Stay Tuned for the Stunning Conclusion!

Spoilers follow!
The Bacta War (Star Wars: X-Wing, #4)The 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!

The Krytos Trap (Star Wars: X-Wing, #3)The 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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What One Has Begun…

… one must finish.

Spoilers follow!

Wedge's Gamble (Star Wars: X-Wing, #2)Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The downgrade of a rating here may seem not in keeping with my practice, especially as regards Star Wars novels and some of my favorite authors–but I assure you, I had good cause.

Wedge’s Gamble is a great second installment–but it reads like a second installment, as part of a larger whole. Much of the book is laying the groundwork for the two novels to follow. Yes, it’s true, the target of the book is to capture Coruscant, and Rogue Squadron makes that happen–but it’s anticlimactic. We know that Isard has prepared for a devastating, even crippling, set of events for the Rebels, and we know that she has captured Corran Horn, as of the epilogue.

That is the grand picture of my weakened satisfaction with the book. It has about as many typos as Rogue Squadron did, which I suppose is not surprising, although I still wonder how so many professionally edited books come through with so many typographical errors (you know, you pay somebody for a job, and you expect them to follow through, right? What else do copy editors and proofreaders even do?).

One thing that struck me as especially peculiar, for the second book in the X-Wing series, is that the characters spend almost no time whatsoever in X-Wings. Some very brief space combat takes place at the beginning, then aerial combat is relegated to speeder bikes and Z-95s. It reminds me of what Don Bellisario said about the second season of NCIS–they tried to avoid having a single ship or military uniform on the screen. Perhaps it reaches a broader audience, but don’t you think it’s a little weird?

I also find Corran’s emotional rejection of Tycho a little… contrived. Clearly, Corran is getting too wrapped up in his own head–but so wrapped up that he’s missing the obvious right in front of him? Erisi, whose incessant inquisitiveness and attempts at seduction, along with her conspicuous absence from scenes contemporaneous with the actions of Rogue Squadron’s spy, make her the obvious candidate to a man who has dedicated his life to finding out the truth. Corran’s detective chops, which are fairly well established by this point, are being called into question every time he ignores Erisi on account of her pretty… face.

All that said, I still like the book very much. Again, nostalgia may play a part, and these books played a formative role for my inner writer, but I maintain that they’re well-written. Stackpole doesn’t neglect his other characters, just because Corran is the main one (an unfortunate tendency of which I am sure to be guilty myself), and aside from a few objections (voiced verbosely above), I find the book a delightful read. On to the next!

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Nostalgia Wins

Rogue Squadron (Star Wars: X-Wing, #1)Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently had a disagreement with a few acquaintances of mine. They said that the Expanded Universe–I mean, “Legends” (thanks, Disney, for invalidating my childhood)*–was full of subpar novels and that they were glad it was all being wiped away. I responded that, considering the terms they were using to describe a library full of New York Times bestsellers, they seemed a little harsh, especially given their lack of specific objections.

A visual representation of our discussion.

A visual representation of our discussion.

After that, I wanted to go back and read some of the old favorites, since it’s been a few years. My first thought was Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, the most unfairly maligned by these acquaintances, but my copies have long since been lost to the void of many moves and family members who may or may not have been the original owners. (My brother probably has them.) Without Zahn at my disposal, my next thought was the X-Wing series, which–thanks to my wife’s work managing my holiday wish lists–I have at least through the seventh installment.

Rogue Squadron is a great introductory work for the series. It lays a lot of groundwork for future installments, establishes the characters effectively, and sets us up for emotional turmoil when certain individuals kick the proverbial bucket. The conclusion of the book does not reveal all the secrets, but it doesn’t string us along too much. In short, this is a solid book, with high-quality writing, strong characters, and a plot that seems a reasonable extrapolation of the events closing out the original trilogy of films.

Not everything was perfect. There were a surprising number of typographical errors that I didn’t recall from previous reads, but it’s mostly the sort of thing that a spell-checker program would miss (if for is or it, that sort of thing). A few of the characters received minimal development, which let us treat them with relative dispassion on their passing.

But honestly, I forgave the author and the book, because the book had a lot of work to get done, and a few of the deaths really were emotionally charged for the reader.

At the end of the day, if I were being completely objective in my ratings, I’d drop this to 4 stars. If I were trying to be some kind of magazine reviewer, and my interest was primarily informational, then I might do something like that. As it stands, I’m nostalgic about this book, and I find its shortcomings easy to forgive; its rating stands at five stars in my book.

And those acquaintances of mine can go pound sand.


*I’m not saying Disney wasn’t justified, even–to a certain degree–required to make a statement like this. I’m just saying that when I was growing up, the Expanded Universe novels and games were a much deeper Star Wars experience than even the original trilogy. After the relative disappointment of the prequels, I realized that the EU was all up for grabs, and any future films would further alter what I had come to see as “reality” for the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy. I just wasn’t quite prepared for them to come out and say, “We’re doing whatever we want. Prepare to be disappointed when your favorite characters either (1) don’t make an appearance, or (2) don’t act like themselves if they do.” But I digress.

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