Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Welcome to the Dark Side of the Force...

I finally finished up _Tempest_ by Troy Denning, third in the Legacy of the Force novel series in the ever-popular Star Wars line. Here we have the story of a powerful young Jedi, strong in the force, slowly descending to the Dark Side because he is convinced he can use it to protect the Universe from those it would harm...

Wait, sound familiar? In a lot of ways this is a retelling of Eps. 1-3; the names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not so innocent, as the case may be).

With genre fiction, one needs to read these books with the same level of conviction one would when watching a popcorn movie at the movie theater. While finishing up this book, I went and saw the new Fantastic Four movie, and the parallels here are very appropriate. The movie was fun, entertaining, and a good way to blow 2 hours of my life (in a way that does NOT want me to get them back). If you go to see the new Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer with the idea of gaining some sort of existential insight into the meaning of humanity or the condition of life, you may be disappointed (but then, perhaps it is there and I'm just not being observant enough?). The same thing with this book: Tempest is a fun romp with a lot of the elements we look for in Star Wars: the struggle between Good and Evil, those that walk the line, and space battles. Oh, and some cool lightsaber action thrown into the mix.

Ultimately, this series needs to develop a bit more before any conclusions can be made. At this point, it is like watching the first half-hour of Empire Strikes Back, and the Big Secrets haven't been revealed yet. That being said, the fact that this series so far resembles the Prequel trilogy makes me wonder where this is going to go, and whether there will be enough differences to make it worth the journey.

Next up in the queue is a book I picked up at Barnes & Noble this weekend. I had intended to read and post about Pirenne's _Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe_. For those of you that do not know, Pirenne is a student of the Annales school of historical analysis, which combines a multi-disciplinary approach to analysis with an emphasis on social and economic roots. To say this school of thought has not had a profound influence on historical thought is an understatement. It also helps that I am a fan of this school and very much respect many of its adherents (even if much of the work is out of date compared to current research).

So we've set that aside, and instead I'm going with Peter Heather's _The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and Barbarians_. I've already started the book, and so far it's a winner, with some very nice analysis (to start off with) on what it means to be Roman in the 4th C. Here's what the back has to say:

"The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors Rome called barbarians into an enemy capable of dismantling an Empire that had dominated their lives for so long.

"A leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians, Heather relates the extraordinary story of how Europe's barbarians, transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled the empire apart. He shows first how the Huns overturned the existing strategic balance of power on Rome's European frontiers, to force the Goths and others to seek refuge inside the Empire. This prompted two generations of struggle, during which new barbarian coalitions, formed in response to Roman hostility, brought the Roman west to its knees. The Goths first destroyed a Roman army at the battle of Hadrianople in 378, and went on to sack Rome in 410. The Vandals spread devastation in Gaul and Spain, before conquering North Africa, the breadbasket of the Western Empire, in 439. We then meet Attila the Hun, whose reign of terror swept from Constantinople to Paris, but whose death in 453 ironically precipitated a final desperate phase of Roman collapse, culminating in the Vandals' defeat of the massive Byzantine Armada: the west's last chance for survival.

"Peter Heather convincingly argues that the Roman Empire was not on the brink of social or moral collapse. What brought it to an end were the barbarians. "

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