I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend and I’m very happy with it. I enjoyed it immensely and I have many thoughts about it now.
I should point out that I never had much to do with the Expanded Universe—I read a couple of the novels but I never paid much attention to it. I’ve also never watched any of the animated series (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “Star Wars: Rebels”). My reactions to Rogue One come purely from the perspective of how well it fits in with the other movies.
In advance of my annual “Year in Reading” summary, I thought I’d post a list of the books I read this year that I liked least. Or, more accurately—the books that disappointed me the most. Because reading isn’t just about what you like—it’s about what you don’t like, too.
Inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. There are titles here which are very good—they just weren’t my thing. Some titles make this list because I had hoped for more from them. Other titles are on this list because I genuinely believe they’re poor work.
This is not a definitive ranking. Titles are listed in alphabetical order by author.
On paper, there’s a lot I could criticize about The Passage by Justin Cronin.
The plot isn’t terribly original: a virus is unwittingly unleashed by the government which turns people into something very much like vampires. Mr. Cronin presents the standard well-intentioned scientist whose work is hijacked by the military (which, as expected, doesn’t go well). There’s a roster of bad guys, a cop with a conscience, and a Chosen One whose arrival can save mankind. There’s even an oracle of sorts.
It’s a man-made apocalypse story built on fairly generic story tropes. We witness the moment it all goes wrong and then spend the rest of the novel living in the post-apocalyptic world of the few survivors.
We’ve seen all this before. I Am Legend, zombie movies, The Walking Dead, et al. The ending offers a faint wisp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even the hive-mind wrinkle the author incorporates into his vampires is a familiar idea.
But none of that is a problem. None of it is a weakness. None of it feels derivative. This is one of the best renditions of all these ideas I’ve read.
Why do stories work the way they do? Why are they structured the way they are?
These questions fascinate me. Storytelling—its nature, how it works, the role it plays in human lives and society—fascinates me. As much as anything, storytelling is what marks human beings as unique among all the animals of Earth. The act of telling stories partakes equally of our capacity for imagination and our need to discern pattern in world around us. We use stories to try and make sense of our experiences and simultaneously celebrate the mysterious and unknowable. It’s both creative and formulaic.
The stories we choose to tell, and the ways we choose to tell them, tell us who we are and how we understand our role in existence.
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey wasn’t what I expected.
The basic plot summary is very much in keeping with Kadrey’s métier:
A teenage girl starts having strange dreams after her father dies. She’s in turmoil, she and her mom fallen on hard times, their life turned upside down. She discovers a record store with a room full of records which contain the lives of dead people… including her father’s. There’s an imaginary brother she relies on who only appears to her in dreams, and an underground world full of dead people, monsters and myth.
It’s the kind of dark, fantastical setting Kadrey is so good at. Literally underground, too, like most of his settings. Dead Set gives us a compelling main character, a satisfying story, and takes on important themes.
So, too, Dead Set has all the attitude and swagger, the sense of outsiderness, and it drips with a punk aesthetic.
I’ve read some truly amazing books this year. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is probably my favorite of all of them. It’s a trip—a thriller, solid SF, mind-bending.
I had many people encourage me to read it in the months after it hit shelves. Everyone told me this book is original and mindblowing.
I admit: at first, I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. It’s a multiverse / alternate reality story. An exceptionally well-done multiverse story—much better than most—with interesting characters, high stakes, a driven plot. But the multiverse concept is pretty standard in scifi, not really original.
Then I got to the twist…
The twist is a genuine surprise, completely unexpected, yet it’s inevitable given the premise. That’s quite an achievement.
This novel is brilliant and mindblowing! I unreservedly love it! I encourage everyone to read it.
The first real science fiction I ever read was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I read it when I was in 3rd grade. It remains one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It single-handedly awoke my passion for science fiction. It inspired my ongoing fascination with science—particularly cutting-edge theoretical cosmology.
More than that: Foundation (along with Star Wars) taught me that human imagination doesn’t need to be limited to only the world we know. Our dreams and stories can encompass the Universe and beyond, aliens and environments vastly different from us and ours.
While reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I kept flashing back to my experiences with Asimov in 3rd grade. I kept recalling what it was like to have my mind opened by Asimov’s stories.