Monday, April 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: "Lords of the Sith" by Paul Kemp

Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine flex their Force muscles in Paul Kemp's Lords of the Sith, but the real stars of this book are Cham Syndulla and his rebellion on Ryloth. According to the publisher's summary:
On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

Friday, March 20, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: "To The Stars" by George Takei

With Leonard Nimoy's recent passing, I decided to read some memoirs from the original Star Trek cast. Fortunately, George Takei's "To The Stars" has just been rereleased in Kindle format...

Star Trek fans know George Takei as Mr. Sulu, the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Takei was cast in large part to flesh out the diversity of the Enterprise crew. Just 20 years after World War II, casting a Japanese American was particularly poignant - a symbol that former enemies could become friends in the future.

However, before reading "To The Stars," I didn't realize just how poignant Takei's participation on the show was. Take was actually imprisoned at an internment camp during World War II because his parents were Japanese. He grew up determined not just to be an actor but also to advocate for the rights of Asian Americans and greater diversity in Hollywood. Takei rejected acting roles that demeaned Asians, so having him on the bridge of the Enterprise was a doubly important symbol.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What's wrong with the economics of sci-fi?

[This article was reposted from my main blog, NardiViews]

Economist David Berri has an article in Time criticizing the depiction of economics in science fiction. In particular, he argues that sic-fi stories frequently depict technologically advanced galactic empires despite the fact that, in the real world, autocracy sniffles economic growth. Historically, empires have seized private wealth, making citizens more reluctant to invest in technology and innovation. By contrast, inclusive governments, such as democracies, allow people to reap the rewards of their investments, thereby encouraging investment in technologies that stimulate economic growth.

I know something about both political economics and science fiction, and unfortunately Berri gets both wrong.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: "Heir to the Jedi" by Kevin Hearne

There are some nice character moments in Kevin Hearne's Heir to the Jedi, but I can't shake the feeling that it's not the same Luke we saw in the films...

From the publisher's summary:
A brilliant alien cryptographer renowned for her ability to breach even the most advanced communications systems is being detained by Imperial agents determined to exploit her exceptional talents for the Empire’s purposes. But the prospective spy’s sympathies lie with the Rebels, and she’s willing to join their effort in exchange for being reunited with her family. It’s an opportunity to gain a critical edge against the Empire that’s too precious to pass up. It’s also a job that demands the element of surprise. So Luke and the ever-resourceful droid R2-D2 swap their trusty X-wing fighter for a sleek space yacht piloted by brash recruit Nakari Kelen, daughter of a biotech mogul, who’s got a score of her own to settle with the Empire.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


A new year, a new episode of Star Wars: Rebels. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write full reviews for each episode. However, I wanted to comment on the general direction of the show, especially because I have revised my opinion of the show since reviewing "A Spark of Rebellion." Overall, the show is getting much, much better. The characterizations, story arcs, and animation have all improved.

Friday, November 28, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Le Guin

As I write this, there are several trending news items on Facebook about nude celebrities. That seems fitting given the sorts of questions Ursula K. Le Guin asks in The Left Hand of Darkness. What would human society look like without gender? How would love and politics differ if we were neither male or female? Gender is such a critical part of our identity that this thought exercise turns out to be incredibly difficult. Almost all human stories have some element of romance, or at least sexual tension.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin introduces us to a society world known as Gethen. ("Winter" in English) on which descendants of humans possess elements of both genders. The beings are asexual but during a mating season - known as kemmer - one gender dominates the other to allow for reproduction.

Friday, November 21, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama is widely acclaimed as Arthur C. Clarke's best book, and it definitely deserves much of the praise it's gotten. That said, the book isn't perfect, particularly when it comes to the characters.

Rendezvous with Rama starts when an large, cylindrical object is detected hurtling towards the sun. The object is named "Rama" after the Hindu god. The United Planets sends the solar survey vessel Endeavour under the command of Commander Bill Norton to investigate. The rest of the book focuses on the crew's exploration of the alien artifact.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End is frustrating. The story has several great twists, even brilliant, but it's sloppily executed and the ending veers into paranormal mysticism rather than science fiction. Too often, the story drops the really interesting ideas it raises in favor of some of the sillier concepts. I can't really discuss the problems with this book without SPOILERS, so be warned that there are spoilers throughout!

The story begins rather quickly as a mysterious alien race comes to Earth and... helps mankind create a utopia! Even today, most stories about aliens are either about alien invasions or first contact. But Childhood's End presents a race of benevolent aliens actually helping mankind. Initially, the struggle becomes getting mankind to accept and trust their new "overlords." A group of humans resists the aliens and promises mass resistance. Great twist, right?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


As a big fan of James Luceno’s “Darth Plagueis,” I was excited to hear that Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin would be getting the Luceno treatment. Unfortunately, “Tarkin” isn’t quite the equal of “Darth Plagueis” in that it doesn’t provide a sweeping backstory for Tarkin. It’s more a story in which Tarkin is the central protagonist. However, we do get some great background information about Tarkin, especially about his upbringing on Eriadu. And there are some wonderful treats for fans of the old EU.


Friday, October 3, 2014

REBELS REVIEW: "Spark of Rebellion"

The latest incarnation of Star Wars, Rebels, has now officially aired on TV. I won't be able to review the entire show - I don't even know if I'll have access to cable overseas - but I thought I'd at least share my thoughts on the TV movie, "Spark of Rebellion." Overall, there is some real promise with the characters, but a number of problems with the overall tone of the show and, surprisingly, the soundtrack. It's a fun ride, but does it have the potential to become something more?

I don't feel that I can review the show adequately without discussing key plot points in depth, so there are SPOILERS below.

Monday, September 1, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: A New Dawn


Star Wars: A New Dawn” is an important entry into the Star Wars library for a few reasons. First, it is the first book in Disney’s new Star Wars canon. In other words, this book is just as much a part of the Star Wars saga as any of the movies. Second, this book introduces readers to a few of the main characters in the upcoming animated TV show “Star Wars: Rebels.”

To be perfectly honest, I had not been particularly excited about “Rebels.” I had some issues with “The Clone Wars” and the same creative team is heading “Rebels.” From what I’d seen thus far, it seemed like the beginning of the Disneyfication of Star Wars. So I was initially somewhat skeptical of this book. That said, John Jackson Miller is one of my favorite Star Wars authors, so it had that to its credit.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Poli-Sci Jedi is going overseas...

You've probably noticed I haven't been active recently. I found out that I've been selected for fellowship to do research in Myanmar (Burma). So stay tuned because once I arrive I will definitely start blogging about my experiences there, including my experience watching Episode VII abroad...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Far Far Away Radio podcast episode about politics

I just finished recording a podcast episode about politics in Star Wars with Far Far Away Radio. Look for it soon!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Revising politics in Attack of the Clones

In my article for the Far, Far Away Radio blog, I mentioned that many critics attacked the political scenes in the Prequel Trilogy. I had mentioned that the Prequels sometimes failed to connect the political story with the characters' arcs. Of course, criticizing is one thing; doing is another. So, as an intellectual exercise, I thought I would take one political scene from Attack of the Clones to see if I could retain the substance of the scene but add more of a character moment.