“Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” —Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
That line didn’t really mean much when I saw Revenge of the Sith back when it was released in theaters. I always took it for a throwaway line meant to illustrate Palpatine’s ability to manipulate Anakin Skywalker by probing what he most wanted to hear. I didn’t really expect it to ever be explored in depth. I guess I should have known otherwise as every other aspect of the Star Wars timeline has been mined by the expanded universe over the years. What is particularly intriguing about this particular novel is how widely it deviates from what I expected in my mind. The above quote that inspired the novel seems to imply that Plagueis was an ancient figure, a “legend” as Palpatine says. However, we will come to find out over the course of the book that Plagueis was the sith lord who annointed Palpatine as Sideous and the events of his lifetime intersect with Anakin Skywalker’s youth. I don’t know about you, but the term “legend” doesn’t seem to apply much to guys whose major exploits only happened ten years ago. But I suppose I’m just projecting my own feelings on how they chose to retcon Plagueis into the events leading up to and during The Phantom Menace.
Viewed for what it is, the book is one of the better expanded universe entries I’ve read in a while. The timeline seems carefully constructed so that all the pieces fit together without conflicting all too terribly and the parts that get explained, such as Palpatine’s introduction to the world of the sith as well as the details of the rise of the Trade Federation all make for a better understanding of the Star Wars universe during the prequel era. I think that I would have enjoyed the book far more if they would have given it a different title. Plagueis at times feels like an afterthought to the story. This book is really about Palpatine, and because he is such an interesting character that can’t be viewed as a bad thing. The only negative is that while you get so invested in his narrative it is easy to be disappointed when the story breaks in other directions and seems to lose focus. But make no mistake, fans of the Star Wars universe will be able to overlook the small flaws and find an enjoyable read.
It takes a while to find its footing and every once in a while it will lose narrative focus, but overall it is something worth looking into. I will say that author James Lucerno does have a tendency to utilize some groan inducing references but his writing style is suited to the voices of these characters and this universe, so those minor grievances can also be overlooked.
Last week you may have seen notable Marvel scribe Victor Gischler (X-Men) yelling from the top of the hills (ie: on Twitter) that his most recent novel The Deputy was available for a limited time for free (see: zero dollars) as a digital download for the Kindle. I didn’t download it. I actually bought it using money earlier this year and have been waiting for my school-related readings of such wonderful drollery like Melville’s Bartleby The Scrivener and various excerpts from the work of Cotton Mather for a time to sit down and read it. Truthfully, I could have done it a while ago because the damn thing is so good that I could have easily finished it in an afternoon and gone back to reading dusty old pre-twentieth century literature the next day.
As it stands I was able to finish it over the course of two sittings and was enthralled the whole way through. I make constant references to being a literature major in the university system but as a writer I don’t consider myself an author of “literature.” To me that has a tangible association with scholarly academia. I write fiction. More to the point, I write genre fiction. I began with urban fantasy, then went to sword and sorcery and my NaNoWriMo entry this year is a vampire action/noir. I’m not exactly Walt Whitman. But there is an art to writing genre fiction that some people possess and others don’t. Victor Gischler has that artform down. The Deputy is a dusty country-noir classic that feels like No Country For Old Men by way of Reservoir Dogs. There is a hard-boiled aggression to the prose that syncs up with the slow burn of the mystery behind what is going down in this dusty Oklahoma town and it makes for a fast-paced and compelling read.
I cannot recommend the book enough. It’s as strong an example of well written genre fiction as I’ve seen in a while. I even took it upon myself to grab a copy of one of Gischler’s earlier novel Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse which seems to be right up my alley.
Next year we will be treated to the next big pop-literature film adaptation from the young-adult section, the first in a trilogy of books written by author Suzanne Collins called The Hunger Games. I only became aware of the series when the third book hit shelves earlier this year and I was informed that it has a rabid fanbase similar to that of Twilight or Harry Potter and I casually dismissed it because quite honestly I’m not particularly interested in jumping into another series where I have to defend my opinions on the work from its fanbase. I have enough trouble discussing comic books, I don’t need the people who spend their time writing slashfic on their tumblrs to come out of the woodwork because I don’t “get” what makes their particular property so great. I love the Harry Potter novels, but I don’t discuss them with anybody because the last time I did that it nearly turned into a fistfight. I had to read Twilight for a contemporary literature assignment and the only person in the class who liked that book essentially made a verbal comment that I should die in a fire as I tumble down a cliff.
So, yeah, fandoms and I are leery of each other at the moment. But sensing that I would probably be drawn into the pop-culture whirlpool surrounding the property when it came to theaters, I wanted to get ahead of it and actually read the books before they made it to the screen so that I could better understand the series as a whole, in it’s original incarnation and as an adaptation. Little things changed my mind that urged me towards picking up the novel. Comparisons to Battle Royale, which I love just a little bit more than a lot. The fact that Stephen King apparently loved the shit out of it and while I haven’t loved everything the man has done I DO respect his analysis of the art form and he’s usually right when he recommends the work of one of his contemporaries. Thus, I snatched up all three of the books with the intent of reading and reviewing them this summer.
What did I think?
Well, I have to give Suzanne Collins major props right off the bat for having the decency to craft an interesting setting that utilizes all the best traits that one tends to lean on in the process of world-building. The world of the post-rebellion North American coalition of districts known as Panem is vivid and interesting. Post apocalyptic worlds tend to be bland because everything is stripped away and rebuilt using scraps. Collins’ world is not so much like that, as the world seems bleak but it’s clearly still a civilization. It’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it to the people there. And her painstaking detail in giving each district a distinct identity, even if it’s never reall expanded upon, gives the book a sense of depth and reality missing from other such works.
Where the book truly excels is in its eagerness to revel in the bleak harshness of reality. Young adult fiction tends to be tepid and uninspired, following a very simple formula. Here, there is no reluctance to turn away from the darkness of the world that Collins has built. The concept demands a fair amount of darkness that other writers would likely have tried to avoid in the hopes of shielding the readers from being uncomfortable in reading for pleasure. But good literature has to be uncomfortable sometimes. When it is, that is the mark of truth. The writer has made you invest enough in the concept and characters that discomfort at the idea of a character death is genuine and real. The Harry Potter novels also recognized this. And it’s in this connection to the work that fandoms arise. In reading this particular novel, I could sympathize not only with the characters but with the fans who attach to them.
I’m actually quite looking forward to the next book. If it in any way manages to keep the energy of the first installment I’ll be more than pleased. Reading the synopsis it seems like the entirety of the second book hopes to maintain the tension of the last few chapters of this entry, which were honestly some of the best parts of the novel entirely. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 25 : Children of the Jedi
There are very few novels I actively hate. There have been more than a few that I didn’t care for but only a few that I’ve actively hated. I had to read the Twilight novels for a modern fiction study and the only thing I got out of that experience was a disbelief at what sort of book can get best-seller status. Still, I’ll say the unpopular thing here and say that I hated Dan Brown’s The Davinci Code more than I hated Twilight. I know it sounds insane, but it’s true. I didn’t like reading Twilight and I still think it’s a piss poor excuse for a novel, but it didn’t really raise any sort of resonant response with me, and that’s more why I dismiss it as a work of literature.
I had a sort of mixed reaction in reading Children of the Jedi, because it didn’t work for me on a literary level and it frustrated me just due to the contradictory nature of most of its entirety. The timeline is crazy wrong, which normally can be forgiven because it predates the prequel trilogy, but at the same time the author can’t manage to get the continuity from the previous Jedi Academy series which precede the events of this book. She somehow manages to switch up who destroyed the Sun Crusher, and makes some pretty glaring errors with the physiology of Gamorreans. All of this sounds like crazy fanboy ranting but considering the majority of the people who read these books are hardcore fans, I can’t imagine it would do anything for them either.
This review is going to be short because I don’t want to devote anymore time to it than I have because I felt like the whole book was a big black hole. Boring, dull, not very well written, and other negative adjectives.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 23 : Champions of the Force
The Jedi Academy trilogy comes to a close with the most satisfying entry in the series by a long shot. Admittedly it’s still a fairly average book but it is a few steps above the previous two just in the manner which the action is handled. We jump right into the story with Kyp Durron flying the sun crusher to Carida in the hopes of finding out what happened to his brother. By now his RAAAMPAAAAGE!!![/archer] is in full swing having blown Admiral Daala’s fleet to tiny little pieces. What follows is a great back and forth between Furgan and Durron about his brother that ultimately leads to bad things happening on both sides.
Back on Yavin IV Luke Skywalker is still in a jedi coma after Kyp went all grimdark on him in the previous book, a moment that I still contend came out of left field and didn’t feel organic at all but the final book makes some strides towards correcting this by making excused through the strength of sith lord Exar Kun which ring a little hollow but also work within the context of the story. Durron flip flops so much that it’s not hard to realize that all of this was probably well thought out but not all that brilliantly executed.
The best parts of the book were the comedic moments that revolved around the crew manning the prototype of the third death star. (I know, a third one, real original) Their constant bickering and focus on procedure, being a bunch of laboratory science types, are a nice contrast to the machinations of people like Thrawn or Daala and make for some fun reading.
The final book wraps most of the plot threads up well enough although as with every installment there’s always the cliffhanger of where certain people will end up in the immediate future. In this case it’s where the final Star Destroyer left in Daala’s fleet will end up and what effect it will have on the core worlds. Everything else tidies up nicely and helps to relieve some of the bitter aftertaste left from the previous two installments.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 22 : Dark Apprentice
This book leaves me conflicted. That’ll be the crux of this review, really. In most ways it is a definite step up from Jedi Search, just in terms of pacing and narrative engagment, but at the same time much of what happens doesn’t seem to mesh well with what we’ve been told in the previous book. I think that Kevin J. Anderson wrote it this way to surprise us but it really doesn’t work that way.
I’m speaking of course about the titular dark apprentice who turns to the dark side almost inexplicably over the course of maybe five pages. The abrupt turnaround in the character’s nature seems implausible knowing what we do about jedi who wind up going down the dark path. It took years of manipulation by Palpatine to turn innocent Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Luke’s brief brush with the dark side came after long bouts with self doubt. Here, a formerly eager protagonist who echoed Luke’s innocent demeanor gets angry and then all of a sudden he’s a sith. It does not sit right.
It feels like Anderson was building one character to turn to the dark side and the buildup was organic and natural. You could understand why he might be tempted. It made sense. Then that character is tossed aside for the one who just doesn’t mesh and that part of the story seems like a bust. Everything that comes after leaves you shaking your head wondering what the purpose of the sudden shift in direction serves.
Other elements of the book are quite intriguing. Admiral Daala’s military assaults and Admiral Ackbar’s tribulations make for some of the more interesting parts of the novel. But considering that this is the Jedi Academy trilogy, the fact that the a-plot falls apart drops the overal score down a few notches.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 21 : Jedi Search
Wow, I was actually caught off guard when I cracked the cover of this book because I skipped ahead in the timeline long enough that somewhere along the way Emperor Palpatine was resurrected, Luke studied the dark side alongside him and then the old bastard died again. It turns out this happened in the Dark Empire comic, which I only have a vague recollection of. It doesn’t affect much as the streamlined summary I just gave sums up everything and it isn’t really mentioned much anyhow.
The plot revolves around Luke trying to form a Jedi academy, collecting pupils from across the galaxy. Meanwhile Han and Chewie get captured while on a diplomatic mission to Kessel. Normally you wouldn’t want that guy doing diplomatic missions in the first place but he gets the gig because of his former associations smuggling spice out of the prison mines. Of course, the people in charge there have old beefs with him and as such everything goes to slag. It’s interesting that over the course of the books I’ve come to dislike Han a bit more with each book. It started in The Courtship of Princess Leia where any semblance of logic in his brain went out the window and it continues here in Jedi Search with none of his resourcefulness coming into play at all when it comes to his capture. And while he manages to escape (he is still Han), much of it comes down to blind luck and it diminishes him as a character in my eyes.
The book also sees the return of Admiral Daala who we first met in Death Star but if I recall correctly this is actually her first appearance. Much of her backstory was just filled in over the course of that later novel. There’s not a lot of disconnect between the two other than there is no mention of her supposedly very serious injury that forced her departure from the Death Star as represented in that novel.
Jedi Search is an average book that really just works as setup for further adventures by bringing in Daala and introducing the weapons developments in the Maw cluster at Kessel. Luke manages to scrounge up two students for his Jedi academy but nothing comes of it. That will get handled as the trilogy progresses. Hopefully there is more substance to the next two books as this one felt a bit light.