Star Wars Legends: Revan

Overview

Revan was written by Drew Karpyshyn, who was part of the team that developed Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic. The novel continues Revan’s story, providing linking material between KotOR 1 and 2, shows what happened to Revan and The Exile (Meetra) after KotOR 2, and provides background on the Old Republic MMO.

Cover for the Revan novel

Story:  9

Revan is divided into two parts. Part 1 shows why Revan vanished between KotOR 1 and 2, and largely portrays events Revan’s search for Mandalore’s helmet and the elevation of Canderous Ordo to the title of Mandalore. These events were mentioned in KotOR 2. However, Revan’s secondary motivation is to discover a planet covered in storms, a planet that he saw in his dreams. But along with Revan’s story, we meet Lord Scourge, a Sith assigned to protect Darth Nyriss, a member of the Sith Dark Council. Scourge prefers actions to talk and politics, which is unfortunate since he is quickly manipulated into an insurrection against the Sith Emperor, who Nyriss believes will one day destroy all life in the galaxy in order to ensure his continued rule. Agreeing that the Emperor is insane, Scourge joins the insurrection. Eventually, they capture Revan.

Part 2 of the novel takes place after KotOR 2, and deals with Meetra’s search and rescue of Revan. In the end, Scourge, Meetra, and Revan find themselves working toward a common cause: assassinating the Sith Emperor.

From what I have seen, this novel has been divisive. While people tend to enjoy part 1, part 2 has been criticized for retconning Revan and Malak’s turn to the Dark Side. And yes, this novel does indeed retcon their change. This was fair game, however, as we never saw where Revan and Malak went in the Outer Rim beyond finding the Star Forge, and the Exile started off for the Outer Rim to search for Revan after KotOR 2. According to the Wikipedia article for KotOR 2, the planned third game would have dealt with the Exile encountering Ludo Kresh’s faction of the Sith, the group that didn’t side with Naga Sadow’s plan to invade the Republic. While Revan doesn’t go with this original story, it does play on the idea of a Sith Empire remnant, and it embraces the idea that the Sith Emperor saw Sadow’s defeat, and decided the Republic was too strong to attack. Instead, he decided to bide his time, and later corrupted Revan and Malak in an attempt to see if the Republic had weakened. When the two fallen Jedi did not return, he decided to continue waiting.

While I know this annoyed many fans of Revan, I enjoyed the attempt to bring resolution to Revan and Meetra’s story. (A story I know is dealt with further in the Shadow of Revan expansion for The Old Republic. I’ll get there eventually). This story may not have been the one Bioware or Obsidian would have told at the time, but it did juggle the pieces well. And since I read this novel while I was also playing KotOR 2, I was impressed with how well they fit together.

Characters:  8

Yet another area in which this novel is divisive, fleshing out somewhat blank-slate character that gamers were able to inhabit can be tricky. While Revan and The Exile have back stories, the emphasis of both games was that their pasts didn’t matter; who they are as player characters matters. Add to that the question of Revan’s gender, and polarization can occur. So what is Revan’s gender? There was a line early in KotOR 2 where Kreia mentioned Revan being female. There is a dialogue option that says, “I heard Revan was a man” or something to that effect. I think it was a clever addition on the developers’ part to do this since it allows players the option of continuity between the two games. Later in the game, Mandalore referred to Revan as male, and I assumed that was influenced by the dialogue choice early in the game. But does this make Revan male or female? I don’t know if Bioware or Obsidian had given a definitive answer to that question until this novel.

That said, I like that they alternated gender. I really enjoyed the Exile’s story more, and I was thrilled that she became a major character in the second part. I also liked that T7 and Canderous appeared. I was disappointed that Bastilla didn’t play a larger role and that the other characters didn’t appear. For example, what happened to Atton? He and the Exile headed off into the Outer Rim at the end of their game, and he didn’t get so much as a mention in the novel.

But the characters we got were good. I liked how Nyriss played Scourge. I also enjoyed Sechel and the exploration for how Sith with almost no Force sensitivity could use manipulation and deceit to move up the ranks. But what really impressed me was how Karpyshyn orchestrated Revan, Meetra, and Scourge’s team up. He did a great job of unifying them in a common cause and of showing Scourge’s musings of the Jedi and their philosophy of the Force. No, they were never going to be friends, but at the very least, Scourge grew to respect their differences so long as they had a common cause. In the end, Scourge’s decision when they faced the Emperor made sense according to his journey. In a way, his ending is as tragic as the others. It reminded me a bit of Paul Atreides’ decision in Dune: what is the best of the bad scenarios?

I would have liked more about the Sith Emperor himself, but I think that will have to wait until The Old Republic. (My character is probably nowhere near meeting the Sith Emperor. So far, I have a Jedi Knight and a Sith Agent characters in Chapter 1 and the Prologue, respectively.)

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

As far as I can tell, it was trying to set up SWTOR while bringing some amount of closure to the KOTOR games.

Was it successful in doing it?

Somewhat. I think some fans will say no, but it fit well enough with what was set up in the games. I would have liked to see more of the characters from the games, but the leads were covered. And the way this novel ended probably didn’t help people like this one more.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Yes, as I’m always up for seeing the Old Republic era in the new canon.

Style: 8

Karpyshyn is a good writer. His prose is clear and easy to follow. I liked how different chapters were from the third-person perspective of the character they followed. Thus, we gained information as Scourge, Revan, or Meetra gained it. It was fun when the chapters switched between Scourge and Revan while Revan was imprisoned. We got to see how each manipulated the other. The book is a quick read, too. I look forward to the next SW book by Karpyshyn, and I may check out some of his non-SW books.

Personal Enjoyment: 9

I really enjoyed this one. I read it as I played KOTOR 2, so everything was fresh in my mind. I think the book supplemented the game quite well. I didn’t mind the retconning, probably because KOTOR was just okay for me. But I enjoyed getting some small amount of closure to those stories (until I get to Shadow of Revan, which will hopefully resolve more). I also can’t wait to journey further into the SWTOR era through the books, comics, and game.

Final Rating: 8.4/10

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Overview

Lost Stars is by Claudia Gray, and it is the first Star Wars young adult romance novel. I was apprehensive about picking this up when I first saw it. I don’t remember hearing about it when the Journey to the Force Awakens line was announced. But word of mouth has been positive. In fact, word of mouth has largely been that Aftermath, the “adult” novel set after Return of the Jedi in the new canon was a disappointment and that Lost Stars is the novel we had all been waiting for. I haven’t read Aftermath, so I can’t judge this, but I do know of its reputation. I’ll get there soon enough.

Lost Stars Cover

Story:  7

Lost Stars is about Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Both are from the planet Jelucan. Thane is an aristocrat and Ciena is more of a peasant villager. Their positions in society would normally keep them apart, but they bond over their love of flying. When they were young, they met (and impressed) Wilhuf Tarkin. Both dream of joining the Imperial Academy. They spend their youth training with the Kyrell V-171. They eventually join the Academy, they become star pupils, and they each have promising careers ahead of them. Well, until the Death Star and Alderaan. After Alderaan, Thane finds his loyalty shaken. Ciena’s loyalty is shaken as well, but the loss of innocent Imperial lives (and friends) at the hands of Rebel terrorists ultimately strengthens her resolve. Soon, the childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the galactic conflict and struggling with their growing feelings toward one another. In all, a very personal story played out on the galactic scope we have seen in Star Wars. Everything culminates in the Battle of Jakku, the final stand of the Empire against the Rebels.

While the story is well told, it shines with the new material: the Jelucani culture, the experience of the Imperial Academy, Thane’s time on the crew of The Mighty Oak, and the Battle of Jakku. But I confess I lost interested when the novel covered episodes from the original trilogy. Sometimes it seemed like Thane or Ciena were doing things just off camera. Ciena disabled the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon on Bespin; Thane was a soldier who investigated the abandoned Rebel base on Dantooine. It put me in mind of some Lord of the Rings video games where your character is part of the B-Team, having the same experiences as the leads, though of slightly less importance. This can be fun, but I think I have grown weary of it. So much of the emphasis in Star Wars right now is on the Imperial/Rebellion era. This feels like the Star Wars galaxy is shrinking. But this is also why I enjoyed the moments that took us to new places. I’m eager to see this new era of Star Wars build the canon, not give fans more of the same.

Characters:  8

Ciena and Thane are memorable and distinct. Because Gray goes deep into their heads and emotions, we get a lot of information about who they are and what motivates them. I enjoyed Gray’s perspective on why someone would continue to support the Empire after Alderaan. She created Imperial characters that were not evil or corrupted by Sith. These were people in conflict with their personal ideologies and trying to find a way to remain faithful to their beliefs even when evidence challenged that. This is a very human struggle. And since the Empire as portrayed in the original trilogy was not based in religion or mysticism, this had to be a secular struggle.

But along with Ciena and Thane, many of the secondary characters are good. We meet people who are killed in the first Death Star. We see how an Alderaanian officer responds and copes with his loss. We meet new friends and old, and all the characterization seem to fit.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Lost Stars tried to be an entertaining, YA Star Wars novel while shining new light on what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yeah, I would say so. I can’t speak for where it ranks in the YA romance genre, but it was largely entertaining.

Was this a good Journey to the Force Awakens?

Yes and no. Again, where we covered old ground, I was less engaged, but I enjoyed learning about the Battle of Jakku. Even more, I enjoyed seeing some of the power struggle after the Emperor’s death. There was good stuff in these sections, though far too little.

Style: 8

Gray’s style is immensely readable. I only had two complaints: the font (not her fault) and a few places where transitions weren’t clear. This may have been an editing issue. While we spend far more time in characters’ heads and emotions than I was accustomed to for a Star Wars novel, this is likely due to YA conventions. Regardless, this book can probably be read over a couple of days, despite being over 500 pages.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

As stated before, the parts of this novel I didn’t enjoy as much were the “behind the black” moments, the moments where this novel takes place just off camera of the original trilogy. I would have preferred more post-Jedi content, but what we got was good. And I really enjoyed the moments on Jeluca and with The Mighty Oak crew. Lost Stars isn’t my favorite of the new novel in the canon, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

Overview

Heir to the Jedi is a canon Star Wars novel by Kevin Hearne. It takes place after Star Wars: A New Hope and follows Luke Skywalker as he goes on two missions: meeting with Rodian arms dealers and smuggling an Imperial code-breaker out of Imperial employ. Joining him on this mission is Nakari Kelen, a pilot who is the daughter of the founder of Kelen Biolab and a liaison between her father and the Rebel Alliance. She is also Luke’s love interest in this book.

From what I read in my extremely brief research on this novel, it was originally part of the Empire & Rebellion series of novels that is now part of the Legends line. I guess Hearne lucked out.

Also, the novel is in first person, told from Luke’s point of view.

Heir to the Jedi cover

Character: 5

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I think the first-person perspective hurts the book a bit because I never quite felt Hearne captured Luke’s voice. This is the risk an author takes when using an established and popular character from a franchise and writing from his or her perspective. Maybe if the narrative was third person, Luke would have come across as plausible, but since we spend the entire novel in his head, it never quite worked for me. I realize that the Luke of this novel is the wide-eyed idealist of A New Hope, but the characterization just felt off for most of the novel.

The new characters of Nakari Kelen and Drusil were interesting and distinct. Nakari, however, had a major flaw in that she had never appeared in another Star Wars story, yet it was clear that she was influential to Luke’s journey. Teachers in Star Wars don’t fare well. From the moment she became important (well, from the moment she was introduced) I figured she would either die or be outed as a traitor, thus leaving Luke with the baggage of betrayal. The latter option would have been the more interesting one, and could have been explored in more stories set between Hope and Empire. Unfortunately, this was not the option the story took.

Story: 6

Similar to Tarkin, the story is a bit light. There are two distinct parts to the novel: the arms deal and the smuggling. I thought the arms deal was interesting in that is showed an aspect of the Rebellion that would have been a real need: supplies. It’s a strange Star Wars novel where the administration and organization of the Rebel Alliance is the more ground-breaking material. But along with that, the arms deal led Luke to investigate a shrine to a long-dead Jedi master on Rodia. I guess I’m just a sucker for pilgrimage in any form because I enjoyed Luke’s brief interlude to the gravesite and his internal uncertainty of what it means to be a Jedi and use the Force, questions for which he has precious few answers with Obi-Wan’s too-short tutelage. While these ideas recurred throughout the novel, most of the time they were addressed with Nakari being generally encouraging. While this wasn’t particularly satisfying to me, I guess it emphasizes the degree to which the Empire had purged access to information on the Jedi.

Vision: 4/10

What was it trying to do?

Apart from showing how Luke started to develop his skills in the Force without a teacher, I’m not sure.

Was it successful in doing it?

If I’m not sure about what it was going for, then it didn’t succeed for me.

Relevance to New Canon?

This story is the most disposable story of the few I’ve read. If I’m correct in my assessment of the main point of the story, I don’t think it was needed. It doesn’t add to or take away from my experience of Star Wars. This is mildly annoying because when the word “canon” is invoked, an authenticity and importance is imparted on the work. Perhaps unfairly, “canon” causes my expectations to rise. Given how many amazing novels are in the Legends line, anything that isn’t significantly above average feels like a letdown. It’s unfair to Hearne that his novel could be held up to any of Timothy Zahn’s novels as an argument for the superiority of the Legends line. This is unfair because, first of all, Hearne isn’t Zahn and no one should expect him to be, and, second, there are some Legends novels that I think rank well below Heir to the Jedi. Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi is placed early in the Canon line (from a publication standpoint) when many people are ravenous for Star Wars content in the lead-up to The Force Awakens. I read Heir to the Jedi after TFA, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed in my search for clues. But I also wonder what in this novel might have important in the new canon:

  • A New Dawn was obvious in is telling of the Kanan and Hera’s first adventure.
  • Tarkin told us how Vader and Tarkin first worked together and reintroduced Tarkin to set up for his appearance in Rebels. It also showed us that the Rebel Alliance was still a long way off.
  • Heir to the Jedi showed us that Luke could use the Force to move a noodle.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

Ok, even though I think I’ve been a bit hard on the novel, I never actually came around to disliking it. Much like Tarkin, I never got tired of reading it. Unlike Tarkin, however, I rarely had moments of, “That was good.”

Style/Craft: 7

Very easy to follow, but again, I never really felt like I was reading the words and thoughts of Luke Skywalker. I’m not sure the first person perspective worked for this story since the voice didn’t feel right to me.

Final Rating: 5.6/10

Star Wars: A New Dawn

Overview

Star Wars: A New Dawn is the first novel released in the new Star Wars canon. When Disney acquired the Star Wars property, they decided to wipe the canon clean, leaving just the movies and the Clone Wars animated series. All the novels, comics, and video games were officially relegated to a “Legends” status. These were never officially a part of the Star Wars canon, but they existed in an “as good as” state. However, in an effort to streamline the continuity, Disney instituted the Star Wars Story Group, which now oversees all story content, from movies and television to novels and comics. Everything novel written since Star Wars: New Dawn is now canon

A New Dawn is written by John Jackson Miller, who wrote the Obi Wan novel and the Knights of the Old Republic comic, both of which are now part of the Legends continuity. A New Dawn tells the story of how Kenan and Hera, two characters from the Rebels animated series, first met. When I read the novel, I had not yet seen Rebels, so I went in to the story without any knowledge of who these two characters were.

star-wars-A-New-Dawn-cover
Star Wars: A New Dawn cover

Character: 7

This is a bit retrospect, but now that I’ve seen Rebels, I think Hera and Kenan were handled well. Since this takes place prior to that series, Kenan is a quite rough around the edges and trying to lay low since he was being trained as a Jedi before Order 66. He tries to avoid using the Force, but his Jedi training tugs at him. It is hard to lay low when your previous ideology (one that you have to hide out of necessity) compels you to fight injustice and help those in need. He is initially drawn to Hera because she is attractive. Hera eventually sees Kenan’s potential as a fighter, but she is resistant to his advances. She has a mission, and Hera is focused. Having seen the first season of Rebels, this fits quite well. These are the early days of the Rebel Alliance . . . so early that there really isn’t an alliance per se. There are disorganized resistance groups, one of which Hera is connected to, but we get few details beyond that.

There are two villains in the story: Captain Sloane, an Imperial captain who hopes to command her own Star Destroyer, and Count Vidian, an efficiency specialist who is ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes to make his rivals for the Emperor’s favor look bad—even if that means sacrificing human lives. Sloane is an interesting character. She gets her promotion after Vidian kills her commanding officer, but she then has to walk a dangerous path as Vidian is unpredictable and prone to outbursts. As for Vidian, I didn’t care for him as a villain. He seemed too stock for me, lacking nuance or any potentially redeeming characteristics. I suppose you could say, “Hey, this is Star Wars. It usually deals in black and white. It’s space opera, and you want nuance?” But this is also a novel, and it gives writers the opportunity to delve deeper into character and motivation. Vidian is just your typical evil character. He has no regard for human life, which in itself could be interesting if more was made of it and how he came to view life this way. He is part machine and he is prone to outbursts. Sounds familiar.

The cast is rounded out with Skelly, a miner turned terrorist, and Zaluna, an Imperial intelligence operative who monitors recordings and transmissions. They work well enough.

Story: 7

The story was a fairly typical Star Wars type story: rag-tag band of rebels, some less eager than others, who team up to take down the Empire. Though, in this case, it is just one Imperial operation run by a cybernetic madman. There are some stabs at social commentary, but the novel seems mainly focused on setting up Rebels (which had not debuted at publication), portraying the early days of the Empire when it is still consolidating and building power, and showing the infancy of the rebellion.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Again, set up Rebels, portray the rising power of the Empire and the early days of the rebellion. There’s not really much more than this.

Was it successful in doing it?

All-in-all, yes. We see the competition between power-players in the Empire. We see the desperation of ordinary people on the ground and the determination of people who would likely be instrumental in starting the Rebel Alliance.

Relevance to New Canon?

This novel fills in some of the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. You don’t need the story to enjoy the existing Star Wars movies, nor do you really need it to enjoy Rebels. I don’t think my understanding of any of the characters was affected by anything in this novel.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

My favorite part of the novel is after Kenan, Hera, Skelly, and Zaluna capture a transport bus. Zaluna realizes they need to deactivate the surveillance equipment in the bus. When questioned why a bus would have such equipment, Zaluna says that it wasn’t initially for spycraft. It was installed for advertising purposes, analyzing workers and what they liked to eat and drink, which would in turn be used to personalize advertising. When the business folded and the Empire rose, the equipment was put to different uses. I thought this was a clever bit of commentary given the constant monitoring that occurs online and the algorithms that track our online viewing and purchases to customize ads. The infrastructure is there.

Other than this section, however, I never really lost myself in the book. I was rarely engaged. I enjoyed Kenan but wasn’t very interested when he was not part of the narrative. I think I would have enjoyed this story as a comic book, but as a novel it was largely a miss for me. I don’t think it was a waste of time and money, but it isn’t one I will revisit unless I do a canon read-through, which I may well be nerdy enough to do one day.

Style/Craft: 8

As stated before, I think this would have been an excellent story for a comic book. I think some of the characterization would have worked better in comic form. (Not that comics need lack character depth; sometimes the art makes up for what the words don’t convey.) As a novel, it is fine. Jackson’s prose is good for the story he is telling, but I think I would have liked something a bit more gripping. Or a different medium entirely.

Final Rating: 7.2/10

Book Review: Jhereg

Cover for the Book of Jhereg omnibus
Source: Goodreads.com

Written by Steven Brust

Published by Ace Books

Motivation

A friend has been raving about Brust. He decided to loan me the omnibus of the same name. While I will read all of three of the books in the collection, this review only pertains to the first book.

The Pitch

Vlad Taltos is an assassin who has a fairly well off organization. However, he finds his position at risk when a council member for the House of Jhereg makes off with 9 million money units (my term). The council needs the thief taken out quickly, before anyone outside the council discovers the theft, else the House will find itself vulnerable. Unfortunately, the fastest way to kill the thief could also cause an incident between two Houses that have a fragile peace.

The Good

Brust did something I did not expect: He crafted a good mystery. The background and motivation of the thief made sense once Brust had built his world. I could follow the clues, and it felt gratifying to figure things out along with (or a page or two before) the characters. I didn’t expect a well-plotted mystery in this book, so that was a pleasant surprise.

The Bad

First person narration can be hit or miss. If you like the character, it is fun. If you don’t like the character, however, it can be tedious. I didn’t like Vlad as a character or a narrator. He wasn’t an unpleasant or despicable character; I just didn’t like him. I never believed him. He felt like a player character from a game, which is not what I’m looking for in novels. On some level, he fits a type of iconic hero trope in that he doesn’t really develop as a character. He is the same in the end as he was in the beginning. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it. As a result, spending 170+ pages in his head was not engaging. I was far more interested in other characters, such as Morrolan, The Demon, Aliera, and Sethra.

The Ugly

The idea of a wise-cracking, snarky assassin doesn’t sit well with me. Vlad comes across as someone for whom killing is a light thing. I am personally far more interested in the acknowledgement of how killing diminishes the individual or how it causes emotional pain. A character who comes across as carefree about killing as Vlad would not, I think, be as pleasant to be around. You could argue that with the reincarnation and revivification in this world, killing isn’t as traumatic, but I’m not entirely convinced. If it works for you, great, but it doesn’t for me.

Closing

I will continue on with the omnibus for two reasons: It was recommended by a friend and I want to see if Brust’s writing develops more. Although, it is sometimes hard to tell with first person narration if it is the author’s style or the character’s voice that is at play. Regardless, there is a good start with the main plot, but I would have preferred a third person narrative. The humor didn’t really work for me either. From a craft standpoint, I would give Jhereg a solid 3/5, but from a personal preference standpoint, I’d give it a 2.

A Dance with Dragons and Brief Thoughts on Identity

A Dance With Dragons cover
“A Dance With Dragons US” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A_Dance_With_Dragons_US.jpg#/media/File:A_Dance_With_Dragons_US.jpg

I made the mistake of finishing A Dance with Dragons this morning before church. The way George R. R. Martin ended this book left me in mild shock, which wasn’t helpful when interacting with people. I’m starting to wonder if support groups need to exist for people who finish Martin’s novels.

With the completion of this book, I am now caught up. With previous books, I was comforted by knowing I could pick up the next one at any time. Not so with book five of this series. Like everyone else who has been reading these novels, I must wait. I finally understand the anxiety of fans who fear Martin may die before he finishes the series. These books are brilliant, and I question if anyone can effectively weave the layers of plot, scandal, and characters the way Martin does. He is a master craftsman. I don’t begrudge him the time it takes to write these books. If the amount of time between books is what it takes to produce works of this quality, then I want him to have the time he needs. I just want the patron gods of literature to keep him alive and in good health long enough for him to finish.

One dynamic that impressed me in A Dance with Dragons was the concept of shifting identity. This concept was in A Feast for Crows to some extent, but I noticed it more fully in ADwD because of how many people had identity crises, experimentation: Reek, Arya, and Ser Barristan. Each of these characters had point-of-view chapters, as is the format of the series, but each of their POV chapters had a different name. Arya’s chapters were “The Blind Girl” and “The Ugly Little Girl,” Barristan’s chapters were “The Discarded Knight,” “The Kingbreaker,” and “The Queen’s Hand.” And I’ll avoid Reek’s chapters since I have at least one friend who hasn’t read this book and who may read this post. Suffice it to say, he also has multiple POV chapters with different names.

These three characters struggle with identity. They try to figure out who they are and what they are supposed to be, whether a knight who is trying to make the right decisions in uncertain circumstances, a young girl wanting revenge but who needs to abandon her identity so she can learn the skills necessary to enable that revenge (and letting go of the person who wanted revenge), and a man tortured and told to be someone he isn’t, but struggling to please his master while playing a role to enable his master to gain power. Martin signals with these three characters that identity is uncertain, but that it can be a cloak (or a skin-mask) that can be put on and taken off. In fact, rejection of a previous identity may be useful for progressing in a more positive, effective way.

In some ways, the Song of Ice and Fire series is an exploration of how children live in and shape the world their fathers created. The parents are systematically dying, leaving their children to determine who they are in this world. Should they embrace their family heritage and live up to what their fathers expected of them? Do they reject that heritage, becoming something else not connected to the heritage? Or do they take the positive parts of that heritage and emphasize those things, shaping a new legacy from the broken, old one. Much of the time, these characters are only responsible for the choices they make in the moment, whether they play the game of thrones or not. This isn’t a world that rewards compassion, honor, or duty, but neither does it reward deception, selfishness, and manipulation. All men (and women) die. What do those who are left behind choose to do?

I have no idea how Martin will end this series. I’m not sure what the endgame is. I have many theories, but they have never felt as uncertain as they do right now. Martin has proven that even if he overturns all my ideas, his ideas will fit with what he has created, and they will fit with everything he has written up to this point. I admire this author and I eagerly await The Winds of Winter.

Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible Part 3

Cover for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

In my continuing read through of Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, I hit chapter, which has some significant throwbacks to the early days of Doctor Who.

Chapter 4: Inside Information

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace are questioned by the police. The police are concerned about the Doctor’s well-being. Is he ill, drunk, having an emotional breakdown? Ace is aware of the surreal landscape morphing around them, and realizes that the police officers cannot see it. The Doctor insists that he just wants to get in his TARDIS, to get in the police box. Unfortunately, neither of the time travelers can enter the ship because the door keeps moving. The TARDIS has gone into self-defense mode as it attempts to keep something dangerous from entering. That includes the Doctor and Ace, unfortunately. Ace tries to get the police to find the door to the TARDIS, but that fails as well. She then tries to get the police to call UNIT to confirm the Doctor’s identity (and thus, sanity), but that fails as well since the police have never heard of UNIT. The Doctor theorizes the only way to find the TARDIS door with this particular defense mechanism is to happen upon it by accident, with no deliberate attempt or thought.

Then the TARDIS phone rings.

The Doctor answers it, confirms his identity, grabs Ace’s arm, and they are yanked into the TARDIS. From inside the TARDIS, they can hear a “scrabbling” sound. Something is just outside the door and it is trying to get in. The TARDIS scanner shows a normal Earth landscape, further reinforcing that the surreal images were put in their heads by the TARDIS as a warning. The fault locator registers everything as normal, which is good.

“Unless there’s a fault in the fault locator,” says the Doctor.

But the next clue they notice is that the door controls are gone, an empty space on the console. All the while, the scraping of claws on the door continues.

The Doctor decides to flush the creature out of the space between the TARDIS door and the dematerialized world. The Doctor searches through a trunk in the console room and pulls out the TARDIS manual. Pages have been consumed. The effects of the TARDIS’s defenses have caused time to echo. Basically, the creature hasn’t yet entered the TARDIS, but at the same time, it already has entered the TARDIS. As a result, the creature is both inside and outside the TARDIS at the same time. The Doctor fears it could be a datavore, a creature that consumes information and knowledge.

Then Ace notices that all the TARDIS coordinates are set for zero. The Doctor checks the console circuitry and sees the fluid links are malfunctioning. All power is being slowly drained away. The Doctor needs to find the secondary control room. Unfortunately, with the TARDIS malfunctioning like it is, the interior dimensions of the ship are uncertain. He gives Ace the TARDIS key and tells her to “trust us. Don’t leave home, Ace.” He then grabs a bicycle and rides off into the dark corridors of the TARDIS.

Commentary

This chapter had a strong vibe of “Edge of Destruction” to it. In that story, the TARDIS was malfunctioning because of a broken spring. The defense mechanism gave surreal clues to the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara. It even altered their perceptions. At one point the crew theorized that something had entered the ship and was influencing them. Platt seems to have taken that red herring and applied it as the actual threat here. He gives us some throwbacks to the First Doctor’s first season in this chapter: the fault locator, fluid link. Ace even mentions that the Doctor built the TARDIS, which echoes Susan from those early days of Doctor Who. It is a bit of an odd statement considering we know that the TARDIS is a piece of Gallifreyan technology. Does Ace not realize this? Is it a continuity error? Is it a result of the defense mechanism?

So, full confession: I’m not a big fan of “Edge of Destruction.” While David Whitaker is one of my favorite of Doctor Who’s early writers, EoD is probably my least favorite of his stories. Combine that with 1960s art-house surrealism, which I also don’t much care for, and you are left with a story that I am glad is mercifully short (two episodes). I love the ideas in it, I just don’t care for the journey.

And since this chapter draws so heavily from that story, I am just a bit ambivalent to it. Too much attempt to obscure, too slow at revealing things. It is odd that I’m engaging more with the chapters that don’t include the Doctor and Ace.

King Reads King Book 8: The Long Walk

Signet cover for The Long Walk

Where to Find It

Bookfinder.com

Blurb

In an ultraconservative America of the not-too-distant future when America has become a police state, the annual marathon is the ultimate sports competition. One hundred boys are selected each year to enter a grueling 450-mile marathon walk. The game is simple: maintain a steady walking pace of four miles per hour without stopping. Three warnings and your out—permanently. The winner will be awarded whatever he wants for the rest of his life; but a single misstep could be the last.

First Line

An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run.

I’m not sure when I realized that this story wouldn’t have a happy ending, but I figured it out pretty quick. It was probably when I learned that the book could be interpreted as an allegory for the Vietnam War. I figured King wouldn’t have happy things to say about the war. Truly, this is a good lens to read this book through. It isn’t really trying to say something about the future and where we are going in America; it is trying to look at where we are (or were, in this case, but is it really so different) and how we sell war.

And that does seem to be the core idea in this book: how we sell war. It is young men who Walk. They apply, but they may be turned down. They are offered anything they want in the service of this good event. The Crowd watches them, cheers them on, disrespects them, lusts after them, but ultimately stands apart from them, offering judgment and waiting to see who lives and who dies. The Walkers love the Crowd; the Walkers loathe the Crowd.

Despite being a Bachman book, The Long Walk follows a basic Stephen King formula: fleshed-out characters in a horrific situation, watch and see how they handle things. Similar to the Vietnam metaphor, the novel could also be read meta-textually: the reader is the Crowd, the characters are the Walkers, the Major is the author. The reader, then, holds the lives of the characters in his or her hand, being propelled onward to see who lives and who dies, refusing to close the book and thus freeing the Walkers from their horrible ordeal. But we just have to know.

The grim joke, regardless of the metaphor, is that no one wins. The Major is a lying murderer, the Crowd is complicit in death because they love the entertainment, the Walkers all die, not by “getting their ticket punched,” but because the trauma of the event ultimately destroys the psyche of the winner. The Major promises anything you want, but the one thing you truly want you can’t have: The Walk cannot be undone. What the Walker goes through cannot be wiped away as if it never happened. Life does not just go on.

Again, I think The Long Walk is best read as a metaphor for war. I wanted to know more of the future America. I wanted to know more about why the Walk started. But these wants are left unaddressed, and indeed are unnecessary for the metaphor. We are meant to read our society into these pages, not some future society for escape. The Long Walk is not escape. It is not a happy ending, which is where it breaks some of the Stephen King formula. He drags you through horrors but usually has a few characters achieve some sort of happy resolution. Happiness is not offered here. In this vision of America, it is in short supply.

Verdict

The Long Walk asks questions that are worth asking about war, soldiers, and society. But it is emotionally wrenching and very bleak. You should give that some consideration if that is not your thing.

Timewyrm: Revelation

The Doctor dances with Death on the cover of Timewyrm: Revelation

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Paul Cornell

Book Copy

The parishioners of Cheldon Bonniface walk to church on the Sunday before Christmas, 1992. Snow is in the air, or is it the threat of something else? The Reverend Trelaw has a premonition, too, and discusses it with the spirit that inhabits his church. Perhaps the Doctor is about to visit them again?

Some years earlier, in a playground in Perivale, Chad Boyle picks up a half-brick. He’s going to get that creepy Dorothy who says she wants to be an astronaut. The weapon falls, splitting Dorothy’s skull. She dies instantly.

The Doctor has pursued the Timewyrm from prehistoric Mesopotamia to Nazi Germany, and then to the end of the universe. He has tracked down the creature again: but what trans-temporal trap has the Timewyrm prepared for their final confrontation?

We’re like characters in a book he’s continually rewriting.

When I stared my Doctor Who project I had the stated goal of watching every episode of the classic series in broadcast order. I had never done this before and I wanted the experience. My other goal, less frequently stated, was to determine why there was often such discontinuity (in tone, theme, and scope) between the classic series and the new series. My theory was that Doctor Who is a work that evolved over time, the tone, theme, and scope changing with technology. In some ways this was true in that technology changed the types of stories told, but it is ironic that the truly paradigm-shifting medium was print. Timewyrm: Revelation changed Doctor Who. The new series owes much to this novel.

But Revelation isn’t without its roots in the classic series. In many ways, this novel expands on ideas that were present in the Seventh Doctor era, particularly those in Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor is a manipulator. He plays chess with his enemies with his companions the people they encounter as the pawns. Paul Cornell applies this idea to Revelation and asks two very important questions: How does this manipulate affect Ace? What does this manipulation do to the Doctor? And so, the explicit conflict in Revelation is that between the Doctor and the Timewyrm, but the implicit conflict is between the Doctor and himself. Cornell cleverly portrays the Timewyrm as a biotech virus (which isn’t much of an extrapolation from what we had seen so far) that doesn’t so much make people ill as rewrites their personality. The Timewyrm has buried itself in the Doctor’s consciousness. In his attempt to battle the creature, he has chained his conscience (portrayed as the Fifth Doctor) so that he can do whatever it takes to destroy the Timewyrm. But doing so has changed his personality. In essence, the Doctor had become the Timewyrm internally, and it was only a matter of time before his entire personality would succumb.

And so most of Revelation takes place in the Doctor’s mind. Cornell introduces the idea of the various Doctors being extensions of the Doctor’s personality. Cornell offers a type of critique of each in doing this, but it is curious that the Sixth Doctor is missing. Could this itself be a critique?

I am integral with his experiences. I have read all his memories, and become part of them also. He has fought me and will fight me wherever he goes.

Doctor Who since 2005 has often emphasized the Doctor’s guilt. It has dealt with the surreal landscape of the Doctor’s mind and as recently as last year introduced revised an old villain (The Great Intelligence) and inserted it into the Doctor’s time stream similar to how the Timewyrm had encountered previous Doctors in the waking world and the subconscious world. Even Ace’s last words before her perceived sacrifice on behalf of the Doctor were “Remember me,” although Ace is not likely to call the Doctor a “clever boy.” In truth, why wouldn’t new series writers mine this novel for ideas. It is out of print and probably not likely to be read by the new generation of fans. No idea is completely new in Doctor Who, only explored in a different way.

Timewyrm: Revelation, then, is the pivot point in modern Doctor Who. It is the first story to establish a new direction for the New Adventures novels, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out. As stated before, Revelations falls firmly into the Rad camp rather than the Trad camp. I’m happy to get a little of each, so long as the stories are well told. There is much more that could be said about this novel, but I think I will end it with saying I am happy to have finally found the missing link between the two series. I enjoy that Doctor Who is an evolving continuity. In some way, it fits.

The Long Walk as Allegory

Line of soldiers walking.
(Source: AP)

“It was nine o’clock. they had been on the road twelve hours. It didn’t mean anything. The only thing that mattered was the cool breeze blowing over the top of the hill. And the sound of a bird. And the feel of his damp shirt against his skin. And the memories in his head. those things mattered, and Garraty clung to them with desperate awareness. They were his things and he still had them.”

Frank Darabont has a fascinating interpretation of The Long Walk.

According to a 2007 interview with the writer/director whose best-known Stephen King adaptation is The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Long Walk is a war allegory:

“To me, it’s an existential metaphor for our mindless obsession with war — kids being sent off to die for no reason other than ‘just because.’ I don’t think it’s a coincidence that King wrote it in the shadow of Vietnam, though we’ve never really discussed that part of it, that’s just my interpretation.”

I’m inclined to agree with his interpretation. The Long Walk involves young men being promised the glory of The Prize, essentially a better life and all their dreams come true, if they survive The Walk. Very few of the boys have any real indication of what they have agreed to do, and the horrors of The Walk become apparent as time drags on. The conversations the boys have are similar to what you would see in war movies as soldiers contemplate the meaning of war, life, and love. All the while, the Major urges them on and the spectators cheer for them, protected by their barrier of comfort. Many spectators wave flags or are dressed in patriotic colors. One farming couple is directly compared to the “American Gothic” painting. As he starts out, Garraty passionately kisses a female spectator (taking a warning for doing so), which conjured images of the V-J Day in Times Square photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, the photograph of the sailor kissing a nurse.

But in the midst of The Walk, strength isn’t found in The Prize; strength is found in life and memories and camaraderie. Unfortunately, since only one person can win The Prize, even camaraderie is suspect. You don’t want to get too close to your fellow Walkers if they are soon going to die.