A few random comments about some books I’ve read lately.

Revan by Drew Karpyshyn

I was just skimming a few of the user reviews for this book over on Amazon.com–boy, did Drew Karpyshyn have an unenviable task in writing this book.

First of all, I should say that I read this book because of my interest in the storyline of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), which is the massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game from BioWare. Revan, however, was the protagonist of BioWare’s 2003 single-player game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR).

So why do I feel a little sorry for Drew Karpyshyn? I guess because of the insanely fanatical devotion a lot of people seem to have to the KotOR characters, both from the original game and the sequel. This book, however, wasn’t meant to be the further adventures of Revan and the crew of the Ebon Hawk. It was meant to bridge the storylines of KotOR and SWTOR, as there’s something like a 300 year gap between them. As a result, Karpyshyn had to be pretty selective about which characters he was going to use, and as a result of that, a lot of people, apparently, felt as if they’d gotten the bait and switch.

I suppose I can understand that, but I’m not sure it’s a fair criticism of the book itself. To be sure, it does feel a bit as though Revan is almost the weak link in this story, as he’s far less interesting than the new characters introduced, like Lord Scourge and the Sith Emperor. But again, this is where Karpyshyn was in a bit of a tough spot, since Revan was the player character in KotOR, and owing to this, literally had no personality except for what the player decided it should be.

And on top of all of that, the book necessarily had to end with a sort of anti-climax, because the true culminations of these various plotlines were meant to play out in SWTOR. So I wasn’t surprised to discover that a lot of readers were unsatisfied.

Me, personally? I thought it was all right. I enjoyed reading it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who wasn’t planning to play SWTOR.

The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton

Wow, I’m a nerd. But you already knew that.

Despite, however, the fact that I’m a nerd for Star Wars, I really haven’t read much of the so-called Expanded Universe books. My enthusiasm hasn’t been helped by the fact that anytime I go browsing on Wookieepedia, I’m astounded by how much really stupid stuff is in the EU canon. But, because of some stuff I’m doing over in the previously-mentioned SWTOR, I was sort of curious about the Hapes Consortium introduced in this book, and the local library had a copy, so I picked it up.

I’m not going to lie. For the first couple of chapters, I kind of hated it. There seemed to be an assumption that I should have been reading the other books leading up to this one, and it all felt a bit like tuning in to a television show with an overarching storyline a few seasons late. Getting past that hump, however, I did find the story to be fairly rewarding.

The success of this book lies in the characterizations more than anything else, I think. In particular, the relationship between Han Solo and Leia is really given the complexity it deserves, and Wolverton is adept at writing their voices and even mannerisms. The plot, itself, is a little weird. It has Han kidnapping Leia in order to take her to visit a planet that he won in a card game, only to discover that the planet is being interdicted by the remnants of the Galactic Empire because it is inhabited by Force-sensitive witches.

Yeah, don’t even try to make sense of any of that. It works within the context of the character arcs, and there are a number of clever ideas and contributions to the Star Wars universe found herein. But my problem with, say, the Nightsisters of Dathomir or the Hapes Consortium is my problem with a lot of stuff in the Star Wars EU–many of the concepts seem only half-developed. I always want to know way more than what I’m given.

Still, pretty good book. I enjoyed reading it.

Quantum of Solace by Ian Fleming

Despite the title, this is not the novelization of the most-recently-released James Bond film starring Daniel Craig. This is merely a collection of James Bond short stories written by Ian Fleming, which includes a short story called Quantum of Solace (which has nothing at all to do with the plot of the movie). To be sure, Penguin actually just smooshed together a couple of previously released short story collections and cashed in on the title, so a few of these stories I had read already.

I went through a phase maybe ten years back of reading almost every Fleming-penned James Bond book, and I largely enjoyed them at the time, but in a way, I actually think some of these short stories are some of the most interesting works in the Bond library, if only because we get to see Bond in a number of different contexts.

For example, Quantum of Solace really has no espionage in it at all except for a couple of paragraphs near the start to explain why Bond is in Nassau. The majority of the narrative is concerned with a story Bond listens to at a dinner party, about a career bureaucrat who marries an unfaithful airline hostess. Somehow Fleming managed to make this work.

As another example, The Hildebrand Rarity again has Bond basically just on vacation somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and tagging along with a repugnant American millionaire who wants to capture a rare fish for the Smithsonian so he can claim his million dollar boat as a tax write-off.

James Bond is an interesting character the way Fleming writes him. Reading this, I was reminded of how Alan Moore chose to portray Bond in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, as a mean, misogynistic buffoon. Here’s a quote I just found from Moore, talking to Wired magazine:

Sometimes we have characters who are greatly revered that we feel are perhaps too revered, and we would like to give a more accurate picture of them. As an example, there would be the character in The Black Dossier who bears a considerable resemblance to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Well, it’s Ian Fleming’s James Bond, actually. But what we were trying to do is show the origins of this character, to show what a totally unpleasant character at its inception James Bond was—a nasty misogynist, some very suspect sexual inclinations, not at all the suave character the movies rounded him out into. We wanted the original James Bond, warts and all.

I’m mentioning it to say that I think he’s simplifying. For example, one of the traits you’ll spot here in a couple of stories is Bond’s utter resentment of his double-0 number–he hates assassinations, almost no matter the reason for them. And in From a View to a Kill, his decision to attempt not to kill another man almost gets him killed.

Does Bond have misanthropic tendencies? Probably. But he’s also the sort who makes fast friends with interesting people and honestly, he’s not as a rule terrible to women (though I suppose it is clear he doesn’t see them as equals to men, and he is quick to call them “bitches”). And he’s certainly not a buffoon, because he has an agile mind that allows him to make connections that others don’t, as shown in stories like The Property of a Lady, in which he roots out the head Russian spy in England by nothing more violent than observing an auction.

I don’t know…I just think that pigeonholing him into the role of the cruel misogynist is too trite. It’s not a full and proper reading of the character. But maybe that’s just me. Then again, Moore’s portrayal is pretty strange on the whole, and only really works as out-and-out parody, in my opinion. I think he was being a bit disingenuous when he said he was trying to portray the character as he was originally conceived.