Star Wars

Star Wars
Property of George Lucas, LucasFilms Ltd.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Dark Side ... of writing

This is the Dark Side, KJA!! Don't listen!
Ro and I recently agreed that we're actually more invested in "Darksaber" than we were in any of the other KJA books we've read so far. We're pretty sure it's because there's genuinely interesting plot happening here. KJA chose to do yet another superweapon novel but he also chose some very interesting villains. Good for him! It's neat that he's using Hutts (so random!) and giving Admiral Daala such an interesting and persuasive agenda. Also interesting how ruthless she remains - she goes around killing on a daily basis! The Emperor really missed out when he didn't recruit more jilted and maniacal women into his officer core. Imagine the might of an empire with Admiral Daala, Roganda Ismaren, and Mara Jade running things. RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

All that said, why can't KJA write a decent paragraph to save his life?? And/Or why couldn't LucasFilms/Bantam Spectra find a good editor to work with him??

I'm not a grammar freak - no, really! But when I read, I don't want to be reminded that I'm reading. There are all kinds of ways of accomplishing this immersion: solid character points-of-view that really get you inside a character's thoughts and perspective, effortless wording (in both description and dialogue) that feels as though it were easy to write, humorous and lively phrases and expressions and clever word play that makes me want to share it with everyone I know. I'm not saying it's easy - but when you're writing professionally, I think it's safe to set the readability bar high.

I'm still trying to get to the heart of what bothers me about KJA's writing (and "bothers" is not a strong enough word, clearly!) so I thought I'd find a paragraph that irritates me and try rewriting it. Maybe then I can get to the roots of my irritation and put specific explanations to them ... or not, we'll see ^_^

KJA's Paragraph

"Daala felt her nerves taut like high-tension wires running through her body. She kept her expression impassive, but adrenaline coursed through her as she strapped herself into her chair. Everything had gone remarkably well. The conquest had been devastating and bloody, but she had taken out selected targets 0 the appropriate victims - and the Empire's harvest grew stronger and richer with each weed she plucked. Se felt elated when she thought of the momentum of her triumph.

Pellaeon raised his eyebrow in question, but she didn't respond. The risk had paid off for her. She would always remain on guard, but for the moment the danger was over. Now she had to work on consolidating her power."
--Darksaber, p. 154

Esme's Issues

To begin with, get rid of descriptive verbs like "Daala felt" - right away I feel like the author's telling me something about Daala instead of Daala's perspective telling it for me. Same goes for the past-perfect ("had paid off," "had been devastating," etc). Not only is there a removal from Daala's point-of-view but sentences like "The conquest had been devastating and bloody" is a gross generalization that sort of takes the subtlety and cleverness of Daala's consolidation of power for granted. In fact, there's a really neat sentence in here that's getting buried under the poor craftsmanship of all the others: "...the Empire's harvest grew stronger and richer with each weed she plucked." How cool is that imagery! It sounds exactly like something that a grand tactician like Daala would think! And that's what this paragraph needs - more of Daala's fabulous and terrifying character.

With all this in mind, here's one way I think an editor could tackle this:

Even Imperial troopers have children who need PBS...
Esme's Edit

"Daala's nerves sang like high-tension wires. She strapped herself into her chair, schooling her expression into an impassive scowl as she considered the last few weeks of her campaign. Though devastating and bloody, she had eliminated selected targets - the appropriate victims - and the Empire's harvest grew stronger and richer with each weed she plucked. She smiled grimly at the momentum of her triumph - all went according to plan.

Out of the corner of her eye, Daala caught Pellaeon's raised eyebrow. She ignored it. The risks continued to pay off. Her guard remained up but, for the present, the danger was over. It was time to consolidate power. For the glory of her Empire."

There are any number of ways to improve this paragraph (and many others like it in the novel) - I just wish someone (read: THE EDITOR) had because this novel has so much potential for awesome!!

Winter the friend... Winter the spy... Winter the scoundrel... Winter the babysitter?

Winter Celchu has quickly become my favorite non-movie character during this rereading/blogging project.As a kid I didn't really pay her a lot of attention. She was Leia's childhood friend who later went on to become a babysitter for the princess. This was how I understood it as a kid. If I hadn't read Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn last year, I would have probably continued in thinking that Winter was nothing more than a glorified child-wrangler.

She is not, however, and I find myself majorly disliking Leia for turning Winter into a maid and babysitter. Who does that to a childhood friend that one considers a sister? I suppose when the twins and Anakin were being protected from the Empire on their secret asteroid, Winter was the right person to have there guarding them. But since that point, all we ever see of her (and the Solo children...) is a quick "Oh, hi Winter. There are the twins. And Anakin. Knock yourself out while we go save the galaxy."

In fact, Winter played a key role in the Rebellion before the New Republic was ever formed. She has a photographic memory and remembers everything she sees and hears. With these abilities, she was a formidable spy working for the Rebels. You wouldn't know it though unless you'd read Scoundrels, in which TZahn introduces a lot of her back story. She was actually adopted by Bail Organa when her father, an aide to Senator Organa, died. She went to work for the Rebellion about the same time Leia did. But because of her unique talent she went almost immediately into subterfuge and information gathering. And then graduates, later in life, to babysitting the twins and Anakin. I wonder why she decided to agree to that. Winter is the sort of character that does only what she wants. I wish authors had devoted a little more page space to developing Winter further because she's one of the most interesting, intriguing characters in the canon.

One last wondering to leave you with: what if Winter's ability to remember everything she sees and hears is based in the Force? Wouldn't that be interesting?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Darksaber... are we ready for Kevin J. Anderson again?

Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson
Ro reporting for blogposting duty! Moving directly on from Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly, we zoom straight into Kevin J. Anderson's Darksaber. After the rousing success that was CotJ, I think Es and I are both slightly concerned that Darksaber won't hold much bantha milk. KJAnderson has disappointed us in the past with his almost-but-not-quite-there antics in the Jedi Academy trilogy. Maybe Darksaber will be different. I really  hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.

I know I have not read Darksaber before. I purchased a copy from the bookstore I work at ages ago in preparation for reading it. I looked it up on Wookiepedia, as I don't have the book with me right now. Apparently, the Hutts are making an appearance. Durga the Hutt and his buddies want to make another super weapon. Luke and Han find out when they travel back to Tatooine so Luke can try to make contact with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The weapon would involved the Death Star superlaser and the Hutts are calling it Darksaber. Hence the title of the book one supposes. At this point, Luke and Callista are continuing work on rebuilding the Jedi Order, and I assume Luke wants to contact Obi-Wan to talk with him about training future Jedi. And, sadly, Admiral Daala does show her Imperial face again.
It's funny because the Obi-Wan gets dead.

I was actually looking forward to Darksaber until I read the following on Wookiepedia: "Although it was not as successful as the Jedi Academy trilogy, Darksaber peaked at number three on the New York Times Bestseller list. Nevertheless, fans in consider it it to be one of the worst Star Wars novels ever, giving it a 5.97 average rating."

We-ell, I suppose that tells me all I need to know. Here's hoping the Star Wars fans got it wrong...

Esme's Two Cents

It could be a trap ...
I obviously love Star Wars fans - and am one myself. However, they can be a biased and unreasonable
bunch, for reasons ranging from "ship" (as in, character relationship) disagreements to irrational claims that if you love Star Wars, you can't love Star Trek (I'm sorry, what?). So, like Ro, I'm holding out hope.

Interestingly enough, gave CotJ 3.5/4 stars (not too shabby) but actually gave Darksaber 4/4 - so either these guys have a real bias or this book is decent. I hope very much for the latter. After struggling through the Jedi Academy trilogy, I have, shall we say, a few concerns.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see ....

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

And We (Finally) Have a Winner: Barbara Hambly! Girl power!

Child of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly
Esme's Take
Yes, folks, it's true! After a number of disappointing reads (though, admittedly, the disappointments gives us loads to discuss), we've finally found a winner. And, just to make it extra special, the author's a woman. Obviously, there are loads of incredible sci-fi/fantasy writers who are women: Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, and ... okay, so maybe there aren't as many as I thought. But I think, even among her incredible, though not perhaps numerous, contemporaries, BHambly stands out.

Also, am I alone in thinking Han looks completely insane and sketchy in this otherwise beautiful cover art?

Ginger Spice - couldn't resist, she's
the queen of Girl Power ^_^
Where to start? Well, to begin with, I actually quite like Callista. I know, it was a shock to me, too! Not only did I like her, but I discovered I have a lot of respect for BHambly's handling of female characters in general, which is no easy thing in sci-fi. From Leia to Cray to Roganda, BHambly is clearly a pro at characterization - these are well-rounded, powerful women! Roganda Ismaren has taken a battered and humiliating background and twisted it into advantage and power. Sure, she's evil, but unlike the negligible Admiral Daala, Roganda is believable, even sympathetic. I'm not keen on her harsh use of her son in her schemes, but then, he's a man, too, and Roganda has clearly been used and abused too much to care who she uses and how. Actually, I think she makes a nice foil for Mara - both were Emperor's Hands and both turned their ill-usage to their advantage. They did so in very different ways, but still. Looking at Cray and Callista, there's a very similar feeling I have about their character development. Everything about Callista's character paints her as a successful and powerful Jedi, someone who sacrifices who she is and who she loves in order to do her duty. In that way, she's a lot like Luke, although unlike Luke, she's able to continue to sacrifice herself in favor of saving the world.

Which brings me to the very interesting situation we're left with at the end of the book. Up until Cray chooses to sacrifice her body to Callista, Callista has been by-the-book Jedi. It was so interesting to me that she chose to inhabit Cray's body to be with Luke and interesting the sacrifice she paid for that choice. It's also pretty clear that she's not sure how she feels about the decision not to simply join the Force and have the peace of death after a short lifetime's unwavering loyalty to her service. I like that her decision, though at first blush uncharacteristic, does actually make some sense to me. The choice is a hard one and, given that it's clear she wasn't expecting it until the last minute when Cray offered, it was a big risk to take. In short, I find her to be an incredibly easy character to understand and sympathize with.
Just because ... teehee

It's interesting, actually, because my own bias against her was always based dually on my love of the idea
that Mara was destined to be the love of Luke's life and the fandom's hatred of her (seriously? So much fan fiction lays the hate on her). I was never brave enough to actually read about her and give her a chance. I'm so glad I have now read about her and given her - indeed, given BHambly - a chance. BHambly was worth it, Callista was worth it, and I can't wait to continue reading about the little corner of the Star Wars EU BHambly created. I know how it ends, I know what happens, but I feel like I'm reading all this with open eyes and that I can finally, at least, truly enjoy and appreciate the Callista trilogy.

Ro's input: I spent the better part of a Saturday about a week and a half ago dedicated completely to this book. I think I hardly stopped to make tea or toast (my favorite reading munchies, I'm very hobbity that way...). This book had all the compelling agents in it that most phenomenal books have: plot, characters, and good writing. The fact that it starred some of my favorite Star Wars characters just made it that much sweeter.

I did not have the same anxieties as Es going into this book. I went into it the way I've gone into almost every one of our books, with as open a mind as I could (Michael Stackpole notwithstanding). As a child I never formed any ideas either way about characters, Callista vs. Mara, etc. I just cared that the EU books removed me from my own frustrating and sometimes painful reality of terrifying surgery after scary test after frustrating doctor's appointment. I was attached to the Star Wars universe in an entirely different way than Es, but it meant a lot to both of us regardless.

The entire time I read Children of the Jedi, I kept getting glimpses of nostalgia. I know I read this book as a kid, but I remembered only small snapshots of it. It was an incredible feeling, being able to read a book for the second time, but really having it seem like the first. I wish I could do this with other books like Harry Potter and the Divergent trilogy and the Abhorsen trilogy. But I can't leave those books alone for more than a few years, let alone a decade - which is apparently at least how long the forgetting process takes. I can't wait to continue with BHambly, but I suppose we must go through a Kevin J. Anderson book to get there first. So...

...bring on Darksaber!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back on track with BHambly!

Callista Ming nee. Malasa
As I, Esme, mentioned previously, I had serious reservations about "Children of the Jedi" when I was a kid - reservations which, I hoped, to put aside during my rereading. Ro and I are about halfway through the book (okay, I admit, I'm actually about three-quarters of the way now) and I don't think either of us could have anticipated our reactions.

Which is that it is AWESOME!

One of the great things about this novel is how it truly unfolds. There's real mystery and real sense of each character traveling all over the place and collecting evidence of what's unfolding around them. I like that Han, Leia, and Luke all seem to have their own arch in "Children," their own journey. They begin in one place and end up running all over the place, pushing themselves to their physical and emotional limits in true odyssey fashion.

I also appreciate that, in allowing each of our favorite trio to undertake their own journey, BHambly also fully immerses herself in each of their points of view in a very convincing way. I get a true sense of Leia as a struggling mother, a trainee Jedi frustrated by the limits of her power, a Chief of State burdened by the duty she feel compelled to undertake. Han's character once again feels like he's towing a fine line between the respectable and the roguish as he undergoes his journey and looks into his past as he encounters his old friend, Drub McKumb, and talks to Mara Jade, who moves (as a smuggler) in similar circles. And I've never been so physically exhausted reading about Jedi! Wowza - just when Luke can't damage himself any further, his already-broken leg is set on fire! I exaggerate but the extent to which he undergoes physical and emotional suffering in this book is pretty astounding - and very compelling.

The Eye of Palpatine
There's a whole lot to say on the subject of Callista as well and how differently I feel about her now than I did when I was a kid. I'll save that for the final "Children" post.

I'm feeling back on track with this project in a way I haven't felt since we first ventured in TZahn's trilogy. Not only am I reading a raging, insatiable pace, but I'm also excited about our project again. Who knew the book I was dreading reading would be the one I'd get most involved in. This has been, so far, my favorite outside of TZahn's series. So weird.

Ro here. I never had any reservations about "Children," whether as a child or an adult. I love Mara Jade, sure, but I never worshiped her the way Es did and does. So I was sort of ambivalent about Callista. I was happy when Luke and Mara got married, but as many of us know, one has to have a first love and it's rare when that first love becomes the ONLY love.

Anyway, I am also enjoying the HECK out of "Children!" I was a bit confused and put off by not knowing who Nicos and Cray were at first, but after a chapter or two, I was able to look past my confusion and fall into the story. Es is right. This book is SO GOOD. I absolutely love BHambly's world building ability. I'm actually understanding and seeing landscapes and aliens. Not just rough ideas of them either, but full blown details. It doesn't feel heavy with details, but perfectly balanced with narrative and character building. I'm still around the halfway mark, so that's kind of what I've got to add right now. I'm sure I'll have more once I've finished. I can't wait to get back to my book and it's nearly a physical effort to pull myself out of it!!