Tales from the Empire, ed. Peter Schweighofer

November 27, 2010 at 17:58 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Star Wars Saturday!) (, , , , , , )

9/10

This rather obscure book follows in the footsteps of the occasionally successful “Tales of…” series, exploring locales interesting enough to write about, but tepid enough that writing an entire novel might not be especially interesting – Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, etc. As with all anthologies, it must have its hits and its misses, although surprisingly, Tales from the Empire scores considerably higher than might be expected of short stories trawled from the pages of dingy fan magazines.

To say the success of this book is due to the imagination and skill of Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, and their longer-than-a-short-story about their own most-famous characters would be a safe suggestion to make, and there is little bad that could be said about either the centrepiece “Side Trip”, or indeed about the two writers’ individual offerings to the anthology. Their contributions are fast-paced excursions into the adventurous younger days of established, original and popular characters, getting into action-packed adventures and opening enough small windows on their heroes and anti-heroes to satisfy the appetites of any readers.

Truthfully, this book does contain the very worst of the genre, and the sort of self-indulgent fan-fiction that belongs on badly-spelled web pages, and never in print. Slaying Dragons, an immature effort depicting some sort of deranged fantasy intrusion, with willowy siblings thrusting lightsabres hither and yon, is one of the misplaced stories that has little or nothing to do with the Empire, and everything to do with cloying and cringeworthy adolescent writing. A Certain Point of View is the token philosophical tale of star-crossed lovers, cruelly separated by intransigence and – oh, the Empire, or something.

However, Tales from the Empire rises significantly above a cheap collection of poor stories, sold under the names of Zahn and Stackpole. Besides the best of the best and a handful of shockingly awful pieces, it includes several quite excellent short stories, most of which have in common some intriguing and satisfyingly complex original characters, stories that actually deliver on the book’s premise and lift the veil on the murky Empire, and some terrific storytelling. We have standard farm-boy-against-murderous-Empire scenarios; brave authors who venture entirely outside of the standard Empire-vs.-Rebellion galaxy, and explore the fringes of the Star Wars universe; even at least one story where the Imperial foes are humanised, and the very nature of the galactic conflict is brought into question. Almost without exception, these stories are constructive and compelling, and for the most part do not suffer from the usual self-importance and arrogant preaching found in much of the Star Wars literature today.

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