Lit A Cynical Walk Through the NJO

Discussion in 'Literature' started by Cynical_Ben, Aug 17, 2013.

  1. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    It is Space Opera
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  2. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Mar 4, 2011
    star 7
    I only skimmed the last few posts because I'm only a third of the way through Rebel Stand; hopefully I'm not repeating anything.

    I've loved Allston's humor in both of these books, it's made me want to read more of his work. Hell, he's even made Mara tolerable. Her line to Luke about not crawling out naked after the red slime ate his clothes, cracked me up.

    I almost feel like the other authors forgot how to laugh; I know that the Vong War is grim stuff and it would be inappropriate to add humor when writing some of the events in other books. But all the same I appreciate Allston's efforts to set aside the srs bsns when he can.

    I have no strong opinion on Wedge but he is well done here. And Jag Fel continues to grow on me; I even had an "Awww" moment over him not wanting to return to the Chiss after Borleias because of Jaina.

    Just got introduced to Lord Nyax. Sort of. In italicized paragraphs that left me with nothing but "Who the **** is that?"

    I've got to stay home from work tomorrow with a sick child so I hope to get a lot of reading done then.
  3. Cynical_Ben Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2013
    star 4
    Don't let us spoil it, stay off the boards and finish the book, then come back, it's well worth it.
  4. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Outside the universe, there is nothing.
    This nothing is called hyperspace.
    A tiny bubble of existence hangs in the nothing. This bubble is called a ship.
    The bubble has neither motion nor stillness, nor even orientation, since the nothing has no distance or direction. It hangs there forever, or for less than an instant, because in the nothing there is also no time. Time, distance, and direction have meaning only inside the bubble, and the bubble maintains the existence of these things only by an absolute separation of what is within from what is without.
    The bubble is its own universe.
    Outside the universe, there is nothing.
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  5. Arawn_Fenn Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 2, 2004
    star 7
    Have you read Children of the Jedi?
  6. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Mar 4, 2011
    star 7
  7. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    "I tell you nothing but truth."
    She sounded so close by that Jacen reached for her in the dark. "I thought everything you tell me is a lie --"
    "Yes. And the truth."
    "What kind of truth is that?"
    "Is there more than one? Why even ask? You will find no truth in me."
    Last edited by DigitalMessiah, Oct 21, 2013
  8. Cynical_Ben Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2013
    star 4
    Grr Stover's prose always makes me =P~ stop tempting me DM I want to take a break from reading
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  9. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    He shares how much he loves it all: for all these things are all one thing: pain and joy, loss and reunion, life and death. To love any is to love all, for none can exist without every other.
    The Universe.
    The Force.
    All is one.
  10. Cynical_Ben Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2013
    star 4
    Man, it's going to be hard to be objective, let alone cynical. I always forget just how good Stover is until I read some of his work again, and then I turn into a =P~ fanboy. I'm barely two chapters into Traitor and sweet Force Stover's purple prose, all of the purple prose.
    ^:)^ [face_money_eyes] :cool:[face_dancing][face_hypnotized]:*[face_party]@};-

    I'm getting all of the giddiness out now, I'll probably whip through the book tomorrow and post my review tomorrow night after I've had a chance to calm the raging storm of absolute joy inside me.
    Zeta1127, Force Smuggler and Rew like this.
  11. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    You forget, this book ruined Star Wars with its alleged moral relativism!
    Zeta1127 and Rew like this.
  12. Force Smuggler Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    Correction. Denning with his narrow-mindedness ruined the message of the book and the Post NJO.
  13. Gorefiend Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2004
    star 5

    Yeah but he had lots of help in that.
    Last edited by Gorefiend, Oct 23, 2013
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  14. Cynical_Ben Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2013
    star 4
    So, Traitor.

    Everything this book says is a lie.

    But lies are not always the willful obfuscation of truth. Some lies are merely the absence of complete truth. And considering how imprecise and imperfect language is, regardless of the particular region or dialect it may spawn from, all words, in one way or another, contain lies.

    You know what, let me start over.

    Matt Stover is an author whose work in Star Wars exemplifies what the Expanded Universe can and should be: an expansion and exploration of events, characters or concepts we see in the films. He has the task in this particular work, either self-appointed or ordained from elsewhere, to study the nature of the Force and of how it relates to morality, life and the Jedi through the eyes of one Jacen Solo, a young man long given up for dead. In Vergere’s words, he is dead. Dead to his old life, dead to his friends, dead to the Jedi. But, in death, he is freed to explore, to question, to be taught and teach in turn.

    Traitor as a book works only insofar as a reader is willing to swallow the philosophy that Stover is feeding them. Vergere is a teacher, but one who believes in letting a student find their own way, their own truth, and thus the audience is likewise left to come to their own conclusions about what she says, whether she’s right or wrong, or whether she’s simply lying. All of the assertions and ideas that would be considered rock-hard continuity in any other book are up for debate here, because they come from an unreliable narrator.

    I’m a religious man, raised in a religious family. I’ve been around religious philosophy my entire life, beginning with the basic black-and-white yes-or-no morality of parental correction when I was in my formative years. As the years have gone on, I learned that life isn’t nearly as simple as some people think that it is. Whether Universal Truth in some form exists is a matter of debate, but, I personally believe that, regardless of what that truth might be, there is no way for us to learn and understand it. Absolute truths are just that, absolute, and our puny human minds are anything but that. We have imaginations, we have a capacity to learn, yes, but our expressions, our tone, our thought processes, everything we say and do is so crude and rudimentary. The universe, our universe, speaks in a language we fumble and stammer and struggle with; our attempts to grasps its infinite colors and texture and sound and light always, always fall short.

    No philosophy in the world can ever fully grasp Universal Truth, no matter what those truths might happen to be.

    This is the same lesson that Jacen learns. His grasp of the Force, his grasp of his own purpose, of his own sense of being and morality, is shaken and torn from him to the point where he is left with nothing. A Nihilist, even if for a moment, he realizes that, to the Force, to the ethereal fog he had always worshiped and revered, nothing he says or does or thinks matters. The Force was there before him, and it will remain after him. Light, dark, joyful, despairing, the Force remains regardless. The Universal Truths he had always assumed, even the seemingly simples ones of life and death, do not matter to the Force.
    Jacen comes to realize that his view of the Force, even in his pondering and philosophizing, was still far, far too small.

    If he were left there, at the bottom of that pit, despondent, listless, apathetic, I could see how some people would think that Vergere’s teachings led to evil. After all, one of the most terrifying Sith of all is Darth Nihilus, the one whose hunger is insatiable, who consumes all life on planets, feeding on the Force itself? The concept of Nihilism is a frightening one for a Jedi; the meaninglessness of life and death removes their moral core, and leaves them trying to fill that emptiness with something, anything, just so that they’ll feel something approaching a purpose again. Even going so far as to prey on the Force itself.

    That’s the thing about Universal Truths and our perceptions of them: they’re open to our imperfect interpretations, not because we think they’re wrong, but because we don’t understand them. Jacen never understood the Force before now, and opening his eyes to it, light and dark, ultimately left him staggered and numb, still not understanding, unable to fully wrap his mind around what he’s learned.

    But that isn’t the end of the story.

    Jacen was captured during the Mykr mission. Nom Anor and Vergere take it upon themselves to shape him into a Yuuzhan Vong, not the same way others had tried to shape Tahiri, where she was physically altered to become a Yuuzhan Vong, this is a shaping of the mind and the mind alone, to persuade him that their Way, their Truth, was the only truth. Nom Anor did this because he needed to do something to please the Warmaster, to show him that the Twin Sacrifice he promised long ago will, in fact, occur. Vergere, on the other hand, has a different goal in mind.

    Vergere’s motivations are up for debate. Some say she was trying to corrupt Jacen, feed him philosophy that would ultimately lead to his downfall. Others say that she willfully tortured him and left him in the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong when she might have rescued him, proving that she meant nothing but harm. And while both of those interpretations might have elements of truth to them, they’re also both incomplete, inaccurate. In short: lies.

    Like the Universal Truth she tries to wake Jacen up to, Vergere’s actions and teachings are more than simple black-and-while interpretations of Sith teaching and corruption. Perhaps they did lead to Jacen’s downfall; if they did, however, the fault was Jacen’s, and Jacen’s alone. Just as with us, the readers, Jacen had trouble comprehending exactly what Vergere was trying to tell him; youth and inexperience, and sometimes willful ignorance, kept him blind for a long while. Even then, after he realized some of what she was trying to tell him, he still did not understand everything.

    Vergere’s philosophy of the Force is more than a simple ends-justify-the-means idea. It’s more than just the idea that there is no dark side, only the Force. And it’s more than the idea that personal truth is the only truth.

    What Vergere tries to tell Jacen, and us, is that the Force is in everything, and what matters isn’t necessarily what the Jedi say or think about it so much as it is what they do about it, what they choose to be, whether they are true to what the Force calls them. Vergere strips away all of Jacen’s ideas, inhibitions, logic, even strips him of the Force, in order to make him understand that he isn’t defined by any one thing, he isn’t defined by what others say of him, who his family is, what weapon he carries. His own convictions and his understanding of the Force, given a role and a destiny, define Jacen, and all he has to do is embrace that.

    Of course, there’s more to it than that. Like the idea that, since the Force is life, the Force exists in all things and, as such, the dark side isn’t so much a perversion of the Force as it is a natural coloring of the Force, a shade of darkness, a shadow. There is no capital-D Dark Side, no malevolent devil-entity out to corrupt the reckless, the untrained, the unworthy. The dark side exists in all beings, in hate, in anger, in fear, in suffering and despair. The Force merely amplifies the evil inside of the hearts of beings, it doesn’t create the darkness. Of course, there’s debate about this idea. It’s the Batman/villain argument: does he create his own villains merely by being Batman, or would they arise even in his absence? Does the dark side exist even if no one is there to make it so? Or is it such a fundamental part of nature that it can never truly be wiped out?

    But what Vergere teaches isn’t so important to the story as Jacen’s understanding of it is. As I’ve already said, what he understands and believes is an imperfect grasp of Universal Truth; what’s more, what we as the readers understand and believe about it is even less perfect; we’re getting everything second-hand. DM said it earlier in the thread, but he was perfectly right: we’re not the target of Vergere’s teaching. If she had wanted us to understand it, she might have explained it differently. But she didn’t. She explained things so that Jacen would come to understand them.

    Which is why poor Ganner was so confused when Jacen tried to explain it to him.

    Ganner is the key to this book. He’s the one thing in this book that reminds us, yes, this is still Star Wars, and yes, Matt Stover isn’t just preaching Force philosophy from on high, he does understand and write well in the GFFA regardless of using philosophy as a gateway drug. Ganner doesn’t go through the nine circles of hell like Jacen does, he doesn’t have all of his life and teachings and his very sense of being stripped away. He’s still Ganner, a Jedi Knight, and a man for whom the entire universe has changes over the course of the war.

    He’s determined to make a difference, to be a dashing, swashbuckling, puckish rogue of the holodramas, to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. But the Force has a different role in mind for him. When we seem him, he’s been humbled, crushed by the realities and horrors of what the war has wrought, of the memories of Mykr, of Jaina’s inner darkness, of the countless lives lost. Yet, he’s still determined to carry on. He does, but only barely. And it’s through him that we see Vergere’s teachings through a lens that isn’t Jacen.

    Ganner fills a role, both in-story and out of it, of reminding Jacen and us, the reader, that all of the lessons that Jacen has learned apply to everyone in the GFFA, not just him, but that everyone comes about learning them and experiencing them in different ways. For Ganner, a Jedi Knight to the last, giving himself to the Force in a dance of death as he held the threshold and laughed in the face of a thousand Yuuzhan Vong, he learned for himself that all life was in the Force, that all of what he had done, who he had been, had led him to that point. Predestination vs. free will is a sticky trap to fall into, but Ganner believed in destiny, and that’s what matters.

    Nom Anor, for all of his caution and scheming, is one step behind everything. Blind to the Force, unable to grasp the Truth that is being hurtled and tossed above his head, he is played by Jacen, by Vergere, even as he seems somewhat aware of being a part of a much larger scheme. While he himself is able to play the others of his race, Vergere toys with him almost without trying, feeding him truth in the gauze of lies, and vice versa, confusing and misleading him, letting him and the rest of those under him serve as her cat’s-paws and help her deliver the lesions she wants to teach. The fact that he lives to see his failures complete speaks for his own luck, good and bad, more than anything.

    Stover’s prose is, as always, wonderfully descriptive and florid, giving us color, light, sound, smells, making us feel the pain of those on page, making the battles leap from between the lines. As with the book itself, though, it is only as effective in as much as those reading it are willing to let themselves be taught. There isn’t another author in Star Wars who writes books the same way Stover does, and this book might be his more archetypical work.

    Traitor, despite its deceptively simple title, is one of the deepest and most complex and compelling books in the entire Expanded Universe. It builds on all of the questions the NJO has raised from the beginning, about the role of the Jedi, about the dark side, about the Force itself, and uses them to explore, fundamentally, the nature of this mysterious energy. The answers it gives to questions we might have only raise more questions, but, in the end, it isn’t us who have to understand it. This, like Balance Point before it, is Jacen’s story, much as Conquest was Anakin’s or Dark Journey was Jaina’s. As befitting Jacen’s personality, this book is far deeper and more thoughtful than either of those and, while it might not seem like much is accomplished over the course of this book aside from Ganner’s death and the seeding of Yuuzhan’tar, much as with Jacen himself, there is an active current of furious activity just below the surface. Jacen’s escape will spark something; it is left to the next book to see exactly what that is.

    This books reminds me a lot of KotOR II: the Sith Lords, with its explorations of the ins and outs of the Force. Each is a perspective that we haven’t seen or heard of in much of the more casual EU, and that’s why both of them are such compelling stories. Unlike KotOR II, though, Stover has a chance to conclude his story in his own way. But he chooses not to, because the story isn’t over yet. Jacen still has a mission, a garden to tend to, and ending the story with Traitor would do the rest of the series a disservice. He leaves things open on purpose, for later installments to carry forward, to draw their own conclusions and interpret in their own ways, just as he gives the same opportunity to the audience. It’s a shame where others have taken it. But, again, it isn’t Stover’s fault; he, like Vergere, merely gives us the facts as he sees them, and leaves it up to use how to interpret them, letting us find our own way.

    I struggled a bit to decide what to rate Traitor. I honestly don’t think it would work outside of the context of at least a few of the NJO books; the concepts and technology in it are too alien, too foreign to appeal to the average EU fan. Yet, the depth of the book, the sheer breathless wonder Stover delivers all of the descriptions and prose with, it would be a shame if someone were to read books about Star Wars and miss this one. If you’re reading through the EU, or even just reading parts of the EU, make an effort to read at least some of the NJO. And if you do, consider Traitor a Must Read, it simply is too good to gloss over or skip, not because of the plot so much as because of the quality of the work. I’d consider all of Stover’s Star Wars works essential to any fan of the EU, the only author whose works I wholeheartedly recommend the entire catalog of, and Traitor is no exception. Just don’t expect lighthearted adventure as with the Enemy Lines books, or even the epic, sprawling conflict of Star By Star. Traitor is a journey, one that requires effort, but well worth it in the end.

    Next time, Ackbar is back in the most spoiled spoiler since the fact that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. It's time to tackle Destiny’s Way.
  15. Cynical_Ben Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2013
    star 4
    Sorry for the DP, but, after I backed up all of my reviews up-through Traitor, I've written 32,651 words about the series thus far, almost a novel in and of itself. Holy crap.
    Force Smuggler likes this.
  16. Force Smuggler Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    Several more books left, lets get to 50,000 words!
  17. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    I think I'm going to flip flop and talk about how Traitor ruined Star Wars.
  18. Jedi Ben Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 19, 1999
    star 6
    I think the problem is it bases everything upon this idea of incompleteness = lying, when most people's definition of a lie would be this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie#cite_note-1

    To remove the deliberate intention from the picture and then class all statements as lies due to likely being incomplete in some way is likely to lead to more than a little confusion.
  19. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Is truth/lie really the central thesis of the novel, or just one of many dichotomies pointing toward an even deeper point?
  20. Revanfan1 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jun 3, 2013
    star 5
    I, personally, take this novel as what I believe Stover meant it to be; Vergere teaching Jacen inherently good lessons, but many readers misinterpreting them as bad lessons, like Denning did. Just the way the novel ends, with a high note of Jacen going out to "garden" the galaxy–and I reading it, I took that to mean Jacen saving the galaxy, not mindlessly murdering Vong–suggested that Stover definitely didn't mean to imply that Jacen had been corrupted, but enlightened. Ganner's death made it bittersweet, but he definitely had one of, if not the, coolest death in the entire EU.
  21. Force Smuggler Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    Could someone post the quote from Traitor about how many people died on Coruscant? That whole paragraph/section was chilling.
  22. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    So what you are saying is that I need to have come to at least 'The Trusty Servant' before I try to read this book?
  23. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Having had time to think about it, so if Vergere says "everything I tell you is false," would that substantially improve the book in your eyes?

    And is it tacky to quibble with vocabulary when the underlying premise is that language is imperfect at communicating ideas? Isn't that kinda missing the point?
    Last edited by DigitalMessiah, Oct 25, 2013
  24. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    I still have problems with her idea of a three edged blade as a good metaphor
  25. Arawn_Fenn Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 2, 2004
    star 7
    Freudian slip?