Friday, March 30, 2012

FRESH MEAT: The Staying Power of the Zombie Genre-- A Guest Post by Jonathan Maberry (with a shambling horde of friends)

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to read "Dead of Night" by Johnathan Maberry- a book that ended up on my "Best of" list for 2011. So when I had the opportunity to host a guest blog by Johnathan-- I jumped at the chance. What I didn't anticipate was that I would get a seven-for-one deal with commentary by a host of authors talking about zombies! Big thanks go to Johnathan for going to so much trouble and putting this together. Enjoy! (And keep watching the blog for another giveaway featuring "Dead of Night" tomorrow!)
~SQT


While considering my guest post I thought about the public perception of the zombie phenomenon.  Like the living dead themselves, the genre’s popularity keeps coming in waves.  There was the initial outbreak in 1968 with George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, then a bit of a European tour as England, Italy, German, Spain and a few other countries began churning out zombie flicks (the BLIND DEAD are my personal favorites, along with the UK’s LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE).

Then we had an almost fatal lull until Romero breathed new life into his own genre with the landmark DAWN OF THE DEAD. That flick, possible more so than NIGHT, made the genre immortal.  That was a bigger worldwide hit. That redefined the ‘rules’ of zombie stories. It had better actors, it had color, it had a bigger budget, and it had a better script. It was also copied by everyone.  After that, we had wave after wave of zombie films.  And around the same time John Skipp and Craig Spector unleashed the first anthology of zombie stories, BOOK OF THE DEAD, which gave birth to the literature of the living dead. Without that antho, a whole lot of my colleagues (and I) would be writing about something else.

Then we got DAY OF THE DEAD, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, RESIDENT EVIL, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, and on and on.  As well as tons of zombie books, zombie comics, zombie TV shows, zombie toys, and on and on. An invasion of zoms. A plague of them.

But…some folks think that the genre has hit a wall. Or, to use the Happy Days reference (which most people don’t KNOW is a Happy Days reference), some people say that zombies have ‘jumped the shark’. This is a comment I hear, in one form or another, at least once a week.  You see it in reviews (by people who don’t understand the genre), in publishing or movie industry commentary (by people who don’t understand the genre), on TV news (by people who don’t understand the genre), and even at genre con panel discussions (by people who don’t understand the genre).  Are you noticing a trend here?

The people who keep saying this don’t really get why zombies are today’s hot (well, room temperature) monster.  They’ll be hot tomorrow, and they’ll be hot next year.  Sure, popularity may wax and wane, but the same is true of vampires (who always return to popularity), ghosts (ditto), demons (ditto), giant monsters (ditto, ditto, ditto…)

I asked a bunch of my colleagues to comment on this question.  Have zombies actually jumped the shark?

JOE McKINNEY:  Why isn’t that true?  When was the last time you read Orwell’s 1984?  Remember Big Brother’s M.O. for controlling the populace?  They did it, and continued to do it, through language.  Change the way a culture speaks and you change the way that culture thinks.  That’s one reason why Orwell included an appendix on language at the end of the book.  Now look at how thoroughly entrenched zombies have become in our language over the last few years.  They have crossed over from mere pop culture references to accepted mainstream groupspeak.  For example, following WWII we described people in shock as having the “2000 yard stare,” after the Tom Lea painting of a Marine from the Battle of Peleliu.  But today, we’re just as likely to say “that person looks like a zombie,” or has that zombie look in his eyes.  The corporate world has now recognized zombie businesses, something the forensic mechanics of yesteryear would have lumped in with financial shell games and fishy bookkeeping.  Computer science has given us zombie terminals.  Contemporary literature has appropriated the term, as in Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Zombie and Thomas McGuane’s story “The Zombie,” just to name a few.  These works, and others, don’t mention the shambling undead hordes per se, but rely on the concept of a zombie, a person suffering from a personality lobotomy.  So, really, the term is fairly well established.  I think zombies are going to be part of the horror business for a long time to come because the concept is now so familiar.  Your question suggests that some reviewers think zombies have crested some sort of hill and that, quality-wise, it’s all downhill from here.  I don’t think that’s true.  Zombies have always enjoyed a sort of dual nature as both the harlequin and the horror.  Sometimes they get lampooned.  Sometimes they get exalted.  It goes in waves.    (Joe McKinney is a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department who has been writing professionally since 2006.  He is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Dead City, Quarantined, Dodging Bullets, Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters, and The Red Empire. As a police officer, he’s received training in disaster mitigation, forensics, and homicide investigation techniques, some of which finds its way into his stories.  He lives in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio.)

JOHN R. RUSSO: Well, because just as zombies can't die unless shot in the head, I guess the fascination with zombies won't die either, unless we shoot each and every zombie fan in the head.  Just kidding.  But seriously, this flesheating zombie thing has tapped into a raw atavistic dread that we all feel.  For over forty years now, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has given rise to all sorts of sequels, spinoffs, rip-offs, derivatives (not the stock market kind), and merchandising and marketing items and ploys that will probably go on as long as there are books and movies.  Just when people think the phenomenon has run its course, up pops a fresh, new concept like 28 DAYS LATER or SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  My own screenplay, ESCAPE OF THE LIVING DEAD, goes right back to the roots of the whole thing, and audiences seem to be ready for that, judging by the fact that the comic book has spawned ten sequels already, two graphic novels, and an array of tie-in products like tee-shirts, coffee mugs, beer mugs, shot glasses, etc.  (John Russo wants everyone to know he's a really nice guy even though he loves to scare people.  He started it by co-scripting the horror classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. one of the greatest fright flicks of all time.  He also wrote the screenplays and/or stories for MIDNIGHT, SANTA CLAWS, THE MAJORETTES, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and INHUMAN.  He has authored fifteen terror-suspense novels, including LIVING THINGS, THE AWAKENING, VOODOO DAWN and HELL'S CREATION.  His nonfiction books, SCARE TACTICS and MAKING MOVIES, are considered bibles of independent filmmaking by film students and horror fans.  With long-time friend and partner, Russ Streiner, who produced NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and is chairman of the Pittsburgh Film Office, he directs a top-notch movie making program at DuBois Business College in DuBois, PA.   His screenplay, ESCAPE OF THE LIVING DEAD, was made into a five-part comic book that made the Top Ten nationally, and is soon to be made into a movie that he will direct.  He resides in a suburb of Pittsburgh and to his knowledge none of his neighbors are zombies, although "there is one guy around the corner who is rumored to have devoured the mailman a few years ago.")


KIM PAFFENROTH, PhD: They’ve been saying that since I published Gospel of the Living Dead. I guess maybe someday it might come true, but on the other hand, I don’t see it as necessary. Do vampires “jump the shark” when they turn into romantic, sparkly creatures? Well, sort of, but it doesn’t seem to limit their popularity, or stop someone from reinventing them next year as something else. So if zombies ever go “too far” then I’ll just expect them to be remodeled and reconfigured soon thereafter. I mean, if you think of fads that disappeared, it’s because they were just a one note kind of song, and once you “got” the joke or the appeal, it was over. Take a pet rock – once you laugh at it, the gimmick is over, and you really can’t reinvent it as a pet paperclip or a pet stick or whatever. Zombies have way more adaptability and appeal than that.  (Kim Paffenroth is a professor of religious studies at Iona College. He is the author of Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth (Baylor, 2006), which won the Bram Stoker Award. Since then he’s been writing zombie fiction, including Dying to Live (Permuted, 2007), and its sequel, Dying to Live: Life Sentence (Permuted, 2008). His most recent novel, Valley of the Dead (Permuted, 2010), combines his theological and literary interests, taking us back to the 14th century, where the medieval Italian poet Dante is in a life and death struggle with a zombie infestation.)

FRED VAN LENTE: Because nothing ever jumps the shark, so long as writers are out there trying to make new and interesting thing happen in the genre. People who provide commentary on art have two basic refrains, and that’s a.) They’ve discovered the newest/hottest/best thing before anybody else or b.) They’re the first to spot blight on the vine before those who lack their keen insight. This is why authors should pretty much ignore every single thing they say because they don’t really know anything about our profession or how to live it.   (FRED VAN LENTE is the New York Times bestselling author of three entries in the Marvel Zombies series, as well as Incredible Hercules (with Greg Pak) and the American Library Association award-winning Action Philosophers. His original graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens (co-written with Andrew Foley) was adapted into motion picture form by Dreamworks and Universal, starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.)

Chuck McKenzie:  This is the sort of statement that tends to accompany any perceived 'cult' phenomenon that suddenly becomes extremely commercially popular, whether it be South Park, zombies, or rapping grannies, and seems to be motivated more by a desire to put back in its box something the reviewer perceives as somewhat unpleasant or embarrassing, rather than by the facts of the matter. Okay, rant over. Zombies aren't even close to jumping the shark yet, because authors, illustrators, toymakers and scriptwriters haven't yet run out of new takes on zombiedom. The last couple of years alone has given us movies as brilliant and diverse as Pontypool, Dead Snow and Zombieland, as well as books such as S. G. Browne's Breathers, John Ajvide Lindqvist's Handling the Undead, and Patient Zero by whatshisname; all absolutely unique in their approach to zombies. Sure, there's bound be a fair bit of dross along the way, but with so much *quality* product still reaching a wider-than-ever audience, it's obvious to me that we've only just scratched the surface of all the zombie genre has to offer. (Chuck McKenzie is a staff reviewer for HorrorScope (http://ozhorrorscope.blogspot.com/), and additionally manages a large general bookshop in Melbourne, which - due to his predilections - has gained a reputation with local horror readers as being THE place to pick up zombie-related literature.)

J L BOURNE: I guess I don’t get out much.  I didn’t get the memo on this, as I’m still writing about zombies and the end of the world.  Although zombies may see a sine curve shift in popularity as do vampires, werewolves and large Cloverleaf monsters, they never quite sink out of popularity altogether.  People still love to read about survivors and the decisions they make against an army that never rests and only wants one thing. (J L BOURNE: Born in a small town in the rural south, J.L. Bourne balances his time as an active duty military officer with writing fiction based in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with the dead.  He is the author of the classic Day by Day Armageddon zombie series.)  

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve written about zombies for years now, and in a variety of different forms –novels, nonfiction books, magazine articles, comics, and short stories. I find that the ‘zombie’ is an infinitely fresh storytelling trope.  Unlike vampires, who have become the story to the point where they’ve crowded the human characters out, zombies have no personality. They don’t intrude, they don’t hijack the novel.  They represent a massive, shared threat that every human character in the story must react to. As such, they create the foundation for stories about real people in stressful circumstances, which is pretty much the basic description of ‘drama’. As long as zombie stories continue to be about the human experience, the genre is never going to get cold. I look at the zombie stuff I’ve written and it’s all radically different. ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead is a nonfiction book that views the concept of a zombie apocalypse through the lens of real world infrastructure and science. PATIENT ZERO is a technothriller that explores issues of corruption, terrorism, ideological clashes and the psychological cost of violence. ROT & RUIN and its sequels, DUST & DECAY, FLESH & BONE (Sept 2012) and FIRE & ASH (2013) are Young Adult novels that explore the value of human life, the nature of corruption and the phenomenon of heroism. The short story, “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World” is historical comedy.  Another short, “The Wind Through the Fence” is a nihilistic meditation on despair; and its companion piece, “Chokepoint”, is a character study of how disparate personalities react to stress.  The novella, “Jack and Jill”, explores how a terminally ill child views his own impending death. And my recent novel, DEAD OF NIGHT, explores the social and political implications of mismanaged bioweapons research.  They’re all zombie stories. None of them are remotely the same.  The genre?  Yeah…it’s here to stay.  (Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer.  He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin.  His nonfiction books on topics ranging from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. Jonathan continues to teach the celebrated Experimental Writing for Teens class, which he created. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club; and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers and genre conferences.  Jonathan lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sara and their son, Sam. Visit him online at www.jonathanmaberry.com and on Twitter (@jonathanmaberry) and Facebook.)

******************


Praise for DEAD OF NIGHT:


“Jonathan Maberry is the top gun when it comes to zombies, and with DEAD OF NIGHT, he's at the top of his game.  Frankly, I'm shocked by how effortlessly he moves between the lofty intellectual heights of T.S. Eliot's poetry and the savage carnality of the kill.  DEAD OF NIGHT develops with the fevered pace of a manhunt, and yet still manages to hit all the right notes.  Strap in, because Maberry's latest is one hell of a wild ride.  I loved it.” - Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and FLESH EATERS


“Jonathan Maberry has created an homage to death itself and an homage to the undead that is as poetic as it is terrifying.  It's a brand new and intriguingly fresh slant on the zombie genre that we all love!” -John A. Russo co-screenwriter of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD


“Maberry is a master at writing scenes that surge and hum with tension.  The pacing is relentless.  He presses the accelerator to the floor and never lets up, taking you on a ride that leaves your heart pounding.  It’s almost impossible to put this book down.  Dead of Night is an excellent read.”  —S.G. Browne, author of BREATHERS


"It would be enough to say that Jonathan Maberry had topped himself yet again with an epic zombie novel that is as much fun as it is terrifying.  But that he has also created a story of such tremendous heart and social relevance only further cements his place as a master of the genre.  It also doesn't hurt that in DEAD OF NIGHT he has created one of the most compelling heroines I've read in years.  Dead of Night blew me away!"  --Ryan Brown - Author of PLAY DEAD


“Once again, Jonathan Maberry does what he does best; Take proven science, synthesize it and create something truly terrifying.  In DEAD OF NIGHT, Maberry lays the groundwork for a Bioweapon that could very well create zombies in the real world.  Combining great characters (I fell in love with Dez Fox from the moment she was introduced) and taut, blindingly fast action, DEAD OF NIGHT, is a runaway bullet train of a ride. This is Jonathan Maberry's best writing yet.” –Greg Schauer, owner Between Books, Claymont, DE


“Dead of Night stands drooped head and lurching shoulders above most zombie novels. The nightmare increases exponentially - from minor outbreak to major crisis with unstoppable speed, building to a heart-stopping climax you won't be able to put down.” --David Moody, author of the HATER and AUTUMN books

Graphic Novel Review – A Game of Thrones

It seemed fitting to do a review of this just before the premiere of Season 2 of the show on HBO. I loved my recent foray into graphic novel adaptations of books (with Uglies: Shay’s Story) and A Game of Thrones is the perfect follow up to that. In this case it’s a book series that I’m just never going to be able to read – 800+ pages in book 1, 900+ pages in book 2 – I struggle to get through a 300-400 page novel in a few weeks. I’d spend half my year trying to read these two books alone. And the TV series didn’t really interest my wife, and since we’re usually watching together, there just hasn’t been much opportunity to me to see more than the first few episodes.

So I come to this comic adaptation with a little knowledge from the series, but little else in terms of expectations. I’m not going to do my familiar summary of the story, at this point I’m guessing most people (unlike me) have read the books or seen the show. I’m going to talk about specific parts of this adaptation instead, to give you an idea of what I liked and to see if those same things might be appealing to you.

It should come as no surprise that this adaptation has some differences from the HBO series, and those sometimes subtle differences are mostly for the better. Scenes are expanded or extra bits of dialog are included in this graphic novel that just helped me understand the story that much better. Daenerys marriage to Drogo isn’t quite as smooth at first as it’s portrayed in the TV show, though eventually they both get to the same place of peace. But because of the limitations of budget on TV and the lack thereof when drawing, here we get to see Daenerys visions of Dragons and a wickedly wonderful Iron Throne that just needs to be seen to be believed.

There’s something about the format that just worked better for me as well. It adds a visual layer to the original manuscript, it’s an adaptation sure, but closer to the original than I think a TV show can capture. Still, if there’s something I have to give to HBO, the Others (the creatures of Winter) are much spookier on the show than how they were presented in the graphic novel. The only other thing that I felt didn't quite live up to my expectations was The Wall, I expected it to be even more impressive than it was on the show (because the sky's the limit in a comic) but there's only one small scene in this book featuring it, and we may get a better view in the next volume.

In all ways though, I was blown away by the artwork. I’ve never heard of Tommy Patterson before, but with a style very reminiscent of Michael Turner, I’ll be looking out for more work from him in the future. There is a substantive look at the making of this comic at the end of the book, which is a very worthwhile read. There were things I didn’t notice about the art until after reading this section – and it made me appreciate all the work going into the detailed backgrounds that the reader just takes for granted when reading the story. Most comics don’t look like this, and most artists aren’t drawing with this kind of attention to detail. It puts A Game of Thrones at a whole different level from everything else.

I finished this volume and immediately wanted to be able to pick up the next (which isn’t coming out until Dec) which should be telling enough on its own. I didn’t particularly care about catching up on the TV series, or reading these books, but if the comic continues to be as engaging as Volume 1 was, I can’t wait to read more. If you’re a fan of the show but don’t have the time to read the books, I can say this adaptation is worth your time – you’ll get more than what you’ve seen in the episodes, and the behind the scenes information will give you a better appreciation for what George RR Martin’s vision for this series really is.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Book Club-- Year One

I love it when I stumble across new blogs, especially ones that belong to interesting and insightful people. One post on discussion groups by a blogger who goes by the name Snowbrush resonated with me as his experience reminds me a lot of the book club I have belonged to for the last year.

In Snowbrush's post he muses on group dynamics and how often, from one group to another, the behaviors among people don't really change. Oh sure, people are different, by and large, but when we group ourselves together there are always the talkers and the wallflowers. Not to mention the interactions that come from multiple people trying to be polite (some of the time) and trying to get a word in edgewise from the alpha dogs that always seem to dominate the conversation.

I was ambivalent when I joined my book club for a variety of reasons. Obviously I'm a book lover, but my tastes are not very similar to that of my peers. I was invited into the group by a friend with whom I had swapped books- with some success. She's a love story kind of person, which is low on my list of necessary plot points, and doesn't much care for anything violent (she still won't read "The Hunger Games.") I didn't know the other members of the group before joining and I remember scrolling through the list of books on the bestseller lists and tried to decide whether or not I could stand to read the popular-literature I was sure someone would end up picking. Only one book stood out as too clichĂ© in the unfortunate woman with a horrible life kind of way (the favorite pick of housewives everywhere in my limited experience) so I thought I'd take a chance on reading books picked by people who are nothing like me.

When the group first got together I started breaking the group down. The extrovert of our group made herself known quickly, as extroverts do, while the rest of us diffidently tried to figure out where we'd fit in the pecking order. We had our career woman, our teacher (the extrovert's mom), the part-time working mothers and the stay-at-home moms (my group). We assiduously avoided anything controversial like politics and talked about our kids. I noticed right away that no one shared my taste in books, though I did find a few "Twilight" fans (which did not give me any comfort whatsoever).

My friend was the first to pick a book and I soon found myself reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghase. I was sure I'd hate the book when I read the description about twin orphans born of a pregnant nun. (A pregnant nun? Really?) But was shocked to absolutely love the book. I think I liked it more than anyone else in the group. At this point I was feeling hopeful about this whole thing.

We went on to read books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik and I liked them well enough. Then someone picked the book I dreaded (it had to happen) and, well, I'm not proud of it, but I lied and said I couldn't make it that month. Then it was my turn and I mulled over my choices. I couldn't pick a standard fantasy because no one would enjoy it-- trust me on that. So, knowing we had some "Twilight" fans in the group I went for the YA dystopia Divergent by Veronica Roth. I was sure the group would think I was nuts-- to my surprise it was a hit. They loved it and have been reminding me that the sequel will be out just in time for my next pick.

Wow. This was turning out much better than I had anticipated. Not too long after that I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and fell in love with it so much that I raved to my group that they had to read it-- and got three of them to read it outside of being an "official" pick and they loved that too! Look at me-- influencing the group and everything. But I knew I had made an impact when one of the moms toyed with the idea of picking Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Whoa!

We still avoid politics in our discussions. The only time the topic has come up was when it was revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a love child-- and really, politics was not the main point of that conversation. Though I guess our conversations about the seamy underbelly of the school's PTC (parent teacher club) could count as political in nature- who knew we had our own version of "Desperate Housewives" around here? I didn't until I joined the gossip fest book club.

Our extrovert still has the tendency to dominate the group, but as the sole book reviewer I get more than my fair share of good points in (it's what I do after all). The teacher, who is basically the wise woman of the group, has turned out to be one of my favorite people in the world. She's a world traveler who knows a little bit about everything-- it does my heart good to know she's teaching. The friend who brought me into the group has started to hint that she might be interested in reading some erotica (who knew?) and the neat-freak of the group (her house is spotless) has shared some interesting stories about her crazy in-laws (let's just say that it involves Megan's Law and leave it at that.)

If I've learned anything in the last year, I've learned that I'm not as different from the other moms as I thought I was. It sounds trite, but I don't make friends easily and since I'm not a joiner, who sits on every council or organizes every fund-raiser, I don't tend to be in the "in-crowd." I'm a class volunteer-- in and out in an hour. I'll donate money, but please don't make me sit on a committee. But after a year of still-tentative conversations I've learned that I'm lugging around the same insecurities as everyone else. We all dart in-and-out of the conversation, trying hard not to step on each other's toes, and fret over what we say after we leave. I've also learned that I like it when some people are absent from the group because it allows me the opportunity to really get to know the other members rather than just having two hours of polite chit-chat. I've also learned that I kind of resent it when the host doesn't serve wine- I like my social lubricant thankyouverymuch. I've realized that getting together with a group of women on a monthly basis completely satisfies my urge for girl-talk. Sometimes I even consider skipping a month because I find it a little overwhelming.

Mostly I've come to the conclusion that joining the book club was a very good thing. It makes me venture into the world, whether I want to or not, and it doesn't allow me to hold on to my assumptions about the suburban moms I see everyday. I still think I'm a different breed that most of the women I know- but I'm learning to integrate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.

SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

Velveteen by Daniel Marks
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Date: October 9, 2012
Pages: 304 pages


A delightfully dark fantasy of justice and the afterlife.

Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.

The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.
 

Bonesaw.

Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days.
It’ll be brutal…and awesome.

But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.

Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules…or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her.


The main reason I've got "Velveteen" on my WoW list is because it's written by Mark Henry (under the pseudonym Daniel Marks). Henry's Amanda Feral series is off center, funny and more than slightly demented. It doesn't surprise me that he'd choose to write a teen revenge fantasy and I expect it'll be incredibly entertaining. I am really looking forward to this one.


Jim's can't wait to read selection is:
Hush by James Maxey
Publisher: Solaris
Date: June 26, 2012
Pages: 512

The invulnerable, super-strong warrior Infidel has a secret: she’s lost her magical powers right at the moment when she needs them most. To keep a promise to a fallen friend, she must journey to the frozen wastelands of the north. Her quest leads her through the abstract realms of the Sea of Wine, where she uncovers a conspiracy that threatens all life. Hush, the primal dragon of cold, has formed an alliance with the ghost of a vengeful witch to murder Glorious, the dragon of the sun, plunging the world into an unending winter night. Without her magical strength, can Infidel possibly survive her battle with Hush? If she fails to save Glorious, will the world see another morning?

It wasn't all that long ago that I was putting the first book in this Dragon Apocalypse series (Greatshadow) up as my Waiting on Wednesday book - which I actually think is wise of the publisher, by putting out the series in short order I think it tends to keep the attention of readers better. I love the cover of this one, that dragon looks great perched as it is with it's tail wrapped around the rock and it's tattered wings outstretched.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Giveaway! "A Temptation of Angels" by Michelle Zink

Ever since I started doing my "Waiting on Wednesday" posts I've been seeing some interesting titles among everyone's wish lists- and the new book by Michelle Zink has been showing up quite a bit. So it's a lucky coincidence that I happened to receive a copy of A Temptation of Angels from the generous folks at Penguin Books to offer for giveaway.

Even angels make mistakes in this page-turning epic romance

When her parents are murdered before her eyes, sixteen-year-old Helen Cartwright finds herself launched into an underground London where a mysterious organization called the Dictata controls the balance of good and evil. Helen learns that she is one of three remaining angelic descendants charged with protecting the world's past, present, and future. Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life to accept this responsibility. Now, as she finds herself torn between the angelic brothers protecting her and the devastatingly handsome childhood friend who wants to destroy her, she must prepare to be brave, to be hunted, and above all to be strong, because temptation will be hard to resist, even for an angel.

Michelle Zink masterfully weaves historical fantasy with paranormal romance to create a gripping tale of love and betrayal.


Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Tuesday April 10th. No multiple entries please- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Winner! - "Touchstone" by Melanie Rawn

I have randomly selected the winner of the giveaway featuring "Touchstone" by Melanie Rawn-- and the winner is: Pat Neal; Vero Beach, Fl.

Congrats Pat-- the book is on its way!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"The Hunger Games" - As Good as I Could Have Hoped For

Hollywood has a mixed history of basing movies on books- and most of the time you walk away thinking I liked the book better.... I don't know if I'd say I liked the movie version of The Hunger Games better than the book, but it definitely ranks as one of the better movie adaptations of a novel that I have personally seen.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, the outermost district in a post-apocalyptic America that centers around the capitol city of Panem. District 12 is a poor, mining district and Katniss takes care of her mother and sister by poaching game (usually squirrels and rabbits) off of government land and selling it to fellow townspeople.

As the movie opens it's the day of the "reaping:" the day the government representative Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) comes to read the names of the boy and girl who will be selected as "tributes" to compete in the gladiatorial-style games known as The Hunger Games. As punishment for a past rebellion among the districts, the government picks two kids, between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district to fight against each other in a televised game to the death. The last one standing wins.

The older the kid the more entries they have in the games and Katniss' sister Prim, at 12, only has one entry. But against the odds Prim is chosen as tribute and Katniss frantically offers herself as tribute to save her sister. Soon she and the male tribute, Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson), are on the opulent train to the capital to be prepped for the games.

After the quick set-up for the games the film moves into two main segments: one devoted to presenting the tributes to an eager viewing public, and the games themselves.

If there is one decision that may have sealed the deal for "The Hunger Games" it is the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Only 21 and already an Academy Award nominee (for "Winter's Bone"), Lawrence does a fantastic job of embodying the Katniss so many of us have come to know through the books. The script is well crafted to show Prim's inability to survive the games, but it's Lawrence who has to convey the desperation to save her sister. Mostly it seems that casting was high up on the priority list. Woody Harrelson doesn't have a lot of time as Haymitch but he's integral in establishing the differences between Katniss and Peeta and we see through his eyes the importance of putting on a show-- something Peeta understands on an intuitive level. Elizabeth Banks is also quite good as the twittering, strangely coiffed Effie Trinket, while Lenny Kravitz gives us a confidently low-key Cinna. The only cast member I wasn't immediately sold on was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta: he's likable enough but there never seemed to be enough charisma between him and Lawrence to convey more than the obvious ambivalence in their relationship-- but I still hold out hope that future installments in the franchise will make their interactions feel more natural. I must admit to wishing that Liam Hemsworth (Gale) had been cast as Peeta as he and Lawrence had an easy comradarie with each other and I wished to see more of that. Though, truthfully, the final casting is probably be more true to the spirit of the story than what I was craving emotionally.

The hardest thing about assessing "The Hunger Games" is in deciding whether or not director Gary Ross spent enough time focusing on the right parts of the book. The distinctions between the wealthy districts and the poor are vividly portrayed, as is the palpable fear many have for their oppressive government. But those aspects are only thinly defined as the meat of the story is all about the games from the preparation stage to the final showdown. The skewering of the reality-TV culture is deft and Stanley Tucci knows just how to flash a staged, creepy grin as the host of The Hunger Games; and the behind-the-scenes view of the games (something we're not privy to in the book) is an excellent means of demonstrating the callousness of trading human lives for ratings. It's understandable that so much of the film must be devoted to the games themselves, but there's so much going on and so many characters that it's tough to ever get a detailed enough feel for the important people. I'm not sure if some of Katniss and Peeta's individual moments could have been scrapped to make more time to introduce us to the antagonists of the story-- or if it would have been a good idea anyway. Yet I wish I could have identified the secondary characters better so that the final confrontations could have had a little more depth- but that's a minor consideration.

Overall I walked away from "The Hunger Games" well satisfied with the movie adaptation. There's no way that every moment- or even every character- can be included and the audience is lucky if there are more than a few recognizable moments. This movie managed to incorporate more than a few. It should also be mentioned that, since this is a film geared to a YA audience, that Ross also did an admirable job of keeping the blood-and-guts to a minimum- no small feat when you're showing people fight to the death. Ross also chooses not too linger too much on the more wrenching moments, though Rue's death is no easier to watch than it is to read, and it never got bogged down in too much violence or angst. The romantic element of the film was probably its weakest point, but it's hard to be too critical when it was never meant to be a story of true romance to begin with. For my money "The Hunger Games" was really well done and if the standard that was set here can be maintained throughout the rest of the series, then I might even rank it higher than "Harry Potter" when it comes to book-to-film adaptations.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rants & Raves

I feel like I’m doing these every other week at this point, and I do intend to get back to the reviews, but work’s been brutal and at night I often wind up watching TV instead of reading, so I’ve fallen a little behind. Still, some stuff has come up that I find I want to express my opinions on, and so here I go:

Rave – I absolutely love the announcement from Marvel concerning the new Captain Marvel - Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel)! When the teaser first surfaced, I figured it was either the original coming back or Carol taking over the role – and I wasn’t sure I cared either way. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I’d be interested in the title (Captain Marvel has a tendency to feature cosmic stories, so I’m all over that), but I thought it didn’t matter to me. But the more time passed, the more I was really plugging for it to be Carol Danvers. It’s really a perfect situation – a way for Marvel to build up a major female superhero using a high profile character name (and one that hasn’t been in use for some time). Carol is a great character who never gets as much spotlight as she deserves. This is also a great way to tie a cosmic type of superhero title to a more earth-bound character (something that I think keeps away some more mainstream comic readers). And that uniform – it’s funny, there were so many complaints when the new uniform was shown – I think it looks GREAT. It’s got a military scifi feel, the blue base color matches her Ms Marvel costume, and it just has a great look without being a ridiculous outfit like so many other female superheroes. I can’t wait to pick up this book.

Rant/Rave – I’m not sure which this is. The rumors are that the next X-Box will be a download only system, and I think that’s a great idea. My rant is directed more at that folks who I’ve heard talking about this rumor – and who immediately talk about how bad of an idea it is. At the top of most people’s list of reasons to hate on it – because how will they play their old X-Box 360 games? Well, first of all – how about on that X-Box 360 you have. Secondly, anytime I’ve gotten a new system with backward compatibility I’ve only played older games for a very short while on it – mostly I want to play NEW games. Downloadable games are the wave of the future (see mobile gaming) and X-Box is already well positioned with X-Box Live. Add in things like a Steam app (who are also rumored to be doing something similar) and I think we’re starting to see a convergence of technologies. Physical stores may be unhappy about the lack of media, but consumers haven’t complained about downloading their music digitally. Games are next.

Rave – Dark Horse Presents is really stepping up and doing things that make me want to start picking up some future issues. They’ve already introduced CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan’s Alabaster: Wolves in a recent issue, and now they’re bringing back Ghost (an original concept that got lost in the 90s glut of comics) and doing an Aliens story (just as they used to do). If I can’t get an ongoing Star Wars comic featured in DHP, I’d be happy with some form of film tie-in in each issue.

Rave – I like the idea of Kickstarter, but I just haven’t yet found the cause to make me jump in and pledge. SQT featured one on the blog recently, and I’ve retweeted a couple that I found interesting (especially Tales of the Emerald Serpent and The Art of Carpe Chaos) – but what I’d really like to see is a shared world science fiction anthology featuring some creators whose work I enjoy and would like to see more of. Somebody get on that and I’ll step up and support it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.


SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
Publisher: Ace
Date: July 31, 2012
Pages: 448

Some people have everything figured out — Andrea Nash is not one of those people. After being kicked out of the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea's whole existence is in shambles. All she can do is try to put herself back together, something made easier by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend, Kate Daniels.

When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano — the male alpha of Clan Bouda and Andrea's former lover — die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate ... and must work with Raphael. As her search for the killer leads her into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta, Andrea knows that dealing with her feelings for Raphael might have to take a backseat to saving the world ...


I only have a handful of "must read" authors- especially when it comes to paranormal fiction- and Ilona Andrews is one of them. "Gunmetal Magic" is an offshoot of the Kate Daniels series, but I'm just as excited to get my hands on this one as I would be if it were part of the regular series.

Jim's can't wait to read selection is:

Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove

Publisher: Solaris
Date: 3/27/12
pages: 512


The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world.

The Aztecs’ reign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, encompassing regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador.

Then the Conquistador is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice.

I was somewhat aware of the first book in this "series" (I believe they are not really interconnected, only different takes on alternate universes where certain mythologies of Earth were based on reality), Age of Ra, but I haven't had the chance to check out any of the books as yet. I do enjoy updating mythologies though (see my interest in Marvel's Thor) and I've got a particular fondness for the Mayans having visited ruins from that civilization (yes, I know the Aztecs aren't the same, but it's close enough for me in this case). And hey, with all the talk about the Mayan calendar, I'm intrigued and would like to check this book out.

Books Received

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigulupi

In this exhilarating companion to Printz Award winner and National Book Award finalist Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi brilliantly captures a dark future America that has devolved into unending civil wars, driven by demagogues who recruit children to become soulless killing machines. Two refugees of these wars, Mahlia and Mouse, are known as "war maggots": survivors who have barely managed to escape the unspeakable violence plaguing the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities. But their fragile safety is threatened when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool, who is hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers. When tragedy strikes, Mahlia is faced with an impossible decision: risk everything to save the boy who once saved her, or flee to her own safety.

Drawing upon the brutal truths of current events, The Drowned Cities is a powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.




So You Created a Wormhole by Phil Hornshaw and Nick Hurwitch

Welcome, intrepid temporal explorers, to the world's first and only field manual/survival guide to time travel!
DON'T LEAVE THIS TIME PERIOD WITHOUT IT!

Humans from H. G. Wells to Albert Einstein to Bill & Ted have been fascinated by time travel-some say drawn to it like moths to a flame. But in order to travel safely and effectively, newbie travelers need to know the dos and don'ts. Think of this handy little book as the only thing standing between you and an unimaginably horrible death-or being trapped forever in another time or alternate reality. You get:

Essential time travel knowledge:

  • Choosing the right time machine, from DeLoreans to hot tubs to phone booths-and beyond
  • What to say-and what NOT to say-to your doppelganger
  • Understanding black holes and Stephen Hawking's term "spaghettification" (no, it's not a method of food preperation; yes, it is a horrifically painful way to meet your end)
  • The connection between Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, traversing wormholes and the 88 mph speed requirement
  • The possible consequences of creating a time paradox-including, but not limited to, the implosion of the universe

Survival tips for nearly any sticky time travel situation:

  • How to befriend a dinosaur and subsequently fight other dinosaurs with that dinosaur
  • Instructions to build your very own Rube Goldberg Time Machine
  • Crusading-for fun and profit
  • Tips on battling cowboys, pirates, ninjas, samurai, Nazis, Vikings, robots and space marines
  • How to operate a microwave oven
  • Enjoying the servitude of robots and tips for living underground when they inevitably rise up against us



Doubletake: A Cal Leandros Novel (Cal and Niko) by Rob Thurman

Half-human/half-monster Cal Leandros knows that family is a pain. But now that pain belongs to his half-brother, Niko. Niko's shady father is in town, and he needs a big favor. Even worse is the reunion being held by the devious Puck race-including the Leandros' friend, Robin- featuring a lottery that no Puck wants to win.

As Cal tries to keep both Niko and Robin from paying the ultimate price for their kin, a horrific reminder from Cal's own past arrives to remind him that blood is thicker than water-and that's why it's so much more fun to spill.



The Helix War by Edward Willett

"Marseguro"

A BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL ON A DISTANT WATER WORLD

After a worldwide disaster strikes Earth, the planet is taken over by a fanatical religious theocracy. Scientist Victor Hansen flees with a staff of non-genetically modified humans and young members of his newly created race, the Selkies, to Marseguro, a distant water world. But their peace and freedom is threatened when a traitor calls forth a strike force from Earth, and Victor's own grandson, Richard, is with them. What Richard Hansen discovers may alter not only his own destiny but that of Marseguro and Earth as well.


and

"Terra Insegura"

from the author of marseguro-The battle for survival returns to earth

Marseguro, a water world far from Earth, is home to a colony of humans and the Selkies, a water-dwelling race created from modified human DNA. For seventy years the colony has lived in peace. Then Earth discovers Marseguro, and a strike force is sent to eradicate this "abomination." But Marseguro has created a genetically tailored plague to use against Earth's Holy Warriors. With the enemy defeated, the people of Marseguro feel they are safe. But Chris Keating, the traitor who signaled Marseguro's location to the Holy Warriors, has fled to Earth, unknowingly carrying the deadly plague within him. The people of Marseguro feel they must send a ship to Earth with a life-saving vaccine. Only time will tell what awaits them when they reach their destination.


The Return Man by V.M. Zito

The outbreak tore the US in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness, known by survivors as the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.

But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you.



Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

Emperor Mollusk.
Intergalactic Menace. Destroyer of Worlds. Conqueror of Other Worlds. Mad Genius. Ex-Warlord of Earth.

Not bad for a guy without a spine.

But what's a villain to do after he's done . . . everything. With no new ambitions, he's happy to pitch in and solve the energy crisis or repel aliens invaders should the need arise, but if he had his way, he'd prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of dangerous science. Just as a hobby, of course.

Retirement isn't easy though. If the boredom doesn't get him, there's always the Venusians. Or the Saturnites. Or the Mercurials. Or . . . well, you get the idea. If that wasn't bad enough, there's also the assassins of a legendary death cult and an up-and-coming megalomaniac (as brilliant as he is bodiless) who have marked Emperor for their own nefarious purposes. But Mollusk isn't about to let the Earth slip out of his own tentacles and into the less capable clutches of another. So it's time to dust off the old death ray and come out of retirement. Except this time, he's not out to rule the world. He's out to save it from the peril of THE SINISTER BRAIN!


Chrysanthe by Yves Meynard

Christine, the princess and heir to the real world of Chrysanthe, is kidnapped as a small child by a powerful magician and exiled in a Made World that is a version of our present reality. In exile, supervised by her strict "uncle"(actually a wizard in disguise), she undergoes bogus memory recovery therapy, through which she is forced to remember childhood rape and abuse by her parents and others. She is terribly stunted emotionally by this terrifying plot, but at seventeen discovers it is all a lie. Christine escapes with a rescuer, Sir Quentin, a knight from Chrysanthe, in a thrilling chase across realities.

Once home, the magical standoff caused by her exile is broken, and a war begins, in spite of the best efforts of her father, the king, and his wizard, Melogian. And that war, which takes up nearly the last third of the work, is a marvel of magical invention and terror, a battle between good and evil forces that resounds with echoes of the great battles of fantasy literature.




Real Vampires Hate Skinny Jeans by Gerry Bartlett

Someone is eating for two...

Full-figured vampire Glory St. Clair thinks things are finally going her way. She's no longer possessed by a demon, the legions of hell aren't on her tail, and her love life is heating up since she managed to reconnect with her maker-and longtime lover-Jeremy Blade.

When a pregnant demon shows up on her doorstep, Glory knows that everything is about to go to hell. Alesa is claiming that the baby she's carrying is Rafe's, conceived while she was inhabiting Glory's body. A clever trap? Or could it be true?

Booties and bibs are the last thing on Glory's mind when she discovers dark secrets from her own forgotten past. Who is she? What is she? And how will the men in her life deal with the fact that she may be more powerful than she knew? One thing is certain. Glory has way more to worry about than fitting into her favorite pair of jeans..



Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis

My name's Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.
A series of seemingly motiveless murders of supernatural creatures points to a vigilante targeting the supe community. Markowski wouldn't normally have much of a problem with that, but his daughter may be next on the killer's list...




Alien Diplomacy (Alien Novels) by Gini Koch

Being newlyweds and new parents is challenging enough. But Jeff and Kitty Martini are also giving up their roles as super-being exterminators and Commanders in Centaurion Division while mastering the political landscape as the new heads of Centaurion's Diplomatic Corps. Enter a shadowy assassination plot and a new set of anti-alien conspirators, and nothing will ever be the same...





Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith

Princess Lasva is about to be named heir to her childless sister, the queen. But, when the queen finally bears an heir, Lasva's future is shattered. Grief-stricken, she leaves her country of Colend and falls into the arms of Prince Ivandred of Marloven Hesea. His people are utterly different-with their expertise in riding, weaponry, and magic- and the two soon marry.

When the sensational news makes its way to Lasva's sister, the queen worries for Lasva at the hands of the Marlovens, whose king's mage is in league with the magical land of Norsunder-considered by Colendi to be their enemy. The queen orders Emras, a scribe, to guard Lasva.

But it may be too late-Lasva is already deeply involved with the Marlovens and their magic. War wages on, and all are forced to redefine love, loyalty, and power...



Silver by Rhiannon Held

Andrew Dare is a werewolf. He’s the enforcer for the Roanoke pack, and responsible for capturing or killing any Were intruders in Roanoke’s territory. But the lone Were he’s tracking doesn’t smell or act like anyone he’s ever encountered. And when he catches her, it doesn’t get any better. She’s beautiful, she’s crazy, and someone has tortured her by injecting silver into her veins. She says her name is Silver, and that she’s lost her wild self and can’t shift any more.

The packs in North America have a live-and-let-live attitude, and try not to overlap with each other. But Silver represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent.

Andrew and Silver will join forces to track down this menace while discovering their own power and their passion for each other.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" Trailer

I admit I'm feeling a little bit of Johnny Depp costume fatigue, but this vampire-in-the-70's thing going on here did make me laugh.

Official Full "Prometheus" Trailer

I'm a couple days late in posting this (awful cold going around) but it's worth putting up-- even late.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review – Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse by Troy Denning

I was pleased with the format of my last Star Wars book review (Plagueis), so I’m going to continue to use it this time around. In this case, that means the first part of this review will be geared towards the casual fan and/or the fan who’s looking to get my thoughts without much in the way of spoilers. This is probably where the majority of readers of this blog will be able to stop, as you’ll get my recommendation in that section. Then I’m going to go more in-depth with my thoughts and my overall analysis of the book including spoilers. So without further ado:

The Summary:

Let’s just get this out of the way up-front, this book is not for the casual fan of Star Wars. If you have not read the whole Fate of the Jedi series up to this point, there’s no point in reading Apocalypse. It could be argued that you really need to have read the Dark Nest trilogy, Legacy of the Force and all the Fate of the Jedi books (not to mention the New Jedi Order series), but I’ll just say you really need to have read the 8 prior books in Fate of the Jedi to even understand where things stand on the opening page of Apocalypse.

Because Coruscant is being invaded by the Jedi, who went into a self-imposed exile in order to flush out the Sith infiltrators they knew were waiting for a moment to strike and seize power. The Lost Tribe of the Sith have shut themselves up inside the Jedi Temple, ready to defend against the Jedi siege – but Luke Skywalker has a plan to get a strike team behind enemy lines and overrun their defenses from within. Of course this is Star Wars and things never quite go as planned, especially with a former Sith as guide, and a being of unimaginable power secretly ruling the Sith.

Elsewhere, the Imperials led by Jagged Fel are at a stalemate with those who follow Admiral Daala, and the only thing that can save them all may be the scariest conceivable solution… an election! But Jag is convinced someone is helping Daala, corrupting the election process, so he sends former Jedi Tahiri on a mission to track down that source. Tahiri winds up in the company of a famous bounty hunter whom she doesn’t trust, facing an enemy that just may be the death of them both.

Overall, I enjoyed Apocalypse. I have my share of issues with the Fate of the Jedi series in general, and with this book in specific (as I’ll detail below), but I think Apocalypse succeeded in doing all the things it needed to. It provides a good wrap-up to this series of books, providing enough closure on all the major plotlines so as not to feel like just another book while we wait for the next one to be announced which will continue this story. It also does an excellent job of defying expectations and actively subverting many assumptions that readers have been making for some time now (due to the future of this timeline as dictated by the Legacy comic). I don’t think it’s Troy Denning’s best Star Wars novel, nor the best in the Fate of the Jedi series, but it’s a strong finish to a series I’ve thought was mostly good, and even better, it sets in motion many possibilities for future authors and storylines. Like many, I’m more excited about the next novels than I’ve been in a long time.

The Details:

There were some things that I absolutely loved about Apocalypse, and often times these were also the things that defied my expectations about the book. At this point, fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe have started to assume that Jagged Fel will become Imperial Emperor, that some combination of Jaina and/or Tahiri will form the Imperial Knights (a Jedi group who protect the Emperor in the Legacy comic that takes place further in the future of Star Wars than Fate of the Jedi) and so on. Because so many things were sort of tacked on in the finale of the Legacy of the Force series (Invincible, also written by Troy Denning) which seemed to be rushing to implement some of those changes, it was nice to see the opposite happen in Apocalypse.

Making Tahiri an Imperial Hand, even just briefly, was a great idea. It actually fit her very well; I could see her as being similar to Mara Jade, especially when Mara was at her lowest (after the Emperor’s death) since Tahiri is in a near identical place. While it also started out as something where I was thinking it could be the beginnings of the Imperial Knights, I could also see her staying in that role, though ultimately by the end of the book she’s back to being a Jedi again. The scenes with her working alongside Boba Fett were just great, the two of them tear through a secret laboratory like you’d expect from a Mandalorian and Jedi – but it never loses an edginess either that comes from being too far inside Fett’s head. Because these scenes are only told from Tahiri’s point of view, the reader is never quite sure what Fett’s goals or plans are, and if he might betray Tahiri – even as we know she’s planning to betray him. Meanwhile, they’re facing off against Abeloth – a creature, who let’s face it, is WAY out of their league. And yet they not only hold their own, but manage to defeat the creature – at least that aspect of her/it.

Since we’re on the subject of subverting what we think is coming in the future, I’ll also talk a little about Jaina. There are two major character developments for her in Apocalypse, one which continues down a known path, and one that adds an interesting twist. The twist happens early in the novel, when Luke names Jaina as a Jedi Master and new Council member (in the midst of battle against the Sith). Does a Jedi Master walk away from those duties to become consort to an Imperial Emperor? I’m not sure, but since Jag has walked away from those duties by the end of the book (and married Jaina), it raises a lot more questions – and that’s what I like about this development.

Likewise, finally revealing the truth about Allana’s parentage has been a long time in coming and a welcome development. I always thought keeping it a secret was a silly idea, and it’s never really played out all that well in the books, so it’s good that it’s now dropped. To have it happen around the time of the wedding seemed appropriate, and though I think we were given a bit of the short shrift again with a wedding (Han/Leia) because we’re never told who the guests are (I assume Wedge was there, and Winter?), the scene we were given played really well.

Going back for a moment to when Jaina becomes a Master, it’s just one great moment in an overall great action sequence that’s just relentless from near the beginning of the novel until at least the half-way point of the book. The Jedi siege on their own temple is no small undertaking, working through multiple layers of a building that’s a large as a city. There are Sith around every corner, pursuing them and laying traps, and at the end of it all lies Abeloth – whom the Jedi were not at all prepared to deal with. Despite the death of Jedi Barv in defense of Allana and the Solos, I also applaud that there were no “major” deaths of characters in this book. I’ve had my fill of it for some time, and I can assure anyone working on these books that their mission in accomplished – I fear for nearly every character in every scene of these books nowadays. I felt sure one of Corran Horn’s children wasn’t going to make it through this book alive – and I haven’t learned enough about them yet to want to let them go.

Finally, something that has been hinted at as far back as Legacy of the Force: Fury (and more recently again in this series when the Jedi leave Coruscant), now in Apocalypse the Jedi leave Coruscant for good. They will no longer be a direct extension of the Galactic Alliance government, but will have their own identity and accountability. It’s a break that’s been a long time in coming and a very good move for both the Jedi Order and for the stories (which have fallen into a bit of a rut because of their constant bickering with the government they work for but doesn’t trust them).

But there were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Apocalypse, and one of the first was sort of the ham-handed way in which Vestara’s betrayal of the Jedi came about. This character has been subject to varying degrees of inconsistent characterization since her introduction, from being an obvious trap to a sincere Jedi, to somewhere in between. While ultimately I felt that her character arc played out as best it could be in Apocalypse (based on all the prior inconsistencies), I wasn’t completely satisfied by it. I also struggle to separate her from the fact that in most cases her character was involved in each of the weakest parts of this novel.

Vestara’s betrayal moment comes as Leia, Han and Allana are on a MacGuffin quest to bring them into the temple just as the battle with the Sith is raging. On the one hand, the moment of betrayal is a tense one – I wasn’t sure Vestara wouldn’t turn back against the Sith at any moment, and it really wasn’t looking good for Han and/or the Falcon for awhile there – but the mere fact that Han, Leia and Allana were there in the first place, following a vision of Allana’s basically tying back into a nest of newborn Barabels (lizards) that she learned about a few books ago. This is a nest that they ultimately didn’t save, but became a mission for Saba and Tahiri later in the book. It felt very shoe-horned into the novel for no apparent reason other than to give Leia and Han something to do. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Allana had been one of the first Abeloth tried to reach out to in Outcast, there’s no linkage back to that to be found here in Apocalypse.

Which just sort of sums up my problem with a lot of the big “meta-plot” concerning Abeloth in this series. After reading Abyss, and seeing the Mortis episodes of The Clone Wars, I opined how I’d like to see connections made between Jacen/Allana and the Balance of the Force. Apparently I should be careful what I wish for, because this book more than tries to make those connections – unfortunately, I wasn’t really feeling it. I could get behind the history of Abeloth as a kind of surrogate mother to the Light and Dark sides, but I took issue with the idea that Anakin Skywalker essentially never brought Balance to the Force, and that now the only way to achieve it is to have a neverending war between Jedi and Sith.

I haven’t even dealt with the fact that while apparently the Celestials needed to create a giant space station capable of moving entire planets in order to be able to contain (CONTAIN – not destroy) Abeloth, all Luke Skywalker needs to do is enter the astral plane and work alongside Darth Krayt to send Abeloth reeling. It felt like so much was thrown in during this last book with regards to Abeloth, that no thought was given to it beforehand (a slow reveal of some of these things over the course of this series might have alleviated some of that feeling). I’m not sure we really needed the Killiks at all (it just seemed another MacGuffin, in order to be able to give the reader the info dump made necessary because it’s so late in the series and motives really should have been assigned long before now). And to top it all off, by returning to the Shadows we get the chance to ruin all the good work that was done in providing closure with Jacen in Abyss by turning him into a jerk again.

Finally, it’s a shame that an opportunity was wasted in this book to have a spectacular Imperial-on-Imperial space battle. It was well set-up by Christie Golden in Ascension, but instead of having a battle we spend a whole lot of time in a stand-off. I actually liked the idea of an Imperial election, and that still could have been used to ultimately resolve the conflict – but I sometimes like to see space ships duking it out in my Star Wars. This whole series has been lacking in that area, and I went into this book with high hopes for finally getting one because of the great lead in provided by the previous book.

At this point, I think my review has gone on long enough, and I’ve more than gotten my point across. With some great moments and some not-so-great ones, I find that it averages out to a solid “good” book. As I said earlier, I enjoyed reading it, but find that I’m far more excited by the potential of what’s to come next than I am by this series that’s just completed. If you’ve stuck with Fate of the Jedi up to this point, Apocalypse will deliver an ending you’ll mostly be content with. There are some exciting battles and some interesting twists, and ultimately it’s another entertaining novel in the Star Wars line.