Some centuries into the future, humanity has colonised several worlds using the skip drive for FTL travel. Earth, however, has become a backwater because of overly hesitant and cautious politicians; the level of technology appears barely above ours today. There is next to no contact with colonies; whoever leaves does never come back. Only people from overpopulated countries have the opportunity to become colonists. Citizens of richer countries get only one shot at leaving earth for good: becoming a soldier. When U.S. citizens turn 65, they can sign up to join the Colonial Defense Force at the age of 75. Convinced that the CDF has to make them young again in some way, many sign up—including John Perry, the narrator of this story.
We join John for the ride that starts at his 75th birthday; he leaves earth, is rejuvenated (I won’t spoil the details) and joins the battle for humanity’s survival in a less than friendly galactical neighbourhood. With a death rate of more than 75% over a duty cycle of ten years, chances are he will never get to enjoy another life again; so he’d better enjoy this one!
Old Man’s War is fun. Imagine your grandfather on steroids, an iPhone in his brain and a machine gun at the ready; a fantastic premise! It is a delight to read how John and the other gaffers deal with new lives, new technology and war. On the other hand, we get serious, quite brutal battle scenes. Think Space Cowboys cross-bred with Starship Troopers to get an idea. John’s cynical way to think about the wonders and horrors of his job marks the main conflict in the book.
Sadly, there is not much of a story in terms of chains of events through much of Old Man’s War. There are hints at larger questions, though; for example, what are the motives for the Colonies’ aggression? Maybe the big picture is explored more thoroughly in the sequels. All in all, the book was fun to read, thanks to exciting technology and tart humor among the old guys. Sequels, here I come!
Solo Command is book seven of the X-wing series and third and last book dealing with Wraith Squadron. Part of Han Solo’s fleet group alongside several capital ships and Rogue Squadron, the Wraiths continue hunting Zsinj. The plan is to lure him and his mighty flagship Iron Fist somewhere the Super Star Destroyer can easily be destroyed. But assassination attempts by non-humans on Admiral Ackbar, Mon Mothma, Wedge Antilles and others fuel old distrusts throughout the ranks of New Republic military. Meanwhile, Lara Notsil’s cover becomes thinner as Myn Donos of all people declares romantic interest in his squad mate.
Solo Command is a usual X-wing book: fast paced, well-written action and a little dry humor. In this instance, some intriguing intelligence work adds to the book’s qualities. Typical weaknesses regarding characters are not as dominant in this book as in some of its prequels but still there. All in all, it is a decent final book for the Wraiths who enter stage again only during the New Jedi Order series.
Iron Fist by Aaron Allston is volume six of the X-Wing series. After their ingenious coup in book five, the Wraiths have earned a reputation. So the shady squad is padded to full strength and sent on a similar, yet potentially more dangerous but also more worthwhile mission: Wraith Squadron is to pose as pirate gang in order to be employed by warlord Zsinj and then expose him to attacks by New Republic military.
Iron Fist is a fun, action packed read despite some sad episodes. Similar to the prequel, the mission itself gives plenty opportunity for curious twists and the less-than-correct attitude of Wraith Squadron makes for lots of inter-character humor. Introduction and development of the new guys is too hasty for my taste, but still acceptable for the format: there are many leaps in time that keep proceedings plausible but also skip exactly those vital integration episodes.
All in all, Iron Fist is a worthy X-Wing book and maybe even one of the better ones, given that there are losses and consequently sad moments.
My other read-in-progress was too big for the plane, so I picked up book five of the X-Wing series, Wraith Squadron. After having been on covert operations repeatedly with the Rogues, Wedge Antilles realises that his pilots are rather unsuited for this kind of mission. Since he believes in the worth of sneaky precision as complement to open warfare, he wants to found a sneaky squadron. He collects the washouts of New Republic navy, people that have no future in regular fighter squadrons and have their main talents elsewhere. He ends up with a bunch of peculiar individuals, everything from slicer over actor to demolition expert. All can handle their fighter, though. Since all of them have problems with authority and themselves, there is plenty of room for conflict. After the newly formed squad accidentally takes over a gunship belonging to warlord Zsinj’s forces, it is ordered to operate the vessel as if it was still occupied by its original owners. This way, they infiltrate New Republic’s now most dangerous enemy for the purpose of data mining and demolition.
Wraith Squadron is a great idea and makes for quite Soloesque reading experience. The Rogues became old since Stackpole’s action focused writing style does not really support longer series. Allston sticks to this paradigm so we get a very entertaining novel. I wonder how Allston is able to keep characters interesting in the subsequent books, given that they are rather shallow. In any case, the squad’s creative problem solving and slow integration into a proper unit is fun to read. Sadly, the big final takes place in space; it might be nice to have a climatic ground or even spy battle for once in Star Wars. The ending is appropriate, without big surprises but with proper payment.
Compilation of covers [wiki
So I am through now. What about the series as a whole? Nineteen books plus some shorter stories by about a dozen authors make up the longest story arc in the Extended Universe so far. I do not think it works. There are some books that are better than others, a few are quite good and a few are rather bad. On average, the narrative’s quality is mediocre. But this is not the major dealbreaker for me, it is continuity. Every author has its own darlings that tend to appear and vanish in an ad-hoc fasion. In one book, some Jedi turn up to play their part, only to be not even mentioned in the next one. I can not put a finger on it, but I am pretty sure mistakes happened, too.
Maybe it has to be this way. We have a huge universe with dozens of charakters that have been important in some novel or trilogy. How can you write a series about a galaxy-spanning conflict without touching them all in some way or risking to disappoint readers? How can you keep focus with hundreds of hotspots? Maybe it cannot be done at all. Some authors seem to have realised that instinctively and chose to remove a small set from the big action and let them have a small adventure that fits somewhere in the big picture. Maybe that would have been the better model? I honestly do not know. Read more »