Star Wars

Star Wars
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Ysanne Isard, queen of the fabulous hair

As I'm slogging my way through X-Wing Rogue Squadron, there is one shining light for me. One, giant, amazing, fantastic bad guy. Or in this case, lady. I am talking, of course, about Ysanne Isard. The badass woman that got close enough to the Emperor to take over once he died. Or at least, that's how Michael Stackpole wrote it. For about two pages (I exaggerate, it's really more like 10). And I'm finding that she is the most interesting part of the book so far. The other characters are samesame, and the plot starts and stops like rush hour traffic.

But Ysanne, as Stackpole has created her, grabbed my attention right away. She's a woman who's reached power (yes, bad power, but power nonetheless), and commands legions of storm troopers and Imperial agents (through fear, sure, but still). Maybe I'm grasping because I don't want to read two horrid books in a row, and we all know my feelings on the previous EU book. Stackpole has created a character who is engaging and fascinating to me. He wrote that she might have been the Emperor's lover. All I can picture is the shriveled, lizard-esc Palpatine, and envisioning him having relations with a lady-friend just grosses me out. However, Stackpole's descriptions and explanations of Ysanne and Palpatine's relationships and interactions leave a lot to the imagination. Something I wish he hadn't done. Granted, I'm only about halfway through the book, but I'm starting to feel like I want a lot more of Ysanne than Stackpole is going to give me in this one book.

For instance, he describes her as growing up on Courscant, her father was the head of Imperial Intelligence. When he died, she took over. Very basic background, just like all of his other, colorless, bland characters. But she sparkles, in an evil way, and I really just want the rest of the book to be about her. She outshines all of the other characters, and I feel like a novel about growing up and getting involved with Palpatine would be much more interesting. I could read another 200 pages of that.


Emtrey (M-3P0; military protocol and regulations droid)
I am notorious for being slow on the uptake when it comes to reading. I rarely ever guess the plot twist or the hidden villain. I actually really enjoy my obliviousness as a reader because it makes those surprises that much more exciting!

So on the rare occasion when I do actually see something coming, I hope that either I'm wrong or that the author was deliberately leading me on. I hope that's the case right the prediction I'm making now.

Either way, let the record show that Esme predicts, as of page 200 of X-wing: Rogue Squadron, that Emtrey is the Imperial infiltrator of Rogue Squadron; or, at least, that he's a tool being used by Isard or the spy to collect and hand out information about the Rogues.

With that prediction made, I'm heading back in for the final leg of the book!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A slow start-up before the jump to lightspeed

I think I speak for both Rose and I when I say that the beginning of "X-wing: Rogue Squadron" did not fill us with a sense of security and reassurance about the reading experience ahead. In fact, Rose put it best when she texted: "I was looking at summaries of the other [Rogue Squadron] books and they all sound really interesting and exciting. I hope this one gets there because I do not want to read 380 pages of setup!"

I think what had me worried for the first hundred pages or so was that I felt as though I were sitting in a Rogue Squadron Historical Lecture. For pages and pages, Corran whines about Jace Bror and his ego. I can't think of a single time I actually had any proof of his ego being problematic until the post-battle party on Talasea when he tries to bully Gavin Darklighter into being his helper monkey. I actually lost quite a bit of faith in Corran as a result. I don't like being dictated to by the narrative; it makes me contrary. So when Corran kept insisting that Jace Bror was arrogant and egotistical, but without any actual substance to back it up, I thought, "Uh, what's wrong with CORRAN?" Some writers deliberately use a forceful narrative to allow for dramatic irony - showing the true nature of a character through that character's forceful manipulation of the narrative (perfect example: Mrs. Bennett in "Pride and Prejudice"). Michael A. Stackpole doesn't seem to be doing that, though - he seems to expect his reader to take his narrative at face value, which is a shame.

Having said that, I'm now halfway in and feel like I'm at last getting to the good stuff. I'm not sure if it's like Rose said, and Stackpole just needed to get himself set up for the good stuff or whether he'll backslide, but I'm appreciating certain elements of the plot quite a bit. For one thing, I really appreciate Kirten Loor. When he was first trotted out as the bad guy, I thought, "Geez, this guy's pathetic." But the more I read, the more I'm intrigued. Here's a villain who's far from perfect - his arrogance turns him into such a pathetic figure that his prisoner mocks him to his face. He's shipped off to Coruscant, presumably for execution, and instead gets a chance to learn from his mistakes. It's clear he is and what I enjoy as the reader is watching him learn. A villain who can learn is one I want to read more of.

Then there're the moments of truly excellent writing. The description of Ysanne Isard was impressive. The narrative didn't need to force me to see it, although it tried once or twice (come on, really?: "He knew where menace dwelt within her" [122]. Unnecessary coaxing, narrative!). There were little moments, like Loor's description of "Isard's predatory pacing" and the color of her eyes ("one icy blue - as cold as Hoth" and "the other eye ... a molten red" [122]). I was also impressed by Stackpole's description of the space Isard uses: "The only thing the room seemed rich in was wasted space. Then it struck him. On a world that is so crowded ... wasting this amount of space is the height of luxury" (121).

More importantly, there're the moments when Loor begins realizing important things about himself: "What I had seen as my brilliance in ferreting out [Gil Bastra's] errors had been him playing to my sense of superiority, leading me on after him like a nerf eager for slaughter" (125). While the narrative does lay on the revelation a bit thickly, it also commits the character Kirten Loor to a set of superior skills, creating a paradox between characteristics like his almost-perfect memory and the arrogance that blinds him to the ploys of his enemies. To me, at least, he's very compelling for his flaws because they soften his abilities into something more three-dimensional.

I can tell right now that this is one I remember relatively well from childhood that, because the writing isn't so good, might not translate well for me as an adult who has less patience with stylistic issues. On the other hand, I've had several moments that surprised me so hopefully, like Rose says, Stackpole is getting his setup out of the way to make room for a narrative that propels itself forward without a lot of authorial prop-up.

Also, I want to see Mirax Terrik again!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

X-wing: Rogue Squadron (or, Copy Red Leader, Rogue Squadron is prepped for reading)

Our next book on this wild, crazy Star Wars adventure is the first Rogue Squadron book by Michael A. Stackpole. I have been very much  looking forward to reading this book ever since I started it as a young teen and never finished it. I only vaguely remember that my attempt took me about 50 pages into the book. And then another, more interesting book came along (I know, sacrilegious! Blasphemy!) and I dropped it like an Ewok that had caught fire. I never went back to it, but I still have my copy, and I'm really excited to pick it back up again. The only thing I distinctly (maybe it's more hazy...) remember is that the Rogue Squadron had a super cool hangout that was sort of like the Batcave, but for Star Wars. So of course it was cooler than the Batcave to a Star Wars nerd like myself. And also that I had a HUMONGOUS crush Wedge Antillies, so it's kind of amazing I never picked this book up again. Oh well, I'm reading it now and my 14 year-old self can go back to crushing on him!

Esme's Thoughts

Okay, I totally don't remember the Batcave but now I'm even more excited! Like Ro-ro, I don't remember reading this book, or series, all the way through as a kid. I remember a friend of mine was wild about them and thought Mirax was the coolest thing since sliced bread (just as well because no way was she taking Mara Jade away from me!). I also remember really liking Corran Horn and his bizarre CorSec/fighter pilot/super-secret Jedi background.

Plus, you know, Wedge Antillies. If there was ever a more awesome Rebel pilot ... well, there isn't actually, so there you go.

I'm super excited to start reading this one. Let's hop to it!

"Just because there's no 'light side' doesn't mean there's no light"

Actually, I'm quite excited about this post because I think Rose's take on the novel is different from mine. Yes! Discussion!

I'm with Rose on this: Michael Stover's writing style is hard to sink into. I have a hard time with wordiness (using twenty words when five will do) and I don't like having things explained to me in a way that suggests I can't work them out for myself, using hefty and well-placed cues (for lessons on how to brilliantly weave these clues, refer to Timothy Zahn).

However, Stover did selectively win me in chapter 15 and an element of the epilogue.

One of Stover's strengths in this novel is his metaphysical exploration of the Force itself, through Luke's connection to the Melters. His training, up to this point, seems kind of like a abstract cluster of sayings about the Force: The Force surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together (Obi-wan Kenobi) and Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering (Yoda). These are beautiful and profound statements that resonate with Luke. However, they don't actually explain anything concrete. They're perspectives, not processes of practical understanding. What I love in chapter 15 is how Stover takes this fabulous baseline of broad ideas proposed by Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi (and Darth Vader, to an extent) and applies them to actual situations faced by beings with no connection to Jedi. The Melters don't conceptualize the way people do: "There had never been any malice in their attacks at all; they didn't even understand that their captives were dying - they were unclear on the whole concept of organic death" (Stover 291). Suddenly, both Yoda and Obi-wan's abstract statements carry weight and help Luke understand a whole other form of life, a form of life Stover describes as "a corporate entity that was also an array of individuals, nodes of consciousness in a larger network of mind ... [living] in fear of nothing" (Stover 290). The Force that Luke understands from one limited individual perspective suddenly carries massive weight as he understands how an entire race has access to it a completely different way. He can also understand how facets of the Dark Side (fear, anger, hatred, suffering) aren't always deliberate in their inception or application - the Melters are attacking humans "in self-defense ... struggling to survive" (Stover 291). Their "campaign against humans had been, to them, merely pest control" (Stover 292). Though violent and warlike in appearance, and very much Dark Side in nature, nothing about the purpose behind the actions is in any way linked to the deliberate cruelty, violence, or malice that a dark Jedi like Blackhole (a.k.a. Clonal) employs. Hence, Luke's awareness that there aren't "dark" sides and "light" sides - as he says, Yoda and Ben never called the Dark Side "the evil side or the death-and-destruction side" (Stover 294). As Luke realizes, the true darkness rests in never pushing beyond the fear, anger, aggression (the black hole) to what lies beyond it's power to destroy - endless light. To bring that back to the Melters, they behave like the bad guys but in failing to understand them (until chapter 15), Luke and, to a much greater extent, Han and Leia, exacerbate the Dark itself by not understanding its source. In seeking the light side, "[Luke] saw that the Force didn't shine on him. It shown through him. He was the light in the darkness" (Stover 294). 

Stover's other strength is foreshadowing (and I quote): "And then there's Aeona Cantor [Luke says to Geptun]. She's not my love interest ... she's not my type. Too abrasive. And I don't like redheads" (366). Oh, this line (as Ro-ro knows so well) gave me so much happiness. I giggled. I admit it.

Rose's Thoughts

Ro here. Es did in fact hit the Rancor on the head in one way. I did not like this EU book at all. The writing rubbed me wrong, the representation of characters had me bristling, even the plot made me cringe. It definitely had redeeming qualities (thank god), but not enough for me to want to keep the book on my shelf. I did like the idea of holovids and holothrillers about our favorite Star Wars characters. Of course celebrities are going to have books and  movies written and made about them! I think the fundamentals of human psyche don't change across galaxies: we want to know about our favorite heroes. And if that means fudging a story about them, we're more than willing to believe it as truth (otherwise, how would all those ragmags at the grocery store checkout stay in business...?) I'm glad I read this book, and I'm even more happy it's behind me. All I can do is giggle a little at the ridiculousness of it all and move on.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Come to the Wordie Side of the Force...

I am now about mid-way through "Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor" by Matthew Stover, and enjoying the heck out of it. Much more than when I started and everything seemed a bit suspicious and weird (mostly because I was coming off of "Truce at Bakura" and getting used to a new writing style is always challenging, but more so when it's the same characters who's personalities are already established...). However, and this for me is a BIG however, Stover's writing style is grating. And by grating, I mean it's a cheese grater that's grating the skin off my body. Because this book is so full of cheese and quippy dialogue, it's dulling my nerve endings.

I say all of this with no offense meant to Mr. Stover. Writing a book is hard work (I know, I do National Novel Writing Month every year and have many unpublished novels to my name), and writing a book with pre-established characters with already set mannerisms is even harder. Many a rookie would think it's easier, but no, it's really difficult. Because then you get major fans like me who read said book and get all bent out of shape because the sarcastic remarks coming out of Han's mouth "just aren't right."

Even worse, to this die-hard (in a huge, huge way) fan, Stover's usage of ridiculous titles for things totally undercuts his ability to write well. Such as a neural implant he's created that controls the person it's embedded into called a "Moon Hat." Or the neural implant that the uber villain wears that's called a "Sunset Crown." For no apparent reason. It would make more sense if the race that created these neural implants gave them these names because of something significant in their society. But the main bad guy created these neural headdresses, and he named them thus because, I assume, they're terms connected to the Dark (not the Dark Side, more like the Dark Side on steroids). Honestly, there really wasn't a reason given for the names. It was more sort of like Stover decided to stick in place-holders while he was writing the original version of Shadows of Mindor and just never went back to change them. It's something I, and many other writers, do when writing a first draft and all the details aren't yet in place. But these names give the story a bit of an unpolished feel to me. I want to know the specific reason behind these names, and many other things in the book. But Stover - in between writing adventures for Han, Leia, Luke, Chewie, and the droids - insists on giving us detailed explanations of the fighter ships, and the guns, and the transport ships, and the TIE fighters, and the missiles, and the grenades. Which is cool, because details are nice that way. But if he pulled out of the Star Wars tech for just a few minutes and applied a little more imagination explanations to some of the terms he created, I would be a much happier fan and reader at this moment.

I will continue the book 1.) because Stover does know how to wrangle a reader into his adventures and 2.) because I'm committed to this project. But maybe, in the future, Mr. Stover if you write more Star Wars novels, take a deep breath, relax, and let a little of the Writing/Wordie Force flow through your mind. I promise, it'll do wonders...