Review of Tarkin: Star Wars

January 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Tarkin Star Wars coverTarkin: Star Wars
By James Luceno; Narrated by Euan Morton
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 November 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / star wars / empire /

Publisher summary:

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly….and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel – by intimidation…or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin – whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy…and its enemies’ extinction.

Tarkin is one of the first books in the rebooted Star Wars expanded universe. The story gives us a lot of Tarkin’s back story and how he came to be a Grand Moff of the Empire. The story started a bit slow but picked up as less back story and more plot took place. Tarkin is a very interesting character because of his intelligence and ruthlessness (he actually reminds me strongly of Grand Admiral Thrawn in some ways). Star Wars fans will like this book but I will say that it felt more like the prequels than the original trilogy.

The plot of the story isn’t a linear narrative and spends a lot of time giving flash backs of Tarkin’s youth. These flash backs give interesting perspective into how he thinks but also kind of disrupt the story happening in the present. The flash backs show that Tarkin isn’t just some plain old officer in the Empire but he has had his trials and tribulations to earn his place.

I think one large reason why I liked this book instead of “really liked” is how much the prequels are brought into the plot. Everyone who has seen the prequels saw the Death Star plans came from Geonosys and saw the younger version of Tarkin in the movies, so this story definitely has a place in the prequels…except I don’t really like the prequels.

On the audio side of things, Euan Morton brings a different style of narration to this story from what I’m used to in a Star Wars book. I think the idea is that he’d do well with a British accent to match that of Tarkin from the movies and he pulls it off well. All the usual music and sound effects are present as you’d expect and I still think they’re doing a better job with the use of music lately. I should also add that I don’t remember any annoying/repetitive/distracting background ambiance sounds as in some other Star Wars audio books.

Posted by Tom Schreck

The SFFaudio Podcast #296 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Mound by H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop

December 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The Mound by H.P. Lovecraft and Z.B. Bishop

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #296 – The Mound by H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop; read by Jim Campanella (from Uvula Audio). This is an unabridged reading of the story (3 hours 18 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, John Feaster, and Jim Campanella.

Talked about on today’s show:
The least interesting part, the headless ghost that is sometimes is a woman, why isn’t this story better known, a bait and switch, an Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche written by H.P. Lovecraft, getting the girl, A Strange Manuscript Found In A Cthulhu Cylinder, Ms. Found In A Bottle, The Curse Of Yig, the unnamed ethnologist, Quetzalcoatl, slithering like a man, The Mountains Of Madness, The Horror In The Museum, the original version, the Bishops of Dunwich, aggressively biblical, strange lost societies, The Whisperer In Darkness, the underworld, Grey Owl, Grey Eagle, unabridged and (not unedited), a Cthulhu coin, a science fiction story, atomic power, materialize objects, body sculpting, Robert E. Howard, Zamacona, Cibola, a city of gold, inured to torture, a magnetic star metal, Xibalba (Mayan Hell), Mayans Incas Aztecs, The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, a forerunner to Brave New World, cannibalism, unicorn cattle, our world in their Hell, The Hound, sooo decadent, corpse hunters, a cartoon of evil, proto-emo-goths, are they interested in Zamacona, oooh he’s a savage!, morals are lost by boredom, civilization decays to barbarism, Red Nails by Robert E. Howard, The Red One by Jack London, disturbing culture, romances, disintegrating penises, lost worlds, he doesn’t do ghosts, all of the problems, headless and alive, convoluted, very Star Treky, a headless zombie, a secret history to this story, black flesh dissolving slime, The Festival, Indian skulls, the original headless ghost, headlessness is not a thing, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, strange shaped skulls, conquistadors gotta conquista, they could completely destroy us, the Roman aqueducts, bad medicine, Chief Sitting Bull, “Yes, no, and you bet”, B.C.’s native languages, water in BC is “chuck”, ocean is “salt chuck”, trading languages, ghost hunters and treasure hunters, dowsing doodlebugs, these are not barrows, this is a butte, Tikal (Guatemala), Teotihuacan (Mexico), Star Wars, parking your X-Wings, strange carvings on sandstone, Jack London’s The Red One, 1918, Charles Fort, 1919, Cahokia, plowed under, a cursed Pizza Hut, chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes and syphilis, Woodhenge, totem-poles, why we always talk about Romans (because we have books written by them), the Incan writing system (knots), cuneiform, we’ve got to get more styluses.

The Mound by H.P. Lovecraft

The Mound

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A New Dawn

October 21, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Star Wars New DawnA New Dawn (Star Wars)
By John Jackson Miller; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 43 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Dark Times / rebels / Jedi / Empire /

Publisher summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.” (Emperor Palpatine)

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed – and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off….

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

This is it: The beginning of the new Star Wars content after the entire expanded universe became “legends” and it is….decent. Not awesome but also not bad. It’s hard to be objective because John Jackson Miller is charged with kicking off all new characters with all new adventures, and that feels much different from previous stories with established characters. I was kind of disappointed with the characters because this was an opportunity to be unique and they chose to make recycled versions of previous Star Wars characters. That said, the book was the normal action packed Star Wars adventure you’d expect and didn’t actually end the way I assumed it would – which I liked. I’d recommend this book to Star Wars fans or those interested in the new Rebels show (since this precedes it in the timeline) but would still point to Timothy Zahn’s work as a real gateway drug into Star Wars books.

Miller does a great job getting the feel of Star Wars in this book but the story also feels a bit like the characters from Star Wars have been recycled a bit:

Kanan Jarrus: A bit of a rogue with budding jedi powers kept hidden. He comes of like 30% Luke and 70% Han. Marc Thompson didn’t use either his Luke or Han voice for this character but I noticed him slipping somewhat into a Han voice on some of the more roguish moments.
Hera: Leia meets Mara Jade. She’s all about investigating wrong doing by the Empire, runs around with a hood up, and does some spy-type stuff.
Count Vidian: Evil cyborg guy that works for the Empire. I guess you always need an evil guy that is mostly machine (Vader/Grievous) to show how much they’re lost their humanity.
Skelly: This guy’s hi-jinks just make me think of Jar Jar Binks. No weird accent at least.

The main plot of the story revolves around the Empire wanting to increase efficiency of their mining of a mineral they need for expanding the fleet. The Empire shows up with the ruthless efficiency expert Count Vidian to make the miners be more efficient or else. Action and drama ensue from there and I always find it amazing how many times an author can get all the good and bad guys together only to have people escape / not get hurt and continue on with their plans. I thought the story was pretty well thought out and there were interesting revelations about characters and their motivations throughout the story so it wasn’t just straightforward action.

One thing that kind of annoyed me was a fairly major thread that seems to serve as an allegory to all the leaks in the media lately. There are contractors that monitor citizens (a la 1984) via hidden cameras and microphones but that monitoring has gotten out of hand since the emperor came to power. There is even a “military contractor” that is a whistle blower….. All of this may not have been intentional but it sure felt like it.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson did a great job as usual. If you’ve listened to a Star Wars book narrated by him before, you’ve heard his different voices and know what to expect. All the great Star Wars sound effects, atmospheric sounds, and music are there too. I may be less critical now, but I thought all of that was better done, less distracting, and contributed a bit better to this story than in some others I’ve listened to in the past.

And just a fun treat, this isn’t from this particular Star Wars novel but the same narrator:

 

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Jedi Doth ReturnWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /

Publisher summary:

Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.

If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:

  • Most lines are written in iambic pentameter (including the last two lines of a scene rhyming).
  • Han and Leia speak to each other in rhyming couplets when alone.
  • Boba Fett speaks in prose.
  • Yoda speaks in haiku.
  • Ewoks speak in a mix of Ewok and broken English

Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.

The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Empire Striketh BackWilliam Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back
By Ian Doescher; Performed by a full cast (Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, Ian Doescher, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, Marc Thompson)
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 25 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / haiku /

Publisher summary:

Hot on the heels of the New York Times bestseller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars comes the next two installments of the original trilogy: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jed Doth Return. Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. These two plays offer essential listening for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

Ian Doescher is back with more Shakespearian Star Wars as he progresses through the original trilogy. The Empire Striketh Back is very similar to Shakespeare’s Star Wars with some minor differences. As before, if you like Star Wars and Shakespeare you will probably enjoy this book…especially if you liked the first one. I think this book comes across a bit more silly than the first which is unfortunate because The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest part of the trilogy and some of that emotion is lost due to the silliness. That said, Doescher once again does a fantastic job putting everything into iambic pentameter and even mixes things up with some prose and even haiku with different characters.

The Shakespeare/literary side of this book is really well done, almost to the point that I would say this book would be a great device for teaching disinterested kids about Shakespeare without them reading Shakespeare. Doescher is more varied in his use of literary tools and explains a few of the differences in this book from the first in an afterward. I really wish that was at the beginning so I could be on the lookout for Boba Fett’s use of prose (I noticed that), Yoda speaking in haiku (I didn’t notice that), and his relying less on the chorus to explain scenes (I noticed this a bit since the characters explained more of what’s happening). The fact that he was able to do the whole book in iambic pentameter (complete with rhyming couplets) and also integrated some haiku is an impressive feat of work. Doescher also makes really good use of soliloquy and aside to explain character motivation for things like the budding relationship between Han and Leia, Lando’s motives, and what R2D2 is thinking at times. This allows him to flesh out things left to physical acting in the movies or description/narration in the novels.

While the book is technically impressive, the writing is approached like Renaissance faire Shakespeare and has a bit of a silliness aspect to it. This works great normally but definitely takes away from the emotion of things happening, especially later in the story (in Cloud City). The main silly aspect that got me was the singing. Shakespeare did have songs in many of his plays but singing ugnaughts and a song from Leia and Chewbacca come across as silly (at least they definitely did in the audiobook). The ugnaughts (picture the pig faced short guys working the incinerator room and carbon freezing chamber of Cloud City) came across like Oompa Loompa’s from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The Leia and Chewbacca song also comes at a time of great loss and just feels out of place. There is other silliness that works well (a discussion of why places like the Death Star and Cloud City need to have large open spaces adjacent to walkways is one) so just consider me overly sensitive with my Empire Strikes Back. ;-)

I really enjoyed this as an audiobook and think it’s the preferred way to experience this telling of the story. The cast does a great job with all impressions and the music and sound effects are some of the best you’ll find in a Star Wars book. I mainly say that because all the sound effects and especially the music have a place that goes along with what’s happening in the story (I’m big into soundtracks and this was a huge factor for me). I have to admit that I was a little sad that it was over so soon because the performance was very enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this Shakespearian trilogy.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Honor Among Thieves: Star Wars by James S.A. Corey

March 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Honor Among Thieves: Star WarsHonor Among Thieves: Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion)
By James S.A. Corey, read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 52 minutes

Themes:  / Star Wars / rebellion /

Publisher Summary:

Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—writing as James S. A. Corey—make their Star Wars debut in this brand-new epic adventure featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa. The action begins after the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance? When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.

Honor Among Thieves is a great Star Wars book. This is the second book of the Empire and Rebellion trilogy but fear not, there is no overarching plot to worry about and the only thing relating the two books so far is just that they take place between Episodes 4 and 5. The plot is pretty decent but whatever it may lack is completely made up for in the characterization and interaction of the characters I didn’t realize I was missing in other Star Wars novels. The charisma feels a lot more like the character interaction from the original trilogy than any other time period in the books. The main short coming of the novel is that nothing major can happen in this book because it is essentially a side adventure that takes place between Episodes 4 and 5 of the original trilogy. I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan whether or not they’ve read any Star Wars novels before.

As you can tell by the cover, this story mainly follows Han Solo as he goes on a mission to extract the Rebel Alliance agent Scarlet Hark from deep cover in the Empire. He struggles along the way with how far he is willing to go for the Rebel Alliance and whether he thinks they could become as controlling as the Empire they are trying to usurp. Scarlet Hark kind of takes the place of Leia as this strong, attractive female that Han can verbally parry with as they go along in their adventure. Luke and Leia are present too but in more of a limited capacity for much of the story.

Speaking of verbal parrying, James S.A. Corey does a great job with the character interaction in this story. One of the reason why I haven’t really liked the prequel trilogy is that the characters felt stiff toward each other, even those that were supposedly falling in love. As I said earlier, this novel follows much more closely in the vein of the original trilogy where the characters banter with each other and feel like they have much deeper relationships or a history that this novel builds on. Other Star Wars books are great (particularly the ones by Timothy Zahn), but they rarely have this kind of warm interaction between the characters. There is some genuine humor and even some silliness in this book asidde from the common slight comic relief normally present in Star Wars books. I would say that this part of the novel was so good that I’m actually going to go read some James S.A. Corey novels just because I enjoyed the writing style so much in this book.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson does a great job with the voices as usual. The impersonations of well known characters are well done and new voices are quite entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his Hunter Maas voice because it was perfect for the swagger of that character. The novel also gave some great moments for Marc Thompson to use some great surfer dude and valley girl voices that were pretty great for the characters. His voices for Scarlet Hark and Leia were so similar though that they were hard to tell apart, especially when in the same conversation. As for Chewbacca, I think other books use canned sounds (pretty sure) but some of his parts in this book are more….unique…and all of his parts are done specifically for this book. This can be good at times but I kind of found it distracting because it didn’t sound like the Chewbacca I’m used to. The sound effects and music were just about as good as you’d expect from your typical Star Wars novel.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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