Tag Archives: Timothy Zahn

Review: The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn

The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1999)

This is one of those novels that I loved on a first read and appreciate just as much (if not more) on subsequent visits when I can watch the hints and clues drop into place.

If Alistair MacLean were to have written a space thriller, it might look like this. Twists, turns, people who aren’t what they seem, and a protagonist I somehow trusted from page one even though his resume testified against him. (That might have had something to do with the way he dispatched three large, hairy aliens who picked a fight with him in a seedy spaceport tavern.)

Jordan McKell and his partner, Ixil, smuggle drugs for an interstellar cartel. (I’m very fond of Ixil, the alien with the two symbiotic, ferret-like “outriders.”)

The thing about McKell? You can’t stop him. So despite his unsavoury life, when he’s hired to lead a mismatched band of strangers flying a bizarre-looking ship across the galaxy to Earth, you know that somehow he’ll get it done. Despite increasingly strong opposition.

The Icarus Hunt is a chase. It’s also a puzzle, as McKell and his crew try to find out what makes this ungainly ship such a hot commodity.

This is a mainstream novel containing minor profanity, but otherwise what I’d class as a clean read. There’s violence, but it’s more punching or shooting than bleeding or screaming.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite science fiction author, and The Icarus Hunt may be my favourite of his stand-alone titles. He’s written over 40 novels, including some of the best ones in the Star Wars expanded universe, as well as numerous shorter stories. Along the way he’s won a Hugo Award and become a New York Times bestselling author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Cloak, by Timothy Zahn

CloakCloak, by Timothy Zahn (Silence in the Library Publishing, 2014)

In a secret room, two men make a choice: Will they kill one man to save a nation? Well, one man plus enough bystanders that nobody knows he was the original target. Turning him into a martyr would only give him more power.

So begins the best thriller I’ve read in a long, long time. A nuclear weapon is stolen in India and transported toward an unknown target, amid as many red herrings as the planners can spread. In the US, a technological breakthrough is also stolen: specially-treated cloth that, when draped over an object, presents the illusion of invisibility.

Readers know these thefts are linked, but the investigating officials don’t—until it may be too late. There’s a lot that readers don’t know, however, like who is private detective Adam Ross and why did he rescue a key person of interest from assassins—and then keep her away from the police?

Cloak has a large cast of characters, especially in the opening chapters to set everything in motion. Because of that, I’d recommend reading a fair-sized chunk to get started. Otherwise you may forget who’s who. After that, well, stop if you can.

Hugo-award-winning author Timothy Zahn is known for his science fiction novels, including best-sellers within the Star Wars universe. I hesitate to call Cloak science fiction, because except for that one piece of technology, it could come straight from tomorrow’s headlines. Perhaps it’s better labelled a cyber-thriller.

My favourite line describes a man as observed by the female police officer who approaches him:

…he greeted the sudden appearance of a uniformed cop with the kind of jolted wariness most people reserved for unexpected snakes in the garden. [Kobo version: page 6 of chapter 34]

Timothy Zahn is a master strategist, both in terms of military and politics. He nails every aspect of the plot, creating characters we can root for even when we’re not sure of their full game plan. All I can say about the ending is that you won’t see it coming. J

Cloak would make a fantastic movie, except that Hollywood would likely ruin it by adding sex and hardcore profanity. The novel contains mild profanity in places, and I could have done without that, but it wasn’t enough to diminish my overall reading experience.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Top 10 Books From 2014

‘Tis the season for “best of 2014” lists, and here are  my picks for top 10 books I’ve read this year. (Goodreads tells me I read 64… ouch! And I know I didn’t record everything there.) Some were published in 2014, and some are older. These are in no particular order, and each one is best in its own category.



My stash of books to read is already intimidating, but how about sharing some of your picks from 2014? I can always add a few more…

Review: Soulminder, by Timothy Zahn

Soulminder, by Timothy ZahnSoulminder, by Timothy Zahn (Open Road Integrated Media, 2014)

Adrian Sommer’s 5-year-old son died in his arms after a car accident. The boy’s injuries were all treatable, if there’d been a way—a sort of holding tank—to keep his soul from departing. Thus began Sommer’s obsessive quest to invent a means of stopping untimely deaths. And Soulminder was created.

What could possibly go wrong?

Timothy Zahn is a master of short fiction (won a Nebula) as well as novel-length (won a Hugo), and Soulminder feels like a seven-part series of short stories, spanning 20 years of Soulminder use.

We follow Sommer, his business partner Jessica Sands, and security expert Frank Everly through the unforeseen challenges and crises caused by those who would use Soulminder for their personal or political gain. What could go wrong, indeed? What kind of political, moral, ethical, social, legal and other upheavals could technology like this cause?

This is one of Timothy Zahn’s few novels set on nearly present-day Earth, and the action is mainly intellectual and verbal as opposed to space battles. The author is no stranger to interpersonal tactics, negotiations and manoeuvrings (check out his Conquerors’ Trilogy), and Sommer and friends pull off some slick victories to keep Soulminder out of the wrong hands.

Soulminder is a mainstream novel, with what may be the requisite minor profanity. It’s fast-paced yet with plenty to offer the thinking reader. I appreciated the challenge to do the right thing even if it’s costly—or a losing battle. My favourite line:

Late at night, with the extra blackness of a storm approaching, was a horrible time to have to watch a man die. (p. 3)

Timothy Zahn is the author of over 40 science fiction novels plus shorter works. For more about the author, see his Facebook page or his page at Open Road.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2013

My favourites from 2013:


Best of the year: also most satisfying series wrap-up:

Most satisfying mystery, and very close to best of the year:

Most can’t-wait-to-read-the-next-one mystery:

Most life-changing (fiction):

Most life-changing (non-fiction):

Most satisfying science fiction (and action):

Most satisfying fantasy novel:

Most satisfying speculative fiction:

  • Mask, by Kerry Nietz

Most satisfying historical:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Most life-changing posts:

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: Spinneret, by Timothy Zahn

Spinneret cover artSpinneret, by Timothy Zahn (ebook version from Open Road Integrated Media, 2012)

In the year 2016, Earth’s first starship sets out on Project Homestead: a mission to find a planet to colonize. They soon discover a problem: the habitable planets are already taken!

The best the humans can do is to lease a planet nobody else wants due to its complete lack of metals. The cost and risk factors push what was to be a UN mission onto the Americans. The planet is dubbed Astra, and humans’ first colony begins.

When all metals – including a bulldozer – literally sink into the ground, the colony seems doomed. Until the planet proves to contain an ancient artifact worth more than anyone imagined.

Suddenly everyone wants it: the aliens and the UN. But US-appointed planetary leader Colonel Meredith and the people of Astra won’t give up their new home.

As well as learning to work with six diverse alien races and trying to fend off a UN takeover, the Astrans have to overcome internal differences. What began as a military-run effort faces the transition to civilian government and the threat of a coup from within.

This is a fun science fiction novel with Timothy Zahn’s trademark mastery of political and military tactics. Spinneret was printed in 1985 and released as an ebook in 2012. It’s still relevant conceptually and in terms of the issues it raises about immigration and international politics.

Naturally some of the “historical” events mentioned haven’t happened (like the 2011 Mexican Collapse). The characters still use cassettes, but they also have star drives (invented by Canadians, thank you very much). Still I doubt we’ll reach the projected date of space travel in 2016.

Spinneret is one of seven of Timothy Zahn’s hard-to-find novels released by Open Road Media in ebook format, and they’re all worth reading. My personal favourites on the list are Blackcollar and The Backlash Mission (Blackcollar #2). I really like the covers for these ebooks… some of the original paperback covers are very, well… eighties-ish.

My copy of Spinneret is an advance review copy, and there are a few typos that may have been corrected for the retail version. The font is a bit unusual and although attractive it can be hard to read on the smaller display settings. Lower-case letters with stems (like b, f, l, k) aren’t much taller than the shorter ones, which makes it easy to confuse f with r, i with l etc. Especially in a science fiction novel with unusual names, this can be a problem.

Still, to read these earlier books from a master in the genre, the ebooks are an easier choice than hunting the Internet for used copies of the paperbacks. (Thanks, AbeBooks, for helping me complete my collection a few years ago. I’ll be upgrading to ebooks over time.)

Hugo Award winning author Timothy Zahn writes in the Star Wars universe as well as in those of his own creation. You can find him on Facebook. His next scheduled release is the Star Wars novel, Scoundrels, releasing in early 2013.

[Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.]

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]

Picks from 2011

I’m borrowing this idea from Laura Davis at Interviews and Reviews, and picking my favourites from what I’ve reviewed in 2011:


Most life-changing (tie, listed in order I read them):

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Best dramatic novel:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Favourite album of the year (tie, listed in order I heard them):

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.]