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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Han Solo Trilogy, Part 3

Rebel Dawn (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #3)Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

NOTE: Many spoilers follow.

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book, so my rating it lower may be a direct result of the ending.

First, let me discuss what I liked. I liked the characters; Han, Lando, Chewbacca, and Boba Fett were all true to form, and I enjoyed the other characters, as well. I liked the interweaving of the other “Han Solo” trilogy. I liked how events in the first and second novels were tied into events in the third. I liked how the book led up to the events in the films (although that section seemed a bit rushed, and Lando seemed to overreact a smidgen). Overall, I liked the book.

But let me address what I did not like. As with the last two books, I don’t care for pulling quotes out of the films as if we weren’t sure this was Han Solo or Lando Calrissian talking. And, as before, I don’t like how often Han uses terms of endearment or nicknames; I just don’t think it’s natural (or necessary) to address your conversation partner every time you open your mouth, so that comes off as a little odd.

Most importantly, though, I don’t like the ending of this book. This is for two reasons. First, I don’t like how everything gets tied up in a neat little bow. The problem of Ylesia is solved forever; the problem of Bria is solved forever; the problem of Boba Fett does not affect later encounters with Boba Fett. Everything’s perfect. It would have made a lot more sense, to me, if things had ended a little more messily. Sure, the trilogy wouldn’t have been as compact and concise, but it would have fit in better with, and lent itself to, the broader Star Wars experience.

Yet this first was the minor complaint. The major complaint I have is how Han reacts to Bria’s death. Here is a woman who, claiming to love him, got his adopted brother killed, stole from him and his friends, got him ostracized by the entire smuggling community on Nar Shaddaa, and worst of all, lied to his face right up until she betrayed him. She stopped loving him the moment she put the rebellion ahead of him – and she started doing that back in the second book. And what’s more is that she kept doing it, for the rest of the trilogy! Nevermind that she never really knew him (she thought he’d forgive her for taking the money and join her in the rebellion, which was plainly ridiculous), and nevermind that it was her abandoning him that made him that way – the worst part of all is that she stopped feeling bad about it when she fell to her lowest point. Throughout the previous book and this one, she felt bad every time she neglected to talk to Han – right up until she stabbed him in the back. Then, she only felt bad because he called her out on it.

Now, I don’t dislike the book because I dislike Bria’s character. She’s excellently written, and the relationship as it unfolds is fabulous, especially because we (the audience) know it can’t last. What upsets me about the ending is that, about two weeks after the woman he loves betrays him for her rebellion – which he is still sure will fail, so she betrayed him for nothing, from his point of view – he learns she’s dead and says, “Well, gee, I regret how things ended. Guess I better tell her dad, and feel bad for myself.” It just doesn’t line up with his character at this point.

Anyway. That ending kind of puts a damper on the whole book (and, in a small way, the whole trilogy), but overall, the book is still a good read.

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I Knew Learning Latin Would Pay Off Someday

A Canticle for LeibowitzA Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

NOTE: Some spoilers follow.

Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz” is indeed a marvelous work of modern science fiction. It wraps up the natural fear of nuclear weapons (which Miller no doubt experienced as he watched the bombs fall on Japan) and combines it with the innovative “what if” of a long and storied history.

“Canticle” does an excellent job of providing a deeply religious perspective on a dark and troubled future, with the full awareness of human nature and a Catholic understanding of original sin. The book ends with an intriguing twist on that doctrine, but – while it may be outside the normal realm of theological presumption – it is presented from a humble and simple eye, which presumes nothing of its own accord. Miller’s work here is delightful.

Enjoyable, too, are the echoes of the Mass and the cleverness of Miller’s classical education, which plays out in this work. There were a number of jokes and layers which I could not have understood without my knowledge of the Latin language or the Catholic Mass. Miller’s weave of these issues borders on the brilliant.

Now, downsides: first, Miller is a writer of short stories. This is evident in that each of the three parts of “Canticle” could be read and, more or less, understood apart from the others. There are elements that tie them together, but seeing those strings is more like gravy than substance. Of course, in a story that spans over a thousand years, this is to be expected to some degree. Even so, I would have appreciated more intricacies of plot between the sections.

I felt, too, that there were a few questions left unanswered. The nature and identity of the nomad, or Benjamin, or Lazarus, is unclear. Miller never resolves that question, at least not satisfactorily. There is some implication about the identity of the man, which plays (quite cleverly, if non-traditionally) on the lack of details about the (second) death of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, in the Bible. But I would have liked more resolution there.

But all of that said, the book is excellent. The imagery and depth of the story is striking, and I am glad all the more for having read this delightful work of science fiction.

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Mitth’raw’nuruodo & Co.

Star Wars: Outbound FlightStar Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

NOTE: Some minor spoilers may follow.

Timothy Zahn did a truly excellent job with young Commander Thrawn; I enjoyed his interactions with Car’das, but especially his tactics and strategy for dealing with the Vagaari and Outbound Flight.

Speaking of Outbound Flight, I enjoyed the perspective of the Jedi, but I felt that perhaps Zahn covered too much ground. We went from before Outbound Flight was officially and finally green-lit until its destruction, and I thought more could have been done on the vessel (especially as things deteriorated between C’baoth and the non-Jedi crew). I also thought that, while Obi-wan was well portrayed, Anakin was a bit wooden (I guess maybe it was the Hayden-Christensen-in-“Attack-of-the-Clones” version).

C’baoth, I had read before reading this book, seemed to be way too much of a jerk to be a genuine Jedi Master. Sure, he apparently had a lot of power and a lot of experience, but he was completely emotional, arrogant, and obsessed, and nobody ever called him on it (to his face, at any rate). It’s a fair question to wonder how such a man managed to become a Jedi Master. Still, it does explain his clone’s personality, and it seems to have been the only way to compel Thrawn to destroy Outbound Flight in the end.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book immensely, but it wasn’t Zahn’s best work.

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