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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Outbound Flight

Outbound Flight (Star Wars)
Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Del Rey (January 31, 2006)
ISBN: 0345456831

My usual caveat: I am a Timothy Zahn fanboy. I have yet to read a work of his I didn’t like. Some, of course, are better than others, but I’ve loved ‘em all. So read this review understanding that.

For those not in the know; a number of years ago, Timothy Zahn effectively re-launched the Star Wars novels with his Heir to the Empire trilogy. It was a smash hit, and rightly so. Zahn managed to capture the SW universe perfectly, while introducing plots and threats that were actually interesting, instead of just throwing our heroes up against another version of the Death Star (Kevin Anderson, I’m looking at you!). Zahn eventually followed that series up with a duology, and finally, a stand-alone book that serves as a bit of a prequel to the New Jedi Order series, which I have not read, though I own the first book of it. I can’t decide if I should read it or not.

But I digress.

Somewhere in the course of his novels, Zahn introduced the Outbound Flight—an Old Republic expeditionary force that had been sent to try and explore another galaxy. It was launched during the midst of the Clone Wars, and eventually disappeared into history. Years later, Luke & co. would eventually find out about it, and…well, read Zahn’s other SW books if you want the full story on that.

Outbound Flight is (surprise) the story of Outbound Flight itself. It begins with the last minute negotiations of the set-up, the flights launch, and its ultimate destruction. The story moves along at an appropriate clip, and as always, Zahn does a nice job of setting up some intriguing politics, mysteries, and manipulations along the way. We also finally get to see the original Jorus C’baoth, and the return of (or prelude to) Mitth'raw'nuruodo, aka Grand Admiral Thrawn, the greatest non-movie villain in Star Wars canon.

Outbound Flight has its downsides too. There’s a little too much Republic politicking that goes on, in part because of what seems to be a very forced cameo by Obi-Wan and Anakin. This takes up a part of the book that really could have been spent doing more interesting things with the Outbound Flight itself, or with Thrawn’s activities. It also ends up distracting from Zahn's characters, who are frankly, way more interesting than Obi-Wan and Darth Child. Besides, we already have a bunch of movies about them. I want to see other characters now! I have the distinct impression that this was editorial decision-making getting in the way of good storytelling, though I have no proof of that.

Also, there’s a twist/big reveal concerning Darth Sideous/Chancellor Palpatine/The Emperor that I really didn’t like. I GET why it’s there (it serves to tie ALL the SW stuff together) but it feels wrong to me. It also serves to make Palpatine vaguely sympathetic, which, in my opinion, he should not be (I love Palpatine, but sympathetic he ain’t).

In the end, I enjoyed Outbound Flight quite a bit, and any Star Wars fan, or Zahn fan, ought to read it (fans of both, doubly so). While Zahn is somewhat hampered by what I think are bad editorial decisions, he still manages to tell a fun and interesting Star Wars style romp, and answer some questions about Zahn-specific plots that have come up before.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Born to Kvetch

Born to Kvetch :Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods
Michael Wex
Publisher: St. Martin'sPress (September 1, 2005)
ISBN: 0312307411

I borrowed this one from a little while ago, after seeing it in the store and being somewhat curious about it.
Born to Kvetch is about Yiddish. Specifically, it’s a combination history and cultural study,filtered through the study of a language. Wex does a very nice job of explicating not only how Yiddish evolved, but how the very character of the language is uniquely Jewish, and indeed, uniquely Diaspora Jewish. Along the way, he also traces the development of the language, including how it split into various sub-types, where certain words and phrase came from, and how the language and culture deal with topics like birth, sex, and death.

There’s some very interesting stuff in here, most of it having to do with Jewish culture in general. Little things, like the fact that Orthodox Jews love…Paul, I think…one of the saints, for making sure that there was a very clear delineation between Judaism and Christianity. Or how the very nature of Yiddish is intricately tied to Jewish ghetto culture, and trying to separate the two is like trying to separate…I don’t know. Two things very hard to separate.You get my point.

Unfortunately, there’s some stuff in here that I found deliriously boring, most of it consisting of sections that are just little descriptions of a Yiddish phrase, followed by it’s meaning, and then it’s real meaning. One chapter, devoted entirely to explaining the differences between two diverse branches of Yiddish, is particularly hard to follow, especially if you don’t speak any version of Yiddish at all.

Which really is the problem with this book; Wex is clearly a native Yiddish speaker, and there’s a fair amount of material in here that will only make sense, or be interesting, if you have some familiarity with Yiddish.The less you know, the harder it is to follow. Since my Yiddish is limited to Oy, Kanahore (which I now know the meaning of, thanks to this book), Schmuk, and few other curses, it was fairly tough.

The book is well-written, and interesting, but linguistic evolution isn’t my big thing. If this sort of thing interests you, it’s worth the read. If you’re looking for just a random, fun, non-fiction book to read, I’dlook elsewhere.