Tag Archives: Del Rey

Review: “Bombs Away” by Harry Turtledove

Title: Bombs Away
Author: Harry Turtledove
Series: The Hot War #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Believe it or not, this is actually the first ever Turtledove I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’ve managed to build a small collection, grabbing assorted works at garage and library sales over the years, but they always seem to be the middle bits of series. Not this time! This time I’m in on the ground floor for his new series exploring what might have happened had the Cold War gone hot in the early days. In the later days, that’s no fun since it would mostly just result in the planet becoming a cinder….

At the height of the Korean War, with Red Chinese forces pouring over the border, the idea of using nuclear weapons to turn the tide was under serious consideration. In the world we inherited President Truman decided against unleashing that genie, but now Harry Turtledove turns his pen to exploring the potential consequences of such action. Come along for the ride in Bombs Away as Turtledove picks apart the threads of history and weaves them together once again in a different and altogether horrifying configuration….

There’s a reason Harry Turtledove is billed as “The Master of Alternate History.” Several reasons, in fact. The man seems to possess an unparalleled grasp of history, knowing instinctively just where to push in order to set events onto a new, believable course. Just as importantly, his characters all feel very real—figures both fictional and historical leap off the page and pull you into their world. While story thrives on conflict, Turtledove stands testament to the fact that you don’t necessarily need a villain, shying away from easy caricature in favor of focusing on ordinary men doing the best they can. From the White House to the trenches of Korea, from the cockpit of a B-29 bomber to the streets of divided Germany, Harry Turtledove gives a stellar introduction to a hellish world that could have been.

CONTENT: Harsh, R-rated language, widespread but not gratuitous. In a world sprouting mushroom clouds, profanity seems appropriate…. Strong violence, as you would expect from World War III. Occasional sexual content, semi-explicit. Some of the characters are racist, and the fallout of the Holocaust is dealt with to a degree.

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review.

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Review: ” Star Wars: Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden

Title: Dark Disciple
Author: Christie Golden (Novel); Katie Lucas, Matt Michnovetz, & Dave Filoni (Original scripts)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon, The Clone Wars)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

New Star Wars! Dark Disciple is based on a collection of scripts from the canceled Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network which serve to tie up the story arc featuring Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku’s former apprentice.

The galaxy-wide Clone Wars have raged for almost three years, but an end is nowhere in sight. Every Republic victory is matched by a corresponding setback, almost as if both sides were being played by a single entity bent on preserving the stalemate. The Separatist forces led by Count Dooku grow only more ruthless as the war drags on, committing atrocities that haunt the Jedi with their inability to prevent innocent bloodshed until even the Jedi council is ready to consider the unthinkable: assassination. This dangerous mission will forge strange alliances, forcing unorthodox Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to ally with Dooku’s former apprentice Asajj Ventress, a deadly assassin holding a grudge against Dooku for betraying her and slaughtering her entire people. Together, Vos and Ventress could just be powerful enough to take out Dooku…if they don’t kill each other first.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. Towards the end of the animated series Ventress was becoming one of the standout characters, gaining some real depth as she dealt with the consequences of Dooku’s betrayal and her private war for revenge. Add Quinlan Vos, one of my favorite characters from the Legends version of the Clone Wars, into the mix and you’ve got a winning proposition. If you followed the animated series, you owe it to yourself to check this out. If you’re a newcomer, you’ll probably be fine as well, though most of the references to past events will likely be lost on you. If you’re a veteran of the pre-Cartoon Network Clone Wars though…you’ll have to come at this with a clean slate. A lot of this, especially Vos’s storyline, is territory we’ve seen before, albeit through the looking glass. I’ll refrain from saying more in the interest of spoilers, but those who were reading Star Wars: Republic in the run-up to Revenge Of The Sith should know what I mean.

CONTENT: Some disturbing violence and torture. Mild profanity. Mild flirting/sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit.

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review. You can find that here.

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Review: “Star Wars: Tarkin” by James Luceno

Title: Tarkin
Author: James Luceno
Series: Star Wars (Rebooted canon, though it would fit equally well with the Legends stuff)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2014

So, here’s the newest entry in the Star Wars publishing empire. This time we’re treated to a biography/character study of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, the man behind the Death Star. You don’t remember him? He was the guy in Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope that got to boss Vader around without getting choked, masterfully played by the inimitable Peter Cushing. Cheekbones like razor blades? Ringing a bell? If Vader is the Emperor’s crushing fist, Tarkin is his knife in the dark–deadly, precise, and without mercy.

It’s been five years since the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Emperor. For most of that time, Tarkin has been occupied shepherding the Emperor’s pet project: the as-yet-unnamed planet-sized mobile battle station. Keeping such a large construction project on-task and supplied is no mean feat, even for one of the Emperor’s most trusted lieutenants. Keeping it secret is next to impossible–anyone who’s paying attention knows something is going on out by Geonosis, they just don’t know what. Fortunately, most everyone with enough information to know what questions to ask knows better than to do the asking, and that’s the way Tarkin likes it. Once it’s operation, the mobile battle station will render the Empire’s rule unshakeable. Until then, the Empire’s infallibility can only be maintained by meeting any and all dissent with stiff, merciless reprisals. A new order has been born out of the chaos of the Old Republic, and Tarkin will do whatever he has to do to safeguard it and nurture it to maturity.

James Luceno is known for his incredibly detailed entries into the Star Wars mythos. Earlier endeavors chronicled the rise of Palpatine and his master in Darth Plagueis, somehow showing the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to basically every single Expanded Universe entry set during the period leading up to The Phantom Menace. He’s given us the biography of the Millennium Falcon (yes, you read that right). He’s given us Darth Vader adjusting to his new role in Dark Lord: The Rise Of Darth Vader. Some have criticized a few of his works as being slow at times, which I can see, but I’ve never minded–the attention to detail is worth it. Here, however, nobody has room to complain. Luceno weaves together a pair of compelling narratives, balancing them and always keeping you guessing as to where he’s going to go next. On the one hand, there’s Tarkin & Vader’s pursuit of a suspiciously-effective rebel cell. On the other hand, there’s Tarkin’s backstory, the events that forged him into the Emperor’s finest weapon.

Just as interesting as the new information it provides is the old information rehashed. Why? Because most of it comes from sources that are no longer officially canon. However, thanks to the shout-outs in Tarkin, we can unofficially assume that the events of Darth Plagueis, Dark Lord, and Cloak Of Deception all happened more or less as stated. The books themselves aren’t canon anymore (or at least I haven’t seen anything reinstating them), but the events therein contained still happened. Funny, all those books were written by Luceno….

CONTENT: PG-grade profanity. Some violence, occasionally disturbing in its ruthlessness. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller

Title: Kenobi
Author: John Jackson Miller
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of my favorite characters from the Star Wars saga, and if I’m being honest Ewan McGregor’s performance in that role is one of the few highlights of the otherwise-regrettable prequel trilogy. I’m not his only fan–he’s such a favorite that we get adventure after adventure featuring Anakin’s former Master, to the point where I don’t think he ever once had a chance to stop and breathe during the entire Clone Wars. What hasn’t been detailed until now is his exile on Tatooine after Order 66 and the Jedi Purge. You’d think that this would have been covered long ago, given the incredible range of character-shaping events Obi-Wan has just been through, but you would be wrong. It is only just recently that we have been granted insight into this period of Master Kenobi’s life, but the result is spectacular.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead. He died on Mustafar after striking down his former apprentice, Anakin Skywalker. Nearly everyone he ever cared for, ever loved, is dead. The Jedi Order, his family, has been nearly wiped from existance by the treachery of Chancellor-turned-Emperor Palpatine and the clone Stormtroopers. Obi-Wan is dead. In his place stands Ben Kenobi, the Jundland Waste’s newest settler. From his lonely hut out in the desert, Ben keeps solitary watch over the Lars homestead and the orphaned boy being raised there. He tries to stay away from the small outposts of civilization that dot the wastes, but can one of the greatest Jedi in the history of the Order ignore people in need?
For Annileen Calwell, life continues much as it has since the death of her husband years earlier. Her children are rebellious. Her shop, Dannar’s Claim, is an oasis of hospitality in the desolate wastes, keeping the local moisture farmers supplied, repaired and their thirsts quenched. Everything is normal, and yet this life is killing her with stress and boredom. Trying to learn more about Ben, the mysterious drifter who has taken up residence out in the wastes, offers at least a little diversion, but Ben is stubbornly secretive. And Orrin Gault–neighbor, local land barron, entrepreneur and her late husband’s best friend–has been acting a bit strange. Probably nothing to worry about, but more stress is the last thing she needs….
A’yark’s people are in trouble. The Tuskens have been weakened considerably from their former numbers, decimated a decade earlier when Jabba The Hutt incited war between the Tuskens and the settlers as a way to sell off his stockpile of antiquated blasters. Tuskens are used to hard times, but recently even their spirit has been broken. Three years ago, the strongest of the local warbands was wiped out with no survivors and no trace of any predator. Every man, woman and child was killed, their bodies left to the scavengers. Now the Tuskens are so weak that old traditions are beginning to die out as matters of pragmatism take precedence. A’yark struggles to hold them together, to boost their spirit as much as possible with raids on settlers that fail to properly defend themselves, but the tribe is dying despite A’yark’s efforts….

John Jackson Miller manages to pull off what I don’t believe anyone has ever done before: he wrote a Star Wars western. The elements are all there–ranchers, settlers, merciless natives, the widowed shopowner and the lone wanderer. People just trying to survive in a harsh land beyond the rule of law, where justice rides in your holster or hangs on your saddle or speeder. Beyond that, Miller manages to get inside the head of Ben Kenobi at his most broken–he has been betrayed by trusted friends, seen his family exterminated, and been forced to confront and (he believes) kill the man he has regarded as his brother for more than a decade. Ben is broken, and it shows. This was one of the best Star Wars novels I have read in a good long time, and I hope that Miller is given the chance to play in this sandbox a bit more.

This novel stands on its own fairly well, assuming you’re familiar with the movies. There are passing references to Zayne Carrick and Kerra Holt, both characters also written by Miller, but you’ve no need to know their stories in order to understand Ben’s. More significant is the story of Sharad Hett, as the history there plays into the Tusken situation, but you get most of the information you need from the text. If you’re interested, find a copy of the Star Wars: Outlander graphic novel for that tale. Ben also cites his friendship/relationship with fellow Jedi Siri Tachi and the Mandalorian prime minister Satine as earlier lessons in the importance of not getting caught up in romantic emotion. If you’re a longtime reader you’ll know Siri from the Jedi Apprentice series, and Satine comes from the lamentable Clone Wars CGI series. Neither is essential to understanding the story here, but you can look it up if you want. In any case, you should definitely give this novel your attention.

CONTENT: Mild language. Mild violence, not too disturbing. Mild flirting, but no real sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Crucible” by Troy Denning

Title: Crucible
Author: Troy Denning
Series: Star Wars (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2013

I’ve recently fallen a bit behind the Star Wars publishing schedule for, ah, budgetary reasons. But with an influx of birthday cash, that problem is solved! So now I’m catching up, and can share my thoughts on these newfound treasures with my helpless adoring readers. Lucky you! Next up, Crucible by Troy Denning.

Crucible is a standalone title in the ongoing Star Wars Expanded Universe, occurring about a year after the close of the Fate Of The Jedi series and X-Wing: Mercy Kill, or about 45 ABY.* We open on Han and Leia in a bar waiting for Lando. Lando owns a refinery in the Chiloon Rift, and has been having trouble with some pirates who coincidentally showed up right about the same time as the Qreph brothers, owners of an outside outfit who wants to buy Lando out. Oh, and they’ve got Mandos and bioengineered cyborgs running their security system. Throw in a couple other “coincidences” and one or two unsubtle power grabs, and you’ve got a crooked game even Leia can see without resorting to her Jedi powers. But when an “industrial accident” comes close to taking out his friends, Luke decides its time to join the investigation himself. What he finds is chilling–the stakes of this hostile takeover bid are far higher than Tendrando Arms’ small operation. The Qrephs want nothing short of controlling the entire Galactic economy. Sounds far-fetched? They might pull it off, between their Columi mental abilities and their cloning efforts. And into the bargain they have a shot at taking out Han Solo, with whom they have unfinished business. He doesn’t know them, but they know him–and they are not happy about it. Throw Vestara Khai into the mix, several missing Jedi and the ongoing hunt for Mortis, and you come up with Crucible.

Crucible is a standalone, and it does manage to stand fairly well on its own. The events of last decade and a half of publishing have shaken the Galaxy Far Far Away to its core, and everyone has to deal with that, but on the whole this book is divorced from the politics of the wider Galaxy. This is Han, Leia, Luke and Lando, joined later by Ben and Tahiri, fighting in a barren corner of the galaxy–to save it from an insidious threat, sure, but more viscerally to save their loved ones. So yes, you’ll need a basic overview of recent galactic history, but more importantly you’ll need to be aware of the character beats that have gone before. Most of them get explained in the book, but it’s good to know going in.

Galactic History for the newbies! Recently, Han and Leia’s oldest son Jacen fell to the Dark Side and plunged the Galaxy Far Far Away into civil war once again. Jaina, his twin sister, was forced to take him out to stop him and save innocent lives. In a surprise move, the war ended with Natasi Dalaa ruling the Galactic Alliance from Coruscant. After settling into power, Dalaa blamed the Jedi for the war and exiled Luke for the crime of failing to foresee Jacen’s fate. Luke and his son Ben set off on a quest into the Unknown Regions to determine why Jacen fell. Meanwhile, the descendents of the crew from a wrecked Sith warship set out to return to a galaxy much changed in the millenia they’ve been stuck on their lone world. Luke and Ben are forced to join forces with a small group of them to fight a powerful Dark Side creature, Abeloth, who may have been partially responsible for Jacen’s fall and has strange ties to The Ones seen in the Clone Wars TV series trilogy Secrets Of Mortis. Ben and Vestara Khai, a young Sith girl, even fall in love. This ends about as well as you would expect when the Sith attempt to seize control of the galaxy and even occupy Coruscant before the Jedi can stop them. In the wake of this invasion, the Jedi are once again pariahs. There are those in the Alliance who don’t blame them for what happened with the Sith, but these voices are few in number and the Jedi have relocated to Hapan space….**

I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since there’s been a standalone novel focusing on the original characters has been published in this part of the timeline–quite a few of them filling in explored episodes between films, but the later part of the timeline has been largely dominated by sprawling epic series that tend to have a darker tone, such as The New Jedi Order, Legacy Of The Force, or the most recent Fate Of The Jedi. I’m not saying this is lighthearted, by any means, as Del Rey is perfectly capable of killing off major characters in a standalone, but the focus on the original characters lends an air of the adventure of the classic films that has been slightly overshadowed by the darkness of recent events. That said, this is a VERY violent book. Our cast of characters gets shot, tortured, blown up and burned so badly that for a while I had a sneaking suspicion that one purpose of the book was to get the characters looking as rough as their actors currently do–with the possible exception of Harrison Ford, the cast has not aged nearly as well as the book covers would suggest their characters have. If you’re an old hand at the Star Wars EU, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re a newcomer unwilling to backtrack and marathon everything since The New Jedi Order, this is a decent jumping-on point. You may want to consult Wookieepedia occasionally to get a reference or two, but you shouldn’t be too confused.

CONTENT: PG language. PG humor and flirting, mostly between Han and Leia (what else is new?) Quite a bit of brutal violence, more than usual for a Star Wars book. Not too gory, generally, but Luke and company get banged up pretty good.

*Star Wars dates are typically given the designators Before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) or After the Battle of Yavin (ABY), functioning similarly to our BC/AD, with the Battle Of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as the turning point.

**Incidentally, the Columi come from a 1990 Choose Your Own Adventure book also by Troy Denning, Scoundrel’s Luck. Its not required reading, I had never even heard of it until I went digging.

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Review: “Star Wars–X-Wing: Mercy Kill” by Aaron Allston

Title: X-Wing: Mercy Kill
Author: Aaron Allston
Series: Star Wars: X-Wing #10 (Legends Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2012

Do you remember fondly the Star Wars novels of the 90s? Are you into Star Wars but a newcomer to the Expanded Universe? Do you enjoy your Star Wars with an undertone of comedy, so long as a certain floppy-eared terror is nowhere in sight? If so, X-Wing: Mercy Kill may be a good book for you to check out.

Unlike most of the books being released set in the “modern” era of the Star Wars universe (44 ABY–i.e., 44 Years post-Episode IV), Mercy Kill lets you jump right in, more or less without knowing the situation to that point. A lot of the others you could read cold, but they wouldn’t make much sense. Mercy Kill, however, has little to do with the ongoing plot of the Expanded Universe. It’s rooted in recent events, but the setup is very simple and easily grasped. It would pay to know the characters from the X-Wing novels of the 90s, but even that is not really necessary. You could check out three or four articles on Wookiepedia and be fine–I did, just to refresh my memory.

So….here’s what you need to know. In the 90s, they published a series of comics and then novels based around Rogue Squadron, led by Wedge Antilles and a number of the X-Wing pilots from the films along with some new faces. These comics and the first four novels were written by Michael Stackpole, but after the fourth he dropped out for a while citing other commitments he had to work on. So they hired in Aaron Allston to continue the series. Allston decided to let the Rogues go off on their own adventures while he created a new team for his novels–Wraith Squadron, a team of X-Wing pilots who would work equally well as a ground-based commando team. The result was a cross between The A-Team and The Dirty Dozen, with some aerial action thrown in. For the purposes of this new novel, notable characters included Garik “Face” Loran, a child star turned soldier and the eventual commander of the Wraiths; and Voort “Piggy” SaBinring, a genetically-modified Gamorrean. There are a few other returning faces, but these were the better developed and you can probably get by just knowing them.

The Star Wars publishing event of the early 2000s was the New Jedi Order series, in which a race of extra-galactic aliens called the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the Galaxy Far, Far Away and sought to subjugate its people. They almost did it, and they changed the way Star Wars novels worked in the process. Characters–MAIN CHARACTERS–died. Chewbacca, Han and Leia’s youngest son Anakin Solo, and countless others fell to the military might of the invaders. There have been other upheavals since, most notably a second Galactic Civil War when Han and Leia’s oldest son Jacen Solo fell to the Dark Side. In the aftermath of that war, a conspiracy was formed to take over both the Galactic Alliance and the Empire and merge them together once again, recapturing the glory of the height of the Old Empire. This conspiracy failed, but it may not have been completely rooted out…..

In this book, Garik Loran is called out of retirement by the head of the Alliance military. He wants Loran to quietly look into rumors that an up-and-coming officer may have been connected to the Lecerson Conspiracy. Wraith Squadron is back in business! The resulting adventure is a fun trip, dealing both in nostalgia for those of us who read the adventures of the original Wraiths long ago and in action that newer fans can get into, all the while serving up Allston’s signature undertone of humor mixed with heart. I heartily recommend it. The one caveat I will mention for fans of the original books is that there is comparatively little aerial combat in this book. The plot doesn’t call for it, and I certainly didn’t really miss it too much, but some may be disappointed by that.

If you want more reading suggestions, the X-Wing: Rogue Squadron comics and X-Wing novels are quite good. If you wanted to enhance your experience with this book, I would have you read at least the novels, but you may not have the patience for all nine of the previous books. If not, I won’t hold it against you.

Content-wise, they keep the Star Wars novels pretty PG. Mild language, mild violence, mild innuendos…..nothing to worry about.

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