31 October 2013

Review: Enter Wildthyme by Paul Magrs

Trade paperback, 330 pages
Published 2011

Acquired November 2011
Read May 2013
Enter Wildthyme
by Paul Magrs

There's a good story in here somewhere, about learning to find magic again in your life. Unfortunately, it's buried beneath a deadly dull hunt for a mystical artifact, the stakes of which are never made clear... or interesting. This felt like it went on forever, when it probably didn't, and all of the concepts seemed squandered. And it doesn't even finish up properly, but you won't catch me buying Magrs's other standalone Wildthyme novels (Wildthyme Beyond! or From Wildthyme with Love) based on this.

30 October 2013

Review: The Great War of 189—: A Forecast by Rear-Admiral P. Colomb, et al.

Hardcover, 308 pages
Published 1975 (originally 1893)

Borrowed from the library
Read  September 2013
The Great War of 189—: A Forecast
by Rear-Admiral P. Colomb, Colonel J. F. Maurice, Captain F. N. Maude, Archibald Forbes, Charles Lowe, D. Christie Murray and F. Scudamore

This is a collection of faux newspaper articles written by real journalists and military men from 1893, telling the tale of the "next great war"-- in this case, Britain, Germany, and Italy versus France and Russia. A sort of tedious level of detail, and unfortunately it doesn't do a whole lot to imagine new technologies.

Is it impressive that they correctly predict the war would be kicked off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Or was that just obvious back then? It seems very impressive to me to get that right twenty years early. I did feel bad for the political expert in the afterword (which essentially reviews the book's factual contents) who said the most implausible part was that the next war would start with a local conflict in Serbia that would end up involving the rest of Europe through the complex web of alliances. Better luck next time, dude!

29 October 2013

Review: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Trade paperback, 220 pages
Published 2006

Acquired September 2013
Read October 2013
Mister Pip
by Lloyd Jones

Alternately heartwarming and terrifying, this book is about a white man on a Papua New Guinea island who reads Great Expectations aloud to a class of blacks. It's about the power of books to touch us and to destroy us, about their ability to change us and our ability and inability to change them back. Reading is awesome, and so is being a gentleman, but neither is easy.

28 October 2013

Review: James Ingleton: The History of a Social State, A.D. 2,000 by "Mr. Dick"

Hardcover, 450 pages
Published unknown (originally 1893)

Borrowed from the library
Read  September 2013
James Ingleton: The History of a Social State, A.D. 2,000
by "Mr. Dick"

Some sources will tell you that this pseudonymous book was published in 1887, but that's clearly wrong-- not just because contemporary sources cite it as published in 1893, but because the book makes no sense if it was published before Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888). This book is basically what would happen if a group of plucky young rebels banded together and bombed Bellamy's socialist utopia into submission because they believe in the rights of the individual. Death from above! It's not very good, but it is moderately interesting, if too long by far.

24 October 2013

Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Comic trade paperback, 341 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2000-03)

Acquired July 2011
Read December 2012
The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi

The first half of this comic about the childhood of an Iranian girl is more interesting than the second, both in terms of content and formally, but really, it's all pretty good. A look into a world that's easy for an American to be ignorant of-- though it makes you wonder about all the people who aren't as well off as Satrapi was.

22 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2012 edited by Clayton Hickman

Hardcover, 162 pages
Published 2011

Acquired September 2012
Read September 2013
Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2012
edited by Clayton Hickman

Okay, the cover's not as nice, but in most other ways this is an improvement upon its already-quite-good predecessor. I remember not liking the 2011 series very much as it aired, but this book got me appreciating it-- even if the plots don't hang together, surely it's one of Doctor Who's most stylish and gorgeous-looking seasons? The episode guides are still good, but there's even better features than ever before:
  • notes from Amy and Rory to the Doctor during their honeymoon(s)
  • cut sequences from episodes (including a Fiddler on the Roof song in "The Impossible Astronaut," and all the drafts of "The Curse of the Black Spot"... including the ship-less one!)
  • an explanation of the three-month gap between "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" (complete with map)
  • "The Changing Hats of Doctor Who"(!)
  • a scrapbook of Madame Vastra's history (including Henry Gordon Jago reference)
  • report cards for Rory, Mels, and Amy
  • a Teselecta user's guide ("The Teselecta comes with a range of pre-programed dance moves for scenarios when it is required to dance convincingly.... NEVER attempt manual improvisation - IT CAN COST LIVES!")
  • a TwoStreams Kindness Facility PR brochure
  • The White Flag, the newspaper of the always-surrending planet of Tivoli
  • Charles Dickens's twitter updates

Particularly awesome is a Neil Gaiman/Mark Buckingham comic strip prequel to "The Doctor's Wife" and the Doctor's job application for the department store in "Closing Time."

There's a real emphasis in here on how the show is made, which is both pleasing to someone like me and sure to inspire and thrill a whole new generation of younger fans. It's a shame that there don't seem to be any future Brilliant Books on the horizon-- no doubt a victim of the awful scheduling decisions that have plagued the show of later...

21 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2011 edited by Clayton Hickman

Hardcover, 131 pages
Published 2010

Acquired September 2012
Read August 2013
Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2011
edited by Clayton Hickman

Okay, it's a little weird to be reading a guide to the first series of eleventh Doctor adventures just after the last one has gone out, but whatever. The Brilliant Book 2011 is a charming guide to the 2010 series, but much more besides-- it's filled with interviews, original fiction, and goofy features like a map of Amy Pond's hometown of Leadworth, instructions for dancing like the Doctor, "twitbook" and updates from Rory's stag party. I appreciate that they got Brian W. Aldiss(!) to write fiction for the book, but "Umwelts for Hire" didn't entirely come off, I'm afraid. The book is gorgeous overall; I love Anthony Dry's collage illustrations for each episode, and Paul Lang's visual design is top-notch.

18 October 2013

Review: East Lynne by Ellen Wood

Trade paperback, 644 pages
Published 2008 (originally 1860-61)

Acquired and read September 2013
East Lynne
by Ellen Wood

Shouldn't a sensation novel be... more sensational? Yes, it's about sensational topics, but part of the critique of sensation novels is that they made you feel sensations-- unnatural, manipulated ones, according to the critics. And I've definitely felt that way reading Wilkie Collins; few things in literature have unnerved me as much as that moment where Count Fosco seizes Marion's diary in The Woman in White. There's nothing like that here; I just never felt emotionally connected to the characters or events of East Lynne. It's basically your typical Victorian domestic novel with some unusual twists and a poor mystery wedged into it. Not bad, but not very interesting, either.

17 October 2013

Review: The Dark Clue by James Wilson

Mass market paperback, 472 pages
Published 2001

Acquired September 2013
Read October 2013
The Dark Clue
by James Wilson

I think I appreciate the project of The Dark Clue more than I admire its actual execution. It takes (beloved) characters from The Woman in White and does some awful things to them... but doesn't it need to? The project of the novel is such that showing the darkness in a character I already know, admire, and love is essential to its success. If it had been about two other Victorian investigators, I wouldn't've cared-- but this novel needs me to be horrified.

Unfortunately, in the execution it doesn't quite come off. My front cover blurb says "Read 50 pages and you will be gripped" and calls it "A Novel of Victorian Suspense," but at page 50, all that's happened is that Walter Hartright has been asked to write a biography and he's talked to John Ruskin. Riveting!  More significant, there's a point about halfway through the novel where Walter and Marian both start to despair based on what they've learned... but they haven't learned a thing! Later, they learn (and so) stuff worth despairing over, but the events don't justify their reactions at the point they actually have them.

16 October 2013

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 11

Comic hardcover, 218 pages
Published 2001 (contents: 1974-75)
Acquired March 2013
Read August 2013
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 11

Writers: Cary Bates, Mike Grell, E. Nelson Bridwell, Jim Shooter
Artists: Mike Grell, Dave Cockrum, Curt Swan/George Klein
Letterers: Ben Oda, Joe Letterese

I was introduced to (and fell in love with) the Legion of Super-Heroes via later collections like The Great Darkness Saga, The Curse, and Legion Lost. This caused me to want to dip further back and see the Legion's earlier adventures... well, hopefully some of the others are better, because this stuff is the Silver Age at its goofiest. Tons of characters, developed in piecemeal and arbitrary fashion, weird out-there plots. I know I love these characters from their later appearance, but they're largely interchangeable exposition-spouters here; it's like reading a Gardner Fox Justice League of America story. I want Saturn Girl to be awesome, damnit! Lots of potential, but Cary Bates and Jim Shooter aren't Paul Levitz, apparently. Mike Grell's art is fantastic, though, even if I feel a little skeevy looking at all these very well-developed teenage girls.

15 October 2013

Review: The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition

Hardcover, 396 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1973)

Acquired November 2011
Read April 2013
The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition
by L. Frank Baum
edited by Michael Patrick Hearn

Though it's not my favorite Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a brilliant start to a brilliant series. Hearn's annotated edition is a thing of beauty, not to mention highly informative.

14 October 2013

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Book 16

Hardcover, 692 pages
Published 2010

Acquired August 2013
Read  September 2013
This Body of Death
by Elizabeth George

Woah, what happened here? It's an Inspector Lynley mystery that I had almost no reservations about. This is George on the absolute top of her game, a level of skill we haven't seen from her since, like, book 8. Lynley is awesome, the death of his wife being used to good effect; Havers is awesome, her understanding of Lynley being tested, but she's still utterly tenacious. I even liked Isabelle Ardery, the new boss of Lynley's unit-- not as a person, but as a character she's quite interesting. (Shame about her getting together with Lynley, though; I feel like it really undercuts the potential of their relationship in favor of something more formulaic.) The mystery unravels quite well, with complications galore and a keen sense of character. And even though it's over 600 pages long, I never felt it dragged. Why can't she always write like this?

11 October 2013

Review: The Walking Dead: Compendium Two

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2008-12)
Acquired August 2013
Read September 2013
The Walking Dead: Compendium Two

Creator, Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler, Inker: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton

So help me, I think I'm actually coming to like The Walking Dead. Not that I like Rick Grimes-- well, actually I don't mind Rick as a character, I just don't get why all the characters think he should be the "leader" because he is demonstrably, factually bad at it. C'mon, Rick, whine a little bit more about how tough it is being the patriarch. I'm starting to realize this book is about Rick's, and even moreso Carl's, descent into complete and utter monstrousness. And I'm okay with that.

But when the survivors get into that D.C.-area gated community, the book suddenly becomes a very interesting examination of how you enforce societal rule. How do you make someone stop from beating his wife after the apocalypse? There's not always easy answers, though I feel like the book often pull back from that point, with people being killed off when it makes the writing a little more convenient and less problematic. But when it goes there, when Rick holds a gun to another man's head, it's gold.

If I was writing this, I'd end it with them settling down here, and if I was smart, I'd quit reading it now. But I'm neither, so I'll be there for Compendium Three in 2016.

10 October 2013

Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Trade paperback, 514 pages
Published 2003 (originally 1860-61)

Acquired and read September 2013
Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

For a Victorianist, I'm woefully deficient on my Dickens, so I was glad to read this novel. Even gladder because it's supplanted Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel; the first person does Dickens a lot of favors, keeping him focused, but the play between Future Pip and Past Pip is well done; you like him even when he's an idiot. I think I've seen three adaptations of this (one starred Michael York and another was on Wishbone!) and even read Jack Maggs (it was unintelligible), so I knew the plot going in-- hence it was the characters that delighted, such as Jaggers and Wemmick, but most especially Joe, and Pip's relationship with him. I don't remember getting a sense of it in any of the adaptations, but it's the real center of this novel.

The last few chapters, as Pip's world is destroyed and recreated in a much more meager form, is one of the best depictions of growing up I've ever read.

"I often wondered how I had conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection, that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me."

09 October 2013

Review: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Trade paperback, 853 pages
Published 2003 (originally 1871-72)

Acquired October 2012
Read December 2012
by George Eliot

I said in my review of George Henry Lewes's Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences (1853) that I thought Middlemarch was a utopian novel, because it “examines the ways in which the ideals of positivism do and do not work.” Positivism, as envisioned by Comte and Lewes, rests its premises on detailed historical, social, and psychological observations of human beings, which can then be used to recreate society on scientific grounds. What's more utopian than that? Middlemarch is a utopian novel because it shows the beginning of that utopian project.

The difficulty of obtaining accurate scientific observations of people is shown consistently throughout Middlemarch. Most famously, this is done via the poor social choices of Tertius Lydgate, the physician and naturalist, but I would like to look at other elements of the novel’s engagement with scientific observation: the narrator’s use of scientific metaphors and the character of Dorothea. Dorothea, though not a scientist, is heavily invested in the idea of doing good in general and reform in particular, and she often advocates for an approach to reform with a scientific edge. In the first few chapters of Middlemarch, she is involved in a scheme to build new cottages for the villagers of Middlemarch, but she constantly reflects how she wishes her efforts had a stronger basis in knowledge: “The thing which seemed to her best, she wanted to justify by the completest knowledge; and not to live in a pretended admission of rules which were never acted on” (29). This seems to be a perfect example of the positivist desire: Dorothea cannot create a new society (even if on her scale a “society” is merely a set of new cottages) if she does not first understand the way the current one works.

Where Dorothea initially runs into difficulty is in her inability to find the best (or even a good) way to accomplish her goal of finding the completest knowledge. She ends up deciding that marrying Causabon, who is attempting to develop The Key to All Mythologies, is best, because she can help him in his great works: “It would be like marrying Pascal. I should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by” (29). Here, as in so many other cases, her increased knowledge is figured as more penetrative sight; a new light will come upon her sight and enable her to see old objects in a new way. Dorothea’s desire is at its most explicitly Comtist when she first hears Causabon describe his project: “To reconstruct a past world, doubtless with a view to the highest purposes of truth – what a work to be in any way present at... though only as a lamp-holder!” (18).

Her desire to reconstruct history recalls Lewes’s grandiose claim that in giving his theory of development, Comte had “explained all the great historical phases… whence results the conception of a homogenous and continuous connection in the whole series of anterior ages, from the first manifestation of sociality, to the most advanced condition of mankind” (327). Dorothea too believes that all she needs to envision the future accurately is a complete conception of the past, and this leads her into her marriage with Causabon. Of course, Causabon’s work is not exactly the noble endeavor she imagines it to be, and the marriage quickly becomes unhappy for both of them. Ironically, but perhaps typically, for someone who wants to know all humanity, Dorothea struggles with just knowing the desires of herself and her husband.

The difficulty of knowing others is consistently reinforced throughout Middlemarch, from Dorothea’s bad choice in marriage to Lydgate’s inability to judge how the Middlemarch community will react to him (not to mention the Middlemarch community’s inability to understand him!). But certainly misunderstanding and bad judgments are part of the plots of most novels. What makes the ones in Middlemarch interesting and relevant to a project on scientific vision is that the inability is most often communicated with scientific metaphors. When Mrs Cadwallader tells Sir James that he did not and cannot win the hand of Dorothea, the narrator wonders why she has done this, commenting that “a telescope might have swept the parishes… without witnessing any interview that could excite suspicion… Even with a microscope directed on a water-drop we find ourselves making interpretations which turn out to be rather coarse” (59). The narrator goes on to explain that only with the strongest of lenses can we see why the simple life-forms in a water-drop act as they do—but the implication is that science could not achieve this level of insight into a human being, with either a telescope or a microscope. In fact, it takes the insight of the novelist three full pages to explain why Mrs Cadwallader acts the way that she does—and no one else has that level of access to interiority.

Another scientific metaphor points to a different difficulty when it comes to observation, sifting out the observer’s own thoughts and position from an observation. If a surface of polished steel is “minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against a lighted candle as a centre of illuminations, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion… These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent” (264). The metaphor employed here compares observing human events to an experiment involving light and glass, and the danger of assuming that one’s first inclination is the true one. The threat here is the human ego, which puts itself in a primary position far too easily. This is a recurrent threat throughout Middlemarch; characters’ observations are often endangered by what they want to see. This metaphor carries an implicit critique of scientific work like Comte’s: when Lewes says that the “foremost portion of mankind is now approaching the positive state… and now only await their general co-ordination to constitute a new social system” (328), he is both assuming that his portion of mankind is the foremost one, and that his age is the one on the verge of the new social system. What is this but egoism? What would it be like if Lewes and Comte had moved that flame and seen scratches emanating from the fourth-century Middle East?

The way Middlemarch warns against such dangers of observation makes it a fictional counterpart to Eliot’s own essay “The Natural History of German Life,” published in 1856, just three years after Lewes published Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences. I've already covered that essay as well, but suffice it to say that Eliot ends up suggesting is an alliance between the novel and science. The distance of science can be combined with the closeness of the novel to make truly useful observations, for a true understanding of character will “check our theories, and direct us in their application.” It is not just that the novelist is the only one who knows why Mrs Caldwell acts the way she does; the novelist’s knowledge of character is necessary to all society.

But even this is not enough to save Comte’s grand theories, to let us believe that everything about civilization can be summarized in an equation or theory. If observation is flawed, and if no theory can ever be universal, what are we left to work with in creating Comte’s future society? Within Middlemarch, Eliot shows her solution in action with Dorothea’s actions at the climax of the story. Here, she goes back and re-observes an earlier encounter with Rosamond and Ladislaw with her “vivid sympathetic experience,” which “asserted itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself and will not let us see as we saw in the day of our ignorance” (788). She quite literally cannot see the way that she used to.

She does not know everything, but she can discern that there are “hidden as well as evident troubles” in the Lydgate marriage (788). At this moment, Dorothea looks outside and sees “involuntary, palpitating life”: a woman with a baby, a shepherd with a dog, the field beyond the entrance gate. Dorothea experiences sympathy in the way that “The Natural History of German Life” calls for all would-be sociologists to do so, and armed in this way, she is able to help Rosamond and Ladislaw. What she tells Rosamond is based on a misinterpretation of events—but it helps Rosamond anyway, and in fact, it is exactly what Rosamond needed to hear. Eliot suggests that when we ally sympathy with observation, we can do good, and even if we have misunderstood the situation, our good can be good enough anyway. Dorothea’s actions here are just the beginning of her finally fulfilling her desire to help change the world, as she marries Ladislaw and he becomes a reform politician.

The moment where Dorothea helps Rosamond despite her misunderstanding was foreshadowed all the way back at the beginning of the novel, where the narrator points out the tendency of young women to interpret facts incorrectly, but then claims that is not that bad of an outcome: “They are not always too grossly received; for Sinbad himself may have fallen by good luck on a true description, and wrong reasoning sometimes land poor mortals in right conclusions: starting a long way off the true point, and proceeding by loops and zig-zags, we now and then arrive just where we ought to be” (25).

We are all but poor mortals trying to do our best in solving the world’s problems, but if we look around keenly and let the novelist guide our sympathies, we might do some good in the world, even if it’s not the good we intended, whether we have scientific theories on our side or not.

08 October 2013

Review: Faction Paradox: A Romance in Twelve Parts edited by Stuart Douglas & Lawrence Miles

Hardcover, 236 pages
Published 2011

Acquired November 2011
Read January 2013
Faction Paradox: A Romance in Twelve Parts
edited by Stuart Douglas & Lawrence Miles

Unlike its parent series, Doctor Who, I don't know if Faction Paradox is very well suited for the short story format. At its best, Faction Paradox is weird and abstruse... and that can be demanding and unrewarding in a short story anthology, where as soon as you figure out what's going on, you're on to the next story. This is not light bedtime reading. But I'm very glad this book exists, and I very much look forward to reading the new Faction Paradox novels.

07 October 2013

Review: Caustic Comedies by Robert Shearman

Hardcover, 310 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 1992-2001)

Acquired October 2011
Read December 2013
Caustic Comedies: Plays For The Stage
by Robert Shearman

This collects seven stageplays by Robert Shearman, a dramatist of some repute, or so I've heard, though I primarily know him for the very highbrow reason that he's written a lot for Doctor Who. It's all pretty good, as good as reading a stageplay can be, I suppose. Some of these I like the concept more the execution ("Knights of Plastic Armour," about a group of obsessed historical re-enactors), but it's my supposition that good actors would be doing enough with this material to make it come alive. If I have a favorite, it's "Fool to Yourself," about a married couple who go to the hotel where they first met in an attempt to rekindle their relationship, only their older selves meet and start falling in love with the past version of their spouses... whoops. I also really liked "Inappropriate Behaviour," about a minister and a woman who bump into each other at key life moments, and "Shaw Cornered," about George Bernard Shaw after his death.

Fans of Rob Shearman's Doctor Who work will notice some themes from his Doctor Who work (particularly, Punchline, The Chimes of Midnight, Jubilee): repetition, emotionally disconnected spouses, women purposefully acting a bit dim for their men, Martin Jarvis. Also "Shaw Cornered" reminds one somewhat of the Mozart story Shearman wrote for 100 (as far as its general concerns go, not in its plot).

The title is a bit weird. "Caustic" is less wide-ranging than the book actually is, and "comedies"... well, I guess so, but there's so much more going on than jokes.

03 October 2013

Review: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth

Oversized paperback, 192 pages
Published 2013

Acquired February 2013
Read September 2013
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black
by E. B. Hudspeth

Oddly, this is the second EarlyReviewer book I've received from LibraryThing titled The Resurrectionist. Unfortunately, this is an ARC copy where most of the illustrations are "TK"-- which is a shame because most of the book is illustration! It purports to be a copy of the Codex Extinct Animalia by the late nineteenth-century anatomist Spencer Black, who drew all the strange creatures he'd dissected. But without those pictures, what's the point? That said, I'm not sure how into dozens of pages of fake skeletons I was gonna be anyway; what's here didn't exactly set me alight. The early portion of the book, a recounting of Black's life, is complete, but it's marred by anachronistic uses of "scientist" and "genetics."

01 October 2013

Review: Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Volume 2

Comic trade paperback, 462 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1994-2001)
Acquired April 2008
Read September 2013
Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi, Volume 2

Scripts: Tom Veitch and Kevin J. Anderson
Art: Tony Akins, Denis Rodier, Chris Gossett, Mike Barreiro, Jordi Ensign, David Carrasco Jr., Mark G. Heike, Bill Black, David Jacob Beckett, and Andrew Pepoy
Colors: Suzanne Bourdages, Pamela Rambo, and Dave Nestelle
Letters: Willie Schubert

"The Freedon Nadd Uprising" unites the two strands of Tales of the Jedi, bringing Ulic Qel-Droma into contact with Nomi Sunrider for the first time. This later becomes a Great Romance, but it never really convinces as such because they barely interact.

From there, it's into giant events with "Dark Lords of the Sith" and "The Sith War." My main takeaway from this is that Veitch and Anderson just do not get the Dark Side of the Force. They seem to see it solely as an external force of Evil that acts upon our heroes. I don't understand why Ulic falls. I mean, I really do not get it. He decides he wants to join the Krath and take them out from within... but at what point does he become Evil? He leaves the Jedi, next we see him, he is Evil. But what is he actually doing that is Evil? I think he's commanding the Krath military, but it should or could even be possible to do that without falling to the Dark Side. Most of what he does is glossed over, and I think that really undermines the effect of the story of Ulic's fall.

My favorite fall to the Dark Side in Star Wars is one that never actually happens. In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has Luke Skywalker backed into a corner.  "Join me." It seems like a sane, reasonable action for Luke. But taking it would be the act of a coward, and thus an action for the Dark Side. Only by jumping into the unknown, choosing suicide over surrender, does Luke maintain his ties to the Light. But I always imagine that moment of cowardice that could have happened. With his whole world broken down, his friends captured, the truth revealed, his hand severed, who could blame Luke if he joined Darth Vader? Any good fall has a backed-into-a-corner moment like that, I think, if just metaphorically. Ulic has no such moment-- one minute he's good, the next he's Evil.

It gets worse from there, as Ulic's fall is mostly carried out through external forces-- first, the Krath give him "Sith poisons," which apparently make you Evil (Veitch often seems to think the Force is just standard fantasy-type magic), and then the spirit of Marka Ragnos appears and just turns him into a Dark Lord of the Sith. This whole thing completely lacks any feeling of character or choice-- so what's the point of it all then? Falling to the Dark Side is only a meaningful story if the character chooses it. (Also, the moment when Nomi leaves Ulic behind with the Krath is morally reprehensible. If he has chosen Evil and is unwilling to come, then it's not just "his choice"-- if he helps the Krath maintain their control over the Empress Teta System, then it's a choice that leads to the destruction of millions of innocent lives! Take the guy out while you have a chance!)

Oddly, Exar Kun, then, has a slightly more effective "fall" than Ulic, as he does have that moment of choice in the Sith Temple on Yavin 4. Unfortunately, though, he's been depicted as Evil all along, so the effect is undermined. And too many of the Sith minions are just controlled via magic.

All of this is to say that "Dark Lords of the Sith" and "The Sith War" are a lot of big flash, with epic battles and such, but with little actual meaning. There are lots of Jedi here-- too many, and mostly we care about them because of the earlier stories. Which means I basically only cared about Nomi, Oss, and Thon.

Surprisingly, given all this, Kevin J. Anderson and Chris Gossett pull it out of the bag at the end with "Redemption." Set ten years after the end of the Great Sith War, the story is about many things, all of them tragic-- Nomi's inability to connect with her own daughter after all the tragedy she's seen, Vima's inability to see what it really means to be a Jedi, Ulic's inability to find peace and solace now that he's been stripped of the Force, Tott Doneeta and Sylvar's inability to leave the war behind. It's heartbreaking stuff, drawn to perfection by Gossett, and with a tragic, elegiac tone throughout.

My favorite bit was a small one, just a shared look between Tott and Sylvar that brought home the tragedy of their lives. At one point, they were young Jedi Knights, ready to conquer evil and right wrongs and all that jazz. Now, only ten years later, they're walking wounded, people who've seen too much and who became old before their time, and with no one to understand them. "Will you go with me?" Sylvar asks Tott, as she decides to burn out her rage in a ritual hunt, Tott the only man who can possibly understand her pain. "I would be honored," says Tott grimly, his very visible scarring a reminder that he can never be who he was again.

It ends in tragedy, of course, but the best kind of tragedy-- the kind that indicates rebirth and hope and the potential for real change. It's a shame that nothing's been done with these characters since Tales of the Jedi ended in 2001, but as long as I can imagine the epic adventures of Vima Sunrider, Jedi Knight, perhaps we're better off that way.