Thursday, February 26, 2009

Star Wars Republic Commando Series - Karen Traviss

Hard Contact

OK. I know you are now shaking your heads and thinking I have lost my mind.
This month for my review/recommendation to people who mostly read romance I’m pushing a series that is a military SF media-tie in. I’m not crazy so stay with me for a while. If you read this series I’m willing to bet most of you will enjoy it.

Let’s take the media tie-in issue first.
I admit before I read this series I didn’t think to highly of most media tie-in books. Sure, I had read my share of Trek novels, some were good some were wretched. Continuity was all over the place. I had picked up other TV and movie tie-in books and had about the same reaction. I liked the original Star Wars movies; I saw the three prequels and didn’t hate them. Han Solo is yummy, but I don't own a light saber and wouldn’t say I’m a Fan Girl. If I had ever read a Star Wars tie-in book I don’t remember anything about it.

A few years back I read City of Pearl the first book in Karen Traviss’s Wess’Har series and was immediately hooked on her writing. I read all the other books in that series as soon as they came out. They are fist rate SF pumped full of action, cool aliens and big ideas. They are what SF can be when it is at the top of its game, fun to reads without being fluffy, with the sort of ideas that make you stop and think about your lifestyle without being preachy. You should give them a try too, but that's not today's topic.

While looking around for more books by Traviss to read I stumbled across a website where she talked about how she had put just as much blood and sweat into writing Republic Commando – Hard Contact for Lucas Arts as she did into the books she wrote in her own universe. I sort of let that roll off my back. How good could a Star Wars tie-in book based on characters from a soot-em-up video game be? Well a few months later I was off work with a wretched sinus infection and hanging around Kroger’s waiting for my anti-biotic prescription to get filled and came a cross a copy of Hard Contact. I got it on a whim. Took it home and read it almost in one sitting and was hooked. It was every bit as good as Traviss said it was. Since then I have eagerly waited for the rest of the books in the RC series and none of them have disappointed.

Why is this series so good? Traviss has created one of the most interesting takes on being a clone that I have ever read and for that alone this series stands out. She is a bang-up writer, who has personal experience in the military and as a journalist, which gives her work a very real edge. She creates engaging characters and puts them in powerful situations, and the folks at Lucas Arts gave her all the room she needed to tell the sort of story she tells best.

Trraviss sets the SW Universe on its ear. How can the Jedi be all that is right and pure and at the same time have no qualms about talking control of what is essentially a slave army of men born to be nothing but cannon fodder? Who is Human? What is the duty of a society toward the people fighting and dying for it? Does your duty as a soldier out way your rights as a human being? Can you really have a democracy when rule of law is enforced by a small elite religious order? Does having a special genetic trait the rest of the population lacks make you a natural ruler? What is the average citizen’s duty when a government becomes corrupt? What is family? Does duty to family top duty to any government? Does love make you strong or weak?

On top of questions like those there are great characters. I’m a woman of a certain age, not into Mil-porn style guns and guts SF but I fell in love with the guys in Omega Squad, Darman, Niner, Fi, and Atin. The team of Special Forces commandos made up of survivors of the massacre on Genosis so they all come to the start of the series with psycological wounds and other issues that make them stand out. Fi especcialy got to me. His yearning for the real world outside of the very narrow bounders of life in the GAR is so strong it hurt to read about. I wasn’t sure if these guys needed a roll in the hay, or home baked cookies to be happy but really wished I could offer both. There is also Kal Skirata a hard-boiled Mandalorian mercenary who lost all ties to his family when he went onto the secret program to train the clone army. He fills that hole in his heart with every clone he trained, and takes on heaven, hell , and everyone in-between for the chance to build real lives for his boys. All the characters aren’t military types. Etain, is a confused young Jedi tossed into a situation over her head and outside her training. Maybe my favorite character in the series is Besany Wenman. She is a government forensic auditor, who when she uncovers corruption and a massive cover-up does what is right instead of what is easy. There is even a Romeo and Juliet sub-plot running through all four books in the series. As to HEA, that is there too, sort of, if you look at it from the right angle. No big pink spun-sugar bow, but for the most part the right thing happen to the right people.

The next time you are looking for something different to read give this series some thought. You’ll never think of Star Wars the same way again. Sex happens, always off stage. There are many fight scenes and battles. People die. People you like die. Part of the point of the whole series is that in war people die, and every death is a tragedy not a statistic.


Kimber An said...

Awesome review, Mary! I admit I never gave this series a second glance because I assumed it was all zing-bang-shoot-em-up military SF. Thanks for setting me straight.

I have a few Star Wars novels in the queue as well, but they'll be going up at my Young Adult Science Fiction blog instead. I'll link to them here, so all can enjoy. Some were written especially for young people while the rest can be enjoyed by everyone.

SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE is going up at YA SciFi tomorrow. It was written in 1978 before anyone knew Luke was Leia's sister (eeeew!) and Darth Vader was their bad daddy. Makes for an interesting read.

Mfitz said...

I've seen on various SW sites that Splinter does have a huge (eeeew!) factor after the news came out that Luke and Leia are siblings.

Is that Alan Dean Foster? He has done a bunch of TV/Movie tie-in books that are far better than average. I almost alway enjoy his writing both as tie-ins and the stuff he has done in his own universes.

Kimber An said...

Yes, Alan Dean Foster. I just found out about him, but, obviously, he's been around for quite a while and has a huge backlist. I'm going to be reviewing some of his newer releases next.

Mfitz said...

I read his Flinx books in HS and really liked them. I really wanted my own Pip. :-)