It’s hard for me to review this one. This is for two reasons:
- I’ve been an active participant in online debate surrounding the campaign against Chuck Wendig and am thus biased.
- My usual choices in Science Fiction lean more toward big-idea books rather than action-adventures; when I want the latter I usually go to various subgenres of fantasy. As such, I’m less well equipped to do a fair review of a book which is an action-adventure science fiction. That being said, if you replace the blasters and light sabres with arrows and swords, this book cleaves closer to Fantasy tropes quite a bit, so this is a much smaller concern.
Having considered these two points a few disclaimers.
The part that isn’t really a review
I think the concerted campaign to give one-star reviews to Chuck Wendig was shitty. Like a-grade shitty. I don’t care whether the motivation was because there were three gay characters in the book or whether it was because Admiral Thrawn was NOT in the book. When you’re handing out a shit sandwich, it doesn’t matter what type of shit it’s made with. It’s still shit.
Because my opinion of licensed fiction is very low, as in, I think most licensed fiction is the literary equivalent of the rice pablum that we fed our daughter as her first food: lacking in any flavour, texture or quality that might offend anybody in the slightest, I was disinclined to buy Wendig’s new book despite being a fan of his.
I assumed, oh, that’s nice, that author I like did a Star Wars book. That’ll give him some financial breathing room to keep writing awesome Mookie Pearl and Miriam Black novels. Maybe I’ll read it someday.
If it weren’t for the way these gamergaters of Star Wars (more on that momentarily) who call themselves the Bring Back Legends movement I probably would not have bought it.
But I did. And I really liked it. More than any other licensed book I’ve ever read. And what’s more, I’m strongly motivated to tell other people how good it was. I gave it a five-star review on Kobo, Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. I told friends and family to read this book.
So thanks BBL. Good job advertising Wendig’s book for him.
BBL is just like Gamergate, and the Sad Puppies
It doesn’t matter whether they have the same political motives. That’s largely irrelevant. You can be an asshole of an entitled fan whether your sense of entitlement has to do with women in video games, whether Larry Correia deserves a Hugo or whether Disney should continue publishing the Star Wars Extended Universe. The second you start thinking your emotional capital investment as a fan makes your preferred status quo important enough to steamroller over other fans you’re in Gamergate territory.
Sea Lioning in comments: Arguing at length that people who don’t want to discuss your issue are in the wrong because you are, “being polite.” You aren’t. You’re jumping up in other people’s conversations to shout your opinion. It doesn’t matter if you start by shouting please and end with shouting thank you.
“Social Media Campaigns:” The so-called raids that BBL engage in aren’t some sort of SM enabled letter writing campaign. They’re spam. They pop into facebook pages for Del Rey and Disney when new products are announced to shut down any conversation other than, “give us what we demand.”
Targeting high-profile detractors: Whether it’s sending threats to Anita Sarkeesian, writing hateful “parodies” accusing John Scalzi of various misdeeds or one-starring Chuck Wendig’s book what differs is the severity. What is the same is the fact that you’ve got a group going, “I recognize that person, they disagree with my position. I will bring them low.”
And of course in all these examples we have a group acting like they’re owed something. The gamergaters are owed video games wherein they can be as ghastly as they want. The Sad Puppies are owed Hugos denied them by us evil SJWs. The BBL team are owed more Zahn books, and Admiral Thrawn in the movies or on the cartoons.
It’s ultimately about entitlement. The bad behaviour, whether it manifests as threats against the security of the person, spurious police calls, or campaigns to harm sales of a product, is the way in which these groups forward the claim that they’re entitled to certain things, to permissiveness toward behaviours, to whatever.
The number of times I’ve heard from BBL, “we tried writing letters to Disney but they just sent a form letter back saying no. This is the only way we can be heard,” it boggles the mind.
Because, of course, they were heard. And Disney told them no.
They just refused to accept that. Just like Gamergate refused to accept that game critics might be critical of gaming culture. Just like the Sad Puppies refused to accept that their favourite authors wrote books that most fans didn’t want to give Hugo awards to.
They’re the same.
The part that is a review
I’m going to do this a bit differently, addressing prose, characters (use thereof and characterization) and plot (use thereof and interconnectivity with the greater brand) separately. You’ll note I’m going to not dwell on theme as much as I usually would. That’s because the message of this book is very simple: war is hell and messes up everybody’s shit. Wendig deals with that well. But it doesn’t need as much picking apart to get at than The Dark Forest did.
Wendig works in present tense throughout the book. He writes in short chapters and his chapters frequently end in a cliffhangery way. I am certainly not going to throw stones. While I write in past tense (I’m just not good enough to sustain present tense beyond short story length) I also use short chapters with frequent cliffhangers. Why? Because for action adventure it works.
Among the detractors who actually read the book, this is probably where Wendig loses people the most. Because in a lot of licensed work authorial voice is as invisible as possible. I understand why: distinctive flair interferes with brand adherence. Generally that’s a bad thing for a franchise.
But Disney has learned this isn’t always the case (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and evidently they gave Wendig the freedom to write, well, a Wendig book. This is very good. And it turns this book from a typical pew pew starships tie-in novel into an interesting work of art.
Wendig populates this book with a bunch of characters who aren’t major players in the movies. There are a few standard bearers here. Fans of Wedge Antilles will… well some will love this book and others may have reason to flip tables. But he’s got a major role. Han Solo and Chewbacca have a cameo. Leia shows up as a hologram and Mon Mothma pops up in a few chapters. But there’s no Jedi at all.
And that’s just fine.
The story works by living in some of Star Wars’ best spaces – the dirty back alleys and underworld dives. It’s populated by veterans of the war who were broken by it. Interestingly three of the protagonists (four if you include Wedge) were at the Battle of Endor, each separately, and the things that happened there affect each of their arcs in unique ways: war may break everybody but everybody breaks differently.
From a franchise perspective, playing with unknowns also affords Wendig to tell a story with a big theme, without bumping into the limits undoubtedly imposed on him by Disney.
Structurally the book follows a rescue / heist model that Wendig is comfortable with. It’s also a structure that works very well for Star Wars, existing as it does on the periphery between science fiction and fantasy.
It’s a pulpy story, full of sudden reversals and unexpected changes of fortune. And it’s a book in which people can die. Wendig lets us see the blood and viscera that Lucas’ PG requirements left off-screen for much of the original trilogy.
I guess what I’m saying is that this is a Star Wars story in the best possible way: concentrating on a small collection of neer-do-wells and rogues as they stumble into something bigger than them and pull through by a combination of luck and talent.
Since we’re approaching TL;DR here’s everything in a nutshell:
- I’m a fan of Wendig who hasn’t ever read Zahn, make of that what you will
- The people who are trying to burn down Wendig’s book are jerks who smell like gamergating sad puppies
- It’s obviously a star wars book
- It’s a really good star wars story
- It doesn’t matter that Luke Skywalker isn’t in it
- Buy it.
- No seriously buy it.
- Right now.
- Stop what you’re doing and buy this book.
- Then read it.