unning on the familiar sci-fi trope of science run amok of morality We3takes three household pets and turns them in to cybernetic killing machines des...moreunning on the familiar sci-fi trope of science run amok of morality We3takes three household pets and turns them in to cybernetic killing machines designed to be used in the battefields. With enhanced intelligence and cybernetic suits the three animals, still at the core just simple animals, are equal parts terrifying and heartrending. Art duty rests on the shoulders of semi-frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quietly. I’m not a huge fan of Quietly’s art, it doesn’t really mesh with my own expectations, but his style here (particularly with the humans being antagonists and our protagonists being animals) serves the story well and his attention to detail when it comes to the technology used in the three animals is nothing short of stunning. If you are an animal lover this is a story will definitely touch and definitely disturb you.(less)
Despite being the book that kicked off Stephen King’s Dark Tower series I originally read it third, during the long wait between The Waste Lands and W...moreDespite being the book that kicked off Stephen King’s Dark Tower series I originally read it third, during the long wait between The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass, oddly enough I never felt that this spoiled my reading of the series; it marks the only time I know of that I’ve managed to read a series out of order. The Gunslinger is based loosely off of the Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” a poem based off of a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear, a line itself referencing a traditional fairy tale, a fairy tale which may have been inspired by an old Scottish ballad. Which is all fascinating, if slightly confusing, but perhaps more fascinating is that The Gunslinger, and the rest of the novels in the series, create something of a unifying mythology for most of Stephen King’s novels.
But that is perhaps getting a bit ahead of myself. The Gunslinger is at its heart a tale of one man’s quest for revenge. The titular gunslinger, a dusty knight errant by way of Clint Eastwood (an image immortalized by the always awesome art of Michael Whelan), wanders across a dusty landscape both eerily similar and frighteningly different from our own world. The gunslinger’s, Roland Deschain’s, world has “moved on” and has been transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland crossed with a parallel dimension. Of course The Gunslinger only scratches at the depth and breadth of Roland’s world and the hints a ties to King’s other work only comes later.
Given its inspiration it isn’t a small surprise that the language of The Gunslinger takes on a more poetic tone. There is a cadence to the prose here that is very different from the almost workaday tone of King’s other fiction. While it isn’t particularly jarring I wouldn’t be surprised if at its initial release the fluid nature of that narrative put off the everyday mainstream King reader. While King has been long associated with the horror genre his works have crossed so far into the mainstream that a book like The Gunslinger (or Eyes of the Dragon) really stands out from the pack. It is, in my opinion, some of his best work. It is hard to argue with languid descriptions, such as the novel’s opening vision of the desert:
The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what looked like eternity in all directions. It was white and blinding and waterless and without feature save for the faint, cloudy haze of the mountains which sketched themselves on the horizon and the devil-grass which brought sweet dreams, nightmares, death.
The opening words of that first sentence are ones that stick with you. There are a million other little gems that King sprinkles liberally across the narrative, particularly when it comes to Roland’s thoughts about himself: “The only contingency he had not learned how to bear was the possibility of his own madness.” and later:
Not for the first time the gunslinger tasted the smooth, loden taste of soul-sickness. The shell in his fingers, manipulated with such unknown grace, was suddenly horrific, the spoor of a monster. he dropped it into his palm, made a fist, and squeezed it with painful force. Had it exploded, in that moment he would have rejoiced at the destruction of his talented hand, for its only true talent was murder.
It’s some absolutely brilliant fiction and some frequently stirring prose.
If I’m to be completely candorous here I should point out that the Dark Tower series marks my first brush with the post-apocalyptic genre (King, is of course no stranger to apocalypses chronicling at least two more in The Stand and later in Cell). As I mentioned when talking about The Forest of Hands and Teeth the best post-apocalyptic novels embrace a sense of discovery, how things happened aren’t explained in detail but hinted at through ephemera and debris left behind. This is element that King handles expertly in The Gunslinger. While the world is startlingly different from our own it is one littered with the remnants of both its own past and our own present (or the present that existed when the novel was written, natch). The song Hey Jude being played in a dusty saloon, a trip through an abandoned subway station littered with the corpses of the dead caught going about their day-to-day business are neatly juxtaposed with giant mutated freaks, strange linguistic quirks (“I say thankya”), and flashbacks to a very medieval themed training (complete with lords, ladies, other sundry nobilit, a scheming adviser, and gruff arms master) except instead of swords there are guns.
While my experience is somewhat dimmed by the memories of how the series meanders a bit towards its end, a feeling I admit may change upon a more linear and chronologically compact reading, I’m pretty jazzed to continue with The Drawing of the Three. As has been reported by various sources on the internet Ron Howard has been tapped to translate the series from fiction into a movie trilogy and I’m very much excited to see how that works. Sci-fi horror fantasy post-apocalyptic westerns that tie together a single author’s (with at least one pseudonym) fiction in its near entirety are hardly a common occurrence and the scope of the Dark Tower series really is something to marvel at so if you’ve yet to experience this series I highly highly recommend giving it a try.(less)
John Scalzi’s 2005 debut novel Old Man’s War is a book I’ve been putting off reading for some time now. There is no particular reason for this I just...moreJohn Scalzi’s 2005 debut novel Old Man’s War is a book I’ve been putting off reading for some time now. There is no particular reason for this I just kept getting distracted by shiny new books. This as it turns out was a major fail on my part. Old Man’s War is an exciting military science fiction novel full of human drama and high action that is on the one hand entirely original and on the other hand very much in the tradition of the great military sci-fi novels of the past.
Before I start talking in depth I should say that if you’re a fan of quality science fiction or military sci-fi then you should definitely stop reading right now and go read this novel if you haven’t already. There is no way to write a decent review of the novel without at least mentioning some minor spoilers (even the PW review mentions some)! Honestly going into the novel more or less “cold” with little foreknowledge of what to expect (beyond what the blurb on the back tells you) is the way to go and I think will aid the novel’s impact. So, that being said, stop now and go read the book! Seriously.
The Earth of Old Man’s War is a world under quarantine by the space faring Colonial forces of humanity. The inhabitants of underdeveloped nations are given the opportunity to become colonists and journey to the stars while the established “advanced” nations, i.e. America, are not allowed to be colonists. Instead, Americans are offered the opportunity at the ripe age of 75 to enlist in the Colonial defense forces. They are lead by the carrot of mysterious rejuvenation techniques that the Colonial government refuses to reveal to the governments of Earth.
As John Perry finds out after joining up the world beyond the insulated sphere of Earth is decidedly posthuman (or maybe transhuman, I think you could argue both particularly once the Special Forces are introduced). His old body is tossed aside as he is implanted into a fresh body; a body unable to reproduce, genetically engineered to be a fighting machine, and with high powered supercomputer implanted in its brain (the BrainPal). For all the serious implications of this transformation there is a wonderful dose of somewhat absurd slightly tongue-in-cheek humor with the introduction of these new bodies which come equipped with a glossy pamphlet (in digital form) extolling its virtues. While only the text is reproduced in the novel it encapsulates the marvelous absurdity of capitalism’s growth, or at least flourishing, beyond the stars and I couldn’t help but imagine some sort of PipBoy like mascot to go along with the pamphlet. This theme is somewhat carried by the later revelation of the highlight from Perry’s former career: creating a famous cartoon mascot for an advertising campaign.
The training scenes are reminiscent of Starship Troops and not at all dissimilar from say Full Metal Jacket save that the troops perform staggering feats of superhuman strength and agility. Of course their Sergeant makes Zim and Hartman look a little soft; which is saying something. Perry’s integration into his new body, followed by the training sequences give both him and the reader an excellent means to get acquainted with what the melding of technology and bioengineering can do. As is explained to the recruits the universe is a scary place for humanity and there is a constant scrabble amongst the various intelligent species that results in frequent and bloody battle. The training process, in addition to teaching the recruits how to kill, is interesting in that it also teaching them how to think, how to circumvent a literal lifetimes’ worth of preconceptions.
Things really kick up a notch once the fighting starts. The aliens of Old Man’s War are vicious; as likely to view humanity as a competitor for resources as they to see humanity itself as a resource (hint: food). Of course, we’re as vicious as the rest and Perry’s confrontation with seeming inhumanity that the defense of humanity seems to engender is a pretty tense moment of the novel and turning point for the novel’s focus. The question Perry asks of himself namely “Am I a monster?” is what defines the primary focus for the remainder of the novel. In other words, what it means to be human.
Old Man’s War constantly forces its characters, and its readers, to redefine what we think we know about the universe. While this mainly applies to our grounded view of the universe, the one the geriatric recruits start with, it also applies to the new wider world that Scalzi introduces as elements he introduces in one chapter are often turned on their head later in the novel. From skip drives to the Ghost Brigades hinted at early in the novel Scalzi is masterful at throwing us new idea after new idea.
I’ve really only talked about the novel in broad swathes. In truth I think this is something of a disservice since Scalzi does a near pitch perfect job of providing his thematic musings through a very believable and wonderfully human cast of characters. John Perry and his clique of friends remain as believable as senior citizen as they do as newly minted soldiers. Even older soldiers we meet get little flashes of characterization, such as one with a vehement dislike for molasses. I’ve barely even discussed any of the aliens such as a race of tiny humanoids, the powerful and religious minded Consu, the Rraey (who enjoy eating humans), and a number of others all of which get a surprising amount of detail given their relatively small amount of screen time. Scalzi does a great job of encapsulating a hardscrabble frontier battle that instead of being spread across the Old West is spread across the vast regions of space. I was a major idiot for have waited this long to read Old Man’s War and I urge you not to follow my example in waiting! I’ll be keeping an eye on Scalzi’s work more closely in the future (I did quite like The God Engines as well) and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. I’m just about done with the sequel to Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, so stay tuned for that review next week! (less)