Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review: “Star Wars: The Weapon Of A Jedi” by Jason Fry

Title: The Weapon Of A Jedi
Author: Jason Fry
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney Press, 2015

Here we go again! The Weapon Of A Jedi is the second of three YA novels featuring the protagonists of the original trilogy in that time period while simultaneously seeding characters and locations from the upcoming film. This time we follow Luke Skywalker as he strives alone to figure out his destiny as the last of the Jedi in the wake of the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Though he is hailed as a hero by the Rebellion for destroying the dreaded Death Star, Luke Skywalker cannot shake the nagging feeling that his destiny is larger than the cockpit of his X-Wing fighter. When an encounter with an Imperial patrol cuts short a diplomatic mission and forces him to set down for repairs, Luke finds himself drawn to the ruined Jedi temple Eedit. Has the Empire managed to eradicate everything of use at the sight? Or will Luke find valuable information and training to aid his masterless quest to become a Jedi Knight? Perhaps more importantly, will he manage to evade the Imperial dragnet searching for him all over the sector?

As with Smuggler’s Run, The Weapon Of A Jedi was a solid if simple story. The characters all ring true, and it’s always interesting to see Luke fumbling about in his quest to master the Force. This particular tale falls into the niche between Heir To The Jedi and Skywalker Strikes, covering his increasing skill with the lightsaber and showing why he (mistakenly) felt confident enough to face Vader on Cymoon I. We meet a number of characters from the upcoming film, including Jessica Pava in the prologue/epilogue and Sarco Plank (aka “The Scavenger”) in the main body of the novel. I will be surprised if Farnay doesn’t show up again at some point, but as yet there’s no indication of when that will be. Interestingly, Luke’s role in the new movie continues to be somewhat obscure. Whereas the prologue/epilogue to Smuggler’s Run actually featured Han and Chewie, the same segment here instead features C-3PO telling the story to Resistance pilot Jessica Pava instead of featuring Luke himself. What do we make of that? No idea. Just a curious observation. On the whole, I’d recommend the book.

CONTENT: Mild violence, not too graphic. No sexual content or profanity.

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Review: “Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run” by Greg Rucka

Title: Smuggler’s Run
Author: Greg Rucka
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney Press, 2015

Amid the frenzied run-up to a new Star Wars film being released, fans who know what they’re doing will keep a careful eye on the various books being released for a glimpse at the fantastic world they’ll soon be inhabiting. Some are more relevant than others (Labyrinth Of Evil ended literally as the opening crawl for Revenge Of The Sith started rolling), but there’s usually a number of so-called Easter Eggs thrown in for sharp-eyed fans. The run-up to The Force Awakens is no different. While the body of the book is set immediately following A New Hope, the tale is bracketed by a prologue/epilogue set just before the new film. For that matter, it wouldn’t at all surprise me to have elements from the main tale become relevant later as well, thanks to the newly-inaugurated interconnectivity of the Star Wars canon.

The Death Star is destroyed! Against his better judgement, Han Solo pulled a last-minute about face and joined the battle, distracting Darth Vader long enough to allow Luke to make the fateful shot that saved the Rebellion from certain and immediate destruction. Now he just wants to get off-world and back to Tatooine and use his reward money to convince Jabba to cancel the bounty on his head. But when Leia comes to him with a desperate mission only the Millennium Falcon is fast enough to pull off, Han is surprised to find himself taking the job. In the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire is hitting every Rebel cell they can find. One such cell is run by Lieutenant Ematt, who also is the man in charge of exploring and setting up fallback points, rendezvous, and supply caches for the Rebellion. Though his team is dead, Ematt himself is still at large….for now. But the Imperial Security Bureau is hot on his trail, and the Falcon is the only ship that has any hope of reaching him in time….

On the one hand, this isn’t a very complicated tale. It’s Han being mercenary, trying desperately to avoid polishing the tarnish off his proverbial heart of gold. We’ve seen that before, quite a bit as it happens. We’ll probably see a lot more in the three years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as there’s now a brand new clean slate to draw on. On the other hand, Greg Rucka has an incredibly solid grasp of these characters and what makes them tick. You see the first twinges of conscience from Han as he realizes that every time the question of trust comes up, its not his integrity but Chewie’s that convinces even his oldest friends to trust him. You see Chewie’s willingness to throw in whole-heartedly with the Rebellion, restrained only by his friendship for Han. You see the bond between those two characters. Is the story anything incredible? No, but it’s well-executed and contains enough action and excitement to keep you turning pages long past when you’d planned to set it down. On the whole, I would recommend it.

CONTENT: No profanity. Some violence, not too gruesome for the most part. Mild flirting.

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Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Broadway Books, 2015

The Martian had been on my list of books to read for a long time, a product of numerous recommendations from discerning friends. Then I saw the trailer for the upcoming film based on it, and had to read it immediately.

Six days after landing on the surface of Mars, an unforseen dust storm forces the Ares 3 crew to abandon their mission and head for home. En route to their ascension vehicle, botanist Mark Watney is hit with a piece of debris and his vitals flatline on the monitor. Heartbroken but resolute, his crewmates successfully reach orbit and begin the long journey back to Earth. Back on Earth, the world mourns Mark Watney as the first man to die on Mars. There’s just one problem….Watney’s not dead. Yet. Alone on Mars, one hundred and forty million miles from home, Watney is going to have to use all of his ingenuity to salvage what he needs to survive from the scant resources available to him. It will be four years before NASA can mount a rescue mission, even if he manages to alert them to his situation. He’s got food for about a year, if he stretches it. Unless Watney manages to pull off a miracle, he’s still going to be the first man to die on Mars, even if everything else goes his way. And Watney knows better than to count on that happening….

Read this book. Do it now! Okay, fine, you can finish the one you’re in the middle of first, but then you really need to read The Martian. No excuses! Why? Because The Martian quite simply the very best book I have read in a very long time. Most of the book is focused on Watney, understandably, and his mission logs are undoubtedly the high point of the book. The humor and sarcasm unleashed by Mars’ lone inhabitant is truly a wonder to behold. But even the characters back on Earth, the personalities at NASA, are all very well developed and unique characters in their own right. At times, I literally laughed out loud while reading. I was banned from reading the book after my wife fell asleep, for fear I would wake her with my laughter. And yet  the book is also a very real, very raw examination of the human will to survive. There’s more profanity than I would prefer, but if anyone has the right to curse it’s the guy stuck a hundred and forty million miles from home.

CONTENT: R-rated language throughout. Mild sexual innuendo. Occasional violence, of the accidental variety, and its aftermath.

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Review: “Star Wars–The Clone Wars: The Wind Raiders Of Taloraan” by John Ostrander & The Fillbach Brothers

Title: The Wind Raiders Of Taloraan
Writer: John Ostrander
Artists: The Fillbach Brothers
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Officially Legends, but tied to the TV series)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2009

And so continues my foray into the Expanded Universe material related to The Clone Wars! This time, the third digest-size novella The Wind Raiders Of Taloraan….

After accidentally derailing a delicate diplomatic meeting with the Bothans, Ahsoka is assigned to accompany Obi-Wan and Anakin to observe negotiations with the Denfrandi, rulers of the planet Taloraan. The Republic needs Taloraan’s Tibanna gas supplies for the war effort, but with the Defrandi already secretly in league with the Separatists and the primitive Wind Raiders simply hostile to anyone and everyone, this mission may be simply impossible for our heroes!

As with the previous entries, the story here is pretty decent. Its a little formulaic, with Ahsoka messing up and then learning her lesson by the end, but this is primarily aimed at the younger set, so we can’t complain  too much. Plus, John Ostrander is always a pleasure. I’d have liked to see his longtime collaborator Jan Duursema come along for the ride though, and give us a break from the stylized art of the Fillbach Brothers. It’s not bad, I suppose, I’m just not really a fan. Again, if you like the show, you’ll like this. If you’re not familiar, it won’t do as much for you.

CONTENT: No profanity. Mild violence. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars–The Clone Wars: Crash Course” by Henry Gilroy, Gary Scheppke, & The Fillbach Brothers

Title: Crash Course
Writers: Henry Gilroy (Story and Script) & Gary Scheppke
Artists: The Fillbach Brothers
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Officially Legends, but tied to the TV series)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2009

As previously mentioned, I’ve been revisiting the early Clone Wars stuff in an attempt to work out a coherent timeline. So, without further ado, here’s the second Clone Wars digest comic!

After a series of failed offensives, the Jedi surmise that a Separatist spy ring is operating on Coruscant, feeding the enemy classified information. When a Separatist agent escapes with important data, Anakin and Ahsoka go undercover in the world of high-stakes podracing to catch the culprits. But even if the spies never realize they’ve been made, podracing is one of the deadliest sports in the galaxy….

Again, this was a fun little side adventure. Though I’m not a huge fan of the Fillbach Brothers’ art, it’s serviceable enough to get by. The story itself worked well, with the characters all ringing true to their TV personas. It was also fun to stick Anakin back into the world of podracing and see him confront his childhood once more. It’s also interesting to see Ahsoka accumulating her own small network of contacts that will serve her well after she leaves the order. As with the previous comic, whether you’re a fan of this story or not will likely depend on your familiarity with the show.

CONTENT: No profanity. Mild violence. No sexual content.

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Review: “Pile Of Bones” by Bailey Cunningham

Title: Pile Of Bones
Author: Bailey Cunningham (Apparently a pseudonym for Jes Battis)
Series: Parallel Parks #1
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Ace, 2013

Every sci-fi/fantasy novel has a learning curve. This one? This one’s got a corkscrew.

Oh, and I got this book in exchange for an honest review through the Goodreads FirstReads program. This in no way influenced this review, except to ensure it exists as I likely would never have read it otherwise.

By day they’re a group of grad students, toiling away at never-ending stacks of grading (or “marking” as the Canadians apparently call it) and trying to figure out just what they were thinking when they decided to join academia. But by night…by night they are whisked away to another world entirely, living out very different lives as characters in the pseudo-Roman city of Anfractus. In our world, Andrew is a slightly introverted scholar of Old English epic poetry. In the other, he is Roldan, a majorly introverted would-be auditor, able to hear and speak to the lares that share Anfractus with its human visitors. In our world, Carl is an overly-confident historian studying Byzantine buttons. In the other, he is Babieca, an overly-confident would-be trovador skilled both at music and theft. In our world, Shelby is a slightly awkward scholar of Restoration literature that has been studied until there’s nearly nothing new left to learn. In the other, she is Morgan, a no-nonsense sagittarius, one of the bow-wielding guardians of Anfractus and the de facto leader of the company. In our world, Ingrid is a single mother studying elementary education. In the other, she’s Fel, a sword-wielding gladiator and one of the many keepers of the peace in Anfractus. It’s all fun and games, until our protagonists find themselves embroiled in an assassination plot that threatens to upset the balance of power both in Anfractus and back in our world….

The idea behind this series is brilliant, and the world created therein is fascinating. The character you assume in the other world is very real, complete with a backstory and distantly-glimpsed memories of a time before you played them, and while there are often a number of striking similarities there can also be drastic differences as well. You might find yourself back in our world marveling at the behavior of your other self, wondering why in the world you said or did something on the other side. One of the more amusing scenes was the moment our characters returned from Anfractus, only to suddenly remember at the same moment that they’d hooked up on the other side. Anfractus may seem like fun and games, a live-action version of Dungeons & Dragons, but it can be deadly as well. Injuries sustained there will follow you home, as will the grudges of those you’ve crossed. If you’re not careful, you can wind up very much dead in both worlds.

Like I said, the concept is fascinating. The execution…can be incredibly frustrating. Anfractus comes with its own extensive vocabulary that is never clearly defined, forcing you to figure things out by context clues. That technique is all well and good here and there, but when employed on this scale it can be just confusing. You even have to figure out that Andrew and Roldan are the same person (kind of) in different worlds and how that works. I actually set this aside for a few weeks after about a hundred pages (things with deadlines take priority) then started the book over from the beginning when I came back to it, and that did help a bit. I enjoyed the first part a lot more when I was able to figure out what was going on. A glossary would have been helpful. For all that, though, I have to admit that I did enjoy the book. The characters were engaging, as nerdy or more than I am myself, and despite what I expected most of the way through, I think I actually will end up trying to get my hands on the other books in the series….so long as I can get them from the library.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity. Strong violence. Awkwardly explicit (yet not graphic) sexual content, mostly of a homosexual nature.

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Review: “Star Wars–The Clone Wars: Shipyards Of Doom” by Henry Gilroy & The Fillbach Brothers

Title: Shipyards Of Doom
Writer: Henry Gilroy
Artists: The Fillbach Brothers
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Officially Legends, but tied to the TV series)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2008

So, I’ve been going back and looking at a lot of the early Clone Wars stuff in an attempt to work out the proper sequence of certain events. As such, here’s the first in Dark Horse’s line of digest-size Clone Wars comics!

It’s the early days of the Clone Wars, and the Separatist Navy is producing ships at a rate that far outpaces the production abilities of the Republic. If the Republic can’t slow Separatist production, the war is going to end quickly…and not in their favor. In an attempt to even the playing field, Obi-Wan, Anakin and his new padawan Ahsoka Tano take a strike team of clone troopers to the Banking Clan’s automated shipyards as a scouting force for the incoming Republic bombing raid. Unfortunately, the automated shipyards are less automated than advertised, forcing the Jedi to find a way to evacuate the slave workforce before the bombers arrive.

On the whole, this was a fun little side adventure. The writing is solid, as you would expect from one of the writers for the television show this ties into. The art is more stylized, lower on detail than I would usually prefer, but it works well enough. The ties to the show are solid, and this easily slides into the niche between the Clone Wars film and the next onscreen appearance by these characters as Anakin deals with the fact that he almost got his padawan killed on her first mission, overprotecting her and making her feel like he doesn’t trust her in battle. Ahsoka is a bit whiny, fitting in with her character at this point in the show, but somehow that was less annoying this time through. Maybe I’ve softened towards her due to her later awesomeness? Who knows. There are slight continuity issues, given that they recycled certain elements of this story for the episode The Citadel, infiltrating the planet frozen in carbonite like they do here. Wouldn’t be a problem, except Anakin comments about never having done it before, thus conflicting this comic. Anyway, if you liked the show, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not familiar with the show, it won’t do as much for you.

CONTENT: Mild to no profanity. Mild violence, usually against battle droids or occurring between panels. No sexual content.

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