March 28, 2006

Agents of Chaos

Books four and five of the New Jedi Order series are written by James Luceno as a duology: "Agents of Chaos". The two books are "Hero's Trial" and "Jedi Eclipse". I liked Luceno's stuff around the time of Episode III, but maybe that's because he was being allowed to unearth some major plot points. When he doesn't really have any big stories to break, he doesn't really do a very good job off by himself.

In this set, a few threads from the series are picked up from other authors. During the action of the first book, Mara Jade finds at least a temporary cure for the illness the enemy inflicted upon her. I find it difficult to believe that given the technology available here, that couldn't be replicated somehow, but okay. Also, Han decides to come out of his funk and get involved in the action, taking off on his own to get into trouble and get revenge.

Now I understand that this is "Star Wars" and all, but these books had a lot of really egregious things that bugged me. First of all, it's a big galaxy. You know, your typical galaxy has a hundred billion stars, each likely to have an average of a few planets. At worst, you'd expect millions of habitable planets. How come all the major characters always end up randomly converging on the same planet (a different one every single time) for different reasons?

Also, as anyone who has played strategy games at even the tamest level (i.e. Spaceward Ho) knows, once ships have enormous range (hyperspace) and you have a long border, there is no way to really predict where the enemy is going to strike next. You just have to hope you find a big chunk of its battle fleet and hope your fleet can take it with minimal casualties, chipping away at resources until all he has left is a great big satellite trap or something.

This war between the New Republic and the Yuuzhan Vong is written by someone who doesn't know the first thing about Spaceward Ho, and by extension, basic strategy and tactics. Again, I understand this is supposed to be a character-driven "Star Wars" story, and everything else is in the background, pay no attention, just watch the light saber, etc. And I can do that at times, but this one was just too sloppy, so much that it was distracting.

Ok, enough about the typical "Star Wars" flaws, back to the story. It just wasn't that good. Han's story was probably the most interesting of the bunch, but there wasn't much at stake there either. I wasn't sold on why Han would feel so compelled to help a lizard guy go all over the galaxy (which, apparently, consists of only about 10 planets because those planets are where everyone is and where they can only be... okay sorry, I'll stop) to look for his family.

There was also a story about a Jedi assassination attempt that I thought was really cool, but that got short-circuited before the first book was even over. I wanted to see that build up a *lot* more before a bigger payoff. As it was, there wasn't much reason for Jedi to do much of anything in this story.

There was a plotline in the 2nd book that followed a Jedi who gets captured on purpose, but not much time is spent on it, and in the end, it is resolved very unsatisfactorily despite some really good promise. I was thinking of three or four different directions that plot could've gone that would have been more interesting, similarly with the Jedi assassination plot.

The other major character followed here is Leia as she tries to get other powers on board in an alliance while also trying to alleviate the refugee crisis. Not much there. Near the end of the story, Anakin gets involved trying to restart a superweapon mentioned many, many books ago (haven't reviewed that trilogy yet), and boy does that strain credulity.

The problem with superweapons, whether it is the biological stuff used by the Vong to turn all biomass on a world into sludge in 30 minutes or a Death Star-type thing (except it can fire through hyperspace and so is basically infinitely powerful if it can be aimed and if it always works) is that it is a plot dead-end. Oh ok, so planets can be turned to sludge. So if the Vong want to win, just send a single stealth craft to every major agricultural world, sludge it, and wait a year while the Republic starves to death. Or the Republic can just send out scouts to find Vong ships, and Anakin can blow them away with a superweapon.

It is a real stretch to justify *not* using such a weapon, though Luceno gives it a try with some Jedi ethics crap. I didn't buy it. In the end, I'm not completely sure whether my disappointment with this story is that the structual weaknesses of "Star Wars" books are finally getting to me or that this is just a poorly written pot boiler. I have to think the latter, because I *know* it is possible to write a good book, even wearing the "Star Wars" handcuffs. I've seen them. But I can't recommend this one.

I would put this in the bottom of the middle tier of Star Wars books. And, yes, that bottom tier blows. I guess I should review some of those sometime.

Posted by Observer at March 28, 2006 07:25 PM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

Man these books sound like crap.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 29, 2006 08:59 AM