Book Review: Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

TITLE: Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

AUTHOR: James Luceno

PUBLISHED: 2016

FORMAT: E-Book

I’m just going to warn right now for potential spoilers for Rogue One, even though it’s been out over a month.  Also, yes, I am a huge Star Wars fan if you hadn’t guessed from my name.

Catalyst is a prequel novel to Rogue One, the latest movie in the Star Wars universe.  It starts near the end of the Clone Wars, and introduces us to Galen and Lyra Erso, their newborn daughter Jyn, and the complicated interaction between Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, the men behind the construction of the Death Star and it’s weaponry – whether they worked on it willingly or not.

The novel is an interesting bridge between the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Galactic Empire.  It mainly focuses on the two men, but we also get a look at Lyra Erso and her view of the war and how it affects the galaxy – and her family.  And how the players get from where they are at the end of the war, to where they are at the start of Rogue One.

This is not a book that can be read without any knowledge of the Star Wars universe, for certain.  At least familiarity with the prequel movies (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) is needed as events in those movies are heavily referenced – and it actually answers a few questions I know I had about certain things seen at the end of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  And the author’s writing keeps the story flowing well from start to finish.

For those who are fans of the Star Wars universe, this book is a good addition to the canon.  I give it 4 of 5 pages.

Series Review of Star Wars “Legends”

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Star Wars EU (Expanded Universe) has officially become AU.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, hundreds of books and games that kept Star Wars fans busy between films and had a remarkably consistent cannon (given the number of books and authors involved) have been officially declared “not canon” under Disney law, and we have been told a new official canon shall rise up in its place.

For Star Wars fans this was a bittersweet moment.  Del Rey missed the point of Star Wars, and the EU became a war story and then a soap opera.  So to some degree it’s a relief to say The New Jedi Order never happened;  ____ and _____ and _____ never died; _____ and _____ were never destroyed; and _____ never turned into such a terrible person or _____ had an out of character brush with the dark side.  However, it also means a lot of really good books are getting relabeled as Star Wars “Legends”, and we’re anxious as to what the EU reboot has in store.

So in honor of this disturbance in the Force, I’m taking a break from this blog’s normal format to highlight some of the best books that are now Star Wars Legends.

Title: Heir to Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command (The Thrawn Trilogy) Author: Timothy Zahn
Why You Should Read Them: Set 5 years after RotJ (Return of the Jedi), the Thrawn Trilogy captures the fun, adventure, quality, and depth of the original Star Wars films.  It introduced new worlds, species, and characters which felt like natural extentions of the movies.  Mara Jade helps balance out the gender lopsidedness of Han, Luke, and Leia.  Grand Admiral Thrawn was a fresh kind of villian, formidable as Vader but in an entirely different way.  The writing quality was high.  The plotting complex but not confusing.  The secondary characters engaging.  Frankly if you read no other books in the Star Wars Legends, read these.

Title: The Truce at Bakura
Author: Kathy Tyers
Why You Should Read It: Set immediately after RotJ, The Truce at Bakura is a standalone novel.  Plotwise it’s fairly simple and straightforward, but Tyers manages to touch on deeper themes of the Force and religion without being heavy handed on the subject.  If you would like to take a first step into the Legends EU, this is a good place to start.  Well written, nice characterizations.

Title: Tales from Jabba’s Palace
Author: Multiple Authors
Why You Should Read It: This short story anthology is set around Jabba’s palace shortly before and during The Return of the Jedi.  It’s a fantastic slice of the growing complexity of the Star Wars Galaxy.  There are other Tales books (and I’d recommend most of them), but this one stands out because of the delightful way in which the individual tales manage to interweave.  Also a good starter title if you’re unfamiliar with anything beyond the films.

Series Title: X-Wing Series (9 books total)
Authors:
Michael Stackpole & Aaron Allston
Why You Should Read Them: After Timothy Zahn, Aaron Allston is easily my favorite Star Wars author.  He’s incredibly funny, but the humor seems to make the tragedies of war that much more real and poignant.  The X-Wing books are a spinoff series that focus on Wedge Antilles as he leads two different X-wing Squadrons, first Rogue Squadron (elite pilots) and then Wraith Squadron (the misfits).  While X-Wing: Rogue Squadron introduces Corran Horn (easily the most annoying Gary Stew of the Star Wars EU), they also introduce a cast of other fantastic characters and are generally well written adventures that deal with non-Jedi combat pilots.  You could in theory skip over the Rogue Squadron books to read Allston’s genius in Wraith Squadron, but Rogue Squadron does help a lot to develop and introduce certain characters, and if I recall there’s some crossover towards the end, so best to read it in order and start with X-Wing: Rogue Squadron.

[Sadly, Aaron Allston passed on this year.  So please help his legend live on by checking out some of his other books.]

Series Title: Jedi Apprentice (20 books total, including 2 Special Editions)
Authors:
Dave Wolverton (#1) & Jude Watson (the rest)
Why You Should Read Them: This pre-prequels kids series about teenage Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn picked up many adult fans during its run.  There’s a father/son like relationship that develops between these two over the course of the series.  Given the short format and target age, the stories are delightfully complex and don’t suffer from the repetitive campiness that afflicts many other series targeting the same age range.  They’re fun reads.

Series Title: Junior Jedi Knights(6 books total)
Authors:
Nancy Richardson & Rebecca Moesta
Why You Should Read Them: I’ve always been disappointed that they didn’t round this series out with three more books.  Junior Jedi Knights follows the adventures of Han and Leia’s youngest son at the Jedi Academy.  Very much kids books, but they were so much fun and often over looked.  So I wanted to give them a shout out on my top picks list.

There are many, many other good books in the Star Wars Legends lexicon (along with some that are best forgotten), but the above would be my top picks and books I would recommend first to the curious.

Book Review: Captive Temple by Jude Watson

Title: Captive Temple

Author:  Jude Watson

Format: Paperback

Written: 2000

Published: 2000

Captive Temple is one of those books you expect a lot from and get very little.  It was a book that had intrigued me to no end years ago.  I was eager to read about the threat on Yoda’s life as was advertised on the back of the book.  Yet, said threat on Yoda’s life ended up being a passing thought that was in some ways easily forgotten and ignored.  Honestly the book was rather unremarkable.  It wasn’t terrible nor was it great, it just was.

 

I didn’t mind the read it was quick and interesting enough for me to stick it out till the end but there wasn’t anything stuck out to me.  Oddly enough as a reviewer I would rather have a terrible book so I could at very least rant about it rather than sit here and say that I read the book and it was decent. With that in mind I give the book a two page rating if you are bored, read it, or if you want to continue the main story arch as I do.

Book Review – Jedi Apprentice: The Uncertain Path by Jude Watson

Title: Jedi Apprentice: The Uncertain Path

Author: Jude Watson

Format: Paperback

Written: 2000

Published: 2000

 

Growing up as a child I was exposed to the world of Sci-Fi from a young age.  I was more familiar with the crew of the Starship Enterprise that I was with the Berenstain Bears.  Thus it was not a far jump for me to fall in love with and enjoy Star Wars as well.  Having grown up with such a love, I figured in middle school that if I enjoy watching Star Wars and Star Trek I would enjoy reading it as well.  Truth be told there were times that I can say I was dead on the money and other times where I was a little less than enthused by the book I picked up.  Just like any type of book there is a hit and miss pattern.  A hit I found back in high school was a series of books about none other than my favorite Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The books focus on his time as a young padawan and I was all over this concept till I had trouble getting my hands on more meaning I couldn’t afford to buy more as the library where I was at the time was rather poor.

 

It was when I was looking for books for this site that the Jedi Apprentice books came back to me as something I never finished and always wanted to finish.  (You may actually find me doing a lot of that, finishing things I started long ago.)

 

Now I will admit right off the bat that the Jedi Apprentice books are geared toward young readers with Amazon.com stating that the book is for ages 9 and up, so very light and easy reading.  Yet for a fan of Obi-Wan the rather easy reading was not going to deter me as the story is still good all the same.  Thus I picked up from where I could last remember reading and it was in the middle of a story arch that I had nearly forgotten.  So I will admit that it took me a while to jog my memory but it wasn’t too hard as the stories are rather memorable and the important things were still with me.

 

This particular story picks up with Obi-Wan having actually chosen to leave the Jedi Order in favor of fighting for peace on a planet he had come to love.  The story follows not only Obi-Wan but Qui-Gon Jin as they deal with life away from one another.  Of course this isn’t much of a basis for a story so there is more, such as Obi-Wan being betrayed by those whom he trusted most, and Qui-Gon is assigned to investigate a rash of thefts in the nearly impenetrable Jedi Fortress.

 

Overall, the story was well crafted, and the emotions and reactions of the characters were very realistic without the magic of the store being about Jedi being broken.  In short, Jude Watson did a wonderful job with this story and I look forward to reading the next part which promises to be interesting as there was an attempt made on Yoda’s life.  I give the book a 4 out of 5 page rating with the warning that you don’t want to read this book until you have read the first five ones first. (Please note that the first book The Rising Force was written by Dave Wolverton rather than Jude Watson).

Book Review – Lost at the Con by Bryan Young

I should probably start this with some sort of a NSFW warning, even though I’m going to try to behave myself… especially since the book is.

Here’s the thing about this review.  I don’t have a clue what to say about it.  No a clue. So if the rest of this review feels like I’ve been babbling, well, you’ve been warned.

I met Bryan Young at a convention a couple months back, and he gave me his book to review.  I had heeded the warning from Janine Spendlove (check elsewhere on our blog for reviews of her stuff) about how this book wasn’t “age appropriate” (meaning illegal stuff happened), but I was also told by both of them that it was a funny book and I should read it.

I feel the need to throw in there that Bryan is her best friend and they’re label mates (or however you phrase that in the publishing world) aside from this book, which Silence in the Library will not publish.

So here’s the gist of the book.  Cobb (I’ve already forgotten his first name, and I finished this book less than a day ago) is a washed up journalist and poor excuse for a man.  He’s really good at booze, not so much at keeping his sort of girlfriend Laurie out of the pants of men that weren’t him, and really just a piece of shit.  So when his editor sends him on a trip to Griffin*Con, a geek con in Atlanta, instead of to some political assignment, which is his beat, the shit hit the fan, but he went because he wanted to keep his paycheck.

So fast forward to getting to the con, and all he’s done so far is bitch about the local geek population, drink – a lot, and whine about his poor miserable excuse for a life.  The problem is that up to this point I didn’t feel a damn bit of anything for this guy, except a bit of bile in the back of my throat.  Unlike the sympathetic bad guys that we love to hate, hate to love, or a little bit of both, this guy is just a jackass.  He drinks because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else. He screws up with Laurie because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else.  He puts up with his boss because he’s too much of an asshole to do much else.

You see my point.

It’s not like… Loki, who we can all feel a little bit sorry for because Odin’s not actually his dad, or Jabba the Hut, who is at least funny looking.  It’s just an arrogant waste of humanity.

But the funny thing is that, even with no redeeming quality whatsoever, I found myself on page 50 before I realized what had hit me.   And the next time that I touched the book, I was suddenly on page 100… and it was page 170 before there was *any* redeeming quality that would make me give a shit about this guy.

Even moreso, the MC *knows* he’s a waste of humanity – and doesn’t care to do all that much about it.

So, the book starts with Cobb getting the assignment and having a fleeting thought about how much he probably should love Laurie if he cared to think about it.

– side note – if I were Laurie, I’d hate the prick, too –

He went to Atlanta, followed some of the freaks that he made fun of most of the time, befriended a homeless guy who became his only friend in life, and went into the con.

Now, keep in mind that this guy is a journalist on assignment, so the book is part book and part his articles.  The first article he writes is about price gouging and how the homeless are exploited for the con.  His homeless buddy Sylvester spawned the article, saying that he helps set stuff up for money.

The next incident includes a panel where they’re talking about slash fic.  We hear Cobb thinking about ways he’d love to slash somebody (it’s written in first person), then he learns what slash fic really is, then he’s outraged that some fat woman would write about Harry Potter and Snape and then…  well, then there’s this moment of moral outrage when he screams at the woman for peddling porn to minors (later he pukes on her, cause it seems like the thing to do).

Have I mentioned yet that I don’t know why I kept reading?  So here’s a bit of background on me.  Being a writer and all, I’ve been to lots of cons.  So I know what goes on there, and I know what this guy’s seeing, and it’s not some weird-ass seedy underbelly of the world that only freaks who live in their mother’s basements will ever find interesting.  And Bryan Young is part of this world.  So I’m confused about why he’d want to portray us as a bunch of losers.  Even if it is a bit of satire and humor and whatever else.  Are we *really* that bad to outsiders?  Do they really think we’re the dredges of society who have no hope at ever being awesome?  Cause my friends who do that stuff are engineers and lawyers and teachers and scientists and whatever else.  And it’s because of geekdom and fandom that we know multiple languages, create and act and do, and actually have a place to belong.

Oh, and expect lots of Star Wars references, because apparently the MC is an arrogant prick who hates geekdom but he knows what Star Wars is.

Maybe Bryan thinks because the MC is such a piece of shit, nobody’s going to care about what Cobb blows out of his pie hole?

The book has its moments.  I mean, at the beginning of the con, Cobb – drunk, of course – finds somebody cosplaying as Steampunk Abraham Lincoln, although he doesn’t know what steampunk is, or cosplay, and I’m impressed he could manage the Lincoln part.  So he’s convinced that Lincoln is a robot back from the dead and out to kill him, which makes some funny moments in the book; in his drunken stupid, he even introduces himself as Jeff Davis, which furthers his paranoia.  At one point, Lincoln gives a speech that’s totally worth reading.   And “Abraham Lincoln, a homeless man, and an asshole…” have a hell of a moment thanks to some jocks and women dressed up as anything skimpy and sexy.  And booze.  Have I mentioned that there’s a lot of booze in this book?  (And drugs at one point…)

It’s just hard to get through the start of the book (and by start, I mean 170 pages of the book).  Also, I don’t know if its because of first person or what, but I had a lot of trouble feeling the MC.  I mean, all we establish about him is that he’s an asshole.  It doesn’t exactly leave much for us to feel warm and fuzzy about, or to relate to while we’re reading.  I didn’t feel the MC *or* the writer, which is (IMO) a flaw of most people who write in first person.

The weirdest part of this whole thing is that even though I don’t have a lot good to say about the book, I am ending the review with the following statement.  I’m rating this book on the lowest possible end of four stars.  I just don’t know why.

[end note – if you think the author sounds interesting, you may want to check out some of his other work *before* this.  I’ve read a bit of his other stuff and it’s nothing like this…]

Writer Wednesday – John Jackson Miller

When I met John Jackson Miller at MidSouthCon in 2012, I was immediately taken by him.  He started with Star Wars and went through his list until he got to something that I really liked – Iron Man.  But it was how he treated fellow writer Janine Spendlove that got me all googly-eyed over him – when he found out she worked in Washington, he started showing her a story line that took place in the very rooms she worked in – and then gave her a copy of each of the comics.  (She later took them and read them in several locations around the world.)  I’ve said it before – I like writers for the people behind the books (or comic books) and this is no exception.  Because of that, I bought a comic on the spot and it’s one of my most treasured posessions. 

Anyway, before I get all mushy, here he is…

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I am John Jackson Miller. Greetings.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
For many years I was the editor of the trade magazine for the comic book industry. Ten years ago I began writing comic books on the side, and for the last five years I’ve been writing comics, fiction, and games full-time.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I am the author of two Star Wars prose books: the Knight Errant novel and the Lost Tribe of the Sith short story anthology. I’ve also written more than 100 comic books which have been collected into a few dozen graphic novels. Those comics range from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Iron Man to Mass Effect.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Releasing this fall we have the Star Wars Lost Tribe of the Sith – Spiral comic series from Dark Horse. This is the comics sequel to the prose book available now from Del Rey. I also have been working on a number of Simpsons comics stories, with a couple of them coming out this fall and more next year. I also have a number of other fiction projects that I’m working on including a couple of things of my own, and some other things I’ve still got under wraps. People can find out more about what I’ve been doing on my website, http://www.farawaypress.com.

I am also a researcher into comic book circulation history, and my research can be found on my Comichron website: http://www.comichron.com.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My mother was a grade school librarian and so we always have had books around. I always joke that where other people’s mothers threw their comic books away, my mother encouraged me to put mine in alphabetical order. Then there was one summer during which I got to help her organize a school library that had previously fallen to ruin, and so spent almost the entire time hiding in a corner reading this book or that one. It was a great way to spend the summer!

What are your three favorite books?
Oh, that’s not a fair question… I don’t think I can narrow things down to that degree. There were certainly books that I was obsessed with that one time or another in my life. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010, for example, is one of the reasons that I took Russian in college. I’m a big fan of the novel and movie Contact by Carl Sagan. In college, I was on a serious Tom Clancy kick. I adore the Horatio Hornblower novels. I love all the books by P.G. Wodehouse. And that doesn’t even get in the comic books. So it’s hard to narrow down.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I have a terrible habit of switching between books. I have about 20 different books that I’m in the middle of and I return to them depending on my mood at the end of the day. So when I do dig into a book that I can’t put down, that means it’s pretty special. Most recently, the book that I’ve started reading is The Making of the President by Theodore White. I tenderly read a lot more nonfiction than fiction for fun.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…sometimes have a tendency to fall asleep. This is the problem when you reserve most of your reading for bedtime!

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
There are some books that I’ve reread several times. Generally, that qualifies as comfort reading!

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Well, the book can get into the line, but there are a lot of other books in the queue already!

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I have done it now and again. I am unlikely to recommend a book I haven’t read yet, which may be why I don’t do a whole lot of recommendations. Because I have so many books that I’m still trying to get to, if it’s not often that I’m able to recommend a book in a timeframe that’s helpful for other authors’ marketing.

What do you look for in a good book?
What everybody also is looking for. Engaging characters, an interesting story, and something that will teach me something I don’t know.

Why do you write?
Take the previous sentence and switch all the subjects and objects. Basically, I right for the same reasons that I read.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Is “professional poker player” in the mix? Seriously, I don’t know. They say people switch careers many times over the course of a lifetime, but generally what I’ve been changing is the sort of things that I’m writing or editing books about. That has managed to keep things interesting and fresh for me.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get a lot of inspiration from reading history books, old newspapers, and magazines. You would be surprised how many old stories are out there that can be used as inspiration for something that you might tell a story about that is set in the far future, or in a galaxy far away.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I think that I’ve always wanted to be a communicator. Whenever news broke I always wanted to be the person to tell other people about it, or to describe it in my own words. I think that is why I became a journalist years ago. I’m telling different kinds of stories now, but to a large measure it all comes from the same place.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I think my kids wonder what I do all day. Writing is a lot like time travel, in that you can sit down in front of a screen at noon and look up of couple of hours later and realize it’s 8 or 9 o’clock. I sometimes resent the amount of time that takes away from the rest of my life, but I would not give up what I’m doing for anything.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think a lot of people have the mistaken impression that writers are all solitary and antisocial. It is true that we have to stay in isolation while we’re working, but I like nothing more than to get out of the house after I’ve been writing, and to talk to the people that are out there in the real world.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
I think people focus too much on the end result of their ambitions. They immediately set their sights on writing for this or that movie franchise or comic book franchise or something, and fall into a trap of not doing the intermediate steps which are not just training, but also our vital for getting a writer seen by editors.

And then, hopefully, getting them to a position where they can work on these bigger properties one day.

I worked as a journalist for more than a decade before I had my first comics story published. A lot of the things that I wrote about were not things that I was particularly interested in, or that were particularly glamorous. I even edited a line of trade magazines for the lumber industry — what I know about lumber would fit into your shoe! But it was important to do that because it established that I could write about anything, if I had to, and that I could make deadlines.

Write about anything, I say. Just write.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
It took me a while to make the transition as a prose writer from writing the way I did as a journalist to writing for the fiction reader. One of the things that’s ingrained in reporters is the quote-paraphrase-quote style of writing, where you summarize much longer pieces of dialogue for space economy. My temptation was always to short-circuit long sections of exposition by simply summarizing what was being said — when in fact part of the fun of reading is hearing things in characters’ own voices. So that’s something that I’ve learned to adapt my style for.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Oh, there are all sorts of media properties that I would be interested in working with. I’ve said for many years I would love to write a Die Hard movie script or comic book. But increasingly I’m also focusing on writing my own work. I joy working on licensed properties and will continue to do so but I need to balance out what I’m working on.

 You’ve written for some pretty well known characters/franchises – Mass Effect, Star Wars, Iron Man, even the Simpsons! Is it hard to write characters that are so well known?
It isn’t difficult in the sense that I have a familiarity with you the characters in these worlds, and how the characters should speak. The challenge comes with knowing that I’m writing to a group of readers who are particularly savvy about the world I’m writing about, and so they will let me know if I haven’t described something properly. So I try to do my homework whenever possible.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I talk to fans on Twitter and Facebook and on my website, and I also go to conventions as often as I can. There are a few message boards that I also check in on. I enjoy talking with fans and I appreciate their enthusiasm, and very much feed on the energy that they bring to reading the works.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That for some reason, I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of television network program schedules in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On second thought, if they’ve been following me on my Facebook page that probably know that already.

Anything else we should know?
Just that interested readers can find more about me on http://www.farawaypress.com, and also can follow me on Twitter at @jjmfaraway

Thanks!

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