Retro Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Last week, the new book Thrawn by Timothy Zahn came out, a book I didn’t expect to see until it was announced. It hit #2 on the NYT Bestsellers list, so big congratulations to Mr. Zahn. I picked it up, but I wanted to reread the original Thrawn Trilogy first as it’s been about 19 years, and see if it was as good as I remember as a teenager. 

I begin with Heir To The Empire. This is space opera at its finest. Sure, it helps that we already care about Luke, Leia, Han, Lando and Chewie as characters. But even if we didn’t, this book gives us reason to. Han is struggling with going legitimate, Leia is torn between starting a government, being pregnant with twins and potential training as a jedi. Luke is trying to forge a path on his own without mentors for the first time. Lando has a new business venture and is working with the republic. Chewie is Chewie. Good stuff!  But where the book shines is its original characters.

Zahn had to set up a credible threat for post Emperor and Vader in a star wars world, one without copying the two characters. Enter Thrawn. He’s a real tactician, thinking about the long term, not getting caught up in the power, but interested in showing real military prowess. The Empire is described as hurt from Endor, kinda in a role reversal with the rebels where they have to act more as the guerrillas now. It’s an intriguing future for Star Wars, and Thrawn as a character is deep and interesting. Naturally we have a dark Jedi to go along with our imperial tactician, and this guy has his own motives separate and distinct from the Emperor as well.

  But the new characters don’t stop there for interest. Karrde is a crime lord type, and the twist on this end of the galaxy is that he’s got a code of honor. His organization is where we meet Mara Jade, who’s been the dream of fanboys for a generation. This really is the seminal star wars novel, with a cast of characters about as interesting and memorable as the original films themselves, maybe moreso. He took the world, and he truly put a good twist on it, a nice backdrop for the future.

Plot and pacing are as you would expect — fast. There’s a lot of set up in the early chapters but it pays off as the last quarter of the book is a convergence of wall to wall action. My only critique here is it’s a little bit “oh I guess we’ll head here real quick before going to Coruscant” coincidence for all the characters to end up in the same place for a battle, but that’s fine. I can chalk that up to the force guiding the way.

But it’s pretty deep. We have our heroes all set out for their own separate motivations, making this a deeper work than the Star Wars trilogy, where they all kinda were forced into one simple battle each movie (other than Empire). Leia has her mission, Han has his plans, Luke is distinct and separate. They end up together in the end but with their own journeys.

What’s really interesting is the way Zahn takes away Luke’s force powers for a lot of the ground battle. He shows Luke’s innate talents to us as a scrappy fighter, something that we get hints of in the trilogy but we’re told it’s reliance on the force that gets him his lucky victories. I enjoyed the way Luke took down the imperials while “blinded” as he said. 

But what was most enjoyable was the end space battle. It was written perfectly, with a twist to objectives so it didn’t end up standard blow up pew pew. The Empire wanted to steal ships, not destroy them, and the way the New Republic was able to fend it off both had consequences and is refreshing. Thrawn made a point to not go all in over a small objective, furthering his distinction from the Emperor and showing that he is a threat for books to come.

Honestly, Heir to the Empire should be used as a primer for writers for character, depth, plot and pacing, and exciting action/adventure story. It’s got everything, and very little in the way of failings. Amazing work. It shows that tie-in novels can be just as good or better than other books. It not only holds up but I might say this is one of the best books of all time, and better than any individual Star Wars film. Onto book two!

I Can’t Believe I Missed This!

For some reason, it was in my mind that this was coming out in May. It’s no secret that Elizabeth Moon is one of my favorite authors, my writing has been compared to hers on numerous occasions (of which I am honored but not deserving!), and I definitely do use her work as a model for great space opera.  She’s definitely one of my biggest influences.

Her most recent book in the Vatta’s War series, Cold Welcome dropped on April 11th, and I for some reason thought it came out in May. This is a MUST GET ON DAY ONE type of release for me, as I’m so excited to see her returning to writing in the space opera genre after a number of years. I am running to Barnes and Noble over lunch to pick this up immediately. The book is available here:

https://www.amazon.com/Cold-Welcome-Elizabeth-Moon/dp/1101887311/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470439636&sr=1-1&keywords=cold+welcome+moon  

And the description:

Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.

Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet—a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group’s survival but her entire home planet.

This sounds extremely fun. I can’t wait to read.

Sci-Fi Movie Review: Passengers

Most of you are probably already aware that I liked this movie, as it made my list for the 2017 Dragon Award nominations for best Sci-Fi film. Part of that was a lack of other great sci-fi films in this last year, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed Passengers any less.

The concept of the movie is that a passenger of a interstellar colony ship wakes up from stasis early because of an error. He’s named Jim (I’m guessing a star trek homage?) and is played by Chris Pratt, one of the few a-list hollywood actors who I don’t find annoying. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie reminded me of Castaway starring Tom Hanks, with a man going a bit crazy while he’s alone, beard growing, realizing he can run around naked, but with cool sci-fi technical entertainment options. He’s unable to wake the captain and ship’s crew to get himself back into stasis, and he’s stuck with 90 years left on a voyage — alone. Truly a frightening proposition.

A year into the journey, he has learned to awaken another passenger, and he, after deliberating on how immoral it is to condemn someone else to the same fate as him, decides to wake her. Being the only two people on the ship, romance ensues and of course she eventually finds out that he woke her intentionally and that it was not an error, setting off the drama later. The ship errors compound until it’s a threat to kill everyone on board, and our heroes do their thing, pretty standard plot and romance with little in the way of surprises.

And that’s fine. I didn’t need to be surprised. The plot was fun. The actors were charming, with great lines that made you care for them. It wasn’t overly dark, overly scary, and honestly it could have been PG if they hadn’t had to have the sex scene with the A-List actors to be gratuitous.

The effects looked great. I loved the ship, the rotating sections, the loss of gravity at points, all of their futuristic food replicators and entertainment amenities. The bartender robot was great. It’s about the perfect starliner space setting.

Acting was 2nd to none. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as mentioned before are imminently likable. Nothing to complain about there at all. Good range from laughter to fear to anger to passion from each of them. A+

If it sounds like the pacing could get a little slow in parts, it did. Like most modern movies, they could have shaved off 10-15 minutes and it would have been a little tighter and better. It still didn’t deter my enjoyment of it.

There is one scene where it went a little far for my suspension of disbelief when one character is floating lost in space, the other jumps out into zero-g to grab hold and save him. Getting that trajectory right having almost zero experience in null g…. I didn’t quite buy it, but it is a movie. Only having one bad instance like that I can give a pass.

Great romance, great sci-fi, all around recommended. I’ll actually watch this one again.

Jon Del Arroz’s Based Dragon Award Recommendations

Ran a poll yesterday on which blog my readers would like to see next, and the winner by no uncertain terms was my recommendation for Dragon Award nominations. If you haven’t seen the Dragon Awards before, they are the premier award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, given at Dragon*Con, arguably the best convention that exists. Please, readers, do take the time to vote as this is really your award choice and your voice matters.

Best Science Fiction Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli

Richard really has created a great science fiction, and I mean that in the classic sense. It’s on the short side, but it’s packed with a lot of ideas and it’s definitely the best sci-fi of the year. 

Best Fantasy  A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day

Vox Day is the most underrated fantasy author in fiction. His Arts of Dark and Light series is frankly better fantasy than Brandon Sanderson (of whom I’m a big fan), Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks or George R.R. Martin. The characters are fantastic, the world is a very cool Roman-esque fantasy world, it’s tense all the way through, and it’s got very cool magic and magical beings.

Best Young Adult Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter.

The Rachel series is really a wonderful take on wizardry school. I find it a shame that this series hasn’t won an award yet and that should be remedied in 2017.  Mrs. Lamplighter-Wright gets mad at me when I say that this series is better than Harry Potter… so I won’t say it. But I may have said it somewhere else in the past 🙂 

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz. 

It’s like Rogue One, only better and with actual characters who aren’t flat and have real romance. Do I need to explain this one to you? 😉  If you click on the nomination page and put one book in, put this one in. 

Best Alternate History  Breath of Earth by Beth Cato. 

This both took place in my home city and dealt with a period of time you don’t read a ton about. Everyone knows about the 1906 earthquake’s existence, but adding details and magic to it makes for a really compelling tale.

Best Apocalyptic A Place Outside The Wild by Daniel Humphreys.

Dan’s got a fresh take on Zombies that is very fun, a lot of action, and a wild ride. It’s pretty long for a zombie book but it only gives the plot that much more depth.

Best Horror Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn

Declan continues to redefine Vampire fiction with his third installment in the series. Book 1 got a dragon award nomination last year, and the series only gets more interesting from there. While book 2 is also eligible, this is where Declan should make his stand for the awards, as it fits the horror genre like fangs fit the Carotid artery.

Best Comic Book  Motor Girl #1 by Terry Moore.

His Rachel Rising was one of my favorite books of all time, and I was sad to see it end. This has classic cartoon elements, a gorilla (RIP Harambe), aliens, and a much deeper plot that’s unfolding. Issue 1 is great for the hook, and well worth the read.

Best Graphic Novel  Chew vol 12. – Sour Grapes by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Chew was honestly the best comic book of the last several years. The concept’s cool. It’s hilarious on every front. It’s actually pretty in depth, and the expansion of the powers of food get so ridiculous. People hated on the ending, but I thought it was fricking hilarious. Chew is most worthy of the Dragon.

Best Sci-Fi Or Fantasy TV Series No award.

I don’t like any SF/F TV shows right now. They all suck. Bah humbug.

Best Sci-Fi Or Fantasy Movie Passengers

This is a beautiful film. Great plot, great sci-fi, great romance, great characters. It can be a little slow at points but the timing feels realistic.There’s a lot of good sci-fi plot points and tropes in here and frankly Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence could do the hokey pokey on screen for two hours and I’d watch it and probably love it.

Best PC or Console Game Final Fantasy XV. 

An excellent installment to the Final Fantasy series. The battle system was wonderful, story great, characters compelling, the backstory and world were done right and the visuals are stunning as always.

Best Mobile Game Epic Card Game Digital

This game took everything fun about Magic: The Gathering and got rid of the heavy baggage of that game. It’s somewhat simpler to play though when I went into competitive matches I got STOMPED, so there is a lot more depth than people realize as well. There’s some cool mechanics unique to the game too and it’s super exciting that it’s now on a digital platform in app version. 

Best Board Game Hero Realms

Star Realms in Fantasy, yet they tweaked a couple of things to make it unique. You can play with “class decks” which you customize your playstyle before you even start, a nice innovation for deck building. On top of that, the power curve is very different. It’s worth a play, or a hundred.

Best Miniatures/CCG/RPG  Star Wars: Destiny

I mentioned this was my favorite game of 2016 launching at the tail end of the year. It’s a competitive card game but with dice, and has a very unique duel feel to it. I love how the dice work, the game mechanics are very clean and it’s always tense to play. Fantasy Flight usually nails it with their star wars games and this is no exception.

And there you have it. Go out and vote!

Review: Excalibur by Tim Marquitz

 

 

Excalibur by Tim Marquitz had me at the cover, then I stayed for the wild rollercoaster ride of wall to wall action.

This book was pretty much everything i ever wanted out of a science fiction TV show in book form. The opening scene is pure action, reminding me of Babylon 5-  A Call To Arms with the main weapon that has to recharge. Then we get the cool phasing device that operates like a Romulan cloak. The captain Albion isn’t afraid of action, very much like Kirk or Kevin Sorbo’s character in Andromeda. He’s got an on again off again relationship that’s strained yet tense like we saw with Sisko and Yates in DS9. There’s an alien invasion that’s looming of creepy beasts that remind me of playing Halo. And finally, the crew banters back and forth like the finest moments of Firefly.

Though these aren’t directly referenced in any means, this is a definitely a unique and well detailed original world, Marquitz hits all of the high points that made for great moment in the television shows I listed and more. We have an estranged captain and ship, having to hide from his own human government while dealing with these aliens. It’s tense on all fronts, constant action with vivid ship battles and even some great ground combat thanks to their battle bot named Ares. The secondary cast and crew are very fun as well, each having their own unique flare to them. I can’t remember the last book where I remembered so many of the secondary characters, but in Excalibur, I feel like I got a glimpse of the whole crew like watching one of those 90s or 2000s space shows.

And with the pacing and the cool characters, it was extremely quick to read with that. This definitely felt like a “pilot” for a series where we get to see these characters again, and I for one can’t wait for it. I love the military culture in the book, the aliens, the romance the captain has with his former wife (which I’d like more details of!) and just about everything else. A fantastic ride from start to finish.

The way the plot unfolds is all about discovering what the aliens are up to, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s completely satisfying and I’m glad I picked this up and gave it a shot.

Star Realms: Rescue Run Promo Card!!!

Needless to say, I’m excited. A reader messaged me this morning and let me know that Star Realms: Rescue Run has been made into a promo card for the game,which is available on the Board Game Geek Store:

https://boardgamegeekstore.com/products/star-realms-rescue-run-promo-card

Very cool. I love the art with the event frame. I think that Antonis (the artist) did an incredible job in making the book cover about the most beautiful piece of game art I’ve ever seen. If you missed my interview with Antonis, it’s here. 

But what a cool event as well. You can stack your next turn or make this one really hum. I’d love to see it chained in a hand where you’ve got some card draw for maximum use. Event pops, grab what you want from your discard, play the card drawing card, proc an ally ability and put the turn over the top. Such a useful card and can’t wait to add it to my deck.

If you’re grabbing this card from the Geek Store, and haven’t gotten the book yet, you should. It’s gotten great reviews, is nominated for an Alliance Award, and adds a lot of flavor depth to the game. It’s available here.  

Edit: Already been asked if I’d sign the card. Yes. Message me privately or leave a comment with your email below and I’d be happy to have you mail it over and mail it back to you. Can’t be responsible for mishaps with the post office though, so do bear that in mind!

Signing @ Colossus Con – Saturday, April 8th in Pleasanton, CA

I’ll be setting up a table signing copies of Star Realms: Rescue Run for anyone who wants to come by (will have copies available for sale, as well as some of the last of the stock of the graphic novel of my former web-comic, Flying Sparks, which features art by Dynamite Artist Jethro Morales of Green Hornet and Dejah of Mars fame). Come by and say hi. I may even be tempted to play a game or two of Star Realms as well.

Details on the con: http://www.colossuscon.com/ 

It’s #WorldBooksDay!

I found out because of the hashtag on twitter. This is a wonderful thing!

If you’d like to help out your friendly neighborhood author me, I would be much appreciative if you, my trusty reader friends, would share up Star Realms: Rescue Run with the hashtag #WorldBooksDay in order to help further get the word out about this super fun space adventure set in the world of the hit deckbuilding game.

http://bit.ly/starrealmsnovel  is the link. Go forth on social media and share!

If you’ve already got the book or done that, I can always use more reviews on the amazon link above. We are at 42 and I’d love to get to 50. Even if you’ve only read a chapter, go ahead and tell the world what you thought of it.

If you’ve already done that then goodreads is a great spot where you can easily just click to give it a rating, or paste in a full review if you feel inclined: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32980868-star-realms?from_search=true 

And if you’ve already done that, there’s the Dragon Awards 2017 nominations which are open for business. Put in Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz in the Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy category please!   http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php

Whew! And if you already have done even that, you are truly my best friend in the whole world. I love you more than you know. There’s still one more thing you can do which would be to register for my mailing list. I only use it for giveaways and to announce new books. It’s the best and easiest way to keep up with those so they’re right at your fingertips: https://delarroz.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3c0d4761bf596db6605e25975&id=e7c61287b0 

Thank you friends and enjoy your #WorldBooksDay

#GetOnGab

Super sick today, laying in bed with a fever, but I did hit 500 followers over on the gab.ai social network. I love it over there, and want to help promote them. In honor of that, I am doing a book giveaway of a signed Star Realms: Rescue Run to mark this follower milestone.

I’m also going to be doing a beta test of their GabTV very soon for the Jon Del Arroz Sci-Fi Power Hour! It should be a lot of fun and we can talk geek culture together.

For now, get on Gab: http://gab.ai . Find me @otomo and my post about Star Realms for details on how to win.

Now if you’re not on there already, it takes some time to get activated. I have 5 invitations to the site I can give out. If you really want in on the giveaway leave a comment and I’ll make sure you get one of those invites.

Cheers!

Love Is A Drink That Goes Straight To My Head

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. I took the occasion to tell some of my favorite authors how much I’d love to co-write with them on Twitter, but the day also spurs thoughts as to what romance is within the context of Science Fiction, and whether it has a place being central to the story. The late-great, and my personal favorite, Anne McCaffrey once responded to criticism of romance in her work with “everything I write is romance,” which is an interesting perspective to think about in the context of SF. Continue reading