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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!


  1. Loor is the bad guy?! I had no idea!! None whatsoever. And I'm 80 pages into the book. I feel like I should know who the bad guy is by now. I think I should know what the basic plot of the book is by now. I feel like Stackpole is trying to be "sneaky" and foreshadow a bit, but it's just not working for me at all. I'm 80 pages into this book, and I have NO IDEA what it's about aside from the Rogue Squadron training new recruits and building itself back up again. If this was any other book, I would put it down immediately. It's not holding my attention at all. I'm finding all sorts of excuses not to read it. And I feel awful, because this is the second book in a row where I've had a bad reaction to it. Seriously, I feel like I'm breaking out in hives... Es, you'd better be right that this picks up again.

    I'm also finding that I'm having a hard time being interested because none of the major Star Wars players are in it. A part of me feels like "I'm reading a Star Wars novel, I want to be reading about Luke, Leia, Han, and the gang! Not some stupid fighter pilot I've never heard of before." I love Wedge, but he's not even the main character (which I remember differently from my adolescent reading...). Basically, I'm just bored with it and thinking longingly of the day when I can start YJK or Courtship of Princess Leia. Anything with more action in it, please!

  2. Ro, I hear ya! It really does pick up at points. There's definitely a feeling of "Off we go at least!" when the Rogues actually fight or when there's something on the line. It does happen, I promise. It's not consistent or sustained, unfortunately - I felt a bit like Stackpole would build up to a great sequence and then back down as everyone heads back to base. After page 100, though, there is more consistent action. Also some romance, which I appreciate ^_^

    I'm also getting really hung up on the dialogue. It's WAY too formal. One trick writers use (and if they don't, they should!) to figure out if dialogue actually works is to say it outloud. Speak the dialogue as it's written. I feel like you can tell when Stackpole relaxed as a writer when the dialogue levels off and actually sounds like something the character would say (see the Mirax/Corran conversation starting on p. 247). For whatever reason, though, any time either of the Thyferrans says anything, it sounds so hideously formal (even for the sophisticated, elitist beings they clearly are), it's hard for me not to just skip ahead and try to pretend I didn't read it.

    I do enjoy Corran as a character, though, like you, Ro, I really miss "the gang"!

  3. I think the most attached I've been to anything in this book is Ysanne Isard. The sections with her are amazing!! She's got the most depth of any of Stackpole's other characters, and I want the whole book to be just about her, really. I want to know all about her background with the Emperor and how she rose to power. It's frustrating when you really only want to know about the bad guy, and the author denies you that. You'll have to tell me if Stackpole elaborates on her character in the other books!

    I'm farther into the book now, and it is picking up momentum, but I'm still finding it hard not to get distracted by other books and projects. I roll my eyes every time Corran does or says something. He's just too much of a characture, and we don't have enough of a background on him for Corran to be any sort of an interesting character. Isard gets just as much of a background, but it's clear and well thought out. Whereas Corran's seems poorly mashed together. I'd much rather just see Whistler fly Corran's X-Wing and be the hero of the story...

  4. I wonder if it's actually Corran's character or it's the completely overdone writing style. I love Corran but I have to read through the overly wordy narrative to find that love. It's that whole SHOW ME, don't TELL ME mentality - I get too much of "Corran felt sad" or "Corran was angry at Jace." I need to SEE him be those things, not hear a description of it.

    I have to say, I remember loving Corran as he's written by Zahn so it's possible I'm being influenced by that. Having actually finished the book, I'll admit I'm eager to keep on with the X-wing series because I hope it continues to build momentum. If the second book is as stop-and-go as this one, you can bet I won't be sticking it out.

  5. Hmmm, maybe that's it, I don't remember Corran from the TZahn books. Perhaps if I read a different series (by a different author), it will help me see his character better.

    That is totally what Stackpole is doing!! Telling instead of showing. The number one no-no rule in writing. And it's driving me nuts!! I'm just barely half-way through and nearly ready to just call in quits. BUT I won't! I'm determined! I will finish it! But if you want to read the second one now, it may be a little while longer before we start The Courtship of Princess Leia...