Lots of news this week! New books! New The Last Jedi details! New hair! Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Though rumored as early as December 2015, it’s now official; following the death of original Star Wars actor Kenny Baker, going forward (beginning with this December’s The Last Jedi) the adorable astromech will be portrayed by Doctor Who veteran Jimmy Vee. I guess this makes him R2-D2-2. (source)
Confession: I’ve been slacking on the Book Club. I can blame a lot of things for this. The Thrawncast readings have taken up more time than I expected. I’m also trying to keep up with Tor.com’s Vorkosigan saga read-through as well as the Wraith Squadron arc for Rogue Podron. Then there was Rogue One (I still haven’t read the novelization yet), family in town for Christmas, and — oh yeah — my own writing to focus on.
Needless to say, we skipped December’s pick, Radiance. But it’s a new year and I want to make a new effort with the Book Club. No more excuses! I’m cheating for the first three months and picking books I’ve already read — the Mageworlds trilogy by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald. I love them (the lead is basically Jaina Solo), and I hope you will, too. (For those of you looking forward to reading Radiance, don’t worry, we haven’t skipped it for good!)
Here’s a revised Book Club schedule for 2017. As always, it’s subject to change, and as always, if you have any suggestions, be sure to let me know!
January: The Price of the Stars by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
February: Starpilot’s Grave by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
March: By Honor Betray’d by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
April: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
May: Radiance by Catherynne Valente
June: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
July: Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
August: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
September: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
October: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
November: Ash by Malinda Lo
December: Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns (releases December 5)
If you haven’t joined the Book Club yet, be sure to do so on Goodreads! You’ll have to request membership before it’s approved.
After reading Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger/Wayfarer series, I do believe that duologies may be my favorite. The first book draws you in and leaves you wanting more of the world and the story and then the second book delivers without making things feel too drawn out. Wayfarer is a highly enjoyable sequel that not only delivers on the promise of this family conflict across thousands of years and every continent but also takes the story in an unexpected direction and adds in new elements to keep the world feeling fresh.
At the heart of the story are Etta and Nicholas. When last we left our heroes, they were separated thanks to a massive shift in the timeline. Etta’s a very likable heroine who has been thrust into a fairly awful situation by a mother who’s not exactly in the running for Parent of the Year while Nicholas is such a solidly good person despite life having dealt him a fairly crappy hand of cards. Bracken both fleshes out her existing cast and expands it in delightfully diverse ways. The two standouts in this book include new character Li Min and previous antagonist Sophia who not only looks pretty badass now but gets a rather excellent character arc. (Who isn’t a sucker for a well-executed ‘bad guy turned reluctant good guy ally’ plot line?) The more I think about Sophia, the more I like her which is impressive given how much I disliked her at the start of Passenger. That’s another great thing about Bracken’s writing: all of her female characters are distinct and don’t fill any sort of stereotypical role that feels obligatory or like they’re there just to check a box. (Of course, one would expect nothing less from an author who wrote such a great Princess Leia.)
The entire conceit of Wayfarer allows Bracken to dive into a plethora of locations, time periods, and alternate timelines that keep everything exciting and new especially since I suspect that the vast majority of the readers aren’t familiar with all of the times/locations. I usually try to avoid spoilers but early 20th century Russian history fans are in for a treat. It would be wonderful to see more authors take a note from this duology and branch a little further away from the Western norm. It’s also worth noting that the rules for time travel are kept consistent and logical; something not always easily done.
Most importantly though, Wayfarer’s ending is satisfying and poignant and not depressing; something that I suspect a lot of people in this world could use right now. That’s not to say that the series hasn’t had its share of sad and tragic moments but the books left me feeling happy and content. These are books that I would happily recommend to my younger cousins in middle and high school and also to my like-aged friends in their 20s and 30s. There’s a little something for everyone here in these books and I could happily read more stories about the warring families if Alex Bracken ever chooses to write them.
Like Passenger before it, Wayfarer gets a strong recommendation. If you’d like to immerse yourself in a fun fantastical world that’s rich in history and filled with excellent characters, both books are well-worth your time.
Thank you to Hyperion for providing an advanced copy of this book for review purposes.
Film novelizations are, in their own way, just as tricky a needle to thread as film adaptations of novels. You’re taking someone else’s words and ideas, meant for one medium, and transposing them to another, hopefully doing them justice while at the same time adjusting and adapting them to fit the new medium. At their best, film novelizations can open up the world of the movie considerably, adding more scenes and characters and background information which couldn’t possibly be crammed into a two or even three-hour movie. At their worst, they’re a limp, lifeless transposition of the screenplay, lacking any of the energy or vitality which made the film entertaining. The Vonda N. McIntyre novelizations of Star Trek 2 – 4, or Peter David’s adaptation of The Rocketeer, are examples of the former; the Alan Dean Foster adaptation of The Force Awakens, the latter.
So where does Rogue One’s novelization fall? Somewhere in between. It doesn’t wildly expand the scope of the film, but it fills in just enough gaps in characterization and plot to make it, I’m shocked to report, the first novelization I’ve ever read that I enjoyed more than the film it was based on.Continue reading →
There’s no way anyone can prove that I sat on my couch, clutching my ‘This is Fine’ Dog to me as I read the last few chapters of Rogue One. That would be ridiculous if I’d done that. Absolutely… okay, fine. I did.
Novelizations can be so hit or miss that it’s often tempting to skip them all together. After all, you saw the movie, right? For the most part, they tend to be fine but nothing to write home about. Star Wars, however, has already been blessed with the absolute gem that is Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith. It’s a very high bar to meet and while Rogue One doesn’t quite meet it, it comes pretty damn close.
Alexander Freed’s novelization works so harmoniously with Garth Edward’s film that they feel like two halves of a whole. Where as the movie can revel in the action and magnificent space battles, the book allows readers into the characters’ heads and to get to know them far more intimately than before. I have no doubt that the film will have even more of an emotional impact the next time I see it. Continue reading →
Today I spent my morning with Princess Leia: Royal Rebel, part of the Scholastic Star Wars Backstories series. Aimed at fans in grades 3-7, it was a quick read: only 128 pages including a glossary and index, and many of those filled with captioned illustrations. Although imperfect in some aspects, it was a cute book and worth the little time it took to devour it.
The book is presented as an in-universe biography of the famous Princess and General and includes an illustrated section on her most famous “friends, family, and foes.” The in-universe timeline for the book is interesting, in that it mentions the events of The Force Awakens, therefore presuming that the key events of the film (the destruction of Hosnian Prime, the death of Han Solo, the discovery of Rey and her Force-sensitive nature) have already occurred. Knowing what we do about Episode VIII following so quickly on the heels of The Force Awakens, it took a little fudging in the suspension of disbelief department for me to get past that.
The introduction is done in first-person by General Leia Organa herself and dovetails nicely onto events in Moving Target–wherein an archival droid is pestering her for a memoir. “I’d much rather be doing things than talking about things I’ve already done,” Leia bemoans in the opening paragraph. And the General’s reticence on matters of her life comes in handy later in the volume.
The body of the book itself is basically a Leia-centric retelling of everything we know about Star Wars. With an at-a-glance chronology that begins with Padme and Anakin meeting, we get a summary walk through the saga focusing on where Leia was and what she was up to at any given time (including her appearances in Moving Target, the Princess Leia comic books, and Star Wars Rebels). There are notable gaps in information available about the years between events of Return of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. “These records,” the imaginary biographer posits, “may have been lost when the First Order destroyed the system of Hosnian Prime.” It is also alluded to that perhaps little is known because after the war the Princess kept her private life…well…private. It’s a useful device for allowing this book to bridge the gap in the saga without giving anything away.
We’re less than a month out from Rogue One and discovering just what a non-Saga, “anthology” Star Wars film looks like. Lucasfilm seems to be dipping its toe in the non-Saga pool gently, giving us a story — the theft of the plans to the first Death Star — separate from but still intrinsically linked to the original Star Wars film. In the meantime, to whet our appetites and give us some backstory for the characters we’ll meet in the film, Legends and Tarkin alum James Luceno has brought us Catalyst, the story of Galen Erso and Orson Krennic (Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn in the film, respectively) and how their unlikely friendship led to the development of the galaxy’s most powerful weapon.
Random House has consistently released audiobook versions of the novels in the new canon, and Catalyst is no exception. Catalyst is performed by Jonathan Davis — not the lead singer of Korn, but the veteran of more than four hundred(!) audiobook recordings, over of thirty of which were under the Star Wars banner.
So, how does Catalyst work — as a stand-alone novel, as a film prelude, and as an audiobook production? Read on to find out!Continue reading →
Today I read The Princess Diarist. Depending on who you are and how you approach fandom, I might recommend that you do the same. Or I might not.
The Princess Diarist is a personal book. It’s less the telling of the story of the making of Star Wars as it is a glimpse into the emotional life of its then-nineteen-year-old leading actress. Through this book we get a very intimate glimpse of what it has been like to be Carrie Fisher- beginning in her youth as the famous-once-removed daughter of Hollywood royalty through to her current experience of the “celebrity lap dance” that she continues to perform thanks to her permanent alter-ego: “Princess Leia Organa, formerly of Alderaan and presently of anywhere and everywhere she damn well pleased”.
If you’re at all into that sort of thing, or even morbidly curious as to what it might be like to get a glimpse inside Ms. Fisher’s head, then picking up The Princess Diarist is definitely worth your consideration. But if celebrity tell-alls and occasionally uncomfortable recollections aren’t your cup of tea, then perhaps this book isn’t for you. In The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher not only gives you a glimpse into her inner life, she holds it up to your face and forces you to look at it- in all its sordid and uncomfortable relief, until you’re almost squirming at your own unintentional voyeurism. And if you don’t go in for that level of discomfort, then perhaps you should steer clear. This book is filled with unvarnished truth-telling, but more so in an emotional sense than a factual one. It left me tearful, empathetic, and grateful to Ms. Fisher for her willingness to lay herself so bare to the world. I love this book and I love Carrie Fisher [even more than I already did] for writing it.
If you were amongst those who were disappointed that the first Aftermath book wasn’t a more direct prequel to The Force Awakens,Catalyst will most definitely scratch that itch for you for Rogue One. Set during the Clone Wars and the early years of the Empire, Catalyst dives into the long history between Orson Krennic and Galen Erso. I obviously haven’t seen Rogue One and only know what the trailers have told us but after reading Catalyst, I can’t help but feel that this book is a must read for any Star Wars fan who really wants to enhance their first viewing of the film next month. That’s just one of the reasons why I absolutely recommend picking up Catalyst by James Luceno today at your earliest convenience. Or right now. Now would be good too.
If you’re a Luceno fan, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. The writing style is less dense than Tarkin and will appeal to more people but you’ll probably still learn a new vocabulary word or two. Luceno does a wonderful job of weaving the tale of the slow burn manipulation of Galen Erso across the years without ever leaving the readers lost and wondering exactly when we are. (An impressive feat unto itself.) Primarily, Catalyst is told from the point of view of Lyra Erso, Orson Krennic, and a smuggler named Has Obitt but very rarely from Galen’s. It may seem an odd choice but it works oh so well especially since it can so often be a struggle to get Galen out of his own thoughts and scientific musings.
Although Catalyst is very much a character showcase, it also serves to show a different side of a story than what we already know along with expanding the galaxy a little. What was the last time we got the scientist’s point of view during a war? Catalyst may lack the grand battles that so many assume are synonymous with Star Wars but more than makes up for it with its characters. It’s a big galaxy so it’s nice to see its other facets.
While the book establishes Krennic as being someone you definitely don’t want to cross, the real standout here is Lyra Erso who is also the hero we need and deserve. While some may be disappointed that she’s not a scientist like her husband, she is most definitely her own person and a complex character. We spend a lot of time in Lyra’s head and it is absolutely to the book’s benefit. While yes, the book revolves around Galen and Krennic’s slow manipulation of him, Lyra has agency and keeps trying to do what’s best for their family. She doesn’t just sit there and fret about Galen or just let things happen. She plays an active role in trying to get to the bottom of just what Krennic’s ultimate plan for Galen is. Lyra is exactly the sort of capable female character we need to see more of in Star Wars because she shows us that strength isn’t found in combat alone.
Catalyst will definitely raise your excitement for Rogue One to critical levels. Luceno has done such a wonderful job of weaving together bits and hints of Rogue One into this prequel while also telling a complete story that can stand on its own merits. This is definitely one that Star Wars fans should pick up soon.
Thank you to Del Rey for providing an early copy of the book for review purposes.
John Scalzi is a busy guy. In between writing novels, winning Hugo awards for said novels, and extolling the virtues of churros on Twitter, he’s managed to write a short story called “The Dispatcher,” which, as read by Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto, was released earlier this month as an Audible exclusive, for free. The audio story will remain free until November 2, so we thought we’d give it a listen and let you know if it’s worth your time.