From A Certain Point of View

Published Post author

From A Certain Point of View Book Cover From A Certain Point of View
Star Wars
Various
Short Story
Del Rey
October 3, 2017
Hardcover
477

Experience Star Wars: A New Hope from a whole new point of view.

On May 25, 1977, the world was introduced to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and a galaxy full of possibilities. In honor of the 40th anniversary, more than 40 contributors lend their vision to this retelling of Star Wars. Each of the 40 short stories reimagines a moment from the original film, but through the eyes of a supporting character. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by best-selling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from the literary history of Star Wars:

Gary Whitta bridges the gap from Rogue One to A New Hope through the eyes of Captain Antilles.
Aunt Beru finds her voice in an intimate character study by Meg Cabot.
Nnedi Okorofor brings dignity and depth to a most unlikely character: the monster in the trash compactor.
Pablo Hidalgo provides a chilling glimpse inside the mind of Grand Moff Tarkin.
Pierce Brown chronicles Biggs Darklighter's final flight during the Rebellion's harrowing attack on the Death Star.
Wil Wheaton spins a poignant tale of the rebels left behind on Yavin.
Plus 34 more hilarious, heartbreaking, and astonishing tales from Ben Acker, Renée Ahdieh, Tom Angleberger, Ben Blacker, Jeffrey Brown, Rae Carson, Adam Christopher, Zoraida Córdova, Delilah S. Dawson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Paul Dini, Ian Doescher, Ashley Eckstein, Matt Fraction, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Kieron Gillen, Christie Golden, Claudia Gray, E. K. Johnston, Paul S. Kemp, Mur Lafferty, Ken Liu, Griffin McElroy, John Jackson Miller, Daniel José Older, Mallory Ortberg, Beth Revis, Madeleine Roux, Greg Rucka, Gary D. Schmidt, Cavan Scott, Charles Soule, Sabaa Tahir, Elizabeth Wein, Glen Weldon, Chuck Wendig

Narrated by a full cast, including:

Jonathan Davis
Ashley Eckstein
Janina Gavankar
Jon Hamm
Neil Patrick Harris
January LaVoy
Saskia Maarleveld
Carol Monda
Daniel José Older
Marc Thompson
All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book - a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies' longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House has donated $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm has donated 100,000 children's books - valued at $1 million - to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education. Over the past 16 years, Disney and Penguin Random House combined have donated more than 88 million books to First Book.

 

From A Certain Point of View is a bit difficult to review, as is any short story collection. To that end, the stories will each get a mini-review with a compiled score.

Raymus by Gary Whitta (5/5 stars)

Picking up immediately where Rogue One ends and going into the start of A New Hope, this story is crucial to the overall plot of Star Wars.

The Bucket by Christie Golden (4/5 stars)

Focusing on the stormtrooper who stuns Princess Leia, this is a reminder that Imperials are people, not just faceless drones.

The Sith of Datawork by Ken Liu (5/5 stars)

This follows an Imperial desk worker who is great at getting things done despite the Empire’s bureaucracy. Using these skills, he helps cover for his colleague, the gunner who decided not to shoot down the escape pod with R2D2 and C3PO in it. This one is hilarious as they shift the blame onto someone else because you know the poor sap who must report this failure to Vader is probably going to get Force Choked.

Stories in the Sand by Griffin McElroy (2/5 stars)

The story of the Jawa who captures R2D2. Not terribly interesting, but it shows just how much of a close call that was for our favorite astromech droid.

Reirin by Sabaa Tahir (2/5 stars)

This story shows a Tusken Raider (Sand People) with dreams of spaceflight. Not important in the grand scheme of things but the story is well written.

The Red One by Rae Carson (5/5 stars)

Featuring the red astromech almost purchased instead of R2D2, this story delves into how droids are people too, with hopes and dreams and the ability to be heroes.

Rites by Jon Jackson Miller (3/5 stars)

Another Tusken Raider story, this one features the Sand People who attack and knock out Luke. It delves into the culture of Sand People, which is nice to see in the new Disney continuity.

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Grey (5/5 stars)

Featuring a character who was not actually in A New Hope but it crucial to Star Wars, this story also expands Obi-Wan’s character development.

Beru Whitesun Lars by Meg Cabot (5/5 stars)

Told by Luke’s Aunt Beru after she becomes one with the Force, we gain a rare bit of insight from one of the people who raised the future Jedi Knight.

The Luckless Rodian by Renée Ahdieh (2/5 stars)

Greedo is a jerk, then Han shoots him. ‘Nuff said.

Not for Nothing by Mur Lafferty (4/5 stars)

Explains how the cantina band went from being galactic stars to playing in the middle of a hive of scum and villainy. Overall these are good characters and their story was legitimately interesting.

We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here by Chuck Wendig (4/5 stars)

The bartender in Mos Eisley’s cantina provides a good link to the prequels, with his life during the Clone Wars explaining his misdemeanor and personality.

The Kloo Horn Caper by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Matt Fraction (2/5 stars)

This one really felt all over the place and it was one of the longest stories in the book. The writing was good, the content not so much.

Added Muscle by Paul Dini (1/5 stars)

Boba Fett is featured here, and this story felt like it hurt his character. His inner monologue feels much more in line with young, cocky, arrogant Boba from the Clone Wars tv series than the near-silent, cool bounty hunter of the original films.

You Owe Me a Ride by Zoraida Córdova (4/5 stars)

While not important to the overall plot of A New Hope, the Tonnika Sisters are sassy and entertaining, making for a fun story.

The Secrets of Long Snoot by Delilah S. Dawson (3/5 stars)

A little reminder of how people, particularly aliens, are frequently tricked and screwed over by the Empire. This story makes you feel bad for a character who is technically a bad guy.

Born in the Storm by Daniel José Older (3/5 stars)

Even stormtroopers can think their job sucks and dream of just saying “screw it” to ride off into the sunset.

Laina by Wil Wheaton (4/5 stars)

Featuring the Rebel soldier standing in the tower on Yavin 4, he knows he is doing the right thing and that his family will be safe on Alderaan. Oh…

Fully Operational by Beth Revis (5/5 stars)

General Tagge is the smart person who points out, “Hey, the Rebels could be a threat since they stole the plans to the Death Star.”

An Incident Report by Mallory Ortbert (5/5 stars)

The Imperial officer Force Choked by Vader in the Death Star meeting room writes a formal complaint about the incident and comes to the realization that the Dark Lord of the Sith is more terrifying that the Death Star itself.

Change of Heart by Elizabeth Wein (5/5 stars)

Another story showing that Imperial stormtroopers are not just faceless drones, as one trooper witnesses the terror the Empire will inflict on even its own citizens.

Eclipse by Madeleine Roux (5/5 stars)

The final moments of Bail and Breha Organa, as they try to determine Leia’s fate in the final moments before Alderaan is destroyed.

Verge of Greatness by Pablo Hidalgo (5/5 stars)

Featuring both Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin, both characters are portrayed perfectly as their thoughts dwell on each other and the faults that will lead to their respective downfalls.

Far Too Remote by Jeffrey Brown (5/5 stars)

A 1-panel comic featuring the Imperials looking for the Rebel Base on Dantooine. In a word: hilarious.

The Trigger by Kieron Gillen (5/5 stars)

Features Doctor Aphra from the Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra comic books. As a big fan favorite character invented in the Disney canon, this one was just a treat.

Of MSE-6 and Men by Glen Weldon (2/5 stars)

This is about the little droid Chewbacca growls at in the hall on the Death Star. This is one of the longer stories and basically boils down to “if Imperial officers weren’t idiots, the Death Star might not have blown up”.

Bump by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker (3/5 stars)

Same as the last story; if officers were not idiots, something something.

End of Watch by Adam Christopher (3/5 stars)

This story features the Imperials on the other end of the comm when Han, Luke, and Chewie rescue Leia from the detention center. More Imperial bureaucracy featuring a slice of life for the men and women of the Empire.

The Baptist by Nnedi Okorafor (1/5 stars)

This story literally and figuratively features garbage.

Time of Death by Cavan Scott (5/5 stars)

Obi-Wan Kenobi in his final moments, featuring the mental battle he waged with himself even as he clashed lightsabers with Vader. Also provides a much-needed explanation as to why the lightsaber fight was so tame compared to all the backflips and stuff in the prequels.

There is Another by Gary D. Schmidt (4/5 stars)

Featuring another character not actually in A New Hope, Yoda, this sets some of the groundwork for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Palpatine by Ian Doescher (1/5 stars)

A poem by Emperor Palpatine. Please note I never have and probably never will understand poetry, so my rating of this one is pretty biased.

Sparks by Paul S. Kemp (4/5 stars)

The first of several stories featuring Rebel pilots during The Battle of Yavin. Note for all of these that 30 starfighters went up and only 3 came back. Dex was one of the Y-Wing pilots who made the first run down the Death Star trench.

Duty Roster by Jason Fry (4/5 stars)

During the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance had more available pilots than starfighters. This story features one of the ones left behind.

Desert Son by Pierce Brown (4/5 stars)

Featuring Luke’s friend Biggs from Tatooine, this story is a shining example of the many rebels who sacrificed themselves for the greater good against the Empire.

Grounded by Greg Rucka (5/5 stars)

Every team needs a leader and even those leaders report to someone. When you are at a certain level in the chain of command, every loss in battle can hurt you personally.

Contingency Plan by Alexander Freed (5/5 stars)

This story did a lot for Mon Mothma’s character, namely explaining why she was not present at the Battle of Yavin. It also left me with a lot of mixed feelings about her as a person.

The Angle by Charles Soule (4/5 stars)

Yet another tale of a character who was not actually in A New Hope, this time Lando Calrissian. Not really in line with the other stories but it sets him up a bit for The Empire Strikes Back.

By Whatever Sun by E.K. Johnson & Ashley Eckstein (3/5 stars)

Another character pops up from the new Expanded Universe, Ahsoka’s friend Miara from the book Ahsoka. This story lends a bit of realism to the end scene of A New Hope.

Whills by Tom Angleberger (5/5 stars)

Hilarious and my new head-canon for George Lucas’ thought process.

December 17, 2017

Leia, Princess of Alderaan

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Star Wars: Leia: Princess of Alderaan Book Cover Star Wars: Leia: Princess of Alderaan
Star Wars
Claudia Grey
Sci-fi
Disney Lucasfilm Press
September 1, 2017
Hardcover
409

The never-before-told story of how young Leia Organa comes to join the rebellion against the evil Empire, from best-selling author Claudia Gray.

 

Leia, Princess of Alderaan seemed a bit iffy at first. Despite being part of the “Journey to The Last Jedi” it is a prequel to the original films. Precisely, this book seems to take place around the same time as the start of Star Wars: Rebels. Author Claudia Grey has delivered nothing but gold for Star Wars so far and that continues here. Readers saw in Bloodline that she can write middle-aged Leia well and she did an equal job with young Leia. For multiple reasons, exploring Leia’s history in full is a crucial component to the Star Wars universe.

We have already seen differences in Leia in the new Disney Star Wars compared to the old Expanded Universe. The old novels had her serving as a leading figure in the New Republic after the fall of the Empire. As constant warfare grew, she eventually gave up politics and became a Jedi Knight. While she did still marry Han Solo, they had three children in the old continuity (all of whom arguably played a much more important role in the later stories than Leia herself). There are some similarities to the new Disney era, such as Leia quitting politics to go fight. However, she is a character that could and has been improved by being reinvented a little.

Princess of Alderaan largely deals with how Leia first became involved with the Rebel Alliance. Leia is just as spunky and headstrong as Carrie Fisher originally portrayed her. While still inexperienced, being only 16 years old, Leia is a remarkably intelligent young woman. Claudia Grey touches on all of these traits, writing the character as well as George Lucas originally did. Along with Leia herself, Claudia Grey does just as good of a job with other iconic characters such as Leia’s father Bail Organa and Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is very much Leia’s coming of age story, showing the point where she begins to become a hero. Being a Young Adult novel does make it a bit lighter in tone than other Star Wars books. Nonetheless, we do see tensions and the characters are put in real danger both physically and politically. In the beginning the Rebel Alliance was walking on a tightrope; one slip-up and the Empire would have crushed them. Like Rogue One, the story ends with a message of hope even though readers already know the fate of Alderaan.

December 10, 2017

Phasma

Published Post author

Star Wars: Phasma Book Cover Star Wars: Phasma
Star Wars
Delilah S. Dawson
Sci-fi
Del Rey
September 1, 2017
Hardcover
381

Discover Captain Phasma’s mysterious history in this “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” novel.

One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins—and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.

 

Phasma (the character) was one of the more lackluster bits of The Force Awakens. The promotional material all made her look really cool, but the film itself did not really see her doing much. First, we see her leading the assault at the start of the film. Then nothing for most of the movie. Suddenly towards the end, she (who is supposed to be a badass mind you) is taken hostage by an ex-janitor and forced to lower Starkiller Base’s shields. We did not even get to see Gwendoline Christie; Phasma has her helmet on the whole film. So, this book was really a good opportunity to flesh out Phasma’s character.

This book really did not do a lot to flesh out Phasma’s character. The hope was that she would be a lot like Boba Fett. In the original Star Wars movies, Boba Fett did not do much. He tracks down Han and Leia and then gets killed by a blind guy. But he looked really cool, so the old Expanded Universe turned him into a badass. Phasma, unfortunately, did not get the same treatment in her own story.

Overall, Phasma is just not that interesting of a character. She is a hardcore survivalist who will do whatever it takes, truly caring for only herself. And…that is kind of it. If anything, Phasma herself was the least interesting character in the novel. Everyone else seems to have intricate motivations whereas hers is a generic “stay alive and be powerful”. She has no morality and just that one simple rule: survive. The book could have been half as long as it is and the same message would have still gotten across. With her character being so simple the book does not even feel like it is really about Phasma.

Despite the end result being lackluster, the book is well written. Delilah Dawson knew what she was doing but it seemed like there were too many limits put down by Disney. Despite this book being part of “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, it did not seem to have anything to do with the new movie. It even takes place before The Force Awakens, not after it. If you want a summary of Phasma’s character, you are better off reading the Phasma comic books. They actually do take place after Episode VII, get the same message across about Phasma’s character, and take a lot less time to read.

December 3, 2017

The Wraith

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Poster for the movie "The Wraith"

The Wraith

He's not from around here...

19861 h 33 min
Overview

Packard Walsh and his motorized gang control and terrorize an Arizona desert town where they force drivers to drag-race so they can 'win' their vehicles. After Walsh beats the decent teenager Jamie Hankins to death after finding him with his girlfriend, a mysterious power creates Jake Kesey, an extremely cool motor-biker who has a car which is invincible. Jake befriends Jamie's girlfriend Keri Johnson, takes Jamie's sweet brother Bill under his wing and manages what Sheriff Loomis couldn't; eliminate Packard's criminal gang the hard way...

Metadata
Director Mike Marvin
Runtime 1 h 33 min
Release Date 21 November 1986
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Not bad

The Wraith came onto my radar a few weeks ago when I was in the mood for an 80’s movie. I called my dad (an 80’s trivia guru) and asked for a recommendation. He said “The Wraith” so here we are. If what you are looking for is a 1980’s b-movie, this film excels. It was not something that was trying to win any awards but is just an overall fun film. The Wraith is a good popcorn movie for those times when you want to sit and watch something without really paying attention.

Most of the acting in the film is pretty campy but it feels intentional. A lot of the actors in here are capable of bigger and better things, as their careers have shown. Young Charlie Sheen is a main character here and honestly, it took me half the film to recognize him. Partially because of how young he is, but mostly because this is the soberest I have ever seen him. Nick Cassavetes (director of films such as The Notebook) also stars in here; The Wraith was actually his first film. The leading lady of this title is Sherilyn Fenn, well known for the cult TV series Twin Peaks. These actors all have real talent, but the writing is still very 80’s b-movie. Good guys are extremely good while the bad guys seem to look up to Biff from Back to the Future as a personal hero.

For what The Wraith is, the film’s action sequences are pretty good. There is a lot of racing involved and real cars were used in lieu of close-ups of Hot Wheels. Nor is the film plagued by effects where a car hits a pebble and somehow explodes 150’ into the air. The movie really screams 1980’s too, from the soundtrack to the costume designs to the photography. Is The Wraith on par with 80’s classics like The Terminator or The Goonies? Of course not. Is it Charlie Sheen’s best work? Obviously no, everyone knows that is Hot Shots. But if you want a movie that kicks ass and chews bubblegum then that’s…well, that’s actually They Live, another fantastic 80’s movie. But the point is, The Wraith is a good flick for just kicking back and chilling one evening.

November 26, 2017

Overlord, Vol. 5: The Men of the Kingdom Part I

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Overlord, Vol. 5: The Men of the Kingdom Part I Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 5: The Men of the Kingdom Part I
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
September 19, 2017 (English); December 28, 2013 (Japanese)
Hardcover
272

In the kingdom of Re-Estize, a sinister organization known as the Eight Fingers holds sway of the criminal underworld. Ainzs orders Sebas to infiltrate the capital to gather intel on this shadowy group sucking the marrow from the kingdom's bones. At the same time, a young soldier named Climb struggles to hone his skills to better serve the "Golden Princess" while the once great warrior Brian returns home a broken man... Against the backdrop of an ancient city fraying at its edges, three men will challenge the corruption of the vicious Eight Fingers!

 

This review will contain some spoilers for the previous Overlord light novels.

The Men in the Kingdom Part 1 is a bit tricky to review since it is only half a story. By and large, this book feels more like it is just getting things ready for the next one. While it is true that nothing too crazy happens, there are some other key points to the novel. Aside from the set-up for Part II, this story does a lot for world building and character development in Overlord.

It has been clearly established that Ainz and his minions are all-powerful compared to the other inhabitants of this world. If their goal was simply to raze everything to the ground they could do so, easily. But Ainz works on the assumption that there are powers that could threaten them in this world. To that end he attempts to gather information and that sets up our world-building. This novel focuses on Sebas and Solution gathering information in the capital city of the nearest country. Their actions allow us readers to see what everyday life is like in this world for human civilians.

World-building and character development are a bit linked here, with a few regular human characters introduced. We meet the princess of the kingdom, her loyal bodyguard, one of the few groups of the highest-ranking adventurers, and revisit Brain (the warrior who fought Shalltear in volume 3). For the main characters, this book focuses on Sebas. Seeing each of Ainz’s top people get their own story is fantastic; many other series would just turn at least some of them into background characters. Sebas himself is also interesting because he is one of the inherently good denizens of Nazarick. He will follow his orders, but will also try to do the honorable thing within the boundaries of those orders.

Overall this book was enjoyable, but again it is only half of a story. The stopping point for this novel did feel pretty good. There is a little bit of a cliffhanger to tease audiences, but it is done in a fun way. Given how much this book felt like set-up, Men in the Kingdom Part II will probably be action packed. That is not to say it is not interesting to see the characters maneuver through politics as well as battlefields. And there is a bit of fighting in this book, just nothing over the top. But Men in the Kingdom Part I definitely gives the sense that there is a greater battle to come.

November 19, 2017

Forbidden

Published Post author

Forbidden Book Cover Forbidden
Feather Stone
Fiction
Romance Under Fire
December 1, 2016
Paperback
363

Gunfire echoes within the walls of a Middle East police compound. Screams of terror are brutally silenced. Police captain Hashim Sharif captures one survivor. Soon Eliza MacKay will wish she had died with her companions.

The vile act of terrorism is covered-up. Sharif becomes the reluctant keeper of his city's bloody secret - and the witness, MacKay. His corrupt superiors have a gun rammed against his skull. Disloyalty to the mayor will be rewarded with being buried alive.

Whatever the cost, his government’s honor must be restored. Secretly, Sharif hunts forensic evidence. Who is responsible for the murder of fifteen American volunteers? And, why did MacKay lie about her identity? He can’t trust her. Her mental illness is going to get both of them killed.

When he receives orders to dispose of MacKay, his Muslim faith is tested. Murder an innocent in cold blood? He will suffer Allah's eternal wrath.

CIA Agent Hutchinson has the lying Sharif in his cross hairs. Sharif dodges the agent’s traps almost as easily as the hitman on his tail. When Sharif discovers the shocking truth, he loses all hope of survival.

What is worth dying for? Perhaps it’s not bringing a madman to justice. Could it be saving the life of a woman who kick-started his numb heart? On the knife edge of risk, Sharif plots an act most forbidden and fatal.

 

Forbidden was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Forbidden is one of those novels that does not really fit into any one category. It has elements of thriller, romance, mystery, crime, drama, and politics but none of those really fit on their own. That largely contributes to what makes the book feel so real; there are slices from various aspects of life. Another big factor was having this in the near-future (30 years from now) without being too crazy. The technology we see if pretty much the same as today, no flying cars or anything like that.

The future world we see is really only different in a political sense. Most of the Middle East has combined into a republic, which serves as the setting for the novel. This does not mean everything is all well and good; the catalyst for the story is a terrorist attack. Some individuals do not like the new government and lash out similarly to real terrorist groups like ISIS. While they spend more time as a background element, politics are crucial to the story. Throughout Forbidden, it becomes apparent how one event can start a chain that could potentially destabilize an entire region.

Characterization is also key for a story like Forbidden and the two main characters here were great. Captain Sharif, our main male character, is a good man in a bad situation. He loves his country and respects law and order. Sharif is a faithful man who becomes uncertain when his orders clash against his morality. He knows he is damned in life if he does not follow the orders and damned in death if he commits these sins. It is a difficult situation and showcases what happens when a good man goes to war.

Eliza is our leading lady and makes for a fantastic half of the protagonist duo. She is a strong woman but has been through immeasurable grief that broke her. While she did manage to put herself back together the cracks are still there, and this new tragedy tests her. She spends most of Forbidden scared but also brave. Eliza is smart and has a powerful survival instinct, but she is also emotional and afraid. The scars left by her PTSD are a large part of her character and make her very real.

Overall, Forbidden strikes me as a 3.5 out of 5. We will round that up to 4 because a flat 3 seems too low to do it justice. If you are looking for a suspenseful book with flair of action and a splash of romance, Forbidden is a good choice.

November 12, 2017

Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad

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Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad Book Cover Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad
Star Wars
Christie Golden
Sci-fi
Del Rey
July 25, 2017
Hardcover
304

The Rebellion may have heroes like Jyn Erso and Luke Skywalker. But the Empire has Inferno Squad.

After the humiliating theft of the Death Star plans and the resulting destruction of the battle station, the Empire is on the defensive. In response to this stunning defeat, the Imperial Navy has authorized the formation of an elite team of soldiers, known as Inferno Squad. Their mission: infiltrate and eliminate the remnants of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans. Following the death of their leader, the Partisans have carried on his extremist legacy, determined to thwart the Empire—no matter what the cost. Now, Inferno Squad must prove their status as the best of the best and take down the Partisans from within. But as the danger intensifies and the threat of discovery grows, how far will Inferno Squad go to ensure the safety of the Empire?

 

Inferno Squad serves as the prequel to the video game Star Wars Battlefront II, focusing on Imperial special forces soldiers. This novel fills the same role that Twilight Company did for the previous Battlefront game but has a few differences. The first Battlefront did not have a story mode so the characters were mostly generic Rebel soldiers. Battlefront II will have a plot, spanning from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens. Inferno Squad is the precursor to that game, taking place in-between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. As such, the characters can be developed a bit further but only to a degree.

The members of Inferno Squad are shown in their first mission, christening the new Imperial black ops team. In the new Disney canon, the villain books have all been pretty good. Lords of the Sith, Tarkin, and Thrawn all did an excellent job of highlighting characters. But these characters had advantages the members of Inferno Squad do not. Tarkin, Thrawn, Vader, and Palpatine were all prominent characters in the old canon, cementing many of their character traits. Inferno Squad is a brand-new group of characters who must remain very Imperial over the course of the novel.

Sympathizing with the bad guys is hard. The aforementioned villains are all interesting for their own reasons. Palpatine is irredeemably evil, Vader has a tragic backstory, Tarkin equivalates ruthless with stability, and Thrawn is a tactical genius. The Inferno Squad members do genuinely believe in the Empire but more by their upbringing than due to personal qualities. Christie Golden could not do too much with them when they still need to be rigid Imperials for Battlefront II. It did help that the rebels they were fighting were more terrorists than heroes but they are still bland.

Other villains work because they are leaders who do not really care about morality. The members of Inferno Squad somehow convince themselves that genocide can be for the greater good, eating into Imperial propaganda. While Inferno Squad does not seem necessary to Star Wars fans overall, it will likely make Battlefront II more enjoyable (like the effect Catalyst had for viewers of Rogue One). It seemed odd for a book connected to shooter game like Battlefront to be about an undercover spy mission. Prioritizing characterization over action scenes is not necessarily bad but it just did not seem to fit with the game. For non-hardcore Star Wars or Battlefront fans, Inferno Squad can probably be skipped.

November 5, 2017

Movie Monsters: Halloween Special Edition

Published Post author

Movie Monsters: Halloween Special Edition Book Cover Movie Monsters: Halloween Special Edition
Various
Horror
Conde Nast
September 2017
Magazine
95

Just in time for Halloween, Condé Nast Presents Movie Monsters is a comprehensive guide to zombies, werewolves, vampires, serial killers, mutants, Godzilla, King Kong, and other creatures native and alien in popular culture. It will feature the 50 essential movie monsters, along with compelling sidebars and interviews with the filmmakers. Packed with intense photos, it promises to be a spooky keepsake no true horror fan will want to live without.

 

Instead of a movie this month, we will be reviewing a special Halloween magazine about horror movie monsters.

Movie Monsters is a Halloween themed magazine that features articles from several publications owned by Conde Nast. Vanity Fair, GQ, The New Yorker, and Wired all have articles that appear in this special edition. The magazine itself is broken into five sections, each focusing on a different type of horror film.

First, we have Big Beasties, centralizing on King Kong before talking about other giant monster (kaiju) movies. The main article, The Monkey and the Metaphor, comes from Vanity Fair. Keep that in mind. Most of the article talks about how Kong, from the original film to the new Skull Island, is a symbol of oppression. As an ape he symbolizes racism and as a male he symbolizes sexism. Or, you know, he is a giant freaking monkey. Yeah, you can call Kong discriminatory but with enough arguing, you could claim that about anything, like a refrigerator. Most other films in this section have small tidbits about them but a lot of the greats are included. Films such as Tremors, Them!, and Jaws are all mentioned. Plus a top 10 list for Godzilla monsters from Wired (they really scraped the bottom of the barrel for some of those choices).

Section two is titled It Came From Somewhere Else and deals with aliens. Namely the film, Alien. Unfortunately, this is another Vanity’s Fair article. They describe H. R. Giger’s monster as “phallic, vaginal, biomechanical artwork”. The fine folks at Vanity Fair seem to spend a lot of time with their minds in the gutter (hiring requirement?). The other smaller sections are fine, little blips dealing with films like Predator, Day of the Triffids, and Starship Troopers.

Very Superstitious deals with supernatural films, starting with an article about Guillermo del Toro. Taken from The New Yorker, the article was very informative and discusses his start as a young filmmaker as well as the making of Pan’s Labyrinth. The other article here is from Vanity Fair and talks about The Exorcist. This Vanity Fair article is fairly normal (thank god) and also focuses on Father Gabriele Amorth, a real exorcist. A third article here also highlights the recent film The Babadook (one of the scariest films in recent years). There are also small sections featuring details about the film Poltergeist and an interview with a scary clown for hire (linked with the recent remake of Stephen King’s IT).

The fourth section, Almost Human, deals with more human monsters like Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The articles here are broader, focusing on types of movies rather than specific films. The first deals with werewolves while the second highlights zombie films, particularly Night of the Living Dead. A few other sections feature blips of films like Nosferatu and it wraps up with a section about Freddy Krueger.

Lastly, you have The Evil That Men do and there was no better way to start than with Hannibal Lecter. While subsequent works have been not so great, no one will ever forget Anthony Hopkins performance in Silence of the Lambs. This section also features an interview with Jordan Peele about his film Get Out (this could have been the best horror movie of 2017 if not for IT). The rest of the magazine deals with the classic slashers of the 70s and 80s: Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface.

Overall this was a good little compilation. Nothing groundbreaking was in here, but there are a few things that even longtime horror fans might not know. Especially for those of us who are not regular magazine readers. If you are looking to kill an afternoon before Halloween, pick up a copy of this.

October 29, 2017

State of Emergency

Published Post author

State of Emergency Book Cover State of Emergency
Mary Hallberg
Young Adult
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
August 5, 2017
Paperback
158

17-year-old Dallas Langdon is fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter.

Dallas has always loved zombie movies. But when she catches a real live (erm, dead) musician eating a man’s intestines backstage after the show, she knows her movies have become a reality. And what do characters in zombie movies do? Seek shelter. Fortunately, Dallas's eccentric uncle owns a farmhouse in Chattanooga, an eight hour drive from New Orleans. It’s on top of a steep mountain, surrounded by electric fences, and cut off from the worlds of the living and the dead.

Dallas’s parents, still safe at home, laugh at her idea over the phone. Her friends only agree to join her because it’s fall break and they could use a mini vacation anyway.

But then Dallas’s best friend is killed by a zombie horde when they’re attracted to her ringing cell phone. Civilians think their reanimated loved ones simply have the flu, leaving them alive (well, undead) and rapidly increasing the zombies ranks. And since minors can’t buy guns, Dallas’s only weapon is a giant industrial pizza cutter she swipes from a gas station. George A. Romero never mentioned anything like this. With one friend dead and no zombie survival guides to help her, Dallas and her friends must get to Chattanooga before joining the ranks of the undead themselves.

 

State of Emergency was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

State of Emergency finds itself in the zombie sub-genre and that is a tricky place to be. There are only a few routes you can go with a zombie story, basically during the outbreak and after it. This is a during the outbreak story; think more Night of the Living Dead or Shaun of the Dead and less 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. In recent years, zombies have been popular for horror stories and are a topic that has been done to death. Thankfully, State of Emergency stays a lot fresher than members of the legions of the undead.

At only 158 pages, State of Emergency is a very short book. With that in mind, there was not a ton of page space for character development. That is not to say it is not there and what we do get is good for the book’s length. A small group of teenagers realize everything is going to hell in a handbasket while everyone else is in denial. One of the reasons this story works is because it feels very much like a real-world scenario.

The spread of the zombie virus starts in small, poor communities and largely goes unnoticed by the rest of society. By the time well-off people (and world leaders) realize, “Hey, this is a problem,” it is too late. The infection has already spread far and wide while people think it is a hoax and gears of politics turn too slowly to contain the situation. A big thing that State of Emergency gets right is the emotional dilemma of a zombie outbreak. Even when people become zombies, family and friends will tell themselves they are just sick and will get better. Most people are not going to shrug and shoot grandma in the head because she starts acting a little cannibalistic.

Because State of Emergency was a short book the story almost plays out like a movie. There is only X amount of time for character development and it kind of jumps from scene to scene. Many things in the story are also left open-ended, including the finale. There could easily be a sequel, but it reads fine stand-alone too. The only thing I do not 100% understand is the axe on the cover. The main character fights off zombies with a pizza cutter, not an axe. But I suppose a bloody pizza cutter just is not as intimidating for a cover (or is it?).

October 22, 2017

The Execution (The Wintergrave Chronicles #1)

Published Post author

The Execution Book Cover The Execution
The Wintergrave Chronicles
Sharon Cramer
Historical Fiction
B & F Publishing
February 14, 2012
Paperback
356

Book 1 of the Wintergrave Chronicles:

Parallel lives are fated to collide in The Execution, a medieval thriller, dark adventure, and tragic love story set in fourteenth century France.

A young priest enters the prison cell of a condemned mercenary and is shocked to see the face of this murderer is his own—a mirror image of himself. Unknown to each other until now, the twins form a bond of brotherhood, sealed with their darkest secrets. But with only hours until the execution, the priest begins to question which man should truly be condemned. Should it be the ruthless killer—a boy from an orphanage who suffered the unimaginable—or himself, the man of God whose own tormented desires ended in tragedy? As the sun rises, the young priest knows what he must do. Only one man will die…but two men will be free.

 

The Execution was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of The Execution is pretty interesting; twin brothers separated at childhood reunited under strange circumstances. Ravan, sold into the life of a mercenary, is set to be executed the next morning for murder. D’ata, raised in the priesthood and sent to give last confession to the convicted. Separated by the Black Death in 14th century France, the brothers learn of each other’s life stories.

Having the story told from two different perspectives, over two different lifetimes, made The Execution a unique story. It jumps back and forth between the two, so we see each brother’s story at the same point in time. Ravan’s story follows his start as a boy with a penchant for survival to life as a slave mercenary. These portions of the book are filled with action and adventure. Some parts feel more like a fantasy novel with Ravan’s unnatural skills, being almost superhuman in the feats he performs. Ravan’s story is both exciting and sad, showing how even demons will run when a good man goes to war.

D’ata’s portion of The Execution is a story of romance. Left on the steps of a church, he is raised into the priesthood by a rich family. His new family caring more for prestige than love, D’ata’s suffering is more emotional where Ravan’s was primarily physical. Falling head over heels for a young farmgirl, D’ata finds his faith tested between familial bonds and true love. These portions of the story were not as action-packed, but still exciting in their own way. There was not as much physical danger so much as the sense of loss D’ata and his love will feel. Of the two brothers, D’ata’s ending also felt more satisfying (though that could change in the rest of the trilogy).

Despite the lives of Ravan and D’ata being very different, there are common themes between the two. Both brothers are forced into lives they neither chose nor wanted. Both will find true families in people they trust, not necessarily those who raise them. Both will experience love and loss on their life paths. And both will end up in the dungeon the morning before the execution, telling their stories and pondering their fates. The dynamic woven between two different genres makes The Execution a fantastic read and shows how different lives can intertwine.

October 15, 2017