Monday, April 30, 2007

Star Wars t-shirt

On the gaming forum that I'm a member of, I was sent a PM for this T-shirt. It's a mixture of Star Wars and Christianity - and highly amusing.

Books, Movies and Me...

Ah, it's pointless trivia day for No Krakana. First, I purchased my first David Weber book a few days ago - In Fury Burn. Which according to the Books-a-Million website is a re-publish of an earlier work (Path of the Fury) but with a lot of extra material, and at 846 pages I have the feeling I might be reading it for a couple days or more. I have finally finished my re-reading of Friday and hope to get that review up either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Frankly, I'm amazed that I did get even that much done this weekend as I spent so much time doing family stuff. Saturday we went hunting for a new bed for my oldest boy, only to discover that there's not really anything in town that my wife likes. Then Sunday, we had my youngest dedicated in Church followed by dinner with the family followed by me going fishing with my old man (where I caught nothing). After the fishing trip and a foot-long subway sandwich at 9:30 at night I was utterly worn out.

As for movies, tells us that there's plans for a Noah's Ark and a Dragon's Lair movie. While Noahs' Ark could conceivably be a good story for the movies, I have to wonder just how closely they'll stay to the Biblical account. On the other hand, I don't think it will matter all that much, but I have to wonder about the ending, 40 days of rain, and then months of waiting for the water to recede. Hopefully, they'll make the movie interesting without sacrificing the source material - a hope that appears to be based in reality, at least due to this quote from Scifi.Com:

The script won't be a conventional biblical epic. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," Aronofsky said. "It's there in the Bible. It was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."
Oh well, we will just have to wait and see what is created. The other movie I'm very interested in. I have fond childhood memories of Dragon's Lair, though I'm hesitant about tranishing those memories via a movie from today (my fond memories of The Dukes of Hazard are destroyed thanks to the movie).

With that all out of the way, I'm going to go see Spider-Man 3 on Friday. It should be a lot of fun, and I'll hopefully get a review up for that on either Friday or Saturday.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Review: Darkside

The second of my IPST reviews is for the novel Darkside written by S.K.S Perry (available as a download on his website: The blurb provided on Mr. Perry's website has this to say about the story:

James Decker just won’t stay dead. Slain while rescuing a young woman from a would-be rapist, he finds himself in a pseudo-life, caught between two realities, belonging to neither. Haunted by the ghosts of his father and grandfather, he learns that the woman he rescued is in fact an Innocent, the physical embodiment of hope. As it turns out, seeing dead people is the least of James' worries. It's the trolls, goblins, vampires, and other assorted creepy-crawlies that make being dead a living nightmare.

When a Madness Demon kidnaps the Innocent to sacrifice at the Blood Moon ritual, it's up to James and an odd assortment of Otherworld companions to rescue her. If they fail, humanity will be without hope for the next thousand years. To succeed, James must first battle his own inner demons, and come to grips with who and what he has become. After all, when you're dead, wishing you were is kind of counter-productive

Frankly, where the blurb for The Mars Run failed, this blurb worked great. It made me want to read the book. Unfortunately, this book has apparently not been picked up by a publisher and I sincerely hope that IPST gets him a better shot at that. Of course at 84K words it's still a little shorter than I expect for a novel, as I was able to finish it after dinner and a trip to the store and before bed (for the record the trip to the store ended at 8pm and bed was at 1am - so it took me about 5 hours of reading time). This is not my usual space fantasy or Sci-Fi, but rather a supernatural fantasy. And it was a good change of pace for my reading palate.

The main (and POV) character is James Decker, and I must say, he follows the Hero's Journey really well here. I think a lot of that might have something to do with my enjoyment of the book - I'm a sucker for a hero who follows the Hero's Journey. But above that, James is snide and sarcastic at his best. I can relate to a hero who makes jokes at the expense of his friends and allies. James is the newest of the Eternals (there are six others) - a spirit being caught between life and death. This is an interesting concept, and (take this with a grain of salt as my supernatural/fantasy reading is light) not one that I've seen before. Basically what this means is that he's not alive, but he's not dead. He's kind of like a good guy zombie without a real body.

The supporting cast include a wide-range of beings. Everything from a medium to a vampire-faerie. Yes, I said vampire-faerie. It's complicated.

Anyways, the supporting cast are all well defined extensions, each with their own way of acting and speaking, they feel just as alive and important as the main character. Which is always a good thing. And some of the events surrounding the secondary characters caught me off guard, and I mean that in a good way. I was genuinely surprised and upset over what happened to the characters.

There is one small drawback. The villains. The villains are all fairly two-dimensional characters. They're big and bad and mean, but we don't know what drives them. They're not given the same screen time as the other characters. Of course this is more of a drawback to the fact that the story is written in first person, but there are ways around that.

The plot is a rescue the girl plot, but the fun way that it is orchestrated and carried out is well done. My only complaint in this regard is the use of a dues ex machina in order to solve the problems of the plot. Sure, he set up the dues ex machina in the story earlier, and gave hints when it began, but in the end the device was used rather than anything the main character set out to do. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not - but it did solve a lot of problems the main character was having. Which of course is the point of a dues ex machina.

The settings were somewhere in Canada (Darkside according to the supernatural folk) and then Summerland (home of the supernatural folks). Ultimately though, the settings are not overly important and Mr. Perry provides us with the necessary data to know what the narrator is seeing. Frankly, I think if he had provided more then it would have adversely affected the story.

Mr. Perry's "voice" is an easy to read one. He used a first-person narrator which made certain narrative choices as far as the information available to the reader goes. Of course this is a double-edged sword. It allowed us to really feel James' confusion and and dismay at the events surrounding him. But at the same time left the villains as two-dimensional characters. It's not a bad choice - but with all the things that are going on in this story I'm not sure if it was the best choice. Of course that is a value judgment call, and not exactly one that I can make for the author or other readers. Typos were few and far between - and I can only remember one off of the top of my head.

I've been waiting for this part of the review. The theme. The theme is a fun one, and probably my favorite part of this story. It's a theme about life and death obviously - but more to the point it is a theme concerning what one should do to continue living after the death of someone they love. Mr. Perry approached this theme in a very novel way, he killed the main character to teach him the point. James never understood about having, much less how, to continue living until after his death.

Overall, I enjoyed this story a lot. It was fun. My only concern is that it is a story not quite ready for the adult fiction shelves. Frankly, I think the novel would be better handled if it was edited slightly and turned in as a young-adult or teen reader. That's not to say the story is bad or lacks depth - after all Luisa May Alcott's books are classified as young-adult/teen readers. But unlike The Mars Run, this story reads like something I wouldn't mind a 10-15 year old reading. Even as it stands - there's no explicit sex, a minimum of cursing and the violence is not used gratuitously. Frankly, we met one other Eternal in this story - and I for one would like to read more and find out what happens to James and the gang when he gets around to meeting the rest of them. I liked James and his situation enough that I want to read more about him. And that's where the author has succeeded with this novel.

I give it a 3.4 out of 4.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: The Draco Tavern

The Draco Tavern is a collection of short vignettes written by Larry Niven and published in 2006. The stories it contained were written at various times between 1977 and 2006. The book clocked in at 304 pages, spread out over just under 30 vignettes. But every story contains at about three pages of white space as a separator.

The stories themselves are fun little vignettes, touching on a myriad of subjects dealing with knowledge, life, and the unanswerable in general.

The main character is the owner/operator of the Draco Tavern, a guy by the name of Rick Schumann. He's a fun protagonist - not necessarily going through excessive things (at least excessive things that are covered in explicit detail within the story) but he's still fun.

Plots are fairly non-existent though. The vignettes are for the most part single scenes - and a lot of them have the potential to be full stories. For example in the story Limits, Rick overhears two aliens talking about a way that humans could be granted eternal life. That would make a great premise for a book. Rick hunting around for those aliens and then searching for the answer - and either finding it or not. But that's not really the point here. The point of this book is to provide vignettes, single scenes. In Fan Fiction what's being used here is called Plot Bunnies. The idea which is the beginning for an idea/theme/plot of a story.

The setting pretty much is exclusively the Draco Tavern - but since this are just a series of vignettes that works.

Overall, I'm not that impressed with the book. I've been looking at it on the shelves of Books-a-Million for a few months now, but have been hesitating to purchase it. When I stopped by the library the other day to look to see if they had a copy of RingWorld, I saw it on the shelf and grabbed it. I figured that since my whim worked so well with Old Man's War that I should give my random whims another go. The stories aren't bad, in fact they're really good - it's just that they're short. I got the book on Friday after work (about 5pm) and managed to finish it by noon Saturday. For a 304 book that's rather obscenely quick, even for me.

I guess it's a good thing that the only thing I can complain about is how short the book feels - but I definitely am glad that I did not buy this book when it was released in hardcover, and don't plan on getting it in paperback either.

Ultimately, it gets a 2.5 out of 4.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Sad Day for Sci-Fi Publishing.

I don't know why, but whenever I hear that a publisher has gone under it makes me sad. It was recently announced that Meisha Merlin (who was publishing the Robert Heinlein collection The Virgina Edition) is going under.

Glancing through the list of Titles, I did not find anything that I recognized. But even still, I'm left feeling bad. I know it's impossible to read every book produced (I heard one number along the lines that you would have to read 3 novels a day, every day to keep up with the annual production of new books) - but that doesn't mean I don't want to try.

I wish the best for the folks over at Meisha Merlin, and I'm sorry to see another SF/F publisher go.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

Author's note: I was organizing my Google Documents and stumbled across this file. It's the first review I had placed over at TheForce.Net - an event which lead to the creation of not just this blog but also my invitation to join TF.N's Books staff. How it managed to not get placed up on the blog I'm not entirely certain, but it's an oversight that I'm going to correct right now. It was originally published at TF.N on October 4th of 2006.


I must admit something – a lot of recent SW EU has left me feeling, less than thrilled. I remember the visceral enjoyment I got when I read my first piece of SW fiction. I had seen SW novels in the stores, but had passed it over for other more esoteric forms of science-fiction/fantasy. But when I read that first SW novel, I, Jedi actually, I was ecstatic. It was Star Wars, a story of space fighters, Force users, and the noble goal of rescuing the girl. I happily consumed everything I could find in the book stores, my collection bloomed from that single hardback I picked up at a flea market on a whim, to include nearly every novel that had been published by that time. I was thrilled. I was having fun. I even liked the first half of the NJO. But around the time of Star by Star, something happened, a fundamental shift in how things happened in the stories.

Star Wars stopped being hopeful and fun.

The books I use to consume in hours, would now sit for days on a shelf before I got around to reading them. It had gotten so bad, that it was nearly two weeks between the time I purchased Outbound Flight and the time I read it.

Of course there were bright points, Dark Nest was enjoyable and I truly enjoyed Betrayal, reading it that first day I purchased it. I bought Drew Karpyshyn’s Path of Destruction on the Monday before it was supposed to be released. Found it at Books-a-Million, and snatched it up early. Then it sat on the shelf until I took it to my wife’s doctor appointment on the Friday after its release. It’s now early Saturday and I’m kicking myself for not reading sooner.

I expected this book to be depressing, and sad. Just more of the same EU which left me feeling “blah” about the franchise in general. Which is a reasonable expectation; it is a book about the bad guys. Yet that simple concept masks the sheer enjoyment that reading this book brought me.

The first thing that surprised me was the simple fact that Bane is a sympathetic character here. You can see, feel and understand the reason for his joining the Sith, for the decisions he makes and the struggles he faces.

And you root for him to win.

That caught me off guard. I wanted Bane to succeed. I was thrilled as he planned and connived. As he acted like a Sith should. It’s not that Drew pulled his punches, that Bane wasn’t a Sith Lord, doing all the things which that entail. Bane acted Sith, yet I was still able to root for him as the protagonist.

The second thing that I enjoyed was the thoughts about the Dark Side of the Force in this book. The reasons for the Rule of Two. And especially for consideration is how they describe the Force, especially its Dark Side. You learn more about the Sith, the Force, and the Dark Side in this book than 90% of all other Star Wars fiction.

And then there are plenty of things to make the Fleet Junkies happy. New fighters, battleships, scout ships and even land vehicles. A veritable parade of brand new designs that we have never seen before. While I’m not the biggest Fleet Junkie, it’s still enough to make me drool with excitement.

Of course this is not to say that there weren’t some problems with the book. As always there were continuity errors. The biggest was cortosis. It was originally described as a rare, brittle material. Here it is described as a strong material, which dulls the jack hammers used to mine it. Then the events described here for the final battle of Ruusan don’t perfectly mesh with the story produced in the Jedi versus Sith comics. But by far the one which I found the most annoying was the use of Vaapad, some 1000 years before Mace created it.

Yet the few continuity glitches were not enough to detract from the well written plot, the wonderfully devised characters and the general feel of the book. Make no mistake though; this is not a traditional Star Wars story. This is not the swashbuckling hero, walking through the Hero’s Journey to save the day.

This book made me wish that Drew Karpyshyn was the one that had been pegged for the Darth Plagueis novel, and on the strength of this showing, I hope that he gets to write the rumored Sith book for 2008. I cannot reiterate just how good this book is, and how much I enjoyed it.

Sure, for those of us who have read Jedi v. Sith, we know the end result of this book going in, but that simple fact does nothing to negate the sheer enjoyment of the journey which it represents.

It gets a 3.6 out of 4

Review: The Mars Run

The first of my IPST reviews is for the novel The Mars Run by Chris Gerrib (his website: At first I thought that this was merely a novella - but having imported it into Word and performed a word count on it, I discovered that with chapter headings, TOC and other miscellanea that it clocked in at around 60K words. Not a long novel by any stretch, but still firmly within the realm of what can be considered a novel - after all Catcher in the Rye is not much longer than 50K words. The author offers the story for sale on and offers this as a blurb:

In 2071, Janet Pilgrim, a recent high school graduate, suddenly finds herself unable to afford college, thanks to her father's financial mismanagement. Faced with the fear of dying of embarrassment if she goes to a junior college, she looks for a way out. After considering joining the Army, she stumbles on the solution to her problems – becoming an astronaut on a commercial space ship. In 2071, “astronaut” is only slightly more glamorous then “truck driver” is today. But the money is good, and one run to Mars - the "armpit of the Solar System" will fund several years of college. Even better, she won’t have to face her friends. Unfortunately, being an astronaut can be dangerous, as she discovers when a friend dies in a training accident, the first of many dangers.

To be honest, if I had read the blurb prior to reading the story I probably would have passed. Even if this was a free offering for IPST. Writing blurbs (whether for dust jackets, back covers or websites) is a hard thing to do. For most writers, that is the only time that they get to sell the book to the reader. Even for the authors that I know and love, I'll still make a decision on buying a novel based on whether or not the blurb draws my attention (part of the reason I never bought Niven's Draco Tavern is that the dust jacket blurb, though it piques my interest, does not do so enough to get me to shell out $25 on a hardcover). The blurb is to tell the reader enough about the story and the character to make them want to read more. And frankly this fails. Unfortunately it does so in ways that would spoil the story if I explained why.

The story itself revolves around a young girl by the name of Janet Pilgrim and the trials she goes through once she has graduated from astronaut training. Which in the year 2071 (the date of the story by the way) is not as glamorous a profession as we consider it today. In fact some astronauts - such as the ones from Mars - are there solely by on the job training. Janet is a tenacious girl who spends the novel struggling to survive its events. She's quick on her feet, smart, able to learn new tasks in an amazingly short time and apparently one of the cuter girls in the universe. Frankly, if this were a fan fiction story, the character would be considered something of a Mary Sue. At best, since it's original fiction, she's wish fulfillment on the part of the author. Frankly, her past is too tragic and she's too likable to characters in universe. Unfortunately, even though the story is told in first person, we get into her head far too little. We often don't know what she's feeling or thinking, and there are obvious skips in her record of events, that are not revealed until the plot needs to reveal it.

Plot wise we're not dealing with anything spectacular. It's a simple, straight forward adventure story.

Well, let me rephrase that. It's a straight-forward adventure story, involving sex and slavery. Our young heroine spends an odd amount of time in various states of undress, her only decoration a steel collar around her neck. The BDSM connotations can only be there on purpose - and I have to truly wonder about the author's intentions when he gave this a rating of TEEN on . And on that note - just the sheer amount of cursing, violence and sex, quite often via rape, makes me wonder why this is classified as a TEEN novel. When I think of teen books, I honestly think of stories aimed at the 10-15 year old set, as any older there should be no reason not to read fiction aimed at adults. Yet the things that happen to our heroine here are not things I would want my boys to read when they're in that age bracket. The only reason for the TEEN rating I can even hazard a guess at is because of its length. It's about the same length as the original Harry Potter novel or any of the Young Jedi Knights novels.

The story itself is crafted fine, but with a slight reliance on a scenario of unlikely events happening. It's not hideous in its execution of the chosen plot, but it's not done brilliantly either. The first part does remind me of a TEEN story - about a young girl beginning her first job. Yet when you're about two-thirds through the book and the bad things start to pile up on her, well that is where the novel hits its stride, and also loses the possibility for the TEEN rating to be valid. It shifts from the teen stuff into a harder, maturer story (conversely this is where the rape starts as well).

The author did do a decent job on settings - as it was not that often that I found myself having to picture where the characters were at during the events of the story. That said, I could have used more. We could have been given some beautiful vistas when they leave or arrive at planets. They have a observation room where the character spends some time watching space and the stars - yet even though the story is told in first person, we never get to feel how she views those things. They're a background painting as far as the character is concerned even though they could make a great analogy for what the girl is thinking/feeling during the novel. That said, the descriptions/settings were still really done well, and thankfully not overly graphic - especially when some of the subject matter is explosive decompression.

This was a self-published novel and their was a sprinkling of typos throughout. To be fair, I wouldn't be that upset about it when purchasing the e-book, as e-books are cheap, but shelling out the $13 or so for a paperback (that's according to and I can only hope they mean softback there as $13 for a mass-market paperback is way overkill That $13 is for the softback) I would not be as forgiving of the errors. Do they need fixing? Yes. Does it distract from the story? Only marginally - and only in the first third. After that, there were either no typos or I skimmed over them while reading.

Likewise, I must applaud Mr. Gerrib for having the guts to self-publish. Of course, I have to wonder if more people did do self-publishing, if we wouldn't get more and better science-fiction out there.

Back on topic, overall, The Mars Run was a fun, but quick, read. With the story clocking in at around 60K words, that means I was able to finish it over two lunch breaks. But I don't always need a novel that's going to take me 12 or more hours to finish. That said, I could use more. I could use more of what the girl was feeling, and her thoughts above and beyond the almost clinical descriptions given through the narrative. I could use more of the events that lead up to her joining Midwest Ships Operators. Conversely, I would occasionally get the odd feeling that the narrator was talking to me - an early 21st century reader - rather than to her audience (i.e. whoever found her record of events in universe). Likewise, I could use more in the fact that there's still more story to tell.

Like I said. It's a quick fun read, and one with no glaring errors nor anything particularly bad about it. And even the minor issues can't shake apart the book. I don't see myself purchasing this novel, but if I saw another Christ Gerrib book in the library I wouldn't hesitate to check it out to read.

I give it a 2.3 out of 4.

EDIT: Mr. Gerrib was kind enough to stop by and post in the comments a few notes. First, the TEEN rating given the story at is more akin to a PG-13 rating than an indication that it is a story for young adult readers. A bad decision from a publisher, IMO, but one that Mr. Gerrib has no control over. I might have none this had their ratings system been displayed prominently on the site.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Review: Old Man's War

John Scalzi's novel, Old Man's War starts out somewhat underwhelming. It is a simple collection of sentences:

I did two things on my seventh-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.
But from that simple beginning, Mr. Scalzi has managed to spin a gripping tale of an old man who has joined the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). The group responsible for protecting humanity from the hundreds, if not thousands, of other races out there bent on destroying us - or all to often, eating us. With those nineteen words, he provides the entire premise of the book. It's a story of a 75 year old, fighting what are effectively monsters and missing his wife. I can't lie, my initial thought was that that was not a strong enough premise to carry the book. That reading about a 75 year old in an army unit was going to be highly... well boring.

But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

The main protagonist in the book is a geriatric named John Perry. He's an everyman in the traditional sense of the word. There is nothing spectacular or amazing about him. He is not a genius. He's not super-strong. He's simply a man, who has lived a long, normal life. He's just an ordinary guy who has done the ordinary things of daily living.

And it is those characteristics that make him such a joy to read about as his life changes from that simple, straight-forward existence that he had lived on Earth to the fighting life of a CDF soldier.

Beyond the main protagonist (and POV character) Scalzi has a host of secondary characters that flitter in and out of the narrative. All are brought in by the same mechanism - the turnover of army life, but they all go out in various ways. Everything from death, to simply being transferred to a different division of the CDF. These secondary characters are all well-thought out and three-dimensional, nearly as much as the main protagonist himself.

And then there's Asshole.

While not necessary a character in and of itself (well - Asshole is as much as a character as Wilson was in the movie Castaway, if not more of one), Asshole is the name John gives the computer that's hardwired into his head. But what amused me the most is that instead of some arcane collection of letters and numbers or a stunningly complex designator for the machine, it's something innately simple and beautiful. It's called a BrainPal. And I must admit, the things he thought up to call the technology in his book are some of the best that I've stumbled across in my years of reading SciFi.

The plot is relatively straight-forward, and a staple scenario of military-based SciFi, and could be considered straight out of a Heinlein novel. In fact, Heinlein did this plot. The basics are - boy joins the army, goes through training and then goes out to defend humanity. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a great premise. A story is not deemed good or bad on the strength of the underlying plot - it's deemed good or bad based on the execution of that underlying plot. And Mr. Scalzi executed his plot brilliantly. I'm not going to go into details as most of what I would bring up would be spoilers, but this was probably the best implementation of this particular plot that I've read since Starship Troopers.

The settings are myriad and diverse, everything from a space elevator to an alien world which holds a deadly mold-like substance. The sheer range of creatures and beings which populate these worlds are great and wonderful. My favorite part of these is the way that the trainees are showed that Earth-specific anthropomorphism would get them all killed. Basically, ugly and nasty looking is not synonymous with evil in this universe. And I like that. A lot.

The novel was written from a first-person POV (again, one of the best I've read since Starship Troopers), and my personal favorite thing about it was that there were no glaring typographical or grammatical errors. And that's something I appreciate. It shows a true love for the craft on the part of both Mr. Scalzi and the editor he has hiding behind the scenes. Beyond that, the wording, the descriptions and just how the text flows is wonderfully done as well. The story progresses at a fast pace, but one which doesn't leave the reader behind wondering what happened. Descriptions tell you just what you need to know to understand what the character is going through and don't bog you down with pointless trivia - which is something that can happen in speculative or fantasy fiction. Especially when they're the first of a series.

Theme-wise, despite the fact that they carry similar plot structures, this is not Heinlein's Starship Troopers. This story is not a jab at socialist policies and concepts. This is a story about a human being as he fights for his own humanity while placed in a situation where he must question it. It touches core concepts of that question - what makes us human. Is it how we treat others? Is it our actions? Our DNA maybe? Or is it just a bit of shared experience? Those are the questions asked of the reader, and which the protagonist answers for himself. It is a journey similar to the one found in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but without the overt cynicism and darkness of that work. I like it, and I like how he defines humanity for the characters.

Overall I can't help but recommend this novel. It is a fundamentally fun book to read. I checked the novel out of the library on a whim (I was there getting A Canticle for Liebowitz and I saw a book set later in this series on the New Releases shelves and since I've been reading Mr. Scalzi's blog for a while I thought I should pick up his book, so I went to the stacks and grabbed it). I liked it so much that I now plan on purchasing the book when I get the chance to do so, as it is a novel that I want on my shelves sitting next to my Heinlein novels.

I give it a 4 out of 4.

Monday, April 23, 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasants

Due to the current voting for the officers of the SFWA, one of the members called those members who give material away online Scabs and accused them of trying to undermine the entire paradigm/cost structure of the fictional world.

Frankly, I find that odd, as I've been around the 'Net long enough to remember when materials given away on it was the de facto standard. It was odd to find something that charged for materials. Of course, back then I was able to register on every single web page that required registration and I did so just so that I would always have the same handle.

But I'm getting off topic.

In response to those accusations one of the SFWA authors, Jo Walton, created and organized the International Pixel-Stained Technopeasants day. What IPST is, is a day where authors/creators/whatever give away some of their material. For free. Online.

I like it. And in fact have already found two books that I probably would not have purchased at the book store - yet now I have them available and will read them.

As a concept this is a great way to bring interest to little known writers.

As a jab at that pompous SFWA author who called them all "webscabs" it's hilarious.

Here are a few links for everyone:

  1. Jo Walton's LiveJournal where she lists some IPST participants.
  2. The IPST LiveJournal Community
Like I said, I'll now be reading Jo Walton's The Rebirth of Pan and S.K.S Perry's Darkside. Two stories (and authors) I probably would not have picked up if it were not for IPST. As an aside, the reading and reviewing of those two stories will probably push back me finishing my re-read and review of Heinlein's Friday.

As a special note, I recently read Scalzi's Old Man's War on a whim due to the fact that I read his blog (watch for the review of that novel tomorrow). If anyone else has found good stories that are worth reading due to IPST (or due to any type of online material that was freely available - such as a blog) drop me a link in the comments. I enjoy reading too much to pass up this wealth of free material.

Of course that is a double-edged sword, as I'll probably find more authors to read due to this, which means spending yet more money on books.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Tidbit of News

I know that I might be the only person that actually cares about such things, but the 2007 nominations for the Eisner Awards and the 2007 inductees for the SCI-FI Hall of Fame are now up and ready for looking at.

Here's the article about the Eisner's.

And here's the press release about the Hall of Fame.

In a couple days I should have reviews up for Scalzi's Old Man's War and I hope to finish my re-read of Heinlein's Friday for a review up later next week as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a novel about a post-apocalyptic future, in which mankind has destroyed its own civilization, and in a frenzy of self-righteousness destroyed all receptacles of knowledge. Out of this inferno, a Jewish technician with the U.S. Army became a Jewish priest working with the Catholic church and the monastic order he set up to save books and other repositories of information. It was written by Walter M. Miller, Jr. back in 1959 and won a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1961.

There are a wealth of characters here, the primary ones of which are well thought and and fully fleshed. Though my favorite would have to be the Jewish Hermit. There's a lot of questions on just who he really is. Lazarus? The Wandering Jew from early Christianmythos? A simple mad man? He's arcane and cryptic and works perfectly as a symbol for mankind's continual search for something more.

The plot is a mixture of the things that you find in the post-apocalyptic future genre of books. Though, due to how early this one was written, it could conceivably have been a pioneer for those plot points. The book itself is broken into three sections: Fiat Homo (let there be man), Fiat Lux (let there be light) and Fiat Voluntas Tua (thy will be done). These sections each detail an important step in the advancement of the plot, and each is actually structured like a mini story in their own right. Which I guess is a holdover from the fact that Fiat Homo was initially published in a magazine by itself.

The physical setting is an abbey in the American Southwest. Yet their is a secondary aspect of the setting and that is the fact that it is a post-apocalyptic earth. This changes everything - granting the creatures that populated the landscape an almost surreal existence.

Miller's style is somewhat old fashioned, the wording and just feel of the novel seemed, dated somehow. Since he himself was a Catholic, he used Catholic catechisms and sprinkled the text liberally with Latin phrases without explaining them. A lot of the content I was able to figure out from context, but coming from a non-Catholic point-of-view, I had trouble on some of them. But that was minor in the overall enjoyment of the book.

There were a lot of themes here in this book. The first of which was mankind's tendency to destroy itself and then rebuild itself up again. A theme of the cyclical nature of humanity and human nature. And depending on how you read it a positive or negative view of religion and its influence on man. Overall thought, the book itself contains huge blobs of ambiguity in the various themes spread throughout its pages. Which is a good thing, because good literature, and especially good speculative fiction, will make the reader ask questions about his world view rather than force the author's answers to those questions upon the reader. It's an art that seems lost on a lot of the authors writing stories out there today.

As a special note, I have to share my favorite quote from this novel: My execrable vanity is like that of the fabled cat who studied ornithology, m'Lord. I'm not certain why, but I just got a laugh out of it.

Overall the story was an interesting and enjoyable read. I give it a solid 3 out of 4.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jacen Solo & the Hero's Journey

To some Jacen Solo is a hero. To some a villain. Regardless, he is a complex, dynamic and ultimately human character with his own strengths and weaknesses; triumphs and failures. Ultimately though, he fails to fit the mold of a Star Wars hero - he lacks the dynamics of the Hero's Journey which Luke and his little brother Anakin went on. Or does he?

It should be no secret by now that Jacen has fallen to the Dark Side. He went down that dark path, skipping and whistling, dragging his young cousin along for the ride. All the readers know it, and the only people who don't are Ben Skywalker and Mr. ThereIsNoDarkSide himself, Jacen. The trap the Sith created for Jacen was daring and well thought out. Lumiya is a master manipulator - twisting Jacen and his ideals the entire, broad avenue which he travels while on his way towards his inevitable fall. She weaves Jacen's own back-story, everything from his initial training at the hands of the Shadow Academy to his time under Vergere's tutelage, into a convincing argument for Jacen being a Sith. It almost seems pre-ordained.

Oh wait, Star Wars is built using a plot by committee system these days, isn't it...

Anyways, in terms of the narrative, Jacen's fall is the end result of the (half?) truths which Lumiya tells him. That's not a surprise.

What is a surprise is how literally the plotting committee has taken the idea that no one thinks they are a villain.

We have a Jacen who recognizes that he is no longer a happy-go-lucky Jedi, who runs around collecting animals with this huge empathy thing going on, a Jacen who recognizes his overt use of the Dark Side of the Force (or uses his emotion to power his Force usage for all you Potentium folk out there). Ultimately, we have a Jacen who believes that he is doing the right thing for the galaxy. He is a hero, in his own mind at least.

After his subsequent torture and mental breakdown at the hands of an Old Republic Jedi, his fall, and the events leading up to it, have been a comedy of errors - one involving his family of all people. He makes these choices to save people, people who ultimately would not want him to make the choices he has - even at the cost of their own lives. The first step on his journey is all of the NJO. The first half of which he spends brooding and whining about aggression and negative emotions (at least while he's not picking a fight with his little brother as a way to work out their philosophical arguments). This section of his life is topped by his decision to stop using the Force. A decision made in the heat of the moment - and broken just as easily when his mother was placed in danger. Then his wishy-washy attitude and demeanor means that rather than taking out Tsavong Lah, he merely wounds him, which sets into motion a chain of events that leads to the bounty on the Jedi, Tahiri's shaping and ultimately the voxyn and the events at Myrkr in general. After his brainwashing... err... training at the tender mercies of Vergere, Jacen happily fights his way through the rest of the NJO and at the end, goes off doing his best Palpatine impression in an effort to learn all the ways of the Force that he can get his grubby little paws on.

Fast forward a decade (thanks for that Del Rey), and we have Jacen having a chat with Lumiya. It is this scene that we get to see Jacen's first, truly despicable act.

His actions in the Dark Nest Trilogy could be excused, provided you drank your way through those books, but the death of Nelani Dinn is the first thing that we see in the EU which shows just how far he has already fallen. What happens is that Jacen looks into the future - and sees that if she lives, he kills Luke.

One would think that after his five years of journeying to the far reaches of the galaxy learning about the Force from anyone and everyone, that someone, somewhere, would have told him that little tidbit of truth concerning the future, and Force visions. You know the one, and if you don't, I'll provide it for you, in it's original Yoda-speak form: "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." But for whatever reason, he seems to have forgotten that little tidbit of information, and slaughters this bright, promising young Jedi.

I want to put this discussion of Jacen - and his fall to the Dark Side on hold for just a minute, and bring up some real-world academic concepts. Mainly heroes and the Hero's Journey. Traditional heroes (and Star Wars Heroes) follow the Hero's Journey on a rather consistent basis. It's the monomyth - a concept, a story telling device, that is found throughout the world's literature and mythological/religious stories. It provides a way to discuss heroes, regardless of the circumstances of their individual stories. A way to relate them one to the other. But what is important to note, is that the HERO is a reactive force. The hero reacts to what is happening. He (and no whining about my use of the masculine pronouns, in proper English if you're talking about someone when the sex is unknown/indeterminate you're supposed to use masculine as the default gender) has to react to what the villain does. Be it Luke finding his aunt/uncle dead or Frank Castle watching as criminals slaughter his family. The villain is the driving force behind the hero's actions (and I'm using hero/villain here in a generic sense - after all in the Darth Bane book, Bane is the hero).

But now, back to Jacen.

Jacen is not a Star Wars Hero. He can't be. He lacks the traditional traits which make up a hero for the fantasy setting that we are given. Can he be a protagonist? Sure! And as such, he can be the hero of the story. But that's not the same thing as a Star Wars Hero. Luke is a Star Wars Hero. Anakin Solo is a Star Wars Hero. Jacen, well, he just doesn't have it in him.

So, what is Jacen? Is Jacen a villain? The ultimate evil of the Star Wars universe?

No matter how much I dislike his character - I'm inclined to say no. He's been given too much screen time, DR/LFL has invested too much in him, for that to happen. Frankly, I think all of LotF is an effort to reboot his character into the traditional Jedi mold.

Yes, I think they're taking 9 books to drive Jacen fully to the Dark Side and then redeem him, a subject matter which Luke managed to do in a single TPB.

In the same way that Jacen fails in the requirements for being a Star Wars Hero - he fails in the requirements needed to be a Star Wars Villain. He lacks that sense of destruction which the villains carry around with them. Frankly, he's just not dramatically evil enough nor is he Machiavellian enough to be a Star Wars Villain (and do note that this does not mean he's not a 'bad guy').

As he stands right now - Jacen is a Star Wars Anti-Hero.

What does that mean? Wikiepedia has this to say about an anti-hero:

An anti-hero in fictional works will typically take a leading role, performing acts which might be deemed "heroic" (at least in scale and daring), but using methods, manners, or intentions that may not be so - indeed are often underhanded or deceitful. The majority of anti-heroes are generally heroic, but cannot be termed as heroes because of some character flaw or defect, commonly moral ambiguity or selfishness. However another form an anti-hero may take is a character who avoids any idea of heroism, not out of a sense of humbleness, but due to a genuine fear of danger, or even risk.

The word is fairly recent, and its primary meaning has somewhat changed. As recently as 1940, the 600,000-word Merriam-Webster New International Dictionary, Second Edition, listed it but without a definition. By 1992 the American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language defined an anti-hero only as "a main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage" . Even the more recent Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, of 2004, says: "(1714): a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities." The original meaning, therefore, is that of a protagonist who is ineffectual and hapless, rather than resolute and determined, whether his motives are good or bad. In modern instances, anti-hero has come to refer to a protagonist of a work whose actions and motives are villainous or questionable.
Everything Jacen does, he supposedly does for his family. It's an threat from an outside source, possibly even created by Vergere and/or Lumiya in an effort to drive him deeper in the philosophical direction they wish him to go. Though logically, and from an out of universe point-of-view, that thought fails, it is important to note that the character believes it. He firmly believes that enforcing order (and his definition of order at that) at the cost of, well everything and anyone, is necessary for the protection of his daughter. This is a situation which Lumiya created, for the sole purpose of creating Darth Jacen. So, like the Hero, he is reacting to a Star Wars Villain. The thing is that his reactions are driving him to being what is recognized in-universe as evil.

It terms of plotting, it is an Anti-Hero's Journey. And it goes something like this:
  1. Training: The anti-hero begins his character life as a good guy. Often in training with others.
  2. Introduction: Is given a taste of evilness.
  3. The Threshold: Something happens, and a wedge is formed between the anti-hero and his friends
  4. Belly of the Whale: The point where the anti-hero begins his transition from good guy to bad guy
  1. Road of Trials: A series of steps, where the anti-hero begins to believe that the ends justify the means
  2. Meeting: The anti-hero is faced with evil, and does not immediately vanquish it
  3. Temptress: A friend of the anti-hero, who tries to talk him back onto the straight and narrow
  4. Atonement: The anti-hero has killed the friend, or through inaction, allowed the friend to die
  5. Apotheosis: The anti-hero has fully accepted being an anti-hero or an outright bad guy

  1. Ultimate Boon: The anti-hero now goes about his task, one that is often self-assigned, trying to accomplish his goals using whatever means are available, and in general not being concerned about little things like innocent bystanders, morality or right and wrong.
  1. Refusal: Good guys offer the chance at redemption. anti-hero laughs
  2. Magic Flight: The anti-hero fights the hero
  3. Rescue From Without: the hero does something to tilt the anti-hero's world. Shoving things into perspective
  4. The Return: The anti-hero fights the villain (this can be an internal struggle)
  5. Redemption: The anti-hero now has to struggle with the path of being a good guy
As you can see, this Anti-Hero's Journey works in terms of plot for not only Jacen, but for characters such as Kyp Durron, or any other Jedi who has taken a short stroll down the Dark Path, and I can even see it applied to characters from a couple of anime series I've recently watched. It is this journey that I see Jacen on, and that I believe DR/LFL are trying to encapsulate within LotF.

Whether I'm right or wrong about Jacen, his ultimate redemption, and LotF as a whole, well that is another matter altogether.

REVIEW: LotF Exile

Author's Note: I've been invited to be a part of the TheForce.Net Books staff, so the way reviews will work is that they'll be posted over at TFN first (as they get dibs on the reviews), and then a few weeks later I'll post them here on this blog. My little essays about SW EU (such as this recent one discussing the relationship between midichlorians and YV slave coral) will continue to be posted here as I write them. Thanks for reading and May the Force be with you.


Exile is the latest addition to the Legacy of the Force series, telling the continuing story of the descendants of Anakin Skywalker as the galaxy once more falls into civil war. It is written by the esteemed Aaron Allston, and contains all of the hallmarks of an Allston novel: clear, concise starfighter battles, wonderful characterization, subtle humor, and a solid grasp of what a Jedi is. Say what you want about the man, but he knows how to write, and more importantly he knows how to write Star Wars.

The characters and characterizations are brilliant. They are vibrant and three-dimensional, realistic and most importantly flawed beings. This brilliance shines through especially in the case of Ben Skywalker. He's a petulant teenager having the first pangs of maturity, realizing that those around him, the giants and heroes of the galaxy, aren't exactly infallible, and between all this, Ben takes giant strides in growing up here. For the first time since the death of Anakin Solo, we're being given hints of a character that could conceivably be worthy of being a Star Wars archetypal hero. Then we're given brilliant representations of the Skywalkers, the Solos, the Horns and the Antilles. Yet, the character that surprised me the most, in terms of sheer characterization, was Kyp Durron. We finally get to see Kyp acting like a Jedi Master as opposed to the perpetually guilty brat from the New Jedi Order and Dark Nest trilogy series. He's wise, he's sarcastic, and he shows up various government officials.

The plot is fairly standard Star Wars fare: we get a bit of dialogue, a bit of politics, a bit of space battles and a bit of lightsaber action. Though don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with standard fare, provided that it is written well, and here, it is written well. That said, there is one big disappointment for me in this regard and that was in Ben's plot. Allston had set up the potential for a serious bit of man-versus-environment story telling, and it's over in just a few chapters, and there's not really any man-versus-environment conflict. I thought that was a tad disappointing, mainly because we have never seen a man-versus-environment story in Star Wars. I mean we'll get occasional bits like the Ben part here or Luke & Han on Hoth during the Empire Strikes Back- but we haven't really seen a story about one of our heroes fighting the environment, and by extension themselves. We almost exclusively have an enemy (be it human, alien or creature) which the heroes are fighting against. Is this bad? No. But it would be something that we hadn't really ever seen before in Star Wars, which is a good thing.

The settings were the usual fare, and Allston, as always, is beautiful with his descriptions of starships. For example, in less than a sentence, he gives us a perfect description of a Carrack-class ship; one that is not overly detailed but one that provides the reader with a general thought of what the ship should look like. As is usual for Star Wars novels, we're given a whole host of various planets to visit (and I think that might be why I like Allston's earlier novel Starfighters of Adumar so much, with so many locations even on just a single planet). Overall, like I said, the settings were typical Star Wars and again that's not a bad thing, especially since the characters shine so well here.

The overall style of the novel is pure Allston. The dialogue works well, and feels in-character all round. The writing is simple and contains a clarity that is always refreshing (I find myself reading fairly complex documents on a nearly daily basis for my job, so clear, concise, simple writing is always a breath of fresh air for me), though this is not to say that the story itself is simplistic - but rather that it is accessible for the readers.

Theme-wise this is a very multi-faceted story but there is still an overarching concept of what constitutes right and wrong or good and evil. This concrete duality between light and dark has been a focal point of the Star Wars series since the beginning and was seriously blurred during the NJO. This novel, especially Ben's parts in it, goes a long way to... well not exactly answer the questions about what is light and what is dark, but formalize them in the context of Star Wars, the characters and the EU mythology as a whole. It doesn't really answer these things for the reader, but frames the question to make their answer less ambiguous both within the Star Wars universe and to the fans as well.

Overall, I was happy with this novel, and it reminded me why I love Star Wars. The story is well crafted and solid, but above all it is fun. Yet where the novel shines is the characters. They are beautifully done and I'm truly impressed. I whole heartedly recommend this book and I'm giving it a 3.7 out of 4.

Rating: 3.7 of 4

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