Tuesday, June 27, 2017
I am a child of the 1980s and 1990s, and like many, the first movie I remember seeing is Star Wars: A New Hope. I was that kid wore my VHS copies of those movies out, I played Star Wars with my friends, I had action figures, I had Empire Strikes Back sheets on my bed, etc. Later in life I read all the books in the Extended Universe (through the whole Yuuzhan Vong thing) and somewhat tolerated Lucas’ shenanigans with updating movies and the whole prequel thing.
But I had largely given up on Star Wars. Part of it was age and simply moving on in life. Part of it was realizing that all that came after just couldn’t live up to the magic of original. But then something unexpected happened: my children started watching Star Wars and loving it. Suddenly I was experiencing the wonder of Star Wars through them – yes, even the prequels are wondrous to young kids. We’ve watched the Clone Wars together and Star Wars Rebels, and my oldest and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. That was it, that was when I decided that Star Wars was back for me – in part because I wanted to support my kids’ love of it, but a large part was that it reawakened that wonder for me as well.
Of course life now is a lot crazier for me, so it’s a slow process, but I have copies of audiobooks for several of the new canon Star Wars books and I started listening to the Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy by Chuck Wendig.
First, I have to comment on the production of the audiobooks, because it really impacts how I reacted to these. It is terrible in all the worst ways of audiobooks. The voice acting narration by Marc Thompson is so overdone that it’s nauseating and then they top that off with sound effects and alien language, making the whole experience rather horrible. I barely made it through the first chapter before stopping and swearing I couldn’t continue because the production was just that awful. But Star Wars and all that…so I gave it another shot.
I learned to tolerate the production. That was the best I could do. Sometimes I simply rolled my eyes at it, and sometimes I had to take long breaks because it is really bad.
All this is very unfortunate, because I know that it influences what I feel about the content of the stories. I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable I would have found them if I read the books rather than listened to the audio. But I can’t get that back, just know that my opinions of the stories are heavily influenced by audio and not in a good way.
Basically, the books play out with a major imperial remnant in the Outer Rim gathering its power and other remnants for a final confrontation with the New Republic. Through this we see the liberation of a few planets, we see the fledgling republic forming up its government, and we see old favorites like Wedge, Han and Leia. We see that Palpatine had plans for the eventuality of his death and how those come to shape, and we see a few very big battles. And through all of the imperial happenings, a strong sense of mystery is present. I believe that we get many hints of what is to come and how things shape up for new movies we are getting now. We see some of the origin for the First Order and maybe even the Knights of Ren. We see a lot of unrelated interludes that don’t add anything to the actual events of the trilogy, but seem to setting Easter Eggs for fans to feast upon. We notably do not get any hints of Luke Skywalker and what he’s up to.
And of course Aftermath introduces us to a new group of characters through which we see the end of the imperial remnants after the events at Endor. My first reaction is that I found it a bit hard to really become very emotionally invested in any of them – would I have cared if they didn’t survive? I chalk this up mainly to the audio production that I mention above. How can one become invested with such horribly over-read dialogue and annoying sound effects?
Norra is a character that was always hit or miss with me through the trilogy, Temmin is mostly an annoying teenager, but its overall a good origin story for him and I hope we see something focused on him in the future. Mister Bones is genuinely amusing and perhaps the one place where sound effects weren’t absolutely horrible. Sinjir and Jas really steal the trilogy as the most interesting pair – the way their friendship develops and plays off of each other was by far my favorite parts of these stories.
I guess there is some controversy over the books among the insecure Dudebros of the world and their objection to having a diversity of sexual identity for the characters in these stories. I have zero sympathy for that position and I’m very happy to see Star Wars start to take its problematic misogyny, xenophobia, and shocking lack of diversity for such a vast creation more seriously. The new movies take things further, though there still remains a long, long way to go – hopefully the movies can finally man-up with a nice LGBTQ star and relationship.
Overall, I enjoyed the further exploration of the Star Wars journey through this trilogy as I loathed the audio production of it. In terms that I deal with, I would place Aftermath as pretty decent quality in relation to old Expanded Universe – better than a lot of it, but not as good as the best of it.
I do plan to continue exploring the books of the new canon as I have audio copies of several. I’m currently listening the audiobook of Bloodline by Claudia Gray and I plan on either Thrawn or Ahsoka next. The audio production Bloodline is much better if still annoying at times. The audio narration is orders of magnitude better, the sound effects are still there to drag things down. So I think that this production will be less of a barrier as a result.
Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy
Life Debt: Amazon
Empire’s End: Amazon
Other Star Wars Books I Mention
Monday, June 26, 2017
By day I am a mild-mannered engineering geologist and by night I read fantasy and science fiction once the rest of the house has gone to bed. So…the word geomancer is the only part of the description of Breath of Earth by Beth Cato that matters. Once I read that word I knew that I had to read this book. I was not disappointed.
Blah Blah Blah. Yeah, I’m a geologist and this isn’t the first time I’ve written a review where that is the lens through which I (at least initially) view a book and focus my review. Magic derived from the energy of the earth, specifically in the form of the earthquakes – sign me up. Set in San Francisco at the time of the infamous 1906 earthquake – keep it coming. Throw is a provocative look at the society of the time, a view not from the ‘winners’ of society, but from those that the winners oppress – excellent.
I have read (and reviewed) The Clockwork Dagger by Cato and it can clearly be seen that Breath of Earth is its decedent. ‘Victorian-type/regency’ society with a young woman on the outside, a bit naïve to the world and thrown into a serious situation. Plus, a dashing young man who both saves the day (and is saved by her) complicating things. A woman who struggles to break the chains society has placed on her. A woman who awakens to her own power within. I enjoyed The Clockwork Dagger, and Breath of Earth takes that solid foundation and improves it, adds experience, and has geomancers (hey, I would never claim objectivity in a review).
How does the geology stand up? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gotten into. The alternative world that Cato creates is one where most of the myths of origin of nature are true to some degree. There are magical creatures in the world – unicorns, selkies, etc. There are giant magical beasts that live in the earth where earthquakes happen. And a select few people have magical powers of various sorts. As a fan of fantasy, as a fan of myth, as someone who has a great curiosity of other cultures and how they came about, I found Cato’s approach to be wonderfully creative and simply a lot of fun. And there are geomancers.
Another fun aspect of Cato’s alternative world is her rewriting of political powers. It is a world of great superpowers, often at war with each other, in various states of conquest and rivalry. Wars are cold, hot, and just waiting to happen. Geomancers play their role, so do other magical people, dirigibles and other ‘steampunk’ engines of war. The US is aligned with Japan, currently bent on destroying China, the British have an empire focusing on the conquest of India, the Russians are out there and others. Being set in San Francisco, the main players are the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans in this (partial) exploration of some dirtier realities of actual history.
So, whether you are looking for a super-powered woman of color coming finding her power and kicking ass, a bit of a Victorian/regency Romance, an interesting alternative history of San Francisco, or the awesomeness of geomancer, I strongly recommend Breath of Earth. And I am very much looking forward to the sequel – Call of Fire. Bring on more geomancers!
Blood of Earth Trilogy
Breath of Earth: Amazon
Call of Fire: Amazon (Will be released in August)
Roar of Sky: Forthcoming