Sep 06

Book Review: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Diese Rezension wurde ursprünglich auf Jedi-Bibliothek.de auf Deutsch veröffentlicht. – This review was initially published in German at Jedi-Bibliothek.de. I translated it because of „popular demand“, you might say.

Aftermath (04.09.2015)

Aftermath (04.09.2015)

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig is the first book of the eponymous trilogy and at the same time the only adult novel in the „Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens“ and atop of that also the first canon novel set after Return of the Jedi. The book is mainly about a secret imperial meeting on the new planet Akiva, which a ragtag band of rebels led by a new Akivan character named Norra Wexley wants to interrupt after receiving a distress call from Wedge Antilles.

Expectations: Some readers expected this book to be the new Heir to the Empire, thinking it would dictate the direction for all future books, comics and other works in the post-Battle of Endor Star Wars timeline. My expectations were considerably lower. The hype for Heir to the Empire had different reasons and the book’s plot isn’t really comparable with Aftermath. Truce at Bakura, the chronologically first post-Endor Legends novel, is also a bad comparison, even though more logical than the one with Heir. Basically, I was expecting a novel clearly presenting me the state of affairs after Endor and also tackling important questions. No, not important questions about The Force Awakens – that’s really not realistic given its placement in the timeline – but questions focusing on the formation of the New Republic and the state of the Empire and the remaining Imperial leadership on Coruscant. Sadly, Aftermath mostly fails in this regard. But what else can be said about the book?

New characters! Aftermath’s first part consists of (mostly bland and unspectacular) character introductions. Even though I have to praise Wendig for his usage of dreams and memories, I think his characters offer little for the reader to identify with. Only the respective admirals, Ackbar (on the side of the New Republic) and Rase Sloane (on the side of the Empire, introduced in A New Dawn) were characters I found interesting. That is because the first is a veteran character we’ve known for years and the second (Rae) has been introduced masterfully in John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, an introduction the reader can use to understand her character here. In fact, the new characters only started to interest me in the third part, but that is also mostly owed to the plot coming together and the rising stakes and has little to do with the characters themselves. Still, I commend Wendig for the diversity of his characters regarding sex, race and sexuality. This is something Star Wars really needs more of. Sadly, the characters themselves are mostly bland stereotypes – a neglected teenager, a bounty hunter with a soul, an intellectual Imperial deserter… Only the unconventionally modified B1 battle droid Mister Bones conquered my heart immediately.

New characters? At the focus of Aftermath is a meeting of so-called high-ranking Imperials on Akiva. Sadly, these – maybe with the exception of Rae Sloane – are just a bunch of wannabes. At no point of the story was I able to take this meeting seriously. And this has a simple reason: these high-ranking Imperials were all completely new characters. Where are Mas Amedda, Sate Pestage, Ars Dangor, Armand Isard, Janus Greejatus (assuming he canonically didn’t die on the Death Star) and all the other Imperial leaders established in Revenge of the Sith, Tarkin and, most recently, Lando? The book does not tell us what became of them and why they aren’t present, which I consider a huge plot hole – even though Lost Stars states that Mas Amedda is still around after Return of the Jedi. He basically was Palpatine’s second in command (disregarding Vader) – why isn’t he part of a meeting that claims to decide the future of the Empire? Instead we get a corrupt banker, an incompetent, self-proclaimed Grand Moff, some general, a fanatic adviser to Palpatine and a recently promoted Admiral? The end of the book may explain some of this setup, but it doesn’t excuse stalling us for 360 pages with these boring, supposedly important characters without telling us what happened to the actually important characters. I have the feeling the rushed last 80 pages of Lost Stars told me more about the time after Endor than this book.

So it’s all bad? Nope. There are also interesting things. In so-called „interludes“, Chuck Wendig provides us glimpses of events elsewhere in the galaxy. Tatooine. Taris. Chandrila. Jakku. Naboo. Even Coruscant. These are offering us hints at what may be happening at these places right now. From events that may or may not mean the beginning of the First Order from The Force Awakens to the foreshadowing of the Battle of Jakku and the reformation of the Bounty Hunter Guild there are some interesting ideas. (However, I didn’t quite get the point of all of these interludes, but maybe books 2 and 3 of the trilogy will expand on them.) Sadly, I have to say that I often found the events in these interludes more interesting than the main plot. Especially the „interlude“ with Han and Chewie is mocking the reader, teasing him things he cannot have (but hey, maybe in book 2 or 3…) – and this interlude isn’t the only one that does this. However, some of these interludes (like the ones on Coruscant and Naboo) just seem like filler chapters to me, intended to inflate this book’s page count beyond that of previous canon novels – and, well, it worked.

Also interesting: The meetings of the Imperials, as unimportant as these individuals may seem, offer a tiny, interesting glimpse at the state of the Empire, even though the big questions are of course avoided. However, Tashu (the advisor of the late Emperor) gives us an anecdote about Palpatine’s dark side research that may (or may not) be relevant for Episode VII. There’s also an interlude with Vader’s Sith lightsaber that may give rise to speculations. Easter egg hunters can also find allusions to Star Wars Rebels (including a scene that is clearly mirroring the Rebel transmission from „Call to Action“) and to The Clone Wars. In fact, one of the main characters is related to a recurring The Clone Wars character and another important character has been recruited into the Rebel Alliance by a certain „Fulcrum“…

The ending: After part 2, I was ready to categorise Aftermath as an uninteresting book with the same irrelevance as some of the previous canon novels, but with the added problem of stylistic defects. (A verdict that I still mostly stand by.) Then came the third part, which got things going at least a little bit. As I said before, Wendig manages to steer his badly characterised protagonists into a somewhat exciting showdown with a lot of action on the ground and in space, and I was at least invested in Rae Sloane’s fate (because of A New Dawn). In every book I’m looking forward to the climax, when the plot comes together and unfolds into a finale, and I at least get that here. Part 4 and the epilogue then plant the seeds for the continuation, which will hopefully become a better book than this one.

The style: Aftermath is written in the present tense, which is some sort of personal preference of the writer; at least I found the same stylistic device in the preview of another Wendig novel. But wait – is it truly a stylistic device? Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon used the present tense to mark dreams and memories. Chuck Wendig uses it because… because he can? I don’t know. It doesn’t really add anything to the book, but you get used to it after a while. However, what really put me off was the simple syntax with extremely short sentences. At some points, they were cleverly used to convey a feeling of accellerated action, but most of the time it just seems like a child wrote this novel. (If it’s a case of accellerated action, it’s usually also marked by one-sentence paragraphs emphasising the staccato.) Finally, the writer likes to use colloquialisms like „helluva“ or „oops“ in the narration, which doesn’t really remedy the impression of a sloppy, awkward style.

Conclusion: Aftermath is a book that you can probably only enjoy with low expectations. Initially I thought I had such low expectations, but apparently it’s too much to ask for from a book that’s intented to open up the post-Endor canon to at least provide superficial answers to the most important questions of that time. In addition to that, it doesn’t even fulfill the basic requirements of a good novel – interesting characters, logical plot, good style. Well, style is a matter of taste, but for what it’s worth, this style isn’t to my taste. Since we’re looking at two more novels by Wendig, I hope that both he and the story group will come up with more interesting concepts for the future. A few allusions to important events happening elsewhere in a mostly shallow novel don’t really make for an enjoyable read and thus I can only give it 2 out of 5 holocrons (or maybe 2,5, since I considered the third part an improvement). It’s possible this book only serves as an exposition of what will be expanded on in the second book, but by itself, Aftermath is quite the disappointment.

Der Rezensent vergibt 2 von 5 Holocrons!

Der Rezensent vergibt 2 von 5 Holocrons!

Thanks to Del Rey for providing me with a review copy!

Feb 14

Book Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

This is the English version of my German review of Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi over at Jedi-Bibliothek.de

Heir to the Jedi

Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne (03/03/2015)

Heir to the Jedi is the third canon novel produced under the supervision of the Lucasfilm Story Group, previously intented to be the third volume of the Legends series Empire and Rebellion. It was written by Kevin Hearne and the American hardcover edition will be publised on March 3, 2015 by Del Rey. It’s noteworthy that this book, set between Episodes IV and V, is written from Luke Skywalker’s first-person perspective. This style has not been used in Star Wars novels since I, Jedi by Mike Stackpole.

The Plot: Luke Skywalker has been without a master since Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in Episode IV and his Jedi self-teaching efforts have only met limited success. His best friend Biggs died during the Battle of Yavin and since then he has stayed busy doing one mission after the other for the Rebel Alliance. When he is sent on an exfiltration mission together with Nakari Kelen – the beautiful as well as intellligent daughter of the owner of Kelen Biolabs – and R2-D2 in order to rescue the mathematically gifted Givin hacker Drusil Bephorin from the clutches of the Empire, a series of harrowing adventures ensues… From brain-eating jungle parasites to bounty hunters and ISB agents to Imperial fleets, Luke and Nakari have many obstacles to master in order to reach their goal…

The first-person narration: My absolute highlight about this book. Kevin Hearne has mastered this style and uses it brilliantly to show Luke’s emotional state following the events in Episode IV as well as his states of mind in the respective situations portrayed in the novel. Hearne has masterfully captured the voice of the inexperienced, but far from incompetent farmboy Luke Skywalker. I also found myself smiling while reading – Heir to the Jedi is no slapstick comedy, but it is a light-hearted novel and the first-person narrator creates humour more than just once when it is fitting to do so. Delicious! (Especially funny moment: Luke opens a Jedi’s grave in order to check if a body is inside – as far as he knew, Jedi evaporated into thin air when they died.) We also learn how „brotherly“ Luke Skywalker’s feelings for Princess Leia Organa were at this point in the timeline.

Nakari Kelen: The character of Nakari Kelen is a good mirror for Luke Skywalker: She, too, has a family trauma in her past for which she directly blames Darth Vader. A truly likeable character that works well together with Luke. She, too, comes from a desert world – Pasher – and can understand Luke’s frustration with Tatooine. Kevin Hearne has created a strong female character. My only criticism with this soulmate of Luke’s is her first meeting with him, which was a bit odd to read, dialogue-wise. You may ask why she isn’t in Episodes V and VI. Well… spoilers.

Luke’s development and the novel’s importance for the canon: The novel does not offer much in terms of character development, but in the introduction the author already tells us that he has built this novel around the question of when and how Luke Skywalker learnt to use Force telekinesis between Episodes IV and V. After all, he had this ability in The Empire Strikes Back when he called his lightsaber to his hand in the wampa cave. However, I have to criticize that this is the only event in this novel that is actually relevant for the saga as a whole – and that the circumstances are utterly ridiculous despite evoking an Anakin/Padmé scene from Episode II. After A New Dawn gave us a well written, but otherwise not really relevant story (at least in my opinion), after Tarkin used great detail to shine a light on the life of a secondary character from the movies, we get a story that is even less relevant. Of these three novels, Tarkin probably remains the most relevant and the one I liked most.

The novels have always also told smaller events happening outside of the movies, but in the Expanded Universe (Legends) we at least also got some larger galactic events in the novels. The time between Episodes IV and V may be the wrong era to expect such a story, but I think Del Rey and the Story Group should see to it that we get both „big“ and „small“ stories. Stilistic variation is a fine thing (A New Dawn, Tarkin and Heir to the Jedi show great stilistic diversity), but that is not enough for me. Maybe Lords of the Sith and Dark Disciple will deliver more of what I just mentioned…

The problematic pacing of the action: As much as I have to praise Kevin Hearne for his use of the first person and his portrayal of the characters (Drusil Bephorin and her mathematical jokes are funnier than C-3PO), as much do I have to criticize his narrative structure. The first third of the book consists of a bunch of „side quests“ (if I may make this comparison to gaming) that feel like completely independent stories: Luke visits the Rodians, Luke visits Nakari Kelen’s father, Luke and the brain parasites… later, these „side quests“ are woven back into the main plot, justifying their existence, but Kevin Hearne has the strange tendency to cut these subplots short just when they are about to become interesting. A narrative stop-and-go situation, if you will. Both the plot as well as the size of the novel could benefit from a more in-depth exploration of these subplots.

The second part of the book, however, is very suspenseful because Hearne actually takes the time to develop his plot and delivers some awesome space combat scenes. That’s when I thought, „This book is saved!“ However, while the last third still projects a certain sense of urgency for the characters, this suspense did fully reach me as a reader. The big „showdown“ at the end of the book struck me as especially strange – on the one hand, we have a wonderfully desperate life-or-death situation on a lonely island, on the other hand, something happens with one of the characters that left me deeply disappointed. And after this battle scene, the author wrote five more pages or so and then concluded the novel – a bit too abruptly for my taste. Given how much time he took to develop his main plot over half a dozen (prematurely interrupted) sub plots, he ended it far too suddenly.

Further comments: I am interested to see if and how the new Marvel comics set in this era will incorporate the events from Heir to the Jedi and Luke’s absence from the Alliance fleet – and if we will meet characters from this novel in the comic books. As of now, there is no exact chronological placement for this book other than „in the first year after Episode IV“, and that seems to be intentional. The exact placement may be left to Marvel or the saga’s historians in the years to come. It’s also worth noting Del Rey’s interior design for the canon novels. In A New Dawn, the chapter headings showed the picture of the planet Gorse, in Tarkin they showed the Imperial crest and in Heir to the Jedi they include mathematical formulae, the reason for which I only understood when the plot introduced the Givin culture and Drusil Bephorin. I also hope Del Rey will produce some larger novels again in the future – A New Dawn still had an acceptable page count, Tarkin was surprisingly thin and Heir to the Jedi is only a few pages ahead of Tarkin. Since all these novels are sold at the same price, this decreasing page count is alarming – not to mention what it means for the story.

Conclusion and rating: All in all, this novel was quite entertaining and provided a good measure of humour, but given the several negative points that I mentioned above I have to say that I am not particularly impressed by Heir to the Jedi. Only the second act seemed „well-rounded“ to me and the ending left me with a bitter taste. Without that ending I may even have given the novel 3 out of 5 holocrons for an average book, but given that I cannot just ignore the finale, I sadly have to correct this rating to 2 holocrons. And Mr Hearne, if you ever get the chance to write Star Wars again (and I am not opposed to that!), please use less noodles.

Der Rezensent vergibt 2 von 5 Holocrons!

The reviewer gives Heir to the Jedi 2 out of 5 holocrons

About the book

  • Title: Heir to the Jedi
  • Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages. (plus a 15-page excerpt of Lords of the Sith)
  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • ISBN: 978-0-345-54485-8
  • SRP: $28,00 USD
  • Links: Amazon.com, RandomHouse.com

My original German review can be found at Jedi-Bibliothek.de

Jul 10

The Wire und Orphan Black

Semesterbegleitend habe ich zwei weitere Serien von meiner „watch list“ abgearbeitet.

Oprhan Black

Diese Serie kann ich nicht genug loben. Eine Trickbetrügerin entdeckt, dass sie ein Klon ist, als sie „sich selbst“ beim Selbstmord beobachtet, und von da an gerät ihr Leben aus den Fugen. Tatiana Maslany spielt in dieser Serie ein gutes Dutzend geklonter aber dennoch verschiedener Frauen und verleiht jeder von ihnen ihre eigene Persönlichkeit. Das reicht von Akzenten und anderen Sprachmerkmalen über Frisur, Kleidungsstil, etc. bis hin zu Gestik, Mimik und der gesamten Art, sich zu bewegen… ob angespannt, ob lässig, ob einladend, ob bedrohlich und steif – alles ist dabei. Manchmal merkt man nicht mal, dass es dieselbe Schauspielerin ist, weil sich die Klone im Kopf des Zuschauers als ganz verschiedene Figuren abspeichern.

Schaut es an! Es ist GUT!

The Wire

Ein HBO-Klassiker über die Probleme der Stadt Baltimore: Drogen, Kriminalität, schlechte Schulen, Korruption, Menschenhandel im Hafen… über 5 Staffeln bekommt man ein gutes Bild davon. Ein düsteres, urbanes Setting mit Charakteren, die aus dem Leben gegriffen sind. Von den schrulligen Detectives des Baltimore Police Department, die die Kriminellen der Stadt abhören (daher der Titel der Serie), bis hin zu den Gangster-Kids von der Straßenecke lernt man sie doch alle zu lieben oder zu hassen und hat auf beiden Seiten des Gesetzes Leute, mit denen man sympathisisert. Das liegt nicht zuletzt daran, dass die Figuren dreidimensional sind – sie haben Motivationen und Hintergründe. Meine Lieblingsfigur ist und bleibt Omar Little, der homosexuelle schwarze Amoralist mit der Riesenwumme und den Rastalocken, der die Drogendealer der Stadt beraubt. Oh, und bei der Polizei ist Lester Freamon ungeschlagen – auch wenn es derselbe Schauspieler wie Alonzo Quinn bei Person of Interest ist und ich mir manchmal denke: „Hilfe, der ist gefährlich!“ (Generell haben die viele Darsteller aus Person of Interest und House of Cards in dieser Serie…)

Auch hier ergeht eine Empfehlung an alle Freunde des literarischen Fernsehens – denn genau das ist The Wire: ein Buch, das unsere Realität geschrieben hat.

Apr 15

Serienjunkie

Es ist (k)ein Geheimnis, dass ich ein (nicht ganz so) kleiner Serienjunkie bin. Besonders das Sci-Fi/Mystery/Fantasy-Genre hat es mir angetan, bin aber auch einem guter Thriller, einem abwechslungsreichen Procedural, einem intelligenten Charakterdrama oder der einen oder anderen Comedy nicht abgeneigt.

Eine (unvollständige) Liste der Serien, die ich schaue bzw. geschaut habe, findet ihr hier.

Apr 14

Hallo Welt!

Hallo Welt! Ich wage mich erneut ans Bloggen. Diesmal wird es jedoch weniger Poesie, sondern mehr über meine aktuellen Projekte, Hobbies, Interessen, Erlebnisse oder Meinungen zu lesen geben, je nachdem wonach mir gerade der Sinn steht.

Als erstes werden Unterseiten mit Infos zu den Projekten folgen, an denen ich gerade arbeite. Dazu gehören natürlich der Offizielle Star Wars Fan-Club und die Jedi-Bibliothek.

Wer Probleme mit nerdigen Inhalten hat, der meide diese Seite besser tunlichst.

May the Force be with you, for winter is coming to the Shire and the Machine is watching you because you have failed this city.