Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why You Should Never Present Me With Hypotheticals--Sad Fan Fic Post (I'm Warning You Now So You Can Avoid It!)

So, Star Wars Books, the page that Del Rey maintains for promoting the novels on Facebook, does a fun thing every couple of weeks.  They present crazy versus situations and allow the fans to vote on who would win.

I am a nerd.  I admit this.  It's the first step in dealing with a problem.

Every once in a while one of these duels compels me to put way too much thought into it, and you can see one of the results below:

“We have located the Personality Resonance Matrix that was lost during the Clone Wars.  You will initiate the exercise we discussed all of those years ago.”

The Kaminoan tech, exiled for so long on Wayland, reflected on the words of the Emperor as she attempted what had never been successfully done before . . . encoding the entire personality of a subject and placing that personality into a fully developed clone, effectively resurrecting the individual.

The experiment was far more interesting than comparing the relative merits of traditional Kamino cloning facilities versus the newer Spaarti Cloning devices.

Jango had a huge gap in his memory.  He remembered training the ARC Troopers in the War Games center of Kamino, wearing the uncomfortable technological crown they had given him to wear, and telling him to keep in on for a least a week to “attune” the device.

Now he was on a planet in the middle of nowhere, told to guard a facility he knew nothing about, even as he was promised that he would eventually be brought back “home” to his apartments and his son, Boba.

The bounty hunter known as Boba Fett was unceremoniously dropped on the mysterious planet.  He was told only that we as being employed to test the security of a secret facility, and that he was not allowed to know where he was going, but that the job would be worth the trouble.

Jango spotted the figured coming out of the jungle.  If he wasn't carefully scanning the entire horizon, looking for any movement, he would have missed the figure coming out of the jungle.  Mandalorian armor.  Wookiee braids.  Customized symbols.  Dented and scratched.  If the armor belonged to it's current wearer, he would be dangerous.  Jango had spent years studying many kinds of opponents, and he knew how to approach a Mandalorian in combat.  If his opponent wasn't a Mandalorian, he would have to adapt his strategy.

Coming out of the jungle, the bounty hunter was dubious of what he was seeing.  Visually, he was facing the legendary bounty hunter, and clone trooper template, Jango Fett.  But Jango Fett had died the same day the Clone Wars began.  This couldn't be Jango.  But where Jango was involved, clones were often involved.  Could this be another clone?  Perhaps one tailored to think it was Jango?

Jango realized he was spotted and had to act.  He launched himself into the air, igniting his jet pack, and strafing the edge of the woods with his twin pistols, which he drew and fired before his opponent could go for his EE-3 blaster rifle.  Still, the armored intruder was fast, and he rolled behind the cover of a felled tree before any of Jango's shots could find their target.  Despite that, Jango and narrowed the direction that the intruder would come at him.

The bounty hunter fired his wrist rocket as he rolled for cover.  He intentionally fired wide of of the Jango look alike.  Jango clearly realized that he bounty hunter didn't have a clear line on him, and wasn't paying attention when the rocket flew wide to the side of him.  “Jango” didn't notice the gel seeping into his armor, and more importantly, his jetpack.

Jango was about to land just to the side of the tree trunk that the intruder used for cover, which should flush the intruder out right in line for his catch line to fire out at his opponent.  Suddenly, he could feel the loss of power in his jetpack.  Jango angled towards the ground, still keeping a line of sight on the intruder, and rolling as he made contact with the ground, coming out of his roll with both blaster pistols trained on the intruder, who now had nothing between Jango's blaster and his own flesh except the worn Mandalorian armor he wore.

This “Jango” seemed to be very authentic.  If he was as close to the original as he seemed, the bounty hunter would have a hard time winning the firefight.  At this range, Jango was especially deadly with his blaster pistols, and he would fire them fast enough that at least a few bolts would find the weak points in his armor.  But if this “Jango” as as authentic as he seemed, the bounty hunter had an idea how to win this fight.

The intruder hip shot his EE-3 towards Jango, and was surprisingly accurate with the shot.  Jango lost his shot for a second as he angled is body away from the shot, depriving him of a clear shot for his second blaster, and halving the number of shots that the intruder had to dodge.  Despite this adjustment, Jango tagged the intruder in the shoulder, chest plate, and just above the knee.  The knee shot seemed to have hit home, because the intruder dropped to his other knee and grunted in pain.

Jango moved in closer, flamethrower primed.  The burns should work their way around the intruder's armor, and even if the fire didn't kill him, it would throw him off his stride long enough for Jango to pick out a few more weak spots on his armor to place blaster bolts.  He noticed that the intruder had a jetpack as well.  He hadn't used it yet, but suddenly it seemed as if he was priming it.  Too late he noticed the flashing light on the ground halfway between him and the intruder.

The bounty hunter knew that he couldn't remind Jango that he was also carrying a jetpack too soon, or his ruse wouldn't work.  Now he was close enough to trigger the jetpack.  He could ignore the pain in his knee.  He had intended to feign an injury as soon as his armor took a hit, but this false Jango Fett was as good with his blaster as the real one.  The bounty hunter flew back and a slight upwards angle, mainly firing the jet pack for distance.  He was a bit off balance, but he could recover, and the bumps and bruises would be worth it.

Jango realized that the flashing object was a thermal detonator.  The blast radius would be too great for an off hand toss to save him.  No cover within range would have anywhere near the structural integrity to stave off the force of the blast.  He knew it was malfunctioning, but his only option was to trigger the jetpack and hope that he still had enough control over the damaged device to save his life.

Halfway out of the blast radius the gel once again disrupted the control circuits, and the jets cut out.  Jango hit his shoulder hard, and the pain shot through his brain.  Jango was always good and pushing the pain back down and finishing the job, but this time, the flash and heat caught up with him, and this particular Jango Fett would never have to worry about pain ever again.

The bounty hunter known as Boba Fett hit his hip on a rock, rolled, and slammed his shoulder into a tree, but still managed to roll and get on his feet almost immediately.  He took a breath, looked at the devastation, and realized his gamble had worked.  Jango had always been too reliant on his jetpack.

The bounty hunter straightened his shoulders, stood up, and began to walk towards the extraction point. He treated his jetpack like any other tool in his arsenal.  He was sure as long as he only used his jetpack sparingly and when it was least expected, he'd never have to worry about the same kind of fatal equipment failure that plagued Jango.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Do I Know About Books: Maul--Lockdown

I've been waiting for Maul:  Lockdown to come out for a while now.  I really enjoyed Death Troopers, and Darth Plagueis was one of my favorite recent Star Wars novels.  I heard a lot about Lockdown being tied into the events of Darth Plagueis, so that only fueled my interest in this book.

To cut right to the chase, I was disappointed.  Somewhere around the middle of the book I was lamenting that it wasn't closer to the end, which is never a good sign.  It's hard to say exactly where the book goes wrong for me, but in keeping with the lead character, I'll chop the rest of this review in half, one without spoilers, and the other half getting into more specifics.

Non-Spoiler Ruminations

The book does show Maul being a bad ass, but he's a fettered bad ass.  I won't go into more details, but the hindrances that he operates under would be great, if they made a bit more sense. Instead, you spend a lot of the story wishing he would just cut loose, yet he's still holding back.

The narrative is brutal, which isn't a surprise given Joe Schreiber's previous offerings, but much like Maul's fettered bad assery, I kept waiting for a satisfactory release, something that made all of that narrative brutality worth the effort, but in the end, the story just gets so mired down that the ending isn't so much a satisfactory resolution as it is an abrupt stop.

I think that the story may have been competing with Darth Plagueis, trying to create layers and layers of intrigue.  Given the limited scope of Maul's mission, and the time frame under which this book unfolds, the layer upon layer of convoluted plot twists start to feel like they exist only for the purpose of drawing the out the story, not because the story actually calls for those twists to occur.

There are horror elements in the book that seem forced, almost as if Scheiber knows that horror is his wheelhouse, so horror goes into the mix.  Those elements always seem kind of tacked on and forced.  There is one chapter that is devoted to this horror element that seems to be trying to explain why the element is included, but feels so disconnected from the rest of the book that it might as well not be in the book.

The ties to Darth Plagueis don't seem to hit the right notes either.  There is a specific event in that novel that all of these events point towards, but Plagueis himself doesn't seem to be in the same state of mind in this novel as he was at that point in the novel.  Unless I really misread what was going on in that book, I'm not sure why things unfolded the way they did in Darth Plagueis if the events of this book are also true.  This is a shame, because it actually caused more of a disconnect with me rather than tying the two narratives together.

Schreiber is not a bad author, and there are parts of the book that are enjoyable.  The whole doesn't seem to come together the way it was intended, and it means that the whole is less than the sum of it's parts.  I still want to read more Schreiber in the Star Wars universe, but I'm not sure that using an existing character as his lead or fleshing out the backstory of another work is the best way to utilize his talents.

Full On Spoiler Territory

If you don't mind spoilers, read on.

This does not happen in the book, but may have made more sense than some of the stuff that did.

Specifically, it was very odd to see Maul admonished to not utilize the Force during his stay at the prison.  While I know that Maul isn't a "real" Sith, at least according to Darth Plagueis, Darth Plagueis, the novel, goes to great pains to point out that the Sith test themselves at utilizing their powers, even in front of Jedi, in a manner that isn't detectable.

For a while I thought Sidious was testing Maul, seeing if he would disobey an obviously silly directive, but given that Sidious seems to be really keen on Maul completing this mission, that would make no sense.

I know that the Republic in this era is rotting from corruption, but I have a hard time believing that it would allow legal, regulated betting on prison fights.  Heck, even the Empire couches things like this in legal double speak and doesn't just flat out allow such twisted amusement to be considered legal without a least a few technicalities being invoked.  And if it's not legal, then why is the Republic Gaming Commission involved at all?

I know it's a made up universe, but I have a really hard time buying that it's even remotely cost effective to build a prison that can be completely reconfigured the way Cog Hive Seven can.  I know they recouped the cost with the betting, but if something like this isn't astronomically, prohibitively expensive, why aren't all major Imperial prisons built like this?  It seems like it would be a great way to keep people from escaping.

Meet your cellmate.  He gets top bunk.
How many freaking random beasts can you keep in a prison?  I mean, even if you are taking bets on prisoners and broadcasting it, keeping random animals penned up in a prison just seems like something that happens only to allow the author to throw things like Wampas at Maul.

How does Iram Radique actually make any credits?  It seems impossible for customers to actually make contact with him.  If there is some other channel for contacting him, it seems like Sidious would have just used that.  So Iram hides from customers, and then attempts to kill them, and if they survive multiple attempted assassinations, he might act like he wants you to work with him, until he tries to kill you again.

"Your resume seems to be in order.  Just sign here, we'll watch the orientation video, then rip out your eyes."
A Chiss, really?  An arms dealer with an overly complex organization could only be a Chiss, huh?  If he was a Chiss, I figured his precautions would actually make more sense, instead of barricading himself in a prison and hiding from customers while putting out the eyes of the people assembling his weapons so as to make him appear more creepy, but overall just kind of hindering his operation, because your whole assembly line is blind!

Let's analyze the arms dealing business model in this book.  Inmates smuggle in tiny components. Birds fly the tiny components to a hidden assembly area, where thousands of tiny parts are assembled by people that have had their eyes put out.  The inmates are paid by little strings that signify some code that gives them access to credits, but none of them will ever leave this place, and they have no contact with their families, so credits are basically worthless.  Customer orders come from . . . ?  Next step . . . profit!

Why does Darth Plagueis suspect Sidious in this book, but never seems to be convinced that his apprentice would attempt to kill him in his own novel?  I may need to reread that section of the novel, but it also seems like this book takes place when Plagueis is pretty much withdrawn from the galaxy as a whole, but he's shown here still ordering around IBC members and throwing his weight around.  But the main crux of my disconnect is, why is Plagueis wary of Sidious here, but is convinced of his loyalty later on in the narrative of his own novel?

"We're not sure why these don't work, but we're pretty sure there will still be a market for them."
Oh, and mass producing "synthetic" lightsabers.  Remember, you only want free-range organic lightsabers.  And how was showing people how to make lightsabers less of a problem then using the Force to not die in a fight?

The formula going into this was pretty simple.  Maul goes undercover in a prison to find an arms dealer in order to secure a weapon, and finds out there is a prison fight club along the way.  The whole thing could be been resolved in a much less convoluted manner and still been pretty satisfactory.  But I have to admit, you will never produce a great story taking the safe path, and at least Maul attempts to do something different, it just doesn't seem to succeed in doing what it sets out to do.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Star Wars Conspiracy Theories: Droids--The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO

"I'm placing these droids in your care.  Treat them well.  Clean them up.  Have the protocol droid's mind wiped."--Bail Organa, Star Wars Episode III

"Our last master was Captain Antilles,"--C-3PO, Star Wars Episode IV.

Since my Star Wars:  Edge of the Empire game has delved into a lot of conspiracy theories lately, the old wheels in my head started turning.  Why not look at what kind of crazy things really happened between the frames of the movies?

In this vein, I thought I'd kick off this round of conjecture examining one of the greatest mysteries an all of the Star Wars galaxy.  What's that?  The secret of C-3PO's mind wipe!

We know that droids develop stronger personalities the longer they go without a mind wipe.  We know that C-3PO has almost the same personality in the prequel trilogy as he does in the classic trilogy.  While it's possible he just happened to develop the same personality based on his experiences from the end of Episode III on . . . what if the answer isn't just coincidence?

First off, why was C-3PO mind wiped and not R2-D2?  That's easy to answer.  R2-D2 was in military service.  R2 units were regularly mind wiped after missions.  Even if it wasn't obvious enough to determine from context, the Clone Wars series clearly establishes that Anakin flaunts the usual military protocols when it comes to mind wiping R2-D2.  But as far as Bail Organa and the crew of the Tantive IV are concerned, R2 has been getting his regular mind wipes and doesn't need to be scrubbed.

Of course, that means R2 spent the next 19 years or so making sure that he didn't get mind wiped again, but hey, he's resourceful . . . as we are about to see as this conspiracy unfolds.

Protocol droids don't get a mind wipe on a regular basis, because part of their job is to know appointments, contacts, and important dates relevant to their master.  For maximum safety, Bail had to make sure that C-3PO couldn't give away details about Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan, or Yoda, even if he didn't know much.

Now, R2-D2 has grown fond of his fussy friend.  He knows that a mind wipe is imminent.  While he could just create a backup of C-3PO's memories and restore his personality, R2 also knows that C-3PO is almost a Jar Jar Binks level security threat if allowed to keep too many sensitive details in his databanks.

R2-D2 needs to have a significant length of time for C-3PO to exhibit his personality in his memories to "lock in" who he is.  But none of 3PO's memories are safe to leave with him.  This causes R2 to formulate a plan.  C-3PO needs safe memories to "live" in.  So R2 starts to comb holonovels and documentaries for stories of two droids aiding a group of humans.  Once he has assembled years and years worth of data, he programs C-3PO with these false memories.

R2 realizes that 3PO's memories might sound familiar to people that question him, so R2 places a sub-routine in 3PO's mind that will cause him to replace details of his memories as he encounters things in the future.  So a planet in a holonovel will be replaced with a planet where the Tantive IV has visited, and a former owner that was an archaeologist in a documentary will be replaced with a prominent professor that C-3PO has personally met.

Once all of that has been set up, R2 backs up only the segment of C-3PO's memories from the implanted section of his databanks, and has them ready to reinsert into his mind once the memory wipe has been performed.  When Bail order's C-3PO's memory wipe, R2 isn't laughing at his compatriot's misfortune, he's laughing because his master plan is all falling into place.

R2's customized memory sub-routine is the reason the C-3PO remembers starships that hadn't been produced yet, encounters with Boba Fett, and a host of multiple masters before Captain Antillies of the Tantive IV.

And who knows how many times, while 3PO is chastising him, R2-D2 regrets saving his friend's personality.