Category Archives: Book Reviews

How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans and More!!!

BeAVillainTitleVillains. The opposite of heroes. In theory they exist in stories only to give heroes someone to beat up. But there have been numerous hit stories in which the bad guy actually overshadowed the good guy, such as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lechter, at least two Final Fantasy antagonists (Kefka and Sephiroth to be exact), and The Joker… Hell, about half the Batman villains.

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“‘Cause let’s face it, we’re much more interesting than he is!”

Neil Zawacki’s contribution to this concept is a joke book that advises you on how to be an antagonist. Zawacki takes us through five chapters of evil:

Getting Started with the Forces of Darkness: this is introductory stuff. Basic personality, how you came to become evil, motivation, that sort of thing.

Discovering the Methods of Your Mayhem: this chapter begins with possibly the most important part: describing various villain archetypes you use as delightfully unhealthy role models. This determines a lot: what your ultimate goal is (besides being up to no good), what kind of nefarious strategy you employ, even what kind of heroes you face. Not that the section on what tools to use in your villainous career isn’t a big deal.

Thwarting the Forces of Good: of course, you can’t be a villain without encountering a hero. Just as the previous chapter presented villainous types to choose from, this one shows you the types of heroes, one of which will come after you! You’re also shown death to use. Don’t laugh. Heroes get knocked out by them all the time. It’s not confirming that he/she* is dead that eventually gets villains beat.

Or maybe they're just retarded.

Or maybe they’re just retarded.

*Yes, heroines have been popping up in recent decades. Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena the Warrior Princess, Katniss Everdeen and others. So don’t be prejudiced, just cold-hearted.

Tools of the Evil Trade: don’t have the talent to get the right type of lair, goons, weapons, and too cool by half attire? Why not copy what others have done instead? This chapter will give you a guide that enables you to escape the horror of hard work. Oh, I see not everybody is pleased by that concept. Please come with me.

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“I said come with me” (thanks to JunKarlo of Deviant Art for this pic).

OK, my pet monster has had his serving of undercover hero. Let’s move on.

Making an Evil Plan: This isn’t necessarily something you need help with, since many great villains’ plans are as simple as stickups and random killings. If you aim for more, though, this chapter’s for you!

The humor is really what drives this book. The way it describes evilness as a natural lifestyle is hilarious in a macabre sense. There are also humorous parodies of various cliches. “Even if you long to use your excruciatingly slow hourglass death device, resist the urge. Heroes typically escape this kind of situation.”

Got a Kindle? Then I would recommend this book. The humor and intriguing talk about villains are worth the price.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

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“Don’t mind the lighting; decent photo editing programs haven’t been invented yet.”

Those of you who read this blog may be left to conclude that I’m one of those people who are bored by the idea of reading more than a Twitter session. After all, I’ve been blogging for almost four years and reviewed movies, video games, shows, but no books. Actually, I’ve read plenty. I’m not the kind to read twenty 300-pagers a year or anything, but I’ve read my fair share. I’ve been meaning to start reviewing them for years but never gotten around to it. Since I’ve been reviewing Star Wars stuff in preparation for the sequel series that is about the begin, and since there are quite a few books about Star Wars out there, now’s not a bad point to begin.

Yes, the Star Wars franchise has provided a lot of supplementary material. Novels, comics, TV shows, and video games (probably the only franchise that canonizes even a few of its games) have all added their own tales that fit neatly into the story. I guess that’s why the next movie is set so far ahead of the originals; so as not to invalidate this stuff. But is this stuff good? Some of it, such as Shadows of the Empire, are. Other books are not so great. Tales of Jabba’s Palace is a bunch of character studies of Jabba’s goons who got as little as a few seconds on camera and couldn’t have given a moment’s thought to George Lucas.

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Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the life story of the goon who can’t even talk?

Gotta start with the actual review of Shadows of the Empire at some point, right? Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, this particular novel has Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Lando Calrissian, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 seeking to catch bounty hunter Boba Fett before he can deliver a carbon-frozen Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. But this attempt is sidetracked when Luke is repeatedly attacked by bounty hunters. The attacks are arranged by Prince Xizor, a space age mob boss allied with the Empire. Why the attacks? Xizor is making it look like Darth Vader is behind them so it will look like the Dark Lord of the Sith has gone back on his word to convert Luke to the Dark Side out of fear and is trying to have the jedi in training killed out of cowardice. This will get Vader executed for cowardice, leaving Xizor to take his place as the #2 man in the galaxy.

This is a very effective plot due to the cleverness of Xizor’s plan. Like Grand Admiral Thrawn in the book trilogy by Timothy Zahn, Xizor demonstrates how through intelligence, even a villain who cannot use The Force can be a threat to jedi.

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Fortunately, other sources give me a better portrait of Xizor to show you.

Character development is also rock-solid. We switch between the perspectives of Luke, Leia, Xizor and Vader. Luke is trying to finish the parts of his training that didn’t go well in Empire Strikes Back (hence, why he requires no more training in the conclusion of the trilogy). Leia is focused on rescuing Han and accepts that she truly does love the former criminal. Xizor shows us a heartless, arrogant creature, particularly where women are concerned. Basically, Xizor’s a love-’em-and-leave-’em-for-dead type. Again, he’s a very effective villain. In addition to converting his son, Vader hates Xizor and the fact that the Emperor deems it necessary to make use of a mob boss. Vader also reveals his imperfect loyalty to the reader, particularly where we discover that he can’t allow himself to feel joy because that is the territory of the Light Side.

One major flaw is that there are certain things that have to happen. Virtually all readers knew, for examples, that the Millennium Falcon would not catch Fett and Han and that Vader would win his power struggle with Xizor, because Han’s still a prisoner and Vader’s still around but not Xizor in Return of the Jedi. Also,  Dash Rendar, a mercenary hired by Lando, is basically Han with an even bigger ego. Not all that good a character in my opinion.

Dash never mentions the time Han sued him for plagiarizing the Millennium Falcon Falcon.

Dash never mentions the time Han sued him for plagiarizing the Millennium Falcon.

Regardless, if you’d like to get into the expanded universe, Shadows of the Empire is not a bad place to start. It’s the rare one of these stories that is on almost totally traditional ground, whereas most either take place in a pre-Empire, post-Empire, or soon-to-be-post-Empire galaxy. And besides, it’s a pretty good stand-alone novel in general.

Overall: 8 out of 10