Star Wars: Canto Bight – Various Authors

Next up on my list of unread Star Wars novels is Canto Bight, a collection of short stories that take place on the casino world of – you guessed it, Canto Bight.

Now, I know that in the eyes of many (myself included), the Canto Bight sequence of The Last Jedi was probably one of the low points of the film.  But, I usually enjoy the Star Wars short story collections, so I decided to go into this book with an open mind. Sadly, it seems that even the printed word can’t save Canto Bight from its cursed reputation. 

The tales included in this collection try really hard to entertain. Collectively, they all do an excellent job of providing backstory to the infamous casino city. But the content of the stories themselves are pretty shallow. I found many of them to simply be nothing more than classic heist tropes, or high stakes Vegas drama wrapped in a Star Wars skin. At points, some of the stories manage to be interesting, but they almost always fall flat in the end.

If you’re a fan of capers and con-job tales, you might actually find quite a bit of enjoyment in this book. But general fans are likely to be left rolling their eyes. Canto Bight is already unpopular with a majority of Star Wars fans and this book doesn’t it any favors.

Story: This collections feels largely uninspired and is often downright silly. There are certainly entertaining moments to be found, but overall, I was very let down.

Recommended:  Fans of capers and pulp heist stories might feel right at home with this collection. However, the general Star Wars reader base is likely to find nothing but disappointment here. 

Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Ken Liu

For the last two months I’ve been making an extra-long commute to work. This has cut into my gaming time drastically. But on the upside, I’ve had more time during the day to read. I’m still grinding through “The Last Jedi” companion novels, but I’m almost to the end. Today, I’m going to share my thoughts on an interesting little book; The Legends of Luke Skywalker.

This is a strange entry in the new canon. Here, we have what is essentially a collection of short stories – all about Luke Skywalker. However, instead of being completely factual, the tales found in this book are presented as myths or “legends” if you will. Like someone who might hear these tales recited at a table in some far away cantina, the reader has no way of knowing if the content of these stories is historically accurate or not. The only thing “canon” about the tales included in this book is the fact that they represent the type of tall tales passed around the galaxy regarding the now infamous Luke Skywalker.

In total, this book contains six separate stories They vary from plausible to completely ridiculous. Having read these, I believe it is intended for readers to feel that some elements of truth can be found in most of these stories, but I also tend to think that each tale also contains a bit of embellishment by the storyteller. I found the concept to be quite original and entertaining. Most importantly, this book establishes the fact the the heroic deeds of Luke Skywalker are known to many beings across the galaxy. Many believe in him, but just as many consider him to be nothing more than a myth. When you think about it, this provides the perfect set up to Luke’s presentation in The Last Jedi. Something that I feel the fan-base desperately needs.

Story: Entertaining, with a good presentation. Some of the tales are more interesting than others. But all of them are very well done.

Recommended:  This is a must-read for older fans who are struggling with Luke’s portrayal in The Last Jedi.  Also recommended for general TLJ fans. More casual Star Wars fans may not get much from this type of book.

Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Claudia Gray

Finally catching back up on my Star Wars book reviews, I want to share my thoughts on Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray. This is a novel that really took me by surprise. I went into this book with low expectations. But ended up with a page turner that captured my attention from start to finish. From my experience, novels that feature Leia as the lead character have always felt slightly subpar. One recent exception to this was Bloodline, a book that was also penned by Claudia Gray. Claudia Gray really seems to understand what makes the character of Leia Organa interesting and has no problem whatsoever getting that to translate to paper. In fact, she does such a wonderful job that I find myself hoping she remains the de facto “Leia” author for some time.

This book focuses on Leia as a young girl, several years before events of Episode IV. It provides a lot of background information on her days growing on Alderaan, her introduction into galactic politics, and even how she came to be a member of the rebellion. This novel also does a masterful job of entwining characters and lore from both the original trilogy and prequel era in a relevant and cohesive way. Often times, when authors try to blend these two eras of Star Wars together, the result ends up feeling forced or gimmicky. Not this time.  If that wasn’t enough, this book also introduces the character of Amilyn Holdo and the planet of Crait – both featured in The Last Jedi.  This helps to further cement them into the ongoing narrative. Again, this is handled expertly in a way that only Claudia Gray could manage.

The Last Jedi was a film that was very divisive for many Star Wars fans, myself included. For many, the character of Admiral Holdo seemed injected into the movie with no backstory or real purpose. It is books like this one that just might be able to change the minds of those fans who have a hard time understanding just who that character is and why she so important to Leia. (Still, this should have been covered to some extent in the film itself, but I digress.) Fans who find themselves on the fence about the direction Disney is taking Star Wars would do themselves a favor by cracking open this book. It’s novels like this that keep that classic EU feel that so many fans love, but still manage to stay within the confines of the official canon.

Story: Very well written. Claudia Gray is a wonderful author and a boon to the Star Wars literary world. Great info on Leia Organa and the early days of the rebellion. Fans curious about Alderaan will find many of their questions answered here.

Recommended:  For all fans. Especially those that might take issue with some of the story decisions in The Last Jedi.

 

 

Empire of Imagination – Michael Witwer

 

I love to read. When it comes to books I consume everything I can get my hands on. Most of the time I read fiction, but occasionally I enjoy non-fiction as well – especially biographies. A while back I posted a review of Richard Garriott’s autobiography Explore/Create. Being a fan of RPG games, it was just the type of non-fiction I enjoy. A few months later, I found myself itching to read something similar. That’s when I found Empire of Imagination, a biography about the the Dungeons & Dragons founder, Gary Gygax.

That’s right. For those that might not be familiar with Mr. Gygax, he is the original inventor of Dungeons & Dragons. A game that he created out of love rather than for profit.  This book covers Gygax’s life from his early youth all the way until his final days, with of course, the main focus being his time as CEO of TSR. Gary, while beloved by many gamers and grognards, was infamous for his temper and over-indulgent behavior. This book takes a very unabashed look at every aspect of his life. Nothing is off the table here.

Each chapter starts with a mock D&D session that ties-in with the overall theme of the upcoming content. This is an interesting presentation that starts off strong, but eventually ends up feeling a bit weak after a few chapters. Despite being a biography, the book is written in a strange mixture of both historical narration and dramatization. I found this to be a bit odd. Writing out real-life events in a fictional-style narrative tends to cast doubt on the authenticity of the story being told. I have no doubt that the author took a number of liberties when discussing Gary’s life in this regard. However, in the end, I feel like this was nothing more than an artistic decision.

Having been a fan of D&D for many years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know about Gary Gygax. This book opened my eyes to a number of details about his life I was unfamiliar with. Namely, how his youth and his deep-rooted love to his hometown inspired his artistic vision. For this alone, I found it to be an excellent read.

If you’re a fan of D&D and you’re interested in learning some of what went on behind the scenes in the glory days of the game, this might be a book for you.

Story: Despite the odd presentation, this book is well written and interesting. Gary Gygax is an interesting case-study. When it comes to running a business Gary seemed to have his heart in the right place, but ultimately made a number of bad decisions that he ended up paying for until the end of his days.

Recommended:  This is a book that’s likely to only be appreciated by hardcore D&D grognards or those with a working interest in tabletop role playing. I personally found the book to be insightful and interesting, but admittedly it’s only going to appeal to a specific audience.

Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View – Various Authors

It has been a while since I posted a review of a Star Wars novel. In truth, I think I suffered from a bit of Star Wars burnout leading up to the release of The Last Jedi. I indulged on so many different books and other Star Wars media at the time, that once the movie was released I found myself needing a break. Now, a few months later, we are on the heels of Solo: A Star Wars Story, so I’m getting back into my groove. This time, I’m taking a moment to talk about a rather interesting entry in the new Star Wars canon; From a Certain Point of View.

This book is a collection of short stories that actually tell the tale of A New Hope, but from the viewpoint of various characters. (Hence the name of the collection).

As expected with any short story collection, some of the tales included in the volume are better than others.  It starts off strong with a story told from the perspective of Captain Antilles. This story does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between Rogue One and  A New Hope and serves as a perfect launching point for the book. But it is then followed by a slightly dull, but still interesting, tale about the Stormtrooper who stunned Princess Leia.

This ebb and flow continues for the first half of the novel. But then everything comes to a grinding halt when we reach the “cantina scene” from the movie. At this point, we are dished out what (felt to me) like too many random short  stories about the various  aliens found in the Mos Eisley Cantina. This portion of the book actually reminded me a lot of the old Expanded Universe novel Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. In fact, several of the stories here offer retcons to some of the tales told in that old collection.

The last half of the novel is where things really pick up. There are some really insightful stories about Obi  Wan, Yoda, and even an interesting poem about Emperor Palpatine. It all makes for a very eclectic, if not refreshing book.

All in all, I found this collection to be a mixed bag. Some of the stories are very well done and interesting. Others almost read like satire and feel like throwaway content. Without sounding too controversial, I was also slightly irritated to see more of what seemed like “political shoehorning” in this collection. One story in particular reveals a homosexual relationship between a Stormtrooper and an Imperial officer… Ok. But, why is that important? I feel like if given some context or an important plot point this would make more sense. But to me, it just felt like it was tacked-on for the sake of having something LGBT friendly in the book. But, whatever – Inclusion, I guess.

Despite some minor flaws, I found this book to an overall worth addition to the new Star Wars canon. I enjoyed the “point-of-view” aspect to it, and I hope see more novels follow the same format.

Story: Mixed. Some of the short stories collected here are masterfully done. Others, not so much.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans.

 

 

 

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Nerd Culture is a stock that is currently rising. Everywhere you turn people are embracing retro nostalgia and pop-culture icons of yesteryear. Video games are mainstream. Dungeons & Dragons is mainstream. Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy – all genres that were once coveted only by the nerdiest among us are now celebrated en-masse. For proof of this, one needs to look no further then the smash box-office hit Ready Player One. This film is nothing more than a huge amalgamation of video games and retro pop-culture.

Of course, the film is based on a book of the same name. I first read this book about six months ago at the suggestion of my oldest son. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never heard of the novel. But upon taking up his suggestion, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Let me say up front, that having both read the book and having viewed the film, they are very different. The film follows the basic plot of the novel, but strays off on its own path. While similar, the book and the film are two completely different experiences. I like the film just fine, but the book seems the have a charm that feels a bit more personal. It just works a bit better in my opinion. If I had to guess, I imagine that many of the differences had to do with licensing issues. It’s easier to get certain things in print that it is to get them on the big screen.

In a nutshell, the story of Ready Player One takes place about two decades in the future. War, pollution, and political unrest have turned the world into a pretty unpleasant place. To escape reality, a majority of the population retreat to a V.R. world called “The O.A.S.I.S”. This virtual world offers both entertainment and even job opportunities. When the founder of the O.A.S.I.S. dies, it is revealed that he has hidden a secret Easter Egg in his program. Whoever can find it will inherit his fortune and control of the O.A.S.I.S program. Of course, people go nuts looking for clues in hopes of winning the contest. Hunters begin studying every aspect of the creator’s life and interests in hopes of uncovering some clue that will lead them to the prize. This results in a resurgence of popularity in late 70’s and 80’s pop culture. However, five years after his death no one has come close. The biggest competitor still looking for the egg is the corporation that currently manages the O.A.S.I.S. Their hope is gain complete control of the virtual world so that they can monetize it. Eventually, one young man manages to uncover a clue that leads him on the path to claiming the egg. But the closer he gets to winning the more danger he finds himself in.

It is said that Richard Garriot, creator of the Ultima video games series (who’s book I recently reviewed here), partially served as the inspiration for James Halliday (the creator of The O.A.S.I.S). But honestly, I also suspect that D&D founder Gary Gygax was just as big of a muse. In fact, the book makes several mentions of Dungeon & Dragons. Naturally, this resulted in more than a few smiles from me as I thumbed through the novel.

If you’re like me and you tend to get hung up reading only specific authors or books from various fantasy series, it’s important to switch things up from time to time. Ready Player One is a great change of pace. As a child of the 80’s this book is a great nostalgic trip. I recommend reading it before going to see the film. This one is recommended.

Story: Entertaining and over-the-top. The writing style can be a bit iffy at times, but the book itself is largely enjoyable. The more versed you are in pop-culture the more you will get out of this one.

Recommended:  This book is a must-read for nerds and pop-culture fanatics. Retro grognards like me will find a lot to enjoy. That being said, the book has found a solid audience with mainstream readers as well.

Explore/Create – Richard Garriott

 

It’s been a little while since I posted a book review that wasn’t Star Wars related. In fact, I think my last one was a review of Stephen King’s Carrie back in November of last year. So, this time I wanted to change things up a bit and discuss an autobiography that I finished a few months ago: Explore/Create by Richard Garriott.

Richard Garriott is an American video game developer and entrepreneur. He is best known as the creator of the legendary Ultima games, a series of classic RPGs for the personal computer. He is also lesser known for being a private astronaut and all-around adventurer.

Even though I’ve not really discussed it on this site before, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Ultima series. In fact, starting next month, I plan to spend a little time reviewing the series in full before jumping back into my regular backlog reviews. As a die-hard Ultima fan, I was shocked to discover that I had overlooked the fact that Garriott had authored a novel about his life and career. Somehow, I had missed the news that this book even existed. No sooner did I learn about it, I snapped up a digital copy and fired it up on my Kindle.

As far as autobiographies go, this book is a little odd. First, it focuses on two different aspects of Garriott’s life, his love of exploration and of artistic creation (hence the name of the novel “Explore/Create“). Each chapter is designated with one of those two labels. Chapters tagged as “Explore” focus on Richard Garriott’s real life adventures and amateur scientific excursions. For example, his experiences on the International Space Station, or his trips to Antarctica. Chapters labeled with the “Create” tag, are more geared towards stories about his game developments days.

With this in mind, readers who are only interested in Garriott’s career can skip any of the “Explore” chapters and just get right into the meat of what interests them the most. For me, I did read the entire book of course, but I personally took a greater interest in the stories and anecdotes regarding his work on Ultima and his career at Origin. I found some of his “Explore” adventures to be interesting, but often a bit braggadocios. Richard Garriott strikes me as the type of guy who enjoys his wealth and doesn’t mind flashing his status around. Which, is OK, I suppose. But it comes off as a little silly in print.

I believe all of the stories presented in the book are factual. I don’t think Garriott is spinning any tall tales here. But admittedly, some of them are presented in a very over-the-top fashion. For example, there’s a section early on in the book where he details an event involving a prowler on his property. The whole encounter actually ended with Mr. Garriott holding the trespasser at gunpoint while he waited for the Police to arrive. That is interesting enough on its own, but the way Garriott portrays it is just a little much… I believe the quote was something to the effect of “So then, I grabbed an Uzi and made my way up stairs!” I audibly snorted when I read the line.

I suppose such a grandiose presentation and having a bit of an ego comes with the territory. The man has certainly earned his lifestyle. And despite coming across as a bit of a blowhard, he seems to be a nice person. I’ve had a few dealings with him on Twitter over the years, we’ve sparred on political topics, etc – but despite our difference of opinion, Richard Garriott has always been civil and respectful. That’s more than I can say for some people.

In summary, this is a book that will appeal most to old school gamers, science nerds, and techies. There’s very little here that might inspire the average person to want to thumb through these pages. Once you crack the cover, the book itself is well done, but again, it is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.

Story: Interesting and insightful. It comes off as pretentious at times. By his own admission, Richard Garriott sometimes sounds like a privileged rich kid who lucked out and landed the career of his dreams. However, he also manages to be self critical and humble when appropriate. For those interested, this book provides lots of insider info on the indie game scene of the early 80s – interesting stuff.

Recommended:  For fans of Ultima and old school CRPGS. Science nerds and PC-culture fans.

 

Star Wars: Guardians of the Whills – Greg Rucka

The week is here! In a mere two days Star Wars: The Last Jedi will finally be released in theaters across the world. So, to celebrate I’m posting my review of the final “Rogue One” novel; Guardians of Whills.

This novel focuses on the characters of Chirrut and Baze, two characters that I found particularly interesting from the film, Rogue One. As a result, I had really high hopes for this novel. Sadly, of the three Rogue One tie-ins, this novel was my least favorite. But that being said, it’s still a decent read overall- just not as good as Catalyst or Rebel Rising. Of all the “young readers” releases, this book is one of the few actually seems to feel aimed towards a younger audience. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But, I suppose I just expected to see these characters in a bit of a grittier setting and situation. To me, they seem better suited for a slightly more mature novel.

The book itself is a quick read. It also does a pretty decent job of providing a little backstory to the world of Jedha as well as providing some interesting info into the Church of the Force. But again, I feel there is so much more content to be explored here that was left untouched. It’s a shame and I really hope that we see some more detail in the future regarding “The Whills” and just what role the Force plays outside of the Jedi and Sith. Who knows, maybe we’ll get some of our answers in a few days.

It’s difficult to provide any more details on this book without running the risk of spoiling plot points, so I’ll end the review here.

Story: Interesting. But there is so much untapped potential around these characters that remains largely ignored.

Recommended:  For hardcore fans and young children.

Star Wars: Rebel Rising – Beth Revis

December is here! And at the time of this writing, the new Star Wars movie is only two weeks away! My current goal is to get all caught up on “pre-Last Jedi” novels in time for the new film. That leaves me with two books to review between now and then. One of those books is this one, Rebel Rising.

To date, there’s been three main novels that tie-in directly to Rogue One. Catalyst, which I’ve already reviewed on this site, serves as a prequel.  Guardians of the Whills. (A novel I will be discussing next week). And finally, this book, Rebel Rising. This novel tells the backstory of Jyn Erso, the lead character from Rogue One.

I found this book to be much more interesting than I initially anticipated. It follow’s Jyn’s life from the moment she is rescued by Saw Gerrara to the very instant she is joins the Rebel Alliance. The author does a fantastic job of letting us peek into Jyn’s mind and thereby helping us better understand her character. In the film, Jyn’s persona appears very conflicted and complicated. In some ways, her motives felt contradictory. I had always suspected this was simply the result of the rumored last-minute script change and reshoots in Rogue One, and perhaps it is. But even if that’s the case, this book does a marvelous job of reconciling that, and really brings a level of depth to her character that, in my opinion, was badly needed.

Despite being marketed as a young-adult novel, I found this book to feel more like a piece of adult fiction. It’s very well written, and even touches on some very complex themes. So, if you’re concerned about the maturity level of this novel, don’t let that inhibit you. Rebel Rising is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon.

Story: Masterfully written, informative, and it helps improve upon one of the series newest characters. Very well done.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans, but especially those partial to Rogue One.

Star Wars: Thrawn – Timothy Zahn

My review of Timothy Zahn’s return to Star Wars is here! Having long been a fan-favorite from the old Expanded Universe, the character of Thrawn is back! That’s right, the Star Wars Story Group has officially brought Thrawn into the Star Wars canon. The character was reintroduced in the third season of Star Wars Rebels. This book, serves as his new official backstory.

For fans of the old EU, Thrawn is a long time favorite. Thankfully, not much has changed about the character. His introduction in this novel nearly mirrors that of his original origin story “Mist Encounter”. Some tweaks and refinements to that “legend” have been made, however. Personally, I find these changes to be welcome additions. For those who may not know, the character of Thrawn is an alien who’s origins lie outside of the galaxy, in a place called the “Unknown Regions”. The emperor has a great interest in the Unknown Regions and thus, takes an interest in Thrawn. Thrawn is recruited into the Imperial Navy where he becomes one of the Empire’s leading tacticians. This novel covers all aspects of his career, from his training all the way to the moment he is promoted to Grand Admiral. All in all, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book. Personally, I enjoyed it much more that the old Heir to the Empire trilogy or even his previous origin story, Outbound Flight.

The story itself it well written and reads much like a military thriller. Thrawn’s portrayal here matches what fans of the original EU books would come to expect. He’s cool and calculating. Intelligent and always in control. This book also does a great job of humanizing him in some ways. Allowing fans to see past his historical portrayal as a villain In my opinion, this book serves as the perfect introduction to this wonderful character.

It seems that Disney has lots of plan’s for Thrawn. He continues to be a main character in the fourth season of Star Wars Rebels, he also has his own comic book on the horizon, not to mention a second novel in the works that’s due to for a 2018 release.

I can’t wait to see how Disney and Zahn continue to work together to further develop and use this character in the new Star Wars canon. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old fan of Thrawn from the EU or if you were recently introduced to him through Rebels, this book is certainly worth a look.

Story: Excellent reintroduction of a fan-favorite character. Well written, great pacing and plenty of action.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans