Review: Pirate Cinema

Okay so first of all, I read this book for free, thanks to Cory Doctorow's policy of posting all of his books free online. I decided that I'm going to buy a copy, and since I've already read it and can get the text online whenever I want, I'm going to take Doctorow's suggestion on his website and buy a copy for a school.  Y'know, when I have money.  It's on the list. Pirate Cinema is a fantastic novel.  It's about a teenager in England who gets his family kicked off the internet for making fan videos about his favorite actor.  In order to spare his family the shame and risk of a pirate son, he runs off to London to live on the streets -- where everything goes pretty well.

I mean, he's homeless, and he suffers some serious consequences for that fact.  But this novel is just a little bit optimistic, and a lot  aspirational -- this is a book about teenagers doing amazing things.  I love books about teenagers who do amazing things.

It gets a little preachy at times, which is fine with me because I like preachy and I agree with the message -- it's definitely a political novel.  But it's the best kind of political writing -- the kind that makes clear the fact that the small-seeming decisions made by big governments pretty much always mean life or death to someone, somewhere.

Check it out, for free or for money.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Cory Doctorow posted today that Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a novel by Robin Sloan, is available on Amazon.  So, like, if you needed a birthday present idea for me, here. I'm excited about this, because I listened to this story, several times, when it was a short story on Escape Pod.  You can get that link here, if you want to listen to the short story version, but I am super-excited about where this story goes as a full-length novel.

Vernor Vinge at Google

Today is a good day for good video.  Jane McGonigal released a new TED talk, John Green put up his first video on Fahrenheit 451, which I can't watch yet because I haven't gotten around to reading the first section of the book[EDIT: I caved, and am watching it now.  I guess It'll just inform my reading when I get around to it.], and Vernor Vinge's Author Talk at Google went up. I've been meaning to start catching up on Vernor Vinge's thinking and writing for a while now, because he's one of the popular names in the Singularity conversation -- he's the guy who came up with that name.  Personally, my opinion on the Singularity went back and forth for a while, and has now settled into a comfortable state of "I have no ████ing clue what's going on, but I don't think things are going to be the way they are now, this time next year."

This Google Talk turned out to be a pretty nice way to start to dip my toes in -- I found I could follow all of it, which was a plus, and I liked that it explored more Vinge's portrayals of the Singularity in fiction, rather than his beliefs about it in real life -- which seem, largely, to be:  He thinks it will happen, but accepts the possibility it won't, and doesn't have the remotest clue what it will entail.

Here's the talk, also embedded below:

And if you're not familiar with Google Author Talks, it's a channel all on its own, and generally features a few talks a week, mostly around an hour long.  I watch all but the ones that seem really, really boring.  There are probably at least some that would interest you.

Ask a Star Wars Geek 03

Welcome back! You ask it: I answer. This week...

Kristal T. asks:

"What are the Jedi trials to become a Jedi knight?"

I consider myself to be a veritable compendium of Star Wars knowledge. I've read almost all the novels. And this question actually stumped me.

You see, in all my reading, I've heard reference to the Jedi trials innumerable times. And yet I haven't read about any instance of a padawan undergoing the trials and becoming a knight. My immediate reaction, as always, was to check Wookieepedia, and indeed, the entire process is exhaustively detailed here.

Let me explain--No, wait, there is too much. Let me sum up: There are 5 trials: skill, courage, spirit, flesh, and insight. The trials themselves are actually extremely dangerous, and many padawans have died in the trials[1. Which is really messed up, when you think about it. Rather than save the life of the padawan (keeping in mind many Jedi could see into the future, even just briefly, giving them the knowledge of what is about to transpire), they allow them to die, thereby failing the test.]. The most messed up is probably the trial of the flesh, which involves "the padawan overcoming great physical pain, hardship, or loss, the test sometimes resulted in death or dismemberment." For being really noble, the Jedi were kind of cruel.

Now, much more well-known to me as a reader of the EU is the fact that the trials can be substituted with a particularly trying mission or several. Notable examples being Obi-Wan (for killing Darth Maul), Anakin Skywalker (for valor during the Clone Wars), Luke (for deciding he was a Jedi now), and the entire Myrkr strike team during the Yuuzhan Vong war (well, the survivors, anyway).

Interesting though that all is, it raising a bigger question for me: how had I read all these books and missed such great details as what the actual trials are? It could be my shoddy memory (which usually serves well enough when it comes to SW), but I think it just isn't really gone over in-depth in that medium. I think that the comics may handle some of it, to which I admit to having limited exposure. The whole thing rocks me to my core, though, if for no other reason than I read all these books, and all these references to the Jedi trials, and never actually asked, "What are they?"

For that, I have to thank you, Kristal. We all learned something on this one.

Nate S. asks: [Mild Spoilers]

"What are the eras of Star Wars history? What events predicated each change of era?"

There are six eras in the Star Wars cannon. Right now they are the Old Republic era, the Rise of the Empire era, the Rebellion era, the New Republic era, the New Jedi Order era, and the Legacy era. However, here is where I note that this is actually changed from when the eras were first declared. The demarcations of the eras, that is, when each starts and ends, changed in only one instance. Originally, the first three eras were the Sith era, the Prequel era (I, II, III), and the Classic era (IV, V, VI).

If I may angrily rant for a moment, there was no reason to change the names of those three eras. It isn't really more accurate to rename them, per se, and in fact, I think noting the prequel and classic eras by their affiliation with the movies only strengthens the sense of when each is. I am annoyed that they changed when there isn't really a reason for or against either way, as far as I can see, with the exception that changing them is mildly confusing, because you can pick up an older novel and see it is in the Sith era, and a newer novel which takes place in that giant span of time and see it is in the Old Republic era, and not realize they refer to the same stretch of time.

A geek of my magnitude wouldn't really be thrown off, but a new comer might, and that's reason enough in my mind to have never changed it to begin with. Oh, and the new time brackets totally conflict and create a grey area of double era, but I'll get to that.

To actually finish answering your question, the eras are denoted by time in universe, in years before or after the Battle of Yavin (Episode IV). The Old Republic era is 5000-33 BBY. This is the time period which encapsulates the Old Republic from it's inception to when Palpatine becomes Supreme Chancellor.

The Rise of the Empire era goes from 1000-0 BBY. This is from when Darth Bane tricks the Jedi into thinking the Sith extinct by taking out tens of thousands of both, to the events of Episode IV. It also creates a 967 year overlap between the eras, which didn't exist when it was the Sith and Prequel eras (Sith 5000-33, Prequel 33-0). That irks me all over.

Not to mention it actually makes little to no sense. The Empire didn't begin to rise with Darth Bane instigating the Rule of Two[2. "There can be only two Sith: Master and apprentice; one to embody the power, the other to crave it," Darth Bane, 1000 BBY.], though that did ultimately lead to Palpatine becoming Emperor. I'd argue it started when Darth Plagueis took on a force wielding serial killer/politician as an apprentice (AKA Palpatine), which happened in approximately 40 BBY. Also, it stops rising about 19 BBY when, you know, it's actually an Empire now. That is when the Rebellion started, in fact.

Not in 0 ABY, though the Rebellion era goes from then til 5 ABY, with the blowing up of the second Death Star, which marks its end and the beginning of the New Republic era... even though the New Republic won't exist as a recognized governing body by the galaxy at large until 7 ABY when Coruscant is taken by New Republic forces and the Empire is finally driven from its seat of power. But the New Republic era goes from 5 ABY til 25 ABY.

The rest of the eras haven't changed[3. Technically, the New Republic era never changed either, I was just following the logic of where eras should start and end and noticed it too didn't jive with in universe events very well.], and with good reason: they all make sense. The New Jedi Order era starts with the first book of the New Jedi Order series, and the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong[4. The Yuuzhan Vong are a war-like species from outside the Star Wars galaxy. They do not register to Jedi in the Force.], 25 ABY. It goes til just after the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war, in 40 ABY, when the Legacy era begins with the Legacy of the Force series, which kicks off with the beginnings of a second civil war and the possible destruction of the New Republic. The legacy era has no defined end.

Ariel C. asks:

"What is your favorite Star Wars pick-up line?"

As if I have one favorite!

  • Wanna ride home? My car made the Kessel Run in 12 par secs.
  •  *waves hand* This is the guy you're looking for.
  •  If you're wondering if that's a light saber in my pocket... yes.
  •  Are you a Jedi? Because I think you just triggered the activation stud on my light saber from across the room.
  •  I'll Star your Wars.
  •  I suggest a new strategy: let me win.

Ok... I might have a favorite:

  •  Don't close the blast doors... ...to your heart.

 

Conclusion

And so another week comes to a close, another post for the archives. This week has proved that for all my reading, the Star Wars universe is vast, and to know everything is really, really, really, difficult. And so I'll continue in my efforts to know the answers, so you can ask away. I've also proved I'm probably not smooth with the ladies.

Ah well, I need questions to answer if I'm to keep on writing, so that's where you come in! Shoot me your pressing questions at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and your name (or userhandle) could be the next featured on my post :D

Until next week, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Ask a Star Wars Geek 01

Greetings, all. This is the Star Wars Geek, logging on to answer any nerdy, Star Wars-y questions you may have. This will be my first post of many, but before I get to the Q's and A's, I think some credentials are in order: I love Star Wars. I'm a geek. If that's not enough, I've read over 130 Star Wars novels. I've played many of the Star Wars video games[1. Though I admit to not having played KotoR] and even the Star Wars RPG. I've read a couple of the comics and maybe a dozen novellas. I own every Star Wars book I've ever read. Of course, I have seen all the movies many times.

So, I know a lot about Star Wars, and it seems that people often come to me with their Star Wars related questions, as I usually have the answers.

This is where you, the reader, come in. Send me your questions, so that I can answer them for you. This week, I was lucky enough to get some primer questions from my friends. Next week, I hope to hear from you.

T.X. Watson asks:

What about the books do you think is most relevant to casual fans?

Well, I guess this depends slightly, based on the definition of "casual." For the sort of fans who have seen and enjoyed the movies, and maybe played a game or two: the books offer you a chance to enjoy reading a great book[2. Something I assume the people reading this would want to do as a matter of course] and also the chance to hear about these characters you know from one context thrown into all sorts of other ones. These books are written by a number of authors who you may know from elsewhere, from Timothy Zahn, to Michael A. Stackpole, to R.A. Salvatore, and more. They offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in a fully fleshed out world of adventure and drama, and at the rate new books are being written, an almost endless supply of reading.

To my mind, there isn't overmuch for a "very casual" fan, if you will. The sort of person who just likes the movies and thinks they are a fun way to spend an afternoon. I will say that if there is any sort of lingering curiosity over what happens to the various characters, it's all there. And if going through whole novels to find out is too much for you, then I suggest you check out Wookieepedia and search which ever character you want to know about. I know it's is one of my favorite places on the internet.

Ariel C. asks:

What is the science behind laser shots instead of continuous lasers? And just what is Yoda?

Ah, science and Star Wars! When they are in the same room at the same time I "squee," to use the vernacular. Many people understand that a laser is a beam of light, and as such A) you can't see it unless it's in a dusty room or the like, and B) it travels at the speed of light. In the movies, and reinforced in the other various media in which the Star Wars stories are told, lasers appear as discrete streaks which travel remarkably slowly.

This is because "lasers" in Star Wars are actually a misnomer. They are jets of ionized Tibanna gas, which is mined from atmospheres in places like Bespin. Lightsabers actually are lasers, and in their case they are light which is trapped in magnetic fields generated by the lightsabers themselves, aided by the crystals in the lightsaber which perfectly focus the light and magnetic fields by attunement with the Force. But that is an explanation for another day.

As to Yoda, his species is specifically not mentioned anywhere in the Star Wars cannon. This is at George Lucas' behest, though I'm not really sure why. He probably wants to keep an ace in the hole if he really messes something up with the fans, I think. At any rate, there is another of Yoda's species, Yaddle, who was on the Jedi Council as of the end of the Republic. Yaddle appears briefly on screen in Episode I.

[SPOILER] Nate S. asks:

[Why] the ████ did Chewbacca have to die?

For those of you who aren't into the EU[3. The Expanded Universe], but would like to be, this is one spoiler that I'm not too sorry about giving away, because it was in a book released in 1999, and really, it's sort of common knowledge among the more devoted fans. Chewbacca dies in Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, the first novel of the New Jedi Order.

There was much discussion of this decision before it was made. Up to this point, no major character from any of the movies had ever died. Even the minor characters had a sort of aura of invincibility around them. And that was bad for the stories themselves. There was never a moment of anxiety when you knew Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie would always pull through. Michael A. Stackpole had been writing the X-Wing series for a few years at that point, a series in which Stackpole used only minor characters and characters of his own invention which he could kill, and thereby create tension in the reader. To this day, the X-Wing series remains one of my favorites.

Stackpole showed it worked. Lucas gave the ok for one of the characters to die. This is speculation, but I think it was Chewie pretty much because he was the least important of the big-four. Luke needed to run the order, and Han and Leia needed to exist as parents (They have kids, another spoiler I'm not too worried to say). Those elements generated the most drama. Chewie was the plucky side-kick at best, and was still one of the icons of the series. So he got the ax. It was well written, and one of the more poignant deaths of the Cannon. All characters must die eventually, especially when series go on over the course of thousands of years. If he had to go, I'm glad he went the way he did.

Conclusion

So, those are the questions for the week, send me yours at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and I'll answer as many as I can in due time. I'll be back next Saturday, and every Saturday, unless I am eaten by a flock of moose or my hands are hacked off at the wrists by enraged soccer fans.

Until next time,

-Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek