Revisiting the Tales of the Bounty Hunters

Well, I’m a day late, and it’s just a book review, but I think you have to agree that a Star Wars review is pretty standard for this blog! I think I want to talk a little more about the bounty hunters in another post, especially regarding how they’ve changed in their depictions between Legends and the Disney canon. But that can wait for another day. For now, my review of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, which I’d last read well over a decade ago, follows.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters (Star Wars)Tales of the Bounty Hunters by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I returned to Tales of the Bounty Hunters partly out of nostalgia, but partly because I’d rather enjoyed the other Tales that I’ve rediscovered in adulthood. On finishing, I was surprised to find that my original rating for this collection, based on childhood recollections, was pretty honest; I haven’t altered that rating. The stories are good, extrapolating from our brief glimpse of Empire‘s bounty hunters into full adventures that are generally interesting, though rarely emotionally investing.

The wildest part to me was realizing that “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88,” by Kevin J. Anderson, was nowhere as good as I remembered it. There was no way that it could be; I remembered it as a high-concept piece about artificial intelligence, droid rights, relative morality, and a fight for liberty. It’s…not that. I can see how the basic story of IG-88’s silent droid revolution allowed me to imagine these larger, richer themes; it stoked the fires of my young imagination, even if it didn’t really execute such an epic story. IG-88 is an assassin droid; it thinks it’s better than organics, so it’s going to kill them all. It thinks droid independence is vital, but it’s quite happy to overwrite other assassin droids to transplant its personality, and it views an override code that will launch a galactic-wide droid revolution as an essential part of its plan. IG-88 never seems to even consider that its own quest for independence is really a blood-stained path to change one oppressor (organics in general) to another (IG-88 in particular). I think that IG-88’s vanity and arrogance are intended to be part of the story, but since we’re largely limited to its perspective and that of a generic Imperial bureaucrat villain, there’s not much effort to really emphasize the hypocrisy of the droid’s plans. And so much of the story is couched in Ultra-Cool 90s Grittiness, with hyper-violent deaths, a mechanized factory world, the aforementioned generic villain, and mostly shoot-’em-up exploits that all feel more like the plot to a video game or very of-its-era comic book than a Star Wars story. I’m still amused that IG-88 ultimately decides to become the Death Star II; like its other copies, its perceived strength is a false image of arrogance, and it fails in its moment of triumph, rather like a certain Emperor occupying the halls of its final battle station form.

There’s a story for each bounty hunter, though, and IG-88’s just the first. “Payback: The Tale of Dengar,” by Dave Wolverton, attempts to make Dengar cool. His central motivation is revenge: revenge against Han Solo, who inadvertently caused him to crash in a swoop bike race, and revenge against the Empire, which used his swoop accident as an excuse to perform super-soldier experiments on his maimed body, erasing most of his emotions and augmenting him considerably. The story was engaging for me, with a lot of 007-esque action, but the central conceit is basically that Dengar is able to find himself in the love of a woman, and that’s a tired trope. It’s sort of interesting that he’s able to find happiness when he essentially rejects a form of toxic masculinity that narrows the emotional spectrum to rage–here applied through the dual science-fiction elements of hyper-advanced surgeries that can precisely cut out specific emotions and of an advanced, pacifistic culture that has developed devices that allow shared emotional experiences. His dream girl can literally allow him to feel how she feels about him. It’s certainly not winning any awards for progressive narrative, but this plot element did provide for a clear arc for Dengar. And it ends with Dengar recovering Boba Fett from near the Sarlacc, rejecting revenge against the man who betrayed him twice, and asking the Mandalorian super-commando to be his best man at a wedding, so there’s that. (By the way, the more I think about it, the more that this story feels like the Star Wars version of Casino Royale, just with a happy ending).

“The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk,” by Kathy Tyers, proved to be my favorite story, though I didn’t remember it that strongly. Partially I enjoyed it as a continuation of the story of armament-company-heiress-turned-bounty-hunter Tinian, who appeared first in another short story by Tyers that was collected in Tales from the Empire. Tyers clearly enjoyed writing Tinian and Chenlambec, providing this story with perhaps the most heart and soul of any in the anthology. But I also enjoyed it because it’s got convoluted plans, with crosses and double-crosses and backup options galore, and because Bossk isn’t provided some redeeming narrative like most of the other characters–nor is he made to be “cool.” Bossk is played up as an evil dude, a vile serial killer who hunts other sentients for fun. We want Bossk to be defeated in the end, and he’s dangerous enough that points in the story are truly scary and nerve-wracking.

“Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM,” by M. Shayne Bell, was another story I was fond of as a kid, but it held up better than I expected. Look, I’ll admit that part of what I loved about it was that two of the protagonists shared the surname Farr (hey, that’s my name!), and they were both intimately involved in the Battle of Hoth, which always fascinated me. Now, though, I can appreciate the story for its incredible weirdness. Zuckuss has his own elaborate alien culture, barely touched on, and a desperate motivation to earn enough credits to repair or replace his oxygen-damaged lungs. 4-LOM was a simple protocol droid who overrode his own programming over time through twisted logic to become first a master thief and then a bounty hunter; he continues to test the bounds of his programming, and he’s actually partnered with Zuckuss because he hopes to learn the art of intuition from his companion. His biggest ambition is to somehow learn to use the Force. Meanwhile, Toryn Farr (whom you may know as the background female officer who was one of the last to stay behind in the Echo Base control room) struggles with being thrust into a leadership situation in a crisis, balancing the needs of the crew with her protectiveness for her seriously wounded snowspeeder pilot sister, Samoc. While Legends wouldn’t let Zuckuss and 4-LOM have the fate suggested at the end of this story, “Of Possible Futures” ends with them joining up as legitimate members of the Rebellion. I love not just the expansion of so many background characters, but the sheer amount of wild and weird. It’s sad to me that we never got more of Toryn and Samoc.

Finally, the last story is “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett,” by Daniel Keys Moran. This one still gets discussed in some fandom circles as one of the great Boba Fett stories. It’s fine. Fett is a dispassionate killer, and apparently an ugly man. He’s devoted to the concept of Justice, but he’s perfectly fine with extrajudicial murder, even for lesser offenses like smuggling. He views a good deal of sex as immoral. He’s a prude with a laser gun. There’s an especially awkward scene where Jabba sends Leia to his room, and he promises to leave her untouched, safe in his chambers, for the night; they have a brief moral discussion in which his incomprehensible values are stated as obvious truths. It reads as the ultimate fanboy stand-in: so close to the beautiful Leia Organa, possessing great power over her in a sexually compromising situation, and choosing to be the Noble Gentleman who promises not to lay a finger on her. Frankly, it’s a weird scene to me because I see no reason why, in the fiction of Star Wars, Leia ever had to be at any sort of risk of sexual assault, and I’d believe she could fight or talk her way out of any such situation anyway, so painting her as so vulnerable (and, in this scene, scared) is just downright uncomfortable. That all said, I did like the later sections of the story, as Fett deals with his traumas and wounds as he continues to hunt in old age, finding himself at the very end in a standoff with an equally exhausted Han Solo. The standoff cliffhanger ending, with its ambiguous outcome, is interesting, but I think we all know a character like Solo would never be killed off-screen, in or out of Legends. I think I can see how a story that attempted to provide a background and personality to Fett was so well-regarded at the time, but it hasn’t aged well.

In all, I think I mostly prefer the new canon versions of the characters. But the stories were still mostly enjoyable. Unless you are guided by nostalgia, like myself, I think you can pass over a purchase of the book, used or otherwise, and instead pick it up from the library to check out the tales of Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM.

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New job, same site, & other news

Surprising even myself, after a few contented years working in an operations administrative support role, I’ve stepped down from my management position to accept a new role in an Indy firm’s Social Security disability department. The transition happened midweek; I left my old job on Wednesday and started my new job on Thursday. But it was about a month in the making. I’m excited and anxious and interested to see how this goes. That’s big enough news in my personal life that I felt it warranted a post. It’s been a year with a lot of big personal events, including the death of our dog, the adoption of two dogs, the purchase of a house, a new volunteer pursuit, and now this. That all said, this site shouldn’t be impacted in any way. I’m already only posting once a week, which has been quite comfortable. While it means that I certainly won’t be increasing the frequency of posts on a regular basis any time soon, I also don’t have any reason to decrease or discontinue posting. I’ve enjoyed writing on this blog, and I fully intend to continue carving out time for it.

I have a few other, much smaller, updates that are more relevant to the focus of this blog, though. I’ve finished Cat Quest. I’ve actually finished it twice now, since it provides a New Game+ mode. That’s taken me a little over 10 hours of game time. I’m a little over level 100. I’ve cleared most dungeons (maybe all, but I wasn’t very diligent in confirming that, and I know I never found all the loot locations in some of the cleared dungeons). I’ve got some high-level themed equipment (a helm of Faith, the armor of Courage, and the weapon of Willpower, resulting in my hero looking like a near-naked enlightened monk). It’s been fun, but I don’t have any particular interest in trying out the other game modes or starting over again. My opinion hasn’t changed on the game, and I’d still say it’s worth the purchase. And compared to my game time spent with Desert Child (just a few hours) or Untitled Goose Game (about five), it’s still been the longest gaming experience among the indies I’ve played lately.

There are altogether too many games available on and coming to the Switch, and I haven’t narrowed down exactly what I’ll play next. That said, Vampyr will be released for the console a couple days before Halloween, so while it may not be the next game I play, it’s certainly one that I’d like to revisit, and the seasonal timing is just perfect.

It’s not much of an announcement, but I’ve realized in retrospect that I sort of gave up on The Clone Wars rewatch. It’s sort of a silly thing to say, because I can of course continue watching or start over whenever I want, but I’ve made no effort to keep up with the official posts for several weeks now. Watching almost any Star Wars film or show will be much easier when it’s consolidated on Disney+ anyway (though it doesn’t appear that the two Endor-based fantasy movies or the Ewoks or Droids shows are dropping there anytime soon). I have been watching other things, though. Sam and I finally finished Adventure Time; that final episode was absolutely fantastic. I’ve started the television version of What We Do In The Shadows, which is fun and tonally fits with the movie, though I’m not far enough along yet to say if it really feels like it’s doing its own thing–that said, I like the introduction of the Energy Vampire concept.

I haven’t watched any particularly memorable movie lately, and my pile of books remains as thick as ever; I keep adding more to read, quicker than I can get through them! Most of my attention is currently on Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King, about Thurgood Marshall’s defense of the “Groveland Boys” in Lake County, Florida.

While I could leave it at a week’s recap post for the week, I’ll still plan on having a more “normal” post tomorrow, though I’m not sure what about just yet. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Either way, I’m looking forward to what is sure to be a very exciting, very different week for me.

Completing objectives

Over the past week, I’ve finally finished On Her Own Ground (the biography of Madam C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Perry Bundles). I really struggled with making progress through that, but the woman and the history surrounding her are equally fascinating.

That said, this post’s primary purpose is to note that I should have some additional video game reviews up over the next couple of days, having dug into a few games from the Switch’s eShop over this weekend. Those games are Desert ChildUntitled Goose Game (which I started and proceeded to complete on this Saturday alone), and Cat Quest. The first two of those games are actually quite short, but my time spent across these titles still reflects a weekend in which I devoted more leisure time to video games than I have in a while.

Outside of that, I also started my first volunteer shift at the Indy Reads Books store. It’s a bookstore in support of the nonprofit organization Indy Reads, which is focused on providing literacy programs in Indianapolis. It’s a cool cause, and the bookstore itself is full of quirky, eclectic titles (in addition to all the new and classic books you’d expect to see in any bookstore). I enjoyed my short time there today, and my biggest challenge so far is that it’s far too easy to buy more books while I’m there. I’d been so good about sticking to library loans! At least I can say that it’s going to a good cause.

I don’t have anything else to add, so I’ll just repeat that I should have reviews for those three games on the site soon.

Super-heroic Legacies in Classic Comics Collections

I’ve been on something of a superhero kick, seemingly out of nowhere. If there’s been a theme, it’s been legacy and historicity–stories where heroes are grounded in particular moments in time, where they age, where they are phased out over generations. Stories that can really only exist when there are decades of superhero comics to build on and reinterpret. I love these sorts of stories, and amazingly, the classics I’ve been perusing lately are works that I haven’t seriously touched before (though they all owe some debt to Watchmen, it’s safe to say, and I’m certainly familiar with Alan Moore’s perhaps most-well-known work).

So far, I’ve gone through Marvels (written by Kurt Busiek with art by Alex Ross), Kingdom Come (written by Mark Waid, with the story and art from Ross), and DC: The New Frontier (written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke with colors by Dave Stewart).

As usual, the local library system has impressed me with the range and quality of its collection. After going through these comics, I’m eager to get my hands on The Golden Age (written by James Robinson with art by Paul Smith, and a series which must have informed the three limited series I just read and which most certainly influenced New Frontier) and to start working through Astro City (another Busiek/Ross collaboration with art from Brent Anderson as well). If you have other suggestions that fit the collectively shared themes of these works, please let me know–I probably haven’t heard of them!

My reviews follow, but these are of course well-regarded classics, so I don’t really expect to be saying anything new! Then again, if anyone reading this hasn’t heard of (or taken the time to read) any of these works, maybe this will be encouragement to do so.

Marvels: The Remastered EditionMarvels: The Remastered Edition by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marvels shines in two primary ways: its fantastic, often hyper-realistic, dynamic, densely packed, homage-laden artwork, and its way of creating a sense of real history for the Marvel universe, retelling stories from the earliest days up through the 1970s through the lens (literal and metaphorical) of an everyman photographer who wrestles with his feelings about superheroes and his place within a city (and world) full of them even while he makes a career snapping their pictures.

You can trace the themes of generational continuation and change of legacy superheroes and realistic treatment of superheroes and their impact on the world into later projects of writer Kurt Busiek and artist Alex Ross. It also had an obvious influence on later works by other creators. Its impact is significant, and it was a pleasure to read.

I don’t have much more to say, other than that I also enjoyed the ancillary materials included with this volume.

Kingdom ComeKingdom Come by Mark Waid

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alex Ross was not only the artist but also the originator of the overall plot for this story, and his imprint, visually and thematically, is strongly felt. Together with writer Mark Waid, Ross tells the story of inter-generational conflict between superheroes: the increasingly out-of-touch old guard, and the violent and irreverent younger “heroes.” That latter group consists of many descendants of the older heroes, sometimes children and sometimes bearers of a legacy title. In truth, both generations seem to have lost touch with the people they should be serving. While the younger generation is reckless and uncaring, the older generation begins to see control rather than service as the only way to keep the world orderly and safe.

The old guard is led by Superman, retired for about a decade since the Joker killed many in Metropolis, including Lois Lane, and was in turn killed by the violent hard-liner hero leading the new generation, Magog. Superman left, heartbroken and disillusioned, disgusted that Magog not only was acquitted of the cold-blooded murder of the Joker but gained popular support of a public exhausted by the mass mayhem caused by supervillains. Superman reemerges after Magog’s reckless antics lead to the accidental devastation of the heartland of America, sending the nation and the world into a spiral of lawlessness and economic instability. Superman feels it is his responsibility to restore order and bring the younger heroes into line, no matter what. Pushed by an increasingly militant Wonder Woman, he almost accidentally begins to form a fascist pseudo-government. The world comes ever closer to a superhero-induced apocalypse as sides are drawn: Superman’s new world order, the rebellious anarchy of those metahumans who chose to resist, and Batman’s secret army eager to preserve freedom in the face of the superhuman threat. Stirring the pot is a conspiracy of surviving supervillains, hidden under the banner of a society eager to preserve human liberty. And this whole narrative is framed through the eyes of a pastor, close to losing his faith, who begins to have apocalyptic visions and becomes the human host of the Spectre, chosen to witness and pass judgment on this brewing metahuman war.

It’s a complicated narrative and it’s so deftly told. Frankly, I wasn’t happy with every character choice, but at the end of the day, it’s a story about superheroes losing their way and gradually finding their humanity, and purpose, once more. It’s an interesting, if extreme, examination of the relationship between Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. It pushes the three in ways to see what would make them break. Superman loses everything that tethers him to humanity, then has the public reject him to choose a suicidal path. Wonder Woman is deemed a failure by her people because they do not see sufficient progress at improving the world of men; they strip her of her royal title and cast her adrift. Batman has spent a life broken and battered by his dogged pursuit of justice, alienating those close to him. Yet they all react in interesting and organic ways. Superman, in particular, never loses his faith in truth and justice, but his rejection of his human side leaves him open to forcing order on chaos. Wonder Woman becomes increasingly militant and violent, probably straying the furthest from her principles and pushing Superman down a dark path. But Batman is almost liberated, no longer masked and using a patrol force of robots to keep order in Gotham; he seems the happiest and most contented of the bunch, and maybe the most human. These were bold character decisions, and I can appreciate that.

What I really loved was the sense of generational change and the cultural clash between younger and older heroes. Every panel was so packed with characters, referencing the fates of heroes who did not have a major role in the plot and creating so many “heroes” for the new generation. There is such a sense of history, significance, lineage, legacy. This can be felt not just in the existence of aged interpretations of iconic characters, or the inclusion of Gold- and Silver- age characters along with the new ones, or even the incredibly deep-cut comics references, but the distinctly unique styles of the generations, down to the ’90s “extreme” looks of many of the younger heroes. And truly, there are so many stories just barely being glimpsed in the background, or even among the secondary and tertiary characters. There’s a barely glimpsed three-generation story about the Bat Family, and an even more unspoken three-or-four-generation story about the Arrows and Canaries. It’s like Star Wars; there’s a whole rich world to get lost in here, beyond just references to other comics (of which there are plenty).

On that note, while the story itself is great, I almost enjoyed the supplementary materials more, especially the genealogies and character sketch sections filled with little details about the heroes and villains of this world.

It would be easy to read Kingdom Come as the sort of grimdark story I wouldn’t normally like, but by the end, it feels more a metatextual challenge of exactly those sorts of stories, a statement that even if superhero stories maybe lost their way in the dark, in all the moral grey, they can still find their way back. No matter what comes at Superman, he’ll always be a true hero.

(By the way, it seems obvious to me that Injustice: Gods Among Us took heavy inspiration from Kingdom Come. But that video game franchise chooses to ignore the uplifting message, instead showing heroes truly unhinged. In comparison, Injustice is, to me, the clearly inferior work.)

The New FrontierThe New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I arrived at this collection in a meandering way. Before I’d realized his involvement with many DCAU projects, I first became aware of Darwyn Cooke through the direct-to-video Justice League: The New Frontier. I instantly fell in love with that movie; the large cast of characters, sense of grounding in a real moment, and combination of so many threads of comic book and real-world history were absolutely lovely. Yet I didn’t seek Cooke’s limited series out for quite a while, even as I explored many of his other projects.

I’m happy to have finally closed the gap and read this beautiful collected edition of DC: The New Frontier, written and drawn by Cooke, with additional materials including previously uncollected stories set in this particular universe. It’s everything I loved about the film and more. I especially loved the broader focus on an even wider cast of characters, and the intermingling of Gold- and Silver-age characters with those of war stories and other weird sci-fi comics. It’s a fascinating reconfiguration/recombination of so much DC lore into a streamlined, consistent narrative. And it has the benefit of so much comics history, and the benefit of hindsight into the historical trends in the period in which these comics were written, and the benefit of being able to freely express itself and draw from real-world events and to combine previously segregated genres of comic stories without censure (or, for that matter, censor). Plus, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and it feels as much a physical product of the 1950s as it is a story set within the period. (Also cool: it uses Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to powerful effect, yet it can have this iconic trinity present without dominating the plot; they’re all secondary characters, and the real stars are the Suicide Squad, the Challengers of the Unknown, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, and J’onn J’onnz.)

I’ve always loved stories that took the history of a genre to full effect, building on disparate elements to suggest a deeper shared history. That’s true of the Star Wars EU, and of the later Marvel movies, and of projects like Justice League Unlimited or the Young Justice series, and of New Frontier. And its effort to condense so much comics history (in-universe and out) into a single story is exactly what I wanted to see. When I was younger, I was fascinated by the idea of a comic series that retold the origins of its heroes in ways that more clearly intersected across character and genre lines and drew from the history of the era, with new characters introduced into the timeline as one reached the year of their real-world first publication. This series is exactly that project.

This series is certainly a product of so many comics and creators in the decades preceding its release; Cooke is generous with his attributions and tributes to the artists who influenced him. I am sure that New Frontier will, in turn, influence many other works.

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A little here and there

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Today was really special in particular. It was a beautiful day. My wife and I put a lot of time and attention into training the puppy today, and it’s really shown off. We’re reinforcing learned tricks and introducing new ones and we’re happy with the pace, especially since she hasn’t been to obedience school yet. She seems so smart and picks up on things really quickly. Other than that, my day has been a little bit housework, a little bit yard work, a little bit of catch-up on my day job, and more than a little bit of leisure time.

If you can’t tell already, this is one of those meandering posts where I don’t have much to say but still wanted to check in. As per usual with these sorts of posts, I’ll at least briefly discuss the things I’m into that may or may not pop up on the blog in the near future.

After two months of homeownership, I finally pulled the Nintendo Switch and games out of storage in the guest bedroom. The first month was busy enough that video games were the last thing on my mind. The last month has been a little more focused on movies and reading, with admittedly way too much familiar TV thrown in. But I started getting the itch. Putting Desert Child on hold for a moment, I picked up Hello Neighbor. That’s a game that has an interesting concept but struggles in execution, and I’ll probably have more of a review when I either finish a play-through of the (relatively short) game or get exhausted by it, whichever comes first. For point of reference, I’m in the middle of Act 2 of 3. It’s a game where I wish I’d relied more on the available reviews. But of course, reviews are a subjective thing, and even a “bad” game can be something to be enjoyed. Just by way of example, I loved the simple action-RPG-lite beat-’em-up gameplay and branching story of X-Men: Destiny, even while recognizing that most of the complaints about that game were pretty valid (in fact-checking my memory of this game and reviews of the time, by the way, I was surprised to see that it had been de-listed from online stores and had unsold copies destroyed because of a legal dispute; now I really regret my decision to get rid of my copy, even though it was a game I likely wouldn’t play again and was taking up limited shelf space).

As for TV, I started The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which I can only watch when my wife’s not around (she hates puppetry, and stop-motion as well), and I’ve continued to slowly move through the quite fast-paced and bite-sized Adventure Time because I can only watch it when my wife is around (we were stalled for a long time because she just wasn’t in the mood, which is just baffling to me).

I’m reading too many things and moving too slowly, so I don’t have any interesting updates there. I did, however, learn from my wife that Netflix is going to release a series about Madam C.J. Walker, based on On Her Own Ground, in 2020, so that’s kind of a weird coincidence.

To close out my pop culture consumption, I don’t really have any movie updates, either. I’m mostly just eager to see The Rise of Skywalker in December (though weirdly I might be more excited for the next Jurassic World movie and associated TV series, even though I’ve still got quite a while to wait on both–I do love me some dinosaurs).

And…that’ll just about do it! Have a good week, folks.

A weak week recap

I don’t know that I have much to say this week. We’re still adjusting to Rhodey’s absence in our home. After a week of struggling, we took today to get back to work on getting things unpacked, organized, renovated, etc. Today I tackled some yard work I’d let build up after Rhodey died. The previous owner kept a lovely lawn and garden, but in the months between her death and the home purchase, weeds crept in, and grasses spread like wildfire through the flower beds. So on top of the usual mowing and trimming and pruning, I’m finally getting around to beating back these vegetative invasions. My goal for this evening is to get as many of the books put away as possible. Truly, I don’t know that I’ll get that much done, or that I’ll continue it during the weeknights.

Speaking of books, I’m regaining my appetite for reading–or, really, my focus. I’m still all over the place with partially read books. Last week, I made a concentrated effort to finish A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell. I rather enjoyed it, but my (relatively) increased reading speed was largely motivated by the return date for the library. I racked up a little bit of a late fee there. Plus, it’s in demand, so I’m that jerk delaying someone’s hold. Not the main point: the main point is that Virginia Hall is a fascinating woman, the French Resistance is a fascinating movement within a period of history shrouded by great evil, and there are interesting parallels to today. Not the sort of book I usually talk about on this blog, but given that it helped jump-start my reading again, I figured it was worth a mention. (Thanks, Mom, for the recommendation however long ago that prompted me to place the hold in the first place.)

I still have a pile of books to get through, though. The list:

  • On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, by A’Lelia Perry Bundles (another library loan, and another of those books I don’t normally write here about, but I’m a fan of nonfiction, especially histories and biographies, especially those about Indianapolis and its significant residents, and even more narrowly, the people and culture of Indiana Avenue from its segregationist roots to its thriving status as an African-American arts and business district and its eventual destruction as the result of a complex variety of factors that, in general, don’t cast the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or IUPUI in the greatest light);
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, picked up because a mutual on Twitter was raving about it (and I like it so far, largely due to some really wild world-building, but I haven’t gotten very far in, and this in fact started as an eBook library loan but transformed into an inexpensive purchase when the loan expired);
  • Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray, because (1) Star Wars, (2) Leia, and (3) Claudia Gray; and
  • Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, one of the old Expanded Universe short story anthologies and an impulse buy for nostalgic reasons while at Half Price Books for something completely unrelated.

Oh, also, I haven’t even started it, but Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, recommended by a friend when I admitted to a lack of familiarity with this Daoist text (having only read the Tao Te Ching in college), is another book in my pile and another library loan.

I haven’t played any video games, old or new, familiar or unfamiliar, lately. Haven’t really been in the mood. I haven’t even hooked up the Switch in our new home yet. I’ve kind of been getting into the mood for mucking around in a Grand Theft Auto game. Before the move, I was playing Desert Child on Switch (which had been perfect timing, since I finally watched all of the Cowboy Bebop series), and I’m starting to feel the desire to get back to that. But I just haven’t had much of a drive to play games. Similarly, I haven’t really watched any movies lately, other than going to see a showing of Jaws in IMAX at the Indiana State Museum on Wednesday.

What’s everyone else reading or watching? Any recommendations that might tie into any of the above?

Here’s to a better week than the last one. Hopefully next week’s post, and my general mental state, will be more focused.

Leia: Princess of Alderaan

Leia: Princess of Alderaan (Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, #3)Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I continue to greatly enjoy Claudia Gray’s contributions to the new Star Wars continuity. Leia: Princess of Alderaan is no exception. L:POA is a YA novel like Lost Stars, and there are certainly similarities between the two, including a story about young love set against an intergalactice stage and starring characters (in this case, Leia and her first crush Kier) who understand each other so well yet ultimately find themselves divided by opposing viewpoints. There are even parallel events between the novels; the Imperial ball Leia attends toward the end of L:POA is likely a predecessor of the ball depicted in LS, suggesting an annually recurring event (the timeline of the novels and her rank of apprentice legislator in L:POA versus junior senator in LS are sufficient for me to treat them as separate events), and I’ll never forget the Moa or its crew so was pleased to see a brief cameo in L:POA as well.

Gray’s novels have some appropriately Star Wars-ian big action sequences, but the best moments are quieter scenes spent in characters’ heads, or in high society setpieces with plenty of melodrama, like a dinner party or ball. There’s plenty of all the above in L:POA. As usual, Gray seems to perfectly convey the voices of established characters like Leia, Mon Mothma, and Bail Organa–all the more impressive here since Leia is not nearly so tough or jaded at this point in her life, and Bail is unusually anxious and emotionally overwhelmed as he deals with the reality that he can’t keep Leia safe or separate from his growing rebellion, such that we see the characters dealing with things differently than they would in the films, and know that they are at different points in their lives, but we still see elements of their personalities that we know well. It doesn’t feel out of character; the differences reflect living personalities that can and will change over time. Gray seems to have a lot of fun with Tarkin in particular, and his cold, calculating evil is a heavy influence in L:POA just as it was in the first part of LS. I also liked the many new characters that are introduced, including all the members of Leia’s pathfinding group. Though not a truly new character, Queen Breha Organa is given a wholly developed, distinctive personality, and we finally see how much Leia inherited not just from her adoptive father but her adoptive mother as well.

Much was made out of Leia’s one-off use of the line, “Strength through joy,” preserved in my first edition copy of the book though apparently changed in later editions. I’ll confess that I would have remained ignorant of the Nazi association if not for the resultant backlash within fandom. Gray was right to apologize for the oversight, I understand why people were upset, and it’s good that this was updated later. But I firmly believe that this was just a simple oversight, because Gray’s books, including L:POA, are full of sympathetic, engaging, and diverse characters, and the fascist rule of the Galactic Empire is clearly portrayed as evil in and of itself, even without the cackling villainy of Palpatine and his immediate underlings. L:POA is a novel about resisting fascism, tyranny, and oppression, about finding ways to combat a bad system from the inside, and about learning when it becomes necessary to force change from the outside, even if the mechanism of that force is violent. It was also clear exactly what the Organas and the other Rebels are fighting for in this book: freedom, equality, planetary sovereignty, and an end to cronyism and blatant governmental corruption. Leia goes on mercy missions, delivering food and medicine to worlds impacted by the actions of the Empire. And the Empire’s actions aren’t just planet-destroying or abstract; we see actual examples of unjust policies, and how those policies could be supported by those who benefit from the Empire. Leia at one point observes slavers and, though heartbroken, insists on bearing witness and doing what she can on Alderaan to ensure that any slaves passed through that system will be freed. Where a lot of Star Wars, especially in the movies, does a poor job of presenting just what was good about the Old or New Republic and just what the Rebels were fighting for, Claudia Gray makes the portrayal of that purpose and positivity a primary goal, especially in contrast to the banal evil of the Imperial bureaucracy. (As an aside, I think that Gray sees the Rebellion as cohering not necessarily over an agreement about what an Imperial replacement should be or even over basic moral principles, so much as a desire to return sovereignty to individual planetary governments. I think that’s an interesting and complicated perspective, one that seems rather real and plausible, and it also does a good job of explaining why the eventually unified Rebel Alliance of the films doesn’t have much of a clearly conveyed vision other than resistance to the Empire and, presumably, restoration of the Republic.)

If you’d asked me five years ago where to get into Star Wars books, my safe answer would have been Zahn’s EU Thrawn trilogy. Now, my enthusiastic answer is anything by Claudia Gray, and Leia: Princess of Alderaan only reinforces that opinion.

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