I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Star Wars: The Truce at Bakura by Kathry Tyers





Because I’m not enough of a nerd with the Star Trek, it was only a matter of time before I turned my attention to the Star Wars books and gave them a try. So here I am, starting at the beginning of the post-Jedi timeline with Kathy Tyers’s Truce at Bakura, the first in the long developing timeline that expands beyond the movies. While there was enough here to keep me interested—and several things that shined—this was an uneven outing for me to start an expanded universe journey.

Truce at Bakura is very much a Luke story. When the story is firing on all cylinders, you have some great introspection of a very young man who is straddling a line between wanting to rebuild a quasi-religious order and performing the functions of an officer in the Rebel military—because that’s what he’s become. Luke struggles when put in command—a skill he’s going to need to learn to develop even though he intends to use it in another arena entirely. He reacts awkwardly—in his thoughts—to Han and Leia because he had moments of flirtatious notions that the sudden revelation of his family rendered impossible. He is at a loss to reconcile how he came to view his father—and his father’s ultimate redemption—with the vision all his friends and comrades have of him single-handedly destroying Darth Vader and the Emperor. These are all great moments within the book and made me like Luke a little more.

Then there’s the rest.

The romantic story between Luke and one of the Bakurans comes off as forced and, for me, lacked dimension or feeling—and Luke himself seemed entirely too desperate. The recklessness with which he pursues a formerly brainwashed and tortured force adept as an apprentice made me think he didn’t pay much attention to everything Yoda taught him—or what Yoda thought of him in the beginning. For too much of the book, this feels like the impassioned, reckless Luke of Empire and not the calmer, more reasoned Luke of Jedi.

The other major character piece involves Leia accepting Darth Vader as her biological father. While I get what Tyers is shooting for, I can’t say it did much for me because there wasn’t really much of Leia processing so much as yelling. After a little while it blended together.

Truce at Bakura’s a quick read, and what Tyers is aiming for with Luke is a goal worth aiming for. Though I wonder if, for as high stakes as the plot was and the size constraints of this kind of book, she tried to tackle too much.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack





Despite the engineered tragedy residing at the story’s heart, David Mack’s Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire is a fun romp for one reason: it has nothing to do with the main Star Trek timeline, so anything can happen.

This book bridges the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror” and the Deep Space Nine episode “Crossover” and mainly follows Spock as he attempts to reform a violent, conquest driven empire toward democracy and freedom. Mack’s portrayal of Spock is the winner throughout the book. This is a Spock built on almost pure audacity who suggests radical social engineering (and inevitable defeat and slavery) as casual as most would discuss the weather. And it’s a good thing that Spock is so interesting because this book is very Spock-centric. There are diversions here and there with mirror characters—Matt Decker, Empress Sato, Carol Marcus, Saavik—but ultimately none of them are as intriguing as Spock.

The central premise, of course, is built on a tragedy. We know from the episode “Crossover” that the Terran Empire is doomed to be conquered. Mack’s story turns this into a central part of his story; Spock concludes that true freedom will only be obtained by forcing his people to fight for it. Expecting to lose a war shortly after his reforms are enacted, he creates the seeds for an eventual revolution. This turns what could otherwise be a flaw in the story—knowing the story’s end—into a strength since the inevitable conclusion is advertised well in advance and the reader is invited to be curious about how that conclusion will reached.

In the end, Mack has created a very entertaining read. It is perhaps a more casual, more popcorn book—by that I mean fun, lighter reading—than most Star Trek novels because it has no impact on the main story or the “real” characters. In this case, though, that may be the book’s greatest strength.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward



Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms on Goodreads.

It’s hard to offer anything concise about Dayton Ward’s Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms. As the last book in a five part series, it has the unenviable task of catching all the balls that the previous four books threw up in the air.

Ward’s book is an interesting read, and it benefits from the momentum that has been built leading up to this finale. That so much of the story is Beverly Crusher centric was surprising if only because Crusher is so often a back burner character. I also enjoyed some of the back and forth morality subtext between Crusher and Thomas Riker as they were forced to do all they could to stay alive and find the evidence they were searching for. And while the scenes aboard Enterprise played with a certain sense of routine, the look at Picard as a husband worried about his wife is a fun note that isn’t overplayed—it’s the suggestion of Picard going over the edge rather than the fact of it that makes for the more compelling read in this case. Ward also makes several attempts to show us who the villain Ishan is—from his own point of view—and attempts to paint a rationale over his behavior.

Ultimately it is the revelation of the Ishan mystery that feels so underwhelming. Ward’s efforts to make him credible come too late in a series where Ishan was portrayed, for much of it, as almost a total black hat. While Ward’s portrayal of Ishan is credible and might stand up on its own in a vacuum, it cannot overcome the certainty built up by the previous installments that he is a villain and soon to be defeated. And while the revelation of Ishan’s real identity is both credible and—thankfully—free of some grand conspiracy that would lead to another series of books about war in the Star Trek universe, it is wholly underwhelming.

The book’s closing moments—with Picard talking a little truth to power—improved the book’s standing in my eyes. Whether consciously or not, Ward seemed to channel some internet fans’ angst over TNG era books being so devoted to war and political intrigue rather than the exploration and metaphor that Star Trek has lived on. It was, for me, possibly the best scene in the book.

In the end, this was an interesting and quick read if only because of all that came before. While Ward handled it well, I don’t know that it could escape the weight of the series it had to conclude.

I gave this book two stars on Goodreads.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014, Week 5, Monday



So I’m on vacation. But Monday must be served.

I’m watchinerved. but MOnday g my best friend play a game called League of Legends. I find it interesting on a spectator level; and certainly I have offered my amateur commentary to him often, but I don’t see it is a worthy endeavor as far as strategy is concerned.

A strategy is a lot like a plot in a way. It’s the means by which someone seeks to achieve a goal. And the plot of a story is much like that. Characters seeking an end while readers experience the means by which they get there.

I’m reminded of something J. Michael Straczynski said on a commentary for a Babylon 5 episode. Not playing it at this moment—vacation and all—it went something like this: Costumes don’t matter, effects don’t matter, plots (almost) don’t matter…what matters are characters in conflict with each other and themselves.

I didn’t finish The Loyalty of Pawns until I understood that. And I don’t think I understood the short story format until I understand that piece of truth. It’s the characters. And only the characters. I changed a few bits of The Loyalty of Pawns because the characters in it told me to. I’ve never been able to explain that phenomenon to non-writers. But suffice it so to say that I was not in control at certain points.

The thing with the characters that I finally got right. Maybe.

I think the most interesting aspects of any narrative are the people in them. If you understand Shakespeare there is no question he understood this. Kubrik, Spielberg (loathe though I am to say so), Lehane, Scalzi—I am cherry picking for expediency—it’s all character. Mechanically, I think one could argue about the plots involved—or if there even are any. But they know their characters. And that’s what they write.

I think—without argument for comparison to others—that’s what I’ve gone for. I hope so. People…people are unpredictable, erratic, and insane. But they’re interesting. I can’t claim enough success to offer advice to anyone. But if I did and I could, I would say one thing: Don’t write what you know; write the people you know. If you listen to and know the people, everything else will fall into place.