The Thrawn Trilogy

Today, I finished the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Overall, I really enjoyed the books and feel like it was a great introduction to the Extended Universe/Legends. I like the Star Wars Universe, but I’m coming to realize that it isn’t really a sci-fi series, it is more like a religious fantasy series than anything. Instead of swords, magic, and dragons you have lightsabers, the Force, and aliens. The Force plays a dual role; it is both the source of magical powers for some people as well as an independent omnipotent(?) being that seems to guide the action.

It is the latter part of the Force that kind of bothers me. I’m not big on a god-like being interfering in the character’s lives. Within the trilogy there were several Deus Ex Machina moments that could all just be blamed on the Force. People were so often “coincidentally” (thanks to the Force) in the right place at the right time in a way to stop Thrawn’s plans that is started to bug me. I started to realize the good guys would win no matter what, even if they didn’t deserve to.

I think that is part of why I started to like Thrawn. He was certainly a bad person in a lot of ways, particularly the way he handled some of the incompetence in his ranks and the way he dealt with the Noghri people, but he was also an incredible tactician and not evil like Vader or the Emperor. Thrawn worked hard at studying his opponents and coming up with unique battle plans, he was an incredible leader who his soldiers trusted and he worked to minimize casualties. Without any Force powers of his own he was more of a character out of a Tom Clancy novel than fantasy.

Much of his hard work and intelligence was a waste because he wasn’t defeated by a superior tactician or someone who worked harder, he was mostly defeated because the Force wanted him to be. Sure, many of the final events were a result of his mistakes (the Noghri and handling The Mad Jedi), but the New Republic wouldn’t have had a chance without a long string of coincidences that the Force put into play. I guess I would have rather seen the groups that combine creativity, hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity have a chance of winning instead of knowing ahead of time that the “good guys” will be victorious by the end of the series.

I know it sounds like I am bitching about the series, but I actually really did enjoy it. Maybe I just need to get used to the Star Wars Universe, read more, or stop taking things so damn seriously. If you haven’t read this book you really should, it is enjoyable fiction and the audiobook version on Audible is phenomenal.

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“The Man in the High Castle”

I just finished reading “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick.

It was not what I expected. After watching the first season of the Amazon adaptation earlier this year I was excited to read the book, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the show. Personally, I like “spoilers” for movies and tv shows. If I know the plot before watching the show then I can really appreciate the other artistic additions that are unique to the visual arts. The acting, sets, CGI, etc. are all things that I can appreciate more when I am not worried too much plot.

Anyway, the book didn’t spoil anything. The tv adaptation seems to be only very loosely based on the book. The basic universe (what if the Japanese and Germans won WWII?) is the mostly the same and many of the characters have the same names, but the plot is different and the character’s personalities are different. Generally, I don’t mind when tv/movie adaptations of books or comics play a little loose with the story details. It is a different medium after all, and that requires focusing on different aspects of the story than in a book. I don’t expect movies to stay true to the book and I actually don’t think they should, books are different than movies and we shouldn’t try to tell the exact same story using both formats. The argument about whether the book or the movie is better comes off as unnecessary to me, it is like arguing whether flour is better used as an ingredient in a cake or as batter for fried chicken. They share a common element, but they are different results for different audiences and different occasions.

Okay, sorry about that tangent, back to the book.

The book was okay. It was a decent thought experiment and the anthropomorphized I, Ching was interesting, but the over-all plot and characters weren’t that interesting to me. There were some fairly racist comments and thought patterns, but that could be chalked up to portraying the characters as real humans. It seems possible (probable) that there would be a lot of racist tones in the United States towards the Japanese in the 1960’s if they took over half the country.

There was also a tone of sexism there that seemed more a reflection of the author’s views than an accurate portrayal of how people would act. The one female protagonist is often displayed as shallow, stupid, flighty, and prone to just following emotional whims. She lacks much depth besides a few facts about her physical appearance and her Judo abilities. The males in the story generally view her as superficial and a tool to be used or won back. I guess this was written half a century ago, so maybe I shouldn’t expect much gender equality in the book.

I did enjoy the book a little bit as an Audiobook. It was good background distraction while biking, and it was a pretty quick listen. If someone is interested in exploring the source material for the TV version and don’t want things to be spoiled they can definitely check out the book.