Book Review: STAR WARS Aftermath Book 3: Empire’s End

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star wars aftermath 3

Chuck Wendig
Del Ray
2017

“HELLO. I AM ENJOYING THIS HUG, TOO. HUG HUG HUG. A HUG IS LIKE VIOLENCE MADE OF LOVE.”

  • As the final showdown between the New Republic and the Empire draws near, all eyes turn to a once-isolated planet: Jakku. The Battle of Endor shattered the Empire, scattering its remaining forces across the galaxy. But the months following the Rebellion’s victory have not been easy. The fledgling New Republic has suffered a devastating attack from the Imperial remnant, forcing the new democracy to escalate its hunt for the hidden enemy. For her role in the deadly ambush, grand Admiral Rae Sloane is the most wanted Imperial war criminal–and one-time rebel pilot Norra Wexley, back in service at Leia’s urgent request, is leading the hunt. But more than just loyalty to the New Republic drives Norra forward: Her husband was turned into a murderous pawn in Sloan’s assassination plot, and now she wants vengeance as much as justice. Sloane, too, is on a furious quest: pursuing the treacherous Gallius Rax to the barren planet Jakku. As the true mastermind behind the Empire’s devastating attack, Rax has led the Empire to its defining moment. The cunning strategist has gathered the powerful remnants of the Empire’s war machine, preparing to execute the late Emperor Palpatine’s final plan. as the Imperial fleet orbits Jakku, an armada of Republic fighters closes in to finish what began at Endor. Norra and her crew soar into the heart of an apocalyptic clash that will leave land and sky alike scorched. And the future of the galaxy will finally be decided.

We’re finally at the third book in the Aftermath Trilogy, and I would love nothing more than to blast through this and get it behind me, so I can move on to better things. Let’s get going, then.

After a prelude taking place on the second Death Star with Emperor Palpatine telling Rax to prepare for something called “the contingency”, we’re back with our merry band of Imperial hunters where they run a sting to nab another bounty hunter to question them about Grand Admiral Rae Sloane. After a bit of cajoling, it seems that the Grand Admiral and some other Imperial guy were last seen on some planet named Jakku, which I’m sure won’t be important to remember at some later point. Then we get some brief drama between Princess Leia and Han Solo about raising their unborn child and politics and other stuff that I’m sure someone will find interesting. Meanwhile, the Imperial Hunters arrive at Jakku, where they discover a large Imperial fleet orbiting the planet; Norra and Jas (the bounty hunter, in case you’re just reading these reviews) head to Jakku in an escape pod while the rest slap it into “B” for “Boogie” and split for Chandrila to alert the New Republic about what they found. Norra and Jas are captured by stormtroopers on the surface of Jakku, with Norra ensalved and Jas handed over to the local crime lord Niima the Hutt. Norra is rescued eventually by her son’s modified B1 battle droid Mister Bones, and they reunite with Jas. Meanwhile, the New Republic Senate is being all wishy-washy with approving an offensive against the Imperial forces at Jakku, which leads to a covert mission that discovers a couple of powerful criminal syndicates influencing the vote. So now, Mon Mothma has all the votes she needs, and the motion passes to head out to Jakku and kick some Imperial butt. So, now there’s a massive battle raging over Jakku between Imperial forces and the New Republc forces; Norra’s teenage son is piloting one of the X-Wings, things go boom and ‘splosions all around; Norra find her estranged husband Brentin, they learn of Admiral Gallius Rax’s grand master plan originally commissioned by Palpatine (referred to as his “Contingency” if he’s ever killed) to destroy Jakku completely, wiping out not only the Imperial fleet, but the entirety of the New Republic’s forces and plunge the galaxy into chaos. I have to say, that’s pretty ambitious, there. The plan was for Rax to survive and head out to the Unknown Regions with a select few Star Destroyers and create a new empire. But, he’s killed by none other than Grand Admiral Sloane, who has been feeling a tad bit betrayed by the very Empire that she has given her entire life to. Jakku’s destruction is stopped, Sloane becomes the new shepherd of Palpatine’s plans, Mothma escapes an assassination attempt, Brentin gives his life saving Norra’s (they just got back together, isn’t that just the way?), Leia gives birth to Ben Solo, and the Empire formally surrenders. Norra decides to be a flight instructor at Wedge Antilies’ brand new flight academy, where her son will be attending to train to be in the upcoming sequel trilogy. The End. Finally.

I began the Aftermath Trilogy like I normally do with other books I read and review; meaning, I wanted to like it. It was something new in a franchise that I may not be as emotionally invested in as some other friends of mine are, but still provided much enjoyment and a rich, satisfying kaleidoscope of stories that have been mined from. And while this series overall was an interesting take on how things played out after the Battle of Endor, did we really need three books? There seemed to be a lot of filler, some needless interludes that–okay, admittedly, maybe the bits involving the Dark Side Akalites may have something to do with a plot point in the recently reviled Rise Of Skywalker, but that wasn’t explained very well.

Like the other two in this trilogy, the strong points here are the action scenes, with the weak points being the parts where Chuck tries his darnedest to write poignant character drama, and comes up a bit short in doing so. Hack writing? Maybe. But, considering I’m something of a self-styled hack writer m’self, I wouldn’t know when that’s happening in the novels I tend to read.

Overall, as a way to try and tie in what happened after the events of The Return Of The Jedi and foreshadowing the events to happen in The Force Awakens, the Aftermath trilogy does an interesting job at doing that. Could it have been done more efficiently? Yes. Was Chuck the right man to do this? Well, let me put it this way: Chuck Wendig was definitely the right man to write the Disney version of Star Wars, that’s for certain. Make your own applications as to what I mean by that. Otherwise, the books were all right. They were Star Wars novels. Not necessarily the kind I know and…well, “love” is a strong word, but certainly the type I got to know the Star Wars extended universe with. Let’s just say this isn’t taking the place of the now-regulated Legends cannon any time soon.

Book Review: STAR WARS Aftermath Book 2: Life Debt

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star wars aftermath 2

Chuck Wendig
Del Ray
2016

“If there’s one mystical energy that powers the galaxy, it’s not the Force. It’s pure, unadulterated irony.”

  • The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. as the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee’s homeworld of Kashyyyk. Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and ore officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, ad Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance. Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon’s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between then and their missing comrades. But they can’t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

Here we are in the second book in the Aftermath trilogy of Star Wars new cannon. Obviously, I began reading it the moment the first book was done. I have to admit, it was less out of excitement to see what would happen next, and more out of obligation to see this trilogy through. Much like how I approached the Prequel Trilogy releases. So, let’s see what Life Debt has to offer this continuing adventure.

So, our motley crew formed at the end of the last novel is now employed by the New Republic to hunt down and bring in Imperial war criminals for trial. We open on one of those missions, where things don’t go exactly as planned, let’s just say. Regardless, after escaping capture and taking on some Hroth-beasts, they manage to capture their target and head back to the New Republic headquarters. Meanwhile, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is busy working propaganda for what’s left of the Empire, while Fleet Admiral Rax is working behind the scenes to get a Shadow Council set up to guide the Empire’s resurgence incognito. Back on the New Republic side, Princess Leia relays the news that, while trying to help liberate Kashyyyk from the Imperials, Chewbacca was captured and Han has been trying to locate him by himself since, because the whole promise of “help” from his fellow smugglers turned out to be A TRAP! Imagine that. Leia asks Norra to go find them, but they can’t be officially sanctioned by the New Republic to do so. After a reprimand, Norra resigns her Republic commission and goes off looking for Han herself, which leads to finding Han, then heading to Kashyyyk where the slaves and prisoners are being used as living batteries for power*. One of those prisoners happens to be Norra’s long-lost husband, and the father of their teenage son. After a rather interesting battle and scuffle, the prisoners are freed, and Nora flies off with her son, his comic relief killbot, and approximately 100 prisoners, back to the Republic. Flash forward a month later, and Norra is now working as a shuttle pilot for the Galactic Senate, and things haven’t exactly gone back to normal with her family, as things have changed between her and her husband (which may have something to do with that arbitrary blooming romance between her and Wedge Antillies). Things are looking up for the New Republic, however, as they’re about to parade the freed prisoners in a celebration, and have agreed to meet with Grand Admiral Sloane for potential peace talks. Norra’s son discovers that his formerly estranged dad is acting, really strange, especially after he’s locked in a storage pod and left for dead. Later, at the celebration, the prisoners being presented suddenly all start firing on the Republic officials, as they were set up as sleeper agents apparently. Nope, didn’t see that coming**. Anyway, chaos ensues, and the book ends by finally introducing the Obligatory Tie-In to The Force Awakens. To be continued.

Overall, this second book in the Aftermath trilogy is the same as the first, in that this works best when it gets to the action. The bit at the beginning where they’re trying to abduct the Imperial was particularly amusing, as was the battle to free the people being used as flesh batteries on the base on Kashyyyk. Like the last novel, there are several interludes where their a bit more interesting than the ones in Book 1, but not by much. And the parts where the story itself stops completely to focus on arbitrary drama between characters, like last time, shows the areas where Wendig’s writing is the weakest.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I read Life Debt more out of the need to finish up the trilogy, rather than out of overpowering interest in the overarching plot and stories. As I move on to the final book in the Aftermath trilogy, I do so with more of the same. Take that as you will.

[*Pedantic Fun Fact: the human body is notoriously insufficient to be used as a power source, despite what The Matrix tells us]

[**Sarcasm…I totally saw that coming]

Book Review: STAR WARS Aftermath Book 1

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star wars aftermath 1
Chuck Wendig
Del Ray
2015

The TIE wibbles and wobbles in the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrran rooftops–it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.

  • As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance–now a fledgling New Republic–presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akira, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antillies watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world–war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’ urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is–or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be. Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit–to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies–her technical genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector–who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

I’ve gone into detail about my history with reading the Expanded Universe Star Wars novels before, so I won’t bore you by going into detail about them here. Suffice to say, after the Disney acquisition of LucasFilm and all its intellectual properties, it’s taken me a number of years to start in on the new Official EU Cannon, as it were. Mostly because the guy who got me into reading the now-Legends Cannon books didn’t have a lot good to say about them. Eh, I have to check them out for myself, and I figured here was the best way to start.

One of the new novels written to help bridge the gap between Return Of The Jedi and the Force Awakens, and to explain what happened right after the former movie, is The Truce at Bakura Aftermath, the first book in a trilogy featuring four new main characters–a shell-shocked Rebel pilot, her angst-ridden mechanical genius son, a turncoat ex-Imperial Officer, and a mercenary bounty hunter–and an ambitious Imperial Admiral character that’s trying to fill the void left by the death of the Emperor and keep the splintered Empire together.

I’m not familiar with the other works by author Chuck Wendig outside of this and the other two Star Wars novels in this trilogy. From what I could glean from the interwebs, fandom seems quite divided on the books and the author himself: Reviews either loved or absolutely loathed Aftermath. My aforementioned friend from the first paragraph considers Wendig to be a hack writer, and has, shall we say, less than favorable thoughts on this book particularly.

Personally, I think that Aftermath is fine. Fine in the sense that it’s satisfactory. The narrative doesn’t exactly flow as smoothly as I would have liked–there are several brief interludes that touch on the effect the victory at Endor had to the rest of the Galaxy, which made me wonder if I should be keeping notes for future novels instead of keeping me invested in the main story. Did we really need them? Probably not. The two that I think were important to the overall story was the opening one, which takes place immediately after news of the death of Palpatine over Endor reached Coruscant and the ensuing riot that takes place, which highlights the fact that not everyone in the galaxy far, far away were unified about their sudden horrible, horrible freedom from the Empire. The other is the brief aside where Han and Chewie decide to say, “Screw it,” and go try to liberate Chewie’s home planet from the remaining Imperial occupation. That one ties into the next novel itself.

Overall, though, I would give Aftermath Book 1 a 2.5 out of 5, mainly because Wendig’s writing style is a bit ham-fisted, especially when he writing personal relationship scenes, and the dialogue gets a bit soap opera-ish. Especially when it involves a certain whiny 17-year-old boy genius, and the retrofitted killbot who loves him. Also, there’s not one, but two scenes where a main character manages to escape certain death by Deus Ex Machina that made me pause to shout “REALLY?!?” rather loudly and repeatedly. Otherwise, like the majority of the Star Wars novels I’ve read in the past, this is fine. You read it, then move on.

Book Review: COLD PRINT

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cold print
Ramsey Campbell
Tor Horror
1987

  • What grotesque abomination lurks in the abyss beneath the cold stone flooring of the church on High Street? What is the inhabitant of the lake…that putrid, pulsing monstrosity watching from the ebon depths of the stagnant water? What colossal midnight evil is unleashed from deep within the hillside by the moon lens?

Ramsey Campbell is one of the names in horror fiction that is easily one of the masters of the 20th Century boom, and should come right to mind with the likes of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch and Peter Straub. Sadly, not to many people I’ve talked to concerning matters of horror fiction have heard of him. Pity. This is an author that was given his own section in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.

As for myself, I’ve read a couple of handfuls of his short stories in the past, usually in collections and anthologies, like with The Monster Book of Zombies and 999 in the Book Review sections of this blog. It was high time that I begin rectifying the lack of Campbell on this blog, and what better way than with a collection of his own short stories based on the Lovecraft mythos from back in the day, entitled Cold Print.

After an introduction where Campbell recollects discovering his first H. P. Lovecraft book at the back of a sweet shop in his youth, which sparked his own interest in writing strange fantasy fiction, as well as his early attempt at imitating Lovecraft’s style (and the resulting criticism by August Derleth), we then go into the collection of short stories that were inspired by that chance discovery. These date from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Let’s go through them, shall we?

“The CHURCH IN HIGH STREET”
After receiving a telegram from a distraught friend, Richard Dodds visits the town of Temphill, where he discovers the terrible, horrible secret behind his friend’s disappearance…

“The ROOM IN THE CASTLE”
A researcher comes across a legend of an ancient demon-thing that resides in the hidden sub-cellar of a long-abandoned castle, and he decides to check it out himself to see if the legend is real…turns out, yeah…

“The HORROR FROM THE BRIDGE”
After a couple of generations, the son of a reclusive guy manages to finish up his late father’s hobby of trying to release the unspeakable horrific monsters that are trapped underneath the town bridge…

“The INSECTS FROM SHAGGAI”
A traveler investigates a bit of lore told to him at a hotel’s bar, about a mysterious large metal cone in the middle of the local forest, and the unfathomable horror that dwells within it…

“The RENDER OF THE VEILS”
A man follows an occultist he met in a taxi home one rainy night, and gets a crash-course in the entity known as Daoloth, the titular “render of the veils”…

“The INHABITANT OF THE LAKE”
An artist takes up residence in a secluded house by a lake that’s purportedly haunted, and is either slowly losing his mind, or there may actually be an other-worldly malicious entity that’s dwelling in the lake…

“The WILL OF STANLEY BROOKE”
Before his death, a miserly old man reworks his will to include his best friend that everyone never knew about before his death, and turns out to be a literal pale imitation of the man himself…

“The MOON-LENS”
Late one night, a medical doctor receives a visit from someone who is requesting euthanasia. He then tells him the tale of the literal life-changing trip that lead to his decision to end his life…

“BEFORE THE STORM”
A gentleman who is clearly suffering from some mind-bending feverish ailment stumbles into a tax building before literally falling apart…

“COLD PRINT”
One cold, wintry afternoon, a bibliophile on a quest to find books at out-of-the-way shops, comes across a special rare tome that the shop owner will let him have, provided he agrees to become his new priest of his mad cult…

“AMONG THE PICTURES ARE THESE:”
Here, Ramsey Campbell describes in detail a bunch of drawings he did in several notebooks back in the day that he once came across while cleaning…it’s interesting, to say the least…

“The TUGGING”
A newspaper reporter has been following reports of a small rogue planet that has entered the solar system, and suspects it might have something to do with the dreams he’s been experiencing, dreams he once had as a child…and shared with by his father…

“The FACES AT PINE DUNES”
In the wooded area near the RV park which a restless teenager calls home, something horrible, as something out of an LSD-fueled nightmare dwells; something that calls his parents out until the wee hours of the morning; something his new girlfriend wants to see…

“BLACKED OUT”
A man on holiday in a small German town discovers that the locals are a bit odd…especially that one knockout blonde that is leading him to the dilapidated church to be discovered by an ancient thing…

“The VOICE OF THE BEACH”
A writer that is dwelling at a bungalow by the beach is visited by a friend, and they both begin to succumb to the horrible, mind-bending secret of the beach itself after happening upon the journals of someone who once lived in a nearby forgotten ghost town…

Overall, I found this collection to be fairly interesting. Rather than just reuse the famous fictional deities that Lovecraft originally came up with, Campbell adeptly created some of his own original nightmare fuel, with the likes of Gla’aki (“The Inhabitant of the Lake”, the multi-volume grimoire Revelations of Glaaki, mentioned in various of the stories, much like H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon), Eihort (“Cold Print”, “Before The Storm”), Daoloth (“The Render of the Veils”), and the particularly nasty-looking Y’golonac (“The Faces at Pine Dunes”). My favorite tales from this collection were “The Insects from Shaggai”, “The Render of the Veils”, “The Moon-Lens” (which has a strong “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel to it), “Before The Storm” (madness from the point of view of the one going insane intrigues me), and “The Tugging” (the concept of rogue planets also intrigues me, what can I say?). For a bunch of tales rooted firmly in the playground that Lovecraft built, this is one of the better collections. The drawback here is that, as is usual with stories that play in the mythos, some of these follow a rather predictable formula that, if you’re up on your Lovecraft, is familiar enough to follow in your sleep. But, perhaps that’s the point of these kind of stories. Anyway, for someone whose extra-Lovecraft readings have been of this and Brian Lumley, and believe me I’m looking to expand upon the bibliographies of other luminaries in the mythos, I would rank Campbell to be the better writer. That’s no slight to Lumley, either. Recommended for lovers of both Lovecraft and good spooky nightmare fuel.

Book Review: The HOUSE NEXT DOOR

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house next door
Darcy Coats
Black Owl Books PTY LTD
2017

  • I live next to a haunted house. I began to suspect something was wrong with the gothic building when its family fled in the middle of the night, the children screaming, the mother crying. They never came back to pack up their furniture. No family stays long. Animals avoid the place. Once, I thought I saw a woman’s silhouette pacing through the upstairs room… but that seems impossible; no one was living there at the time. A new occupant, Anna, has just moved in. I paid her a visit to warn her about the building. I didn’t expect us to become friends, but we did. And now that Marwick House is waking up, she’s asked me to stay with her. I never intended to become involved with the building or its vengeful, dead inhabitant. But now I have to save Anna… before it’s too late for the both of us.

Okay, so, here’s what happened: I had the majority of this damned review all typed out and put together and saved as a draft on this here blog of mine, so I can access it on pretty much anything that I can get access to the internet on (especially when I’m editing and writing during the down-time at work, when I do a lot of my non-journal specific writing). I had a pretty good opening paragraph on how I came across this particular book during my initial book purchasing frenzy on my then newly-acquired Kindle for only $99, and gave it a shot despite having never heard of the author before. I even did the whole research thing and included stuff from her website and her publishing history.

But then, for whatever reason, WordPress decided to wipe out my entire draft of the post, leaving an empty void where once was brilliant (in my mind) brain droppings on a thing. I was livid. I was fuming. I put on The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails and screamed in the darkness. Then my boss asked me to stop freaking out my co-workers and get over myself. So I did, and this is now what you’re getting in this review of The House Next Door by Darcy Coats.

What we got with The House Next Door is a nice, darkly atmospheric Gothic ghost story, involving a haunted house with a ghost that is definitely not very happy when warm bodies try to occupy and share the place. Living next door to the house is longtime resident Jo, who has, through the years, witnessed many families movie into the house, only to move out almost immediately, sometimes without even packing their things up, and in the dead of night. She has witnessed and heard things going on at the house when it stands empty: Lights turn on and off, doors open and bang shut, birds tend to fly into the outside walls of the house and kill themselves. Standard haunted house stuff. Then, one day, a woman named Anna moves in, someone Jo feels is a bit delicate to be moving into a house with an angry spirit, and so she bakes a cake and goes over to meet the new neighbor. They bond, and it turns out that, not only does Anna know about the ghost of the house, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She has a small home business restoring old dolls and selling them. Oh, and also she’s on the run and hiding from her very violently abusive ex, so there’s that. Things start coming to a head, though, and soon Jo needs to decide whether she cares about Anna enough to get her out and to safety from everything, or to mind her own business and not get involved like with the other former residents. The ghost of the house would prefer the later.

Overall, The House Next Door was a pretty decent and straight-forward Gothic-style ghost story, something that really does pack a lot of atmosphere and tension in its short 282-page run time (give or take the usual Kindle end promotional stuff to scroll through). This is definitely has tones of Shirley Jackson and M. R. James in the mix. I’m not disappointed by checking this one out, and at the price it was about right. I’m told that The House Next Door isn’t her best novel, but from what I read, this was a pretty good introduction to Darcy Coats’ work. Recommended.

Book Review: DOCTOR WHO: The Pirate Planet

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doctor who the pirate planet

James Goss
BBC Books
2017

There is a joy to taking one’s first steps onto a new planet. How it looks, how it smells, the general planety feel of the planet, the pleasingly imminent threat level. These were all things the Doctor tried to calculate on the threshold of his ship by the beloved scientific formula of throwing open the door and having a gander.

  • The hugely powerful Key to Time has been split into six segments, all of which have been disguised and hidden throughout time and space. Now the even more powerful White Guardian wants the Doctor to find the pieces. With the first segment successfully retrieved, the Doctor, Romana and K-9 trace the second segment of the Key to the planet Calufrax. But when they arrive at exactly the right point in space, they find themselves on exactly the wrong planet — Zanak. Ruled by the mysterious ‘Captain’, Zanak is a happy and prosperous planet. Mostly. If the mines run out of valuable minerals and gems then the Captain merely announces a New Golden Age and they fill up again. It’s an economic miracle–so obviously something’s very wrong.

With the publication of The Pirate Planet, all three Doctor Who serials that Douglas Adams had a hand in have now been given an official novelization. My collection is complete. I just wrote that with a Darth Vader voice.

Anyway, The Pirate Planet was originally the second serial in the 16th season of the original run of Doctor Who, which went under the umbrella title The Key to Time. This was where the Fourth Doctor was enlisted by the White Guardian to find all six pieces to what was the titular McGuffin, a cosmic artifact that, when fully assembled, looked like a crystal cube and maintained the equilibrium of the universe. Douglas Adams wrote the script for the second serial, but–like with City Of Death–was never given the official Target Books adaptation due to disagreements with the author. It was covered in the City of Death review, in case you need a refresher. But, also like with City of Death, The Pirate Planet was finally given an official novelization written by James Goss, who did a bonnie job with the previous adaptation. And, almost like it’s a time-honored tradition, I’ve managed to read this novelization long before watching the original televised episodes that it’s based on.

On with the plot, then: The Doctor and Romana, on the search for the second piece to the Key to Time, land on what they think is the planet Calufrax, but are a bit confused when, considering Calufrax is normally cold, boring and–most importantly–not populated with people, the planet turns out to be anything but. As a matter of fact, not only is there an abundance of people and communities, but sometimes precious gems rain from the sky onto the populous. They then meet a mysterious bunch of psychic-like people called the Mentiads, and then they meet the Captain, the planet’s leader and benefactor. Turns out, the Doctor and Romana happen to be on a hollowed out planet named Zanak, which is rigged to materialize around other planets for the purpose of plundering all of their resources. The TARDIS just happened to materialize on Calufrax at the same time that Zanak did. So then, the Captain decides his next target would be Earth (because of course it would be), meanwhile the Doctor discovers that the real menace behind the Captain and his Death Star Pirate Planet is Queen Xanxia, an ancient tyrant and immortality enthusiast, currently frozen in a Time Dam to stave off death and using the resources pirated by the planet to gain immortality. A younger version of her is projected by way of a solid 3D device (predating the Holodeck’s hard photon projections in Star Trek TNG…neat-o) and poses as the Captain’s nurse. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Metiads seem to have their psychic abilities strengthened by the destruction of entire worlds, along with a strong sense of malaise over all the people dying as a result, so they and the Doctor work to stop Zanak from materializing around Earth, and destroying the engines and stopping the queen once and for all. Oh, and it turns out that Calufrax wasn’t really a planet after all, but the disguised form of the second piece of the McGuffin of Time.

As with reading anything that was even remotely inspired by the plump, succulent brain of Douglas Adams, the story to The Pirate Planet manages to take several random acts of nonsense and craft a bloody good yarn in the process. I envy not what James Goss had to do, with taking what was essentially a teleplay and expand on that into an actual science fiction novel that emulated the style and feel that Adams was famous for. And I do believe he managed to capture this for the second time in a row. The story was complex yet fun, the dialogue was snappy and witty, and I came away rather satisfied with the tale. Which is what a good sci-fi novel–or any novel, for that matter–is supposed to do. I did, however, have a habit of picturing the Lalla Ward iteration of Romana when she was in the story, rather than the Mary Tamm version that was being used for the original run of the televised version, but that has to do with not having known any other kind of Romana in my watchings of the classic episodes. I really need to rectify that some time.

Overall, The Pirate Planet is a fine Doctor Who story, and it’s about time we have a good novelized edition of the thing. Recommended highly.

Book Review: HONESTLY: My Life and Stryper Revealed

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honestly my life and stryper

Michael Sweet
Big3 Records
2014

  • “Honestly” coincides with the release of Michael’s log awaited solo album “I’m Not Your Suicide”. Michael Sweet, in this – his first autobiography – chronicles his life as the founding member, songwriter, singer, and guitarist of the pioneering Christian rock band Stryper. The first Christian rock band to see chart-topping success on MTV, Stryper went on to see over 10 million albums and has sold out arenas all over the world. Sweet gives and honest an moving account of the unexpected highs and lows throughout his tumultuous path to success. It’s especially fitting to find the intensely personal nature of these musical expressions supplementing the vastly thorough and revealing subject matter of the book Honestly, titled ever so poignantly after the chart-topping Stryper song of the same name. Not only does Sweet delve further into his rarely discussed youth, but offers a full array of rock n’ roll antidotes, plus several surprises from his family and faith journeys.

I, like many others I would presume, first discovered Stryper by way of the Top 40 station I listened to back in 1987. They were doing the nightly “Top 10 At 10”, and their song “Honestly” debuted that night. I remember not being too into it (it was, after all, a ballad, hair metal power ballad or not), but did think the lady singing had a pretty voice. Obviously, later on I discovered my faux pas, as well as really getting into Stryper after obtaining a copy of the album that song appeared on, To Hell With The Devil, a year or so later.

What I’m trying to say here, is that I’m a massive Stryper fan. Sure, I hopped on with what many will argue is their peak album; but, I’ve stuck with them through the dark times, through the breakup and consequent dry period, up to the reunion at the Stryper Expo, through being at their set at Cornerstone (I didn’t make it to the stage, that place was packed out…I did manage to hear some of their songs from the distance, though), to their first album release in over a decade, to their show in Omaha back in 2016 for the anniversary tour for the album that got me into them in the first place, to now.

So, you would think that I would have immediately devoured the autobiography / memoir of the band’s singer / guitarist / founding member Michael Sweet the moment it was published and released. And I would have…only, at the time I didn’t have a Kindle account, and my reading cue was already pretty impressive. Really, reading this only five years after the fact isn’t that much of a stretch considering my reading habits. Which is ravenous.

Anyway, Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed is the autobiography of Michael Sweet. Pretty obvious, but I needed some way to segue into the review of this book. Within the pages, he relates his early days growing up in California and his early forays into music along with his brother Robert, playing gigs in High School, paying the dues with Roxx Regime on the Sunset Strip in the 80s, and finally leading up to the formation of Stryper and the ups and downs of the initial success, his leaving the band in the early 90s, his solo career, and what lead up to the unexpected revival of Stryper in the new millennium. All of this is presented from his point of view, his thoughts on what happened, along with some surprising tidbits and amusing anecdotes along the way. For instance, apparently the day they were at the Enigma Records offices to get signed, the staff there was celebrating Aleister Crowley’s birthday. I’m surprised this is never brought up by those anti-Christian rock crusaders I’ve come across in the ensuing decades.

Overall: Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed was a fascinating journey through the eyes of Michael Sweet. There was information in there that I didn’t know about, and I pride myself in being a thorough Rock+Metal-ologist. But, that’s what a good memoir is supposed to do. Mind you, it’s been a few years since this was released, and a lot more has happened since the events ending the book, so maybe there will be an updated edition some time in the future. Until then, this is recommended.

Book Review: The GHOST FILES

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ghost files 1
Apryl Baker
Limitless Publishing
2013

  • Cherry blossom lipstick: check. Smokey eyes: check. Skinny jeans: check. Dead kid in the mirror: check. For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too. Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister… Sally. Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance. Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim… Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

The second e-book I read from the cluster of free Kindle horror books I downloaded (as mentioned in my article for The House Next Door), The Ghost Files was one of those books that, in hindsight, was probably not intended for my particular reading demographic. But, it was free. So I read it. And thus, I am reviewing it.

As with the other authors in the Kindle Kluster (see what I did there?), I was unfamiliar with Apryl Baker. Her biography at the end of this book–as well as on her blog–doesn’t really inform much, and kind of goes for the Lisa Frank style of whimsical fluff, but in word form. Yep. Modern Young Adult author. A peak at her entry at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database shows she’s been publishing since 2011, with the Ghost Files series starting up in 2013 and already five-ish volumes in.

Let’s take a look at the first book in that series: The Ghost Files.

In this first outing, we meet 16-year-old Mattie Hathaway, a foster child who is getting ready for a party. Within the first few paragraphs, we’re clued in to the fact that Mattie can see ghosts, as one appears behind her in the mirror she’s grooming in. Apparently, Mattie’s been able to do this since she was a young child–5, as a matter of fact–so she just ignores the specter and heads off with her boyfriend to the party. But then, after encountering the ghost of her foster sister–who was alive and talking with here not even an hour or so beforehand–she’s shocked to learn that there might be a serial killer targeting foster children. Getting some help from the dreamy 20-something policeman and the ghosts of the victims, she’s getting close to figuring out who the killer is…and she’s not going to like the answer to that mystery, or even survive…

For a YA novel, the story with The Ghost Files wasn’t all that bad. Mind you, it had its flaws: while not necessarily a full-blown Mary Sue character, it does seem that all the boys wanna git wit’ sweet Mattie. This includes the 20-year-old policeman who more or less declares his love for, I have to point this out, this 16-year-old girl. A girl who, when she’s not going on with the mystery and the trials and tribulations of a foster child, actually stops the narrative to fawn over the hot guys she comes across. She even gets the hots for a ghost of a boy. Again, I realize I may not be the demographic for this genre (even back when I was the right age for this type of book, I was cutting my horror fiction teeth on Stephen King and Clive Barker, so I may have a bit more of a disadvantage), but it seems more than a bit arbitrary, really.

On the plus side, though, once we get past the fact that I more or less guessed the big twist reveal before I finished the fist chapter, The Ghost Files does manage to end on a satisfactory note. Sure, there was the obvious sequel bait (this is an ongoing series, after all), but at least the ending didn’t tie everything up in a nice neat package where everything works out in the end. Mattie is a tragic hero, here.

Overall: While there were points where I found myself rolling my eyes at the parts that were clearly not written for my particular demographic, this first volume of The Ghosts Files held my attention with a pretty good supernatural mystery that had some spine-chilling moments. It did prompt me to get a few more volumes in the series when the chance presented itself. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW

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from a certain point of view

  • In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope, this collection features Star Wars stories by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from Star Wars literary history. More than forty authors have lent their unique vision to forty “scenes”, each retelling a different moment from the original Star Wars film, but with a twist: Every scene is told from the point of view of a background character. Whether it’s the X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star or the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View places the classic movie in a whole new perspective, and celebrates the influence and legacy of the unparalleled cultural phenomenon, Star Wars.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Star Wars book reviews, I started reading the expanded universe novels around 2001, on the insistence of my friend Nex. This was long before Disney bought out Lucasfilm and Star Wars, rendering the novels to be what I like to call “professional fan-fic”, aka Star Wars Legends. Personally, my favorite ones that I liked to read were the three that contained short stories from the point of view of the peripheral characters: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jaba’s Palace. I’ve always been intrigued by what the minor characters you see in movies, experiencing what’s going on, were thinking or doing that lead up to that moment. These books really scratched that imaginative itch I had.

Of course, now that those have been regulated into the Legends category, it was a wait to see if anything like those books would appear in the new official Disney canon. Lo and behold, in 2017 there was published the anthology From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories that were written by several authors, based on certain peripheral characters that were in the background of everything going on during the run of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. This was released in conjunction with the movie’s 40th anniversary since its release back in 1977, and since it features 40 stories (one for each year, I presume), I need to stop yammering on and get to the stories contained within this tome. Shall we? We shall…

“Raymus” (Gary Witta)
It’s the story of Raymus Antilles, the captain of the Tantive IV, taking place from essentially the tail end of Rogue One, when they launch out of the Star Cruiser Profundity, to when he’s choked to death by Darth Vader after their capture over Tatooine. Basically, this bridges the small gap between the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope…

“The Bucket” (Christie Golden)
This one deals with Stormtrooper TK-4601, who is the one who manages to nab Princess Leia on the Tantive IV, right after she sticks those Death Star plans into some random astromech droid that I’m sure has no bearing on the overall saga whatsoever. Oh, and the “bucket” in question refers to the stormtrooper helmets. You’re welcome…

“The Sith of Datawork” (Ken Liu)
A brief yet amusing look at the bureaucratic side of the Galactic Empire, specifically the paperwork involved for a certain gunnery captain that ordered his subordinates not to fire upon some escape pod that didn’t have any life signs…

“Stories in the Sand” (Griffin McElroy)
Here, we have a story about a Jawa named Jot who likes to hide in his secret space on the clan’s sandcrawler and watch the “stories” taken from the memory cores of the droids they find before they’re wiped for resale. Then one day, he happens upon the memory core of a recently acquired R2 unit, which shows him clips from the Prequel Trilogy, among other things…

“Reirin” (Sabaa Tahir)
A young female Tusken Raider outcast wants to leave Tatooine (couldn’t imagine why), so she’s tasked with finding a shiny stone held within the Jawa sandcrawler that happens to be selling a couple of droids to a moisture farmer and his plucky nephew…

“The Red One” (Rae Carson)
That’s right, there’s a story about the R5-D4 unit that was the Owen’s first pick from the Jawa’s swap meet. This goes into things a bit into detail as to why it fritzed out like it did…

“Rites” (John Jackson Miller)
Hey, you remember the part in A New Hope, with the Tusken Raiders who ambush Luke while he’s trying to find R2? This is a story about those guys. This one has a bit which alludes to the part in Attack Of The Clones, where Anakin slaughters a camp of Tuskens for killing his mother. Continuity, yay.

“Master and Apprentice” (Claudia Gray)
An existential bit of a discussion between Obi-Wan and the force ghost of his old master, Qui-Gon, during that part where Luke goes back to find his aunt and uncle kind of sort of not well…

“Beru Whitesun Lars” (Meg Cabot)
This is a short but rather interesting story narrated by the title character, Luke’s Aunt Beru, all about raising Luke and her thoughts on that. Given the ending of the story, it does raise more questions, here…

“The Luckless Rodian” (Renee Ahdieh)
Of course, there’s going to be a story about Greedo, the green-skinned bounty hunter that NEVER SHOT BECAUSE HAN SHOT AND THAT WAS IT…sorry. Deep breaths, here. Anyway, this is what led up to that confrontation, and it appears there was a woman involved that horked Greedo off in the first place…

“Not for Nothing” (Mur Lafferty)
Presented as a chapter from a book of memoirs by one of the members of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (that band in the cantina that plays a style of music that elicits giggles by myself immature man-boys when spoken of), this sheds a bit of light as to why a band comprised of Bith (a species with pink sensitive skin and big, lidless eyes that are unable to secrete tears) would be on a planet like Tatooine in the first place…

“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” (Chuck Wendig)
Now we take a look at the cantina bartender Wuher, who is grumpy but affable, going about his day trying not get involved with everything going down around him. Which includes the arrival of some farm kid and an old guy in robes with a couple of darn droids on the day that his droid detector is not working properly…

“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” (Kelly Sue DeConnick / Matt Fraction)
Kind of a wacky story involving Muftak and Kabe, the two aliens that…well, Google ’em, you’ll know them when you see the images. Anyway, this involves a sought-after Bith instrument, where the rent monies went to, and various other instances involving Greedo that demonstrates that the continuity between the stories are a bit off…

“Added Muscle” (Paul Dini)
And here we have a bit of a Boba Fett inner monologue involving that Special Edition scene where Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo in Docking Bay 94 with a bunch of other bounty hunters to collect on Solo’s debt. This one was written by long-time television writer Paul Dini, and let’s just say he doesn’t really nail Boba Fett at all. He sounds more like Lobo, from the Superman: The Animated Series which he has worked on. Really could have used K. W. Jeter handling Fett…

“You Owe Me a Ride” (Zoraida Cordova)
This one is about the Tonnika sisters, the two females that were seen maybe a split-second in the movie. Here, they head off to Jabba’s palace for a job, then decide to steal the Millennium Falcon to get off planet and…do stuff. Things don’t go as planned, obviously…

“The Secrets of Long Snoot” (Delilah S. Dawson)
This one’s about that steampunk clad snitch Garindan ezz Zavor, who lead the stormtroopers to Docking Bay 94. Goes a bit into why he was on Tatooine, and how he was trying to get back home…ah, who cares? He ratted out our heroes, guys…

“Born in the Storm” (Daniel Jose Older)
A rather amusing story told in the form of an Imperial Incident Report form, from one of the stormtroopers that happened to be in the group that were on Tatooine searching for a couple of droids…

“Laina” (Wil Wheaton)
Yes, that Wil Wheaton. Here, he pens a story about a rebel soldier on Yavin IV videotaping a message to his 2-year-old daughter, whom he’s about to send away with a couple of aunts off-world for safty’s sake. This one had me shouting, “THAT WAS MY JOKE GUESS, YOU BASTARD!” at the end…

“Fully Operational” (Beth Revis)
Here we have a story taking place shortly before and during that meeting on the Death Star where Tarkin informs everyone that the Senate was disolved and that chokey-chokey thing happened between Vader and an Admiral. This is from the point of view of General Tagge, not the guy getting choked, but the one who was concerned about the Rebels finding a weak point in the Death Star from the stolen plans. Interesting bit, here…

“An Incident Report” (Mallory Ortberg)
Taking place directly after the previous story, this is the rather angry incident report filled out by the guy who was force-choked by Vader, one Admiral Motti, Chief of the Imperial Navy. He doesn’t seem too happy about the incident, it seems…

“Change of Heart” (Elizabeth Wein)
This is from the point of view of…um, Unidentified Imperial Navy Trooper, who was the guard of Princess Leia while she was prisoner on the Death Star, and was present at her interigation by the hands of Vader, and on the bridge when Alderaan got blow’ed up…

“Eclipse” (Madeleine Roux)
Things are getting rather dark, as now, right after the previous story, we have one about Leia’s adoptive mother, Breha Organa of Alderaan, experiencing her final hour or so on the planet before getting blow’ed up…

[It’s right around here, where I had to pause and look at pictures of kittens for about ten minutes before continuing on with the book]

“Verge of Greatness” (Pablo Hidalgo)
Didn’t think we would skip a story featuring our favorite galactic despot, Grand Moff Tarkin, did we? Here, we get a glimpse of his black, icy soul as he contemplates the power of the Death Star, his acquisition of said Death Star, the destruction of Scarif and thoughts on Director Krennic, all while preparing to take out the rebellion once and for all…

“Far too Remote” (Jeffrey Brown)
This is a single panel comic involving stormtroopers and an Imperial officer (turns out it was General Tagge) searching out Dantooine for that rebel base…

“The Trigger” (Kieron Gillen)
Okay, so, here we have a story involving one Chelli Lona Aphra. As someone whose fandom of Star Wars only covers the movies, a handful of cannon novels, and The Mandalorian series, I had to look up this character. Seems that Aphra is a scavenger that is mentioned in a lot of comic book stories, and apparently appears here because it involves the obligatory search of Dantooine by Imperials, and her running into them while scavenging the abandoned Rebel base. Decent story, though…

“Of MSE-6 and Men” (Glen Weldon)
And here we have a story told from the point of view of the MSE-6 repair droid aboard the Death Star, some time before the destruction of the base above Yavin IV. You know, that thing on the wheels that skittered away freaked out by Chewbacca? That’s the one. Only, the majority of the story concerns the hook-up between a stormtrooper and an Imperial officer, as told by way of the recorded information stored within the droid. Like an episode of Queer As Folk in space…

“Bump” (Ben Acker / Ben Blacker)
Now we have a story about that one Stormtrooper that famously bumped his head on the threshold of the control room where C-3PO and R2-D2 are hiding out in the Death Star. You know the one. This is a story about what happened leading up to that moment, and what happened directly after…

“End of Watch” (Adam Christopher)
This is a story about an administrative Imperial officer in charge of the Death Star’s Station Control West, who is about to get off of duty for the night, when wouldn’t ‘cha now it, there’s an unscheduled arrival of some old YT-1300 light freighter named the Millennial Falcon messing up the traffic…

“The Baptist” (Nnedi Okorafor)
Hey, do you remember that eye-stalk that pokes out of the fetid water of the trash compactor, conjoined to that thing that drags Luke down into the water with it? Presumably to eat him? This is the story of that creature. Turns out it’s a “her”, her name is “Omi”, and she wasn’t planning on eating him after all, really…

“Time of Death” (Cavan Scott)
Finally we have a story about Obi-Wan Kenobi, told from his point of view…just after he’s killed by Darth Vader. Buncha flashbacks in this interesting story, which features a 3-year-old Luke Skywalker at one point…

“There Is Another” (Gary D. Schmidt)
Hey, a story involving Master Yoda. Who wasn’t a part of A New Hope. Eh, whatever. Here, he’s getting ready to plant some seeds for food, takes on some Imperial probe droids, and senses the death of Obi-Wan. It also seems Yoda would rather train Leia rather than Luke as a Jedi, as Obi’s force ghost tries to convince him otherwise. Also, there’s a cooking pot…

“Palpatine” (Ian Doescher)
Okay, so, this one was written by the guy who has written the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars book series, so this story is also written in iambic pentameter. And, true to the title, this one is from the point of view of Emperor Palpatine, after hearing news of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader. He goes from gloating, to worry about other Jedi that may have slipped the Jedi Purge, right back to gloating again…

“Sparks” (Paul S. Kemp)
This one focuses on Dex Tiree, one of the pilots in Gold Squadron, and his thoughts on things as he goes through the briefing on the Death Star schematics, and his favorite R5 unit nicknamed “Sparks”, going on the run on the Death Star…kind of ends on a downer, this one…

“Duty Roster” (Jason Fry)
And here we have a story from one of the other starfighter pilots that didn’t partake of the run on the Death Star due to some anger issues, mostly due to the Empire ravaging his home world, but also having the nickname of “Fake Wedge”…

“Desert Son” (Pierce Brown)
A story told from the point of view of Biggs Darklighter, Luke’s friend from Tatooine. This focuses mainly on his perspective of the trench run on the Death Star, and what’s going through Bigg’s head, up until it was his windshield…

“Grounded” (Greg Rucka)
Here’s something from a mechanic on the Rebel base on Yavin 4, named Nera Kase. We get a look at the situation and tension at the base as the battle of Yavin takes place over the radio broadcast, and the weight that the deaths have on the ground crew…

[again, I had to pause to look at kitties…man, this is taking more out of me than expected…]

“Contingency Plan” (Alexander Freed)
And now, a story of Mon Mothma, another character that didn’t appear in A New Hope. Anyway, in this story, it’s explained why she was absent during the Battle of Yavin, and delves into the inner turmoil she was experiencing after Alderaan was destroyed. It gets kinda dark, this one does…

“The Angle” (Charles Soule)
Another story involving a beloved character that didn’t really appear until one of the later movies. This one involves Lando Calrissian, having a friendly game of Klikklak interrupted by an Imperial officer and a handful of stormtroopers, and then witnessing a holovid of the Empire’s Death Star being blow’ed up with the help of his former ship, the Millennial Falcon…

“By Whatever Sun” (E. K. Johnson / Ashely Eckstein)
The penultimate story in the collection (I just wanted to write the word “penultimate”), and it’s another one featuring a periferal character that originated outside the movie proper: Captain Miara Larte, one of the few survivors of Alderaan, along with her crew are standing front-and-center of the celebration at the end of the movie. We get a glimpse of what’s going through her head as she witnesses Leia awarding medals to Luke and Han, totally snubbing the Wookiee…

“Whills” (Tom Angleberger)
And finally, we have a very brief, but utterly amusing story dedicated to the unseen Whills of Star Wars legend that watches and chronicles the epic sprawling story of Star Wars, explaining where we get the opening crawl, and also where we got the Star Wars Holiday Special…

Well, now. This was quite the trip. For the most part, the stories here managed to take something about the movie that didn’t seem important to the overall story, and make it far more interesting than it should have been. The handful of nit-picks that I have concern the stories that involved Greedo in one way shape or form, as they didn’t necessarily jive with the continuity with each other. With the ones that took place in Mos Eisley, I had to remember these weren’t part of the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina book, and thus didn’t share the same explanation of who and what the characters’ motivations were. Some stories resonated more for me than others, but I’m not really going to go into detail about those, mainly because these are subjective, and I’ve already gone a bit long with the review of this.

Overall: I’ve only read a small handful of what you would call the “New Canon” of Star Wars books, From A Certain Point of View included. I liked this collection. It told entertaining bite-sized stories from a galaxy far, far away, as expected. Also, none of the authors got paid to do this; they all agreed to have the proceeds go to a reading charity. So, for those of you who like that warm fuzzy self-righteous feeling to go with your rank consumerism, there you go. Recommended.

Book Review: TOXIC FAITH Experiencing Healing From Painful Spiritual Abuse

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toxic faith
Stephen Arterburn / Jack Felton
Shaw Books
1991 / 2001

People in pain have enough problems without some well-meaning folks trying to short-circuit the grief process by declaring that everything is a good event sent from God.

  • When religion becomes a means to avoid or control life, it becomes toxic. Those who possess a toxic faith have stepped across the line from a balanced perspective of God to an unbalanced faith in a weak, powerless or uncaring God. They seek a God to fix every mess, prevent every hurt, and mend every conflict. Toxic Faith distinguishes between a healthy faith and a misguided religiosity that traps believers in an addictive practice of religion. It shows how unbalanced ministries, misguided churches, and unscrupulous leaders can lead their followers away from God and into a desolate experience of religion that drives many to despair. Toxic Faith shows readers how to find hope for a return to genuine, healthy faith that can add meaning to life. In the words of the author, “I want to help you throw out that toxic faith and bring you back to the real thing.”

In my 30+ years of following Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it would be safe to say that I’ve experienced my fair share of spiritual abuse at the hands of other professing believers in the faith. And I’m not starting this off by playing some kind of sympathetic victim card, here: Looking back, there were many times when I was the one doing the abusing, as well as being the recipient of the abuse as well. You point an accusing finger at someone, and there are three fingers pointed right back at you from the same hand, and all that. While the thumb is looking down, like its embarrassed, or saw something shiny on the ground, or something.

Anyway, the topic of spiritual abuse from churches and church leaders, and the healing from said abuse, has been one of the top issues I’ve found myself working with in the past few years. I’m no psychologist, and any and all of my learning about anything has been completely from a layman’s perspective (extracurricular, if you will). I won’t go into the details; let’s just say that, church splits suck, and there’s always more rot dwelling beneath the thinly whitewashed surface that comes to light, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. To which books like Toxic Faith has proved itself extremely valuable in the journey of healing and growth from something as traumatic as spiritual abuse.

Originally published in 1991, and co-authored by Stephen Arterburn–the founder of New Life Ministries and a noted psychologist–and Jack Felton–a licensed therapist and ordained minister at New Hope Christian Counseling Center and founder of Compassion Move Ministries–Toxic Faith really dives into the psychology behind why some leaders abuse their spiritual authority, why the victims never really recognize what’s happening to them, some of the tricks used to maintain that power, and most importantly how to break the chains of abuse and heal from it, going beyond offering empty platitudes and Christian-isms. All the while, they contrast church abuse with the Bible’s many examples of true spirituality and leadership, and really challenges the reader to examine their own motives in light of Scripture, calling anyone who is perpetrating the abuse to repent, submit to Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit heal and restore.

Toxic Faith is one of those books that I have to recommend everyone to read, not just the ones that are in spiritually abusive church situations. The stories and examples here really hit home for me, not just as a victim, but also being something of an abusive type back in the day. I’m not proud of it, but it’s something that the Holy Spirit is constantly working on to this day. In the end, we need something like this to not only shine light on our deeds, but also stick a mirror in front of all of us, whether or not we like what we see staring back at us. Highly recommended.

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