Monthly Archives: January 2015

Shatterpoint, by Matthew Stover

shatterpointAnd I cannot properly describe the wound Terrel’s tone has opened within me; the way he says stinking Jedi tells me more than I want to know about what Depa has done to our Order’s name on this planet.  It was not so long ago that every adventurous boy and girl would have dreamed of being a Jedi.
Now their heroes are bounty hunters.
-From the journals of Mace Windu

Ever since his appearance in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Master Mace Windu has been a character that fans have wanted to know more about.  We get it in spades in his first solo adventure (well, first in novelized form), Shatterpoint.

The time is six months after the beginning of the Clone Wars (helpfully identified within the inside covers of this book).  The Jedi Knights find themselves in a role they are apparently ill suited for-generals in the Grand Army of the Republic (yes, they actually named it that).  And while the Republic tries to deal with a war that it isn’t prepared for against the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the Supreme Chancellor receives a message that is directed to Windu.  The message comes from a world called Haruun Kal, where Windu’s former Padawan-and current member of the Council-Depa Billaba-had been sent to aid in a guerrilla action there against the Separatists, and where Mace Windu was born.  However, the message sent is chilling-a civilian outpost, with a large assortment of corpses, and a message from Depa, warning Mace-a message strongly implying that Depa has fallen to madness.

For Mace Windu, there was never any choice.  The Jedi Master is plagued by dreams of Geonosis-not of the battle there, but the understanding that if he had just simply cut Count Dooku down, the Clone Wars might never have ever started.  When he looks upon the clone troopers in the Grand Army, he always sees the face of the man they were cloned from-the man he beheaded in that same battle.  He’s not about to add Depa to the list of casualties.  Depa’s message calls it right-Mace is coming after her to find out just what has happened to her.

The trip is anything but uneventful; after a bit of an altercation with the locals, he finds himself in the company of men sent by Depa to find him-and it leads Mace into a journey through the jungles of Haruun Kal, to see that the problems of the planet go beyond simply the Clone Wars; there’s a war that’s been going on among the peoples of this world as well.  The Korunnai (from whom Mace descended) fight in the jungles, and form the basis of the resistance; and the Balawai, the city dwellers who are the ones in charge-primarily due to their technological superiority, which includes some rather nasty orbital weapons (it seems that I’ve read about a similar weapon recently in The Left Hand of Destiny).  In the process of going to Depa, Mace is forced to acknowledge the essential dangers to the Jedi in the war-not just physical, but psychological and worse-a terrible opportunity to be drawn into the very things the Jedi Code warns against:  fear, anger, and hatred.

I’ll come out and say it:  this was a very disturbing book.  Even the darkest portions of the New Jedi Order books don’t really compare with the dilemmas that Mace has to deal with.  War isn’t a pleasant thing to start with, and when you’ve dedicated your life-literally-to the cause of life, the phrase “horrors of war” take on added significance.  But it isn’t the Jedi way to just hide and ignore that kind of thing; that doesn’t make it easier to deal with.  And as Mace says in The Attack of the Clones, the Jedi are keepers of the peace, not soldiers, and that requires an entirely different outlook on how to deal with the conflicts on Haruun Kaal.

I can’t neglect mentioning the supporting cast.  Nick Rostu reminds me a lot of what Han Solo might have become, if he’d been stuck planetside long term in the middle of a war; he’s got a sense of humor, but it’s been subordinated to a sense of “that’s the way things are in the jungle”; but he’s got a core of decency to him.  Can’t say the same about Kar Vastor, a local Korunnai shaman, who is very much the power behind their resistance-and he’s as brutal as they come.  While he may have some justification on the way he makes war, it also becomes apparent that he acts more from primal instinct than rational thought; worse still, he may be Mace Windu’s equal.  Speaking of equals, we’ll get a chance to see just what has become of Depa Billaba, who is the only student to have been taught and master the seventh and most dangerous style of lightsaber combat-a form created by Mace himself.

And what of Mace Windu?  Well, this is his story.  Through his journey through the jungles of Haruun Kal, he undergoes his own metamorphosis-seen through his actions and through his journal entries that he makes for the Jedi Archives.  On the other hand, Mace is still one of the two greatest Jedi Masters on the Council, which means when he makes a plan, they tend to work-even if they don’t make sense at the time.  He gets asked “Are you insane?” so many times in this book that I imagine he hears it in his sleep.  When I match the way the character acts in the book with the way he is portrayed in the movies, I find that the comparison is favorable.

I’d like to reiterate that this book doesn’t have the usual good and evil illustrated in most Star Wars novels; neither side is exactly without blame on this one, and that is often paralleled in the real world as well.  And Mace goes through the moral wringer on this one.  But all the same, Shatterpoint is a thought-provoking book and one well worth reading if you like Mace Windu, or seeing the Jedi Order deal with a moral struggle that it’s never faced before

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2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke

2061Tsung agrees to take me to Halley and back, give me food, water, air, and a room with a view.
And in return?
When I get back I’ll do my best to promote future voyages, make some video appearances, write a few articles-all very reasonable, for the chance of a lifetime.  Oh yes-I’ll also entertain my fellow passengers-and vice versa.
How?  Song and dance?
Well, I hope to inflict selected portions of my memoirs on a captive audience.
-Heywood Floyd and friend

The third book of Clarke’s Odyssey series is a very different one than the previous two.  While the first two were mostly mysteries of the universe (or at least the solar system), 2063‘s element of mystery is really centered on the actions of humanity.  While there is the element of the ever-enigmatic monolith, it doesn’t have as great a role in this novel as the other books.

The book opens with Heywood Floyd getting ready to hop on the passenger spaceship Universe-one of the first of its kind.  Its goal is to land on Halley’s Comet, finally making its return after its decades-long orbit.  Heywood’s getting pretty old-after all, he’s been around since the original novel-but he’s had some help by medical technology and an unforeseen side effect of hibernation on his trip in the last book.

However, the trip gets interrupted when the sister ship of the Universe crashes in what may be the worst possible place in the solar system-and among the crew is Heywood’s grandson, Chris.  The reasons for that crash involve secrets kept by a passenger, and believe me, it’s a whopper.

As far as plot goes, this is a pretty simple one.  What makes this book a good read is the events that surround all of this.  While once again, some of the events in the book have been completely invalidated by time (I’m sure I would have noticed if long distance rates were abolished on 12/1/2000), it does have a marvelous look at how humanity may change in the not-too-distant future.  There’s a great deal of geopolitical changes, as well as the indication that humanity might actually put aside war (for the most part), and mankind’s resources are primarily channeled to the exploration of space, and rebuilding the damage done to Earth.

Clarke continues to impress me with his descriptions of a future that could be.  Even though the timing is off, especially as seen by today’s eyes, almost everything described in the book felt to me like they could happen.  This is a far more believable variety of science fiction than many other books I review, and while I can’t say that any sort of science fiction is better than another, I have to say that this style very much appealed to me.  Who wouldn’t want to see humanity working towards better things than killing each other off?  Of course, the crash does highlight the fact that there are some elements of humanity that still see violence as a nice way to achieve its goals….

To be honest, I much preferred the exploration of Halley’s Comet to the later events of the book-although I’m not taking away anything from the events of the crash and afterwards.  The big secret, as I said, is a biggie, and explains a great deal of the activity following the crash.  And of course, because this a book in the Odyssey series, it wouldn’t be complete without some input by the being once known as David Bowman.

2063 had the advantage of being completely Clarke’s own-no movie screenplay based on it, or vice versa.  It stands well on its own, though.  To anyone who prefers their sci-fi without the lasers and spaceship battles, and more on the human achievement-this one’s for you.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Destiny’s Way, by Walter Jon Williams

destinyswayYou don’t know my students.  You don’t know how impulsive and reckless they are.  Don’t judge them all by Jacen.  Kyp Durron killed millions.
And this was your responsibility.
The situation was complex.  I was paralyzed, and Kyp was under the control of-
You mean to say that it was not your responsibility.
I could have been more aware of the situation.  There’s so much I could have done-
So it is your responsibility.
The next time it will be!  The next time one of my students is swept away on a dark whirlwind and catastrophe results, it will be my fault!
Of course it would not be your fault.  You are a Jedi Master, not a nursemaid!
-Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master of the New Republic, and Vergere, Jedi Knight of the Old Republic

Up to now, the New Republic has been on the ropes.  The invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong has steadily pushed into the core worlds, capturing the world of Coruscant and transforming it into a new homeworld, Yuuzhan’tar; the government is fragmented, with some looking for personal power, and others looking to reforge the Republic into something strong enough to withstand the Vong.  The Jedi have taken hits, with Jaina Solo having skipped waaay too close to the Dark Side of the Force, and Jacen Solo in the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong, and Anakin Solo becoming a casualty of war.

But Jaina’s managed to pull back from the darkness, although not fully healed in the spirit; and Jacen has endured torment beyond anything he had ever known, and escaped the Yuuzhan Vong along with the enigmatic Vergere.  The government has regrouped at Mon Calamari.  And in Destiny’s Way, things begin to reverse dramatically.

There’s a lot happening in this book.  There’s a couple of big events that happen here, though.  First and foremost, we have the return of Jacen Solo to the Republic.  That in itself is a pretty important morale booster, especially to the Solo family.  Even more importantly, however, is the fact that he’s accompanied by Vergere.  Vergere certainly plays a significant part in Destiny’s Way; we find out what actually went on with her waaay back in the novel Rogue Planet (a book I never really got around to reviewing).  But the real gem in this plotline is the conversations between Vergere and Luke.  Ever since it became apparent that Vergere was a Jedi from the Old Republic, I’ve been looking forward to a face-to-face comparison between (to borrow a phrase) two different points of view.  There was just so much good stuff there, I had a hard time picking out an opening quote for my review!  And Vergere still feels that Jacen has an important role to play, although the true nature of that role is still up in the air.

This is not to say, however, that the book is all about Jacen and Vergere; Han and Leia go on a trip to the Imperial Remnant, hoping to get a hold of some maps and perhaps more concrete help against the Vong.  Han manages to make a few points debating a couple of Imperials, especially during a conversation about how the old Empire would have handled the Vong.  Jaina, on another front, tries to ambush the Supreme Overlord Shimrra…with mixed results.  (Actually, I rather liked the inclusion of the character Keyan Farlander; you gotta be an old computer game aficionado to appreciate it!)  Jaina seems to be reverting, however; not exactly to the Dark Side, but maybe the Bleak Side.  That may be a pretty reasonable attitude, though, when one looks at the odds.

And on Mon Calamari, politics draws in Luke and Mara, as they become involved with the selection of a new Chief of State, and the establishment of a body long overdue.  And the Jedi aren’t the only ones involved; two of the more shady characters in the Star Wars universe get involved as well.  But the end results set up a new status quo between the Jedi Knights and the New Republic.  The introduction of a pair of Councilors shows the divisions in the Republic government:  Fyor Rodan has very firm opinions as to what role the Jedi should play; and Cal Omas is probably the most right-headed politician I’ve seen in the Republic (he makes a marvelous point concerning the question of Luke and concerns about his gaining too much power).  Meanwhile, a pair of events on Mon Calamari demonstrate that the end of the war may come with greater speed than expected; one features the return of the Rebellion’s greatest strategic mind, and another features a weapon that may have horrifying results.

The Yuuzhan Vong are not neglected, however; the work on Yuuzhan’tar goes…hm.  At least as well as can be expected, given the events in Traitor.  We get some insight on Shimrra (and I haven’t quite figured out for certain his relationship with what I can only term as his fool).  Nom Anor and Tsavong Lah are put on notice-the next failure of one will be the last for both.  And the subplot about Nen Yim advances a bit, as the Vong begin to come to terms with one of their most significant problems in the way of their conquests; it certainly can’t be good news for Nen Yim, even if her work succeeds.

There is a lot going on in this book, and it is to Williams’s credit that it seemed to flow as smoothly as it did (I haven’t read too much of his novels, but I was a big fan of his Wild Cards work).  As I mentioned earlier, the real standout parts of the book was the Vergere/Luke conversations, but really, the Jedi Knights and their role in the war is re-evaluated, and I’m pretty happy with how that looks so far.  However, there is a can of worms opened up in this book as well, that I’m not entirely sure is a good idea….  Related to that can is a character Dif Scaur, who seems like a fairly ruthless individual; problem is, he’s working with the Republic.  He’s a character to watch….  And of course, we get to see the continuing evolution of tactics used by both the Yuuzhan Vong and the Republic military.

Unlike Star By Star, I can’t even begin to guess what the next steps in the New Jedi Order are; but in Destiny’s Way, as quoted by two characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, it’s the turning point.  And I think they’re both right.  This was an enjoyable book, with many good moments; and for a change, things don’t look quite so bleak for our heroes.  Given that I’d worried in earlier reviews that the New Jedi Order storyline might be painting themselves into a corner, that’s a pretty significant feat.

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Tong Lashing, by Peter David

tonglashingComforting to know that, no matter how far I go in my life, I always seem to wind up exactly in the same place as before.  Why is that, Mordant?  Why do people take an instant dislike to me?
It saves time.
-Apropos and Mordant the drabit

Well, Peter David’s Apropos has been in the traditional fantasy adventure, and in a barbarian horde kind of adventure.  Now, Apropos goes into the cheesy Asian fantasy adventure (you may have seen some movies that qualify) in Tong Lashing.  At this point, if you are still reading this, you’ve most likely read the previous two books and decided already if you like the general tone of this series of books (and if not-stop reading this!!  Read the first two books, or at least the above reviews-then come back).  All warnings that applied to the last two books still apply to this one.  With that out of the way….

After the conclusion of his last adventure, Apropos wants nothing more than to get out of the area of Wuin without somebody recognizing him and introducing him to the pointy end of the sword.  He’s accompanied (temporarily) by the weaver Sharee and a creature named Mordant.  However, the two of them want nothing more than to go on a quest of noble note-and Apropos, being somewhat more interested in staying in one piece, doesn’t.  So he parts ways with them and travels away from Wuin by boat.  Given his luck, it should come as no surprise that Apropos ends up in a shipwreck, and eventually comes to rest in a land known as Chinpan.

It is here where he begins to find himself at peace with himself, living as a farmer in the village where he washed ashore.  He even meets a master of the ancient arts of Zennihilation whom he hopes will teach him how to live with himself, because he can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something bad is about to happen.  Which goes to show that Apropos has a great future in store for him as a fortune teller.

And then, things get interesting.

Once again, David puts together a book that looks at the other side of heroic adventures-specifically, the side that doesn’t want to be involved with them and gets sucked into them anyway.  Apropos goes up and down society’s ladder in this book once again; although not quite as lofty in status as a Peacelord, and certainly not nearly as secure.  We get a load of puns in this book as well, from the names that Apropos bestows upon the villagers (Kit Chin, Double Chin), to the Anaiïs Ninjas (and once you meet them, you’ll get the joke) to the leader of the Forked Tong (a pun in itself), which really isn’t something I plan to reveal on a kind-of-all-ages web page.  But as often the case with David’s books, the humor is laced in with a deadly seriousness that gives the reader insight on Apropos’s mental state-in spite of the ridiculousness, he himself is not a funny person, and is getting very tired of the way his life is turning out.

Now, what about the story itself?  Well, it flows pretty nicely.  There’s a few subplots of interest, such as how Apropos got shipwrecked to begin with (and longtime fantasy readers will easily spot which fantasy characters are getting skewered on board), the building of the Imperior’s house at the outer provinces (and how it turns out), the true secrets behind Zennihilation, and most terrifyingly of all-meeting Apropos’s true love…and as many know, the course of true love never did run smooth.  Apropos shows a surprising sense of purpose throughout much of this book; one could even say he’s driven by a sense of-dare I say it?-conscience.

The grand finale of the book is everything you’d expect from Apropos, given how the last two books ended up; and while it may seem as if this is the end of the Apropos series, there’s plenty of room for at least another book here.  Tong Lashing doesn’t have anything unexpectedly new, but neither does it feel stale.  In spite of what the character himself may think at times, there’s still plenty of life in Apropos.

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