Retro Review: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

In my review of Heir to the Empire, I called it space opera t its finest. After reading Dark Force Rising, I am sorry to report that I am wrong, because THIS is space opera at it’s finest. While Heir to the Empire did a lot to set up the story in Dark Force Rising, the characters really came into their own, were allowed to breathe, and upped in complexity. We didn’t need an introduction to Mara Jade or Karrde or C’baoth anymore, and they pushed the story along almost better than the canon characters at points.

In Dark Force Rising we have a few plot threads going: A Bothan is trying to take over the New Republic and frame anyone who gets in his way. There’s a missing Katana fleet of old clone war ships that’s been rediscovered and it’s a race to find them before Thrawn does. C’boath and Luke confront each other and Luke sees how the other Jedi has gone insane and turned to the dark side – but still hopes for redemption like Vader. There’s the Noghri who in the last book were sent to kill Leia and now have their own story of how the Empire corrupted them, and Leia works with them. And then there’s Mara Jade’s fumbling into her use of the force. So much going on there’s very little time for a break.

A sign of a great writer to me, is one who can take threads that bored me in one book, and make them my favorite in others. It shows concentrations can change, a depth in understanding character, and skill in setting up cool plotlines. While last book I was pretty bored with the Leia plots, in this one I thought she really shined, and I was very interested in the Noghri and their plight with the empire.

But the plots converge very nicely as well. I would say that the last 75 pages or so are literally impossible to put down. The ending battle is fun. I liked the feel of having the New Republic back to being underdogs, and the solutions they scrap out are quite enjoyable. The pace of the whole book is really nice, and the complexity involved just makes this a superior volume to the last. I also love that the tone of the trilogy has the same cadence as the original Star Wars trilogy. This feels like empire. The Rebels have a victory in the battle, but it feels like a loss of the war, and the Empire becomes strong again. It’s truly a beautiful work of art. Don’t underestimate this just because it’s a tie-in. It’s better than all but a handful of non-tie-in fiction.

A Moon Full Of Stars by Jon Mollison!

There’s another Jon out there in SF who’s very much worth your while, and his name is Jon Mollison. He writes in the vein of the old school pulps like very few I’ve seen. If you’re into hard action/adventure in your sci-fi, this work’s for you. Fun fact: he’s also an audiobook narrator, most recently known for John C. Wright’s Somewhither (in which he did a stellar job, about one of the best readers I’ve ever heard on a book).  This story looks to be a planetary romance-style book in the tradition of Leigh Brackett. I’m pretty excited.

Here’s the blurb:

All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.

You can buy A Moon Full Of Stars here. 

#SpaceOperaWeek Round-Up

There’s been a lot of cool content for Space Opera Week, and we at the #PulpRevolution created one of the best weeks of content for Science Fiction in a long time. If you missed any of my guest contributions to awesome science fiction sites this week:

Realism is Dumb

Jon Del Arroz’s Definitive Top 5 Space Opera Series

Five CURRENT Space Operas You Should Be Reading

And of course my interview with Darkship series author Sarah Hoyt.

Some of my favorite articles on the topic from other #PulpRevolution writers:

What Space Opera Means To Me – By Jay Barnson

Ordinary, Everyday Lives: Good for Dramas, Not For Epics by Corey McCleerey

Wonder And The Soul’s Desire by Dominika Lien.

Even Tor.com got the memo by the end of the week with a good article. Took the whole week but perhaps we pushed the conversation to some extent:

Is Space Opera Merely Fantasy Set In Space by Emily Asher-Perrin

 

And of course don’t forget to check out my first space opera book, which certainly won’t be my last, Star Realms: Rescue Run, which hit top-10 in the genre on Amazon and garnered an Alliance Award nomination! 

#SpaceOperaWeek Geekchats Special: Space Opera and Woldbuilding with Sarah Hoyt

It’s #SpaceOperaWeek and I’m excited to have one of my favorite authors working in the field right now, Sarah Hoyt, on tomorrow to talk about her Darkship series, her inspirations, what space opera means to her and some of the helpful tricks she used to come up with such a rich and imaginative world like Eden. It’ll air live May 19th at 12:00 PM PST:

Tordotcom Celebrates #SpaceOperaWeek By Censoring Popular Space Opera Author

When I first heard about #SpaceOperaWeek, I was excited. It provided a chance to talk about the sub-genre of Science Fiction that I love more than any other, and cross-platform across the internet through the use of the hashtag to where I’d be able to reach and connect with a lot of people.

Unfortunately, the promise that Tordotcom made in #SpaceOperaWeek turned out to be nothing but thin air.  The launch page really didn’t talk about space opera at all, just having some big logo announcing their initiative. The next post wasn’t about space opera or the joys of its fiction — but presenting a false narrative that women are somehow oppressed and erased in the genre (rebutted by the Hugo-nominated Castalia House who’s been active talking about the great women of space opera for years), a post about ponies in space,a post about the “underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life” in storytelling, and then shilling for a couple of Tor authors. Nothing else. No real space opera discussion at all.

I took matters into my own hands. I started using the hashtag, talking about Space Opera in earnest. I am somewhat of an authority on the genre at this point, having written 3 books in it (one published which you may have heard of, the others I’m revising), and read the genre the entirety of my existence. I’ve spoken on Space Opera on podcasts and at conventions, done interviews on it, written essays on it. If there’s one thing I know what I’m talking about — it’s Space Opera. A lot of cool people from the #PulpRevolution joined in the discussion, as many of those folk write space opera and all of us are heavily read in the genre. If you go look at the hashtag on twitter now — there’s no one who’s reading Tordotcom or any authors from Tordotcom talking about #SpaceOperaWeek, it’s only us. Author Yakov Merkin even released a new Space Opera book in the midst of the event.

Naturally the result was a number of fans and friends commenting to Tor that they’d like to see some essays or an interview with me. I produced one of the most relevant Space Operas of the last year, hailed by authors cross the spectrum from Mary Robinette Kowal to Vox Day, which was a Top-10 Amazon bestseller in the genre, so it would be fun to get some perspective, especially given the Tor writers self-admittedly don’t even like the genre (which is why there’s so little discussion).  I came to find out that after the first five requests — Tor deleted the next 10+ of people requesting I write without so much as reaching out to anyone on the matter.

That’s fine, that’s a lot of comments! I understand that though with the overwhelming readership demanding something you’d think they’d take action. I was so flabbergasted by the article about not liking space opera and about how ordinary, everyday life was what was important to write about — the opposite of everything Space Opera is about — that I took to writing a rebuttal article on the Hugo-nominated Castalia House blog. Not only do we now have a highly relevant space opera writer talking on the subject — but writing an article for a site that has garnered such prestige and honor in the genre that it is a finalist for science fiction’s top award. You’d think that #SpaceOperaWeek would certainly care about that. Nothing more could be on topic.

I posted a link to the article, mentioned it’s a rebuttal and how I’d love to further discuss space opera. Very respectful, as always, and earnestly interested in opening up more dialogue on my favorite genre.

Tordotcom deleted it rather than actually talk about the important literary elements of the genre. They censored the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction. They shun the site, contributors and readership of a Hugo-nominated blog.

So if the point isn’t to talk about Space Opera and celebrate together with leaders in the genre what is #SpaceOperaWeek for? Why do they have people who don’t even like the genre writing about it?

A lot of people reading are rolling their eyes and saying “it’s tordotcom what do you expect?” That’s not acceptable as an answer to me. I’m watching our industry and our form of entertainment that’s been a staple of western culture for the past one hundred years go from millions of readers to thousands of readers. The fun’s been sucked out of Science Fiction, and the whole point of Space Opera is that it brings the fun back to it. The term was originally something derogatory used by “real” science fiction writers and readers to talk about this “fantasy in space” that didn’t push heavy scientific or sociological concepts. The term itself is an attack on people who just like to tell fun stories in space.  Sounds a lot like how Tordotcom treats me and the #PulpRevolution crew, doesn’t it? The irony is thick.

Tordotcom hates Space Opera is the only conclusion. They have no real interest in discussing it, but fortunately there’s some places where they are. Do follow me on Twitter at @jondelarroz and look for articles by me and others for #SpaceOperaWeek that actually address the genre at:

http://www.castaliahouse.com

http://www.superversivesf.com  

We’ll have some real talk, and we won’t delete your contributions to the subject either.

#SpaceOperaWeek: Tor Dot Com Writers vs. #PulpRevolution Writers

Old establishment publishing during Space Opera Week (Tor Dot Com columnist):

Derp derp, trump bad. trump bad. trump bad.

#PulpRevolution new hot writers during Space Opera Week:

We talk about science fiction. Is it any wonder that we’re talking over the genre? That more and more people are turning to us for content and fiction and less to Big Publishing?

 

When It’s #SpaceOperaWeek And Your Contributors Hate Space Opera

It boggles my mind how an innocuous topic can be ruined by critics. It seems like that is a hallmark of our culture these days as well as the “Cult of the New” which I posted about last evening.  All of these problems trickle into everything and make it so people simply can’t have any fun anymore. And in fact, that’s the goal: the critics want us not to have any fun, to be as jaded and devoid of any joy as they are. In their world it’s about dragging everyone and everything down instead of lifting things up.

That’s the danger we face, and honestly, Space Opera is a concept that combats that behavior. The whole concept of space opera is non-realistic fun. Something you can looik up to the stars and have your eyes go wide.  Something so grand and epic and heroic that it could never happen but it hits our collective consciousness all the same. That’s where the science fiction of the 1920s-1960s led to us, and that’s what we’re devoid of in our storytelling now.

Tor dot com declared that it’s Space Opera Week, something that I’ve co-opted, frankly, because I love Space Opera more than them. If you go on twitter, you’ll see that hashtag populated by my friends, not tor fans. You’ll see me tweeting at great Space Opera writers telling people to applaud them, not the writers of their blogs. In fact, this is what you get in celebration of space opera on the Tor site:

The truth is, I’m not really a Space Opera kind of girl. Left to my own devices, I will not-infrequently choose the sort of book that has at least one psychic animal and an ill-advised romantic relationship in it. You don’t see a TON of space in those. Unless you’re reading Anne McCaffrey, and hey, those are some AMAZING cats.

Well, at least Tor doesn’t seem to think Anne McCaffrey is irrelevant. Unfortunately we have a space opera blog that says it isn’t interested in space opera. That’s not the case here.

I wrote Star Realms: Rescue Run because I love space opera more than anything. I love it in my gaming, I love it in my fiction. Space battles between worlds are interesting. The geopolitics of the colonies vs. the extreme corporate Earth of Star Realms is even more interesting… and we haven’t even gotten to the weird alien species in the story outside of small mentions. I like to build up the world from the ground up. From the human outward. But the hallmark of space opera is that it reaches that outward plane to where it bends the mind. And that’s why it’s great in a nutshell.

I’ll be writing more for #SpaceOperaWeek as well several of my friends. You might want to check out castaliahouse.com this morning as Jeffro Johnson is killing it on the topic. Space Opera Week will be written by people who love space opera, even if it’s not on the original site.

Retro Review: Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon #SpaceOperaWeek

What timing, as over the weekend I read this space opera beauty by Grand Master of Science Fiction Anne McCaffrey, and one of the space opera greats, Elizabeth Moon. Ms. McCaffrey was extremely generous with the brand name in the late 80s early 90s, co-writing with a number of folk to help increase awareness for young writers. Sassinak is the product of that, a book in her Planet Pirates series which followed the two Ireta Dinosaur Planet books.

The original books in the series are not the best of McCaffrey work, but not the worst either, resulting in a world that I wasn’t all that impressed with after those novels. When I read the co-written The Death Of Sleep with Jody Lynn Nye is when the series really took hold for me. A beautiful story about the perils of space travel and cryogenic freezing, and dealing with life, love, family over time. It gave a lot of depth to the character of Lunzie, and crossed over at the end of the book with the original two books.

Sassinak follows the same format. It starts with young Sassinak growing up with pirates, getting captured by slavers, and rescued by the fleet. The fleet then becomes the only family she knows and she works her tail off to move up the ranks despite no help or political influence to the name. The book really breaks down into 4 novellas, each stories of their own: 1. youth and slavers 2. first fleet assignments 3. Sassinak, commander and pirate hunter 4. the overlap with Ireta.

The character work is wonderful, great plot that goes through it dealing with the prejudice against “heavy worlders” in the fleet, and sabotage erupting from political conflict. I loved the real glimpse at military life, and the bond that’s formed “once fleet, always fleet” between people looking out for each other. The second act with Sassinak dealing with a saboteur and getting jettisoned into an escape pod with limited air was very tense and beautiful. The third novella was most fun with the pirates attacking, hiding on a moon and using resourcefulness to get back to fleet. It really provided a great character lead, using wits and smarts and social skills — the character feeling like a real woman and a great lead at the same time.

I think the fourth novella/act in the book is the weakest, which is where it overlaps with Ireta. We see things from a different perspective, and a lot of the story is glossed over to where I’m not sure it even works if you didn’t read Ireta. As a consequence, this part felt a little flat for me, but the first 3/4 of the book was good enough that it makes it worth it.  I look forward to the sequel Generation Warriors as the end set up a nice little promise to go hunt some space pirates.

8/10

Book Review: Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey

I picked up the audiobook edition of Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey, expecting pretty much what I saw on the cover — big mech fights. While he certainly delivered on that cover promise in this book, he also delivered a lot more. Forgive me if I misspell any names, as having the audio version meant I didn’t actually see the words.

The book opens with a character who has physical flaws limiting him from how good he is in standard merc duties — he’s a big fat kid — who in the first few chapters goes from having a silver spoon of being the son of the owners of one of the most famous merc companies in the universe, the Cartwright’s Cavaliers, to losing it all and being near destitute. It’s an engaging opening, where you develop a lot of sympathy for Jim. He’s good a good tactical and business oriented mind all the same, and while others have better physical prowess, he’s able to climb out of his hole and jumpstart the company. It brings me fond memories of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice, which is one of my favorite books to this day.

And that theme takes place throughout the whole book. Over and over, Jim climbs out of a hole, jumpstarts a situation, until the end where there’s a much more literal jumpstart that’s needed that’s pretty epic and I won’t spoil for potential readers.

The book’s pacing is solid all the way through with the action building in intensity and complexity like one would expect. I like the different alien creatures and this deep history with an ancient war of alien races that still looms over the galaxy to this day — even though those races are long gone.

The addition of Splunk later on was a welcome change of pace. What Mark did at certain points was give us some nice alien moments that give a break in the action. There’s a lot of military procedural combat, and in a lot of stories I get very bored with that — but because of the breaks in the pacing where it does shift to different concepts and mode of the story, I never found myself disengaged from this book.

The world is very well developed. I love the concept of human merc guilds and a big four called the Four Horsemen. The alien races are pretty neat and I’m enjoying a universe populated by a lot of them that feels like a Star Trek or Star Wars. There is a lot going on and a lot left to explore. At no point did I feel that I was lacking any details or whatnot to make it feel more like I was in the story. Many of the elements are of the standard, classic science fiction that I love and was excited to see in a modern form. It was refreshing.

There’s not a lot of flaws in the book. I mentioned that there are some heavy procedural points which I know a lot of people like (David Weber, John Ringo fans will enjoy) but isn’t so much my style. I would say the romance plot felt a tad forced and wasn’t as developed as I’m used to given my more Lois Bujold and Elizabeth Moon variety of reading that I’m used to. But I’ll stress that’s minor, it never threw me out of the book.

I know Chris Kennedy has a book in this series that came out next, and it’s cool that multiple authors are playing in this universe. It should develop into quite a franchise over time and I look forward to that.

On the audio presentation. Narrator was pretty good. At first I thought maybe he was a bit dry, but I ended up liking him a lot as the book went on.

Overall — this is an incredibly strong book. Fast paced action, memorable characters, an epic climax and leaving you wanting for more. If this is the direction space opera is going, we may see a big resurgence in the genre.