Book Thoughts: StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel’Naga

StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel’Naga was a science fiction book by Gabriel Mesta. That’s a pseudonym for husband and wife writing team Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta Anderson. I have enjoyed some of their other writings in the Star Wars universe, but they also did a good job here in the StarCraft universe. As the book started out, it seemed like it was going to be a small scale story about space colonists trying to eke out a living on a hostile world, but an item of immense value was discovered. Soon enough large numbers of terran, protoss, and zerg forces all converged on the small planet to take it for themselves.

I loved how much action was in the book. It never got boring. I read this book a long time ago but don’t remember it being this good. I remember I was actually bored of it. I don’t know why now because this time it kept my attention the whole time. I found it hard to stop reading. In fact, I read the whole book in one evening. First I said, I would just read 100 pages. Then it changed to reading just half of the book. That became the whole book by the end of the night. I do have some criticisms though.

Most of the characters were not described very well. The main character, Octavia Bren, was only described as having brown curls and green eyes. They didn’t say anything about height, weight, or skin color. Her personality could be understood based on her actions, but it was hard to visualize those actions without knowing what this character looked like. The authors gave about this much description for her brother, but for almost all the rest of the colonists, there was no description. I literally had no idea what they looked like. I only knew their name.

I thought Octavia Bren was a pretty good character. I liked that she was smart but humble at the same time. She knew what she was good at, but she didn’t rub it in everyone’s face. She knew when she had to speak up and when to be quiet. However, she was only seventeen, a teenager. When things went bad, I didn’t believe that the other colonists would rally behind her. There were other, older people, some of them married, that I would expect the group as a whole to follow. I know what it was like as a teenager. Adults didn’t take me seriously. I can’t see how they would have taken Octavia seriously.

This book was based on the StarCraft universe Blizzard Entertainment created for their popular game series, but one of the characters, who also appeared in one of the games, had a personality that didn’t fit. This was General Edmund Duke. In the game he was portrayed as a headstrong, brash figure. He usually took risks, but they were usually good decisions. His “Alpha Squadron” was the top dog in the terran military for a reason.

Well, in this book he was made to be an idiot. He took risks, but they were always bad decisions. The first risk he took, I understood, but then he basically sent the remainder of his army to death. I just couldn’t see the man becoming a general and his fleet rising to the top with him being this stupid. There was no way. His actions were not believable. They didn’t fit with the character in the game. I read some other sources and found there were more discrepancies from the game and the book, but none of them really popped out at me except for this one. I wish the editors of the book would have caught this and had the authors make a few changes.

Despite these criticisms, I really liked the book a lot. I was constantly wanting to see what would happen next. Octavia was revealed to have telepathic abilities. I actually expected the general to take her back to the Emperor Arcturus Mengsk to become a Ghost. These were special super soldiers with cybernetics implanted into their bodies to enhance their telepathic abilities. The terran military was known to take young people with this gift and forcibly make them Ghosts. That was not how the story went though. It ended almost the same way it started. Octavia Bren continued to be a colonist. Now to me a quiet life is okay. I like that, but they could have used this Octavia character for later stories if the authors ended the book differently.

I guess Shadows of the Xel’Naga fits Blizzard’s history of StarCraft curation. See, back when this book was written, Blizzard wanted stories based on the games to always be side stories. A character from a book would never appear in the games. They were always just something extra to entertain fans. In addition, Blizzard wanted these stories self-contained because they were still creating story for the games. They didn’t want to run into conflicts of characters not being available at certain times or having to change their game design plans because of something that happened in a book. Lucasfilm was able to manage all this for the Star Wars books, but it took a lot of work to maintain. Blizzard wasn’t interested in that at the time.

These days, Blizzard have grown to be a much bigger company. Now they are interested, so I’ve seen newer stories have longer arcs that take place in multiple books. Stuff that happens in the books can affect what happens in later games. Like Star Wars, everything is all connected now. Back when this book was written though, that wasn’t the case. Blizzard wanted Octavia to be confined to this planet. However, now that Blizzard has changed, they could take some of these old characters and make them available to authors writing new books or even include them as side characters in the games.

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