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.

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: 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.

Carrie – Stephen King

Before moving on other things, I wanted to take a moment to post another book review. Having finished up Parasite Eve a few days before Halloween, I found myself wanting something else to read that was still in the spirit of the season. This time of year, I usually find myself curling up on the couch with my favorite novel of all time, Dracula. But this time, I decided I wanted to go in a different direction. When one thinks of horror novels, Stephen King is often the first author that comes to mind. I’ve always been a casual fan of King’s work. In my youth, I’ve read a number of King’s books. The Stand, It, Needful Things, The Shining, etc. I’ve also enjoyed his short stories quite a bit. But, there’s a ton of his novels that I’ve never taken the time to read.

So, I found myself browsing his library on Halloween morning looking for something to keep me in the spooky mood of the day. Then, the thought occurred to me to read through Stephen King’s works much like I do with the games I review on this site. So, beginning with this post, I’ll be reading and reviewing all of Stephen King’s works by order of publication. So, for that reason, I loaded up his debut novel Carrie on my Kindle Paperwhite and settled in under my blanket. This was not my first reading of the novel. I initially read Carrie maybe ten years ago. But to be honest, I only remembered the basic gist of it. Many of the finer details were lost over the years.

The story of Carrie is a classic. The novel focuses on the character of Carrie White. A chubby teen girl who is the epitome of social misfits. She’s awkward, riddled with acne, and she’s the daughter of an EXTREMELY religious single mother. The story begins with a scene of extreme bullying at the hands of her schoolmates. It is shortly after this event that Carrie realizes that she has telekinetic powers. As the story proceeds, the continued hazing and abuse by both her schoolmates and mother drive Carrie over the edge, resulting in a murderous rage.

The concept of the novel is quite original and riveting. This was true when the novel was published in 1974 and is still true today. The book itself is masterfully written. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that this was an author’s debut outing. With this in mind, no one can deny King’s claim to the throne as one of America’s modern literary geniuses.

The book itself is told through a mixture of both standard storytelling, mock newspaper clippings, scientific articles, and interviews of those who witnessed the events portrayed in the books. The ultimately conclusion of the story is laid bare early on, but the details leading up to the finale keep the reader glued to the pages. Again, it’s masterfully done.

If you’ve never read a Stephen King book, this is a fine place to start. It’s a relatively short read and it’s very approachable. Despite being his earliest novel, it’s still one of his best. Not to mention, it’s perfect for this time of year.

 

Story: Unique and well written. The perfect introduction to Stephen King.

Recommended:  For mature readers who enjoy chilling tales and paranormal phenomena.

 

Parasite Eve (Novel) – Hideaki Sena

Happy Halloween! Since we’ve already discussed a few creepy games, I thought I’d end October this year with a couple of scary book reviews. I’ve often talked about my plans to include more non-Star Wars book reviews to the site so what better way to start than with a Halloween theme? Plus, this book actually dove-tails into the next game that I’m going to review. I’m talking about Parasite Eve, a very popular Playstation game from 1998. Many gamers will be familiar with the title. But did you know that the game is actually the sequel to a Japanese horror novel? Well, once I learned this I decided to pick up an English language version of the book so I would have the full backstory going into the game.

Up front, I’m going to tell you that this review is going to be very spoiler-filled. There’s not really a way I can find to discuss this book without ruining the story. So, if you’d prefer to read the novel completely blind, this is your warning….

Parasite Eve is a strange book. In a nutshell, the whole concept of the novel is that the mitochondria in our cells are actually intelligent parasites that have been using humanity for a symbiotic relationship while they wait for mankind to become powerful enough to be worthy of a takeover. The book follows a scientist who loses his wife in a car accident. The mitochondria in his body influence him subconsciously to donate her kidneys for research. At the same time, the mitochondria in the body of a young girl who recently received another kidney transplant, influence her to stop taking her medication, causing her new donor kidney to be rejected.  The idea here is that she will ultimately receive the dead wife’s kidney… because you see, the body chemistry of the two women is perfect for breeding a new human/mitochondria hybrid that will take over humanity and rule the world. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that, but that’s close enough. Weird, huh?

The premise is actually pretty interesting and for the most part the book is very well done. However, it does tend to get very dry and technical at times. I feel like the author actually has a real background in the field and decided to share his knowledge in the form of a horror novel. In doing so, he tends to over-explain and use a tad too much technical jargon for my taste. In many places, it tends to drag the story down. Then again, being a translated a novel, a good portion of this might have a lot to do with localization. It’s always difficult to translate a novel from one language to another and keep the same flow and momentum as the original author. With that in mind, I find the pacing of the book to be easy to forgive.

Even so, the book has a weird feel to it. It starts off odd, but very believable. The theory of a self-aware mitochondria is certainly fantastic and science fiction, but it’s presented in a way that’s believable. Then, literally in the turn of a page, we drive right off the cliff into complete Japanese weirdness. The story goes from science-based fiction to a total acid trip of monstrous proportions. There are literally giant vaginas made of rebellious mitochondria trying to eat people – completely out of nowhere. It was not at all what I was expecting.  It is the sum of every weird alien anime you’ve ever seen put to paper.

That being said, it was quite an interesting read. I found it to be oddly appropriate for the season, albeit a bit more disgusting that actually frightening.  I’ve certainly never come across anything like it.

All in all, this is not a book that I can recommend for the general public. But perhaps fans of the video game series would be take interest in the novel. The games were tremendously popular, so I’m very curious now to see how the story presented in this book can continue in game form.

Story: Very unique and interesting concept. A bit laggy at times, but considering it is a translated novel, very well done. Certainly a refreshing concept, but ultimately a gross and horrific story. Not for everyone.

Recommended:  For fans of the Parasite Eve series and folks who like Japanese alien manga. But general readers might have a hard time digesting this one.

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Parasite Eve (Novel) –  Parasite Eve  –  Parasite Eve II   –  The 3rd Birthday

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End – Chuck Wendig

February 2017 saw the release of the final novel in the Star Wars Aftermath trilogy; Empire’s End. This is the series that bridges the gap (somewhat) between Episode VI and Episode VII. Over course of the these three books, we’ve been introduced to new characters as well as been able to peek in on a few of our favorite personas from original trilogy.

In retrospect, I was a bit cold on the original Aftermath. I didn’t care much for many of the new characters introduced, and I didn’t like the way the story seemed to jump all over the place. With the release of Life Debt, I began to feel a little more at home in Wendig’s post-ROTJ era, but still had my reservations. Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve actually come to enjoy several of the new characters he’s introduced. To me, Empire’s End is easily the best of the three novels in the series.

Those curious about the secret identity of Supreme Leader Snoke from Episode VII, will still be disappointed. Despite what many readers suspected to be a major tease regarding that character’s origins – nothing about the character is actually revealed. What we DO get in this story is a lot of background info on the planet of Jakku, as well as the Emperor’s plans post-mortum. It seems like Lucasfilm will be unlikely to give us any major revelations outside of the actual films,  but we’re certainly getting plenty of hints and breadcrumbs.  But YES – in this novel, you will finally see the fall of the Imperial Remnant and the reigns of power being handed to the New Republic. This alone, makes this novel worthy of your attention.

I’ve been an open critic of Chuck Wendig’s writing style in the past, and I’m happy to say that he seems to have really toned it down in this novel. This books reads much more like a started fantasy novel in terms of verbiage and standardized punctuation. To me, this one actually feels like it was written by a professional author and not some amateur who’s looking to make his name by being different and daring.

If you’re a serious fan of Star Wars and you love to consume every morsel of new information out there. This book is a need-to-have.

Story: The bulk of this book follows the characters that we’ve come to know from the other Aftermath novels, as well as longtime fan favorites. This story, when combined with the other three books, puts a nice end-cap on the events that occurred in Return of the Jedi, and helps set the stage for what we eventually see in The Force Awakens. However, even though a lot of answers can be found here, fans are still left asking plenty of questions.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.

Star Wars: Bloodline – Claudia Gray

Bloodline-cover

As you know, I’m a huge fan of anything Star Wars. I have been since I was a little boy. So far, since the streamlining of the Star Wars universe under the guidance of Disney I’ve been sure to share my thoughts on each new piece of Star Wars lore as it becomes available. Today, I give you my opinion on Bloodline by Claudia Gray.

Claudia Gray is probably best known to Star Wars fans for her novel Lost Stars, an interesting Romeo & Juliet type story that starts in early days of the Empire, and follows a forbidden romance between an Imperial officer and a rebel soldier all the way through the fall of Empire. Now Claudia is back with a new tale that place in years before Episode VII.

Bloodline is largely a political thriller. The story follows Princess Leia as she tries to juggle her duties in the New Republic, while uncovering a secret plot that threatens to bring down the new government that she has spent her life fighting to establish.

For many, this book might be a little hard to digest. There’s quite a bit of lengthy material here regarding the “inside politics” of the New Republic. So some may find a large bit of the book about as exciting as reading a social studies text book. But, personally, I’m a big follower of politics – so this didn’t bother me at all. There’s a lot of backstory to Episode VII here. So fans who are curious about the lead up to the film may want to take the time to give this book a read. – I’d like to say more, but to do so would risk spoiling a large part of the plot. So I’ll refrain. But trust me, fans of the Original Trilogy and of The Force Awakens – this is a book I think you may not want to skip. Mentions of Han Solo, Luke and even Ben Solo are littered throughout the novel. Giving fans a glimpse into the years before The Force Awakens.

Story: Very well written. Fast read, but a bit heavy on the inner-workings of Galactic politics.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.

Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company – Alexander Freed

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I know I’ve been slacking in my Star Wars canon reviews lately. I’ve been reading, but not posting. That means this entry for Battlefront: Twilight Company is a little behind schedule. – Sorry.

What we have here is an interesting entry into the new Star Wars line-up. Battlefront: Twilight Company is a novel intended to tie-in with the Star Wars Battlefront video game. But in reality, has little to do with the game itself. Instead, we have what is essentially a war novel that goes behind the scenes of many of the battles we’ve seen in the Star Wars series. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all. But to me, the way the story is presented didn’t really have that “Star Wars” feel. I felt like the guts of the story could have easily been inserted into any war of the author’s choosing with little work.

The book follows a number of rebel grunt-soldiers during various battles in the war against the Empire. The action is fast paced, and the dark and gritty presentation is very well done. But there’s really nothing in the novel that makes it required reading for casual fan. In my opinion, this novel would be best enjoyed by fans of other war novels and the hardcore Star Wars fanbase.

Story: The book is well written, albeit a little confusing at times. The characters are interesting, but plentiful. Almost to the point of detracting from the plot.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS. – Again, this is a sci-fi war novel first, a subplot to Star Wars second. If you’re on the fence, this is certainly a skip-able entry in the new canon, but don’t misunderstand – the story is certainly enjoyable.

Star Wars: Lost Stars – Claudia Gray

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Just the other day, I finally finished the next book on my Star Wars “to-read” list; Lost Stars.  This book was marketed as a young adult novel, but it is anything but. If you’ve been on the fence about this one for that reason, cast aside all doubt and dive in. Lost Stars is eloquently written and it’s actually one of the more “adult” Star Wars novels I’ve ever read.

The book starts between Episode III and IV, and follows the lives of two childhood friends who meet in the early days of the Empire. Throughout the story, you see as they grow and mature, eventually enlisting in Imperial service. Essentially, this ends up becoming a romance story that takes place during the time of the Original Trilogy. We get to see key events such as the Battle of Yavin, Hoth, Endor, and even the new famed Battle of Jakku – all through the eyes of these two characters. While this could easily end up feeling forced, the author does a wonderful job of making this work. The characters of Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are WONDERFUL additions to the Star Wars universe.

When I say this novel is “adult”, I mean that all aspects of the relationship between these characters is explored. Even the subject of sexual activity is covered here, but it very tastefully done. Regardless, this was not something I expected from a novel being marketed as “young adult”. For many, the subject matter and sheer size of the book itself may seem a little off-putting. Romance is not a subject one typically thinks of when picking up a Star Wars novel, but it works very well here. Don’t let this fool you. This is a fantastic read.  All that aside, a lot of this book features behind-the-scenes detail of already familiar events, from an Imperial perspective. This alone ends up being a very interesting part of the novel. I can’t recommend this one enough. In many ways, this book serves as a better set up to Episode VII than even “Aftermath“.

I can only hope that we will see more of the lead characters presented here in future works, maybe even Episode VII

Story: Excellent plotline. The author does a great job of introducing two new characters and actually make you care about them. Not to mention, the storytelling is second-to-none.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS (Guys, if your wife/girlfriend typically only reads “girly-books” – this might make a good launching point into Star Wars fiction for her.)