Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig

Today I'm looking at the second book in the Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt. As Star Wars fans can probably guess from the title, this book focuses, at least in part, on the liberation of the wookie homeworld Kashyyyk, and includes some awesome scenes of wookies ripping stormtroopers apart.And of course I'm all for that, but the liberation of Kashyyyk makes up only a small part of the book, most of it focusing instead on the relationships of not only Han and Leia, but the relationships of the members of Norra Wexley's team as well. I think the hardest part is that I haven't really connected emotionally with the members of Norra's team so it's hard for me to get invested in their personal relationships.

The things I care the most about these books, obviously, is how much it explains the political situation in the galaxy when we get to The Force Awakens. Unfortunately this book just leaves me with as many, if not more questions, than I had previously. The biggest complaint people have had recently, especially after The Last Jedi, is we know basically nothing about Chairman Snoke. We don't know who he is, where he came from, how he ended up in charge, or why we should care about him. However we're into the second book and the only people in charge of the remnant Empire at this point are Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. We have gotten some hints that Admiral Rax had deep connections with Emperor Palpatine and may be a Dark Side cultist of some sort, but Snoke hasn't made any appearance. Obviously this is still some thirty years until the events of Last Jedi but I feel like this would have been a good explanation for how the First Order came about from the ashes of the old Empire.

Another thing that I didn't care for was the prison ship Ashmead's Lock, which was apparently a centuries-old prison ship that crashed on Kashyyyk and was retrofitted by the Empire to hold rebel prisoners in stasis. There are a couple of problems with this ship. First, and perhaps dumbest thing about the ship, is that it uses the prisoners as a power supply, just like in The Matrix. It was dumb when The Matrix did it, and it's dumb when it's done here because using humans and other living beings as batteries is impossible. Humans and other biological beings generate heat, true, but only by burning calories from food they consume. To get energy out of a human being you have to put just as much, if not more energy in, making any energy profit impossible.

Secondly, Ashmead's Lock is part of a program to brainwash rebel prisoners and make them sleeper agents for the Empire, to activate them to wreak havoc with the rebellion. I will admit this would be a spoiler for the book except that it's telegraphed so obviously that it's hardly a surprise when it does happen. Admiral Rax orchestrates the liberation of Ashmead's Lock so it's clear that it's part of some nefarious plan he's got cooking. Then we see the liberated prisoners acting strangely after they came back and having secret meetings, so when they try to assassinate Mon Mothma and the rest of the New Republic leadership it doesn't come as a surprise at all. It also doesn't make much sense for the Empire to be sitting on these sleeper agents for years and years and never deploying them when they could conceivably use the agents to deal the rebellion a blow after a setback such as Yavin. Why keep them until the Empire's all but lost the war for the galaxy?

Overall the book's okay. By far the largest parts of the book focus on the personal relationships of the characters, but because I haven't gotten deeply invested in people such as Jas Emari and Sinjir Velus, so those parts of the book just don't hold as much appeal for me as other sections. If people get invested in those characters those parts of the book will obviously have greater appeal, but for whatever reason they just don't work for me. Otherwise these books don't answer nearly as many questions as I'd hoped.

- Kalpar

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