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JUNE 1, 1999: 

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks (Ballantine, hardcover, $25)

In 1977, two enduring legacies of the sci-fi/fantasy genre were birthed. While George Lucas' Jedis mesmerized the world, breaking record after record in movie houses, author Terry Brooks' first novel, The Sword of Shannara, became the first book of fiction ever to appear on the New York Times Trade Paperback Bestseller List, where it remained for five months. Twenty-two years later, the novelization by Brooks of Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace demonstrates that the magic of both creators still flows powerfully.

Not a literary genius but a consummate storyteller, Brooks' pacing, development and impressionistic detailing not only overcomes the weaknesses inherent in screen adaptations, but also manages to leave a Star Wars fan even hungrier for the final screen fix. Important feats for a work documenting a story line that has maintained better security than many important American technologies and that has promised even its most jaded fans that it will defy the rules of sequels. If the book is any indication, Phantom Menace has kept its promise.

Episode I begins with young slave Anakin Skywalker living with his mother in Mos Espa on Tatooine (the Galactic equivalent of pulp histories Gold Coast) and taking part in ruthless pod races where more vehicles explode than finish. Knowing the future of the main character adds rather than detracts from the reading experience. How much more interesting is our hero knowing he is a developing archvillain who as a youth is courageous and honest, bravely risking a beating to rescue an injured enemy Tusken raider?

For those fans who were avid enough to spend an afternoon in the sun waiting for premiere week tickets, Terry Brooks has provided a new door into Lucas' fantasy world. For those who are waiting until the dust settles to see the latest Star Wars epic, this book will provide the important pop cultural references and still not spoil the first viewing of the movie.

Seeds of Struggle, Harvest of Faith: The Papers of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Centennial Conference on the History of the Catholic Church in New Mexico Ed. by Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Paul Rhetts, and Barbe Awalt (LPD Press, paper, $27.95)

Somewhere in my moldering archives, I possess a B.A. in history. Perhaps this is what made this book (whose title I will not repeat for fear of exceeding the word limit on this review) so satisfying and enjoyable for me. But it ain't for everyone. You'd have to be a New Mexico or ecclesiastical history buff to want to go here. Seeds of Struggle offers, in 23 scholarly papers, an excellent--even fascinating--look at Church history in New Mexico through the late 19th century. Since that history can't be divorced from the history of our oddball region itself, the book is a fine portrait of the development of New Mexico.

Those interested in such wide-ranging topics as geneaology, architecture, politics, military or social history and, of course, the doings of the Catholic Church, will find represented in this book some of the most recent research on these topics, much of it challenging conventional assumptions.

For example, James E. Ivey's examination of early mission and church architecture takes convincing issue with architectural historian George Kubler's widely accepted contention that these structures were homogenized and simplistic. And Robert O. Wright ably disputes the notion of the decline and diminishing nature of the Church in the late Spanish and early Mexican colonial periods.

Many celebrated giants--Padre Martinez and Archbishop Lamy--are confirmed again as such. Lamy, in particular, along with the cadre of French clergy he imported and the buildings and institutions over which he presided, emerges with heroism intact. The pesky Jesuits are depicted as pesky, but also as an important force in education and even politics.

Some of these papers are as dry as New Mexico's climate. But lovers of New Mexico are used to aridity as a way of life and will find this book well worth it.

Asian Pop Cinema by Lee Server (Chronicle Books, paper, $16.95)

Pop culture chronicler Lee Server has yet to produce a book that isn't infused with cool. Looking through my bookshelf, I can pick out every one of Server's books (Over My Dead Body, Danger Is My Business, Screenwriter: Words Become Pictures and Sam Fuller: Film Is a Battleground). It's not that I've actively searched out the words of Mr. Server--it's just that Server has chosen such tantalizingly cool subjects (trashy paperback novels, pulp magazines, screenwriting and tough-guy director Sam Fuller) that all his works have magically gravitated to my bookshelves.

Weaned on hard-boiled prose, Server's books are quick, energetic and sprinkled with Rat Pack suavity. Server's latest effort is the flashy film book Asian Pop Cinema. This trade paperback picturebook examines the underappreciated, often misunderstood movie industry of the Far East. "For a westerner," says Server in his introduction, "Asian cinema has been a kind of El Dorado, full of unmined treasures, more myth than visible reality."

While Hong Kong cinema has grown in popularity thanks to the stateside success of stars like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat and Jet Li, other Eastern countries have been unable to crack the American market. India, Japan, Korea and the Philippines have all had flourishing film industries, each producing its own twisted amalgamation of local culture and American style.

Brief histories of the movie scene in these Far East ports of call are interspersed here with short interviews. John Woo (Hong Kong), Tomoaki Hosoyama (Japan) and José Lacaba (Phillipines) get the Q&A treatment from Server with varying insightful results. Subjects like Japan's anime industry, or HK's martial arts genre are undoubtedly covered in much more detail in other, more specialized tomes. Nonetheless, Server has an eye for the offbeat and certainly makes one pine for the demented, dance-filled action films of India, or the tweaked '60s gangster flicks of Japan's Seijun Suzuki. ("Think Ocean's Eleven viewed on spiked Kool-Aid.")

Littered throughout the text are dozens of jazzy photos, giving a teasing hint of the wigged-out impact that these foreign delights pack. Somebody get me a foreign video store, quick!

Green Sees Things in Waves by August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paper, $12)

I have a wonderful friendship with a special young man. Though we don't do typical friend things, like have dinner or see movies, our friendship is very intimate because we talk. I don't mean we chit-chat, though we've done that. I mean we share everything. Personal, impersonal, funny, heady, irrelevant. We share our thoughts with each other. Sometimes those thoughts aren't completely coherent or fully developed. But that's OK, because it's just such a pleasure to witness the way he thinks.

Green Sees Things in Waves by August Kleinzahler is very much like having a conversation with an intimate friend. There's no editing of expression. He doesn't curtail his imagination to stick to "the point" the way many contemporary poets do. Rather, the poems in this collection go wherever, do whatever, and discuss whatever they want.

From the first poem, Kleinzahler is sharing. In this case, the story of Green is presented in cozy yet intellectual terms. Green wakes up every morning and sees things in waves, "the chair, armoire, overhead fixtures," which, as Kleinzahler relates, is technically as it should be because everything is waves or particles. But actually, Green took a lot of drugs long ago and has never fully recovered.

Kleinzahler isn't delivering a message or making a point. He's just giving his reader the story of this Green fellow. Along the way, he ruminates about childhood friends, collects the month of April in three different cities and describes the experience of a really good conversation--without revealing what the conversation was about.

Though the book is a comfortable read, don't be misled by its familiar tone. Like a good conversation, this book will make you work. Sometimes the poems are abstract. Sometimes the subject is evident; sometimes it isn't. Sometimes the experiences and references mentioned aren't easy to relate to. (But then, I'm neither over 50 nor from the East Coast.) Do the work, though, and you will appreciate the art of a master of language.

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