Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: Aftermath Review



This is a very special post today, friends. After months of toil including two of the longest weeks of my life I've finally returned to my old lifestyle. The job at the Alzheimer home is over, and an attempt at working for a local party store didn't work out. Now I'm back to just my old shelter job and doing my own thing most of the time. It's a true return to form which allows me the time to get things back in shape around here while expanding my presence on other sites and maybe even finding a paying gig here and there. Yea I'll have to hunt down another job eventually but for now I've got some clearance to work on my own projects and goals.
It's rather freeing after months of awful. In truth, I enjoyed the company of most of my co-workers. It was simply one of those business where the folks in charge are slowly grinding the place into the dirt while treating their employees like leaches. Not a good scene, especially for a place with an already strange and sorrowful atmosphere. But ya know what? I'm not here to talk about depressing locals or the shitbirds who run them. No, this is truly a time to return to the good stuff. And with that in mind, let's get back to one of my favorite features in that galaxy far far away with another installment of the Star Wars Book Club.

Star Wars Aftermath is notable for a variety of reasons, as the first post Jedi novel in new continuity, the beginning of a new trilogy, and the worst received title so far in this publishing initiative. I'm talking about some downright savage one and two star reviews just tearing this thing apart for everything from punctuation to character development. Given some fans reluctance to accept the new expanded universe it's usually a safe idea to approach every bad review with some skepticism. I mean this book couldn't possibly be as bad as so many made it out to be, could it? Truth is, this is a pretty weak tale. Not one completely without merit mind you but definitely the lamest New EU novel I've encountered so far. Let's check out why.

We open not long after the events of Retrun of the Jedi. The remnants of the Empire are struggling to regroup with a meeting of top brass military on the planet Akiva. In charge of this gathering is Admiral Rae Sloane who you may remember from New Dawn and a couple short stories. Honestly it's nice to see her again as she's so far been a more level-headed imperial baddie.

The plot description on the book itself may lead you to believe that Wedge Antilles is one of the main heroes of the tale but that's not the case at all. Wedge is captured early in the story and barely makes an impact on following events. Instead our heroes are a band of misfits on the planet surface.

Norra Wexley is...well she's kind of a drag really. The best way to describe her in one word is baggage. She left her son behind to join the rebellion in a vein attempt to search for her prisoner of war husband. She never found the guy during her service though she did participate in major battles such as the destruction of the second death star which has left her with PSTD.
Here's the thing. I have no problem with believing soldiers in this universe suffer with emotional trauma but to pin Norra's PTSD on one of the most heroic moments of the franchise is kinda lame. We're supposed to believe that while everyone else was dancing with teddy bears, she was crying in the shower. It would have served the character much more to have a more personalized trauma for us to identify with. As it is, she's just a massive buzzkill most of the time.

The reason for Norra's return to Akiva is to reunite with her son Temmin who we later know as Snap in The Force Awakens. Temmin isn't the worst character here though he suffers from behaving like he's a good deal younger than the stated fifteen years old. I mean we're lead to believe he's built up his own shop, salvaged his own droid bodyguard named Mr. Bones and frequently deals with criminals yet I couldn't shake the feeling the author was envisioning a whiny eleven year old certain interactions.

Speaking of Mr. Bones, he's a tough topic. On the one hand he does provide some genuine humor and plays well off surrounding personalities. At the same time, at lot of his lines and jokes can come across very forced and a little cringe-worthy. It's like the author decided Mr. Bones would be a crowdpleaser and tries to force it rather than letting it happen naturally.

Next up in our motley crew is Sinjir, a former Imperial agent who now spends his time drinking away memories. He comes across a bit better than the rest of the team thanks to a mix of being well-spoken, self-serving, and more than a little sarcastic. Those with an interest in inclusion might be glad to know he's also gay, though this effects the story in no meaningful way.

Then we have Jas, a female bounty hunter working for the alliance. Truthfully I'd be hard pressed to describe her personality as it's rather flat. She's a fairly standard resourceful loner. Thankfully she lacks most of the irritating lady warrior tropes. Other than that, there's not much to her.

As you might imagine, this oddball group slowly comes together in hopes of eliminating the remaining Imperial officers. As you may also guess, being the start of a trilogy they're not entirely successful. That's not what matters so much as is the adventure entertaining? It is.....sometimes.
Author, Chuck Windeg throws a few curve-balls our way. First he presents the tale in simple present tense. At first I couldn't quite peg what bothered me about this until I remembered these stories explicitly begin with the phrase “a long time ago.” Secondly, Chuck is a big practitioner of bullet points and sentence fragments. Don't be surprised to find page after page that looks something like this.


The biggest issue of all is pacing. We're already dealing with a large cast of characters in different locations, necessitating frequent shifts of perspective and hanging plot threads. This is understandable until the book doubles down on the issue with interludes that are completely unrelated to these events. Imagine reading three separate action scenes that have been left hanging for dramatic effect only to switch over to some war orphans on Naboo, or the awkward dinner of a family split between Empire and Alliance. While I enjoy the notion of learning more about post Jedi events, these sections only add to the troubles of a story that barely holds itself together as is.
What's more, only a few of these interludes are actually interesting. In one case that's a good thing as it's apparently the set-up for the second book in the trilogy. Another involving a black market deal to sell Darth Vader's lightsaber to a group of cultists is just cruel. I want more of this story, how did the saber get there? Who are the oddballs obsessed with a dead man's laser sword? It comes out of nowhere and leaves in a hurry.
And that's sort of the ebb and flow of this book. Plot threads are constantly put on hold, interesting concepts are teased only to suddenly be dropped, and the whole time the reader is struggling to care as the pacing doesn't allow for a smooth reading experience.

It's not all bad though. As I mentioned earlier, Rae Sloane continues to be a unique threat. Not altogether villainous so much as dedicated to her cause. The main cast also has the potential to become likable leads now that they've mostly sorted through dull emotional trauma and come together as a group.

As far as hints toward the greater Star Wars mythology there are two items of note. One is the revelation that during his reign, Emperor Palpatine sent out exploratory missions into uncharted space where he believed Sith power originated. One of the imperial officers suggests the remaining fleet head out and regroup there which seems likely to happen.
The other point of interest is a mysterious informant offering aid to the alliance. There's nothing much to go on currently but maybe we'll get lucky and find this to be an old foe returning to action or perhaps one of these threads leads to more info on Supreme Leader Snoke. A nerd can hope.

In the end this one is solely for dedicated Star Wars fans. It lacks the gripping narrative of Lost Stars, the fun of New Dawn, and the character interplay of Tarkin. For now, Aftermath rests firmly at the bottom of our power rankings which currently stand as:

  1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
  2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
  3. Tarkin by James Luceno
  4. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig



As you can see by the top photo, I've already got the next title lined up and waiting. I gotta tell you folks, it feels so great to be back simply working for the shelter, and having the time to catch up on writing, reading, watching, walking, just everything. The past three months of nonsense are over and it's time to make this year count for something. You'll be seeing a lot more of me soon with more articles here, elsewhere, and possibly some video content as well. Got lots to do, may the force be with us all.

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