What the Heck Did I Just Read?

Have you ever asked yourself this question after finishing a book? I just did.

To be honest, I don’t read a lot of “recommended” books. Not because I don’t trust other readers, but because I know my reading tastes. That said, when one of my friends who doesn’t normally recommend books told me I absolutely had to read this book because it was “amazing” I took a shot, and picked up Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

Now, I could take this time to write a traditional review – tell you about the book, the characters, what I liked and didn’t – but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to tell you what this book taught me.

*This book taught me that it’s ok to read outside my “usual” genres. I do not read horror. I do not read suspense. I like sleep too much. Yet this book is considered both horror and suspense, and I read it from start to finish in one sitting. But to be fair, there’s no gross blood and the suspense is all mental. That’s a suspenseful horror I can get behind.

*This book taught me that character names  are more than just titles. So, none of the characters in this book have names. At all. Rather, they are referred to by their job (i.e., “the biologist” or “the phychologist”). I find that the lack of names made me suspicious of ALL the characters, no matter what actions they took. The biologist is presented as the main character, and I found her highly unreliable. In this case, the old adage that “names have power” is relevant; somehow, knowing a character’s name creates a sort of relationship between the reader and the character – a sense of camaraderie. In this case, I felt no connection to the characters, and so trusted nothing about them.

*This book taught me secrecy, the unknown, and insanity can be more terrifying that a serial killer. There is nothing in this book that is reliable. It’s impossible to know what’s real and what’s only in the characters’ minds. The untrustworthiness of the characters made me question everything. The tension is palpable, and the sense of foreboding and dread builds so slowly I almost didn’t realize what was happening until the tiny clues along the way that initially seemed so unimportant suddenly all come together into a truth insidious and alien.

*This book taught me setting can function as character. Area X is as important an element to this story as is any of the human characters. In many ways, it’s more interesting than any of the human characters, too. It’s more dynamic, if not more mysterious. The greatest danger of Area X is unseen, but is present in the effect it has on the human characters manifesting as terror, insanity, and unnatural physical transformation.

*This book taught me resolution isn’t always the endgame. So, to loop around and back to my initial question: What did I just read? I literally can’t answer this. Because the book doesn’t have a resolution. Oh, it has an ending, but it isn’t a pretty, satisfying, wrap-up-all-the-loose-ends ending. In fact, by the end of the book, I didn’t really feel like I knew anything more than I did at the beginning of the book. And, somehow, I was ok with that. Area X is an unsolved mystery.

So, the long and the short of it is, exercise your reading muscles every now and then, and choose something you wouldn’t normally read. Take a chance. You may end up reading something that you completely hate, but, then again, you may end up reading something that you absolutely love – like I just did. So much, in fact, that I devoured the other two volumes of the Southern Reach trilogy, Authority and Acceptance, in four days.

And to those of you who have read Annihilation, riddle me this: with regards to Area X – is that the letter X, or is it the Roman numeral ten?

Star Wars is Life.

Star Wars. Is there a better name for literally anything? Definitely not. And especially not the magic that is the Star Wars Universe.

I remember my first introduction into the Star Wars world. I was about five years old, and I was at my grandparents’ house where my parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents had congregated to watch Return of the Jedi for the first time. My sister and cousins and I were supposed to be in the other room playing, but I was curious about what they were watching, so I snuck around the corner and laid in the back of the living room watching something I would forever after consider a cornerstone of my childhood. I felt worry as Luke fell into the Rancor pit in Jabba’s palace; I felt awe as the Rebel fleet blasted through space; I felt adoration of the furry little Ewoks; I felt terror of Lord Vader. And this sparked a lifelong love and appreciation for what I consider to be one of the greatest cultural phenomenons of my lifetime.

I was in high school when the original trilogy was rereleased into theaters, and stood in line with hundreds of others to experience the magic of Star Wars on the big screen. I had watched all three films of the original trilogy dozens of times by then, and could nearly quote them word-for-word, but seeing them in that environment was like seeing them for the first time. I love the new additions to the universe (with, perhaps, the exception of Jar-Jar Binks. I mean, really? What were they thinking?), and mostly consider them valuable additions (if some of the acting is a little sub-par. But not Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson. And Jimmy Smits. They are the saving grace of the prequel trilogy, IMHO). And Rogue One? Stellar.

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So, all this to help you understand how excited I was when I heard about From A Certain Point of View, the anthology of forty short stories written to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original Star Wars. I realize there are a plethora of Star Wars books written by many talented authors that add to the larger Star Wars universe; I haven’t read them all. In fact, I haven’t even read most of them. I read a select few years and years ago, and then James Luceno’s Catalyst when it came out because I wanted to know more about Galen Erso. But the premise of this newer foray into the Star Wars world intrigued me. An alternative telling of Star Wars: A New Hope from the POV of all the margin characters? Yes, please, I demand you take my money.

And it was so. very. cool.

Forty stories is a lot. That’s a lot of characters I didn’t even realize weren’t highlighted in the original movie. I mean, we get stories from characters like the band in the cantina on Tattoine, Jawas, Tuscan raiders, the R2 unit with the “bad motivator”, even characters like the officer who failed to shoot the escape pod that carried R2 and 3PO to Tattoine, and the “garbage monster” on the Death Star. Were the stories all great? No. There were a couple where, as I listened (to the audio book), I found my attention wandering (“Kloo Horn Caper”, I’m looking at you), but some of them were utterly fantastic. There were all written in the spirit of Star Wars, and absolutely add to the lore.

A few words about the stories I particularly liked:

  • “Master and Apprentice” – My heart literally skipped a beat when I heard the Master’s voice. I didn’t realize how much I missed Qui-Gon Jinn until I listened to this story. I always liked the dynamic between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and this was a lovely testament to that relationship.
  • “Added Muscle” – A cool and funny little ditty about Boba Fett and what he really thinks about serving as Jabba the Hutt’s hired thug.
  • “Born in the Storm” – OK. I never thought of a Stormtrooper as being funny, but this story literally had me laughing out loud in my car – you know, when you’re a double dork because you’re cracking up and there’s no one to hear you? Yeah, like that.
  • “There is Another” – Yoda is one of my favorite characters, and I really liked this glimpse into his life on Degobah – the heartbreaking loneliness he experiences in the wake of losing everyone he holds dear, and the tiny glimpse of hope he allows himself to feel at the possibility of training another young Skywalker.
  • “An Incident Report” – Bahaha – this is told from the POV of Admiral Motti, the dude Darth Vader Force-chokes in the staff meeting on the Death Star.
  • “Time of Death” – All the feels. Every single one of them. But it’s an Obi-Wan story, so also all the awesome.
  • “The Angle” – Lando, oh, Lando. You scoundrel.
  • “Palpatine” – This. Is. Bloody. Brilliant. In all honesty, probably a better listen than read, though.
  • “Whills” – This hilariously tells the tale of two historians arguing about how to chronicle a cultural phenomenon known as Star Wars.

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A few random thoughts about some of the other stories…

  • In the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Wheeaaaaaatooooooonnnnnnnn!” Yup, he got me. Right in the feels.
  • Pierce Brown should write more Star Wars stuff.
  • I will never look at Grand Moff Tarkin the same way again. But, seriously, it makes so much sense. How did I not know???
  • “Wookiee aggression.” Hahaha.
  • Owen Lars has small man syndrome.
  • Leia got the short end of the stick.
  • Jabba the Hutt was always gross.
  • Never, never assume that just because a character isn’t the star, they aren’t important.

If you’re a Star Wars fan in any capacity, take the time to read (or listen to) this. It’s definitely worth it. Personally, I’ll never watch Star Wars in the same way. And I sincerely hope they do one of these for Empire and Jedi‘s fortieth anniversaries, as well.

May the Force be with you. Always.