TLJ: Making Sense of DJ’s Betrayal

I’m taking a break from my posts about the characters in TLJ to talk a little bit about a conundrum in The Last Jedi. Specifically, the fact that DJ divulges a plan that Fin and Rose didn’t even know existed, in exchange for freedom and money.

After seeing the movie again and gradually becoming more aware of how amazing it is, I can’t accept this as a plot flaw at face value.

I mean even Fin is confused and he says so. Specifically Fin says, “Wait, cut a deal with what?”

And so I began speculating about possible explanations.

First up, did either Rose and Fin know the plan? Maybe they talked about it in the jail cell while DJ was trying to sleep. But how would they have known? Maybe Rose had an assignment that related to it some how that she abandoned. It didn’t sit right with me. It’s plausible, but I eventually came up with something that required less imagination and was more fitting with the movie.

It was a bad plan made out of haste and necessity and therefore almost entirely transparent.

So why didn’t the First Order figure it out? Well, I think they did. At least they probably figured out the planet was their destination. All DJ provided was how the rebels were getting there.

I’m going to expand on this idea/speculation a little more. First lets bring in some context. In the beginning of the movie the rebels/resistance are evacuating a base. There’s a battle but ultimately they hit hyperspace button and they escape. They are under the impression that they got away.

My hypothesis is that the abandoned rebel base on Crait (the salt planet) was the original destination of General Organa. They left hyperspace a safe distance from the planet, thinking they could stroll over to it at a comfortable pace. This plan was on a need to know basis, and our characters didn’t need to know. Which in hindsight, maybe they should have. But then again, this movie is all about decisions that carry some negative consequences.

This isn’t rock solid. After the rebels drop out of hyperspace and before the First Order shows up Finn asks Leia what the plan is. She responds, “We need to find a new base.” Then someone else adds “One with enough power to get a distress signal to our allies.”

Lets pick this apart a little. She’s basically stating that the problem isn’t finding a base. It is finding one with enough power. Basically, there are rebel bases all over the galaxy, but not all of them suit their needs right now. Later, when we are first introduced to Crait that same character says that it is both heavily armored and has enough power for a distress signal. So, it is believable (to me) that Crait was their plan all along, they just didn’t disclose it.

Is it possible this wasn’t the original plan? Absolutely. I didn’t make these connections the first time I watched the movie.  Even if the old base wasn’t in the original plan, the circumstances reinforce that it was the best plan they could come up with the time and resources they had. And therefore completely transparent to everyone.

In any case, Leia is injured and the chain of command falls to General Holdo, who sure as hell isn’t giving any info to Poe. Her objective is to reach the abandoned base, but under current circumstances that isn’t going to be possible. So she adapts the plan, but keeps the objective. They are using the smaller transports to shuttle rebels to the cruiser and generally the First Order ignores them. So they are perceived as safer and the best bet to reach Crait.

The relative safety is also reinforced in the opening scene when we are shown a solitary cruiser. When we zoom in we begin to see one transport, and then another and then a whole stinking caravan coming up from the planet that we couldn’t see before.

But, wait there is more. The rebels were cloaking the transports from the First Orders sensors.

During the reveal of DJ’s treachery the officer tells General Hux, “Sir, we checked on the information from the thief. We ran a decloaking scan, and sure enough, 30 resistant transports have just launched from the cruiser.”

The operative words here are “information” and “decloaking”. This implies that DJ knew the rebel ships were cloaked. Nothing more. In other words, he didn’t know the mission, or the objective. He knew one piece of information that he thought the First Order might find valuable.

So how did he know it? This takes one last speculative jump. I understand if you don’t want to join me any further because there are ways this could have been presented that made it obvious to the viewer.

DJ knew about the cloaked vessels because he ran a decloaking scan himself before they boarded the ship. Two things point me to this. First, DJ is constantly looking for people in desperate situations to exploit. Like, hanging out in a prison cell he could break out of at any moment but really waiting for someone who will pay him to do it. A fleet of ships making a run for a planet would be a mark for him. And again, their plan to reach the planet is rather obvious. It’s a matter of how they get there. Second, the first thing DJ says after Rose, Fin and him get out of hyperspace is, “Cloaking our approach. We should be off their scopes.” Cloaking was at least on his mind. I don’t know how cloaking works in the Star Wars universe, but I would easily accept that you need to run a decloaking scan before cloaking a ship of your own.

Honestly, this speculation is enough for me, but when I started writing this and viewing the scenes a little more carefully I noticed something else. To believe it at any level, you first need to believe that Rose is watching DJ. In my post about Rose, I suggested that she was watching DJ to learn from him but I would believe that she’s watching him because she doesn’t trust him.

In either case, it’s only important because Rose also knows about the 30 transport ships and Fin doesn’t. Remember Fin is confused. He doesn’t know what information DJ traded. Conceivably it could have been something unrelated to their current predicament. DJ probably knows a lot of things about a lot of people. Like, the identity of an arms dealer who is selling to the First Order and the resistance.

But Rose knows. She starts freaking out as soon as DJ turns his head to them. She calls him a lying snake and tries to break free of the storm troopers. It takes two of them to keep her down. It maybe the only time in the film that Rose acts impulsively. The important part here is that DJ has not confessed at this point and the officer has not announced an awareness of the cloaked vessels. And Rose clearly knows DJ traded information damaging to the resistance. Why else would she freak out? How would she know this? She watched him run the decloaking scan and noticed the readouts herself.

This is speculation, so the logic that holds it together isn’t unbreakable. For now it is what I’m going with.

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TLJ: Hux

Continuing on my ramblings about characters from The Last Jedi comes a post about Hux. A character who was to be feared in TFA and to be laughed at in TLJ. What happened here? Did something go wrong? No, it did not. At least I hope not because I’m about to engage in some fan theory making that could ultimately bring me disappointment.

At the end of TFA and the beginning of TLJ, Hux is extremely confident. He oversaw a battle station that destroyed the republic. Even if that battle station was destroyed shortly afterward, it achieved it’s objective. After its destruction, the rebels are cornered as he cuts off their escape and is about to wipe them out.

And then, Hux experiences humiliation after humiliation. This includes, the loss of a dread naught and the rebel escape shortly after. But he comes back from that. He has them on a string. When he says it to Supreme Leader Snoke we get the impression that it’s bluster. But later we find out it was straight up truth. For most of the movie he has them cornered, all be it a little out of range of their laser cannons.

Hux’s war machine essentially dominated the first two movies of this trilogy, but he faces the ultimate humiliation: The rise of Kylo Ren to be the Supreme Leader, instead of himself. This was something Vader was never able to achieve. (Although I’m not sure if he wanted it… I have a faint memory of some political ambitions or notions in Attack of the Clones… I guess I’ll have to watch that movie).

Hux is extremely competent which is dangerous in a villain. And while it is relatively easy to laugh at what happens to him in TLJ, it doesn’t change him. Going into Episode IX he’s still as competent and every bit as dangerous… if not more so. I imagine he’ll be angrier and jealous of Kylo Ren.

The only reason Hux is not the Supreme Leader of the First Order is because he is not a force wielder. So, I won’t be surprised if he sets into motion some sort of plan to become one some how.

Continuing along these lines, it is conceivable that Hux could find someway to harness the force mechanically to weaponize it. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the midichlorians are discussed in Episode IX. I recently learned that George Lusas’s plan for the third trilogy included some form of microscopic adventure [Indie Wire].  So this angle might fit in well.

Or he may find another way to attack or betray Kylo Ren, say taking a page out the extended universe and find a way to neutralize a force wielders ability. Making force wielders vulnerable. I feel like this will be inevitable, if not in Episode IX, then in some other movie.

I find this speculation interesting, but ultimately… speculative.  I don’t want to be too attached to these ideas because I’ve been burned before by one of my own creation that turned into a massive disappointment. And since it is Star Wars, it is possible that he could be abruptly killed in the first 30 minutes in the film.

I have hopes that Hux will become an even more terrifying threat. But make no mistake. I’m not rooting for him.

TLJ: Rose Tico

In my ramblings about the futility and potential harm of Star Wars fan theories (and how at one time they sustained the fandom) I stated that I wanted to write more about the characters that appear in TLJ. And what better place to start than Rose Tico, a character that brought out the absolute worst in some Star Wars fans. It is disturbing to know that I like something that these people also like.

Some of the complaints about Rose are… I don’t really know what they are, but this is what I imagine.

  • She’s a Mary Sue
  • She’s not a bad ass
  • She personifies what people didn’t like about TLJ
  • Something that is either racist or motivated by racism

She’s a Mary Sue

I disagree on this. Rose is flawed like rest of us and we meet her when she is grieving. And the way she is coping is by stopping people from stealing escape pods. I assume that she has been ordered to do this and she clings to this duty in her grief. It is an outlet for her, to the point that she zaps someone she was fangirling over 2 seconds ago. Like almost every scene in the movie, I could go on about the implied stakes in the that scene. But I won’t because this is about Rose.

Bad things happen to Rose that she can’t escape from, without the help of others. It may be easy to miss because she appears optimistic and virtuous at practically every turn.

She is smart and learns quickly, but not the way a Mary Sue does. She isn’t master of her environment… yet. She knows her stuff, but she doesn’t get to really show us because when it’s her turn to contribute to the plan… in walk the storm troopers.

I’m assuming she kept a careful eye on DJ and picked up some of his tricks.

She’s Not a Bad Ass

I’ll give you that, but not every interesting character has to be bad ass. What Rose does, like every other character in the movie, is make tough (and sometimes very wrong) decisions. What comes to mind is the scene after Canto Bite when DJ is demanding her necklace for a deposit. She doesn’t object. Fin does. She waits a moment, snaps it off her neck and hands it over. This was something that connected her to her sister, who just died a hero’s death only hours ago. (Maybe longer. Time is funny in Star Wars).

She thinks about her choices, makes a decision and then commits to it. I concede this is not a trait of a bad ass. This is a trait of a grown up. She’s adulting.

Also, in case you missed it, she strait up shoots Phasma. Phasma! It’s a split second and totally missable (I did… twice) because nothing happens. That’s right nothing happens, the blast literally bounces off Phasma’s chest. Think about that. The First Order is sitting on blaster bouncing armor. I mean, it doesn’t even force Phasma to step backwards. Be scared people. Be. Scared.

But not too scared because Fin does eventually expose a vulnerability in the armor, the visors. Remember he knocks part of one off and we see her eye as she tries to stare him down. Ah… this is about Rose. Dang it.

One of the decisions that Rose makes is to help Poe and Fin. She helped come up with the plan, but it becomes very clear that the mission to Canto Bight is unsanctioned and possibly treasonous. Like using the escape pods she was just guarding, but more purposeful.

This leads to people dying (not really any of the characters on screen). She made the wrong call, like so many of the characters in the movie. She doesn’t doubt her decision, but she does express some remorse for what has happened. I’m specifically talking about the her line, “Is this all thats left?” She doesn’t dwell on it, because well there just isn’t time for it.

Nobody really comes out of The Last Jedi a hero. Which is perfect for the middle installment of a trilogy. There is supposed to be a loss of hope. I was expecting a lot of the movie to be really dark, and Rian Johnson (he’s the writer/director, not a character despite the spelling of his first name.) pulled off a movie that wasn’t dark but where hope was lost. There was despair and grief.

Bringing it back. I don’t care if the character isn’t raw. She’s real. That’s hard to pull off in a space opera.

She Personifies What People Didn’t Like About TLJ

She does personify the movie quite well. She experiences loss. She makes decisions that carry very grave consequences to them. Even after she spends time weighing the options, her choices don’t always come up… roses. (ugh, sorry about that).

She belongs in the movie because she is the movie. And she belongs in Star Wars, because the movie belongs in Star Wars.

The Last One

I’m specifically talking about the people who harassed the actress online. I don’t have the words to convince them that their actions were terrible and they should be terrified of their motivations. I wish I had an amazing power of persuasion to make courtesy and generosity seem appealing, and to make them aware that hateful words stem from an indifference to see humanity in others. Again, I know I don’t have the words to perform this miracle, so I have written these imperfect ones instead.

Theories

I’m going to be clear, these are things I would be interested in seeing. I’m not expecting any of them.

  • Rose in the next movie (her fate is a little unclear, but it didn’t really seem like a Star Wars death).
  • Conflict between Rose and Rey. I’m not talking about a potential love triangle between Rose, Fin and Rey. I’m talking more about Rose’s optimism and more grounded Rey. Rey has experienced some monumental disappointment in these movies. How much despair? So much she goes to Kylo Ren because she believes and says that “…he is our last hope.”
  • Some crazy amazing technical show off skills she picked up from DJ, (like maybe breaking out of prison cell, or using her medallion to short something out because it is highly conductive).
  • Continued collaboration between Rey and Fin.

I’m keeping this grounded. The thing I liked best about TLJ is that it left Episode IX to be a wild card. No one knows what is going to happen.

 

 

TLJ: Fan Theories

Completely on accident I discovered a portion of the Internet (or world) that is still discussing Star Wars The Last Jedi. I was drawn in.

My original review was written last December, but only posted last month. This was not necessarily out of laziness or indifference but more along the lines that his blog is a tiny sliver of my life. Since writing that review I have seen the movie again, and I admit it is growing on me. Not because the things that I didn’t like (itemized in my review) suddenly became appealing, but because I started seeing more and different things I enjoyed. And since other people are talking about TLJ, and I enjoy some of the things they are saying, I want to join in too. Bandwagon!

I don’t like engaging in fan theories, because they rarely fulfill themselves. And honestly, I was burned by one of my own. Back when the Phantom Menace came out I was convinced that Obi-Wan was a jedi tainted (at least a little) by the dark side. This was based on a few frames from A New Hope in the cantina scene where he dismembers someone who draws a weapon. In those few frames when we see his face, I thought (and still think) he is smiling. He missed this type of stuff. And then a friend suggested he was maybe grimacing and not smiling. Which resulted in a very long and passionate argument that ultimately was pointless. And not because I was wrong (still say he’s smiling… and BTW he shows zero remorse for it… I mean Han Solo at least tips the bartender after blasting Gredo… and now that I think about it he could have just mind tricked his way out of it… sigh)…

As I was saying, my heated argument with a friend was ultimately pointless not because I was wrong but because there was no way either one of us could make the choices or even influence the choices that were being made during the production of episode I. I know, a lot of us wish we had more influence to control that movie in particular.

My point is, fan theories can be a dangerous indulgence for the fans that make them. Even the casual fans that can count the number of times they’ve seen the original trilogy.

Part of the danger is that they sometimes we find them more interesting or engaging than what we actually get. And since some fans (I’m including myself here) go to great lengths to defend those theories and become they are emotionally attached to it. The more a person defends something the more that attachment solidifies. Which leads to serious emotional disappointment when those theories aren’t fulfilled. I’ll say it again, this can cause serious emotional disappointment. I’ll even bold italicize it: serious emotional disappointment.

Roll your eyes all you want and say it’s just a movie… but we all know Star Wars is not just a movie for countless fans. There are real people feeling real emotions over make believe aliens with laser swords, and that’s why fan theories can bring harm to those who make them. They We don’t understand the emotional stakes of making them until we get that enormous dose of disappointment.

To complicate things, Star Wars has a rich history of fan theories and there was a time when they were safe to make. There was so much time between some of the movie releases that at one time fan theories served a more benign purpose of sustaining the franchise when the people actually in charge of it were trying to move on to other projects. That’s more my opinion than an actual fact.

So what does this have to do with The Last Jedi? Good question. There were a lot of fan theories about TLJ and I don’t think any of them were realized. To be fair, The Force Awaken (I will not explain to you that TFA is the movie that preceded TLJ) left plenty of room for fan speculation. But just because a door is open, you don’t need to walk through it (It’s a trap!). Plus large gaps is kinda Lucasfilm’s jam (I think that phrase is still culturally relevant).

Lucasfilms tells a story, parts of which are not completely understood. Then they tell a different story to shed light on the part of the previous story that we didn’t completely understand. BTW that new story will also have parts that are not completely understood.

Do they do this well? Sometimes. The Clone Wars cartoon in particular was great, but C3PO’s red arm was… I didn’t read the comic.

Pause a second and think about the mystery of who Snokes was. This feels very similar to what was done with Count Dooku. A character who kinda appeared out of nowhere, seems really important and then abruptly becomes insignificant to the story. But then we got the Clone Wars (which I haven’t seen in its entirety) and we have tons of development for that character. In otherwords. Don’t complain about not knowing who Snokes is, because there is plenty of room for a movie, live action series, novel, comic book, cartoon or broadway musical (owned by Disney… they do this with other properties) for us to learn all sorts of things about this character. Some of it, may even become the best part of Star Wars.

This is where we get to the hard part for me. I want to talk about some of the characters that appeared in The Last Jedi, but avoid making fan theories about them. That is going to be a tough balance to strike. I should tell you to expect a couple posts about TLJ characters in the future because it is definitely my intent to write posts about TLJ characters, but instead I am telling you that you should not have expectations for this blog (but I will love you forever if you follow/subscribe… ya I know. Out of place Goblins in the Castle Reference).

My final thought is maybe we should be treating our fan theories, more like hypotheses. Something that we know can be disproven and we are capable of accepting of it when that happens.

But don’t be the sheriff that goes around correcting people by telling them it’s a fan hypothesis and not a fan theory. Please don’t be that person.

Sidepost: Disney and 21st Century

Sidepost is a series of opinion posts that are slightly off topic for a blog about comic books and genre fiction.

The Case of the Tortured Metaphor

Remember that expensive thing you wanted so badly because you thought it would increase your coolness factor so much (or in my case… give me a coolness factor).

Imagine if when you went to buy it the retailer apologetically explained that someone else was willing to pay significantly more for it. After thinking it over you offer more, but you have a great idea that if the retailer accepts a different offer they pay you for your time and trouble. In cash, not store credit.

Inevitably, the other person offers more. What do you decide to do? BTW, that great idea gets you $1.5 billion for your time and troubles. Again, in cash, not store credit.

Disney’s High Risk Maneuvering

Disney, who had been making these offers with corporate stock, has been saying they will be able to capitalize on the coolness factor. But by raising the stakes, the risk rises each time that they will not profit from it, because the cost is higher.

Additionally Disney has made a new offer, which means they essentially are walking away from the $1.5 billion assuming Disney wins out.

In this last offer Disney has apparently offered the option of cash instead of stock to fend off more cash offers from Comcast. This puts a real price tag on it that it will have to clear, which I think is somewhat preferable to offering shares of ownership to the Murdoch family. Yes, they are media savvy, but history has shown that they have an agenda and it flies in the face of the types of features (movies, TV, comic books… etc.) Disney makes its bread and butter on.

Do you like innovative stories that focus on including different types of characters? So do I, but I’m not convinced the owners of 21st Century Fox do too. I’m guessing that as soon as one of those movies doesn’t perform well, the new shareholders start pressuring to suppress all the properties they don’t like.

So ya, it’s risky with cash, but it is even riskier with stock. because you aren’t just acquiring property. You’re acquiring owners too.

The Cool Factor

For Disney 2 things are at stake (the cool factor they are willing to risk so much to acquire): 1) The Fantastic Four and X-Men movie rights 2) The rights to the original Star Wars trilogy.

These round out two recent acquisitions for Disney which have been very profitable. Specifically: Marvel and Lucasfilms.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see a Fantastic Four movie in the MCU. Even though the FF is considered the first family of Marvel, their best comicbooks are wayyyy out there. I think now, after Avengers Infinity War, the MCU is sufficiently weird enough for a Fantastic Four story.

But the Star Wars saga is at a crossroads, if not an identity crisis. I don’t think Disney needs to spend vast quantities of money until it is resolved or at least on the road to being resolved. Basically, before they buy the cool accessory to complete their collection they need some assurances the collection will still be cool for the foreseeable future.

A Back up Plan

There are other ways to acquire the properties other than acquiring a company. Disney can just as easily make a generous offer just for those specific properties. They could probably even do it with a financial instrument tied to the revenue of just those properties.

Or do a joint venture, like the one with Sony for the Spider-man properties.

My Advice (Opinion)

Don’t sell your soul. Especially when you can get $1.5 billion cash money for not selling your soul.

 

Review: The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet

A bunch of reasonable people on a spaceship talking about their feelings.

Why I Picked it Up

Like The Paper Magician, I picked acquired this ebook and its sequel because it was heavily discounted on Amazon. The audio was also reasonably priced so I snagged that as well.

Before I acquired it, this book by Becky Chambers was on my radar because of the rave reviews and that it appeared on several space opera lists (none of which I can remember, so they are lost to the Internet).

My Impressions

For the first half of the book, I was let down. I was expecting a thrilling adventure with death defying feats and maybe a romantic sub plot. Pretty much my expectations for a hyped up space opera.

It was none of those things.

At one point they are boarded by space pirates, and I was like “Yes! the adventure is beginning!” But they turned out to be really reasonable space pirates, so everything turned out ok.

At that point I read a few more reviews, abandoned my expectations and started to appreciate the book for what it is. Contemporary fiction set in outer-space. With lots (I really mean lots!) of aliens.

There is a plot too, but that is secondary to the character development. A distant second. So far a distant second that spoilers don’t really matter.

Things I liked

  1. Each chapter is essentially its own story
  2. Lots of aliens and alien cultures
  3. It is accessible to readers who don’t read science fiction
  4. I’m guessing on this one, but I think the title is a reference to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Things I didn’t like

  1. Almost all the characters you encounter are reasonable
  2. The plot isn’t as strong as I would have liked
  3. Romantic life plays a large part of each characters story
  4. I have a hard time believing that most of humanity adopts pacifism

Actors I would Cast if I Made Movies

If this was a movie (please don’t make a movie) 90% of the characters would be CGI.

Ashby – Jason Mantzoukas

Corbin – One of the guys from Blue Man Group.

Goodreads and BookTube

I gave this 3 out of 5 stars, which in goodreads terms means “I liked it.” I would totally hangout with this crew if I could. Just maybe not for a long hall.

It currently has just under 35,000 ratings on good reads for a total rating of 4.18. Only 4% of those ratings are rated lower than 3 stars. Over 6000 people wrote an actual review. Ya, this book has fans. Even its own wikia.

Finally, here are two BookTubers with different opinions on the book:

 

And probably my all time favorite BookTube review…

 

Review: Virus on Orbis (The Softwire #1)

If the Matrix were a Space Opera written by Franz Kafka, it would come close to Virus on Orbis.

Why I Picked it Up

Eerily, I don’t remember reserving this book from the library, but I was informed it was there for me to pick up. I think there was a day several weeks back where I was looking for sci-fi books that one of my sons and I could read together.

Taking a book home from a library, doesn’t always mean I’m going to read it.  Honestly, I started reading this because I was reading another book that intensely confusing ( Ninefox Gambit ) and I could only handle it in small doses. So Virus on Orbis filled a void for me.

My Impressions (spoilery)

The book is full of despair. I originally told people it was dark, but on reflection I think despair is a better word to describe it.

The book begins with about 200 kids on a spaceship and all their parents died before they were born (yes, you read correctly). They are raised by a computer they refer to as Mother… who also dies early on. On arriving at their destination they learn that they will essentially be slaves. As the book progresses we learn more and more about the ways the society on Orbis is designed to oppress the main characters.

Oh did I mention that this is a Mid-Grade Novel?

It is important to acknowledge that just because there is so much despair, it is not a reason to not read it. We don’t always need to read books that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Things I liked (still spoilery)

A few of the things that I like are what is not in the book.

  1. There is no chosen one. The main character has an exceptionally rare and special ability. We learn more about why he may have those abilities, but its not
  2. This is not a portal story. We still learn about this stunningly complex world through the eyes of the main character.

The I liked the most is that the main character frequently finds a way to choose his own path, even though he is continually boxed in by several parties.

The book touches on conspiracy on different levels. First, in the sense of how conspiracy theories can cause a society to misuse its justice system out of fear. Contributing to that are two rival organizations The Keepers and The Trading Council which distrust each other. And second, an actual conspiracy (secret plot).

We briefly and cryptically learn about “Space Jumpers” which are pretty awesome. I hope there are more of those in the other books.

Things I didn’t like (also spoilery)

The main character is bullied throughout the book. And largely the bullies get away with it, or suffer any real consequences. I mean there are some instances where the bully suffers the consequences of being short sighted, but not for the cruelty he causes others.

There are plenty of other books and movies that have a depressing setting, but offer thrilling adventures. The Mos Eisley cantina scene from Star Wars comes to mind. Newcomers are welcome there, heck not even droids are. But there is an intangible quality to it where if I had a chance to go there, I’d take it. With this book, I don’t have that same feeling. I wonder why anyone would want to go there.

There aren’t any moments that lighten the tone of the story. Small moments of humor while insignificant to the plot can be a relief to the reader when the setting is so heavy.

The villain reveals the plan to the main characters.

Parents die. This complaint isn’t limited to this book. It’s directed at most mid-grade adventure stories (regardless of medium… ie movies). The parents almost never make it out of these stories alive. It makes it seem that in order to have an adventure your parents must meet some terrible fate.

Goodreads and BookTube

I didn’t find any BookTubers reviewing this book (possibly because it was published in 2006).

At the time this post was published the book had a 3.79 rating on Goodreads. 4 stars on goodreads is a rating of “I really liked it”. Most of the written reviews are also favorable. Some of the less favorable ones thought that the descriptions of Orbis and its inhabitants was much to be desired. I also noticed this, but it wasn’t a deterrent for me.

Final Thoughts

The ending had enough hope for me to be happy with the read, but the next one looks similar in tone from the synopsis and a few reviews.

I may continue to read the series (especially if my children read the book), but it won’t be soon.

 

 

Review: The Paper Magician

Can magic bound to paper overcome the twisted magic bound to blood? Can a budding romance between an apprentice and a master not be awkward or creepy?

Alternate Victorian London is running low on the number of paper magicians have been in decline. To help their numbers, a magical academy forces one of its graduates (Ceony Twill) to become an apprentice of paper magician (Mg. Emery Thane).

That’s the premise of the first book, The Paper Magician, in this trilogy.

Why I Picked It Up

First off, Amazon had a deal on the first three books of the series, both in ebook and audio formats. Second, the covers (someone in marketing is getting their wings) drew me in and sparked my curiosity. And finally, I was at home for a week’s staycation and I figured I could knock the trilogy out before I had to go back to work.

Things I Liked (spoilery)

Simply put, I like the parts of the book that are off the wall bonkers. There is a part in the book when a villain, who had not been mentioned previously, appears and attacks Mg. Thane. The attack is nearly fatal, and all of the formal magicians are bummed because aparently saving him is out of the question. They decide to make him as comfortable as possible, and then most of them leave. But Ceony, doesn’t give up and for a large part of the book travels through the four chambers of his heart. Yes. She travels into his heart. Certainly not mind blowing, but (as I said before) it is bonkers.

It is through this adventure that we learn about the villain and she is legitimately bad.

The magic system itself is interesting, and in the second book we learn that it may not be as strict as we were once lead to believe.

Surprisingly, this is not a portal story. We learn about the magical system through Ceony. Since she did not really pay attention to paper magic in school (because who wants to be a paper magician?) she doesn’t really know what one can do.

On the more technicaly side, I’m usually very critical of flashbacks in any type of story telling. The first book clears the high bar I have for flashbacks and I don’t remember any in the second. The third book, well… is a different story for me (see the next section).

And finally, the author was courteous enough to keep all three books in series are roughly the same length. (Wondering why this important? Read my post about life as a Slow Reader).

Things I Didn’t Like (again spoilery)

There are way too many scenes involving food. I just don’t get it. Very few writers pull it off well, and everyone else just doesn’t and I really wish authors would stop including this.

The second book in the series is less bonkers. Which was disappointing for me because that was what I enjoyed most about the first book.

We are introduced to new characters in the second book. I found these additions to be clunky and it would have been helpful to have at least heard some of them mentioned in the first book.

The third book (The Master Magician) was too much of a romance for my tastes and I stopped reading it rather quickly. There is a fourth book (The Plastic Magician) and I think at least 2 more to follow, but it is really unlikely that I will pick them up.

GoodReads and BookTube

About 11% of the 48,620 ratings on goodreads are 1 or 2 stars. This surprised me. The reviewers that elaborated on why they gave a low rating centered on 2 themes. I’ve summarized them below and offer my opinion as well.

1) The dialogue is too modern for historical fiction. I don’t pretend to understand this frustration. I can easily suspend disbelief for the existence of magic in early 1900 London, I don’t see how a few contemporary phrases takes a person out of the moment. But clearly it does.

2) It felt rushed. I felt it was appropriately paced for novel that is around 200 pages. The author tells a complete story where a lot happens. It’s different and sometimes challenging. But that is pretty standard for a fantasy novel of that length. It will be different reading experience compared to a 400 page fantasy, which is different from a 700 page novel.

I gave both The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician 3 stars on goodreads (which translates to “I liked it”).

Here are what BookTubers are saying

Reviewers who liked it (focus on romance, no mentioned of bonkerishness):

A reviewer that didn’t like it (Pretty much didn’t like the part that was bonkers):

Confusing Sci-Fi/Fantasy

I just finished Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (my review). When I said I had lots to say on it, I wasn’t joking. Many reviewers and BookTubers categorized it as hard sci-fi and then concluded that was the reason the book was so confusing.

There are 3 things to unpack in that sentiment. First: what is hard sci-fi? My understanding is that hard sci-fi is includes elaborating on of the obstacles engineers will have to solve (or wish they could solve) and the fictional technological solutions.

Second, does Ninefox align with that definition? Not really. The book itself is light on details and only explains the effect of technology. However, somewhere online I think there are technical details describing the reality where Ninefox is set. The most convincing evidence to me is that some people refer to a magic system in the book.

Finally, If it is not hard sci-fi, why is it so confusing? Because of the way the author reveals the setting. For starters, this isn’t a portal story. We don’t constantly have Ron and Hermoine explaining the setting to Harry.  It also doesn’t have an omniscient narrator who kindly explains everything that is unfamiliar to the reader. The story is told through the point of view of characters who have lived there all there lives and would struggle to understand our reality, much less be able to explain their to us.

So ya, its confusing. And confusing settings are not limited to Sci-Fi. Fantasy has plenty of books to rival the most confusing Sci-Fi settings.

Here are three qualities of confusing books that can tell good stories.

  1. The confusion starts early and eases up after a little while
  2. The book is short(er)
  3. Each chapter or subsection has an objective

Finally, here are some tips to help you get through reading a book with a complex and confusing setting.

  1. Accept that you won’t understand everything in the chapter, even if you reread it.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Avoid obsessing of all the weird details.
  4. Focus on discovering the objective (or broad theme of the chapter). I find writing down a sentence or two about each chapter is helpful.

What about you, any tips for reading confusing Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels?

 

Review: Ninefox Gambit

Star Wars meets Star Trek meets Silence of the Lambs.

Ever wonder what would happen if a Star Trek engineer was able to channel the force into technology and come up with exotic weapons like amputation guns?  Ever imagine a Star Fleet captain being advised by the force ghost of the most hated war criminal of all time?

Let’s be real. I haven’t. You haven’t (unless you’re Yoon Ha Lee and then I’ll put you down as a maybe). So the real question is can something like this actually work as a story?

The answer is Yes and it is titled Ninefox Gambit. But fair warning, every page will have something you don’t fully understand about this universe. This starts on page 1. My advise is don’t rush through it. Or if you do, make sure you reread it immediately.

This is going to be a longer review, because I’ve got a lot to say about it and frankly I am not alone.

Why I Picked it Up

I picked this up because someone on the internet included it in a list of sci-fi books that pulls you in from the first page and you can’t escape it until the last one.

It’s a good book, but I’ll be honest it shouldn’t be on a list like that. It is too confusing to carry that level of suspense on the first read.

Things I liked

Most characters have a distinct voice. Also, there are several characters, but since each of the 6 factions has it’s own identity. You don’t need to use up the mind space trying to memorize character details as long as you knew what faction they belonged to.

Also, this book is light on romance. Which was welcome, because many of the books I’ve read recently have been big on character hook ups, and that doesn’t really intrigue me.

Finally, this story is not cinematic. It leverages its medium extremely well and didn’t strike me as a not-so-subtle pitch to move studios. That said I mentally cast Scarlet Johansen as Cheris and Tommy Lee Jones (circa The Fugitive) as General Jedao.

Wait. One more thing. The cover! I mean did you see it? I know right!

Things I didn’t like

Some of the best parts of the story aren’t in the book. Meaning, if you want to understand the book while you are reading it, you have to go online and read what people posted.

The most interesting thing I read was a recent article on The Quill to Live

Is it a Space Opera?

Ninefox Gambit appears on a lot of Space Opera lists. Frankly, I don’t get it. It is a military sci-fi novel, but there is a bunch of weird math. I don’t know any operas (space or otherwise) that involve so much math.

A Spoilery Summary of the First Few Chapters

The story begins in the middle of a battle. We follow a commander who, due to technical issues, joins the battle late. She quickly assesses the situation and determines that if they fight the way they have been trained they will all die. But if she orders her troops to fight like the enemy fights, they may live and achieve the mission objective. This second option, is considered disgraceful and she knows it. The consequence for herself and all of her troops will be to have their mind wiped (or some sort of brainwashing punishment).

The fact that she is able to come up with this battle plan on the fly is remarkable in two ways. First, it involves crazy weird math and math is not the domain of her military order. Second, her military order, brainwashes soldiers to the extent that it becomes instinct. So the fact that she found a window within that instinct to commit a disgraceful act is truly out of the ordinary.

After she issues the command one group begins to question the order and the commander cuts them out of the company without hesitation. Shortly after that company is wiped out. The others obey the command and accomplish their objective. Which is eventually abandoned by her commanding officers.

That’s the first chapter. I’m going to pause from the summary and just mention that I always appreciate an ethical dilemma. The fact that the book opens with one so pressing and consequential really gripped me.

Shortly after she has to inform her soldiers that they are all to be brainwashed / mindwiped because of her orders. Everyone, except for herself. She has been tapped to advise a military council on a critical situation.

She doesn’t know it yet, but she is being manipulated into volunteering to merge her mind with the greatest general and traitor of all time (who has been dead for several hundred years).

At the time of his treachery, the general’s battle record posed the government with a conundrum. How do they keep his ability to win battles but punish the treachery. The treachery is frequently described as that the general went mad. So the government decided to preserve his consciousness so that it could be consulted for critical military operations, while they try to figure out either what drove him mad or what made him such a remarkable general.

We learn that the general has been used before and this is an important detail in the book. Since the book is intentionally confusing it is easy to miss the detail.

The fact that this is not the first time the general has been ‘anchored’ to someone suggests that this time will be significantly different in some way for the general. Which makes the story about the military campaign and about what happens to the general.

To me this is the more understandable part of the book. I don’t really understand the importance of the fortress, nor all the different parts of the seige.

But I can understand that the general’s fate is completely unknown. Will he go mad again? Will he find a way to escape the black cradle (his undead prison)? Will he experience his first military defeat? Or will he become irrelevant?’

These were the questions that kept me reading this book.

What do BookTubers think?

Like I said before, there are a lot of opinions about Ninefox Gambit. Pretty much everyone says that there is nothing wrong with dropping the book if you aren’t enjoying it.

Reviewers who liked it:

 

A reviewer who didn’t like it:

Anyone else read it? What do you think?