[REVIEW] The StarCraft: Evolution novel
WARNING - This might have spoilers, despite me never having actually read the book, yet. I said *might*, but just in case...
DAMMIT, this *has* a plot that should SUCK! So how the heck is it thought-provoking!?
I'm not one to read StarCraft novels, really. I'm not that much of a bookworm, despite that, when I see a good story, I do take a look, but my level of passion for the StarCraft universe doesn't extend to it's literary work. The only ones I've read, to an extent, was the Flashpoint novel, which I didn't like, and the Queen of Blades novel, which I was only after a few lines for a crazy plan of mine to remake Episode III of the original campaign. In that I planned to make it more dramatic and give a more cinematic feel to it, including putting Artanis as the protagonist, according to lore, instead of just 'transferring' it to SC II like Mass Recall does. My ideas, enough said.
I'm DeltaCadimus, and while I never did review a book, much less one I didn't even READ yet, I feel I need to talk about StarCraft: Evolution for the attention it got recently, especially amongst the most rabid fans. Y'know, for rabies, really, because definitely people LOVED about the book's synopsis, which I'll comment below.
I'll admit, I kind of rolled my eyes when I saw it too, especially like 'Oh, god, they're gonna do it again and try to jackhammer it like Heart of the Swarm did, they won't give time or even room for this!', which I can say, must've been other people's reaction too. But while everyone was angry, I already spent mine on HotS itself, to the point of, when I looked to an extent at it, I merely said 'meh', and I went to move on, not giving a damn. Not even noticing it was Timothy Zahn, an influential writer whom did a lot of work for the Star Wars expanded universe, whom was writing it.
I myself never even knew Zahn, as I said I'm not that much a bookworm, or big enough a Star Wars fan to understand it's expanded universe to an extent or be interested on who wrote it. One day, then, while I looked on a review of the recent hit, Doctor Strange, I also came across a highly recommended tag review on a Star Wars novel featuring fan-loved Grand Admiral Thrawn, written by the same guy. I decided to look at it and noticed how Zahn had made Thrawn a great villain, not only in presence in authority, but also an erudite lover of arts, a pragmatist, this supreme strategist and everything else. Then I figured 'Wait a minute, so this is the guy who's writing that StarCraft novel everyone's ranting about? Okay, I might give a chance to that one'.
And, as I said, I didn't read the book itself yet, but the plot itself was just exposed for me to read on StarCraft wikia, the place which I go to do some research every once in a while, every time I need it. The wonders of wikia, which people visit a page and, boom, the plot for everyone to see! And it's like this, it's nothing great, but why I am even bothering to talk about it, in the first place? Because, as weird as it can be, this story, unlike HotS, has a meaning behind it's message, and that is the connection it has to the real world and how it translates so much the current state of Blizzard as much as it's fanbase, the same one that I'm surprised still didn't vandalize their HQ, yet. Though, this time, I'm with Blizzard on this, and I'll explain this decision of mine.
But first, the plot, which you'll immediately call bullshit - It's a short time after Nova Covert Ops (Which we're playing the conclusion only now... :P), and while the Terrans and Protoss mind their business, they're suddenly summoned out of nowhere by the Zerg to a jungle world named Gystt. Naturally, suspecting treachery, both parties, led by Valerian and Artanis, travel to the place where Overqueen Za'gara's waiting, and is showing she's starting some sort of 'planet regeneration' program using a new Zerg breed with Xel'Naga essences, and seems to be working, but everyone still doesn't back her. To make things worse, suddenly both Terrans and Protoss start to be attacked, ironically, by Zerg. Za'gara denies it, they don't buy it, and old tensions pick up to a point where two unlikely people - another female Ghost with, yet again, social issues, and a Protoss scientist working for the Dominion (Don't ask) - to sort it all out before war breaks out, despite everyone wanting it.
At first, like everyone, I thought it was pretty obvious where this work was going - It's obviously the set up cliche that tries, but will still fail the attempted Red Wedding miserably, everyone will walk out okay, everything will be fine until StarCraft III pops up along with the UED. But like everyone, I was surprised by the twist which clearly, because we all thought it was one thing, we didn't think it was entirely another, and like most people, even I confused the set up plot with what's meant to be the real theme exploited here - Change and the issues with it, something we even explored back in Legacy of the Void. And the twist is further enhanced with the fact that the very person supposed to have reared her head - Za'gara, here - didn't. Instead, much recalling a little, genius movie called Thank You for Smoking, she actually took a stance and went on with it, firmly and focused, to the end, in this matter, trying to demonstrate to the others the Zerg are actually trying to change for once, and not being devious, murderous or anything else evil as they were all along, even during the End War.
Right now, you'll skip down to the reply box and state 'Oh, but that's not like Za'gara at all, Zerg are starting to get good, this is bullshit, it's WarCraft III all over again, it sucks' and everything else, but let me at least try to explain without having to resort to cartoon boards as to why I think this makes some sense. The novel itself is not about the Zerg trying to become the good guys, that's not the core focus here, it's the issues with accepting changes from all points of view exploited, much based on what was done in the past and the core values forced upon the Swarm itself, which does carry a pretty bad reputation. And while WarCraft III at least had the advantage of a big time gap, in which the Orcs slow and painfully started to adapt to a life without corruption or bloodlust (Pretty much a link to the real world too, like drug users trying to live on without drugs), here it's a sudden turn and Za'gara does take an action that's understandably off her character, but it's nonetheless relevant and that it makes sense, looked in another angle.
Because eventually, somewhere along the line, we all get down to that point where we start realizing fighting the same enemy, doing the same thing, the same scenario, it just doesn't make sense, anymore. It's not as engaging as it was, it's not as inspiring as it was, it's not even fun to do it. Even somewhere along the line, and I'm still to see such a similar parody, Snow White and the Evil Queen will go through it again and again in their fairytale, until one day, one of them will just simply ask to the other 'what the fuck are we even doing?' The Orcs started asking themselves that, in their WarCraft III backstory, questioning their real role in that world in which the old ways didn't make much sense following. And even Za'gara herself, a ZERG, of all things, is starting to realize that, despite never having been taught or having experienced that before.
Suddenly, I realized Zahn took an element which was a bad thing in Heart of the Swarm and used it to his advantage, the fact Kerrigan never actually taught Za'gara anything about mercy, fighting only when she has to, or anything, she just sent her over and over to Abathur to amp her brain. And here, only now Za'gara's starting to use that brain and, accidentally, I guess, figure things out on her own, one of them being that the Zerg can't be that epitomy of evil they built themselves up to be all the time. Call it a stroke of irony, but THAT was my proposition for my Heart of the Swarm Alternate fanfic, the prospect that the Zerg just can't afford being the all-time evil species, anymore, and not just by lack of option, but because the Zerg themselves would start realizing that, at some point. And Za'gara even goes to the extreme of killing her own Zerg minions and lieutenants just to prove her point. Think of that, a book that's willing to take flak, going all the way past the fire and fury, to defend a force that's the least deserving of redemption. Now think of any other work that tries doing that, and with such a firm stance that Zahn's work did.
And brilliantly, pretty much like Thank You for Smoking uses cigarettes as a symbol for all the things we wish to subject ourselves to, even if they're harmful to us, StarCraft: Evolution uses the Zerg as a symbol for Blizzard itself, hence the connection it makes to the real world I've been talking about. The connection to a company that recently has been doing a lot of things and making a lot of decisions a lot of people are not agreeing with. Like venturing into another gaming genre which had never ventured before, and EVEN failed at in it's first time (Ghost, anyone?). A company that's making a lot of changes to it's StarCraft gameplay that seems to only be alienating people and nothing more. A company that's proposing bright stories when it was gritty in the past, and in a present in which more and more gritty, dark shows with disturbing imagery are being embraced! But ultimately, if there's any crime Blizzard's committed, it's just that they were trying something new, they weren't sticking to old ways all the time, and whose examples I'll mention further below. All Blizzard actually tried doing was changing itself, even if people didn't like that, and just because times demand this, it shows Blizzard must keep mutating itself, like the Zerg do, to keep itself up with the times. It's just that matter of some changes working, while others don't work.
I know you'll probably either say I should write the next book then, kiss Blizzard's sweet sugar ass while I'm at it or I'm just pretending to be the Nostalgia Critic again, but there's plenty more. And it's good to mention him, while we're at it, because I'd like to include two of his reviews for specific reasons. The first, obviously, is his editorial on Thank You for Smoking, which talks about choices, sticking to them and some other things that can be translated over to THIS review, and secondly, his Ghostbusters reboot review, which is not for what you might think - the movie itself is bad, I'll admit it. But the message he said about the internet audiences and how they determine and even force opinions is the real point here, they represent both the best and worst of general opinions and how the most radical voices turn out to be the most vocal.
And even the characters here represent all of those, which in turn, translates to Blizzard's fanbase in the real world much like the Zerg translates to Blizzard itself - There are people mistrusting, there are people hating them with the 'never forget, never forgive' attitude, there are the old traditionals whom will never let go of the old days of glory, there are people whom just don't give a damn, they're all represented in StarCraft: Evolution. Those whom think Blizzard should never change, should never risk, should never try moving forward with new things, because 'they'd be ruining my childhood, if they did that'. Even *I* had issues, I'll admit, after Heart of the Swarm was released at the time, by which, back then, I believed every good story should be gritty, dark, disturbing and such, all in a George R.R. Martin level, but like everyone else, it took me time to realize that this wouldn't make things any better, in fact they might only get worse!
People might call this 'becoming squeamish', but let me use HBO's Oz as an example to translate my point. In one particular episode, a new warden, Martin Querns, is chosen to caretake Em City, the main scenery which our characters interact at. This new warden transfers all the white people, the latinos and others to other cell blocks across the prison and leaves Em City exclusively to the black people, under the impression this would make things better, but they only got really worse, so much over the diminishment of some groups as over the empowerment of others. Yes, yes, Zootopia did that kind of commentary, Luke Cage did that kind of commentary, American History X did that kind of commentary, but it also applies here, only it's opinion issues instead of predominance of skin color, but the message is always the same - the majority or most vocal isn't always right and it's impossible to be black and white in a world that simply can't stand that. Compromises are needed, acceptance is needed, even if painful and/or the less desired one, and you need time, space and opportunities for an eventual reconciliation to happen. Star Trek masterfully did it with bringing Klingons and the Federation, two opposities which no one thought would do well together, on a single side.
Well, then, returning to the book, what of my opinions on the books characters, the portrayal of the original ones, the scenery, the writing, what can I tell about it? Pretty much nothing, because, as I said, I didn't read it, yet. And still the plot it offered and even the reactions to it, that kind of validates the connections to reality, still make me want to read it and see it as thought-provoking, even more if you followed up close Blizzard's recent actions as I did. Of course, yeah, Zahn could've just done what we all expected, get his paycheck and move on to greener pastures, but I have that feeling - Again, don't ask - he observed the reaction to something that didn't even come out, yet, and decided 'I'm gonna sit down and talk with these people, face-to-face.' I'm gonna talk with these angry fanboys.. And let's face it, the original story, which we were all 'expecting', with the set-up cliche, the failed Red Wedding and everything, it would just ruin everything, we'd just go 'meh', and move on, instead of being angry at something that apparently is inviting us to think further and further about it, and that's NOT the Zerg becoming the good guys, it's about change and our issues moving along. What we expected would just throw a theme that can and should be exploited down the trash bin, because it wouldn't be such an intriguing object of study.
Now you must be writing 'Oh, I don't think Blizzard should've moved on, at all, they should'be remained the same, like back in 1998, when they were cool, 'coz they weren't pony happy, back then!'. If I had your age and rage, back then, I'd agree, but right now I don't think it should, and I'll give you three PERFECT examples for why sticking to old ways and never move on is bad - Duke Nukem Forever, Warhammer 40k and Supernatural.
First, Duke Nukem Forever (Or For Never, as some people joked around), which is simply something stuck in the old times of Duke Nukem 3d. The same old jokes, the same childish humor and action, the same types of enemies, everything done, according to creators, just as it's audience wanted. Nothing bad, in a corporate way, you're trying to reach your audience, except the issue is the audience GREW UP! They moved on to better things, things that are more interesting, emotionally engaging and used some intellect to make a point, and when the old people returned to this, just to see all the same macho nonsense it did more than a decade ago, the gameplay that wasn't anything new or innovating and even the character whom still remained a dick, everyone pulled off, because it was the same thing as coming back to High School for that reunion pary and you meet that bully that's now got a bum beard and rags, but still, even after a decade, didn't let go of his 'old days o' glory'. And that nerd with a family and a successful job, in his eyes, still remains a loser.
Next, Warhammer 40k, which should be fine for a tabletop universe that went viral, and, credit given, helped conceive StarCraft and a lot of concepts other universes share. Except this universe remains *still* all along! Everytime, and it's a pattern here, I'm not kidding - It's another Black Crusade. Or an Artifact of Doom. Or a conspiracy. Or a deamon trying to enter our world. Or an ork invasion. Everything that starts like it's moving forward, but then it ends and the status quo is virtually the freaking same! It doesn't move forward or offer anything new. Shit, Dawn of War, Dawn of War II AND Space Marine all start the same way, go the same way and end in the same freaking note. And meanwhile, something that seems to offer a direction somewhere new, somewhere that can be explored, is criticized because people want that thing to remain stuck, not changing anything, or offering anything new. Just the same old characters, same old locations, same old trend, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed.
And finally we get to Supernatural. Now, this is a case of something that should've ended, had the golden opportunity to do it, and lo and behold, hollerith and greed spoke louder, and now it drags on and on, pretty much like the Simpons does with it's 30TH SEASON! With powder that was already spent, a lot of things we've already seen and have grown sick of, and even having to invent new things that aren't new at all just so not to lose audience. And read my words, because we'll all still see a 14th season of Once Upon a Time - Going Brazilian.
Which brings me back to the Nostalgia Critic, and more specifically, his Ghostbusters reboot review, particularly his final analysis, in which he stated that he already long accepted nothing could ever recreate the original Ghostbusters, and attempting to have a Ghostbusters 3 would only make things worse, for both the franchise and it's fans. It's literally the same case with StarCraft. Yes, Brood War was great, on a multitude of levels. It quantified RTS forever, and was a rare masterstroke from a company that wasn't bad, but didn't offer anything that screamed 'THAT'S VIDEOGAME!' at the time. But attempting to come back to it's mastery and nostalgia, especially after a decade plus away from it becomes so complicated, so embarassing and so headache-inducing you start to realize that maybe just accepting you couldn't do it again and just moving on is probably the less painful course.
And *THIS* is point of StarCraft: Evolution, because the title proposes exactly that, an evolution of something that just can't remain still like the Pyramids for all time, so much in concept as in it's lore, and it explores it and does it for something everyone thinks can and should remain still forever, but that's not and shouldn't be the case. Don't you like that? That's your right, but it'll still happen, like it or not. Do you like it or wish to know what will happen, from here on then? Feel free to keep track of it. But at least acknowledge this thing which got you all raging over Blizzard for 'killing your childhood', which alreadt seems a childish commentary, by itself, must've made you think about it, and try to make you decide which one of the characters you really are, in the middle of all this: Either the suspicious, the very one whom wants to change but people won't believe, or the one whom doesn't want anything to change, at all.
And just to make sure I didn't write over twenty paragraphs without going anywhere, I'll answer it straight - Is it good? I don't know, I didn't read it, yet. Is it bad? I don't know, I didn't read it, yet! But the idea proposed here and the connections to the real world, to Blizzard itself and it's fanbase, makes me want to read it, it's that thought-provoking, if you do look at it from a different angle. I'll still read it, but regardless of the result, it already left an impression with me I didn't think I'd get from a StarCraft novel - it made me think. Think of change, of the consequences of it and the issues with it, which we all have, and how we'll make enemies, we liking it or not, because of it, and you know what? That's fine. Hell, Adam Jensen virtually said it for us: You want to make enemies? Try and change something.
NOTE: 4.5/5, mostly because of the idea presented. The rest is detail.
Comments? Opinions of your own? Post'em below, or, meanwhile, you can also read the final Nova: Covert Ops review here.