June 28, 2007

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

(I actually finished Darth Bane last Thursday, but I forgot to post about it, and now I'm well over halfway through the next book, Cloak of Deception by James Luceno.)

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction was written by Drew Karpyshyn and released in September of 2006. This is his first (and only) Star Wars book, and almost all of his other work seems to have been in scripting video games. His most prestigious credits to date are Baldur's Gate II and Knights of the Old Republic, both well-liked by RPG fans, as far as I've heard. As of this month, a sequel to Path of Destruction (which was quite well received, apparently) is slated for release in December 2007. It will replace a previously-planned novel by Luceno about Darth Plagueis (master of Darth Sidious). The tentative title is Darth Bane: Rule of Two.

As you might guess from the title of the latter game (and the fact that I'm moving chronologically), this book is set during the days of the Old Republic. You know that whole "A long time ago . . ." schtick? Well, think longer. Path of Destruction is set 1000 years before the events of Star Wars during the earliest of the 6 Star Wars eras: the Old Republic Era (obviously), which covers events from 5,000 to 1,000 years before Star Wars. Path of Destruction is currently the only novel set during this era . . . the remaining 4 millenia being covered by a whole bunch of comic books and a few computer games. Sparse.

Oh, incidentally, the climactic conclusion of Path of Destruction takes place amidst the massive Seventh Battle of Ruusan, the pivotal event that brings the Old Republic Era to an end and ushers in the Rise of the Empire Era. As a result, the planned sequel would not join Path of Destruction in the earlier era and it is likely to remain the lone Old Republic novel for some time to come.

Connections: Jedi Master General Hoth plays a key role in the novel as a hero of the Republic. While not stated explicitly, it is reasonable to assume that the ice planet from The Empire Strikes Back is named after him. The book makes numerous references to the events and characters of the comic books which chronicle the Jedi/Sith conflicts of three and four millenia before. Darth Revan makes an appearance in a Sith Holocron. The aftermath of the aforementioned Battle of Ruusan will eventually lead to the creation of a monument that would later be known as the Valley of the Jedi and play a crucial role in the Jedi Knight computer games.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction tells the story of Dessel, a dirt-poor miner enslaved in all but name by a huge corporation on a backwater world, and his transformation into Darth Bane, Dark Lord of the Sith and originator of the "1 master, 1 apprentice" rule of the Sith order. Forced to flee his homeworld, Apatros, he joins the army of the Sith in the epic ongoing conflict against the Republic and the Jedi. After repeatedly leading his unit to glorious victories, he is plucked from the ranks and taken to train at the Sith Academy on Korriban before following his own path to Lehon and Ruusan.

Meanwhile, Lords Kaan, Kopecz, and Qordis lead the Sith forces in their galaxy-wide campaign against the Jedi. Ruusan becomes the focus of the conflict, and General Hoth gathers all of the Jedi padawans, knights, and masters into an "Army of Light" to counter the Sith berserkers, assassins, and lords on the other side. The victories, defeats, strategies, and intrigues on both sides make up the other half of the story, periodically breaking up the rise of Bane before the two plotlines converge at the end.

I liked this book a good deal more than I thought I would. It lacked recognizable characters (even Yoda isn't born yet), starred a villain, had rather lousy cover art, and was written by an unknown . . . not a good confluence, generally, but the result isn't half-bad. Karpyshyn does a fantastic job of developing a sympathetic main character whose descent into evil is both natural and understandable because of his personality and the events around him.

And those events certainly aren't boring: intense games of Sabacc (Star Wars poker), space battles, ground battles, commando missions, saber duels . . . all the usual stuff in a well-paced mix. The main character is solid and well-developed, and there is a pretty good cast of supporting characters. Karphyshyn is wise not to attempt too many clever connections with later events; the 1,000-year distance between events would really stretch internal credibility. He stays focused on the subject at hand, and provides some excellent insights into the nature of the Dark Side of the Force (which we rarely see examined in such detail).

Another element that I enjoyed, just as a change of pace from most Star Wars novels, was the large-scale, very literal good-against-evil conflict. There is an archetypal fantasy feel to it all. You've got the Army of Light taking on the Brotherhood of Darkness in what is essentially a very violent philosophical disagreement. The Jedi believe that strength exists to defend the weak. The Sith believe strength exists to acquire power and subjugate the weak. It is a very simplistic duality, but it raises interesting thoughts about what motivates the conflicts and forces at the heart of Lucas's movie trilogies.

So, good story, good main character, competently written, plenty of action . . . a bit simplistic and not hugely memorable, probably not a good entry point for anyone whose only previous experience is with the movies.

Grade: B

Posted by Jared at 05:32 PM | TrackBack

June 26, 2007

Reader Beware

Amusing little thingamabob . . .

Online Dating

More at Moviegoings.

Posted by Jared at 02:17 PM | TrackBack

June 18, 2007

Rage

I disapprove rather strongly of a lot of the library's movie acquisitions . . . most of them, actually. And it's not just because I'm a film snob, either. We scrounge the very latrines of Hollywood for our selections . . . inexcusably awful dreck like Epic Movie, Norbit, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Basically, if you ever accidentally saw a trailer and thought, "That looks like the cinematic equivalent of sucking my own brains out of my nostril through a straw while simultaneously grinding powdered glass into my eyeballs and rythmically beating the back of my head against a concrete wall" then we probably have that movie available for check-out . . . and people do, of course.

I know a lot of these people by sight. They are regulars, and they take whatever they can find so long as it will flash pretty lights up on their TV screen while they gaze in stupid wonder at the magic of the moving pictures. I have often fondly imagined a special ink stamp that I would have with me, just for them. They would have it applied to their foreheads each time they checked out, and it would say:

SHAMELESS WHORE
I'll watch anything. Try me!

I'm being overly vitriolic, I know . . . But ultimately these people are the ones responsible for the overwhelming stupid of low culture, and that is a difficult thing to forgive (as little as they may actually deserve my ire).

And, really, they aren't the ones I'm upset at today. No, all of this is a total tangent to what actually set me off. A woman, presumably an unusually stupid and clueless breed of parent, dropped our DVD copy of Epic Movie with a sticky note on the front that said "This movie is not suitable for children. It contains nudity and foul language!" There was a tacit implication buried in there that we had somehow given the impression that this was the perfect thing to plop the kiddies in front of for an evening of wholesome family entertainment. Yeah. Also, consider the following:

-Aside from various visual clues in the very nature of the images on the DVD cover itself, there was an enormous UNRATED banner plastered proudly across the front in black and red, flanked by the skull-and-crossbones.

-The back raucously proclaimed this to be the "Unrated, Uninhibited, Unbelievable Edition!"

-The very brief plot synopsis identified the movie's chief villain as "the evil White B--ch" (filtering mine).

-Special Features listed included such tasteful and varied gems as: "Breaking Wind," "How Gratuitous," "Everyone Loves Beaver: Epic Hookups," and "Epic Porn What Would Your Porno Movie Be Called?"

So, yes, idiot. Next time you get a movie for children spend a cursory 10 seconds glancing over the cover. Maybe I won't feel the barely-controllable urge to pummel you unconscious with a DVD case.

Posted by Jared at 11:17 AM | TrackBack

June 15, 2007

Reading Again

And wow, does it feel good.

I finished The Children of Hurin. Fantastic book . . . and I'm in awe of the amount of effort it must have taken to piece this book together so seamlessly. Without adding any significant prose of his own (I forget how he put it, exactly . . . but the claim is that essentially everything was written by the man himself) Christopher Tolkien has managed to turn a jumble of notes and half-written ideas, some of them conflicting, and make it look like it was composed in adeveloped and ordered fashion to begin with.

This would probably be a great gateway book for anyone having trouble transitioning from The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion. The book has a much less mythological/fantastical feel about it, I think, and more of literary/historical feel. I can really see Middle Earth here as a very ancient Britain full of things and events that history has forgotten.

And of course Tolkien uses this story to great effect as an exploration of the tragic flaw of pride and the many ways, foreseeable and unforeseeable, that it can bring us down, with a heavy undercurrent of fate vs. free will. Is Turin's doom inevitable, or necessitated only by his stubborn, prideful choices? Is his very nature an element of the curse that is on him, or could he change? And, on a deeper level, how responsible are we for our own sin nature, inescapable since the Fall? Fascinating questions wrapped up in an action-packed epic . . . Tolkien always delivers.

Speaking of Tolkien, and Inklings in general, I just heard about a few things; namely this and this. The gist: The former is a comic book, the latter is young adult fiction. Different authors, same premise: That Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams didn't just write some of the greatest fantasy literature ever, they lived this stuff. The comic book has them squaring off against Aleister Crowley in 1938, while the other finds them meeting for the first time in 1919 and traipsing through all sorts of magical lands together.

The book is #1 in a proposed series of 7, and it has already been nabbed by Warner Bros. for the big screen. The concept is strangely horrifying and compelling all at the same time, but I'm gonna check it out. Perk of the job: I can just locate the book and go pull it for myself, or in this case, note that it is due back in four days, put it on reserve, and wait for it to appear on my desk next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I also read through The Children of Men. Wow, what an amazing book. This is so beautifully written and deeply felt, quite possibly the best apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic that I have read. And what a stunning, effective premise! In 1995, human males lose the ability to impregnate women, and the book takes place in England in 2021, beginning on the day the youngest person in the world dies at the age of 25. Half of the story is narrated in the third person while the other half consists of excerpts from the diary of Theo Farron (the main character).

Children of Men, the film adaptation, was one of my favorite movies of the spring, and now this is certainly one of my favorite books of the year. I recommend both, with one sidenote: See the movie first, like I did. The two share absolutely nothing but the central premise and the names (but not necessarily roles) of major characters. These are very different stories with very different purposes, and I think the book deserves the final say. As a film, the movie version is great. As an adaptation, it is nothing.

Oh, and I finally finished Madame Bovary yesterday. And, while portions of it were very much like watching the grass grow, it was by equal turns absorbing and hilarious. The cast of characters was especially memorable, my favorite (of course) being the pompous windbag parody of Voltaire and his ilk, Monsieur Homais. While at first I wished the book had had the decency to end after its title character did, I found that I rather liked the ending after all.

I had gone to get Reading Lolita in Tehran, being determined to re-read it as previously mentioned, when I found something else to read first; an even better follow-up to Madame Bovary. The book is Little Children by Tom Perrotta, on which my surprise favorite movie of the Spring was based. I started it in the evening and, although I had to put it down almost immediately, I did so with great difficulty. The book began, in fact, with a brief quote from Madame Bovary, and then dove right in. I think I'm going to like it. Let's see . . . What else?

I'm reading Star Wars books again.

Yeah, yeah. Don't ask me what prompted it, I dunno . . . but I'm going through them all. I haven't opened one since before Episode III came out, and a lot of things have changed since then for various reasons. I want to survey (and re-survey) the territory and, in particular, discuss it . . . That's right, I know at least a few of you people have read heavily (or at least dabbled) in Star Wars novels. If you're really interested, read and re-read along with me. If you're only moderately interested, just read some, or discuss off of what you know or remember. I've started at the very beginning, with Darth Bane: Path of Destruction. I have a feeling none of you own it, either . . . there should be a copy kicking around at your local library. Go get it. We'll have fun.

Posted by Jared at 04:48 PM | TrackBack

June 05, 2007

Save the Date

I have been married 13 months today. That's hardly a blogworthy occurrence. I expect to be married for many more months, and I would have to be very hard up for material indeed to note the passing of the 5th day of every month. There's nothing particularly notable about 13 months unless you believe it is ill-omened, in which case it might be better to let it pass, unnoticed and unmentioned.

The only reason I mention it at all, actually, is as a sort of introduction to a unique discovery Rachel and I made last night. She was unpacking a box and stumbled across an old paper that she wanted me to look at. I recognized it immediately. I've probably recounted somewhere around here that (despite having "seen her around" before and sharing various mutual friends) the first time I ever actually interacted with Rachel was when she IM'd me at about three in the morning during finals week to ask me to come edit a paper she had written for Spanish class. (I believe I have also recounted elsewhere my frustration that this constituted an inadvertant and entirely unjustified vindication of my dad's advice on picking up girls.)

Anyway, as you may have guessed, this was that very paper: a rough account in pidgin Spanish (I exaggerate, of course) of her visit to a local Spanish-speaking church, blanketed liberally with my corrections in pencil. Well do I remember berating her for attempting to, like, translate slang idioms directly into, like, Spanish and, like, sprinkling them conversationally throughout her formal paper (just so).

What neither of us had realized, however, and what we both noticed at the same time, was the date nestled portentously in the top-left corner of the page: May 5th, 2004. Two years to the day before I married her.

Posted by Jared at 03:51 PM | TrackBack