Tales From the Empire
Stories from Star Wars Adventure Journal
Book Review by Kelly M. Grosskreutz
Author: Laurie Burns, Erin Endom, Patricia A. Jackson, Charlene Newcomb, Angela Phillips, Tony Russo, Michael A. Stackpole, Kathy Tyers, Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Bantam Books
Tales from the Empire is a collection of short stories that were originally published in the now defunct Star Wars Adventure Journal. In this book are stories written both by New York Times Bestselling Authors and by "unknowns." I originally was not intending to review this book, but I have decided to do so and look at the stories both from the perspective of someone familiar with the universe and from a first-time reader's view. I will spoil some of the stories here, so if you have not read this book, you might not want to read my review.
First up in the book was "First Contact" by Timothy Zahn. Talon Karrde and a comrade make landfall on a remote planet and end up on an animal hunt. We know Karrde is there to check out the guy in charge of these safaris, but I'm still trying to figure out why he was so interested, since I get the impression all he had heard about before coming to the planet was that this guy ran safaris, and maybe some rumors that the guy in question had some side stuff going on. Karrde appeared to have no prior knowledge of the berries before arriving, so I don't understand what the lure was for him. The only other real criticism I have of this story would be more from a first-time reader's perspective. If I had read this story without reading any of the novels, I would be wondering what the big deal was at the end. So the mechanic at the end of the story is revealed to be Mara Jade. The reader is left with the impression that that's supposed to be mean something, but without reading other books it doesn't mean anything. In other words, this isn't really a story for the first-time reader. However, it is required reading for Karrde or Mara fans.
"Tinian on Trial" by Kathy Tyers does better in this regard. There are no characters dropped in that the reader is just supposed to automatically know. We are not supposed to know these characters until we actually see them. We are filled in on their positions and their relationships in the midst of the ever-moving plot. One can come to like Tinian and be intrigued by Daye. The only problem with this story is that there is not a real solid ending. I realize that this story was supposed to be the first of many, and it is in subsequent stories that we find out what happens to Tinian and Daye, but for a story itself the ending is unsatisfactory because we are left with the two of them apart thinking the other is dead. The frustrating part of it is that we want to know more, we want to see if they will ever end up back together, but the other stories have not been republished in an easier-to-acquire format than the original Adventure Journals.
"The Final Exit" by Patricia A. Jackson definitely has a solid ending. As I read it, I got the impression that other stories featuring Adalric Brandl had been written before, but I didn't get the feeling that I was missing something. If anything, I was intrigued at what had happened in Brandl's past, and the idea that there might have been stories about him taking place before this one only intrigued me. Jackson wrote this story keeping in mind that people who are reading it might not have read the earlier ones, so the reader is not confused by tons of references to previous works. Brandl comes across as a very mysterious figure who has walked a long, dark path and is now looking to see if there is any light at the end of it. The other main character, Ross, also is fun to read. Overall, a decent story.
"Missed Chance" by Michael A. Stackpole is a story I intend to review at a later date in further depth. Simply put, "Missed Chance" is the very first appearance ever of Corran Horn. The main goals of this story are to entertain and to introduce Corran. The person who reads this is supposed to have liked it enough to want to go out and buy the then-upcoming X-wing books. Stackpole succeeds in telling an action-packed tale of Imperials and those who choose to fight them, even if it naively or reluctantly. After all, not everyone who fights the Empire need be a full-fledged Rebel. The one thing I saw that could be a detriment to the story is that all of this stuff happens in the story, and then it's all tied up into one little neat package in the last few pages. I don't know how it could have been done differently in the space allotted, but the end still comes across as a neat little package with perfect bow on top. This story is required reading for Corran fans.
"Retreat from Coruscant" by Laurie Burns may be the best example of a short story out of these first five. A mail courier is on Coruscant right when it is being attacked (during Dark Empire comic series?). This is truly a story of an ordinary person who finds within herself the capacity to be heroic. This is also the first story in the book that is a stand-alone story. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end that does not rely upon elements from other novels or hint that there is more written about this character in an inaccessible place. I really liked the way this story ended, too. Although Taryn is given the choice of joining the New Republic, I was left not really caring if she chose to or not. It seemed more important that she was finally at peace with herself and that she'd exorcised the demons of her father that it did that she join up with the New Republic. It would be interesting to see what choice Taryn ultimately makes, but either way, the choice she makes will be the right one for her. This story is a must-read.
"A Certain Point of View" by Charlene Newcomb gives us an interesting look into the head of someone favorable towards the Empire. Celia is the daughter and sister of Imperial officers, and she supports the Empire as well, although she is not allowed to serve in it. Instead, she becomes a navigator on a luxury liner, where she makes friends with all sorts of people, including the security chief, with whom she likes to play chess-like games. We get to know Celia and her friends fairly quickly, and also get an idea of the kind of relationship Celia has with Adion. The only thing that I had a little difficulty with is excepting that she changed her views about the Empire as quickly as Newcomb has her do so. She goes from supporting the Empire to murdering stormtroopers rather quickly. I could see her choosing to rebel against the Empire in the amount of time portrayed, but I just found it hard to picture her murdering that quickly.
"Blaze of Glory" by Tony Russo is, in my opinion, the worst story in the entire book. The Red Moon mercenary squad is on a mission to rescue an ambassador's two children. It's not the premise that's bad, but the execution of it and just the overall writing. For example, in the very beginning of the story, we have about three paragraphs or so depicting interaction between the characters. We then transition completely out of it into two and a half pages of backstory on each character. This backstory has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story. Much is made out of how one of the characters joined the group because she wants to find her parents. The story mentions her parents and keeps giving us info about what had happened to them. It would be good, except it has nothing to do with the story. To be honest, by the time the exposition was finished, I had to look back to see what had happened in the actual story and what their mission was because I had forgotten. Russo is able to coherently write the actual mission, but by the time the action started, I no longer cared about the characters whatsoever. In short, I have two thoughts that constantly came to mind when reading this story. "Blaze of Glory" made me think of a roleplaying game adventure write-up than it did an actual story, and it also demonstrates a classic case of "tell, don't show."
"Slaying Dragons" by Angela Phillips is a vast improvement. This story shows that age is not a factor when it comes to fighting the Empire. I actualy don't have too much to say about this story. I really can't find anything wrong with it, but yet it doesn't stand out in my mind, either. The one unique factor this story has is that a child is the main protagonist. Many authors seem to have problems writing children, wanting to make them act either older or younger than they are supposed to. Phillips is able to write a nine year-old as a nine year-old. The child may happen to be a very gifted slicer, but she treats her skills like a typical kid would. Her vocabulary was consistent with a kid's as well. One should not be too surprised by this, though, since Phillip's author bio says she is a substitute teacher. Her experience with children definitely aided her in writing a decent story and perhaps the only story in the SW universe where a child is acting like a normal kid.
I highly recommend reading Erin Endom's "Do No Harm." This story and Burns's story are the two best stories in the book, excluding anything by New York Times authors. This story is from the viewpoint of a hospital-ship medic who finds herself in a situation far outside the normal chaotic atmosphere of a med-center. Sent along to see to the medical needs of a high-ranking prisoner that a group of Rebels intends to break out of an Imperial prison, she is forced to come face to face with the largest of moral decicions possible for a doctor: are there any circumstances that would warrant breaking her medical oath to "do no harm?" Endom does a nice job of balancing action with internal conflict as the doctor reluctantly participates in the mission. There is a clear-cut beginning with an ending that is not as predictable as one might think.
Closing out the book is "Side Trip," a four-part novella by Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole. This novella details a slice of time immediately preceding the Rebel defeat of Derra IV, where Grand Admiral Thrawn engineers a move against Black Sun lieutenant Zekka Thyne. His plan ends up involving two traders, two Rebel agents posing as members of the traders' crew, and a last-minute addition of two undercover Corellian Security Force agents by the name of Corran and Hal Horn. As one would expect out of a story written by Zahn and Stackpole, there is a lot of action. The story flows smoothly from part to part, with only stylistic differences to indicate where one author left off and the other took it up. A person unfamiliar with Zahn's books might not quite understand all of Thrawn's motives, and one unfamiliar with the Horns may still be confused at how Hal managed to take down Thyne towards the end, but overall, I think "Side Trip" is a story that will please readers of all backgrounds.
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