Takeover: Part 1 Book Review

Cover art for Takeover: Part 1 by  Tommaso Renieri

Cover art for Takeover: Part 1 by Tommaso Renieri

Takeover: Part 1
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Published 2018 by Galaxy's Edge Press

Takeover brings us back to where it all began, the dusty world of Kublar. Except now, after Chhun’s victory over Goth Sullus on Utopion, everything is different. In the years since the Battle of Kublar, the Kublarens have been integrated into the galactic economy, built up glittering cities, and even acquired a Zhee refugee problem. All of this was sponsored and shepherded by the Republic. There is just the little problem that the Republic doesn’t exist anymore.

The Chinese word for crisis isn’t actually comprised of danger and opportunity, but it makes for a good story. Breaking up the Republic means that ambition plus good luck can make you a king in some out-of-the-way corner of the galaxy. Unfortunately, lots of other people have the same idea, so potential potentates need rough men with guns to guard them while they sleep.

Which makes for interesting times on Kublar. The power vacuum created by the fall of the Republic allows men of wealth and power to set up personal fiefdoms in the quest for more power, and more money. Which is where our two POV characters, Carter and Bowie, come in.

By Tomchen1989 - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32046344

By Tomchen1989 - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32046344

Carter is an ex-legionnaire, hired out to the highest bidder in a desperate attempt to keep his marriage together and his kids in a good school. The money is good, but working for shady characters in far-flung places puts even more strain on family life than a regular deployment does. At least when you work for the government, everyone can pretend what you are doing is legit.

In our world, the forever war in Iraq and Afghanistan produced lots of guys just like Carter. Their primary skills are in killing people and breaking stuff, and if they are really honest with themselves, they kinda miss being deployed, even though it is hell on your marriage, and you miss all the stuff your kids are doing.

Bowie, on the other hand, strikes me as much less of a team player than Carter. While Bowie has useful skills, he is just a little too focused on looking out for # 1. You want him on your side, but not necessarily on your team. Which is probably just fine with him.

I can’t think of any real-world analogues of Bowie, but he did strike me as being a bit like Agent 47.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge  by  PatrickBrown

Hitman: Sniper Challenge

by PatrickBrown

While Kublar seemed a lot like Afghanistan in Legionnaire, this doesn’t really seem like the model in Takeover. Excepting their strategic rock deposits, there isn’t actually much economic opportunity in Afghanistan today. Nobody other than the locals is much interested in fighting over it. What Kublar reminds me most of is China around the turn of the twentieth century.

This is also known as the Warlord Era. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, and a failed attempt to unify China as a Republic under Yuan Shikai. There was danger and opportunity aplenty, with intrigue, battles, fortunes made and lost as China rapidly modernized after the sclerotic Qing dynasty was overthrown. This is the China of the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a brief period where anything could happen, and foreign influences mingled freely with local tradition.

Takeover is a bit of an experiment, a serial sold only on GalacticOutlaws.com. Part 2 is already out, and I’ll likely review that one too shortly. The price is right, only a couple of bucks for a short story with a lot of punch, done in a style similar to Nick and Jason’s previous work together. I hope this experiment works out, because I would really like more of this.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review



Retribution: Galaxy's Edge Book 9 Review

Retribution: Galaxy's Edge #9
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published October 29th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07GNGLDWM

I threatened to write an elaborate thinkpiece on this book, and since no-one talked me off the cliff, here it is. I think I’m going to go full spoiler here, because I doubt I need to talk anyone into reading the 9th book in a series I’ve been recommending for a year. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read on unless you want me to ruin the ending for you.


The end has come.

In Message for the Dead, I thought the end was upon the galaxy, but Goth Sullus used his connection to the Crux to stem the tide, vanquishing the murderous and hateful Cybar and binding them to his will. Alas, it turns out that his victory was to be short-lived, and he would not succeed at building an Empire to last a thousand years. At the very moment of his triumph, his dreams turned to ashes in his mouth, and his power deserted him.

Unfortunately, despite his advanced age, Goth Sullus forgot to heed the advice of the venerable 100 Tips for Evil Overlords #22, “do not consume an energy field bigger than your head, no matter how much power is at stake”. [on a side note, I see that the author of the evil overlord list’s last name is Anspach. Coincidence?]

Of course, I am kidding. Goth Sullus pretty clearly knows most of these things. Sullus did not make any cartoonish mistakes. He was just undone by his moral failings, as nemesis follows hubris. It would be easy to condemn Sullus as a monster, which he is, but he is also genuinely a great man. Thus his end, when it comes, is all the more tragic.

I wish to focus here on Sullus, in part because I am fascinated by his character, but also because in retrospect, the entirety of the first nine books of the Galaxy’s Edge series turns upon Goth Sullus and his actions. Even the Battle of Kublar was but the preamble [with the collusion of X] to his campaign to bring justice to the galaxy.

If we now turn to the events of Retribution, one of the key threads is the final temptation of Goth Sullus. In Message for the Dead, the dread secret of the Cybar was heavily hinted, but here in Retribution, the truth is laid bare: the Cybar are but manifestations of demons and devils seeking to invade and despoil the galaxy.

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

Blinded as he is by pride and ambition, Sullus cannot see this. Even though preventing this was why Sullus went seeking power! As surprising as this may seem, given his history, the temptation of Goth Sullus proceeds in a plausible fashion. Like the target of the apprentice devil Screwtape, the ultimate masters of the Cybar proceed from flattery, to practical advice, to offers of service, to demands of fealty. Reading this, I thought it felt about right. The whisperings of temptation do sound like this. From my own small experience, this felt real.

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

I had hoped for redemption for Sullus. In the end, he had spent far too long indulging his fantasies of power and revenge to act in time. Goth Sullus was vain-glorious and prideful, easy pickings for the masters of deceit. Casper might have resisted, but that persona was long diminished by the time he had completed his transformation into Sullus. Once he [Sullus] realized his danger, he [Casper] was too far gone to resist effectively. Virtue is simply what we habitually do, and for Sullus, his habits betrayed him in the end. When Wraith walked up and put a bullet in his head, it was the best thing that could have happened to him at that point. We can perhaps nonetheless hope that his final resistance will count in his favor at the final judgment.

Last Judgment  By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

Last Judgment

By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

The end of Goth Sullus brings a fitting end to the first season of Galaxy’s Edge. Most everyone who deserved a bullet has gotten one. Order, of a sort, has been restored to the galaxy. Things will never be as they were, but life will go on.

There are just enough loose threads left for the authors to spin up another round of books, but I felt satisfied at the end of this. Each book in the series had its own feel, its own good moments, and then in the end it all came together cleanly. This was a hell of a good read, and I hope everyone else enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review


Thrawn: Alliances Book Review

Old School Star Wars by Timothy Zahn

Old School Star Wars by Timothy Zahn


Thrawn: Alliances
by Timothy Zahn
Del Rey (2018)
350 pages
ISBN 978-0-525-48048-8

This book was a breath of fresh air for me. Timothy Zahn has written something that feels like an old-school Star Wars adventure in the new Star Wars canon. The Star Wars novels written since Disney nuked the Extended Universe have ranged from the merely competent to downright awful, with a few excursions into active hostility towards the fanbase. So far, other than Zahn’s reboot of Thrawn, none have been fun.

This book was a lot of fun.

It might even be better than Thrawn, although that book was trying to do something very different than this one, which makes the comparison difficult. The last book in Thrawn’s story was a political thriller. This one is simple adventure, although Zahn made an interesting choice to tell two stories, widely separated in time, but unified in setting and protagonists.

The settings Zahn chose map onto The Clone Wars and Rebels respectively. We thus have one foot in the sunset of the Republic, and another in the dawn of the Empire. This book makes the most sense seen within the context of those cartoons, which are among my favorites of the Disney era.

We also lack the window into Thrawn’s mind the previous book provided, other than some brief observations on body language. Instead, we get to see into Vader’s head. I didn’t mind the shift in emphasis, because Zahn was able to deftly explain the way Vader sees himself. Years ago, I remember reading a fan theory that Obi-wan’s betrayal, the shock of accidentally killing his wife, and the process of being made into Vader caused a psychotic break in Anakin’s mind. Vader remembers being Anakin, but it was like it all happened to someone else. And precisely because of how horrible those experiences were, and his own complicity in how it all turned out, Vader doesn’t have much interest in introspection regarding his former life.

I don’t know who wrote that fan theory, or even where I read it, but they nailed it.

Zahn also gets to have a bit of fun with fan-service. Dave Filoni’s Rebels took a clever Thrawn gambit from the original trilogy of books, the Marg Sabl, and returned it to the canon by having Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan in The Clone Wars, invent it. In Alliances, Zahn brings it full circle by having Anakin teach it to Thrawn.

Another super popular character that arose from the margins of Star Wars

Another super popular character that arose from the margins of Star Wars

Zahn resurrects the Noghri commandos here, who were the nemesis that brought justice upon Thrawn’s hubris in the original story arc. It isn’t at all clear what might happen this time, since Thrawn’s new origin story shifted his personality subtly. Padmé also makes an appearance here, and I feel like Alliances does her justice. Since Zahn also created one of the most popular female Star Wars characters, Mara Jade [whom I suspect of being based on his wife], I’m not surprised that he can write Padmé convincingly.

Of course, Zahn needs to pay his dues as well. One of the worlds in the book is Batuu, and the city upon it Black Spire Outpost, which is the name of one of the attractions under construction at the Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Disneyland. Zahn works hard to find a way to tell an interesting story while still putting in the requisite product placement and nods to other products in Disney’s Star Wars portfolio.

It probably helps that this isn’t the first time he’s tried.

Zahn has written this book before, Outbound Flight. I read it in 2016, and so far, it has been the only Zahn book I’ve given a tepid review. I felt it was just too hard for Zahn to try to reconcile his early 1990s inventions for the course of the Star Wars universe post-Return of the Jedi with the later prequels. This was Zahn’s opportunity to reboot that story, where Anakin Skywalker met Thrawn out beyond known space, and he made the best of it.

I would say that this is hearkening back to the Star Wars that could have been, the road that was not taken, but Timothy Zahn and Ron Howard and Dave Filoni and Gareth Edwards make me think there is an active resistance to the identitarian overreach of The Last Jedi.

This isn’t just the Star Wars that was, in the old Extended Universe, it is the Star Wars that is.

My other book reviews

Thrawn

Other books by Timothy Zahn

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review

Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Starcraft: Evolution

Why I can never be Tyrus Rechs

I recently completed my book review of Requiem for Medusa by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. It took me a little longer than I would have liked. I first read the book on vacation in June, and I tried to start writing the review shortly after I got back, but I found myself stuck.

This was an unwelcome surprise, and one even moreso when I discerned that the reason I was having trouble was that I was disappointed. I like Cole and Anspach’s work, but I also like to be honest, so I decided to sit on the review for a while, and then re-read the book after I’d had some time to digest it.

I’m glad that I did, because I found out that the book itself is awesome. I also found an interesting take on the character and personality of Tyrus Rechs, and this is a good place to explore some of the interesting bits I left out of that book review.

This will be a bit more personal than I usually make my book reviews, but that I why I separated this into another blog post. Only regular readers need to suffer from my introspection, not random Amazon review readers. I am also going to give away all of the secrets of the series, less volume 9, Retribution, since I only just started it today. Consider yourself warned about spoilers.


I really liked Imperator, the Galaxy’s Edge standalone novel about Goth Sullus. The review I wrote for it is my favorite of the Galaxy’s Edge series so far. Sullus turned out to be Tyrus Rechs’ oldest friend, another practically immortal survivor of the twisted experiments of the lighthugger Obsidia. The impression I got from Imperator was that Casper Sullivan always lived in Tyrus’ shadow. While a capable warrior in his own right, no one looks badass standing next to the Tyrus Rechs.

I also got the impression that Tyrus and Casper both loved Reina, the woman who saved them from captivity on the Obsidia. And that maybe Casper felt he got out-competed by Tyrus here too. Thus, I wasn’t really all that surprised when Casper killed his oldest friend, because this is the way friendship turns into jealousy. And here, the reason is that I think Casper always wanted to be Tyrus, and he could never be him. They were just fundamentally different people.

Tyrus and Casper each instantiate an archetype of manliness. I’m going off the schema from the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, which I’ve found pretty informative, especially in explaining stories.

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

King Arthur – Charles Ernest Butler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tyrus is the warrior, you can think of him as something like King Arthur. He’s epic, and strong, and dashing, and probably gets all the girls too.

Tyrus is a fundamentally simple man. You do the just thing because it is the just thing, and that is that. While there is something refreshing about this, Tyrus is also something of a blunt instrument. He is like the man with a hammer, except he has an autocannon. Every problem looks like something to shoot. Preferably lots of times. Tyrus is introspective enough to understand this about himself, but he is fundamentally accepting of himself as well. He can rest in his own skin.

Casper is more like Merlin, a more introspective and devious character, but also key to Arthur’s success. He can see further, and knows when discretion is the better part of valor. Arthur probably never appreciates Merlin, or stops to thank him for what he does.

As Goth Sullus, the politician and tactician Casper Sullivan becomes more truly what he is. He gains unspeakable powers from beyond the Galaxy’s Edge, the ability to peer into men’s minds, shape reality, bend all to his will. But….something is missing for him. The power isn’t enough, or in the service of the rightful King.

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

The Moirai – By William Blake - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

There are two more archetypes in this schema, which interestingly, Reina seems to fit both. The Lover, and the King. She is the love interest, and her name even invokes the sound of reign, which seems right as Reina represents what both Tyrus and Casper fight to preserve, even when they find her conducting vile experiments in another lighthugger, the Moirai, the Fates of Greek legend. I don’t yet know what happened to Reina, other than some hints in Imperator, so I’m interested to see what comes out of Retribution. [My guess, she is the Mother in the heart of the Cybar mothership.]

One of the things that surprised me most about Requiem for Medusa was that it portrayed Tyrus and Casper’s fundamental similarity and difference in the same way, at the same time. Imperator showed a Casper, as Goth Sullus, willing to blow up the whole galaxy to see justice be done. In Requiem, we see a Tyrus willing to do exactly the same thing.

Except, the way they both do that is characteristically different. Casper wants to see cosmic justice. Every mourner’s tear wiped away. Tyrus just wants to kill every bastard involved in setting up his woman, and everyone who happens to get in the way of that. Casper ruined the galaxy in his fool’s quest. Tyrus just ruined himself.

When I realized that, I realized why they were friends. In a way, they both wanted the same things, and just pursued those things in their own characteristic ways. Yet, at the end of the day, I realized that I just couldn’t identify with Tyrus Rechs, even though I had wanted to ever since I first met him in Galactic Outlaws.

Tyrus Rechs is a hell of a warrior. Steadfast, loyal, unmovable. Simple even. I respect him, but I found that I was disappointed that I can’t be like him for one simple reason:

I am Goth Sullus.

Requiem for Medusa book review

Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 291 pages
Published June 15th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07DS8B38B

What price would you be willing to pay for vengeance? How much of your substance would you be willing to spend, so that the wicked would not escape their due? To see justice done, even though the heavens may fall?

For Tyrus Rechs, that turns out to be just about everything. And in another sense, it turns out to be not much at all. To resolve that enigma, we need to understand the character of Tyrus Rechs. Rechs is fundamentally a very simple man, but to explain why is not so simple.

Let us start by looking at similar characters in fiction. One of the closest examples I can think of is Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane:

Solomon Kane – illustrated by Gary Gianni

Solomon Kane – illustrated by Gary Gianni

Solomon Kane is fanatical in personality, unadorned in both speech and deportment, and convinced of the absolute sovereignty of God. His characteristic boast is something I could see Rechs saying:

"It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives."

In another man, we might call this a humblebrag, but for both Kane and Rechs, they are simply being honest. Each of them is an avatar of truth and justice, and are constitutionally incapable of either dishonesty or subtlety.

Just call my Tyrus.

He said it like he was a normal person and not one of the most wanted men in the galaxy. Forget all the rumors, ghost stories, and legends that littered his reputation. He had a warm, almost wry voice that held no pretensions within it. If anything, he seemed casually ordinary and of few words. If you were to have asked her later, after everything had happened, what the truth sounded like if it had a voice, she would’ve told you it sounded like Tyrus Rechs. Like he was some kind of galactic true north that compasses couldn’t stop themselves from finding.

Fundamentally, neither man wants for anything. They have nothing, and want nothing, because they are sufficient unto themselves. Thus, it is easy for them to lay it all out each and every time, without hesitation. Whether as a soldier, or a bounty hunter, Tyrus is willing to lay down his life for others.

But this time, something is different. That something is a woman.

Rechs felt nothing.

Which was, as he well knew, when he was at his most dangerous. He rarely felt anything at all before he killed people. Or during it. Or after. Maybe because he’d done it so long. Because it was one of the only things he knew how to do well.

And to him, that was the way it needed to be when you killed someone. Emotionless. Otherwise…mistakes were made.

Impersonal personification of justice he may be, but Tyrus Rechs is also a man, and a soldier; stone cold killer he may be, he is is also capable of love. Not just the fraternal love which motivates men to run towards danger instead of away from it, but also the wild abandon of erotic love. Which explains one of the biggest questions I had in the Galaxy’s Edge series: what happened to Tyrus Rechs? Now it all makes sense.

As for the book itself, this volume struck me as the most cinematic of all of Anspach and Cole’s work so far. The climactic set-piece battle on a ruined world between Rechs and the man who betrayed his woman, I could see it. This would make a hell of a movie. Or a mini-series, as some devoted fans remind me frequently.

The Wheel, not Cassio Royale, but similar in concept

The Wheel, not Cassio Royale, but similar in concept

Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

An attempt to rehabilitate a reluctant hero

Solo: A Star Wars Story 
Director Ron Howard 
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover
Writers Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan

I finally watched Han Solo’s origin story. I really liked it. I saw it as an attempt to rehabilitate the reluctant hero Han of the original Star Wars.

I don’t say that lightly. The poor box office for Solo was widely interpreted as a failure of a Star Wars movie starring a white man, but there is a counter-narrative that the failure of Solo was really a delayed reaction to the identitarian overreach of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

In a cruel twist of fate, it turned out that Hilary’s avatar lost too.

With my Straussian hat on, I’m starting to lean towards the latter interpretation. Aside from Chuck Wendig’s lackluster novels, the recent entries in the new Disney Star Wars canon have been subtly reactionary while checking all of the proper boxes. Rogue One was a carefully crafted homage to the original Star Wars that was in fact more Star Wars than Star Wars. It filled in the plot holes of the original movie, while also honoring it. On the other hand, it was the love story of a father for his daughter, full of regrets for the life of hardship he had bequeathed to her. On the gripping hand, it was also about the unsentimental hard-asses the Rebellion was full of in order to win.

Star Wars Rebels turned into the way Disney rehabilitated the most popular character in the Extended Universe. A character who is as unforgiving as any Roman general.

Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Thrawn is where justice meets mercy and crushes it unsentimentally

Solo is the least woke Star Wars movie of this decade. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is a tragic hero, compromised by her own cooperation in evil. L3-37, the droid revolutionary, is played for laughs, Lando is a cheater. Only Han [and Chewie, neglected hero of the Rebellion] comes out well.

In part, that is because he is still young and naive. I can see a plausible character arc, in which Han, as he gets more experienced and more jaded, finally finds out that cowardice and betrayal really does pay off, à la Woody Harrelson’s Beckett. Which isn’t quite what happened in Episode Seven, which involved a remarkable feat of self-sacrificial love, but is close enough in spirit to generate hard feelings in fans.

To be fair, Harrison Ford wanted out, so they wrote him an out. I can just imagine a different way to play it all out, since I was deep into the Extended Universe from the beginning. This is not the EU, but I think Ron Howard and the Kasdans, father and son, did pretty well, given what they had to work with.

I’m sorry Solo didn’t do that well at the box office, I think it deserves a second look [or a first] from Star Wars fans who feel betrayed. Also, props to whomever retconned in the West End Games attempt to make sense of the twelve parsecs line. I always kind of liked that explanation.

My other movie reviews

Judgment at Proteus Book Review

Finally, Frank is found with a dead body somewhere other than a train!

Finally, Frank is found with a dead body somewhere other than a train!

Judgment at Proteus: Quadrail Book 5
by Timothy Zahn
416 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POP4E

When Frank finally gets to the end of his quest, he finds out that he has been fighting the wrong war all along. But at least he's not on a train anymore!

Much of the action in Judgment at Proteus takes place on the eponymous Proteus station, centerpiece of the Filiaelian Empire and proud showcase of their mastery of genetic engineering. Unfortunately, Frank killed some Filiaelian walkers back in book 3, so now he has some 'splaning to do. Which of course he doesn't want to, since his battle against the Modhri has been an unauthorized shadow war waged for the benefit of the Spiders and their secretive masters.

That simple hook is enough to set in motion the denouement of a five book series, wrapping up a number of loose threads, and being a hell of a lot of fun in the process. I blew through these books over the course of a couple of weeks, thanks to a timely family vacation, but being able to pick up four of five volumes at once really helped a lot. There is something to be said for waiting until a series is complete to get started.

While these are quick and easy reads, this is not simply the equivalent of popcorn fare summer blockbusters, fun to watch and quickly forgotten. You could read the Quadrail series that way, and come away having had a good time. Zahn writes in an accessible style, and has been a popular writer for a very long time, so he's good at it. But I wouldn't have enjoyed the Quadrail series quite so much if there wasn't something more lurking under the surface.

Zahn just never makes a big deal out of the ideas he explores here. Frank is a bit of a loose cannon, always trusting in his brains, guts, and luck to get him through to the end. That is a perfectly acceptable strategy when you are just a cog in the intelligence apparatus, high risk and high reward if you are indeed both clever and lucky. It clearly worked for Frank, right up until it didn't, and he got fired for making a big stink about something obviously stupid, that ended up being part of the Modhran shadow war before Frank knew what that was.

This is less good as a strategy when you are on your own, with the fate of galaxy riding on your luck. Unfortunately, Frank doesn't really know any other way to operate. Fortunately for him, others who are less clever but more systematic, are available to back him up. There are hints of this fundamental tension throughout the five books in the series, but it isn't a major plot, nor does it take up a lot of space in the text. It is just there to think about, if you find it interesting. 

There are other interesting themes that clearly form the background of this series but are only mentioned in passing: unintended consequences, the price of making yourself open and vulnerable enough to love, how to ensure enough of an advantage to defensive warfare to make interstellar war unprofitable, what happens when you introduce a large number of fundamentally dissimilar alien species to one another. Each one of these things is big enough to write a whole book about, but Zahn did a good enough job on each one to just make it a background detail.

This makes his written worlds feel complete, rather than fantastical sets upon which his characters act out their lines, requiring suspension of disbelief to make the plywood and paint feel real. I could just relax into the story, and go along for the ride. The fact that Zahn can write this kind of thing year after year, over a career now stretching almost 40 years, is a remarkable accomplishment. And it is a hell of a lot of fun too.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

The Domino Pattern Book Review

What if security inspections cannot defeat a determined and resourceful foe?

What if security inspections cannot defeat a determined and resourceful foe?

The Domino Pattern: Quadrail Book 4
by Timothy Zahn
385 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POORW

Since every entry in the Quadrail series follows the same basic pattern, we need a new plot device in each book to keep things fresh. Zahn has arranged these so that the series is building to a crescendo, each victory more desparate, every moment more fraught.

In The Domino Pattern, the escalation is someone has figured out how to smuggle weapons onto the Quadrail. Which is supposed to be impossible. The Spiders who run the interstellar train service employ a screening system that would make the Israelis jealous. It looks not only for weapons that can cut or shoot, but chemical and biological agents effective against the various species that are their clientele, and also anything that can be combined with another mechanism or substance to become something dangerous.

However, since Frank used to work for Western Alliance Intelligence, we know that Earth governments were quietly pursuing projects to find weapons that could slip past the Spiders' sensors. We also know that some of Frank's alien allies in the shadow war against the Modhri have already managed to figure out ways to create bludgeoning weapons that can be carried aboard. Frank himself has an in with the Spiders, and has access to a non-lethal weapon, the kwi, that normally would also be forbidden. We see things much more effective this time.

My favorite part of this book is the feeling that all the players are playing the game to the hilt, all the time, even when you can't see what they are doing. And the willingness to look for an edge even if the price of losing is peace and tranquility. The quiet arms race to develop weapons you can sneak on to a Quadrail train is exactly the kind of thing you would expect real governments to do, even when they benefit from the stability such a policy creates. The greater good is clearly served by the status quo, but no one can pass up the opportunity for a winner-takes-all technological breakthrough. Or can ignore the threat of their neighbors doing so first. This is an unstable equilibrium, just asking for something to come along and break the system. That thing has come. And that isn't even Frank's biggest problem on this train. 

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

Odd Girl Out Book Review

Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Frank really needs to stop being found around dead people

Odd Girl Out: Quadrail Book 3
by Timothy Zahn
366 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
ASIN B00Z8POPPS

I picked this book up in the library earlier this year, read the first chapter, and realized that a lot of things were being discussed instead of revealed. Then I looked at the inside cover and realized I had selected book three of a series. Weirdly, lots of reviews of Odd Girl Out have the same story as mine. I don't know what you did Tim, but this one stands out on a shelf for some reason.

As is now the pattern, Frank starts out the book being associated with a murder. Unfortunately for him, this time the cops arrest him and throw him in jail to await arraignment. Fortunately, Frank has friends in high places who can bail him out.

What his friends can't do is explain why the woman who broke into his apartment, and then asked for help before he sent her packing, now lies dead next to a man with a suspiciously similar head wound. This is a classic noir setup, and Frank probably should have seen it coming, given his love of classic cinema. Even Homer nods.

While this escalation is par for the course, what is not is the way we get hints that friend may be foe, and foe friend. The Modhri, Frank's nemesis in the great game for control of the Quadrail and the galaxy, asks him for help. While understandably suspicious, Frank, the keen student of behavior, is intrigued enough to look into it. And the Modhri isn't the only one acting strange. Bayta, his partner, is still cool towards him after Frank kissed a cute girl in the last book, no matter that mind viruses were involved. His employers are keeping a closer than usual eye on him. And of course, he is out on bail for a double homicide.

Which is all just another day in the office for the galaxy's wiliest railroad detective. Fortunately, Frank is far too stubborn to let trivialities like the coldness and distrust of his only friends stand in his way. If things like that mattered to him, he wouldn't have blown the whistle on the United Nations' hopeless scheme to colonize the worthless planet of Yandro. And he won't let it stop him from finding the little girl the dead woman asked him to protect.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

The Third Lynx Book Review

Mark Zug's cover for Timothy Zahn's  The Third Lynx

Mark Zug's cover for Timothy Zahn's The Third Lynx

The Third Lynx: Quadrail Book 2
by Timothy Zahn
352 pages
Published by Tor Books (October 30th, 2007)
ISBN 9780765317322

This cover is my favorite of the whole series. The first volume I bought was a reprint in ebook form; it has a stylized cover with a man carrying an MP5K, or something much like it. It could easily be the cover for a Tom Clancy-style espionage action book. It isn't bad, but I don't love it as much as I do Mark Zug's cover art for The Third Lynx.

Frank Compton looks wily and self-assured here. I feel like Zug nailed his personality. Bayta, his assistant and liaison with the Spiders who run the interstellar Quadrail service, looks pensive, but nonetheless determined. Rarely do I see a book's characters captured so well in a single image. The Quadrail station itself even gets a nod, at once otherworldly and familiar.

Mark Zug has a website you should check out, he does a lot of art in this style.

Back to Zahn's work, The Third Lynx follows closely on the heels of Night Train to Rigel. Even down to how Frank immediately finds himself in the company of recently murdered man who wanted to send him on a quest. The way in which Zahn departs from the pattern is that he subtly ratchets up the stakes, and the tension. 

The first time Frank found a dead man, he rifled through his pockets, found a ticket with his own face on it, and scooted off without getting identified. This time, a former colleague with an axe to grind spots Frank and raises the kind of fuss that isn't helpful to a railroad detective attempting to be low-key. 

Frank of course uses his Poirot-like investigative skills to unravel the mystery of the dead man and his connection to the eponymous statue, which is not really a Maltese Falcon reference since it turns out to not be a MacGuffin. What I like most about Frank Compton is that his real superpower in the Quadrail dominated galaxy is that he is a barracks lawyer, always using the many bureaucratic regulations of a post-modern galaxy as his true weapons. Every one of the cultures Zahn created to populate his fictional universe has both its own typical personality, and a need to implement mechanisms of social and legal regulation. Frank is a master of arbitrage between the legal systems of different cultures, and he'll use any leverage he can get.

Anonymity was a useful tool for Frank, but that is the first thing he loses in The Third Lynx. This makes the games he plays more interesting, because he needs to attempt misdirection in plain sight. And his opponent is doing the same thing, at the same time, which you sometimes can only see in retrospect. It isn't just Frank that figures it all out at the end.

My other book reviews

Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review

Other books by Timothy Zahn
Soulminder

Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Thrawn

The Blackcollar

Starcraft: Evolution

Another Thrawn: Alliances Excerpt

Thrawn: Alliances alternate cover  I hope they blend the eyes on that actor a little better for the final version

Thrawn: Alliances alternate cover

I hope they blend the eyes on that actor a little better for the final version

Another excerpt from Timothy Zahn's new novel Thrawn: Alliances has been released.

Taking a final look at the nav display, Anakin pointed the Actis toward the horizon and poured power to the drive—
Abruptly, R2-D2 trilled a warning. “What is it?” Anakin said, frowning as he checked his rear display.
And felt the back of his neck tingle. There was a ship back there, the size of a medium freighter but of unknown configuration.
Settling into orbit right beside his hyperdrive ring.
“Unknown ship, this is General Anakin Skywalker of the Galactic Republic,” he called. “Identify yourself and state your purpose.”
Nothing. Maybe they didn’t communicate on any of the Repub­lic’s standard frequencies.
Or, more likely this far out, didn’t speak Galactic Basic.

I enjoyed Zahn's reboot of the Grand Admiral last year, so I have fond hopes for this one as well.

Message for the Dead Book Review

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published April 25th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07C33BB7D

In a tweet storm last month, I threatened to write an essay about the millennialism of the lighthuggers portrayed in Imperator when I had a chance. As it turns out, the end of the world came and found me before I was ready. Let my unreadiness serve as a warning to the others. Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

In many ways, this is a book of endings. An end to scheming. An end to corruption. An end to freedom. An end to life. The progression from the first to the last is the essence of the Faustian bargain. We trust more in our own power than in the power of God. We insist that our will be done.

Isildur's moment of doom

Isildur's moment of doom

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

For Goth Sullus, the vice that makes his fall possible is justice. Yes, justice. I am not fool enough to call good evil just to make a point. However, it is precisely by means of a thirst for justice, for vengeance!, that evil enters the soul of the man known as Goth Sullus. [I admit that I suspect envy played a part as well, but we shall see] Yes, the galaxy is a dumpster fire. And Sullus insists that justice be done, though the heavens fall. His justice is swollen to madness in isolation from all else that is good and holy.

Yet, there is still hope. That hope is a slim hope, desperate even. Yet for all our weakness and foolishness, we have not been left to face the monsters alone. Although, it damn well feels like it. What it feels like, is the end of the world.

As I said, this is a book of endings. Yet, this is a specific type of ending. Not every apocalypse is created alike you see. This is only an introductory apocalypse. In an introductory apocalypse, the wicked system of the world is swept away. The world will then be united under the rule of the saints. During that time, things will be as they should be. However, the great enemy has merely been bound, not destroyed. At the end of the eponymous millennium, a revolt will occur, in which the cosmos will be consumed. That is a terminal apocalypse. Simply the end.

Now, clearly, something is amiss in the schema I have just described. While Goth Sullus certainly sees himself as worthy, I have my doubts. We also don't really know what role Aeson Keel, or Ravi, or Prisma Maydoon will serve in the end. We don't even really know what happened to Reina, although I have some dark suspicions. 

Without the ability to see into the hearts of men [or whatever Ravi is], we cannot really know what is to come. It is only by their fruits that we shall know them. Yet despite the bitter fruits that have fallen from Goth Sullus, I have hope for him too.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 374 pages
Published February 23th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B079NGCX1T

Turning Point is an ugly book. It is ugly, because war is ugly. And this is warre, war to the knife. Firebombs, orbital strikes, death and destruction.

The war my grandfathers waged  By English: Ishikawa Kōyō - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3681456

The war my grandfathers waged

By English: Ishikawa Kōyō - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3681456

In theory, when statesmanship and diplomacy and the just use of force have been applied prudently, none of this is necessary. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. And then, when good men find their back against the wall, they will do things that are more horrible than even they could have imagined they would do, if you had asked them before the deed was done.

This is also a book about divided loyalties. In the self-image of the Legion, they are loyal servants of the Republic. In practice, the oligarchs of the Republic use them and hate them, and the Legion returns that hate in spades. The Legion is already divided against itself, and against its masters, but truly, the split runs deeper than that. 

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every leeje, with the result that brother will turn upon brother, and the galaxy will burn. There are hints that something far worse than venial and self-serving politicians, even worse than Goth Sullus, tyrant holdfast, is lurking in the darkness. Yet, I still have hope, hope that the worst can yet be avoided, even if we don't quite know what that could be.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point (Galaxy's Edge Book 7)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

The Blackcollar Book Review

I love the delightfully cheesy style of scifi covers

I love the delightfully cheesy style of scifi covers

The Blackcollar
by Timothy Zahn
DAW Books (1983)
272 pages
ISBN 0-87997-843-0

While I must have read the Thrawn trilogy dozens of times, I never once dared to pick up any of the other books by Timothy Zahn I saw at the library. Would that I had! Now that I have started to dive into Zahn's back catalogue, I am getting an idea of what his preferred style is. Military [ish] scifi with a heavy dose of intrigue. You never know who anyone really is, or who they are really working for, until the end.

The Blackcollar was published in 1983, but I can detect similarities with The Icarus Hunt, from 1999. The Icarus Hunt was more of a whodunit in space, whereas The Blackcollar is mostly an adventure story with a military theme. I can also see how Zahn worked these kind of ideas into his Thrawn books and Starcraft: Evolution. Each of these books features a military campaign of some import with the fictional universe, but the real action lies in figuring out who wants what and why, and seeing how the characters respond to the wilderness of mirrors they find themselves in.

In this book, Earth has been long since conquered by the Ryquil, an aggressive and warlike species that prefer to rule through local proxies. The Ryquil use loyalty conditioning to ensure that their human collaborators cannot betray them, although there are some hints that Jesuitical cleverness about what constitutes "betrayal", exactly, may allow for some leeway in those who are sufficient motivated.

Allen Caine, our young protagonist, receives a mission from the Resistance on Earth to go find a hidden record on the world of Plinry. That record, encrypted into a rather mundane manifest, contains the location of hidden weapons that will alter the balance of power within occupied human space.

While searching for the record, or any signs of an underground on Plinry, which has been cut off from Earth for nearly thirty years, Caine stumbles on a few elite commandos, the Blackcollars, who have been hiding their light under a bushel since the Ryquil used a devastating orbital bombardment to reduce the defense of Plinry, killing three-quarters of the population in the process. 

During the lopsided war against the Ryquil, the humans developed drugs and training that would allow for a human fighter to have a more equal chance against the bigger, faster, and stronger Ryquil. The result of that program were the Blackcollars. Zahn's commandos are ninjas by another name, backed up with enhanced reflexes and laser-ablative armor.

Sometimes the tactics of the Blackcollars stretch my credulity a bit. This is an early book, but it seemed silly to me when two of the highly-trained and drug-enhanced Blackcollars sacrifice themselves to shoot down six patrol ships with shoulder-fired missiles. Couldn't they have just used more launchers, and destroyed the aircraft without the loss of soldiers whose experience and enhancements were irreplaceable? At the very least, we could have used some color text about how the missile launchers were actually more difficult to come by than the soldiers themselves, which doesn't fit the rest of the story.

Zahn seems on much firmer ground when it comes to devising complicated schemes of betrayal and counter-betrayal. I seriously didn't know who was on what side until the end, and there is at least the possibility that some of that may change in future volumes. While the Blackcollars' tactics offend my logistical sensibilities, their over-the-top natures match up with the adventure genre pretty well. No swordsman bests Solomon Kane or Conan either. I really enjoyed The Blackcollars, and I look forward to the two sequels. 

My other book reviews

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

 

My heart is broken. Broken for the good man Goth Sullus once was. Back when I wrote up Galactic Outlaws, I left a long comment on Jon Mollison's response to me saying that I thought Sullus was once a man of honor too. It turns out that was true. And now I know exactly what pushed him over the edge of the galaxy.

I don't know that I would have done any better, in his place. He endured more than any man should, and accomplished more than most. He genuinely wanted to protect others. Thus his fall, when it comes, is all the worse.

Going back to Socrates, there is a principle of moral philosophy that no man really seeks evil: we all seek what we think is good. It is through our brokenness and weakness that evil comes about, because we aren't really up to the task of seeing what is good and what is not. This Greek idea was fused with a Hebrew one, that our ability to seek good is actively thwarted by things that really do want evil.

In the Aristotelian tradition, there is also a principle that only something truly good can really become evil in a meaningful way. This is because of the identity of being and goodness: having a greater capacity, a greater power, is a good thing in and of itself, a kind of perfection. A man who lacks intelligence and self-control lacks the capacity to be as dangerous as someone bright and disciplined. 

The Fall of the Rebel Angels  By Pieter Brueghel the Elder - www.fine-arts-museum.be : Info, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34089605

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

By Pieter Brueghel the Elder - www.fine-arts-museum.be : Info, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34089605

Thus the angels, when they rebelled, were far more dangerous than men, because they had greater perfections. Thus too, Goth Sullus, the man, longer of life, more wise and powerful than the average man, is something far worse than the average man when he loses his humanity.

Except that he doesn't really lose it. He gives it away. Why he chooses to do that is a great and mythic story. I think I can almost understand why some people see Sullus as a tragic hero. After a very long lifetime of trying to protect people from themselves, at the final hour when the demons from outside the galaxy are about to sweep in and conquer when the races of galaxy are squabbling amongst themselves, he gives up everything in order to gain the power to protect those who in many ways don't deserve his sacrifice.

Cain slaying Abel  By Peter Paul Rubens - The Courtauld Gallery, London, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18279148

Cain slaying Abel

By Peter Paul Rubens - The Courtauld Gallery, London, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18279148

And yet, there is something about his sacrifice that seems, unworthy. If pressed on why I think so, it is a lot of little things. Much like Cain, after his sacrifice, Sullus kills his brother. He is indifferent to the fate of little girls, especially little girls he arguably owes a debt to. His deepest well-springs of motivation seem to be fear and revenge. It was Nietzsche, perhaps in light of the tradition I cited above, who said, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

There is a kind of man for whom the abyss holds no fascinations. The kind of man whose life is duty, who is an immovable rock. The man who became Goth Sullus, is not that man. When good, his archetype is Merlin, the powerful wizard who manipulates behind the scenes. When bad, his archetype is Faust, the man who gambles for power and knowledge.

Turning from myth to history, the first emperor, the man who unites all under heaven, can either be an inspiration, or a tyrant, hated by all who follow, even when they follow in his footsteps.

Not Tyrus Rechs, but almost as implacable

Not Tyrus Rechs, but almost as implacable

In Imperator, we get much of the backstory of the Galactic Republic. The Savage Wars, so frequently referenced in the earlier books, were far more horrible than I had imagined. Savage AF. The things that Rechs and Sullus saw are nigh unimaginable, but since I wasted my youth with videogames, I can come pretty close. 

We don't need eyes to see where we are going.

We don't need eyes to see where we are going.

The Savage Wars, and the depraved millenarian lighthugger societies that spawned them, are a reminder that no matter how bad you think things are, there is almost always a way for it to be far, far worse.

One lighthugger had tried to develop the powers of the mind by living in total darkness and going long periods without sleep. When the UNS found the ship and cracked the hull, the people they found within referred to themselves as demons. They said the humans who had once occupied their bodies were all gone now. They said they, the demons, had come in from the outer dark. Their minds were shattered. They were stark raving mad.

They were mad, right? Right?

In addition to the origins of the Galactic Republic, and the fate of the long-lost and fabled Earth, we get some tantalizing hints of what made Tyrus Rechs who he was. We see Rechs through the eyes of the man who will eventually kill him, because of a broken promise. That betrayal, the inevitable consequence of a temptation that was not resisted, was perhaps fated.

We'll have to wait for his standalone novel to truly see Tyrus Rechs for who he was. In the meanwhile, we can now see Goth Sullus for what he was, and what he has become.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator (Galaxy's Edge)
By Nick Cole, Jason Anspach

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness

Prisoners of Darkness

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 338 pages
Published December 19th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B078HQBTPQ

" know thyself " ( Greek : γνῶθι σεαυτόν)

"know thyself" (Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν)

My favorite theme of Prisoners of Darkness is the contrast between Captains Chhun and Ford. Formerly teammates, and even friends, as the book progresses Chhun and Ford are revealed to have chosen different paths in life, even though they started in more or less the same place. 

Either man could be called a hero, and in fact they both receive a commendation, the Order of the Centurion, normally awarded posthumously. Yet, they slowly realize that they no longer really know each other. Chhun has stayed on the well-trodden path, rising through the ranks of the Legion, doing his best to do his duty. Ford, as the deep-cover agent Aeson Keel, has spent so long playing the rogue that he has simply become one. Each one of them is a good man, yet they make each other extremely uncomfortable.

For the most part, they do both want the same things. Ford, as Keel, has developed quite a mercenary streak, but is still more loyal than the part he plays. Time and circumstances have created attachments to different things, which serve to pull the former comrades apart, but I'm guessing they will find they need each other again at some point.

Because the galaxy is falling apart. What looked like the Galactic Republic versus Goth Sullus' Empire is devolving into factions within each bloc jockeying for position, with a still unknown outside force manipulating events from a hidden redoubt. Two sides will rapidly become three or four simultaneously contesting for control of the galaxy.

And some damn fool gave the donkeys jetpacks. That's at least as bad of an idea as giving missiles AI.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

DUg0In5UQAAjzJU.jpg

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge
By Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Published 2017 by Galaxy's Edge

The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.

This is a short story set in Jason Anspach and Nick Cole's Galaxy's Edge universe. I never imagined a Vietnam-inspired story about a re-purposed war bot could make me cry.

Air Cavalry  By United States Army Heritage and Education Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Air Cavalry

By United States Army Heritage and Education Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tin Man reminds me of the stories told by my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Dale Shewalter. He was a Marine to the end, felled by a cancer that he blamed on Agent Orange. He volunteered for Vietnam, along with his brother. It also reminds me of We Were Soldiers Once...And Young. Ed Freeman and Bruce Crandall flew their unarmed UH-1 Hueys into the Ia Drang valley to deliver supplies and medevac the wounded, even after the actual medevac pilots refused to go. They kept going even after several helicopters they flew had been shot up too badly to take off again. They both earned the Medal of Honor for that stubborn refusal to give up.

What a SLIC looks like in my head

What a SLIC looks like in my head

Tin Man is also about a stubborn refusal to give up, a refusal to abandon his post, or his brothers, from an entirely unexpected source.

"I see no one," rumbled the bot.
"He's coming. Over there. Collecting the dead. Hold my hands up, please. I'm ready now. I'm ready like Mama said I should be. Please...hold them up for me."
The war bot did as requested. Delicately.
Corporal Wash expired a few minutes later.

I love this series, but if you don't know if you'll like it, you should check this one out. It is free.

Yes, free. I can't believe these guys give this stuff away. If you want it, head over to GalaticOutlaws.com and sign-up for their newsletter. I don't have any relationship with Jason and Nick, other than liking their books, so all I get out of this is the satisfaction of introducing people to something new.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 332 pages
Published October 25th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B0764948W1

I keep being surprised by Cole and Anspach. I have said that before, but I'm going to keep on saying it as long as it keeps happening. Right now, the Galaxy's Edge series is hot stuff in the "Space Marines" category on Amazon. When I read Legionnaire, I thought I knew where the series was going. It turns out I was mistaken.

Spiral power

Spiral power

Let me explain my continuing surprise regarding the Galaxy's Edge series by recourse to Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is a 2007 series by GAINAX, one of my favorite Japanese studios. At the beginning, Gurren Lagann is the story of two boys, Simon and Kamina, who are bored with their rote and regimented life, and who act out in predictable ways. Then, Simon stumbles on an artifact of great power, the core drill. This sets in train a sequence of events that culminates in a battle for the fate of the galaxy.

However, none of this is apparent at first. The core drill and its spiral power is a metaphor for what is going to happen. Each revolution of the crank brings you to a higher level, but the spiral itself is unchanged; it simply grows in diameter. Gurren Lagann is a brutal sendoff of mecha anime, and often uses puerile humor to mask its subtlety. Simon and Kamina are teenage boys, after all. But the total effect is a fascinating story that happens on multiple levels simultaneously, while keeping its essence unchanged throughout.

Galaxy's Edge is much like this. You think, space marines, OK, this is Tom Clancy in space! Or Tom Clancy with Star Wars! We will get elite soldiers who kick ass, some political intrigue, and we all get to be heroes in the end, right?

As it turns out, all of the real heroes are dead. [Spoiler alert. I'm not kidding about that.] They don't give out the Order of the Centurion posthumously 98.4% of the time for nothing. Each book in the series feels very different because each one is a turn of the crank, expanding beyond the gripping tale of the survivors of Victory Company in Legionnaire, to something much, much bigger. New secrets are revealed, deeper connections forged to things that seemed incidental at the time. Yet, we are also getting something much the same: space opera competently done, with a touch of dark humor and military action-adventure

And, by the way, I agree: it is never a good idea to give weapons strong AI, even if they make interesting observations about poetry.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

My other book reviews

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 Book Review

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published September 14th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07541JBYS

That, was intense.

I keep being surprised by the storytelling of Cole and Anspach. This volume in the Galaxy's Edge series represents only a few hours, yet it is one of the most frenetic things I have ever read. We see the course of a single battle through the eyes of the men and women caught up in it.

Pitched battle is spoken of by its survivors as disjointed and confusing in retrospect. Both an eternity and an instant. The structure of the book recapitulates this in words, switching back and forth between the viewpoints of the combatants on all sides with disconcerting rapidity. Each chapter is grounded by a location and a timestamp. For the most part, the book proceeds in chronological sequence, but the brief intervals between sections serve as a reminder of just how fast everything happened.

When Goth Sullus comes to the shipyards at the Tarrago system, it feels like the Somme, Stalingrad, and Lepanto all at once. This is something of an exaggeration, since the first two were mass conflicts, the nation at war, fought at the pinnacle of state power. War for the Legion, both the Republican forces and Goth Sullus' grimmer copies, is more like the era of heavy cavalry, where the most powerful weapons are wielded only by experts. The loss of life in the battle is astonishing, but the same thing used to happen on the Western Front every day during an offensive.

Since we are allowed to see through the eyes of so many, Attack of Shadows allows us to understand why so many good people would choose to take up arms against the corruption and venality of the Republic. We see their wounded hearts, and share their thoughts, as they seek justice, or vengeance, against their oppressors. On the other hand, we also see the that any revolution will attract its share of psychopaths, malcontents, and adventurers, who just want to watch the world burn.

On the gripping hand, despite its many faults, there are men and women of honor who still fight for the Republic, or perhaps for what they think it should really stand for, instead of what it does. These true sons and daughters of Martha, Captain Thane of the Republic Artillery, Captain Arwen of the Legion, Ensign Fal of the Republic Navy, do their duty despite the odds.

And the odds don't look good. Goth Sullus knows that the Republic is riddled with incompetence, and weakened by self-serving lies. It is easy for him to find recruits in a galaxy characterized by casual betrayal; where money and connections matter more than character or competence. And the Republic clearly deserves everything it is getting, good and hard.

Yet, for all that, I still root for the Republic, or at least for its defenders who retain their integrity. Perhaps I'm not so much pro-Republic as anti-Sullus, whose millenarian cult of personality we see blossoming. I don't yet know what drives Sullus, but I suspect that whatever it is, it has already consumed his humanity long before we ever met him. Most revolutions don't live up to their promises, and I don't have any reason to think that this one will be any different.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

My other book reviews

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 Book Review

Someone about to have a really bad day

Someone about to have a really bad day

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published August 13th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B073WQN9KM

Kill Team brings us back to where we started in the Galaxy's Edge series: highly trained military professionals who get to kill people and break stuff, hopefully in the service of the greater good. We also return the viewpoint of Lieutenant Chhun, survivor of Kublar and general bad-ass.

Galactic Outlaws had a pretty different feel than Legionnaire. In part, that was due to the alternation of viewpoints between Aeson Keel and Tyrus Rechs. This made the book a little bit hard to follow, but I am willing to endure such things, because some of my favorite books have been hard to follow the first [few] times I've read them. There were a lot of questions left hanging at the end of Galactic Outlaws, and at least a few of them get wrapped up by Kill Team. My patience was rewarded.

We also get a good hard look at the dark underbelly of counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work. False flag operations and double agents are an expected part of the wilderness of mirrors that characterizes the human side of intelligence gathering, but simply acknowledging that doesn't really count the human cost on the agents who infiltrate terrorist organizations to expose and subvert them.

The moral tradition of which I am a part insists that it is never permissible to do evil in order to achieve good. "Tom," ex-navy undercover operative, has an uneasy conscience about the horrible things he does in order to prevent yet more horrible things. His moral intuition matches up with the moral maxim, but he does those things because they are his mission. In the end, "Tom" receives a kind of rough justice. I'm not sure that what happened to him is just. I'm also not sure is exactly unjust. 

As I mentioned in my review of Galactic Outlaws, I appreciate the moral realism of the Galaxy's Edge series. There are very real dangers lurking for the rough men who guard us in our sleep, the temptation to become the monsters they fight, spurred by their often justified contempt for the polished and comfortable who blithely send them to die. "Tom" is a man of integrity, as are most of the Legionnaires we meet. Unfortunately for them, the harshness you need to survive can slowly sap away your humanity. Which is why the real heroes are very often dead.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

My other book reviews

Kill Team (Galaxy's Edge Book 3)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole