Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through “Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil”

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

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil starts yet another ten years after the previous entry, Rule of Two (which itself started 10 years after the first, Path of Destruction). Bane is beginning to have concerns about his apprentice, Zannah, who has yet to challenge him to combat despite his own belief that she ought to have done so by now–and his suspicion that she may even be able to best him. He is also pursuing the path to possible immortality from a lost Sith document that will give him time to find a new apprentice and destroy Zannah, if needed. Meanwhile, Zannah is making strides of her own, plotting to take on her own apprentice, a rogue Jedi named Set, while pursuing the mission Bane sent her on offworld. Bane is captured by the vengeful daughter of Caleb, the healer Bane threatened in order to be helped. He escapes with help from a former compatriot in the Sith army, and goes to confront Zannah at last. Set takes some valuable Sith artifacts and escapes, hoping to learn about immortality on his own, while Bane moves to confront Zannah. The Huntress, an assassin has pledged to become Zannah’s new apprentice if she defeats Bane. During the battle, Bane appears to have been defeated, but at the end it seems he has simply taken over Zannah’s body in his pursuit of immortality, and he takes on the Huntress as his (possibly) unwitting apprentice.

I have to say, this is a phenomenal conclusion to an excellent plot arc in the Star Wars expanded universe. Karpyshyn has written a work that can truly stand on its own without the Star Wars license, but as he did in the previous entries, he wisely uses that license to improve the work rather than as a crutch. Dynasty of Evil is fast-paced, intense, and absolutely full of twists and turns that kept me guessing–0r at least anticipating–through the last page. The action scenes remain quite strong, but more importantly, Karpyshyn’s character writing continues to exceed expectations. There is no doubt that Bane and Zannah are evil characters, but the motivations, plotting, and the like that they do is every bit as realistic as more complex “good guys.” They aren’t just evil ogres; they are characters that easily stand on their own.

Tying in the continued pursuit of ancient Sith artifacts to the story is really just icing on the cake. There’s a sense of history and depth in this book and the rest of the series that isn’t always present in the Star Wars universe.

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil is a fantastic conclusion to a superb trilogy set within the Star Wars universe. It is highly recommended reading, and could easily stand on its own as a great work.

The Good

+Intriguing characters
+Great action scenes
+Excellent pacing
+Open-ended but satisfying conclusion

The Bad

-None

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A+ “A stirring success as the conclusion to one of the better complete story arcs in the EU.”

Links

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

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

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

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

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through “Darth Bane: Rule of Two” by Drew Karpyshyn

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

Darth Bane: Rule of Two

Darth Bane: Rule of Two picks up 10 years after the events of Path of Destruction with Bane teaching his apprentice, Zannah. Zannah has become a powerful ally, but due to Bane’s own teaching about the way of the Sith, she is also becoming more and more a rival and possible enemy to Bane. Zannah has begun looking for her own apprentice, seeking to perpetuate the Rule of Two–that there ought always and ever only be one master and one apprentice of the Sith, the master to teach, the student to try to overthrow. She uses this quest to test Bane’s strength but also to gather more forbidden Sith knowledge through collecting manuscripts from those she manipulates. In a battle with some Jedi, Bane is brutally wounded and forces a healer, Caleb, to care for him. Zannah protects her master rather than killing him in his weakened state because she’s decided she still has more to learn from Bane.

The plot of this entry isn’t quite as tightly woven as that of Path of Destruction. It meanders a bit, throwing Zannah all over the galaxy while the eponymous Bane falls into the background. That’s unfortunate, because Karpyshyn had made Bane into such a dynamic character in the previous entry. The portrayals of Bane when he does show up, as well as the development of Zannah, remain quite strong and are probably the highlight of the book. Karpyshyn has truly presented some of the most interesting evil characters I’ve run into this side of Robin Hobb.

The action scenes, when they happen, remain intense, and Karpyshyn deftly writes lightsaber battles that are easy to visualize and pulse-poundingly exciting. It’s not easy to write action scenes, as I’ve discovered myself, so this is another highlight of the book. Another difficulty is the rather ho-hum feeling of the tying off point. The tension at the beginning as Zannah apparently sought to betray Bane by finding her own apprentice fades away and we are left with Bane and Zannah effectively in the same position as they were in the previous book: master with much to teach, apprentice waiting to learn.

Darth Bane: Rule of Two is a good entry in what is already a great part of the Expanded Universe. Although it does drag occasionally and it feels very much like a middle entry in a series, the tone and characterization are enough to make it a worthy entry in the Star Wars universe.

The Good

+Excellent characters
+Good action scenes
+Theme and tone

The Bad

-Not as tightly plotted as previous entry
-Feels very much like a “middle” book

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A- “It doesn’t live up to the stunning success of the previous entry, but it keeps the story going and the theme well enough to deserve its place.”

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #16-20 scores and comments

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

16. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Grade: A-
“As interesting for its historical context as it is for the plot that fills the pages, The Forever War is speculative fiction to the extreme. What happens ‘back home’ while soldiers are off at war? Who changes more: the soldiers or those sent to protect them? When will wars end and why? Haldeman constructed a classic. My main complaint is that for all of its grand speculation, the core of the plot is somewhat lackluster compared to later, similar efforts.”

17. Brave New World by Alduous Huxley A-
“Full of chilling moments of utter carelessness, Huxley’s book is eerily prophetic while remaining utterly ‘other.’ It has a sense of foreboding strangeness about it that I cannot shake off. Better than a lot of dystopias that have come out since.”

18. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells Grade: B
The Time Machine is a great read told in a somewhat archaic style. I enjoyed the interplay of fiction and speculation about philosophy. The main complaint against it is, again, the delivery, which is almost entirely a monologue of one person telling everyone else what happened.”

19. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: A
“I saw the SyFy [*shudders at spelling*] miniseries before I read this book. I liked the series quite a bit, and the book was even better. It’s unexpected and haunting. It is bleak. It questions everything. An excellent work, that challenges raders to think about what it means to have hope in humanity–or not.”

20. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein 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.”

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

-Somewhat simplistic solutions to problems

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

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

Links

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

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through: “Tales of the Bounty Hunters” edited by Kevin J. Anderson

sw-tobhI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Tales of the Bounty Hunters, a collection of stories about the bounty hunters that show up in some way or another in The Empire Strikes Back. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters

First, what is inside this book? It’s a collection of stories from each of the bounty hunters that shows up to get assigned by Darth Vader to hunt down Han Solo, basically providing background for each of them. The tales are, “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88” by Kevin J. Anderson (IG-88 is an assassin droid, not pictured); “Payback: The Tale of Dengar” by Dave Wolverton (Dengar is the older looking man); “The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk” by Kathy Tyers (Bossk is the reptilian… thing on the front); “Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM” by M. Shayne Bell (they are the insectoid looking thing and droid); and “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” by Daniel Keys Moran (it’s Boba Fett, come on). I adored this book when I first read it when it came out. I was maybe 10 years old. 11? Anyway… how was it on the re-read?

The quality of the stories is variable, with some being particularly good and others being middling or below average. Let’s just go over them. IG-88’s story is full of action and has a massive scope, as is typical of Kevin J. Anderson adaptations (see his Dune books, which I frankly enjoyed quite a bit… deal with it). It also has major plot holes and difficulties that are too easily resolved, a problem that surfaced in his Jedi Academy trilogy as well. It’s not a bad story, but the sheer speed by which the droids manage to take over is surprising, as well as the immediate galaxy-threatening intensity. The tie-in to the movie by having IG-88 in one form take over the Second Death Star without anyone realizing it was a stretch.

Dengar’s story was neat and provided some background for how Boba Fett could survive, so it wins major extra credit points in my book, because I love Boba Fett. It also has some cool look at the insidious nature of the Empire, which is appreciated. Kathy Tyers’ look at Bossk… wow! That was a lot darker than I expected to find in a Star Wars book. Tyers is an ultra-talented writer who penned the fabulous Firebird series (see my reviews). This story really showed her range as she wrote about a somewhat disturbing reptile whose goal is to skin a Wookie and wear its pelt. Yucky. Very well done story, though.

The tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM was also pretty neat. I liked the idea of a kind of transcendental meditation idea crossing over into Star Wars (which has, in the EU, explored a lot about religion, even if it does so obliquely). It has a bit of Dune influence as well. The tale of Boba Fett… well… I wanted to love it. I remember as a kid being blown away by it. But there’s not really that much there. It was kind of a let down, and I think that was in part because I had some huge and kind of unrealistic expectations for it. It wasn’t bad… it just didn’t match up to what I’d remembered it as, which turns out to largely be a lot of imagined additional fanfic in my head that I assigned to that short story.

So we have a somewhat uneven but overall good collection of stories here. I think the Zuckus+4-LOM/Bossk ones are worth the price of entry on their own. IG-88 was fun but way overdone. The other two were decent but not great. The best part was how they all tied back into the films in one way or another, but this also lead to some unnecessarily open-ended conclusions that didn’t so much leave me wanting more as it did leave me disappointed.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters is a good read. I look forward to reading the other “Tales of…” collections.

The Good

+Good background for each bounty hunter
+Darker tone shows depth of Star Wars possibilities

The Bad

-Unresolved storylines at points
-Too ambitious/easily resolved plots in some

Best Droid Moment

IG-88’s utter self-confidence getting wrecked at the end of his story as we know the Death Star blows up.

Grade: C+ “A somewhat inconsistent quality level of stories mars a good collection of rather dark (for Star Wars) stories.”

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.