Posts Tagged ‘Penguin Random House’

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I was pleasantly surprised by Rogue One for a number of reasons. Set a decade or so after the events of Catalyst, this latest offering in the Star Wars universe is, somehow, unique whilst simultaneously dovetailing into the events of A New Hope (what we older folk would know as Star Wars). It’s exceptionally well put together and, in no way, feels contrived. What it does is create a brilliant ensemble cast of characters all the while detailing their struggles against the threat of the Empire.

When I say struggles, I mean truly terrible hardships, crushing personal loss and unflinching sacrifice. And when I say threat, I mean a vast, cruelly efficient machine prepared to destroy all opposition. Whilst Star Wars may be considered as a simple dichotomy between good and evil, Rogue One looks into the implications of this conflict, throwing up some interesting reflections on an insurgent rebellion trying to combat a larger, better supplied and politically homogenous force.

I digress though. Rogue One continues the story of the manipulated genius Galen Erso and his tormentor, Orson Krennic. Recaptured and widowed, Galen is forced into completing his work on Krennic’s super weapon. However, the scientist had the foresight to set in place safety procedures for his daughter Jyn. It is through Jyn that we discover more about the universe at large, the rebellion and those fighting against the Empire. Effectively orphaned, she is saved by Saw Gerrera, an uncompromising freedom fighter; its an upbringing that leaves her a fierce, hardened survivor.

Yet, though she has tried to lose herself, hiding away from her past and the rebellion, her importance sets her on a course straight to the heart of the Death Star. Saved from prison, Jyn is sent on a mission to talk to Saw in the hope that he will help the rebels locate Galen Erso. Accompanying her is Cassian Andor, a spy and ardent rebel, along with K-2, a reprogrammed Imperial droid. As soon as the companions reach Saw’s home world, Jedha, things really kick off.

Erso had sent a young pilot, an Imperial deserter, to Saw with a message that he had sabotaged the Death Star. But, Saw has fallen out with the rebel leaders whilst Jyn is no fan of either parties. However, the Empire is hot on their heels and soon Jyn, Cassian along with the pilot, Bohdi, as well as two Guardiams of the Whills, Chirrut and Baze, are fighting for their lives. It is this nucleus that forms Rogue One; from faith, hatred, need and vengeance, hope for a better future is forged.

Jyn and her allies are unable to convince the fractured and complex union of the rebellion that her father has secreted a way for them to defeat the Death Star amongst its schematics and plans. They take fate into their own hands and embark on mission to retrieve the plans and give the universe a chance to free itself from the tyranny of the Empire. Each character has their own motivations, each makes their own choices and it’s a frantic conclusion to an accomplished story.

This isn’t simple sci-fi in my book; it’s gritty and heartfelt. Rogue One shows just how brave the rebels were and just what the Death Star meant for the universe. It’s about sacrifice, redemption and belief against all odds, and it’s a brilliant slice of Star Wars action adventure.

Review copy
Published by Century

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Set firmly between the films Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, James Luceno’s Catalyst features as a prequel to the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One. While some of the finer details may have been lost on me, a casual Star Wars fan, those more invested in the universe will, no doubt, find much to explore.

And, this is what I enjoy so much about shared world, tie-in works of fiction; they can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. Catalyst (much like The Force Awakens) captures the essence of the original trilogy of films released in the late 1970’s. A healthy dose of political intrigue mixed with a massive, far reaching universe, all tied together with the fight between good and evil.

Catalyst focuses on the emergence of the Death Star and the machinations behind its inception, much of it revolving around Galen Erso. Though trying to remain neutral in the war between Separatists and Republic, his genius and its value makes him a pawn in the growing conflict as the Empire begins to emerge. Ostensibly rescued from imprisonment by Orson Krennic, a driven and determined member of the Empire, Erso, along with his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn, swap one prison for another.

Krennic is ruthless in his pursuit for success in the new order of things. Erso is a mere cog, albeit an important one, in realising a weapon so powerful that Emperor Palpatine won’t be able to deny Krennic’s significance. What follows is a compelling game of strategy as Krennic attempts to manoeuvre players to his whim, especially keeping the pacifist Erso working on his energy project while using the data to construct the Death Star’s massive laser system.

The novel really picks up the pace in the last quarter as Moff Tarkin discovers that he is also being played by Krennic and begins his own campaign. Similarly Lyra, with the help of Has Obitt, another pawn, go off script. It is here that so many threads begin to coalesce into the bigger Star Wars picture. Rebel alliances form, the faceless Empire, epitomised by the Death Star, takes shape whilst the battle lines between good and evil are drawn on both a personal and intergalactic level.

Though the idea of the Force and the Dark side are writ large throughout Star Wars, it’s also the individual decisions that are so important and James Luceno does a great job of putting such obstacles in the way of his characters. Erso must choose between his family and his research; Krennic between his desire for status and honesty; Has Obitt between smuggling and selfishness, and rebellion and selflessness.

Catalyst is an absorbing novel that manages to consider both the intergalactic universe of Star Wars as well as the individual, all rendered against the background of the imposing Death Star. Whatever type of Star Wars fan you may be, Catalyst is a great read.

Review copy
Published by Century

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Ernie Cline does an amazing line in retro 80s reference loaded literature for those of you (*cough* me included) who are old enough to remember it in all it’s glory first hand. Much like his debut novel, Ready Player One, Cline uses those pop culture icons as landmarks to highlight his story. Yet, in Armada, the films, music and video games he name checks all add up to become tropes for the self aware protagonist – one, very coolly named, Zack Lightman.

Armada, in fact, reads very much like one of those epic 80s films I grew up on. Like The Last Starfighter or Wargames, we see a high school kid embroiled in a race to save humanity from the brink of destruction. Cline has, somewhat masterfully, created a meta-80s novel that both embraces those tropes yet remains aware of them, never falling into mimicry nor failing to reflect upon them.

The novel is a fast read and the writing is fluid, filled with brilliant dialogue, a solid cast and lots of action. It’s pretty breathtakingly non-stop really and that’s no bad thing. Zack enters stage right and we’re given his back story – a gamer nerd with a temper who lost his dad while still a baby. Soon, that feeling that he’s meant for something more comes to fruition and he’s whisked away to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Lo and behold it’s because of his skills as a virtual fighter which makes him one of the best of the best and most able to help pilot attack drones against the invading force.

For me it was hugely enjoyable, especially the big dose of 80s- esque story that Armada serves up. It’s straightforward fun with little twist or turns but just like the movies it references, it’s awesome.

Review copy
Published by Penguin Random House