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Star Wars: Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine (2004)
Written by: Voronica Whitney-Robinson
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 304 (Mass Market Paperback)
Series: Star Wars

Why I Read It: I'm on a mission to catch up on all the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels that I missed since late 2005. The first step is to read all of the books I bought but never read, and then once I catch up with those, I'll go and buy the books I missed and then read those. Whatever happens with the movies now that Disney's in charge, Star Wars was my first SF-nal love, and I've missed these books and these characters.

The premise: ganked from BN.com: Enter the explosive universe of the exciting online game STAR WARS GALAXIES: AN EMPIRE DIVIDED!

It is a time of great turmoil. The oppressive Empire is close to seizing complete control of the galaxy. The ragtag guerrilla army of the Rebel Alliance fights on, striking wherever it can, but now something has come to light that could spell certain doom. Hidden in the Jedi ruins of Dantooine is a Holocron containing a list of high-level Rebel sympathizers. If that list were to fall into the hands of Darth Vader, the Rebel Alliance would lose its most valued support—and possibly the war itself.

As an Imperial bio-engineer who frequently visits other worlds, Dusque Mistflier is the perfect cover for a Rebel who needs to travel far and wide without arousing suspicion. And so she agrees to help Rebel spy Finn Darktrin in his quest to recover the crucial Holocron. Despite help from Han, Luke, and Leia, the mission is fraught with peril. And as their journey takes them into the fiery belly of the beast that is galactic civil war, Dusque and Finn will learn that the hardest part of all is figuring out whose side you’re on—and how far you’re willing to go to win. . . .

Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. And I also want to point out: there will be spoilers, at any given moment, for the entire run of Star Wars books up until the date the current book was published. So if the Star Wars are something you want to get into, stop now and read THIS instead. I don't recommend anyone reading this review unless they've read the book I'm reviewing now, due to aforementioned spoilers, so stop now or -- if you have read the book -- carry on!

Discussion: Funny story about this book. When it came out back in 2004, I didn't want it. I didn't play computer games, which means I didn't play Star Wars computer games, and I frankly just wasn't interested in a book that was essentially an adaptation of that game, despite it being Star Wars.

Fast forward to late last year, when I decided it was time to get caught up on the Expanded Universe. I knew I hadn't read this one, and found it on Paperback Swap, so decided that despite my lack of interest and the overall bad reviews, I decided to read it for the sake of completion.

Little did I know that I'd actually bought the book before, and it was hiding at my grandmother's home this entire time. I'd just forgotten. :)

At any rate, I hadn't read it, so after I wrapped up my 2012 reading, I thought it'd be a good idea to start the new year off with a Star Wars book, and so I decided to get this one out of the way.

Ooooh, boy…..

Let's talk the good: I liked, for the most part, the cameos from Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, Threepio and Artoo. I actually really liked having a story that was set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, a time when the future of the Rebellion was still unclear, and anything could happen. I liked seeing what else was going on in the galaxy at that time, meeting new characters and learning what they had to offer the Rebellion. I also liked what the author was trying to do with this story. This book had an interesting SFR vibe that I haven't seen in Star Wars before (not in recent memory, anyway), so it was cool to see what would develop and how.

But this book is essentially published fanfiction. Mediocre fanfiction at that. It's not bad in that it's badly written and full of typos, etc. But it's not a great story. It reads like it's written by an amateur who isn't quite familiar with the universe save for a few items, someone who doesn't yet know how to keep her heroine from being a Mary Sue (I don't like applying that term to original fiction, but considering this IS a media tie-in novel and therefore set in a preexisting universe, the term sadly applies), and someone who can't craft a plot without pointing GIANT NEON SIGNS about the BIG TWIST that's going to BLOW YOUR MIND. Which means, of course, I knew far in advance of what was happening than I think the author wanted me to.

For starters, the plot is pretty ridiculous: it's pretty dumb to have a list of ALL your spies lying around. It's also dumb to leave that list behind during an evacuation. You'd think there'd be one person's whose #1 job was to make sure that list came along instead of buried in the ashes of a campfire, you know? And a Holocron is such a small device. It's not like someone had to drag a giant server aboard a spaceship.

I've also seen some grumbling about the use of Holocrons in general. It's been ages since I read most of the EU books, but apparently that technology wasn't widely available for use outside of the Jedi. Or something. Of course, the base was at an old Jedi Temple, wasn't it? Anyway, the point is, the McGuffin of this story is asking us to believe that the Rebellion was dumb enough to do such a thing. That's a weak McGuffin to build your entire plot around.

We also are treated to some pretty generic writing from the start. Info-dumping is immediately apparent, as is the fact the author is using a loose third-person/omniscient POV. I'd like to call it the "film camera" POV, the one where we see the character as the world from the outside, and then we zoom in and focus. Except because this is writing, the "camera" can get inside the character and tell us what the character is seeing from the inside out. Sounds grosser than I intended, but the point is, using that POV can be a dizzying stylistic choice. And a lazy one, because it keeps you from getting inside a character's head until it's absolutely necessary, which robs the reader from seeing the world-building through a specific person's eyes.

I also had to shake my head at the inconsistency of the character of Dusque, the heroine. We learn that Dusque's biggest hang-up is not being taken seriously in her job because she's a female, and that she gets crappy assignments because of that. As a result, she tries to be as unfeminine as possible. So she doesn't like to fuss with her hair. Okay, cool: but the stupid girl wears it LONG. There is nothing more feminine than having long hair for women, let alone hair that actually requires quite a bit of maintenance. Which makes Dusque seem particularly stupid considering it's stated on page 18:

Being feminine, she was learning, was not the most ideal situation within the Empire, so she made a concerted effort to appear as unfeminine as possible.

Just cut your hair short and be done with it. Sheesh. Dusque even admits to considering it, but never tells us why she doesn't (I guess because that would be considered fussing?). It's like the author wants to give us a heroine who really wants to be just one of the guys, a tomboy, but the author doesn't want to "fall into the trap" of the woman being as masculine as she can make herself. On one hand, I appreciate you don't want your character to be a man with boobs. On the other hand ...  I'm really over-thinking this. But the lack of consistency is appalling: give us a feminine character who's vain. A character who loves her hair and her appearance and doesn't want to alter it despite the obvious sexism holding her back (not that she SHOULD have to change her appearance to be taken seriously, but this is the Empire) or give us the stereotypical character who works hard at being one of the boys, including appearance, and realizes she's stronger when she's embracing everything about herself, including the fact she's female.

After all, men can still flirt with girls who have short hair.

Weirdly, I think that's what bothers me most. All the men Dusque meets seem to be turned on by her (oh, the trait of a Mary Sue), which is fine, but there's such a big deal made about her long hair that I can't help but wonder if it's being used as shorthand for "attractive woman" and that the author didn't know any other way to show that Dusque was attractive without giving her long hair?

I told you, I'm over-thinking it. Let's move on. It's just that the constant harping on the "battle of the sexes" within the Empire was annoying as shit. And I say this as a woman reader. So I'm allowed to find it annoying as shit.

That being said, I didn't really mind the romance Whitney-Robinson was creating. Like I said, I rather liked the SFR feel being introduced into the EU universe, but I suspect that's one of the many reasons this book is widely disliked by the typical Star Wars audience. And it's not to say that SW readers don't like romance. But we have Han and Leia's witty and clever courtship (from the films) as our standard. We don't need anything quite so obvious and choreographed which is really this novel's biggest failing: everything was obvious and choreographed. At one point I wrote a note, "STOP BEING SO OBVIOUS!!!!" I knew Finn was a spy and a double agent. HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW?!?!?!? The author made it so obvious that it made Dusque look like a stupid twit for not figuring out, because all the clues were given from her POV. *sighs*

Descriptions could also be rather pedestrian. Twice, a sun is referred to as a "molten ball." Wow… that's deep. And unnecessary. Reminds me of a funny story from an author talking about reading the first line of a very bad book, where the character talks about a "giant, red sunball" rising. Yeah… it's a sun. Describing the color is one thing, but calling it a molten ball? Once, I'll roll my eyes and move on. Twice, erm…. where was your editor to smack your knuckles with a ruler and send you back to the typewriter?

Then there was this wonderfully descriptive line on page 179:

Dusque felt something emotional inside herself shift.

I know, I know… it could be worse. But damn, people! Be specific! Emotions are varied! I have NO IDEA what "something emotional" is supposed to mean, and I suspect the author couldn't put her finger on it either, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten such a vague description.

And how's this for specificity, emphasis mine (page 225)?

"Do you feel something?" he asked.

She nodded. "Since we entered those ruins. It was like someone was watching us. And something else. . . like something I felt once in a dream." She felt chills racing up and down her spine.

"I just felt uneasy," Finn said.

Do I need to elaborate?

I will say, though, that by this point, it's pretty obvious that both Finn and Dusque (Dusque more than Finn) are Force-sensitive. Dusque having a connection makes a lot of sense, since she's the heroine and the Mary Sue, and it's clear, especially by the end, that this book was meant to be first of many in its own series. I suspect that if this series had continued, we would've seen Dusque grow as a character and become more adept in the Force, perhaps with her and Luke training together and sparking their own romance or something.

Let's also note that despite Dusque being an Imperial biologist (your believability of her in this role may vary), and someone who self-describes as relating better to animals than people, she handles herself with quite the aplomb when confronted with new and dangerous situations. There's also the fact she's never used a blaster until Finn taught her, and she's suddenly an ace of a shot. Oy.

Getting away from all the evidence of this poor girl being a Mary Sue, there's the extreme focus of biology that pads this book rather excessively. We're constantly meeting various species of animal life and learning all about them. I did like how Whitney-Robinson would utilize some of these aspects into the action of the story, but for the most part, all of this was just really unnecessary. While reading, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, but in the end, I decided on nay. Rather than fleshing out the SW universe for me, it left me wondering why we were bothering. It made me realize that this book was meant to be an advert for the game it was based on, something fans of the book were expected to enjoy because of all the things they'd recognize in the book from the games, but not necessarily something that regular EU readers would enjoy. I know EU novels aren't exactly considered high literature, but we do have higher standards than this. The book should've excited readers into checking out the game itself, not bore the potential gamers.

I mean, would you really want to play a game when the spin-off book has lines like (page 281):

He placed a callused hand against his heart, and the single tear he shed became meaningless and insignificant in the rain.

I nearly started laughing at the cheese of this when I was reading. Of course, by time I got to this line, which is nearly the end, I was rather fed up with all the overwhelming flaws of this book.

But I'll give the book some credit: the final line was good.

My Rating: 2 - Below Standard

So whether you're a regular Star Wars reader or someone looking to dive into the EU universe, I'll say this: skip this one. No, seriously, skip this one. Especially if you're new to SW novels: DO NOT START HERE. Pretend it doesn't exist and you'll be fine. Seriously. Because it's obvious by the end of the book that The Ruins of Dantooine was meant to be the start of its own series. That the series never happened is quite telling, but is it any wonder? For all the little things that are neat about this book, you find those same things done far better in other SW novels. This book is riddled with amateur mistakes, and its heroine misses so many obvious clues about the nature of what's really happening that you could justifably say she's Too Stupid to Live. The obvious Mary Sue-ness/wish-fulfillment of this character is also extremely unfortunate. There are so many things that could've been done with this book to make it a really interesting and fascinating installment to the EU that I'm appalled that this one made it past the editor's desk. I know people often accuse media tie-in novels of being nothing but authorized fan-fiction, but this book really gives media tie-ins a bad name, because it reads as exactly that: fan-fic, mediocre at best. Don't get me wrong when I say there are some parts of it to enjoy. But it could've been so much better.

So yeah: don't read this unless you absolutely must. This is not the Star Wars book you're looking for.

But if you ARE looking for a story set betwee A New Hope an The Empire Strikes Back? Check out the new Star Wars
comic series by Brian Wood. Number #1 just came out last week, and Leia gets to fly an X-Wing. It's light-years better than this book.

Cover Commentary: If you didn't know this was based on an SW game by the title, the art makes it pretty obvious. Which is a shame, because there's really not a lot of stormtroopers to speak of in terms of the overall plot. I'm guessing this is some kind of screenshot from the game? While it would've been potentially cheesy, I would've much rather seen the cover be of Dusque and Finn, if not in an embrace of sorts (not necessarily romantic), perhaps crouching somewhere behind a rock, blasters drawn. That would've been far more representative of the book.

Next up: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2013 04:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, crikey. The heroine's name alone would kill me. Dusque? How would you say that? like "Dusk" Or like, Du-cue? Which, y'know, at least sounds slightly more star-wars universe like. Dus-cue? Sounds like a food product. I bet it's delicious.

I think I got the best piece of character naming advice ever from my mother. She didn't mean to give it to me. She merely mentioned it when I asked why she was handing a book off to me before she'd finished reading it. I was eleven or twelve, and usually I didn't get a book until she'd read it twice (not that this took long: she's a very fast reader.)

"The names are awful," she said. "I can't figure out how to say them. I spend all my time staring at them and trying to figure out how they sound. Then I lose track of what's going on in the story. Then I get frustrated. It's not worth it."

I think of that every time I see a writer (and it's usually a very amateur or unpracticed one) toss out a name that makes me blink.

If it's Dusk, call her Dusk. Except that sounds, y'know, cheesy and Mary Sue like. Which should probably cause the writer to go "Maybe I should rethink this" and rename the character.

Edited at 2013-01-14 04:40 pm (UTC)
Jan. 15th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC)
That's really a great thing for writers to remember about naming, especially those of us writing science fiction and fantasy.

I pronounced this heroine's name as Dusk. And yes, it's just more evidence making the poor character a Mary Sue. And you know how I feel about that term. I completely agree with Seanan McGuire's assessment of NOT using that term in original fiction. But when it's a media tie-in, it's hard not to use....
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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