Monday, January 9, 2017

2016 in Star Wars

In January, The Force Awakens hype was still in full swing. By December, Rogue One emerged as both a very different and very similar phenomenon. In the world of Star Wars books, there were fewer novels targeted to adults this year than last year: Wookieepedia says there were four this year, compared to last year's seven. Going over them numerically doesn't mean much except that I was bound to fit all of them on the list.

A lot of my Star Wars books discussion happens on podcasts these days. After the collapse of the ForceCast I joined Blaster Canon and Western Reaches, the latter of which also has a Goodreads group.

I talked about some more of my Star Wars work on my other year-end post. Here's a look at my top 5 for 2016. Thanks to Del Rey for providing me review copies and working with me on the HoloNet.

Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Bloodline delivered what it promised: Leia Organa navigating the political landscape during the very earliest days of the First Order. Claudia Gray brought her solid character work from Lost Stars to Bloodline, making a story that delved into the thoughts and feelings of Leia, Han, and her political rival Ransolm Casterfo. This one was a hit with a lot of fans, even those who weren't necessarily intrigued by the idea of a political story at first.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

The more I think about Battlefront: Twilight Company, the more I think of it as a writers' novel. It's a bit difficult to get into as an adventure story, but worth examining at the sentence and scene level. Also, my precious boxcar children, protect them. The Rogue One novelization by the same author is deserving of similar scrutiny, with some interesting additional scenes and a deft take on the movie's final battle. This book would have taken the number one spot on my list if it had been an original story.

Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston

I was looking forward to a story that got inside Ahsoka Tano's head in the time between The Clone Wars and Rebels. This book did that, presenting an Ahsoka who had a strong moral sense and a lot of sadness for the people she lost. (I'll never get over her stumbling her way into referring to Anakin and Obi-Wan as her adoptive parents.) However, it also meandered a bit and took place in a relatively short amount of time, serving as a decent character study but leaving the best scenes, presumably, for TV.

Catalyst by James Luceno

These two are practically opposite one another - Ahsoka has a lot of heart but is paced oddly, while Catalyst's pacing is exquisite and almost completely sterile. I've said before that it was a pitch-perfect match for Rogue One, and Galen and Krennic especially are spot-on. However, Krennic's motivation is simply to gain power within the Empire and is never explored more deeply than that, and an initial warmth between Galen and Lyra isn't really sustained. The book does a good job of expanding on Lyra's role, but it still feels a bit lifeless.

Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig

I really loved the characters in Aftermath, and enjoyed seeing where they ended up in Life Debt, especially Rae Sloane's near misses near the end. Life Debt struggled to hold me sometimes, with seemingly arbitrary romantic relationships (Sinjir's boyfriend, who wasn't even part of the crew, felt the least arbitrary) and Norra's struggle to articulate her own motivations. I'm still looking forward to the next in the series, though, especially with the promise of finding out more about whatever is happening on Jakku.

2016 in Books

2016 has been a hard year. This post isn't about that: there's little I could add to the grim, uncertain political commentary of the day. For me personally, it's a year that would have been excellent if it weren't so bad: I gained new opportunities this year and finished my 100-book challenge, setting up for what will hopefully be a year of writing in 2017. There's certainly enough to write about.

Last year I set several goals: to do official Star Wars work, to read more, and to read more books by women. I met that first goal in April, talking about one of my favorite characters from the Star Wars novels. As of Dec. 27 when this post was written I have 105 books on the list of what I've read (including one repeat read that I added to the challenge by mistake), 63 of which were by women. That includes collections edited by women and this manga studio, but not Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Like 2015, 2016 was a year of finding new favorites.While my reading habits had stagnated a bit before, I'm much more versed in contemporary science fiction and fantasy now. With that comes more series. It's harder to recommend series than stand-alone books, but with that comes the thrill of waiting for the next one: I think any one of these would make a compelling TV series.

There was no new Ann Leckie novel this year. We wait in hope.

Favorite Books 2016

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

It boggles my mind that The Sparrow isn't included in the lists of greats of science fiction very often. A Jesuit mission to an alien planet finds more than it bargained for, and a priest wrestles with his faith. An absolute masterpiece of world-building, nuanced musings on religion, and a dawning sense that anything horrible that can happen to the characters, probably will.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Has it really been under a year since I started reading these? The Hugo Award-winning first novel in the series was all I could talk about for a while, and the sequel this summer was equally compelling and incredibly well written. Jemisin has become a force of nature like unto her geothermal wizards.

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Updraft, the first book in the series of which Cloudbound is the second, wasn't on my best-of list last year. For some reason, it hit me harder when I re-read it, and I was in full fandom mode by the time the sequel came out. This is a cool science fiction story about people surviving through engineering in a world falling apart, and about a woman who changes the world with the power of her voice. I have a feeling 2017 needs this series, even though it's woefully underappreciated in the world of young adult book fandom.

 Radiance by Catherynne Valente

Cat Valente's vibrant, experimental style has grown on me in a big way this year. Radiance has a great elevator pitch - an alternate retro-future where humanity has spaceships and space colonies but silent film still dominates the entertainment scene. It's a great exploration of point of view and features my favorite of things, a doomed expedition - although the plot isn't really as much of a draw as the writing style.

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

How does an author write about obsession and desperation without the story coming off as thin or small in scope? Make the obsession and desperation the core of the characters, but not of the plot. Seanan McGuire treats the "what happens to the kids when they come back from Narnia" question with grace and adds a bloody murder mystery to a well-realized what-if world.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Sometimes I write fiction, I suppose? Prompt based on Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge.


    There was something growing.
    She knew her mistake as soon as she took two steps. Shouldn’t have done that, Green. Shouldn’t have trusted the filter to still work out here. Should have checked for corrosion. What would Harris say? Thomas would snort and roll her eyes, her whole helmet tipped back in one single laugh that rocked her armor. Then Thomas would forgive her before Green died.

    Green’s throat was tingling.
    She tugged her helmet off, hating the click of the back against the now-dead neural port. With what had once been a functioning network array now turned into five grams of metal at the back of her skull, the port just felt like an invasion, a scab she needed to peel off.

    (Not yet, Green. You’re not that far gone yet.)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 in Star Wars

We can't help but look back. For me, Star Wars-flavored nostalgia is Borders and suburbs, the New Jedi Order, the Prequels and the never-canon, always-important Tales and Infinities. In 2015 we're fully surrounded by the new canon, which was all set up to take us to The Force Awakens. Disney has started their own line of young adult and young reader books, and I've devoured those too. (The Original Trilogy Journey to the Force Awakens novels and Lost Stars were sent to me; Before the Awakening was not.)

Part of me was afraid that The Force Awakens would kill my interest in Star Wars. In the worst of all possible worlds, there wouldn't even be a reason for the death - I would like the movie, but wouldn't be able to put a finger on my own reasons for not being interested in the books, not being interested in the characters. That didn't turn out to be a problem. The weekend after seeing The Force Awakens I went out to pick up Before the Awakening in the same kind of loud, excitable rush as ever before. (And New Republic: Bloodline? Tell me more.) The Force Awakens had flaws, but I'm not particularly interested in writing a critical review - I enjoyed the new characters too much, enjoyed the feeling of seeing an impossibly new Star Wars story on screen again too much.

I became involved with Star Wars this year like never before - in March I started writing the HoloNet Digest for Del Rey Books, which now lives on tumblr. This has been a wonderful first step into a larger world, and I'll keep working with them and hope to start some new projects in the new year. I'm incredibly thankful to be able to be a little part of the Star Wars family.

As for my favorite, most-recommended Star Wars books published in 2015, mine is an informal, much-rearranged list. There is always a chance with Star Wars books that my favorite will simply be the most recent.

1. Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed

I liked Twilight Company's dark but not hopeless look at the "war" part of Star Wars before I heard Alexander Freed speak at New York Comic-Con, but it was when the excerpt was read aloud that I really started to appreciate the way every sentence twists like a knife. Even though it's a dark book and few characters in it even know what a Jedi is, Twilight Company presents one of the best, subtlest stories of redemption in the Star Wars galaxy. Also, Everi Chalis is a great, complex, unforgiving female character.

2. Servants of the Empire: Imperial Justice by Jason Fry

I connected with the story of Zare and Dhara Leonis last year more than I thought I would, and ended up ravenous for the finale of this fantastic young reader series. It also lays the groundwork for the First Order training system from The Force Awakens.

3. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

This is where the list gets difficult, so feel free to reshuffle these as you like. Both Aftermath and Weapon of a Jedi told really, really solid stories with characters who didn't quite stay with me as long as others have. Aftermath is a high-octane adventure written by a guy with a cool blog. I loved Sinjir, Jas, and Norra Wexley, but perhaps the high points of Aftermath for me were the interludes and unexplained asides, which made the Star Wars universe feel big, chaotic, and weird again.

4. Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure by Jason Fry

My love for Luke tugs this one higher on the list, but it's also the second Jason Fry novel in this post for a reason. It treads some old ground (Luke finds an old Jedi Temple, meets useful friends, fights bad guys) in that comfortable, magical Star Wars way, and was my favorite of the Journey to the Force Awakens series.

5. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Both Lost Stars and Dark Disciple would be higher on the list were it not for their endings. Despite some of the qualms I had about it, Lost Stars also has one of the best, most exciting endings of any Star Wars book. Along with Twilight Company, Lost Stars really established the new feel of the Rebellion and the Empire, showing a morally complex Star Wars story about the decisions people make in wartime. 

6. Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Since it was adapted from unused scripts from The Clone Wars, Dark Disciple was bound to have the same color and action as the show. Despite some concerns, I found that this was still one of my top books of the year, because its vivid images of Dathomirian magic, lava fields, and even fancy dinner parties stuck with me. Asajj Ventress will always be one of my favorite characters.

I've also spent a lot of time and many words on some older Star Wars books, the complete list of which can be found here

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Books

This year was a starting lap. I determined to use my Goodreads account more consistently, and to tally the number of books I read and the number of books by women. Then, I could use these as benchmarks to set goals for next year. I set a goal of 50, and passed it about halfway through the year.

Overall, it was an incredible year for books, and the first in a long time in which I truly added several to my ever-shifting mental top 10 list. Now, there are some books on that list which aren't either Ancillary Justice or books I read while in school. I also finished my New Jedi Order re-read in August. It feels like a long time ago now; there will be more about that in my Star Wars end-of-year post to come.

As far as goal-setting, I now know that 100 books next year should be easily doable, since I checked off 91 this year without changing my behavior significantly. (Several more are in progress, but I don't have high hopes for finishing either Mason & Dixon or The Fellowship of the Ring in the next 24 hours.) The range included Star Wars books, re-reads, young reader books, novels, nonfiction, lengthy series, and, well,  Mason & Dixon, mostly. I did count books that I re-read, as they took up time, but tried not to include a lot of them. Surprising myself, four of my reads this year were non-fiction, three of which (H is for Hawk, Clipping Through by Leigh Alexander, and Leaving Orbit) were excellent.

Before deciding whether I wanted to add a goal of reading more books by women, I wanted to see whether there was even a lack to begin with. C. J. Cherryh, whose books I discovered, adored, lapsed on, and then again devoured, probably skewed the list a bit all by herself. The end tally comes to 39 to 52 in favor of men, so I'll be making more of an effort to read books by women next year, with a goal of half and half.

Favorite Books 2015 

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

One of the first books I read this year was also a writing textbook about how to create punchy sentences, intensely realistic fight scenes, and sympathetic, tough characters. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a friend while she finished this one. Highly recommended for yelling about in groups.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

While it gets a bit heavy-handed toward the end, the scientific concepts in this one create a unique look at a possible future. Artificial intelligence and environmentalism were the themes this year if my reading had any. Also recommended is this article by Robinson, although the article - heck, even its headline - treads the exact same ground as the novel.

Lightless by C. A. Higgins

I received an advance copy of this book from Del Rey along with a comment along the lines of "this is the perfect book for you," and it's true. I said as much in my Goodreads review, but in short it's a pretty tightly-knit spaceship story with a nicely alien perspective plus some entertaining human characters.

Forty Thousand in Gehenna by C. J. Cherryh

I got into C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series this year, which I also recommend if you're interested in a very, very slow burn about alien politics. Cherryh's worlds really engrossed me, and while Gehenna is a slice of a larger universe, it also worked as a standalone. A strange clone society and an inhospitable planet provide the backdrop for a vicious, weird first contact story that embraces its inevitable dinosaur vs dinosaur battle conclusion.

The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi

This near-future novel turned out to be more memorable for its world than its characters, but that world is a critically important extrapolation of California's water crisis, rendered in an eco-punk detective story. The noir detective / assassin point of view character is so cool as to be parodic. (Did you notice that it says he drives a Tesla, the text asks? He definitely drives a Tesla.) There were some graphic scenes in this one that I wouldn't recommend to everyone, but it was a highly memorable action/adventure story in a plausible future. 

 One can also always assume that I'm thinking about the Imperial Radch series, which wrapped up with an inconclusive but brilliant third installment.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Planned Obsolescence

Although it wasn't the plan all along (it's been a long run!), I've found myself using this blog less and less. That isn't because I'm writing less: I'm writing more, for Den of Geek and the HoloNet Digest and for Twitter. Using the blog as a roundup for those things has not so far been productive in terms of pageviews or conversation, and I am more than happy with the opportunity to host my writing elsewhere.

I find that this goes along with a larger trend: social media has become more and more of a source for news, with websites acting as less of a home base and more of one small branch of a large social media tree. This is not universal, but it has been my experience. Additionally, with my New Jedi Order re-read over, updated content here is not quite so guaranteed.

Because of this, I wanted to formalize the dustiness of the blog lately. I will be posting less here going forward, or rather, guilting myself less about posting less here. Every once in a while there might be a post about a theory or idea that doesn't work or hasn't found reception anywhere else, like some qualms about Lost Stars or incorrect opinions about Rebels or general glee. With the amount of feelings I have about Battlefront: Twilight Company, some of those might end up here as well.

For now, though, I'll see you on the other side.