Tales from the Empire, ed. Peter Schweighofer

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


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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Wedge’s Gamble, by Michael Stackpole

July 31, 2010 at 17:03 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Star Wars Saturday!) (, , , , )


Michael Stackpole is one of the more able writers in the Star Wars universe, and this is one of the better books he wrote before he began to run out of ideas. It is the success of this book that allowed Stackpole (and Aaron Allston, which might have been a mistake) to build the juggernaut series that eventually succumbed to the terminal illness of Star Wars authors; falling in love with their own characters, and assuming that everyone else has, too.

Nevertheless, when reading a book based on a book based on a video game based on a movie, expectations are low – and Wedge’s Gamble manages to acquit itself brilliantly. The characters are nicely developed, but already there are impressive views to building a franchise, with villains and heroes alike created with a long-term view rather than rather disappointing flashes in the metaphorical pan. In short, Stackpole is in no hurry, and is content to allow his corner of the universe to develop organically and with feeling.

The plot is interesting, and a refreshing departure from the repeated (and for a while successful) gambit of throwing a superweapon and a dark jedi into the mix and letting things sort themselves out. Isard is an unappealing but interesting foil for the hearty Rogues, and many peripheral characters actually have a surprising amount of depth. Stackpole’s only failure (and it is a dismal failure) is his attempt to write romance. Inevitably it leads to characters musing and monologuing, and turns several chapters into a horrific blend of sticky fanfiction and the worst psychiatric book ever written. A good space adventure, and one of the high water marks of the Star Wars expanded universe.

Related reviews:
The Krytos Trap
Solo Command
Starfighters of Adumar

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