Discussion in 'Literature' started by Cynical_Ben, Aug 17, 2013.
Maybe it is more of a job for Offee
Off-topic, but I love that outfit.
The Enemy Lines duology are my second favorite NJO books, after Conquest. Ironically they come after the EU-destroying disaster of Star by Star. Czulkang Lah is one of the very few Yuuzhan Vong to come to the level of being an actual character and seemed to be on the same level as the guy I use as my avatar.
And this duology has an incredible plethora of incredibly good character moments that it is one of the eminent reasons that I stayed loyal so long to the EU after Star by Star (that and a long and bitter hope that they'd be smart enough to bring back Anakin Solo. But, well, they weren't, which is not surprising, given that they killed him off in the first place). About the only thing I really disliked in these two books is that in the second one Tahiri is having a real case of character dissonance, when the strike team lands on Coruscant.
Seriously, these two books are one of main the reasons that my incredible bitterness about how the EU went after Balance Point duology did not lead me to drop the series until we got to the latest fiasco in FOTJ. That's quite a lot of money Del Rey got from me due to Aaron. Who really is the best author the EU had over the years, even better than Stackpole and Zahn.
SO many opportunities to slice yourself open with just one false movement.
Evidently they have sensors that cause them to shut off before doing so.
I forgot one of my favorite lines of the book...
"Others drown in pain. I just swim in it."
This book has a lot of terrific lines. I love Wes Janson being around again, and his absolute dismay with the fact that he was flirting with Jaina made me grin. I'm about halfway through, give or take, and I'll admit, this is probably my favorite book in the NJO thus far. As much as I like Stackpole's books, and loved Conquest, this duology has just been plain fun to read, a real joy with a sense of fun and adventure that really hasn't been present in the series so far except in flashes. And yes, I'm even enjoying the bits with Lord Nyax so far. I'll give more thoughts on Monday.
Sorry in advance for the lengthy double post.
Okay, so, my thoughts on both Rebel Stand and on the Enemy Lines duology as a whole: I loved them. Unequivocally. They aren’t flawless books, not by a long shot, but I still enjoyed them more than any other book in this series thus far. But let’s get down into the specifics, here…
Rebel Stand is Allston in his purest form, an ensemble book that marries humor, emotion and awesome action across multiple battlefields and generations, putting together everything that makes Star Wars feel like Star Wars. I don’t think this is necessarily his best book, Starfighters of Adumar and Iron Fist still rank higher in my personal list, but it’s probably top five.
It retrospect, Rebel Dream was a far more tightly tied lead-in chapter than the other two duologies in this series. Whereas Conquest, Hero’s Trial and Onslaught were all the superior books of their respective duologies, and the immediately following chapters were not as good, being more plot-heavy books with their authors more pressured to tie their works into the series’ overall chronology. Rebel Stand, in addition to being the better of the two books (albeit by a narrow margin), follows up its sequel directly and follows pretty much all of the same characters, rather than having to expand the scope of the conflict as Jedi Eclipse, Ruin and Rebirth did. They’re less like two separate books in a series and more like two halves of the same book.
Many plots weave in and out of each other to varying degrees through this book’s course. First, and my favorite, is Wedge vs. Czulkang Lah. The two of them, ancillary leaders, under the command of others to take or hold a world with strategic and political value and little else, match wits across weeks, months worth of time. And, for as much as can be said about Czulkang Lah, for his un-Yuuzhan Vong-like thinking and tactical adaptability, his willingness to retreat when a fight goes against him and live to fight another day, he is playing a game of checkers against a chess player. Wedge doesn’t simply out-think Czulkang Lah, he out-gambits him. Both of them know that they’re playing deceptive games against each other, but only Wedge’s plans have layers within layers, only Wedge’s plans lie with beings he can trust wholeheartedly to carry them out, and only Wedge comes out of the conflict for Borleias alive.
Czulkang falls prey to inadequate intel, minions who simply aren’t up to snuff, betrayals and infighting. He and those of his race play right into the hands of the Wraiths, Jaina, Wedge, Iella, pretty much everyone on Borleias. Even Tam, fresh out of a hospital bed and armed with only an unpowered vibroblade and a holocam, foils a plot before it can bear any truly useful fruit. (Aside: He and Tarc made a good duo, I’d like to see more of them, but I doubt it’ll happen.) Lah might be the greatest leader that the Yuuzhan Vong had, but in the end, he was put into a situation where there was no winning solution. Wedge and his group have their backs against the wall and use everything they have learned and know up to this point to run up to the triumphant Yuuzhan Vong, give them a kick to the crotch, and then sprint away like the skinny kid on the playground. It doesn’t kill them, not by a long shot, but it does hurt both pride and other things.
Wedge knew he had to make a stand however he could, and he managed it in such a spectacular fashion that it makes you wonder at just how badly the war effort has been mangled to this point in time.
Also on Borleias, we get Jaina and Jag and Kyp’s love tangle and Jaina playing Goddess to the Vong’s chagrin. It’s well handled, I don’t have any issues with how everyone’s written or how the romance is handled. As I said previously, Jag is much more likeable here than he was in previous installments, mainly because Allston knows very well how to handle the “straight man” side of a comic duo or trio. Jaina is starting to come down off her emotional ledge and think about surviving into the future, rather than being obsessed with following Jacen. Kyp is showing a lot of growth; he and Jaina play off each other very well, and he’s acting far more like a Jedi rather than a renegade, psychotic Batman. Not necessarily a plot that’s focused on, but one that doesn’t distract or detract either.
Somewhat more detached from those, we have Han and Leia flying around nearby sectors and trying to recruit whatever help they can. In the process, they root out some traitors, send an appeasing politician on her way with ruthless efficiency that would make Borsk Fey’lya proud, wind up in prison and ride in a trash compactor again. R2 gets a terrific sequence where, using 3PO as a frontman, he single-appendage-ly manages to engineer their escape from Aphran IV, including hacking in to every computer system in the prison he can, convincing the entire droid staff that blasters and lightsabers are actually food, and flying the Falcon on his own by jacking into all of the flight computers and monitors at once. Between this and the scene in the previous book where 3PO and YVH-1A talk about the paradox of droid sentience, Allston shows he really knows how to handle all of the characters in Star Wars well.
Which brings us to the bugbear in the room: Luke, Mara and the Wraiths’ plot: the insertion to Coruscant and Lord Nyax. I’m going to say it up front: this plot doesn’t need to be in this book. It might not even need to exist at all beyond giving us looks at what the Vong are doing to Coruscant and how the populace is fairing. We get a few good scenes of them interacting with whatever is left on or below the surface, and seeing just how much destruction the Yuuzhan Vong have wrought over a relatively short time. Aside from those few, nothing else attaches to the other plots within this book, let alone with the rest of this series.
However. However, I still enjoyed those scenes. In fact, aside from Wedge’s plot, it’s the part of this book that I enjoyed the most. Why?
Because Luke and Mara make a great team, both of them in their element and with their characters back where they should be, Luke earnest and hopeful, Mara determined and logical, both of them burdened by the war but both of them committed to complete their mission. Because Tahiri is finally coming back into her own after Anakin’s death, a fearsome warrior in her own right unafraid of death or pain. Because Face, Kell and the other Wraiths are terrific agents and some of the only beings to out play the Yuuzhan Vong at their own game, bringing a bit of order and life back to a chaotic and dying world. Because Viqi Shesh finally meets her end here, inglorious, ignominious, the opposite of her life and career thus far, poetic justice at its finest and a gruesome end for a gruesome woman. Because Lord Nyax, for all of his random, unnecessary, crazy, only-Luceno-tries-this-ness, is a terrifyingly good concept with a solid execution.
Okay, let me explain that last one.
Lord Nyax is what Darth Vader was trying to make Starkiller, only to the nth degree and with even fewer restraints. He’s a dangerous and fascinating side to the Empire’s scientific possibilities, genetically and hormonally modifying someone already strong in the Force to make them even more deadly, not by giving them a greater command of the Force, but by removing the restraints, mentally and physically, over the command they already have as much as possible. He’s a secret locked away for years and years, percolating, waiting to be unleashed. And the only reason it came to light when it did was because the invasion shook the cork enough that it fell out of the bottle. Yet another problem the Yuuzhan Vong have brought about, incidentally or not. As I said, a good, even great, idea.
Nyax’s actual portrayal is where things fall short. The embedded lightsabers are an okay concept, but the execution is pretty pathetic. Imbedding them in his hands? Okay, that works. Imbedding them in his wrists, fine. Imbedding them in his elbows and knees? Why? Unless they’re less than a foot long each they’d be constantly flickering and sputtering to avoid hitting their own user. What possible purpose could that serve except to surprise opponents with how ridiculous it is? Allston has to bend over backward in every fight scene to make sure that Nyax gets use out of them, and it makes Luke, Mara and Tahiri look sloppy and foolish to see them having such trouble with such an ungainly opponent. Also, it’s made clear in the text that he’s not wearing anything but a loose skirt aside from the metal plating over his hands, elbows and knees where the lightsabers are imbedded. Luke even says it looks inadequate to act as armor. Where did the armor he has in all of the pictures of him come from, then? Sigh, it’s Vergere’s face all over again, isn’t it?
The other powers Nyax boasts of, I have far fewer problems with. His ability to influence minds, especially, makes for some extremely unsettling scenes, like the one where he nearly makes Luke jump out of a window, or where he fills their minds with so much pain that everyone but Tahiri is paralyzed, and that’s only by virtue of being half-Vong. It makes me wish he had done without the lightsabers at all. He’s enough of a threat in just being able to dominate minds the way he does, you don’t need to shove a fanfic-worthy number of lightsabers into his body too.
The backstory I could do without, as well. I’d much prefer it to be left ambiguous as to exactly who Nyax is and how he became so powerful beyond “mad Empire science”. Giving him a name, backstory, and tying him in to a character from Children of the Jedi of all books only weighs the character down even more. It would have been more effective if Nyax had been someone Luke and the others had no idea of who they were or what they had been in life, if anything. He would truly have been the embodiment of the boogeyman he took his name from, a faceless, impersonal horror who seeks only the utter domination and destruction of all life but that which he controls. Heck, he might have even been another Palpatine clone, wouldn’t that have been a great twist?
So why did I like the sections with Nyax on Coruscant so much? A few reasons, which I covered above. All of the heroes are terrific, Mara is finally back in character, Tahiri is a blond ball of awesome, Luke shows that he’s not all Force-bluster, he’s a decent tactician and strategist as well, and the Wraiths are, well, the Wraiths. Also, the atmosphere; ruined Coruscant makes for a terrific contrast to how it’s been detailed and used so much since TPM. In addition, the fight scenes, if ridiculous and contrived, are pretty good for what they are, especially when the Yuuzhan Vong and Jedi team up to try and take Nyax down.
And, even if you don’t like Nyax at all, you have to admit, the final fight with him in mid-air above the ruins of the Jedi Temple was pretty awesome. It reminded me of some of the more over-the-top moments from video games like Final Fantasy, where the villain is going all-out, but so are the heroes, and the entire world is shifting around them under the force of their battle.
Also, I like that the complex Nyax was housed in was originally built as a way Palpatine could literally hold the entire planet hostage by cutting off their air supply. It just seems like a thing he’d do.
And I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the humor this book has throughout it. Every character is sarcastic, silly, comically serious, or oblivious. Almost every named character gets a line that’s pure gold in one way or another. And the best part of it is, it doesn’t detract from the tone of the book, it enhances it. Even while fighting a battle they know they’re going to lose, Wedge, the Wraiths, Luke, Mara, Han, Leia and the others manage to keep heart, to keep their wits and their sense of humor. The War has already done its worst to them; those who are still alive pick themselves up out of the rubble, dust themselves off, and laugh. They laugh in thanks at being alive, they laugh in joy for the survival of the others, they laugh because they have to, else the darkness take them. They laugh to hide the warrior’s pain.
I also like the little touch where Leia notes that the “audio interpreters” aboard the Falcon simulate the sound of a skip exploding. We had a discussion about this recently elsewhere in the boards, and it’s a touch of technology I personally like. No, there actually isn’t sound in space, it’s just that pretty much every ship has one of those handy little gadgets installed so that everyone aboard those ships hears the sounds that would be happening if there were sound in space.
Isn’t Star Wars just the best franchise? We give the middle finger to physics and invent technology to explain why something that’s impossible is actually possible, but unlike Star Trek, we don’t do it to explain holes in our science, we do it because it makes the movies cooler.
What else can I say? I enjoyed the heck out of both of these books. I don’t care if they are technically skippable in terms of the overall plot, they’re both Must Reads and some of the best books in the series so far. They take the dark, brooding, oppressive tone of Star By Star and Dark Journey and flip it on its ear, giving us heroes to cheer rather than mourn, moments of awesome rather than moments of sorrow, and lets us laugh and smile instead of cry or frown. These books are the anti-Star By Star, books where, rather than defeat in victory, we find victory in defeat. If you’ve read Star By Star, you need to read this duology as well, it’s about as long when put together as SBS in its entirety and far more worth the effort in terms of characterization, tone, and giving us, the reader, something to encourage them and keep them reading the series for the next few books.
Next time, I look forward to the return of a certain fishy Admiral, and to Walter John Williams’ one contribution to the Star Wars canon, outside of a short story: Dest-
Oh, wait, right, there’s another paperback I’ve got to read first. Oh well, should be a short read, probably won’t be much to talk about.
Her and Denua Ku exchanges are also pretty awesome. But then Allston in generaly seems to like giving us compelling "side villains", just like he did with Zsinj's Forcers.
Lets better not go down that road, Irek actually works, because he has to have gone somewhere after Children of the Jedi and we know his mothers is clearly insane enough to do something like it. The later explanation of that Cronal was actually the one that helped her makes it work even better.
One thing I loved about the Wedge Antilles/Czulkang Lah duel, especially in the first book, is how much it felt like... I've never been a soldier so I won't say "real war," but, real life (as in "life is what happens to you while you're trying to plan it.") Wedge comes up with a Cunning Plan to mislead the Yuuzhan Vong while learning as much as he can about them... and the Lusankya jumps right in at the worst possible moment and ruins everything. Lah has a similar idea, of testing the enemy to learn about him until he has enough information to plot a final blow... and then he's ordered to attack too early by a superior officer with other priorities. It's exactly the sort of infuriating "reality interferes" things that happen to people all the time, and what really matters is how you bounce back from those (inevitable) moments, not whether you've "calculated this plan down to the last variable!" like so many fictional masterminds seem to.
As far as Lord Nyax goes... really my only problem is that he's in this book. I don't mind the plotline, per se. It'd be fine if it had been released maybe as an E-book like "Ylesia." I just felt like it really broke the flow of "Enemy Lines." I'd have been fine with getting rid of it and filling in a few more chapters of "Wedge versus Lah" or "Han and Leia setting up Rebel cells."
I love both franchises, but I've always thought Star Wars handled the science far better than Star Trek.
Why? Because it doesn't dwell on it. It just tells you or shows you what a lightsaber or a hyperdrive or a deflector shield does, doesn't explain how and then moves on. Whereas Star Trek actually tries to justify it all with technobabble. The average viewer doesn't care and his eyes are just going to glaze over, while the more scientifically inclined in the audience are going to turn red shouting "no! No! That's not true! THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!" Trying too hard to make this stuff "realistic" only calls further attention to the fact that it's not.
I don't know...I kinda like the way Star Trek makes it...plausible. Some of the EU is just too far out there ***cough***Chewie's death***cough***
Star Wars isn't investigating the influence of technology on society. Star Trek is, as well as creating allegories to existing societal issues through speculative fiction.
Star Wars is morality play, and the space faring society is the veneer or backdrop. The story could function equally well in other settings, such as a medieval one with magic.
Star Wars doesn't make an effort at realism because the technology isn't important except to facilitate the plot. In Star Trek, the allegory often *is* the plot.
I look forward to your review of Traitor.
As to this duology, I absolutely love, love, love it. Even the Nyax stuff. As I said earlier (was that in another thread, or this one?) this was actually the first part of NJO I read and I really enjoyed it even without the context of the previous however-many books. Looking at it now, the six or eight or however many lightsabers that Nyax has is silly, but the fight scenes where he actually used the sabers were short enough that you really didn't have to think about how they'd work; most of the time, from what I recall, he was just using the Force. Oh, and since it hasn't been noted already that I've seen...
"Behold! The weapon of the Jedi before the invention of the lightsaber!"
"No. The Jedi sledgehammer? Come on."
I disagree, actually. Some Star Trek science is okay, when the writers know what they're doing. And often times, especially in the later series and movies, they don't. And both franchises are willing to dispense with scientific accuracy depending on the needs of the story, or depending on whether the writers care at all; I'm looking at Voyager, Enterprise, and pretty much all of the movies.
I love both franchises, I do, and I think that this is one of the reasons why the two are so different: Star Trek takes place in our universe, with our physics and our laws of science, albeit much more advanced; everything is based in our reality, to the point where real-life scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking are huge fans of it. But saying that all Star Trek science is "realistic" is a generalization at best and a blatant falsehood at worst.
Star Wars doesn't take place in our reality, it takes place in one similar enough to where we're able to understand and relate to it. Star Wars science isn't our science. It's similar, yes, but there are differences, quite a lot in fact, that make Star Wars much more of a fantasy universe than a science fiction one. Complaining about something in Star Wars being too "out there" is like complaining about how far and fast Shadowfax can run in Lord of the Rings, or about how unlikely it is for someone to be able to run through a train platform in Harry Potter. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of a universe that doesn't play by our rules.
I don't mean to be harsh, but, if you're looking for "realistic" science fiction in Star Wars, you're looking in the absolute wrong place. Thinks like crashing Serenpidal's moon into the planet aren't "out there", they're a logical extension of a franchise that had a giant space station blow an entire planet up by bending lasers in space in its inaugural chapter. Suspension of scientific disbelief and Star Wars should go hand-in-hand. No one should hate themselves enough to try and take the science of Star Wars and compare it to our own.
I agree, but I also quite enjoy it when authors add a little science-fiction in, even in a small way - Coruscant's orbital mirrors are a prime example of things that add to the feeling that yes, this is a space fantasy, taking place in a society far more advanced than ours. Probably why I like the idea of the droid armies so much, even if I'm a little miffed by their execution.
You're reading much more into my statement than I really had meant, and frankly I am offended by your condescending tone. In no way am I saying Star Trek 'science' is real, I'm just saying it's better explained than in SW. Perhaps the nerd in me would like a reasonable explanation on how repulsorlifts work, or how a TIE fighter can fly in an atmosphere. I agree that the needs of the story comes first, but your argument that SW science isn't our science is disingenuous. Gravity is gravity, physics is physics, chemistry is chemistry. Star Trek takes the time to try and explain the 'science' in a way that is slightly plausible, although we all know it's still impossible.
I've been a SW fan since '77, so my suspension of disbelief is just as good as anyone else's, but I think that a little 'plausibility' would make it more fun. Potter can fly broomsticks because of 'magic', and Yoda can raise a star fighter using the Force, but that still doesn't explain how a moon slamming into a planet doesn't make both explode well before it did in the book.
I apologize, I didn't mean to offend or imply anything undue. I was trying to convey my own view on the matter, not to belittle yours. Text doesn't convey tone very well. Again, I apologize.
On the topic of the book we're discussing, of those who've read the series to this point, where would rate this duology, Dark Journey and Star By Star? We did a rough list of the first eight or so after Rebirth, where on that list would you insert the last four installments?
I think some of the problem with SW 'science' is a lot of it was conceived by people with little more idea about it than the fans, or by people with an agenda. The various Guides seem to have some good explanations, though.
And if you're looking for specific examples, Wookieepedia is your friend
No it is not, to often it just give you headache
Thanks...and I probably over-reacted a bit.
As to your question...Dark Journey is, for me, the weakest book in NJO. I know that she's only 18 or so in this, but I just couldn't be bothered to care about Jaina's emo issues, and her treatment of Tenel Ka rankled a bit. I still think Star By Star is a bit over-rated, so I'd go with this duology, SbS, then Dark Journey.
Who made it?
Tuck me a look at the official art of Lord Nyax and I have to say that he have had an interesting development from rather good looking in a of-some-reason-I-want-to-punch-in-his-face way
to, well, a Cult Mechanicus member look-a-like
at least he/his creators understood that it would be stupid to use full length 'sabres
Star Wars is Science Fantasy rather then Science Fiction.