MantiCon 2015: After-Action Report (David Weber, Timothy Zahn, Eric Flint, + More!)

Dreams do come true. Here I am with my new Treecat (name pending) and David Weber!

Dreams do come true. Here I am with my new Treecat (name pending) and David Weber!

I spent Memorial Day Weekend having the absolute time of my life at a science fiction convention, MantiCon 2015. It was the inaugural MantiCon, a convention based on the universes of author David Weber. Weber, Timothy Zahn, Eric Flint, Joelle Presby, and other authors were in attendance. It was the most fun I’ve had in some time!

Overview

When I first arrived, the events hadn’t started yet, so I scoped out the rooms and the fan tables (AKA places with everything I wanted to buy). After I bought some sweet stuff (a lanyard, a Grayson Space Navy patch, and a War Officer’s pin), I went to the “Meet the Authors” session, then the Opening ceremony. After that, it was a string of sessions, meeting authors, and chatting science fiction with other excited people. Here, I’ll go over a few sessions and some cool stuff.

Sessions

Women in Science Fiction

I went to the panel on women in science fiction and the discussion was broad, but deep. We discussed things like whether the concept of a “strong female lead” is actually helpful in forwarding equality of the sexes, the notion of a “strong” character in general, the notion of women as “background” rather than characters in science fiction, favorite women in science fiction, and more. It was a fast-moving panel and it was clear that all the panelists had different perspectives that were each valued and mutually overlapping without being contradicting each other. Panels like this need to keep happening until we get to the point that we don’t need them any more.

Kinetic & Energy Weapons

This was one of several more technical sessions I went to and it was exciting. The speaker talked about some of the ways science fiction weapons are being adapted now, along with theoretical and mathematical data to talk about weapons in science fiction. It was  fun and more interesting than I thought it would be. Lots of thought goes into weapons development–even of the fictional variety!

Getting your Dream Job

I had the pleasure of going to a session that was basically about getting to be an author. It turned largely into a Q+A with me asking the questions because no one else was asking any. Several people told me after I was asking the questions they would have liked to but couldn’t think of them. I was pleased to help others–and myself–learn more about writing and becoming an author. Now to pound the keyboard to pulp cranking out some books!

Authors

Weber Q&As

David Weber outlined his publishing schedule, talked about his plans for where he wants to take various series, and took a number of questions. He was extremely gracious, and his answers were informative and interesting. One of the main themes of both of the Q&A sessions I went to was that his goal at this point in his life is to try to finish the series he has going right now. He said he wants to make sure his fans get to read the endings and get closure. Of course this means that he won’t be able to write the million other series he has just floating around in his head. He told us about one that sounded awesome but it was historical fiction and he felt he just won’t have time to get into it, unless he lives for 90+ years.

I was glad to hear that it sounds like he’ll be wrapping up the main Honor Harrington storyline within a couple books. He might even write more later about the Alignment and other issues, but again his goal is to try to tie as many loose ends as he can. It sounds like he’s going to really explore the universe a bunch more with the offshoot series once he’s done with the main Honor books.

Safehold! Safehold! I was pretty excited to hear him say that after the one coming up (Hell’s Foundations Quiver) and the one after that, we’ll have some kind of time jump ahead. Again, it sounds like we’re going to get this series wrapped up within 10 years or so, with books coming out all the time. To me, that’s an awesome thing. I can’t wait for more. I’m a huge fan of the Safehold series.

He also talked about many other series he’s working on and his plans for wrapping them up. It sounds like his fantasy series (starting with War God’s Own)–one I haven’t read yet–is wrapped up, but had some loose ends that he is going to write somewhere around four books to finish. His Multiverse series is going to start once more after a decade-long hiatus. Other series may see returns and completion as well. Weber was clearly dedicated to trying to wrap up as many stories he’s telling as he can. I think this is a very kind thing for an author to do, and Weber is a pretty awesome guy!

I had a chance at a few of the signings to ask questions, and one was to ask what his favorite hymn is. His Safehold series has had either hymn titles or lines of hymns as titles for all but the first book, and he’s a Methodist lay minister, so I was wondering what his favorite was. It was “Amazing Grace,” which was also my grandpa’s favorite hymn (my Grandpa was a Methodist minister)! I told him he should title the last book of the Safehold series Amazing Grace. It would be awesome if he did.

Timothy-ZahnTimothy Zahn Q&A

Zahn talked Star Wars and his thoughts about the upcoming movie, which was largely “I will go see it, but I’m not sure if it will be good.” He also talked about whether he might write Star Wars again (seems unlikely) and the possibility of whether they will wrap up the Expanded Universe–everyone hopes so.

After that, it was discussion of many of his series and what he’s going to do with them. He has some more Cobra books coming out, a few ideas for a Young Adult series, and many ideas for more in various universes he’s written. I am not as familiar with some of these, because I read pretty much everything by Zahn but I did so 15 or more years ago. Thus, it’s hard to remember anything. I’ve decided to go back through Zahn’s corpus though. It’s been too long since I read his stuff.

Swag

Got some pretty cool T-shirts at the vender tables, including both a Royal Manticoran Navy and Grayson Space Navy shirt. But the pride and joy of my MantiCon experience (apart from my loads of autographed books) was to get, at last, a Treecat! They had just 25 available and announced them at the opening ceremony, so I pretty much ran to the store they were going to be available and got one!

Conclusion

I can’t emphasize enough how much fun MantiCon 2015 was. It really solidified in me the notion that I want to be a science fiction author, but more than that, it was an absolutely awesome time. How often do you get the chance to hang out with hundreds of people with the same interests you have, talking about science fiction? Not often enough, I tell ya. Moreover, the authors were all extremely gracious and frankly amiable. It was a great lineup of guests and they were very kind. Here’s hoping MantiCon 2016 will happen, and be somewhere close to me!

SDG.

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Star Wars: EU Read-Through – “The Last Command” by Timothy Zahn

tlc-zahnI 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, I look at The Last Command by Timothy Zahn.

The Last Command

Does the conclusion of the Thrawn Trilogy live up to the opening works’ potential? I’d say it certainly does.

As the Empire’s forces continue to push back those of the New Republic–both through the activity of Crazed “Jedi” C’Baoth and the strategy of Thrawn–Luke and others work to keep politics from overthrowing the republic they’re building up.

The action is effectively constant, and Zahn does a great job interweaving plot into what is effectively an almost 500-page action novel. What Zahn continues to do masterfully is portray characters aside from the “Big 3” (Leia, Han, and Luke) in realistic ways. Karrde and Mara Jade are fully realized characters, and Thrawn himself once more appears to be just as much the strategic mastermind as we have been told to expect.

One area the book really excels in is this latter thing–conveying strategy during battle. The former two books do have some interesting battles, but Thrawn’s blockade of Coruscant with asteroids seems particularly devious, and his use of cloaked cruisers to make it seem like he can shoot through planetary shields was also delightfully tricky.

The ending is perhaps the biggest pitfall of the book. Yes, it does wrap up quite a bit and also–as is typical in the Star Wars EU–opens up a horde of new possibilities for later stories, but it feels incredibly rushed. The last 10 pages happen all at once in a flurry of plot-wrapping that is not disappointing but still feels as though it could have gone on for about three times as long.

As with the previous books–but not so pointed as in Dark Force Rising–some events seem to occur in all-too-convenient ways. Characters show up at just the right (or wrong) times and places to push the plot forward, and this sometimes pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief.

All that said, however, The Last Command is an epic ending to a fantastic trilogy which really pushed the Expanded Universe into existence. These books are revered as much for nostalgia as they are for being great, but it is their strong readability and the way Zahn masterfully brings forth realistic characters that make them endure.

The Good

+Unique locales which are all fully realized
+Interesting battle sequences, paired with a strong sense of Thrawn’s tactical prowess
+Good character building across the board

The Bad

-A few all-too-convenient moments, again
-Abrupt ending

Best Droid Moment

R2-D2 attempting to travel through the forest on Wayland. A good reminder that the Prequel Trilogy with R2-D2’s Iron Man upgrades, crazy Yoda, and Jar Jar don’t exist.

Grade: A “A great conclusion to a fantastic series.”

Conclusion

When trying to think of the grade for this book, I tried to best take into account its place both in my heart and in the broader scheme of the Star Wars universe. There’s no way to avoid one’s own nostalgia, but I also think the book, like the rest of the trilogy, represents one of the better entries of the Star Wars universe. So far, my journey through the EU has been great, with very little to disappoint. We’ll see if that continues as I move on!

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: EU Read-Through “Dark Force Rising” by Timothy Zahn

dfr-zahnI 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, I look at Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn.

Dark Force Rising

Here we are at the midway point of the famed “Thrawn Trilogy.” Does it continue to hold up as well as the first, Heir to the Empire?

In the book, the primary thrust is Thrawn’s–and the Empire’s–search for new ships, which comes to be focused on the “Dark Force”–a mysterious, missing fleet of Dreadnoughts. As the race is on to find where these ships are, Princess Leia travels to the Noghri homeworld and discovers the great injustices that have been dealt to this alien people.

What Zahn perhaps does best of all is the introduction and fleshing out of numerous secondary characters like the Noghri, Senator Bel Iblis, Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and more. These characters each have intriguing backgrounds and are genuinely deeply important to the story. This is something I recall not happening in all the Star Wars books as secondary characters are often little more than window dressing for the main characters’ struggles. Here, however, readers are freely introduced to a wonderful cast of characters who have motivations, insights, and their own struggles to go along with those of the main characters like Luke, Han, and Leia.

The Noghri and their planet,  Honoghr, are the other central part of the plot, and Leia’s interactions there are both interesting and true to her character. Zahn did an excellent job setting up this world and its inhabitants as a stage for current and future conflict. Like Kashyyk in Heir to the Empire, Honoghr seems like a fleshed out world rather than a mere stage for events.

Thrawn in this book continues to be an interesting character, but his tactical genius seems to be slipping. The assumptions he made related to the Noghri ended up being mistaken, which is surprising given how much Zahn had previously emphasized his cultural intuition by means of studying the artworks of various peoples. However, this may not be a bad thing as it is clear Thrawn needs to have some weakness, and the most believable one is almost certainly that he would out-think himself.

The biggest problem in the book is, like the first, the rather large number of awfully “convenient” circumstances. Here, however, it is the existence of the “Dark Force”which suddenly everyone knows about and is interested in. Lando, Karrde, Thrawn, and others all have some knowledge about this fleet. Now this isn’t absolutely extraordinary, but what is extraordinary is that after all this time, more than one person just happens to show up who knows where the fleet is, just when the Empire is looking for new ships. It’s just a little too much.

The Good

+Good development of worlds
+Intriguing character development
+The Noghri are a complex, interesting species with great background
+Continued emphasis on secondary characters gives depth to the universe

The Bad

-A bit too convenient that everyone suddenly has inside information
-Thrawn doesn’t seem quite so much a genius as he did before (perhaps this will end up being a good thing)

Best Droid Moment

It’s kind of hard to think of one because there weren’t too many, but I did enjoy R2-D2’s attempt to fight alongside Luke.

Grade: A- “Another great installment by Zahn.”

Conclusion

Dark Force Rising isn’t as flawless as Heir to the Empire, but continued focus on secondary characters, great world-building, and fast-paced action still make it among the cream of the crop for Star Wars books.

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: EU Read-Through- “Heir to the Empire” by Timothy Zahn

The main guy on the cover (with lightning fingers) occupies about 10 pages of the book. Weird.

The main guy on the cover (with lightning fingers) occupies about 10 pages of the book. Weird.

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. Here, I look at Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn.

Heir to the Empire

Well, here it is folks, the beloved Thrawn trilogy. I remember vividly checking this book out of the library some 17 years ago or so and then absolutely devouring it. But that was a long time ago. Does it hold up now?

Short answer: yes.

Timothy Zahn has gone down as possibly the best Star Wars writer for a reason. His understanding and portrayal of the characters is so true-to-form, and the characters he introduces are impactful rather than being window dressing as they seem in some other books in the EU.

The plot is interesting as well. We’re a few years out from the destruction of the second Death Star and the Empire is largely on the ropes. But a Grand Admiral who had been out in the boonies has gotten control now and his tactical insight is turning the war around, at least on the outside. Meanwhile, political intrigue among the leadership of the Rebellion (now the “New Republic”) threatens to spill over. All of this is not to mention some interesting stories regarding a woman–Mara Jade–with an intense hatred for Luke Skywalker and dealings with smugglers.

Zahn does a fantastic job balancing the new characters with those we know from the movies, and his writing style constantly keeps the action and plot moving. There’s just enough balance between action and backstory to keep it moving.

At some points, the plot points are a bit too convenient. For example, it seems altogether astounding that Thrawn, Han and Lando, and Luke would all happen to get thrown together before Talon Karrde at his “secret” base. Granted, Zahn introduces reasons for them all to be there, but it seems just a trifle contrived.

Overall though, this book has its status as hallowed Star Wars lore for a reason. It’s just fantastic. It’s a thrillride that doesn’t disappoint, and I’m happy to re-read it. On with the rest of the trilogy!

The Good

+Excellent cast of characters both already known and new
+Interesting tactical insights in the battles that happen
+Strong sense of continuity with Star Wars universe
+Awesome cover…

The Bad

-…which strangely features a (for now) minor character most prominently
-Some of the situations are a little too coincidental

Best Droid Moment

C-3PO impersonating Princess Leia. What more needs to be said?

Grade: A+ “There really is a reason the Thrawn Trilogy is known as the best of the best of Star Wars.”

Conclusion

Heir to the Empire is just fantastic. It holds up well after all this time. The balance of characters old and new is perfect, and Zahn’s writing is well-suited to the Star Wars universe. A truly superb 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.