Off the Shelf: Revelation Space, Force Unleashed, The Last Colony

My Christmas Reading List for 2008 went well; I finished two novels (Revelation Space, The Last Colony) on the list and made a serious dent in the third (The Amber Spyglass), while also finishing a hefty graphic novel (Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Vol. 1)

It was great lose myself in books for a week, and while it wasn’t quite as intense as my reading junkets of old (meaning, before kids), it certainly helped recharge my batteries for a busy January.

Revelation Space

I was in the mood for a good, hybrid space opera/hard SF book, and Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space delivered. Revelation Space is a novel that wraps itself around a cosmological mystery: what caused the extinction of the alien Amarantin civilization? And will solving that mystery save the human race … or destroy it?

The book gets a little thick in the middle — it could have lost 50 or so pages of political scheming — but throttles things up in the last third to reach a satisfying conclusion. While this is the first book in a series, it doesn’t read like one; there are no unnatural cliffhangers, and it’s nicely self-contained.

The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide

Some might be turned off by the Force Unleashed Campaign Guide’s video game tie-in. That’d be too bad, because this book is really a “Dark Times” source book, covering the period between the end of the Clone Wars and the start of the Rebellion era, when the Empire is at its strongest. I particularly enjoyed the “organization” rules, which provide a framework for creating groups that players can join, advance in, and ultimately use to further their own ends.

In a time when direct confrontation against the empire likely means instant death, being able to draw upon an organization to protect yourself (or indirectly attack your enemies) is a great resource, and one easily transported to other Star Wars eras. The details about the empire, including its government and military forces, are great, and good for anyone running a Dark Times or Rebellion era (or even New Republic) game.

The various “unleashed” feats and Force powers are too overwhelming for general consumption in my campaign, but I can see using them for notable villains or exceptional NPCs who need to be a cut above your typical antagonists.

All in all, a good, if not essential, source book.

The Last Colony

John Scalzi’s The Last Colony finishes the story begun in Old Man’s War and continued in The Ghost Brigades. War hero John Perry has settled down with his wife Jane (Special Forces-raised clone of his dead wife) and their adopted daughter on a backwater planet. Their temporary peace is broken by the arrival of the colonial military, which wants them to run a brand-new colony being founded on the edge of human space. Unfortunately for them though, there’s a lot more going on then they’ve been told, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a galactic controversy.

I don’t know if it’s the move away from military SF or if Scalzi was rushed to get out a sequel, but this easily the weakest book in the trilogy. Scalzi builds up a galactic mystery surrounding the exact nature and purpose of the colony Perry’s been charged with governing, but he guts the story halfway through with an all-revealing infodump and simply discards a promising story about first contact with an aboriginal alien species. One minute the aliens are a major threat to the colony, the next they’ve been ditched in favor of the galactic controversy.

He does do some interesting role-reversals in human/alien relations; I won’t give it away here, but suffice it to say that standard assumptions about who’s right and who’s wrong are challenged, just as they were in the two earlier books.

Scalzi’s witty and fun dialogue is still there and just as enjoyable as ever. The book’s just as fast a read as its predecessors, which makes it an easy book to get through in a long weekend. It makes an adequate end to the series, but not a spectacular one.

My friend Damon also read this book, and reached similar conclusions in his review at Books Like Dust.

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