The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 4

Published Post author

The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 4 Book Cover The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 4
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Aneko Yusagi
Light Novel
One Peace Books
June 14, 2016 (English); February 25, 2014 (Japanese)
Paperback
344

Naofumi Iwatani, an uncharismatic Otaku who spends his days on games and manga, suddenly finds himself summoned to a parallel universe! He discovers he is one of four heroes equipped with legendary weapons and tasked with saving the world from its prophesied destruction. As the Shield Hero, the weakest of the heroes, all is not as it seems. Naofumi is soon alone, penniless, and betrayed. With no one to turn to, and nowhere to run, he is left with only his shield. Now, Naofumi must rise to become the legendary Shield Hero and save the world!

 

Volume 4 of Rising of the Shield Hero kicks off right where Volume 3 ended. Naofumi and his party are still on the run, framed for crimes they did not commit. For anime watchers, Volume 4’s events were covered by episodes 14 – 21 of the show. Note that this is a higher episode count than the previous volumes. Volumes 1 & 2 each got four episodes while Volume 3 received five. Volume 4 received eight, as many episodes as the first two books combined. So, the events of Volume 4 are more complete in the anime, with fewer small details being skipped over.

This volume more or less wraps up the first major story arc of the series. A lot of issues that began way back in Volume 1 start getting wrapped up here and open the way for new storylines. There is also quite a bit of exhibition as Naofumi learns more about the stakes of fighting the Waves. And about the forces that have been working against him for quite some time. For how dark and dreary of a journey it has been for Naofumi, he starts to see the light at the end of the tunnel here.

Naofumi is not alone in character development. Raphtalia, Filo, and even Melty all develop substantially throughout the story as well. Both in fighting ability and as people. Raphtalia’s story focuses on her past while Filo’s focuses on her future, giving the two another parallel as teammates. The worldbuilding also continues in this volume as readers start to learn more about countries outside Melromarc. The inner workings of Melromarc’s culture and government are further explored as well.

There is another major factor present here: changes to the story. While the ending of Volume 4 reflects episode 21 of the anime, several major details are changed. The events ultimately play out to the same conclusion, but the way things happen is fairly different. It felt like the changes in the anime were present to make Naofumi feel more heroic to the audience. It also felt a bit odd that the anime kept going for a few more episodes during season 1 since this is a really good stopping point in the story.

There are some great feel-good moments in this volume and it is the point where Naofumi really, truly starts to shine as a hero. It will be interesting to see what the next story arc brings as more Waves approach.

February 16, 2020

Smoke Eaters

Published Post author

Smoke Eaters Book Cover Smoke Eaters
Smoke Eaters
Sean Grigsby
Fantasy
Angry Robot
March 6, 2018
Paperback
336

When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity's last line of defence, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he's immune to dragon smoke. It's such a rare power that he's immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters. Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city's government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it's up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

 

Smoke Eaters has a fairly basic premise: firefighters vs. dragons. Going in, it looks like Reign of Fire mixed with Fire Force with a dash of Syfy Channel Original. The story is set a few hundred years in the future, so there is some future-tech like holograms and robots. A few years prior, dragons started emerging from underground to attack people and burn stuff down. This caused vast changes in world governments, causing the U.S. to collapse into city-states and keeping communities mostly isolated. Despite all this, everyday life seems to function about the same as it does for most people today.

Protagonist Cole Brannigan is a firefighter on the cusp of retirement when he inadvertently discovers he is one of the few people with a genetic immunity to smoke inhalation. This gets him forcibly recruited into the anti-dragon task force, the Smoke Eaters. Having an older protagonist in a story like this made Brannigan pretty unusual. Like many older people, he is very set in his ways. So, he bumps heads with his new team when suddenly going from near-retiree to new rookie. That being said, he does have enough plot armor to always land on his feet as the story progresses.

Now let’s talk about tropes. Being a mix between fantasy and sci-fi themes, Smoke Eaters is full of tropes. Dragons are obviously the big one. But the future setting also gives us power armor, ray guns, laser swords, military robots, and more. We also get generic action-story elements like corrupt government officials and evil businessmen. There is a lot going on in this book and it is really hard to tell whether it is more sci-fi than fantasy or vice versa. But it is enough of an action story that worrying about asking “why?” is probably not something readers need to be doing here.

It would be overexaggerating to say this book does not have a plot. But there are a lot of concepts, including the state of society, that readers need to just take for granted. It is a post-apocalyptic setting, so just roll with it. Smoke Eaters is the type of book you read when you just want to kill an afternoon with something fun. Not because you are trying to analyze a great work of literature. This is the just-for-fun type of grimdark, not the gritty variety. Now let’s get a made-for-TV movie adaption!

February 9, 2020

One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1)

Published Post author

One Word Kill Book Cover One Word Kill
Impossible Times
Mark Lawrence
Sci-fi
47North
May 1, 2019
Hardcover
204

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

 

I picked up One Word Kill for two reasons: I like Mark Lawrence and I like Dungeons and Dragons. Objectively speaking, this book is probably 5 stars. I personally could not get that into it, so I am meeting halfway with a 4-star review. My opinion here is probably biased because I am used to reading longer books. When you normally stick to 400-800 page novels, something 200 pages feels too short. Less time for plot and character development makes things seemed rushed. Not necessarily bad, just rushed. But this book feels like it also needs a bit of pre-existing knowledge to be fully appreciated.

So, first there is the title: One Word Kill. This refers to a magic spell in the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game the characters play called Power Word Kill. In D&D, almost everything is determined by rolling dice. Whether your character hits an enemy or is hit in turn, how well social interactions go, and more. Power Word Kill is a very powerful endgame spell that ignores dice and just kills the target. Many people who play the game consider it BS. While the book explains all this, it is a bit hard to appreciate unless you have first-hand experience with it. That is a key theme here; how some things are so hard to fight it makes the battle seem unwinnable.

The other big thing here is the mystery; the mysterious stranger and the friend in danger. On a story level it is constructed well, but it was not all that mysterious. From the perspective of the main character, sure, there was tension and build-up. But for nerds who regularly occupy their time with sci-fi/fantasy stories, not so much. On top of that, it cannot be said that this story really did anything new.

One Word Kill takes place in the 80’s and the characters are kids. Stranger Things, check. Fantasy games are being used as a metaphor to battle serious, real-world problems. A Monster Calls and I Kill Giants, check. And more, but other comparisons cannot be mentioned in this review without spoilers.

Analysis aside, this is a good book. It was Mark Lawrence’s first crack at sci-fi over his usual fantasy work and he did a damn fine job. Despite all the nitpicking in this review. If you want something to read on a weekend afternoon, you could do a lot worse than One Word Kill.

February 2, 2020

Uncut Gems

Published Post author

Poster for the movie ""

Uncut Gems

This is how I win.

20192 h 15 min
Overview

Howard Ratner, a charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.

Metadata
Runtime 2 h 15 min
Release Date 13 December 2019
Details
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Excellent

A friend once said to me that every comedic actor has one great serious role in them. Uncut Gems is that role for Adam Sandler. Everyone knows him as a comedian whether it is from his SNL days, his more well-known comedies from the late-90s/early-2000s like The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy, or his more lackluster films from recent years like Pixels or Jack and Jill. Which makes Uncut Gems very, very different from all his previous work. And that, in turn, makes the amazing quality of the film even more mind-boggling.

This movie was absolutely thrilling. No part of the film felt dull; it was a ride from start to finish. Everything feels so high-stakes and full of energy (which some of it actually is and other times it isn’t) that you can feel Sandler’s character Howard Ratner’s anxiety throughout the film. The pacing makes it difficult to ever see exactly where the film is going next. Every turn around the next corner could bring something unknown and surprising. Or it could be mundane with some relative normalcy. Uncut Gems is one of the few films I have seen that could be described as just “gritty” instead of “dark and gritty”.

Sandler’s character Howard goes through a lot throughout the film. Money problems, business problems, marital problems, gambling problems, issues with his kids, and so much more. While his exact circumstances are extreme, most of these issues are problems that are relatable. His methods of dealing with these problems are not great and being such a flawed character is largely what makes Howard work. There are instances where his issues are solved or left hanging through his own efforts and other times when the situation is just completely out of his control. Nothing here is picturesque and it feels all the more real because of that.

Films with the protagonist being a terrible person have seen increased popularity (namely Joker) within the last few years and Uncut Gems seems to really touch on that. Howard tries to do the right thing, but that is an issue because he is not a good person. What he considers “the right thing” is not always what most other people would consider the right thing to be. He struggles with inner demons and relationship issues as his flaws cause every aspect of his life to spiral out of control. And seeing it happen is a roller coaster of a ride the whole way.

January 26, 2020

Dead and Alive (Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein #3)

Published Post author

Dead and Alive Book Cover Dead and Alive
Dean Koontz's Frankenstein
Dean Koontz
Horror
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
July 28, 2009
Paperback
400

From the celebrated imagination of Dean Koontz comes a powerful reworking of one of the classic stories of all time. If you think you know the story, you know only half the truth. Get ready for the mystery, the myth, the terror, and the magic of…

Dean Koontz's Dead and Alive

A devastating hurricane approaches New Orleans and Victor Helios, once known was Frankenstein, has unleashed his benighted creatures onto the streets. As New Orleans descends into chaos, his engineered killers spin out of control, and the only hope rests with Victor's first and failed attempt to build the perfect human, whose damned path has led him to the ultimate confrontation with his pitiless creator. But first, Deucalion must destroy a monstrosity not even Victor's malignant mind could have imagined—an indestructible entity that steps out of humankind's collective nightmare with one purpose: to replace us.

 

Dead and Alive sort of wraps up Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series. Originally, these books were meant to be a trilogy. Later, Koontz revisited them and wrote two more books. The ending of Dead and Alive is a bit open ended; enough that a sequel was viable, but not so much that readers will feel dissatisfied with the ending. The story here is a bit more fast-paced than the first two books. The characters know what is going on and things are more out in the open now. All that is left is stopping Victor Helios’ (Dr. Frankenstein’s) mad plan.

The thing is, the characters don’t really do much to accomplish that. The main characters against Helios are Deucalion (Frankenstein’s monster) and the two detectives. The detectives are just kind of…there. They spend most of the book surviving, not actively going after Victor. Deucalion himself straight-up says that he needs them because he cannot directly kill Victor. Their role in the plan is really to just pull the trigger once he’s been cornered. Deucalion takes a more active role by learning about Victor’s plans and sabotaging them. But even still, he is not the one who causes Victor’s downfall.

Ultimately, it is Victor who sabotages Victor. As Deucalion stated in the previous books, Victor’s weakness is his vanity. He considers himself and his work so perfect that he assumes his victory is a matter of when, not if. So, when it all starts to fall apart around him, Victor is blind to the issues at hand. He considers his work so perfect and infallible that it never even occurs to him that something he created could be fundamentally broken. While this is a great hubris for a character like Victor, it diminishes the protagonist’s role in the story. They help, but they’re not directly the cause of the villain’s downfall.

With each new book in Koontz’s Frankenstein series, I grew less impressed. More so with the 4th and 5th books that were tacked on later. But those have their own plotline and were unentertaining enough that I don’t even intend to take the time writing up reviews for those two. The real issue with Dead and Alive was that things didn’t get sewn up nicely by the end. Rather, they all fell haphazardly into place. Things are ok for the protagonists once the story is over, but not by their own merit. They didn’t win because they did well, they won because the villain did poorly. The victory didn’t feel earned and that makes for a dull conclusion.

January 19, 2020

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 3

Published Post author

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 3 Book Cover That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 3
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
FUSE
Light Novel
Yen On
August 21, 2018 (English); December 24, 2014 (Japanese)
Paperback
288

TIMES ARE CHANGING FOR THE WORLD!

After a furious battle with the orc lord, peace has once again returned to the Forest of Jura. Rimuru may be heading up the Great Forest of Jura Alliance, but he's most worried about finishing his town...until a visit from King Gazel Dwargo of the dwarves turns everything upside down! Not only that, but Rimuru is about to have a run-in with Milim Nava, an exceptionally dangerous demon lord known as the "Destroyer." What's a slime to do?!

 

For you anime watchers, Volume 3 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime covers episodes 16 – 19(-ish) of the show. The beginning of episode 20 has some events from the very end of Volume 3, but most of that episode kicks off the events of Volume 4. This book starts off following the aftermath of Volume 2. With the Jura Tempest Federation solidified into a new but still budding country, the new nation’s leadership face new challenges. This more or less divides the book into two parts: the political aspect and military actions.

As Rimuru begins organizing the country’s resources and top people, other nations begin to take notice of the new nation. While he and his subordinates are skilled in combat, politics is a whole new battlefield for them. New allies will be made who seek to partner with the Federation and learn from their technological advances. At the same time, enemies who covet the forest’s rich resources set their hungry eyes upon the new, small country. In this dog-eat-dog world, it is only a matter of time before the Federation is pressed into military action.

Every book in this series has had a big fight sequence so far and Volume 3 keeps that trend moving. The exact details of the fight are spoilery, but the battle goes to show that Rimuru and his gang are far from all-powerful. It is true that their strength has grown by leaps and bounds in a short amount of time. But in this world of monsters, they are still little fish in a big pond. They can hold their own when working together, but there are still enemies far beyond them individually. Rimuru having a Naraku/Majin Buu/Sylar/Borg power makes this less of an issue with each defeated enemy though.

Aside from the cringy cover art (that new character gets more clothes during the story, I promise), Volume 3 was pretty on par with the first two books. With the characters’ powers increasingly so dramatically from one book to the next, that may or may not remain the case as the series progresses. Isekai’s tend to be littered with overpowered protagonists and this is no exception. Heck, this series would probably set the high-bar for that if Overlord didn’t exist. While That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime comes across as more of a YA series than other light novels, it is still entertaining enough.

January 12, 2020

Triumphant (The Genesis Fleet #3)

Published Post author

Triumphant Book Cover Triumphant
The Genesis Fleet
Jack Campbell
Sci-fi
Ace
May 21, 2019
Hardcover
336

A young fleet officer and a Marine must stand together to defend their neighbors and their colony in this return to the powerful and action-packed Genesis Fleet saga from New York Times bestselling author Jack Campbell.

The recently colonized world of Glenlyon has learned that they're stronger when they stand with other star systems than they are on their own. But after helping their neighbor Kosatka against an invasion, Glenlyon has become a target. The aggressive star systems plan to neutralize Glenlyon before striking again.

An attack is launched against Glenlyon's orbital facility with forces too powerful for fleet officer Rob Geary to counter using their sole remaining destroyer, Saber. Mele Darcy's Marines must repel repeated assaults while their hacker tries to get into the enemy systems to give Saber a fighting chance.

To survive, Glenlyon needs more firepower, and the only source for that is their neighbor Kosatka or other star systems that have so far remained neutral. But Kosatka is still battling the remnants of the invasion forces on its own world, and if it sends its only remaining warship to help will be left undefended against another invasion. While Carmen Ochoa fights for the freedom of Kosatka, Lochan Nakamura must survive assassins as he tries to convince other worlds to join a seemingly hopeless struggle.

As star systems founded by people seeking freedom and autonomy, will Kosatka, Glenlyon and others be able to overcome deep suspicions of surrendering any authority to others? Will the free star systems stand together in a new Alliance, or fall alone?

 

Triumphant is the finale of the Genesis Fleet trilogy, the prequel to The Lost Fleet. Going in, I did not know whether this was the last book or if the Genesis Fleet would keep going. But Jack Campbell’s original Lost Fleet series was 6 books. Then the follow-up, Beyond the Frontier, was 5 books. And the spin-off series The Lost Stars was 4 books. Now the Genesis Fleet wraps up with 3 books. I am sensing a pattern here. Are we in for a duology next? And maybe a single, standalone book that wraps up everything? Time will tell and Triumphant hints on the series future, but more on that later.

Things kick off shortly after the end of the last book, unlike the time-skip between books 1 & 2. Campbell’s other series focused on massive wars and other conflicts between powerful, established space nations. The Genesis Fleet tells the story of how those nations were first established. There is a fair amount of parallelism with the real world here. People are traveling out into the unknown to stake their claim and get land of their own. But away from established civilization, there is an increasing threat of lawlessness. Now is the time when whether the people choose to fight will determine not only their future, but the futures of generations to come.

If you have already read Campbell’s other books, you have a rough idea of how Triumphant will end. Many of the characters here are ancestors of the previous books’ casts, so assumptions can be made regarding how survives. But while the stakes in Triumphant are no less extreme than the previous series, the battles are much more small scale. It is not a fleet of hundreds of warships threatening a galaxy-spanning civilization. It is a single-digit group of ships threatening new colonies. But a single ship is more than enough to kill everyone on a world.

While the previous series focus on large-scale, broad military conflict, The Genesis Fleet is more of a revolutionary war. People are fighting with military cast-offs and makeshift weapons. But it does not change the fact that they are fighting for their homes and families. And they will fight with every ounce of strength and courage they have to see them protected. While at the same time, others put the same amount of effort into subjugating their fellow man.

This series was an absolute blast. It was low-stakes, yet it was not. It was a prequel with a semi-determined ending, yet it keeps you on the edge of your seat. There is a fantastic balance between combat, politics, personal character development, and world-building (something hard to do which Jack Campbell has greatly improved upon in his career). And it features a nice little epilogue with some more familiar characters that leaves the Lost Fleet universe very open. I am excited to see where Jack Campbell takes it next.

January 5, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Every generation has a legend

20192 h 22 min
Overview

The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once again as the journey of Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle begins.

Metadata
Director J.J. Abrams
Runtime 2 h 22 min
Release Date 18 December 2019
Details
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Bad
Actors
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Mark Hamill, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Greg Grunberg, Shirley Henderson, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan, Hassan Taj, Lee Towersey, Brian Herring, Dave Chapman, Richard Guiver, Lynn Robertson Bruce, J.J. Abrams, Claire Roi Harvey, Richard Coombs, Matt Denton, Nick Kellington, Mandeep Dhillon, Alison Rose, Amanda Lawrence, Tanya Moodie, Simon Paisley Day, Geff Francis, Amanda Hale, Amir El-Masry, Aidan Cook, Patrick Williams, Martin Wilde, Anton Simpson-Tidy, Lukaz Leong, Tom Rodgers, Joe Kennard, Ashley Beck, Bryony Miller, Cyril Nri, Angela Christian, Indra Ové, Richard Bremmer, Mark Richard Durden Smith, Andrew Havill, Nasser Memarzia, Patrick Kennedy, Aaron Neil, Joe Hewetson, Raghad Chaar, Mimi Ndiweni, Tom Wilton, Chris Terrio, Kiran Shah, Debra Wilson, Josef Altin, Vinette Robinson, Mike Quinn, Bill Kipsang Rotich, Ann Firbank, Diana Kent, Warwick Davis, Harrison Davis, Elliot Hawkes, Philicia Saunders, John Williams, Nigel Godrich, Dhani Harrison, J.D. Dillard, Dave Hearn, Rochenda Sandall, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Andreea Diac, Liam Cook, Denis Lawson, Carolyn Hennesy, Paul Kasey, Matthew Wood, James Earl Jones, Andy Serkis, Josefine Irrera Jackson, Cailey Fleming, Jodie Comer, Billy Howle, Hayden Christensen, Olivia d'Abo, Ashley Eckstein, Jennifer Hale, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Alec Guinness, Frank Oz, Angelique Perrin, Freddie Prinze Jr., Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Lin-Manuel Miranda, David Acord, Dan Adler, Dee Bradley Baker, Verona Blue, Steve Blum, David Boat, David W. Collins, Jonathan Dixon, Terri Douglas, Robin Atkin Downes, Amanda Foreman, Janina Gavankar, Grey DeLisle, Stefan Grube, Mike Holland, Karen Huie, Tom Kane, Lex Lang, Vanessa Lengies, Logic, Yuri Lowenthal, Vanessa Marshall, Donald Mustard, Nicole Nasca Supercinski, Michelle Rejwan, Julian Stone, Tara Strong, Fred Tatasciore, James Arnold Taylor, Jessica Tuck, Karl Urban, Reggie Watts, Samuel Witwer

Ok, so there is a lot to unpack with this movie. I set a pretty low bar going into The Rise of Skywalker and it still managed to walk clear under it unimpeded. There is much, much more going wrong with this movie than can be covered in this little review here. And some things that cannot be mentioned directly due to spoilers. But it would not be too far off to compare Episode IX to Game of Thrones Season 8.

Let’s start by looking at the definition of the word continuity: the maintenance of continuous action and self-consistent detail in the various scenes of a movie or broadcast. This needs to be defined here because J.J. Abrams did not do it. Episode VIII saw Rian Johnson ignoring a lot of Abrams work from Episode VII and it seems like Abrams decided to return the favor here. A lot of pre-established information including plot development, character arcs, and world-building is just ignored or outright broken. And not just concerning Episode VII; this also includes continuity going as far back as the Original Trilogy. It is bad enough to make audiences wonder if Abrams ever watched or even read a summary of the source material.

The next most glaring issue was the dialogue. This stems in from another issue, doing too much in too little time. It felt like Abrams was attempting to squeeze and entire trilogy worth of plot into this one film. So, despite the 142-minute run time, the movie feels incredibly rushed. Almost every line of dialogue comes across as need-to-know information. The delivery makes it all so in-your-face that it almost never feels like the characters are having a regular conversation. More like they are just running down a bulleted list.

The last issue was the same problem the previous two films had: a lack of world-building. The previous two films were admittingly guilty of this too. But The Rise of Skywalker was a lot more upfront about it. Instead of a half-hearted explanation or leaving this kind of open ended so the audience could fill in the blanks, Episode IX just said, “This is the way things are. Deal with it.” The film really leaves audiences with more questions than answers given all the plot-holes.

This was the first time in my life where I honestly, truly felt bored by something Star Wars. There were plenty of bad moments in the old EU, but you still had great moments to make up for it. The new Disney trilogy has progressively gotten worse. We have gone from an Episode IV remake to a mixed bag of a film to this dumpster fire of a cash grab. It is not too much of a surprise that the franchise was run into the ground after being bought out, but what is amazing is just how quickly Disney managed to do it.

December 29, 2019

Star Wars: Tie Fighter

Published Post author

Star Wars: Tie Fighter Book Cover Star Wars: Tie Fighter
Star Wars
Jody Houser (Author), Roge Antonio (Illustrator)
Sci-fi
Marvel
October 15, 2019
Paperback
120

Enter Shadow Wing! The Empire's salvation - the Rebellion's doom! As the war between the rebels and the Galactic Empire stretches on, it is the innocent people of the galaxy who are most at risk. An elite squadron of TIE fighter pilots is assembled to help protect Imperial interests - and hammer the Emperor's fury down upon the treasonous and violent Rebel Alliance. But how far is this untested team willing to go to preserve law and order? And are the pilots of Shadow Wing as loyal to the Empire as they seem?

 

Tie Fighter is the graphic novel tie-in prequel to the novel Alphabet Squadron. Originally published as a mini-series, the 5th and final issue of Tie Fighter did not actually come out until after Alphabet Squadron was published. So, it is hard to argue that reading Tie Fighter beforehand is really a requirement. Whereas Alphabet Squadron is about a ragtag group of pilots still more used to being Rebels than New Republic, Tie Fighter tells the story from the other side. This mini-series focuses on the Imperial fighter squadron that Alphabet Squadron spends their story hunting: Shadow Wing.

Being a mini-series, Tie Fighter is fast paced. There were only 5 issues to tell a story and the author knew that going in. Normally this would raise my hackles a bit, but Tie Fighter also has the benefit of being a prequel comic. It was never the intention of this mini-series to tell the whole story. It is distinctively not supposed to do that; that is the Alphabet Squadron trilogy’s job. Instead, it is a rare look at things from the Imperial side of the war. And it takes place in one of the most interesting time periods in Disney’s new canon: the immediate years following Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars as a franchise has a very impressive cast of villains. From Tarkin to Thrawn to Darth Vader and the Emperor, the villains are often much more interesting than the heroes. But not all the baddies are big bads. There are also the boots on the ground (or in this case, wings in the air). Seeing how the common, everyday soldiers do things is rare in Star Wars. And rarer still to see it from the Imperial side. It is always fascinating to see how these people justify their actions when we, as the audience, know how evil the Empire can be.

These stories taking place after Episode VI are amazing for how quick the Empire fell given the scope of it. Just a few years prior to this, the Empire reigned supreme. The largest military in galactic history, ruling from one side of the galaxy to the other with an iron fist. And now…they are dying. Things started to fall apart from the moment the Emperor died. And some Imperials are struggling to cope with that. Shadow Wing knows they are part of a dying breed, but they will do their duty. Like the more common Rebel protagonists, they are still people. With hopes and dreams and aspirations and fears. And villains who seem more human are always better for it.

December 22, 2019

Master and Apprentice

Published Post author

Star Wars: Master and Apprentice Book Cover Star Wars: Master and Apprentice
Star Wars
Claudia Gray
Sci-fi
Del Rey
April 18, 2019
Hardcover
352

An unexpected offer threatens the bond between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the two Jedi navigate a dangerous new planet and an uncertain future.

A Jedi must be a fearless warrior, a guardian of justice, and a scholar in the ways of the Force. But perhaps a Jedi's most essential duty is to pass on what they have learned. Master Yoda trained Dooku; Dooku trained Qui-Gon Jinn; and now Qui-Gon has a Padawan of his own. But while Qui-Gon has faced all manner of threats and danger as a Jedi, nothing has ever scared him like the thought of failing his apprentice.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has deep respect for his Master, but struggles to understand him. Why must Qui-Gon so often disregard the laws that bind the Jedi? Why is Qui-Gon drawn to ancient Jedi prophecies instead of more practical concerns? And why wasn't Obi-Wan told that Qui-Gon is considering an invitation to join the Jedi Council—knowing it would mean the end of their partnership? The simple answer scares him: Obi-Wan has failed his Master.

When Jedi Rael Averross, another former student of Dooku, requests their assistance with a political dispute, Jinn and Kenobi travel to the royal court of Pijal for what may be their final mission together. What should be a simple assignment quickly becomes clouded by deceit, and by visions of violent disaster that take hold in Qui-Gon's mind. As Qui-Gon's faith in prophecy grows, Obi-Wan's faith in him is tested—just as a threat surfaces that will demand that Master and apprentice come together as never before, or be divided forever.

 

Master and Apprentice once against displays Claudia Gray’s skill as an author and understanding of Star Wars. Like her previous three books for Star Wars, the key element here is character development. Star Wars is such a large franchise that plot rarely matters for little side adventures like this. While there is some sense of danger, everyone reading this knows Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon will be ok at the end. Master and Apprentice is about just that, the master and the apprentice. How Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon got to where they are at the beginning of The Phantom Menace. And more about their characters as a whole.

Obi-Wan is a character who needs little introduction. Throughout the Star Wars franchise, we see the better part of this man’s entire life. The key thing here is that Master and Apprentice is one of the earliest point of his life audiences have seen in the new Disney canon. His initial relationship with Qui-Gon was not great. There is an air of respect between master and student, but they are not really friends. They have more of a parent and child relationship as they each struggle to understand the other person.

While Qui-Gon is tackling this same problem, he also has other issues going on. Qui-Gon’s views as a Jedi are viewed as somewhat flawed by his colleagues. He has been told, politely, more than once that he needs to curb his ideas. This is exemplified by the fact he was trained by Count Dooku, one of the few Jedi to ever leave the Order (and, you know, other things). Not to mention the other Jedi dangling a carrot in front of him (a seat on the Council) if he agrees to step in line. There is a huge inner conflict between what he is being told is right and what he personally believes is right.

But the reason this all works is because Claudia Gray takes the time to know the characters. One of the biggest complaints about the pre-Disney EU was that the characters were all over the place. When you have dozens of different writers behind the helm of the same characters over the course of decades, there are going to be consistency issues. But Claudia Gray portrays characters the way real people are: flawed. These Jedi are not there to just swing lightsabers and look cool. They are real people with hopes, dreams, and responsibilities who sometimes make mistakes. And in the end, they ultimately learn from the teacher that is failure.

And as a side note, this book finally delves into the whole “Chosen One prophecy” that the prequel trilogy revolves around. Even in the pre-Disney Lucas-canon, it was a very poorly explained concept for something so important. Kudos to Claudia Gray for addressing the issue without removing too much of the mystique from it.

December 15, 2019