plot. There are robots/AI, there is a murder mystery in a sci-fi setting, there are deep explorations of faith and religion, alongside questions of church/state relations. MacLeod demonstrates surprising insight and understanding of creationist movements as well, such that I, with my background as a young earth creationist (now a theistic evolutionist/evolutionary creationist, depending on which terminology you prefer), was totally engrossed from the get-go. MacLeod wrote a book with some insanely niche interest focus to it, but that niche happens to be basically me, and 100% me. And I could not put this down.

The plot is fantastic. It is engrossing. It starts off with a murder of a priest, and this is a problem because Earth has had some massive religious wars (The Faith Wars, of which it seems 9/11 was just the beginning) that has led to some radically different ways of dealing with religion generally in different countries. Where we are in this book, Edinburgh, Scotland, the way it is dealt with is by keeping intense separation of church and state, such that people’s religious backgrounds aren’t really even allowed to be referenced in official government inquiries (which leads to some awkward discussions about people’s titles and what they mean as our detective hero and AI bot pal go about their investigation).

We follow Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson as he investigates these murders. He’s a deep character, with antipathy towards religion–especially fundamentalism–while also carrying his own shame from how he helped brutally suppress religion during the Faith Wars. It is this latter aspect that truly adds to the complexity of character as well as the complexity of the plot. Some may see the premise of this book and dismiss it as an anti-religious propaganda piece. Others might actually see the premise and go the other way. But what MacLeod does here is balances these two extremes of anti- and pro-religion and shows how it is ideology, the type of ideology that matters. When religion is bent to extremism that leads to violence, that is a terrible thing. But the violence of the Nation State is itself a damaging, harmful thing. The complexity is woven throughout the fabric of a plot that is never compromised for the sake of an agenda.

There is so much happening in this book, and MacLeod shows immense talent for both breadth and depth of intensely important topics. The book ultimately plays out as a condemnation of fundamentalism of any sort–whether religious or not–and does so in ways that are intensely, deeply human despite sometimes playing out through AI controlled robots. Throughout the work there are questions related to creationism, church-state relations, and the deep psychological harm that can be done by violent acts–even ones that one believes were justified. The Night Sessions is a superb work that stands as one of my all-time favorites. I very highly recommend it.

SDG.

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 along as I read every Hugo Award winner and nominee! Sci-fi/fantasy is the name of the game.

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.

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.