Tag Archives: Star Wars

Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn

cover art: Star Wars Scoundrels, by Timothy ZahnStar Wars Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn (LucasBooks 2013)

Remember the reward Han Solo earned in the original Star Wars movie (A New Hope) for his part in the Death Star’s destruction? The money that would have let him pay off Jabba the Hutt? Well, he lost it to pirates, and now he’ll take just about any crazy chance to make some cash.

So when a stranger offers a fortune to recover an even larger fortune in stolen credits, Han and Chewie are in. They’re smugglers, not thieves, but they have connections. Counting their employer, Eanjer, Solo’s team numbers 11.

The challenge: infiltrate the estate of a major crime boss, recover the credits with equal shares for each. Why is Eanjer so generous with his money? He claims it’s as much about revenge as about cash. But Lando is quick to point out Han’s history of not always trusting the right people.

The complication: Imperial Intelligence wants access to the same estate, and if they can manipulate Solo’s 11 into taking all the risks, so much the better.

Risks? It may be impossible.

Because it’s a heist novel, the first quarter is setup—interesting rather than action-heavy. Once the team begins to act, there are chases, explosions and plenty of danger in true, over-the-top caper style. And there’s a bit near the end that takes on extra significance when you remember that in the films, Han Solo was played by Harrison Ford, who also played Indiana Jones.

Scoundrels is a satisfying puzzle novel with plenty of adrenaline, and you don’t need to know more than the basics about the original Star Wars trilogy. I was expecting Han, Chewie and Lando, and was pleased to see Winter as another team member. Apparently Kell will also be familiar to those who’ve read more of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels than I have. The other characters are new for this novel, and they’re worth meeting.

It’s a plot-driven novel, but the characters are well-developed, with their own struggles, tensions and interactions. It’s interesting to see Han in a planning role here… shades of General Solo in days to come. And the setting is impressive: the heist is to go down during the planet’s annual Festival of Four Honorings, amid the crowds and lavish displays. Characters, technology and setting never upstage the plot, but support it and enhance the experience.

Timothy Zahn is an award-winning, bestselling author known for both his original science fiction and his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

[Review copy from my personal library. Amazon link is an affiliate link for The Word Guild.]

Review: Heir to the Empire (20th Anniversary Edition), by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire cover artStar Wars Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, by Timothy Zahn (Lucasfilm, Random House, 2011)

This is the novel credited with “reigniting the entire Star Wars publishing phenomenon” after the original movie trilogy (so says the dust jacket). Author Timothy Zahn adds:

“A more accurate statement would be that I was the first person since Jedi who was permitted to stick a fork into the piecrust to see if there was still any steam underneath. There was steam. Man, there was steam.” (Introduction, page xx)

Yes, there was steam, but a wet-blanket novel could have smothered it. Instead, Timothy Zahn delivered the Thrawn trilogy. Two things make this anniversary edition worth re-reading if you’ve read it before: it includes plenty of annotations from the author and editor, and there’s a new Thrawn novella at the end.

Okay, there’s a third reason too: it’s a good novel, true to the characters we know and love from the original movie trilogy, and it packs some satisfying explosions.

For those who haven’t read it (or who’ve forgotten), Heir to the Empire takes place 5 years after Return of the Jedi. Han and Leia are married and expecting twins, Luke is still discovering what it means to be a Jedi, and Chewbacca, Artoo and Threepio have key parts to play. The novel includes other characters from the movies and introduces some new ones, such as Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, who feature in other Star Wars novels.

It also introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn, of the blue skin and glowing red eyes, whose presence at the Battle of Endor might have resulted in victory for the Empire. Thrawn is a tactical genius with an ability to understand his opponents’ strategies and limitations by studying their people’s art.

I enjoyed the author/editor notes in the margins, discussing specific portions of the text. It felt a bit like watching a DVD with the commentary turned on. As a reader, it was interesting to see the whys and hows of some of the choices. And as a writer, it was a chance to learn from the experts.

The bonus novella, Star Wars: Crisis of Faith, fits chronologically after the novel Choices of One and before Heir to the Empire. It’s a satisfying showdown between Thrawn and one of his enemies, each commanding their respective forces. One of the viewpoint characters is Trevik, a member of a large, ant-like race, the Quesoth. We don’t know exactly what he looks like, but his thoughts feel very alien and his people’s culture and behaviour patterns are believably complex.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite author. Besides his Star Wars and Terminator novels, he has a raft of stand-alone and series titles. Apart from the young adult Dragonback series, they’re adult science fiction, clean reads with fairly mild language, clever psychological insights, intriguing aliens, and some of the best twist endings I’ve seen. My personal favourite is his Conquerors trilogy. His most recent titles continue his Cobra series: Cobra Alliance, Cobra Guardian and Cobra Gamble. His newest Star Wars title, Star Wars Scoundrels, releases December 2012.

[Review copy from my personal library]

Review: Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn

Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn (Del Rey, 2011)

Masterful storytelling, complete with multiple plot lines and one of Timothy Zahn’s signature plot twists… and a spectacular climax that had me cheering out loud.

Choices of One has a cast that includes Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Mara Jade and Thrawn, and it takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

It can’t be easy to write about established characters whose future has already been mapped in other novels (the Star Wars series now extends forty-plus years past A New Hope). The writer has to be true to who the characters are at that point in the timeline, and not do anything that will rewrite their future. To add to the challenge, Timothy Zahn brings characters who can’t meet yet into very close proximity – and pulls it off in style.

Only Thrawn can make me cheer for the Empire (well, for his section anyway) and that’s because Timothy Zahn knows how to create good characters working in their own corners of a bad structure. Thrawn knows the Empire is corrupted, but from his perspective, it’s still the best option out there for galactic stability. Instead of sweating what he can’t control, Thrawn handles his own sphere of influence with justice and fairness.

Hugo-Award-winning Timothy Zahn is my favourite author. The Random House site says he’s “one of science fiction’s most popular voices, known for pitting realistic human characters against a well-researched background of future science and technology.” This may be the best of the Star Wars books he’s written to date, and I’ve enjoyed them all.

Along with his Star Wars and Terminator novels, he’s written somewhere around 30 other satisfying science-fiction novels. For me, it’s been worth hunting down the out of print ones from his early days. I’ve previously posted reviews of Conquerors’ Pride, Conquerors’ Heritage and Conquerors’ Legacy. Recent titles include the Cobra Wars and Quadrail series.

Choices of One is a sequel to his novel Allegiance, and although you don’t have to read them in order there will otherwise be spoilers. Here’s an interesting recent interview with Timothy Zahn. If you need more convincing, here’s an excerpt from Choices of One.

[Review copy from my personal library, and worth every penny of the hardcover price.]

Review: Conquerors’ Heritage, by Timothy Zahn

Conquerors’ Heritage, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1995)

They say there are three sides to any conflict: yours, mine and the truth. In Conquerors’ Pride the Humans met the aliens they call the Conquerors, and interstellar war began.

Conquerors’ Heritage, the second novel in the trilogy, unfolds from the perspective of the aliens, who call themselves the Zhirrzh—and who refer to their new enemies as the “Human-Conquerors”.

It’s a fascinating look at a believable alien culture. The Zhirrzh are clan-based and tradition-bound, controlling 18 worlds to the Humans’ and allies’ much larger commonwealth.

Zhirrzh are bipedal, with two opposable thumbs per hand, beaks and poisonous tongues that can stiffen enough to slice an enemy’s throat. They also have tails which circle perpetually to disperse their body heat;  the faster the spin, the hotter—or more upset—the individual.

One of the main viewpoint characters is Thrr-gilag, who’s been demoted for his handling of the Human prisoner, Pheylan Cavanagh, in book one. At least he’s still part of the team to contact a race claiming to be unwilling subjects of the Human-Conquerors’ rule. But the Elders’ reaction to his disgrace may bring the end of his bond-engagement to a young Zhirrzh scientist.

Meanwhile on one of the Zhirrzh beachhead worlds in Human-Conqueror space, his brother Thrr-mezaz commands the occupation force and tries to outmanoeuvre the Human-Conqueror commander. Thrr-mezaz is under pressure too after a decision that cost the group one of its Elders. He and Thrr-gilag hatch an outlandish scheme to make things right—unless they’re caught.

Then there’s Prr’t-zevisti, a Zhirrzh Elder. At first I wondered why the narrative kept returning to this peripheral individual who was accomplishing nothing, but it’s so the readers will know he’s in position when his moment of insight comes.

Discovering the truth about the war rocks his worldview. Should he tell the others? Could it make a difference? After so many deaths, they can’t simply call off the fighting.

Zhirrzh don’t often die as we know death, but live in a non-corporeal state when their bodies die. The presence of generations of observers, busybodies and advisors makes an interesting dimension of their society, giving tradition a weight greater than on earth.

One of the subplots in Conquerors’ Heritage is perhaps the Zhirrzh equivalent of euthanasia: should a citizen have the right to choose not to continue outside the physical body? The issue threatens the stability of the entire Zhirrzh culture and causes almost as much fear in government circles as the rumour of an unstoppable Human weapon: CIRCE.

Readers wondering how the Cavanagh family is dealing with the fallout from book one need to hold on for  book three, Conquerors’ Legacy. Given the suspenseful ending to Conquerors’ Heritage, I strongly suggest picking up a copy of book three before finishing book two so you can keep reading.

Timothy Zahn’s current novels are the Cobra War series and Terminator Salvation: Trial by Fire. I’m excited to see a new Star Wars novel coming from him next year too. The Conquerors series is still available through online bookstores, as well as through used bookstores.

[Note: Most books I review are written with a Christian worldview. Timothy Zahn’s novels are mainstream science fiction (or speculative) and seem to match the basics of Judeo-Christian morals.]
[Review copy from my personal library.]