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What ?

StarCraft: Evolution is a 2016 novel by SF and fantasy author (and Hugo Award winner) Timothy Zahn. It is set in the universe of the StarCraft series of real-time strategy games. It is a licensed work of the game developer Blizzard, published by Del Rey books.

Who ?

Author Timothy Zahn is widely known to genre fans for his Star Wars 'expanded universe' (EU) works which introduced the popular antagonist Grand Admiral Thrawn, but has a large body of other work as well, including various works in the 'Military SF' sub-genre such as his Cobra series. The combination makes him an ideal choice to do a wide-release hardcover StarCraft novel.

When ?

SC:E takes place in the fictional future, approximately in the year 2506, and specifically after the events of the StarCraft II trilogy, following (and referencing) the events of Legacy of the Void.

Where ?

The StarCraft universe takes place in a 'sector' of space far from Earth, where human colonists struggle for control of habitable planets against two alien species: the ancient and powerful Protoss and the 'Aliens' like hive species the Zerg. The book's story involves all three races and takes place predominantly on and over a single planet, Gystt.

Why ?

Why, indeed? With StarCraft II completed, and a mixed reaction to the DLC Nova missions, Blizzard would seem to be done with the StarCraft universe. There is still a thriving esports community and of course there's also merchandising too. But the partnership between Blizzard and Del Rey that also produced a WarCraft book about Illidan Stormrage is the most proximate cause.

Did I like it?

Yes, I did. I'm not a competitive gamer, nor a compulsive one. StarCraft is really my only gaming vice other than simple iOS games. As it happened, Legacy of the Void came out right after I was terminated so I played through the whole StarCraft II campaign. That gave me all the necessary background to really appreciate the story.

I've read other StarCraft novels, and found them largely forgettable. They're generally the sort of book you read on an airplane and leave behind in the hotel lobby without a second thought. This one's of a higher caliber. Zahn has clearly worked hard at learning the StarCraft universe so that the elements are properly used, but at the same time he tells a good story about trust in trying circumstances. He has the chops to write strong battle scenes that work on their own, but which are also easy for StarCraft veterans to imagine as an in-game mission. And he uses the pattern of a small on-the-ground team and a leadership team in orbit to good effect. A plot contrivance limits contact, as each group solves part of the mission. The reader has the keys to the puzzle before the characters, and we see them struggle to put together the answer in time to avert a catastrophic result.

It doesn't really take the StarCraft story arc anywhere new, although it does move the Zerg from mindless enemy to something more complex. And it does wrap up neatly at the end, but the door is open for a sequel.

It's a page-turner, that doesn't aspire to be anything other than that. It is well-executed and held my interest throughout. Even the lack of a cameo by Alarak, my favourite Protoss leader from Legacy of the Void, was forgivable. Maybe he'll pop up next time!

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