Friday, June 24, 2011

Star Wars ebooks are coming - where should I start?

About a month ago, the official Star Wars website confirmed a story that the New Jedi Order Encyclopedia broke about all/most of the Star Wars books being released in ebook format on June 28th. For those who might not have ever given a try to the Star Wars books, or who did but were unhappy for some reason or another with the book they read, I'm going to take a little time to talk about some of the best choices for new readers to check out among the many many offerings coming as an ebook next week. The Star Wars Expanded Universe (books, comics, videogames, etc) is unique in that (at least so far) it all matters, it's all interconnected - the story that happens in one book, the events and character changes, are not ignored in books that take place after that point in the timeline. That's not to say that there aren't good entry points, but it does mean that people should be selective - there are really bad places to start your reading, which could really put off someone trying it out for the first time. With that in mind, these are not necessarily my all time favorite Star Wars books ever (though many of them are) but they are all good entry points, and should appeal to different types of readers No list of Star Wars books should begin with anything but Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. It is really the first book of the modern Star Wars literature era, the first book to explore the story after Return of the Jedi, and because of that it carries the least amount of baggage (you need only have seen the original Star Wars films in order to read this book). If you are interested in the further adventures of Luke, Leia and Han, this is the book for you. Timothy Zahn introduces two of the greatest new characters in this book as well - the brilliant military tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn, the blue skinned alien who just might defeat the Rebels turned Republic. Meanwhile, Mara Jade, former assassin of the Emperor, may just get one last chance to fulfill her Master's last command - to kill Luke Skywalker. The entire Thrawn Trilogy is great (with the last book actually being my all time favorite Star Wars novel) and this should be the place for most everyone to start.
That said, Heir to the Empire isn't for everybody. Perhaps Luke & Co. aren't your thing - you're more of a prequel person. After reading The Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller, my first thought was, this is THE perfect book for a new reader. Similar to Heir to the Empire, Wild Space requires very little knowledge past the prequel movies (and The Clone Wars animated movie - and even that you could probably forego). Wild Space picks up immediate in the aftermath of the Battle of Geonosis (the finale of Attack of the Clones) before moving on to just after The Clone Wars movie. It slowly eases the reader into the time-frame of the early Clone Wars, and ultimately becomes a buddy story featuring Obi-Wan and Bail Organa (Leia's future adoptive father) on a mission to a lost Sith world.
Should you find The Clone Wars era appealing, I'd also recommend No Prisoners by Karen Traviss (which features the characters from that TV show) but an even better selection from her would be Republic Commando: Hard Contact. Let's say you want to read stories about OTHER characters in the Star Wars universe, not the ones you see in the movies. Hard Contact is a military scifi story featuring a group of clone troopers that Traviss' created for this series. It fuctions completely on it's own as a story about those clones and their Jedi General on a mission behind Seperatist lines - though if you enjoy the book, there are more in the series that you can continue with. These will especially appeal to those who enjoy the more military scifi books.
Speaking of that, there are also two excellent entry points in the classic movie era in two X-Wing novels, Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron. These books feature some minor movie characters (like Wedge Antilles) along with lots of new characters, going on space combat missions and fighting to mop up the lingering forces of the Empire shortly after Return of the Jedi. Rogue Squadron by Mike Stackpole is probably the better known book (because of the name) and while a good book, it's not his best (that would be I, Jedi), meanwhile Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston is an excellent book that doesn't require you to have read any of the prior books in the series (despite being called book 5) with large doses of the humor you'd find in the movies and great characters as well as moving plots. This is a book I highly recommend, and one of the few Star Wars books I've actually reread (and will again).
But perhaps you're a little leary of any books taking place right around the movie eras, but you enjoy the setting of Star Wars in general. There are books that can fill in the blanks for you about story elements just hinted at in the movies, like Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn. This is the Sith Master who plotted against his own kind in order to put in place the Rule of Two (only one Master and one Apprentice), a directive that would last for a thousand years and culminate in Darth Sidious (the Emperor) and Darth Vader. Darth Bane is the kind of villain you enjoy reading about, never quite sure if you ought to be rooting for him, but doing it just the same. A completely stand-alone book, that should you enjoy it has two sequels as well (continuing his story and that of his apprentice).
Going back further in time to the era of the upcoming videogame The Old Republic, when both the Jedi and the Sith were numerous, both Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams and Deceived by Paul Kemp are great entry points for new readers as well. I also thought very highly of Knight Errant by John Jackson Miller, a story about a Jedi way behind enemy lines, lost in Sith space during what is essentially the Dark Ages of Star Wars (between The Old Republic and Darth Bane).
For the Horror fans, there are two good choices in Death Troopers and Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber. The former takes place just before A New Hope (think of it as The Stand meets Star Wars) and the latter taking place during The Old Republic era. Despite the horror theme, these books are lighter fare, more along the lines of the pulpy inspiration for Star Wars in the first place, similar to Sean Williams' The Force Unleashed as well (you need not play videogames in order to enjoy any of the Star Wars tie-in books). There are also some short story collections if you're looking for just a taste of Star Wars, I was particularly fond of Tales of the Bounty Hunters (despite the IG-88 story), Tales from the Empire and Tales from the New Republic.
There are some "deeper" Star Wars books (like Traitor by Matthew Stover), and some epic series - but those are really books for fans who've really delved more deeply into the Expanded Universe. The above would provide a nice starting point for any new reader, just remember the pulp roots of Star Wars - these books are meant to entertain, not change your life. And most of all, enjoy!


Charles Gramlich said...

I read Heirs to the empire and liked it enough to get the two sequels. I haven't read those yet. Not sure why.

Bets Davies said...

I'm not for hashing out my fav childhood heros through another voice, even if it is Zahn's so I skipped Empire.

However I like the world building around the central first movies. The great thing about Star Wars was that the space fantasy world building was sleek and spare so that it leaves room for more (though the second set of movies were hell). I liked the Bounty Hunter series as I always had a weird crush on Boba Fett. Though also of course Han. And Luke. Basically everyone but Yoda.

I would be tempted to read Death Troopers. Does is follow at all the slightly Nazi feel of the Empire?

Morgan said...

Nice reviews. I'll have to check some of them out.

I'd also suggest any fans of the new movies (or anyone trying to turn their kids into starwars fans) to check out the Jedi Apprentice series. Though they're juvenile books (less than 300 pages each) they're well-written, well plotted, and really focus on character development. I first read them when I was twelve, and was slightly surprised that re-reading them in college was just as engaging. If you're a fan of obi-wan and haven't read them, you're missing out.

Jim Haley said...

@Bets - Well, the opening of the book takes place on a Imperial prison ship - filled with both prisoners of the real crime variety, and those of the more political kind. As "things go wrong" you'll see both prisoners and Stormtroopers reactions to the events that are unfolding - as well as a surprise guest appearance by one of the characters you mention liking above.