Thursday, October 30, 2008

A New Hope

No, this is not some review of the Star Wars movie franchise; rather it is a review of the novelization of the first Star Wars Episode IV movie: A New Hope.

While the book has its author line as George Lucas (who should need no introduction if you're a SF fan), it is in fact "ghost written" by Alan Dean Foster. Foster was also responsible for the sequel Splinter of the Mind's Eye, as well as the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (still one of my favorites; the director's cut really makes it a great film). While Foster of course has his own fiction, he has been prolific in the genre and adaption market, writing quite a few movie adaptions.

Reading the novelization is definitely a different experience. Coming out before the movie (but largely following the script) there are quite a few differences, from Luke's callsign (Blue 5 instead of Red 5), to more significant variations (Artoo was for example a tripedal droid, rather than using wheels for locomotion). That being said, the book certainly captured the feel and spirit of the movie, helped by Foster's wordsmithing.

That being said, its rather thin (not quite 200 pages), and felt quite a bit rushed. In many respects, it was a faithful scene by scene adaption, but it suffers compared to other movie-to-book adaptions in that it didn't expand much compared to the movie. A novel gives the reader the chance to get more detail than is presented in the movie. Part of this might be the limitations the author was put under (there were, for example, no really detailed descriptions of characters, ships, and the like), but it would have certainly helped a fan to be offered something the movies do not.

In the end its a very quick read, and works on a level in which a fan can almost hear the dialouge from the movie cheweing through the mind. But in no way was this either high literature, or one of the best Star Wars novels...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Last Colony

The last book in Scalzi's trilogy, this book returns the focus back to John Perry, though in fact is a sequel to The Ghost Brigades. In this one, Perry is now returned to a normal flesh and blood, human body (a sort of modification of the old Roman plot of land in reward of service...this time you get a second life) and has set himself up on some backwater as an administrator, and lives there with his wife and the (now) teenage daughter of the protagonist from the previous book. Suddenly, he's tapped to lead a new colony. But everything is not as it seems...

Again, as a sequel, this book does not live up to the first one. That's not to say its bad, but I felt wanting for a bit more.

Scalzi falls into the trap that other SF writers sometimes get into: too many plot threads. In this one, the new colony world just happens to have its own primitive intelligent life-form...but he doesn't go anywhere with it. In my previous review of Clarke's Songs of a Distant Earth, the author setup a similar situation, in which it was discovered that the colony world has its own emerging intelligent life. Here, though, Clarke had a subtext: that all the assumptions we make may not always be the correct one, and that a lack of evidence does not automatically suggest a lack of existence. In Scalzi's book, I could neither find the point of this addition, nor were we fed with more.

That being said, I find it interesting that the book was a kick at conservativism (perhaps not of the political type, but a kick nonetheless). The premise is that humanity is very, very good at playing the galactic game. But things have to change if there's going to be a galactic civilization for everyone to inherit. In a way, I found it refreshing that humanity is in the wrong on this, and Scalzi does a good job in his trilogy in depicting humanity in a sympathetic vein, but at the same time stating clearly that maybe we were wrong...