Monday, April 7, 2014

David: Rancor Spottings #30 and 31

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Star by Star by Troy Denning

Star by Star is a major book in the Star Wars genre, so it naturally contains more than one reference to a rancor.

Page 170
Anakin expresses his concerns in the middle of a battle with the Yuuzhan Vong. "Not good," Anakin groaned. "Really not good. Uncle Luke will like that about as much as rancor fighting."

Page 293
In the midst of a board game that includes rancors. "Tsavong Lah turned away from the viewing lens and, finding the rancor alone on the mat, nodded."

David's Review of Star by Star

5/5 Rancors - I am in the midst of a multi-year effort to read and review all of the Star Wars books, and I admit to having gotten somewhat bogged down in the New Jedi Order series. There are 19 books in the series, and it has seemed to me that the first eight have, for the most part, spent an awful lot of time discussing the Force, what is appropriate for Jedi, and just basically the philosophy of fighting a savage enemy while observing the etiquette of the Force. I felt as if they have been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. Plus, the Yuuzhan Vong have had the Republic forces on the run for the entire series so far.

Well, I think I can possibly see the glimmering of a turnaround in Troy Denning's Star by Star. This is an excellent book and is certainly one of the longest books in the Star Wars genre. It is packed with action, courageous deeds, treachery, and the death of a major character. However, even though the Yuuzhan Vong have now reached Coruscant, the valiant efforts of the Jedi and others are beginning to pay off. I am now looking forward to seeing how the remainder of the New Jedi Order plays out.

The Yuuzhan Vong have been ruthless in their campaign through Republic space. They are completely alien when compared to anything we have seen before. Their ships and weapons are so strange that I still have trouble just attempting to visualize them. Needless to say, the Republic forces have had a huge learning curve in trying to find a successful way to fight the war. Star by Star includes our favorite characters. Luke, Mara, Han, Leia, Jaina, Jacen, Anakin, Lando - all of them are actively involved.

The Vong have also unleashed voxyns, creatures that are extremely good at killing Jedi or anybody else who crosses their path. A major part of the story deals with a strike team of young Jedi led by Anakin Solo that goes into a Yuuzhan Vong worldship to kill the voxyn queen. The action here is particularly intense.

Star by Star is a major book in the New Jedi Order series and should not be missed.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Andrew's Review of Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge

3/5 Rancors - Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge is the first book in an intended set of three featuring the primary heroes of the Original Trilogy. It is also Martha Wells’ first contribution to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It’s a slim volume, weighing in at an extremely brisk 249 pages of story. That’s not a whole lot of space for deep character development and Ms. Wells primarily spends her time focusing on Princess Leia Organa along with Han Solo in a supporting role. The other characters are not given much characterization and mostly serve to facilitate the plot about Leia and Han on an adventure after the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope.

Leia is leading a mission to procure materials for Echo Base, the new secret home of the Alliance as depicted in The Empire Strikes Back. Before they are able to decode coordinates and complete their mission, the Rebel ship is ambushed by Imperials, which appears to indicate the presence of a traitor onboard. Jumping to rendezvous coordinates as planned despite the air of suspicion onboard the Rebel vessel, Leia and the crew encounter what appears to be an Alderaanian gunship engaged in piracy: the mystery around this vessel fuels the plot of Razor’s Edge.

Leia is given the spotlight throughout the book and introducing fellow Alderaanian refugees presents a great jumping-off point to explore the impact the destruction of her home planet has had on Leia. There are some touching moments as Leia struggles with her survivor’s guilt and her explicit role in the events leading up to the catastrophe. Unfortunately we don’t really get much perspective from the Alderaanian survivors-turned pirates aboard the gunship: Captain Caline Metara and her crew are mostly ciphers. They have turned down a bad path but they seem curiously passive about their participation in piracy and slaving. I attributed this to the incredible capacity people have to ignore wrongs they are perpetuating when it is convenient to do so but I would have liked more time spent on them and the Alderaan diaspora.

Han and Leia’s relationship is as contentious as we would expect between Episodes IV and V. Ms. Wells does spend some time in Han’s head as he reflects on his ongoing transformation from smuggler to Rebel hero. Adding to this is a few chapters featuring Luke and Chewbacca as they chase down their friends. Luke muses over an especially apt comparison where he thinks of Han as a wild pet his friend Biggs once brought into the household (although he is wise enough to not disclose this to Han!).

The antagonists in Razor’s Edge are some rather forgettable Imperials chasing the Rebels, the Imperial spy who provides a lively if annoying presence throughout the story, and Captain Aral tukor Viest, a Lorrdian pirate lord Leia must outwit to prevail. Lorrdians have a refined ability to read the smallest tics in body language and her early verbal sparring with Leia is entertaining, as is a mid-book arena battle sequence with an “insane” mining droid (the Star Wars galaxy sure has a lot of arenas). The intrigue as Leia attempt to solicit allies from Viest’s crew is well-written and Leia showcases her burgeoning diplomatic skills as well as the expected action ones.

Razor’s Edge is an entertaining but rather slight tale. I enjoy returning to the Original Trilogy heroes but thanks to the story’s placement between movies, it is afforded little chance to provide meaningful suspense. This is exacerbated by its brevity, which leaves no room to get to know the new supporting characters well. There’s just not much dramatic space for the Empire and Rebellion series to play in without giving more serious support to some non-movie characters.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

David: Rancor Spotting #29

Star Wars - Empire and Rebellion: Honor among Thieves by James S. A. Corey

After a typical Han Solo escape from dire straits, he gets up from a long sleep and goes to join Scarlet and Chewbacca for something to eat. Here's how he felt.

Page 89
"He felt as if he'd gone three rounds with a rancor, and she (Scarlet) looked like her months of desperation, lies, secrets, and violence had been a long vacation."

Rancor references are everywhere.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

David's Review of Star Wars - Empire and Rebellion: Honor among Thieves

5/5 Rancors - James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I don’t really know if having one pseudonym for co-authors is a normal practice in the literary business or not, but I found it to be interesting. It would seem to me that two people writing together could be tricky, but then I am not an author. 

Star Wars has never lacked for attention and fans through the years, but now things will be picking up even more. Disney owns the franchise. Star Wars VII comes out next year, and a new animated series for TV is in the works. Things are looking good. Undoubtedly we will also see an increase in the world of published Star Wars fiction. Three new books of classic Star Wars adventures have already been announced, each one starring either Leia, Han, or Luke. The first one, a Leia story, is Razor’s Edge. It was written by Martha Wells and was released in 2013. Honor among Thieves, starring Han, is the second book and should be released in March. My review is based on an advance copy through Amazon Vine. The third book, starring Luke, will be by Kevin Hearne and should be available next year.

Empire and Rebellion: Honor among Thieves is the Star Wars debut for these two authors. They have done a good job with it. We are back with some of our favorite Star Wars characters and we get to see how things used to be. The book is set just after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope. Luke is pretty much still the hot-shot kid pilot who may be getting in over his head. Leia is a princess and very much one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. Han is a rogue smuggler basically looking out for himself and his partner Chewbacca, but he is also gradually turning out to be an indispensable member of the Alliance. Han is the focal point of this book. It was great to read a story with Han and Chewie back together again. The book is described as being old school and action-packed, and I cannot disagree with that. It is fun to read.

The plot begins with Han’s and Chewie’s mission to extract Scarlet Hark, an important Rebel spy, from the planet Cioran in the Saavin system deep in Imperial space. Scarlet is close to acquiring important information that is badly needed by the Alliance. As the story progresses, one thing leads to another as it normally does, and the information becomes so important that it could decide the success or failure of the entire rebellion.

The book contains important elements of a good Star Wars tale. Lots of action. Heroes we know and love. Wonderful banter among Han, Chewie, and Leia. Narrow escapes. Wedge Antilles with X-wing fighters. Luke Skywalker. Stormtroopers. If such things appeal to you, you will like the book.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

David: Rancor Spottings #27 and #28

Star Wars - Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Darth Maul is locked away in Cog Hive Seven, a space-station penitentiary populated by the most hardened criminals in the galaxy. Of course, Maul is there as part of a Darth Sidious plan. He has to win constant death matches with other inmates just to survive. Apparently, one of the favorite drinks at the prison is Rancor Aid. That would probably be a big hit now. 

Page 164
"Some of the men stood silently or leaned against the wall; others sat upright nursing tumblers of Rancor Aid..."

Page 170
"Hootkins didn't say anything, just slammed the half-liter of Rancor Aid that he'd been nursing and pressed one meaty hand to the wall behind him."

David's Review of Star Wars - Maul: Lockdown

5/5 Rancors - Joe Schreiber’s new Star Wars book Maul: Lockdown created a real conundrum for me. Darth Maul and his master are evil characters, completely on the side of the bad guys in the Star Wars saga. The things they do are not what you would want your heroes to do. However, I found that in Lockdown I was pulling for Maul to win a string of victories and accomplish his goals. Clearly, I am headed toward the Dark Side.

Mr. Schreiber is not new to Star Wars readers. He also wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest. None of the books are quite what would be thought of as normal Star Wars fare, and Maul: Lockdown continues in that vein. They are just very different. However, as you can see from my rating of the book, I liked this one. I did. I couldn’t help myself. Part of my reaction may be because recently I have been reading the early books of the New Jedi Order series, and they occasionally bog down in deep philosophical discussions of the Force and whether or not a true Jedi should actually be using the Force. It was kind of nice to get to a book that is basically nothing but action.

Darth Maul is locked up on a space-station penitentiary, Cog Hive Seven, a place that is teeming with the galaxy’s most hardened criminals. Of course, he is there as part of a plan developed by Darth Sidious, and his purpose is to infiltrate a criminal empire that operates from the penitentiary. Entertainment in the prison consists of almost constant death matches between inmates. Maul wins a match against hopeless odds as soon as he arrives at Cog Hive Seven. From there he goes on to win match after match, and he does it without using the Force and giving away that he is a Sith. Under the leadership of a completely Machiavellian warden, the penitentiary makes serious money by broadcasting the matches throughout the galaxy and taking a cut of the gambling proceeds.

The book is set in the time before The Phantom Menace so we know that Maul is going to survive. In some of his matches it is difficult to see how he is going to make it, but he does and he moves on with his quest. As I said earlier, I found I was pulling for him. The book is crammed with action and unusual characters and a setting that would look really good on film. Ridley Scott would be a good choice to direct it.

If you are at all interested in Darth Maul, this book is for you.