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Book Review – Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn

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Once again we travel to a galaxy far, far away, readers! This time the destination is Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest. Strap into your X-wings and hold onto your lightsabers, because here we go!

Set three years after the Hand of Thrawn duology and three years before the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion, Surivivor’s Quest begins with Talon Karrde aboard Booster Terrik’s traveling casino, the Errant Venture. He is anxiously waiting to hear from Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker. Someone in his organization betrayed him. They stole a message meant for the Skywalkers, then rushed off into the Unknown Regions with it.

Knowing how trouble-prone the two Jedi are and what the difference a few days can mean where important messages are concerned, Talon has practically paced a rut into the Errant Venture’s command deck waiting for Luke and Mara to get his message to meet him at the casino. Booster tries to calm him down, but all he succeeds in doing it making Talon stop pacing. The smuggling chief doesn’t like letting his people or friends down, and even though Mara is now a Jedi and the wife of Luke Skywalker, she’ll always be his friend. The idea that this message’s delay could put her and her husband in jeopardy does not sit well with him.

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of this, Mara Jade Skywalker is in a cantina on an Outer Rim world negotiating with a gang that used to work for Karrde. Having turned his organization into a neutral intelligence agency that reports to the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant, Karrde has been gradually disengaging from the smuggling world for the past three years. Mara has been helping him out, in part because she is also been working on separating herself from his organization.

It is hard to say how the previous meetings went, but this one isn’t looking like it will be smooth sailing. The leader of this gang has stocked the cantina with all of his friends, most of whom have blasters pointed at Mara’s back. Since Talon is cutting them loose, the gang leader demands Mara forward them half a million credits as a “tide-me-over” until they can connect with another, more powerful organization like Karrde’s to maintain their operations.

The demand is more than a little unreasonable, and Mara has no intention of fulfilling it. She is also not as helpless or alone as the gang thinks. Using the Force and her lightsaber to distract the group, she buys Luke enough time to make his fantastic entrance. There is a brief scuffle, but the Skywalkers end it without bloodshed. Mara promises to transfer a generous but sane amount of money to the group just as a young man rushes in to tell his boss they received a message from Karrde for Mara.

17 Best ideas about Mara Jade on Pinterest | Sith lord ...

Luke takes the opportunity to scare the crooks with an apparent Jedi mind trick by reciting most of the message, which was forwarded to him from Mara’s ship. Having suitably impressed the bunch, the Skywalkers leave. Knowing Karrde wouldn’t send a message to them and throughout his network of contacts unless he really needed to talk to them, they head out to meet the Errant Venture.

Once there, they find the Venture getting a new paint job. Booster is having it painted bright red, perhaps in the hopes of making the Star Destroyer less intimidating. Contacting Karrde and Booster, they learn about the message. Turns out it was from an Admiral Voss Parck on Niraun.

Mara and Luke share a look. Last time they saw Parck was in Vision of the Future, when they blew up a hangar full of his fighters. The fact that he suddenly wants to talk to them is more than little surprising.

It also doesn’t bode well, since Parck was adamant that there were hundreds of threats the Republic wasn’t capable of facing in the Unknown Regions. If one of those threats is headed their way, they need to know about. Saying good-bye, the Skywalkers head to Niraun….

To find that they’ve been invited to see the remains of Outbound Flight. By the Chiss.

Destroyed by Thrawn on its way to another galaxy, the colonizing ship Outbound Flight was thought lost for good. But now the Chiss have found relics of the vessel in an asteroid field. Since Outbound Flight was primarily a Jedi project, the Chiss have invited Luke to come and pay his and the new Order’s respects to the victims.

Mara is less than pleased. The whole thing is a little too neatly packaged. Provided the Chiss have found what is left of Outbound Flight, the timing of the message’s delivery was such that, even if it hadn’t been stolen, she and Luke wouldn’t have had time to tell anyone in the New Republic where they were going. Although her danger sense isn’t prickling and she’s not getting any warnings from the Force, the whole thing feels too much like a set up.

Nevertheless, she knows as well as her husband does that they have to take this mission. The why is still a mystery, but they can both sense they’re being guided by the Force into this mission to the Chiss. Getting the coordinates from Parck, they head out to meet the Chiss envoy…

…And then the fun begins.

If you want to see what Luke and Mara’s married life is like, Survivor’s Quest is a must-read. Although they haven’t had the first three years of their marriage all to themselves, by this point they are an even more exceptional team than in previous novels. They have grown together and become far stronger than they ever were apart. I wish Zahn had been allowed to write up more adventures like this for them!

As usual, since this is a Timothy Zahn novel, there are no Warnings for Younger Readers. Everything is completely above board. No sex, no gratuitous violence, and nothing remotely offensive. It is just a fun romp in a galaxy far, far away. No one could ask for better than that.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Pick up Survivor’s Quest at your earliest opportunity, readers. You won’t regret it!

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Book Review: The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn

Image result for Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters

Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters (the edition published in 2002), was my first introduction to the franchise’s original Expanded Universe. While my parents had copies of several Star Wars EU novels and encouraged me to read them, I was young enough at the time that the volumes appeared too large and adult for a child of my age to understand. So I left the books sitting on the shelf, planning to dive into them when I was older and had a better chance of appreciating them.

Then, on a trip to the library, my father found The New Essential Guide to Characters. It was in the “for sale” shelves, so he picked it up and bought it for me – even though I was not truly interested in it at the time. Not long after he purchased it, however, I cracked the tome open to at least look at the pictures.

Over the years, “looking at the pictures” became “reading the profiles.” Gradually, I began to understand the Star Wars timeline outside of the films, which were my only source of Star Wars material up to that point. (Hey, I was a child! How many rambunctious tweens and teens do you know who prefer a good, big book to watching a movie?) But even as I began to put the Expanded Universe and film timelines together, I did not necessarily realize which characters were where and did what.

That all changed when I finally read Mara Jade Skywalker’s file. A New Hope, as I have said elsewhere, was the Star Wars film I loved best when I was young. Han getting frozen in carbonite kind of turned me off of the sequels until I was in my early teens, so the rest of the trilogy was something of a mystery to me for a while.

So when I learned that Luke had actually gotten married after Return of the Jedi, and to a woman who hated him and had vowed to kill him, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I struggled with the idea for a bit, but eventually came to accept it, reading and rereading her profile along with all the others.

After a couple of years doing this, I decided enough was enough. Mara sounded pretty cool, from what I had read. So if she was this interesting in a character summary, she had to be twice as amazing “in person” – that is, in the novels. Not long after this I picked up one of the books I had been offered as a child and started reading, learning quickly that the Guide had undersold Mara Jade completely. She didn’t live up to her reputation; she exceeded it.

What does all this have to do with the Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn? Well, if you remember your own days as teenager, you remember that we sometimes start at the end or the middle instead of the beginning. I did not meet Mara in the Thrawn trilogy or even in Specter of the Past. I just jumped right into Vision of the Future and started reading.

The book knocked my socks off, readers. To this day, I would say it is my favorite Expanded Universe novel, and none of the new timeline books have beaten it. I rather doubt they ever will.

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Specter of the Past is the first book in the Duology. It starts, naturally enough, with a Star Destroyer. (Zahn always follows the original films’ format by showing us the Empire ahead of the Rebellion/New Republic.) Admiral Gilad Pellaeon watches the Chimera try out a new computer said to be able to predict an enemy’s attack pattern and then destroy their opponent while the ship is cloaked. Using Preybirds instead of TIE fighters, a number of Imperial pilots “assault” the Chimera before the ship cloaks. Then it engages its fancy targeting computer and counterattacks, firing off five hundred shots.

Five hundred shots plus a handful of fighters – how do you think the test went?

Badly, that’s how. Out of a pitiful number of targets, the Chimera’s blind shooting only “destroyed” one Preybird. Yeah, that is pretty pathetic, even by our standards.

Though the captain of his ship, a man named Ardiff, thinks the display is fine, Pellaeon is not pleased. The ship fired five hundred near random shots and only one fighter was “destroyed.” Besides which, Preybirds are not military fighters – even the New Republic did not use them during the Rebellion era. The fact that the Empire, which has been reduced to eight sectors at this point, is relying on Preybirds as fighters means only one thing…

The war is over. And they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, Han and Chewie have gone on a diplomatic mission to Iphigin to try and straighten out a trade dispute between two alien species, the Ishori and the Diamala. Leia, who has stepped down as President of the New Republic, is currently on Wayland getting some well-deserved R&R with their three children. A Calibop named Ponc Gavrisom is now President of the New Republic. Nevertheless, he immediately went to whistle up Leia’s help in solving this minor problem, despite the fact that her vacation has only just begun.

Well, Han Solo is not going to stand for this. He intercepts the message before it can reach his wife and goes in Leia’s place – without telling her what he is doing, of course. Before you accuse him of being a misogynist, readers, or say he thought she couldn’t handle the job, consider this: Leia is on vacation. She is, for the time being, not active in the day-to-day politics of the New Republic. She has also been handling one crisis after another for ten years and, now that she is no longer running the New Republic, should she have her rest and relaxation disturbed over one little trade disagreement?

I do not think Leia deserves that, and neither does Han. Rather than run and tell her about the fuss, he decided to handle it quietly on her behalf. If that isn’t gentlemanly – not to mention romantic – behavior on his part, then you can paint me as red as the Errant Venture and call me a sap.

Besides, Han has thought things through this time and come prepared. Not long after he and Chewie arrive at Iphigin to handle the trade dispute, Luke and R2 appear in the former’s New Republic X-wing. They trade some small talk before Solo explains that Chewie will handle the Ishori part of the disagreement while Luke takes care of the Diamala. He developed this plan because the Ishori think well when they are screaming in fury, while the Diamala would give Jedi and Vulcans a run for their money when it comes maintaining their calm.

Image result for star wars specter of the past

The plan is a sound one – but it hits an unexpected snag. The Diamala do not want anything to do with Luke, stating that Jedi who use as much power as he does inevitably fall to the Dark Side. Surprised – and somewhat miffed – Luke becomes Han’s advisor instead as the negotiations start…

…But at the end of the day, they have accomplished exactly nothing. The two species do not appear interested in getting along, leaving both our heroes with nothing except headaches for all their trouble.

However, it soon turns out not to be a total waste of a day. While they are trying to figure out a way to solve the mess, the men receive a message about an incoming freighter Iphigini Customs has been told is carrying contraband. Something about this gets Han excited, and after the call is terminated, he tells Luke the smuggler is just a distraction. Pirates blow the whistle to the authorities on a “smuggler” carrying contraband into the day side of a planet while they hit a night side target. Because Customs is running to take in the “smuggler,” they cannot get back to the night side of the planet to stop the pirates before they have grabbed whatever they want and run off.

But he and Luke can get there in time. They head for the Falcon and the X-wing to deal with the pirates, allowing them to burn off their frustration about the trade negotiation. But before the battle begins, Luke experiences a disturbing vision of the Emperor and another, more ancient Sith Lord he faced as a spirit, staring at him through the X-wing’s canopy. And they are laughing at him.

Meanwhile, on Wayland, Threepio tells Leia that Han ran off to handle a diplomatic matter. At first put out, Leia lets it go and decides it is better to just enjoy her time on Wayland with the Noghri and her children. Unfortunately, her vacation is interrupted by a Devaronian poking around where he should not be. The Noghri call her in to handle the matter, which she seemingly does….

…Until the guy drops a smoke bomb near Jaina and Anakin to cover his escape.

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

Anyone with sense knows that threatening the Solo children is a big mistake, so this Devaronian obviously lacks sense. Leia takes off with a Noghri escort to bring him in, only to get some unexpected help from Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. The two are on Wayland to hire Noghri bodyguards for some of Karrde’s informants – the ones who typically work in dangerous areas. The three learn when they capture the guy that the thief intended to sell a data card with a damaged document on it.

This soon proves to be a recipe for disaster. The document in question not only threatens the peace of the New Republic, it could start another galactic civil war. Only this time, the Republic will not be fighting the Empire for their freedom. This time, they will be fighting each other in a pointless attempt to get even with the past.

Our heroes scramble to prevent this, but things go from bad to worse when Luke has another Force vision. This one includes a picture of Mara, apparently dead in a cave somewhere. Not long after he has said vision, Mara disappears on a planet in Wild Space. Instead of sending someone else to get her, however, Luke leaves his friends and family to handle the New Republic’s problems while he goes in alone to rescue her.

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This is where Vision of the Future takes up the tale, and where I leave you, readers. I will not spoil anything else about these wonderful books, which are now old friends to me. If you do not enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology, I am sincerely sorry to hear that. They are truly great tales, though, and they deserve to be read at least once.

Before I go, I would like to add that at first Mara and Zahn’s constant remarks about Luke using too much power made no sense to me. As I said, my first experience of the Expanded Universe came through The New Essential Guide to Characters. There was not much there about Luke overusing the Force.

It was only when I read some novels in the Star Wars mythos besides Zahn’s that I found out what he was chastising Luke for doing – and thereby the other writers for the EU. Seriously, I enjoy the old EU more than the new timeline, but some of the writers for those books seemed to think being Force-sensitive means Jedi can get away with anything. Reading Jedi Search and the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson was fun – except for the way he had Luke use the Force. Good grief, the difference between Light Siders and Dark Siders is that Dark Siders use the Force to gain power. Jedi rely on the Force as an ally, as a guide to get through life. They don’t master the Force – they serve it.

Zahn’s message must have hit home, because the novels following Vision of the Future took his stance toward the Force rather than Anderson’s haphazard treatment. Jude Watson may have been one of the authors who followed his example almost to the letter. Her The Last Jedi series for young Star Wars fans felt very similar, to me, to Zahn’s work. This was especially true in regards to the hows, wheres, and whyfores of the Force and Star Wars tech.

Well, that is it for now, readers. All I have to say before I go is that I hope you enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology. Remember, the Force will be with you, always.

Book Review: Cobra War, Book 1: Cobra Alliance by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is the author of many books, including Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, Star Wars: Dark Force Rising, and Star Wars: The Last Command. He is the author whom Star Wars expanded universe readers have to thank for Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, not to mention Mara’s marriage to Luke Skywalker. He wrote Star Wars: Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future specifically to “get them together.”

This is how I became acquainted with Mr. Zahn’s writing, reading his Star Wars fiction. But I have read some of his other work. And today’s post focuses on a book from one of his own series, the Cobra serials, set on worlds humans have colonized.

Cobras are humans who have been mechanically modified to be living weapons. Becoming a Cobra is completely voluntary; no one is forced to become one. When one chooses to become a Cobra, they undergo a procedure which implants various guns and other technology in the men’s bodies. Thus they are able to infiltrate enemy lines and orchestrate guerilla attacks, then disappear again when they have wreaked some damaging sabotage or other operations. A Cobra has the perfect cover; how are you supposed to tell him apart from a normal human man? Their implants are so well placed they do not obviously stick out.

Most Cobras are male. But there is one exception. Jasmine ‘Jin’ Moreau Broom is a Cobra. She has been for several years. What is more, she is married to another Cobra and is the mother of three (now grown) children: Merrik, Lorne, and Jody. Merrick and Lorne have followed both their mother and father into the Cobra service; Jody is working on a science project to help colonize the one Cobra world that seemingly cannot be conquered by regular terraforming means. And Jody is in a real hurry to do this.

Why?

Well, you see, readers, the Cobras have a problem. “Making” Cobras and training them to do their jobs is expensive. And Cobras need something to fight. They react rather forcefully when attacked, even by low level criminals. Their implants really do not distinguish well between a punk with a knife and a Troft soldier. (Trofts are the sentient, bird-like aliens in this series. They have something of a peace treaty between themselves and the Cobra worlds, not to mention Earth and its other colonies. But there are some Trofts who would like to resume hostilities with the humans – NOW.)

Naturally, with most of the Cobra worlds tamed, there are politicians who want to stop paying for them. They want to either cut the funding for the Cobra programs or stop ‘production’ of Cobras altogether. Jin, her husband Paul, their children, and the rest of her family are all rather put out with this push to decommission the Cobra program. After all, the best defense is a good offense, something they are well aware of.

Then this problem is compounded by a second dilemma. Years ago, when Jin was a newbie Cobra, she went on a mission to another human-colonized planet – but not a member of the Cobra worlds – called Quasama. The mission was a failure. Jin’s whole team died when their craft crashed and burned; she alone survived. The locals were a bit of a pain and it was basically luck that got Jin offworld. Now, a mysterious message has arrived, asking her to return to Quasama.

But doing so is an act of treason. After her mission, all contact with Quasama was forbidden. Jin, however, has to know what is going on. With only Merrick to accompany her, Jin sneaks back to Quasama –

And finds that war has come to that planet – from the Trofts! And the aliens’ next targets are the Cobra worlds!

Cobra Alliance is a GREAT book. Like all of the work I have seen Zahn do, he does not skimp on detail. He is the one sci-fi writer I have read who is extremely exact in his science. I do not know how feasible any of the technology in his stories is, but he describes it very well. I guess it comes from his majoring in the technological sciences. Research probably helps him, too.

Another plus for this book is that Jin is an amazing, wonderful character. I cannot help but compare her to Princess Leia Organa Solo. She reminds me very strongly of our favorite Princess – with lots of guns and tricks hidden in her body instead of Force-sensitivity and a lightsaber! Jin is a marvelous character. I think she is one of Zahn’s best characters ever!

            Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian