Five for Friday: Let’s talk 5 random books! – March 15, 2019

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This random mix was actually what was nearest at hand on my shelf, though I was already carrying the Bonhoeffer book to bring downstairs to read.

The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel (1998)
I got this out of a Scholastic catalog at school and adored it so, so much. It was one of the first books that truly opened my eyes to the wonders of fantasy, making me realize more lay beyond Narnia (which are, of course, excellent books). I was desperate for a sequel when I finished. To be fair, the book is basically stand-alone, but a sequel did come out in 2011. I have it sitting on my shelf, afraid to read it because I adored this book so much. I re-read it as an adult and it still enthralled me. Were you blessed by running into this novel at a young age? Anyone read the sequel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Berlin 1932-1933 Readers of my other site will know I’m a bit of a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis. I have been reading through his collected works, trying to match them up chronologically as I go. Excited to dive in. Any other Bonhoeffer fans?

Titan, A.E.: Akima’s Story by Kevin J. Anderson (2000)
Titan, A.E. is one of my all-time favorite movies and is, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated on sci-fi lists. A few years back I learned Kevin J. Anderson wrote a couple novels in the universe to set the story, but again, have been afraid to dive in. Anyone read this prequel to the film? Enjoy it?

“S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013)
Saw a coworker reading this right when it came out and thought it looked really interesting. Then, got it for a gift at Christmas out of the blue! But I’ve never managed to bite the bullet and take it up and read. The concept is what intrigues me: multiple readers scrawling notes in the margins to put together a mystery for you, the actual reader. It fascinates me. I’m curious as to others’ opinions.

The Night Lords Omnibus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
A collection of three novels and some stories from the Warhammer 40k universe. Deal with it. I love this fictional setting. It’s grimdark and awesome. I’ve only read the first novel so far and felt a little bit lukewarm about it. I’ve only heard great things from fans, though, so I may take it up again, though I probably need to re-read the first one.

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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.

Star Wars: The Expanded Universe Read-Through “Dark Apprentice” by Kevin J. Anderson

sw-da-kjaI 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, Luke Skywalker continues his quest to found a new Jedi Academy in Dark Apprentice, the second book of the Jedi Academy trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Dark Apprentice

There are two huge problems with this book, and they are largely interlinked. The first is that major characters act extremely out of character a number of times. The most telling example of this is when Han finds out Leia has been in an accident and his first reaction is to gamble with Lando Calrissian for who owns the Millennium Falcon. What? That seriously happened!

The second problem is that there is a whole lot of filler in this book. Unlike Jedi Search, which had a tight narrative that kept the action going, Dark Apprentice has heaping helpings of scenes where the characters do little other than wander around. Case in point: Jacen and Jaina Solo get lost and wander all around Coruscant while Chewbacca and C-3PO scurry around trying to figure out what to do. Once more, this also demonstrates characters acting out of character. It is unthinkable that C-3PO would fail to follow protocol so obviously (he’s a protocol droid!) and that Chewbacca would refuse to do all he could (i.e. notify the authorities) to save the children of them an to whom he owes a life-debt. Going back to the example of gambling above, an inordinate amount of time is spent with Lando and Han going back and forth on who owns the Falcon and gambling away time. These two problems are severe, and make Dark Apprentice feel very much like an in-between book, just taking up space rather than moving the narrative forward.

On the other hand, Anderson does a better job in this book of developing more of the side characters. Notable examples are Kyp Durron and Admiral Ackbar, who each get enough development to feel more real than they did before. However, even Durron is shorted time in the spotlight due to the aforementioned filler material.

The plot of Dark Apprentice feels very much like a placeholder as well. Yes, the development of Durron and his seemingly swift fall to the Dark Side was interesting, but it happened so fast that it was difficult to get into it as much as I wanted to. Other than that, little seemed to happen. A few plot twists were thrown in, and the setting up of Ackbar to take a fall in order to try to split the New Republic was the best moment of the novel. These moments of brilliance make the amount of silliness harder to swallow. It’s one thing to have scenes that resonate with the “fun” of the Star Wars universe, but it is another to do so at the cost of the overall plot.

Dark Apprentice is a filler book. It is particularly frustrating to read this one following the excellent Jedi Search. It feels like so much more could have been done with the plot and characters. Unfortunately, there were too many tough-to-swallow moments.

The Good

+Side characters get chances to shine

The Bad

-Out-of-character behavior
-Lots of filler
-Too-swift development of major plot points

Best Droid Moment

C-3PO losing track of the twins and worrying about getting dismantled

Grade: C- “I expected more after the first entry. ‘Dark Apprentice’ has too little going on to make it a suitable follow up to ‘Jedi Search.'”

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: “Jedi Search” by Kevin J. Anderson

Jedi-SearchI 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. Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson is the next up, and it is book one of The Jedi Academy Trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Jedi Search

I’ll admit it: I remembered effectively nothing of this book. It came out right as I got into reading Star Wars books (I feel lucky to have largely grown up on the Expanded Universe) and after the Thrawn Trilogy, I picked up The Courtship of Princess Leia and went on from there. It’s been over 20 years since I read this one the first time, so it felt almost entirely fresh.

I’m glad it did. Jedi Search was a fun ride. First, there are several scenes in this book that are distinctively “Star Wars” in their feel. Unlike Star Trek (which I also love, just see my ongoing series of TNG reviews), which tends to at least attempt to be serious and scientific in its approach to the world, Star Wars has always been something of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of adventure. Indeed, adventure is probably the best word for what Star Wars excels at, though the word itself is overused. In Jedi Search, the sheer fun of many of the scenes was incredible. Luke’s recruiting of various potential Jedi was noteworthy–particularly his fight against a lava dragon-worm. However, the best scene was Lando Calrissian’s own attempt to recruit a potential Jedi, which began with him watching a truly hilarious race of jelly-like blobs and ended with Lando in a shootout at the blob corral. Seriously! That was a genius scene, and it was just the kind of wild fun that makes Star Wars shine. I’m still smiling about it.

Kevin J. Anderson also makes great use of the droids. They are characters again! After reading the otherwise excellent “The Han Solo Trilogy,” I felt like droids barely had personalities any more. Here, they’re back and shining throughout (both literally and figuratively). Additionally, the main characters each have chances to shine, including a wonderful scene in which Leia chastises a politician for daring to suggest she ought to effectively abandon her children due to “more important” matters with politics. A real, genuine sense of balance between parenting and career is difficult, and having such a scene helped convey that.

The main plot of the book is well-done also. It could have simply been left to Luke looking for more potential Jedi, but throwing in an increasing Imperial threat was a good idea. The “Sun Crusher” might end up as basically a third Death Star type of thing (where have I heard that complaint before [The Force Awakens]?), but I don’t mind it very much. It does seem a little bit blown out of proportion power-to-size, but it’s not inconsistent with the effectively magical universe of Star Wars.

What is problematic here is what I’ve noticed before in the other EU books: too many things are too convenient. Luke decides he wants to train more Jedi, and look! Wedge Antilles happens to dig up a Jedi-detecting-device! Wow, what a coincidence! Oh yeah, but that might not be easy enough, so Luke discovers he can just probe minds at a certain point and that also detects Jedi! What luck! Hey–there are a bunch of angry Imperials out there with an insanely powerful super-weapon. Han, Chewbacca, and Kyp Durron (a newly discovered recruit) manage to escape from imprisonment in spice mines and run into them! How grand! This kind of thing happens a lot through the book, in case you couldn’t tell, and it takes away from the overall feel of the book. Side characters also get little by way of development and often feel merely invented for the sake of having more characters than they do full-bodied contributions to the plot.

Jedi Search is certainly a worthy entry in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it reminded me of why I read Star Wars books to begin with. As I’m re-reading the Expanded Universe, I’m struck by how consistently good the books have been so far. Some time ago I weeded out a bunch of the books I thought weren’t that great, so part of that is selection effect, but I’m enjoying this journey immensely.

The Good

+Extremely fun scenes
+Excellent use of main characters
+Good overall plot

The Bad

-Too-convenient solutions at points
-Little development of side characters

Best Droid Moment

R2-D2 and C-3PO each have any number of great moments, but the best was probably when R2-D2 pretended to be a cleaning droid and took down a crook

Grade: A “A fun jaunt in the Star Wars universe with a solid plot. Can’t ask for much more from a Star Wars book.”

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.