Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Starship Troopers by Robert Anson Heinlein

Starship Troopers by Robert Anson Heinlein

Heinlein was the dean of Science Fiction writers, dominating the Golden Age and remaining enormously influential even today. Starship Troopers is his most controversial work, and perhaps his greatest.

The story follows Johnnie Rico, a soldier of the 'Mobile Infantry'- sort of a juiced-up Marine Corps with portable nukes and bad-ass combat armor. As Johnnie matures in the service, we learn surprising things about the world he lives in and the government he serves.

It has been derided as "Heinlein's Utopia", and I was surprised by the scorn heaped upon it by his contemporaries. Heinlein describes a society in which only veterans are allowed to vote, where public floggings are common and Moral Philosophy is a required school course. He supports these positions with impeccable logic and masterful storytelling.

"Masterful storytelling" refers, in this case, to the writing and construction of the book - sadly, Johnnie's story doesn't have a real ending, it just sort of winds down amid the continuing war. This may be on purpose - the war will go on and so will Johnnie Rico - but it feels rather abrupt.

The best parts of Starship Troopers are the explanations of theory, of Heinlein's opinions of society and how he thought it could be improved. It can be fairly argued that the entire book is an excuse for the expository speeches, but the whole thing works. (Troopers was published just a couple years after Atlas Shrugged, and the contrast is stark - the difference being that Heinlein can write.)

Juicy red meat for libertarians, and real lessons waiting to be learned for citizens.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Salon: Book List Infographic

While I rarely agree with book lists (the best of, everyone should read, most popular, blah blah blah) I am a list junkie and find them simply fascinating.  Information is Beautiful did a really nice job with this cloud, using fifteen different lists to generate it.  The best part of it, to my mind, is that you can access the lists used via Google docs.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Anchor; first edition (March 30, 2004)
for mature readers
4/5 stars

When Oryx and Crake first opens, the reader meets the narrator (Snowman) and is immediately aware that there has been a disaster of gigantic proportions.  The information about Snowman's past and this event trickle slowly, through his reflections and memories, at first more tantalizing and mysterious than informational and explanatory.  By the time Oryx and Crake is finished, everything has become crystal clear for the reader, through a delightful process of hints, deductions and knowledge told outright, and then Atwood laughs at the self-satisfied reader with yet another conundrum as it ends.  If you have read The Handmaid's Tale then you are familiar with this particular delicious style of Atwood's.  Oryx and Crake delivers a fully satisfying, if often unsettling, reading experience.

Margaret Atwood
I can't say that I "enjoyed" all of the novel, as the pre-apocalyptic world of Oryx and Crake is one not so much an alternate reality but a possible future was unnerving to me. Kiddie porn sites and snuff films are common viewing material for even young teens.  The division between classes has become such that the elite live in guarded compounds which are like small cities.  Personal freedoms have been lost, or more accurately, cheerfully given up; scientific discovery, often frightening and unnatural, has become the most important advancement for society.  Probably the scariest part of the book is the close resemblance to our current society, and the question that poses of just how easy would it be to find ourselves in that situation, led their by the banner of "progress".

Oryx and Crake is a thrilling, terrifying and often uncomfortable read.  It is not for the faint of heart or apathetic of mind, but makes excellent material for much thought and discussion.