28 April 2014

"I've been hit!" -- The bad and the good of the Star Wars EU makeover

Anyone who has known me for any length of time probably knows that I'm a huge Star Wars fan.  I've got novels, comic books, games, t-shirts, Legos, action figures, posters, and even an unopened box set of the original series on VHS.  My parents also took me to the Star Wars exhibit when it graced the National Air and Space Museum in 1999, an experience I'll never forget, and one that also serves as further evidence of my terminal nerd-dom.

Though Star Wars boasted record success upon its original releases, it was with the release of The Phantom Menace and subsequent prequel films that the franchise began expanding beyond its nerdy fan-base and becoming something closer to mainstream, crossing generational gaps by introducing a younger demographic of fans to the series their parents had loved.  However, seriously devoted fans of any commercially successful franchise can still achieve uncommon levels of geekiness, no matter how many people have newly discovered their interest.  For fans of Tolkien, that means learning Elvish, pointing out all the flaws in the Peter Jackson film renditions, and actually making it through the Silmarillion.  For fans of Star Wars, that means soaking in the extended universe (EU): namely, the hundreds of "official" novels which fill in the gaps before, between, and following the six existing Star Wars movies.

Obligatory "It's a trap!"
In the thirty years since the initial release of A New Hope, hundreds of authors, producers, and programmers have contributed to the Star Wars chronology in the form of novels, comic books, videogames, and TV specials, all of which added original stories to the movies, including events that took place behind the scenes during the original films, during the Clone Wars, and after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.  This was all done by permission of George Lucas and Lucas Licensing, which allowed authors the creative license to add their own imaginative content to the Star Wars universe (albeit, under the Lucasfilm stamp of approval).  However, it was all done under the caveat that, a). all material must correspond to the established films, and b). remain subject to the fully informed consent of the authorship that the "official canon" only included the films and the animated Clone Wars series.  In other words, Lucas retained the right as the creator of Star Wars to disregard anything contrary to his original idea.

Fair enough.

The reason this wasn't a problem was because the vast majority of the EU dealt with events following Return of the Jedi, and no one truly expected more movies after Episodes I-III were released.  The prequel trilogy seemed like the completion of the film saga: the origins of Darth Vader and the evil Galactic Empire in part one, and the rise of Vader's son, Luke Skywalker, who restored justice to the galaxy in part two.  A nicely bookended, full-circle story.  That left room for the EU to continue what it had been doing, with the blessing of George Lucas: adding to the other end of the story, as long as that material hailed the movies as the unwavering standard.  Besides, even if more movies were to be released, the EU remained an opportunity for fans to be creative, to write stories for and alongside a community that cared deeply about Star Wars and the continuity of the story, and to dedicate themselves to the constant expansion of the beloved universe.

With Disney's recent acquisition of the Star Wars franchise came the fateful announcement of new Star Wars movies (episodes VII-IV), directed by J.J. Abrams.  Whether or not to draw from material which had already been written or to diverge from that storyline and do something entirely new (exactly what Abrams did with his take on Star Trek) was almost a non-issue.  The great disturbance in the Force, a million voices crying out in terror only to be suddenly silenced, was that of a million EU fans sensing the obliteration of their beloved Star Wars novels and characters, and witnessing that fear become a reality.

This article was released three days ago on the official Star Wars website.  It's not a long read, and if you care anything about the Star Wars EU, it's worth taking a look.  My wife can attest to the fact that this crisis has been a major issue for me and has consumed many of our [largely one-sided] conversations in the past few days.  The official statement can be surmised in the following quote:
With an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected. Under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy's direction, the company for the first time ever has formed a story group to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development.

That's how I feel about it too, Harrison.

To be fair, I don't hate the idea of a unified story department.  I think that's a huge step toward establishing the enormous chronology of events that extend across movies and novels.  However, the formulation of this department also means the inevitable altering of existing EU content in order to make room for the new movies.  And if Star Wars fans know one thing about George Lucas, it's that he's not afraid to alter things...

Why this is bad

1). Many of my favorite characters are no longer real.  "Real."  You know what I mean.

My first Star Wars novel was The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole.  I remember the first time I picked up that paperback copy off of a Barnes and Noble shelf and saw the X-Wings and that solitary A-Wing chasing TIE Fighters and Interceptors across a backdrop of exploding Star Destroyers.  I remember the sudden feeling of absolute excitement that ran through me: the knowledge that there were Star Wars books to go along with the movies was a giddy revelation.

And so I fell in love with the heroic glamor of Rogue Squadron, led by Wedge Antilles and Tycho Celchu on countless daring missions against the Empire.  Joining their ranks was my absolute favorite character in the Star Wars universe: Corran Horn.  Horn, a former officer of Corellian Security (CorSec) and an ace pilot, the descendant of a Jedi Knight and - later - a master of the Force himself.  Sardonic, sarcastic, sometimes insubordinate, but ultimately level-headed and self-sacrificial, Corran became my favorite Star Wars persona.  I also fell in love with Rogue Squadron pilots Derek "Hobbie" Klivian and Wes Janson, characters found in the Star Wars films (albeit in name alone), who developed rich personalities via the pages of the X-Wing novels.  And then there was Aaron Allston's (RIP) Wraith Squadron - Kell Tainer, Garik "Face" Loran, Myn Donos, Voort "Piggy" saBinring, and others - a gangly collection of misfit pilots and criminals organized by Wedge as a covert intelligence squad who specialized as much in B&E and reconnaissance operations as they did in dogfights.  Then, of course, there were the Jedi: Ganner Rhysode; Kyp Durron; Cilghal; Kam Solusar; Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo; Tahiri, Lowbacca; and Tenel Ka - just to name a few.  And who didn't love to hate Borsk Fey'lya, the power-hungry and short-sighted Bothan and Chief of State, who opposed Princess Leia in the senate at every turn yet ultimately sacrificed himself in such a heroic fashion when the Yuuzhan Vong invaded Coruscant?

The point is this.  The exclusion of existing EU novels from the newly established canon means that all of these characters, for whom I've developed a deep affinity, are suspended in limbo - at the mercy of the story group to somehow resurrect into the new canon.  It's like they never truly existed.

You know what I mean.

2). The only era of EU fiction that might still be regarded as canon are the pre-Episode I novels.

"Mesa here to make this painful for you!"
As a loyal Star Wars fan, I'm forced to accept the prequels for what they are.  I could write - and probably will someday - another lengthy post about my issues with them (namely, from a fanboy standpoint, the redefinition of the Force, the ridiculous messianic conception of Anakin, and the appalling relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan; from a film standpoint, the lack of a more prominent role for Darth Maul, the abysmal casting, the far-too-heavy reliance on CGI, and - of course - the painfully forced attempts at humor).  However, conceptually, the prequels have their undeniable place in the Star Wars continuity.  As flawed as they are, they still establish the rise of the Empire and the fall of the Old Republic, as well as introduce the need for a hero to restore good and order in the galaxy.

That being said, the Old Republic/Clone Wars era claims the least amount of my sentiment.  As I said before, I grew up with the original trilogy and primarily read the post-ROTJ novels.  The Clone Wars era has always held less interest to me because I care far more about Han Solo's exploits and the war between the Rebellion and the Empire than I do about Jorus C'baoth and ancient Sith culture.  That's not to say those aspects of the chronology aren't still fascinating to me, and regardless of my personal interest, they comprise a huge part of the overall story.  However, if I had to pick one era of EU to get the axe... well, you can take a guess.

To me, it seems unfair and strategically unsound for the larger part of the EU (the post-ROTJ material) to cease to be canon while the smaller, more legendary/less historical part should remain.  But the sad reality is simply that, because there are no plans for more movies prior to Episode I, the prequel era of Star Wars EU can remain unaffected.  Unfortunately, because all post-ROTJ novels stand in the way of Episodes VII-IV, they've found themselves on the chopping block.

Granted, the umbrella statement released by the story group is that all EU content is non-canon, but the only eras which will be disturbed by the new additions to the Star Wars family are those following Return of the Jedi.  Basically, prequel EU content can take advantage of this negligence and remain intact.

3). It changes the story.

Jaina & Jacen Solo
"Wait, Jar Jar gets to stay but we don't?!"
In my head, I know how the Empire crumbled after Return of the Jedi.  I know that Luke formed a new Jedi Academy on Yavin IV, sought out Force-sensitive pupils across the galaxy, and eventually raised up a new Jedi Order.  I know that Wedge Antilles took command of Rogue Squadron, threw down Courascant and Ysanne Isard, and eventually became a distinguished General in the New Republic military.  I know how Han and Leia were married, how they took down Warlord Zsinj and had Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin - children who would all grow to become powerful Jedi and heroes of the New Republic.  I know how Mara Jade was once the Emperor's Hand but turned to the Light and married Luke.  I know that Chewbacca died valiantly to save Anakin from the Yuuzhan Vong.

And all of that is just the very tip of the EU iceberg.

Were there problems with the chronologies and moments of absurdity that you have to pretend not to remember?  Of course.  Were there misrepresentations of other authors' characters in successive books by other writers?  Certainly.  Was there a gratuitous overuse of unbeatable super-weapons akin to the Death Star, all of which seem to mysteriously appear without any previous detection and fade again into unrealistic obscurity (destroyed or otherwise)?  Unfortunately.  And were there unrealistic moments where younger, less experienced characters gave orders to older characters who severely outranked them?  Unquestionably yes (see especially: The New Jedi Order era).

I digress, but all of these problems are intrinsic to collaborative effort - and to glorified fan fiction, for that matter.  Some authors are better at detail management than others.  Some truly understand Star Wars jargon and some do not.  Some authors are, frankly, better at writing than others, and it is immediately obvious who's done the homework and who hasn't.  But the sum total of their endeavors was an ambitious, overarching plot with as many highs and lows as the films themselves.  It was a generally cohesive story that carried beloved characters beyond the undefined boundaries of the original and prequel trilogies.

This is the problem that will be the most difficult for me.  Going to see the new movies and reading the new EU novels - which I unquestionably will - is going to be an emotional roller coaster (and not the good kind), as events unfold contrary to what I know, with or without characters I love.

It's going to be difficult not to say, "That's not the way it was supposed to happen."

Why this is good

Yes, there are some good things about this transition.  Besides, I'm used to having to accept subpar aspects of the universe (see: Jar Jar Binks, R2-D2 with rocket boosters, midi-chlorians, etc).   Not unlike the Force itself, there's as much a light side as a dark side to this issue, and it wouldn't be fair to discount all the positive aspects just because of my own personal bias.

1). It establishes a much more official canon.

For the last thirty years, there has existed the "G," "T," "C," and "S" levels of Star Wars canon, together forming the overall continuity across the various media types that have taken up the story.  Each ascending level typically overrides the lower ones: "G" was George Lucas' canon (AKA the films), "T" was the television canon (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), "C" was the continuity canon (novels and videogames), and "S" was the secondary canon (anything that was published which ran alternately to the films).  There was also an "N" or non-canon level that included what-if type stories and anything else directly and irreconcilably contradicted by higher canon.  No matter which way you slice it, this was a very confusing and absolutely ridiculous system (for anyone who cares, this article can explain it a little more thoroughly), yet the nature of licensing, copyright, and creative ownership demanded it exist - until the formation of this new Lucasfilm story group, that is.

[UPDATE: see Wookieepedia's new statement on canonicity and their new policy on documenting Legends material]

The existing EU timeline, with some noticeable omissions (i.e. Young Jedi Knights and Junior Jedi Knights series)

The bottom line is that a newly established chronology trims both the excess and the confusing nomenclature in order to create one officially unified storyline across all media types, effectively removing any question as to what is really part of the story.  As an additional plus, renowned EU authors such as Timothy Zhan (one of the very first to publish EU material) will be directly involved in the collaboration of this continuity, ensuring that existing materials will be given appropriate levels of respect across the board.

2). It means a fresh start.

I have to admit that I'm curious to see what the new films and novels will entail.  The concept of new Star Wars characters almost distracts from the disappointment of losing the ones I already know and love, in addition to providing a chance for the franchise to redeem itself after the less-than-satisfactory prequel trilogy.  As the official statement released by the Lucasfilm story group attests, maximum creative freedom is being extended to the filmmakers in order to "preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience," which is ultimately why Episodes VII-IX "will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe."  Unquestionably, the Star Wars universe has always encompassed unexplored territories, unlikely characters, and uncommon feats of heroism in the face of evil, all of which are bound to be elements of the new series.

One of the reasons I am thankful the prequels were released is the simple fact that they created a new generation of Star Wars fans - fans who otherwise wouldn't have had the same love (if any) for the franchise.  To young fans, the original series is not as exciting or engaging as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  The same will be true of episodes VII-IV and the new EU novels.  A new series means a new audience won't need to start at the beginning in order to understand characters, locations, races, and technology.  They'll be drawn into the Star Wars universe where it meets them, and from there - should the interest arise - have the option to expand into the rich content which the EU has to offer.

3). Nothing is being completely discarded.

According to the Lucasfilm story group, existing EU content will not simply disappear.  Instead, it will continue to be printed under a new label: "Star Wars: Legends."  As the official statement words it:
While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe...  Demand for past tales of the Expanded Universe will keep them in print, presented under the new Legends banner.
Additionally, there has been no indication from Lucasfilm that all existing characters and stories will be relegated to the "Legends" category, which means that future novels and games may draw upon this era for material and characters - so long as it coincides with the new films.  Personally, I'm curious to know whether authors and developers will continue to release new material under the "Legends" label, or if they'll be discouraged from doing so by the story group.  Most likely, that era of the EU has closed its proverbial final chapter.

That being said, I greatly appreciate the fact that three decades' worth of stories aren't going to be removed just to make room for the upcoming films.  If we're honest about it, a huge part of the reasoning behind that decision is due to the fact that Lucasfilm doesn't want to lose the financial support of older fans of the series (such as myself) who would be greatly upset if the decision had been made to simply throw the EU out the window.  On the other hand, the members of the story group have a great amount of respect for the existing EU, a number of them have contributed to the EU themselves, and all of them want to preserve it as carefully as possible.  No one wants to see three decades of imagination disappear.

R2-D2 and C-3P0 concept art by Ralph McQuarrie
"We seem to be made to suffer.  It's our lot in life..."
Also, if we look at this from a purely philosophical standpoint, the original concept of Star Wars was that of a legend.  It takes place not a thousand years in the future, but at an undetermined time in an unspecified location - "a long long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."  In that regard, it makes sense that there would be alternate versions of the story - much in the same way that there are so many renditions of the tales of King Arthur.  Lucas drew heavily from classical mythology when he was writing Star Wars, and for that reason it is steeped in an air of myth.  Therefore, alternate tellings, overlap in chronology, and even incongruity between stories would naturally fall into that realm.  In that vein, I think it's also important to remember that, in the original series, R2-D2 and C-3P0 were the "narrators" of the story.  Let's not forget the microcosmic way R2 carried the message from Leia and the Death Star schematics, or the way C-3P0 literally retold the Rebels' exploits to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.  The entire journey was supposed to be their narrative experience, although that idea that was discarded in the prequel trilogy.  However, if we return to this original idea and consider the droids the bards of the Star Wars history, we can perhaps appreciate the fact that - considering both droids' memory wipes, damage repairs, and various traumatic experiences - it only makes sense that some details would be changed, skewed, and lost (not to mention colored by 3P0's self-piteous paranoia).  Such is the case with any storytelling: it's subject to bias and perspective, but the themes and the struggle are what matter most of all.

In sum, although this announcement has been a major disappointment to me, there's not much sense in lamenting a decision that will not be reversed.  Despite the transformation it is undergoing, the EU is neither gone nor forgotten, and for that I can be thankful.  The bottom line is that the Star Wars galaxy is a big place.  There's room for countless characters, each with rich histories and adventures, and perhaps even an alternate version of the chronology.  Though the new films and future novels will be inconsistent with the EU stories I know and love, I'll still find a way to make them all fit together on my bookshelves.

It's all Star Wars.

My interpretation of that universe is big enough to include it all.

24 April 2014

"Like a tree..."

This (now ancient) song perfectly captures where I want my heart to be all of the time.

"We bow our hearts because we are free," the singer says.  What a concept: to bow in submission simply because of the fact that freedom has pronounced itself, simply because the One who freed us is deserving of our wholehearted worship.  Instead of inspiring wanton abandon, the freedom which God gives draws us to service.

"We lift our eyes to the cloud and the flame," the singer says, pondering God's faithfulness in the past, as well as his on-going promise to "guide our steps and restore us again" out of His limitless fountain of mercy.

"We delight in the law of Your Word."

Ah.  The heart of the matter.  Every other thought in this song hinges on this statement.

It reminds me of something a former youth leader told me when I was just entering my teen years.  I can't remember the context of the conversation, but it was during a routine Bible study that he looked at me and simply said, "I see in you a love for God's Word."

I remember the way that statement rocked me, then gradually settled into the fissure it had created, because it was so true.  God had blessed me with a passion for studying the Bible that my peers didn't seem to share.  It was His doing - I certainly had nothing to do with it.  That love I possessed was something I'd thought quiet and internal; in fact, I'd not truly identified it myself.  Yet it was something that couldn't help but express itself.

That hasn't always the case, of course.  There have been - and continue to be - times where reading the Word is a chore, the last thing on my list.  But if I could, I would harness that desire that my youth leader once discerned within me, that hunger for God's Word - so that it would become the perpetual sentiment of my heart.  When you find yourself in that state, everything else seems stale by comparison.

As the Psalmist wrote, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.  But his delight is the law of the Lord, and on His law, he mediates day and night.  In this way, he shall become like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit and season, whose leaf does not wither."  The promise here is not comfort or wealth.  The promise is a nourishing, rich, and fulfilling understanding of God's Word: a love for His precepts that is self-compounding.  A love that produces righteousness.

"We delight in the law of Your Word."

Father, may it always be so.

15 April 2014


SUBTRACTIVE - (n.) a sculptural technique which material is carved or cut away; carving is a way of making sculpture by cutting away unwanted parts

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness," God said, speaking through the prophet Isaiah (51.1) to His people.  "Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him that I might bless him and multiply him."

It strikes me that personal image is everything to us.  The markets for beauty products, exercise equipment, diet plans, and self-help books are enormous.  We're content so long as our outward appearance is positive, and even more so if we can get to that place on our own.  However, although we maintain an impeccable personal image in public, at home we can let it all "hang out."  In other words, it's okay for us to be broken and sinful and utterly selfish if nobody else knows about it, or if we can find an appropriate justification.  Ironically, the tried-and-true type of quality we demand in the products we buy and the people we keep as friends is often a significantly higher standard than the one to which we hold ourselves.  We're content to be rotten inside so long as the outside looks pretty.

"Whitewashed tombs," Jesus called the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were content with hand-washing rituals and never made an attempt to cleanse their hearts.  For those of us who belong to Christ, our image belongs to God, and it is holistic.  It can't be merely skin deep.  The image of God necessarily includes holiness, purity, sanctity.  Those things are implied in the idea of being a new creation, where all the old things have passed away in order to make room for what is new.  We've been given hearts of flesh in exchange for the stone placeholders we once bore.  Of course that doesn't mean we are perfect.  He isn't finished with us.  We are His workmanship, a work in progress, which will only be completed upon entry into heaven.  Yet those of us who have been purchased by His blood will bear fruit and keep His commands.

Additionally, we're to remember the cloth from which we've been cut; the rock from which we've been carved.  In other words, God tells us to remember our heritage, our past, our origins.  For Israel, Abraham was the beginning of their nation: God counted his faith as righteousness and so blessed Abraham with the honor of being the father of his people.  For us, we can trace our spiritual lineage back through the church age to the Great Awakening, and further to the Pilgrims, and even back to the Protestant Reformation.  For some of us, we can look back specifically at the very families in which we grew up, recalling the godly heritage that our parents passed on to us.  Perhaps those who have had poor familial relations want to keep that past as far away from them as possible.  However, even in the dysfunctional family, there is benefit in remembering where we've come from.  Abraham's family certainly wasn't the ideal model: through the ages, his descendants would war, murder, rape, and steal from one another.  Yet God specifically instructed His people to look back at the rock from which He had sculpted them, so that they wouldn't continue in their arrogance, thinking that they were a self-sufficient people.  That's why He used passive tense: "were hewn," "were dug."

In that regard, perhaps the thing we idolize even more than personal image is personal independence.  We want to think of ourselves as the sculptors and the excavators - the ones doing the designing - but that isn't what we were created for.  We're the raw block of marble, impotent until God begins His gracious work on us.  Sure, we've been blessed with gratuitous amounts of personal freedom in this world, but that is not the end which God had in mind when He created us.  He didn't design us to be healthy and wealthy and free to relax.  In fact, the language the Scriptures use to quantify the nature of our relationship to God is that of a bondservant: someone whose entire life is pledged in service to a master.  Luxury is an idol, a myth of entitlement that we devised for ourselves in order to smother the real reason we were placed on this earth.  Christ said that anyone who would follow in His steps would need to pick up his or her cross daily.  There's no room for easy living in that picture.  Christ leads and we follow; he designs and we submit.

It's a good practice to keep the past in perspective.  It keeps fresh in our minds our capacity to fail as well as our understanding that we have and will always need help - that our activity is always dependent upon God's sovereignty.  Even those who have had poor familial relations and those who drag behind them spiritual baggage from years of failure, abuse, and neglect can glean from the experience.  Don't forget your roots.  Remember the lessons your parents taught you and the ones you can glean from their examples.

Don't forget the rock from which you were sculpted -- the rock from which God is still sculpting you.

Computer-generated representations of statues from a series by Michelangelo, entitled "Slaves."
It is speculated that the master sculptor perhaps intentionally left them unfinished, a decision that
would beautifully illustrate the sentiment behind the title.

03 April 2014

Not a wasted word: Reviews, Pt. 1

The workstation
Today's writing soundtrack brought to you by Guthrie Govan.

"Not a wasted word.  This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
Hunter S. Thompson


Since the beginning of March, I've been writing music reviews for a website called The Phantom Tollbooth (yes, named after that book) -- thanks to the encouragement of a friend and the desire to stretch myself as a writer.  To write for this website, I basically find music I enjoy, type approximately 1.5k words about it, submit an unspecified number of these articles per month (March was, uh, busy), and sometimes do a little editing for other writers on the site.  Simple, painless, stimulating.

There are a number of perks to this little side project.  The Phantom Tollbooth is a Christian website, so the community is largely positive and wholesome.  They are also completely open to secular content, so I'm not shackled to Michael W. Smith releases.  In that regard, this is the type of writing gig where I get to choose my own material.  It's been a great experience to reach out to bands with whom I'm already familiar and others with whom I'm not, interact with them personally, and engage their music on a level that supersedes a cursory listen.  Thus far, my reviews have been of independent releases from unsigned bands, known well only in the prog community.  Some of these acts are people I've met via The Twenty Committee, others are relationships I've gleaned thanks to prog forums, and others still whom I've just happened to stumble across.  This writing venue allows me to write supportively of these undiscovered musical acts, offer them a bit of exposure in my tiny corner of the internet certainly, and - more importantly - give them quality reviews that they can repost in various forums to endorse their material.

So what does this mean for me?

For one thing, it's been great for musical and professional relationships.  I've already received followup from some of these artists asking for me to tackle other material they're part of.  I've also been able to open dialogue about The Twenty Committee with some of them, since my band's music is in similar categories to theirs.  Furthermore, for unsigned bands in my corner of the music industry, there is a strong "love one another" mentality: support each other, return favors, pay it forward where you can.  This writing venue has been (and will continue to be) a great opportunity for me to do my part.

Tollbooth also serves as tremendous writing incentive.  I've been markedly more productive with Häxprocess (well, with the exception of this past month -- see busy), as well as with the book(s) I'm in the process of writing, in addition to miscellaneous creative projects for my job.  In any occupation I've held, I've made the attempt to incorporate writing into it, as that is probably my greatest strength.  Since I was a kid, creative writing was what I did for fun.  I graduated slowly from crude sketches with captions on construction paper to 100% recycled Meade tablets to the trusty MacBook, always entertaining the notion of someday writing at a professional level.  Writing for Tollbooth has renewed that desire and given me a leg-up in that direction, in addition to giving me motivation to seek out what writing opportunities are available to me now.

The bottom line is that God has -- as always -- been unspeakably gracious to me.  He's allowed me the opportunity to do something I enjoy.  For that reason, whether or not it can one day be a lucrative pursuit, I will remain thankful.  After all, my future is His written text, not a draft yet to be revised, so I can rest in His sovereign, benevolent hands.

So that's where I am.  The reviews I've published to date are listed below.  If you are an artist, a member of a band, or simply know someone who could use a little free publicity, contact me.  I'd be more than happy to give your/his/her material an honest listen.


Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9

Elephants of Scotland - Execute and Breathe

Execute and Breathe is a great sophomore release from a band who never stray from a songwriting mantra. Elephants of Scotland write prog with hooks and flavors: songs with loose thematic connections that can stand alone while still contributing to the whole.

Dream the Electric Sleep - Heretics

Dream the Electric Sleep have put out a masterful sophomore album which demonstrates their dedication to originality and to the concept album.
John Basset - Unearth

Unearth is a great solo album. It's a break from John Bassett's typical work and an opportunity for him to expand different avenues of writing. Melodic, haunting, and soul-searching, this is one that will both please your ears and leave you with plenty to think about afterwards.
Rick Miller - Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness is a spooky, dark, and melancholic concept album with lots of fantastical elements. There's guilt here and regret – dregs of human emotion which ensnare and debilitate, and ultimately provide the fuel for the bitter love story which unfolds.
Druckfarben - Second Sound

Druckfarben are a talented group of musicians who write classic 70's prog with modern flavors. Second Sound is a fantastic response to their debut album and will garner interest with fans of Yes, Rush, and Kansas.
Hibernal (Mark Healy) - Replacements

In Replacements, we enter a stark, dystopian world where “greater good” mentality has drowned society with melancholy.  This is a fantastic piece of multi-genre art, incorporating elements of musical composition and talented voice acting, though at its conclusion, you might find yourself with more questions than answers.
Octopie - Octopie EP

What Octopie excel at doing is writing catchy and interesting music that ventures into the progressive territory without losing accessibility.  The writing is superb, and this EP boasts a dynamic blend of timbres.