Review of Aftermath: Star Wars by Chuck Wendig, Read by Marc Thompson

October 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Star Wars AFtermathAftermath: Star Wars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
By Chuck Wendig; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: September 04, 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 Hours and 16 Minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / rebels / empire /

Publisher summary:

The second Death Star has been destroyed, the emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance – now a fledgling New Republic – presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial star destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former Rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world – war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’ urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is – or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit – to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies – her technical genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector – who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Star Wars Aftermath is the first book of the newly renovated Star Wars timeline to take place after the original movies and it doesn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it. We were enticed by the potential for details of what happens after Return of the Jedi but details of the main heroes are doled out sparingly while the main part of the story involves mostly new characters. This isn’t quite the journey to the Force Awakens I was hoping for.

The main plot follows those new characters, Wedge gets some screen time in there, and we get small glances of the rest of the universe through small little interlude chapters – which are the most interesting parts of the book. We get to find out some hints of interesting things going on elsewhere in the universe and it’s the unclear nature of those hints that make them so interesting.

So what about the main story? It’s fairly standard pulpy Star Wars action that I honestly can’t really remember a whole lot of because nothing particularly stood out. Some of the remnant of the Empire decide to hold a secret meeting somewhere they don’t have firm control (or also not somewhere in deep space) so that Rebels (or New Republic people) could stumble upon them and we could have some nice “stuck on a planet” moments. I’ve seen some criticism of the writing style but I think the main problem this book has is that the plot doesn’t really seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I don’t look for fine writing in a Star Wars book anyway – I look for fun and action.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson and the sound engineers did a great job as per usual. Thompson does a great range of voices and impressions even though he didn’t really get to use many of those impressions in this book. His Wedge sounds a lot more like Luke but Wedge doesn’t really have as much of persona from the movies anyway. The music and sound effects were great as they usually are in Star Wars productions.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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

Review of A New Dawn

October 21, 2014 by · 2 Comments
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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 Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

June 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Deadhouse GatesDeadhouse Gates (Malazen Book of the Fallen #2)
By Steven Erikson; Performed by Ralph Lister
34 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / epic fantasy / magic / desert / empire /

Publisher summary:

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends…. Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue, and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination, and originality — a new master of epic fantasy.

This book was pretty amazing.  I want to say that right off the bat.  This book is something special.  Steven Erikson has a wonderful way of writing about things that we know nothing about as readers but by the end of the book you look back and have a whole new appreciation for everything you read previously.  His foreshadowing is so subtle and wonderfully done that you don’t even realize that you realize that it’s coming, until in comes.

The characters are all very cool, including a few characters who return from Gardens of the Moon.  Kalam is a real favorite of mine; I really like his progression in this book as he is originally from Seven Cities and it affects him on an emotional level.  I also absolutely love Mappo and Icarium.  Those two were by far in my opinion the most interesting characters, and their relationship is memorable.

We get to see a whole new continent in this book in Seven Cities, with a middle eastern, desert feel.  The Whirlwind is an interesting concept; there is no doubt that this is another world that is extremely dangerous and volatile.  There is no safety anywhere and almost every decision made is one of life or death.

This book ends in a truly epic fashion and I think that anyone who enjoyed Gardens of the Moon will undoubtedly love Deadhouse Gates.  It has awesome magic, epic sword fights, political intrigue, and some truly horrifying monsters.  This book in my opinion surpasses Gardens of the Moon and sets the stage for a truly epic series that I can’t wait to finish.  This is only the second book of ten and I just can’t wait to see where this story is going to go.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

This book is read by Ralph Lister who really brings these characters to life in a way that is truly believable.  It’s as if there are a whole cast of people reading this book.  He does such a wonderful job.  I look forward to listening to Memories of Ice.

Posted by Scott Russell