An Acceptable Addition

10119993The Sable Quean by Brian Jacques

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book didn’t really take me almost three years to read. I read a couple chapters, then reread them, then finally read the book all the way through.

I had a little trouble getting into the book initially, which is uncommon for Jacques’ books (in my experience). Most of his books have great hooks, great characters, and great adventure, right from the start. The problem with this one is that it did not quite feel original enough. The Ravagers remind me of the Rapscallions. Vilaya reminds me of Tsarmina or Silth the Marlfox. Zwilt reminds me of Ferahgo. Buckler is like a cross between Rakkety Tam and Tammo. Diggs is similar to any number of hares. The troupe of hedgehogs is like the Wandering Noonvale Companions or the Rambling Rosehip Players. Stealing children to defeat Redwall is like Mattimeo.

Ultimately, there were original elements. A warrior mole was a nice touch. Sables, as creatures, had not appeared before. I just had to work harder to find them than I usually do.

This book also seemed a little more tame than others, as far as deaths for heroes are concerned. Only one (named) protagonist character was killed in the course of the book. (Of course, a couple of my favorite books are probably Martin the Warrior and The Long Patrol, so I may be biased toward killing protagonists more than most fans.)

Ultimately, it was a fine installment, but not one of the best.

Of course, I’ve only just learned that Mr. Jacques passed away three years ago, so now I feel a little bad for saying negative things.



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A Negative Review of Star Wars: Rebels

I honestly cannot comprehend all the positive reviews for the premiere of Star Wars: Rebels. Everywhere I look, folks are saying what a great triumph it was over all those pre-release haters, and how it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and it revitalizes the Star Wars universe in a way that only Dave Filoni can, and the animation was spectacular, and the writing was brilliant, and…

And I’m baffled.

Because it was none of those things. I thought the writing was bland, the voice-acting was lackluster, the plot was rushed, and the characters were cookie-cutter representations of everyone’s favorite elements (why else would we need a Mandalorian, a hairy alien, a Jedi, and a mysterious orphan who unwittingly is Force-sensitive?), and the animation is the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a 1990’s CGI animation class at the college level. The characters are as realistic and expressive as Duplos (especially the gaunt Wookiees).

Honestly, it has potential, but they really have to rein in the nonsense. They told more than they showed. (This is probably my greatest complaint.) “We have to get to Kessel, the Empire’s prison planet, and rescue the Wookiees!” (next scene) “Here we are at Kessel, rescuing the Wookiees!” How did we get to Kessel? How did we avoid Imperial patrols? How did we dodge planetary defenses, orbiting Imperial vessels, ground-based turbolasers and ion cannons? So much could have–should have–gone wrong, but it proceeded flawlessly. There were no hitches, no hiccups, en route. There were a few minor ones, easily overcome, during the actual rescue, but… they left out so much great story just by telling us that it proceeded easily. They tried to develop Ezra’s character with a monologue from Hera about being a good person. It just comes across as lazy storytelling. “You remember that time we saved the galaxy? That was great.” “How’d you do that?” “Oh, there was this really mean bad guy, and we beat him up, and saved everybody. Now you know what a great team we are.”

There was enough material in that one episode to last half a season, but they crammed it all into one episode. Why? They could have led us on with clues about Kanan’s status as a Jedi, could have given us insight into the characters, helped us develop an attachment to the people we’re watching. They could have made discovery of Kanan’s identity and Ezra’s Force sensitivity an actual plot point, instead of a foregone conclusion. Sure, that would have given us more time with just Agent Kallus and no Inquisitor, but that would have been a good thing. Imperial Intelligence is a scary bunch of people; if the Empire is the Nazi regime and Stormtroopers are stormtroopers, then I.I. is the Gestapo. People fear Imperial Intelligence. But we don’t see that; we see a moderately clever Imperial officer chase down a bunch of rebels, then hand things off to the Big Scary, the Inquisitor. If the Inquisitor were really a Big Scary, we’d have met him halfway through the season, or later, so that we have an escalation of villains and dangers. What’s above an Inquisitor in terms of personal villains? Where will we go in Season 2… or 3… or 6? What would escalate things for our heroes? We’re not likely to get James Earl Jones as a regular, after all. So instead, we’ll end up with the clumsy villains who get trounced every episode (and every season) by the heroes, resulting in a very boring show (especially long-term).

What else did they do in this jam-packed pilot? They eliminated all intra-team conflict. Zeb could have been genuine opposition for Ezra’s continued presence on the ship (basically, Star Wars: Rebels‘ Jayne Cobb), but instead, by the end of the episode, he’s practically hugging the kid. He’s sorry for being so mean, and everyone can live happily ever after. There’s no conflict between our main characters.

What’s interesting about that, you ask? Nothing.

I have not cataloged my full list of complaints about this show, but I’d need to watch it again with a pause button, a red pen, and paper (preferably in the form of a copy of the script) to get all of my objections. Like I said, it has a lot of potential, and before its release, it had a huge amount of hype and promise, and all I see is a mediocre kids’ show set in the Star Wars universe. Maybe next episode, they’ll start breaking into song while boarding the ship, so we’ll know it’s time to board the ship.

Whence Cometh My Book

I wrote an article about where I got the idea for The Chimaera Regiment, and it was published on the review site Upcoming4.Me:

I often think of the development of my stories as the slow coalescence of an asteroid belt of ideas into a planet of prose. Notion after notion passes through the solar system of my mind and gets caught; eventually, they collide, producing enough mass to draw in other, smaller ideas. Over time, this process leads to something that is worth writing down.

Read more over there!

Stay Tuned for the Stunning Conclusion!

Spoilers follow!
513201The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I thought that, of all of the X-Wing novels, this one would survive my criticisms best. I recall it being my favorite, back in the day, and I could remember nothing against it.

Unfortunately, upon reading it, I did find a few things to take issue with. For one thing, all of the innuendo and nudge, nudge, wink, wink that went on in the preceding three books was consummated in this one. There was nothing explicit, of course, but innuendo was dropped in favor of stating things outright, and seduction gave way to indulgence. I get the impression that we’re supposed to celebrate these events, because most (or all? I don’t quite recall) of them are between Corran and Mirax, but it ends up seeming hollow. Perhaps the most damning of all, from my perspective, was when Mirax insisted on the “practice makes perfect” argument for sex prior to marriage, which is ridiculous on the face of it. I could wax confrontational, but suffice it to say, I got the impression that I should be cheering at this moment, and all I could muster was a dissatisfied ugh.

Speaking of marriage, the proposal in the book seems sudden and unromantic. I’m not one to judge short dating cycles; my wife and I decided to marry after only a few months. On the other hand, I saw no justifiable reason for Corran and Mirax to get engaged. If all the features and benefits of marriage are in place without the marriage, why get married? It can confer no sacrament, no covenant, under such conditions. Is it simply a contractual declaration that both parties appreciate the current arrangement, and wish for it to continue? Corran’s proposal, at the end of the day, seemed to have exactly that much romance, as well. “I can’t think of anyone I would rather flirt with and be seduced by than you,” he says, “In fact, I think we should make it permanent.”

Be still, my beating heart.

That wasn’t the only relational contrivance I found difficult to swallow. The sudden reparations between Corran and Booster, Mirax’s father, were startling. At least we are able to see Corran’s side of it, even if the conclusion seems a little too easy–but why Booster would suddenly come around is neither clarified nor elucidated. It seems that Corran’s response is so irrevocably honorable that Booster has no choice but to accept him.

I have begun with the negative points, but let me not end with them. The relationships seem rushed and contrived; several of the characters fall by the wayside (notably Riv Shiel, whose early death is not startling so much as nonplussing, and Inyri Forge, who had a pivotal role in Wedge’s Gamble, but has barely registered since then). On the other hand, we’re back in X-Wings all the time; we have grand space battles, devious strategy, clever tactics, and deft political maneuvering that doesn’t distract too much from the entertainment. Borsk Fey’lya and his committees are out of the picture, so we’re able to press on without endless debates. This is still a very good book, and very nostalgic; it just doesn’t quite live up to its “favorite” moniker from ages past.



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Third Time’s the Charm?

Spoilers follow!

513200The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the X-Wing series continues the story right where Wedge’s Gamble left off: Corran is in prison, presumed dead, and Tycho is on trial for his murder. Meanwhile, a virus deadly only to non-humans (and non-Bothans, apparently) is ravaging Coruscant, and Rogue Squadron may be the only hope to save it.

On the one hand, I’m greatly entertained by this book. Rogue Squadron gets back to its roots–running missions in X-Wings. The New Republic is here to stay, so we must send our best and brightest out to fight the enemy on their turf once more–or escort missions, those are good, too. At any rate, Wedge and the gang are back in their cockpits and ready to go. This is good.

On the other hand, Corran’s story takes a bit of an odd turn. His time in Lusankya is a smattering of wild delusions under the influence of hallucinogenics, followed by a self-sacrificial dedication to escape, against all logical expectations about their prison. His perseverance and success here can be chalked up to the revelation we’ve all been waiting for: he’s Force-sensitive, and descended from a Jedi! (It’s hard to say, because I’ve read the books before, but I occasionally felt bludgeoned with the hints about this, over the preceding books. Lots of talk about trusting feelings and so on.)

At the same time, Corran has been trusting his feelings and assumptions about Tycho all along–only to be presented with a logical explanation to the contrary, which he immediately accepts. A quick turn of thought later, and he has identified the true spy in Rogue Squadron! This almost seems contrived; how could it be so easy, when it has been so challenging up until this point?

In rating this book, I am torn between, on the one hand, my love of the characters (one part nostalgia, two parts great writing) and my earnest and compelling desire to see what happens next at every turn, and on the other hand, a nearly predictable outcome, reached by a couple of convenient shortcuts. At the end of the day, I am forced to drop this book to 4 stars as well–perhaps The Bacta War will maintain its hold over me in the end.



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