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My Review of Star Wars: Tarkin, by James Luceno

25 Jan

January 25, 2019

In Star Wars, Grand Moff Tarkin was played by Peter Cushing. He’s easily my favorite character, more villainous in the film than Darth Vader. He’s also played by one of my favorite actors, so when this book came out I went against my better judgement and read a Star Wars novel. I’m glad I did.

I give Tarkin 5 stars, but bear in mind, this 5 star rating is not the same 5 stars I give Flowers for Algernon. This is 5 stars as far as Star Wars books go, a totally different scale. Flowers for Algernon is a triumph of literature. This is a good read.

I generally dislike Star Wars novels. This one, though, breaks the mold. It is more sci-fi than fantasy, ignoring all the Jedi mumbo-jumbo nonsense that other books get bogged down in. In fact, being from the bad guy’s point of view, this has a nicely negative view of the Jedi. It reads more like the old Alan Dean Foster novels, like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or the original Han Solo novels. It bridges the gap to the New Hope era, disposing of The Clone Wars and entering the better era of Star Wars. If  you need a movie reference point, consider this as happening just before Rogue One.

Peter Cushing

Some reviewers don’t care for the plot, which they dismiss as Tarkin and Vader chasing around some random disposable rebels. They miss the point. This book is all about the backstory. You learn a lot about Tarkin and what molded and motivates him. You also learn a bit about The Emperor and Vader too. The main plot is really just the skeleton that the meat of the backstory hangs on. This is a character study / biography of Grand Moff Tarkin, and as such it works. The novel also explores the relationship between Tarkin and Vader, and for all those who wonder why Vader would take orders from anyone besides the Emperor, let alone someone who isn’t even a force user, this book explains.

The writing is also well done. In fact, just compare it to the two excerpts of novels by other authors that follow it in the paperback edition. Not only is neither the least bit interesting or original, but their writing is clearly not as good. James Luceno may be the only Star Wars writer today worth reading.

 

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My Review of Wayne of Gotham, by Tracy Hickman

27 Dec

December 27, 2018

I guess there is only one Batman story possible, because in Wayne of Gotham we’ve seen it all before. Batman reopens the Wayne murder case. Again. Thomas Wayne may have been mixed up with criminals, or been one himself. Again. A rift between Bruce and Alfred. Again. The writing was good enough to keep me reading but the plot? Nah. And the characterization? Since when does millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne disguise himself as an invalid and have Alfred push him around in a wheelchair, in the privacy of his own estate, in the hopes that a paparazzi will jump a fence and snap his picture a ‘la Howard Hughes? When was Alfred promoted from butler to Bruce Wayne’s public relations flack and a high level Waynecorp officer? To be fair, this book suffers from coming out within just a few short years of Grant Morrison’s amazing Batman run, which dealt with the Wayne murder and Bruce’s backstory in a much more interesting way. (DC is once again dealing with this in their current comics.) It is just a shame that Hickman felt that the same ground had to be covered yet again. Where is the originality?

Now that I have finished the book, I have a few questions. When did this take place? It claims to be Batman’s final case but there is no sense of where this occurs in his career. Where were Dick Grayson or any of the regular supporting Bat-cast? And worse- did Tracy Hickman know anything at all about Batman before starting the book? Batman has always been about the man inside the suit, not about the Batsuit, yet Hickman seemed enamored of the technology. Tons of words were wasted on the gyros in the Batsuit, the power cells in the utility belt, the way the Batmobile connects to the power grid. Is this Iron Man or Batman? In Iron Man the technology is a vital part, in Batman it is merely there. The Joker’s quote from the 1989 movie had it right- “where does he get those wonderful toys?” They are just toys, tools, nothing more; yet to read this book, you’d think it was Tony Stark in the Batman outfit.

This Batman was full of doubts and paranoia. He had none of the confidence of the Batman we have known for years. I found myself not caring about him.

The Joker had a tiny, bit part, probably because Hickman assumed the Joker turns up in every single Bat story. He was used to zero effect here. And again, does Hickman know anything about the Batman universe? The Joker was described as wearing old, cracked white greasepaint. No, the Joker’s face is white already, no paint needed. How did an editor let that slip by?

By the end, the plot had grown confusing and uninteresting, the characters were either unlikable or poorly characterized, and the writing average. I give the book one star because aside from all my criticism, the real problem with the book is that the plot was horrible and not only did not hold my interest, it seemed designed to confuse and annoy the reader.

 

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