This book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to exp...moreThis book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to explain. Geez…
OK, so yes, there is an interstellar war with human troops in high-tech armored suits battling an alien enemy on distant planets. I know it sounds like another version of Starship Troopers or countless other bad genre sci-fi tales that copied it, but this one is different. Hell, when it was published in 1975 it won the Hugo, the Locus and the Nebula awards for best novel so you know it’s gotta be pretty decent.
William Mandella has been drafted as one of the first troops that will be sent to fight the Taurans. There are points in space called collapsers that are like wormholes that will transport your ship to a distant area in the universe instantly, and humanity is fighting the Taurans to use them. Both races like to build bases on nearby planets to establish control of the area around the collapsers.
Unfortunately, most of the planets out there aren’t anything like what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. They’re usually cold lifeless rocks, and just training to use their suits in these environments is dangerous, let alone trying to fight an alien race they know little about. Mandella gets through training and manages to survive the first battle with the Taurans.
That’s where the book gets really interesting.
While the collapsers provide instant space travel, the ships still have to get to the nearest one and that means months of travel at near light-speed. It turns out that Einstein was right about relativity and traveling at near the speed of light makes time do some funky things. So while the troops on the ship feel like a journey only took months, years have passed for everyone else. When Mandella returns to Earth after his first battle, he’s only aged two years, but ten years have passed on Earth.
Since Mandella has to do more and more light speed journeys, centuries pass on Earth even though it’s only been a few years for him. Mandella will return from missions to find that humanity has changed so much that he has almost nothing in common with the rest of the people, and since he manages to survive several campaigns when almost everyone else dies, he’s quickly becoming one of the oldest men in the universe during his ten year (subjective) enlistment.
Another quirk of the time differences is that when the humans meet the Taurans, they can’t know if they’re battling alien troops who are centuries ahead or behind them in terms of military intelligence and weapons technology. So Mandella and his fellow soldiers may have a huge advantage or be severely outgunned. It just depends on if the Taurans they’re fighting started their light-speed journeys before or after they did.
As the war drags on for century after century, it is both sustaining and draining Earth’s economy. Mandella finds himself losing all his family, his friends and his lovers to war or age. He is increasingly out of touch with Earth and the rest of humanity. The army continues to promote him, mainly because his seniority has reached ridiculous levels after centuries of service.
One of the things that isolates Mandella is that homosexuality becomes the norm due to Earth overpopulation. In an ironic reversal of don’t ask-don’t tell, Mandella is the outcast that disgusts many of his fellow soldiers due to his unenlightened ways. Even the slang spoken by other soldiers becomes incomprehnsible to him. Increasingly lonely and out of sync with everyone around him with almost no chance of surviving his enlistment, Mandella nurses the hope that the war will someday end during the large gaps of time he skips as he travels to his assignments.
Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, and this is an obvious allegory for that war with a weary soldier stuck in a seemingly endless conflict and realizing that even if he makes it home, he won’t fit in to the world he left. While Haldeman’s science and military background gives the book its detail and depth, it’s the tragedy of Mandella’s predicament that makes it a sci-fi classic. (less)
Joe Haldeman is one of my favorite sci-f writers,and he is also one of those guys who makes me feel like a lazy stupid slug that’s not fit to walk on...moreJoe Haldeman is one of my favorite sci-f writers,and he is also one of those guys who makes me feel like a lazy stupid slug that’s not fit to walk on the same planet. Not only is he a brilliant award-winning author, he teaches writing part-time at MIT. He’s got a BS in physics and astronomy as well as a MFA in writing. He’s also a Vietnam veteran with a Purple Heart.
That background combo of writing, science and war has given him the experience to do sci-fi novels with a military slant like the classic Forever War or Forever Peace where he’s explored the true cost of warfare on people as well books centered around standard sci-fi ideas like aliens, time travel and space exploration.
Old Twentieth lets Haldeman do the big concept sci-fi stuff while adding in just a dash of his war writing for flavor. Hundreds of years into the future, the human race has eliminated aging and death by disease after a brutal war had eliminated a large percentage of the population. People now live hundreds of years and there’s a new era of peace and prosperity.
With the long life-span and new technologies, an expedition that will take centuries to explore a planet at a nearby star is planned and eight hundred volunteers are making the trip, including Jacob Brewer. Jake is a first generation user of the process that extended human life span, and he’s the ship’s expert on virtual reality.
Their virtual reality simulation is kind of a cross between the holodecks from Star Trek and The Matrix. Users are plugged into detailed historical recreations, and the system is designed to manipulate memories so that it will become reality for the users. The favorite destination is the 20th century, or Old Twentieth, before the war that changed the planet occurred.
The system has been widely used on Earth for decades, but when one of the shipboard users dies while in the simulation, Jake will have to try and figure out if the system contributed to the death. Entering virtual reality as an operator with admin rights and his memory intact, Jacob will begin finding oddities that may threaten the entire ship.
This concept lets Haldeman play with a lot of ideas. The story on the ship and background history let him create a new futuristic society and technology while the scenes inside the VR let him have Jake bop through twentieth century history. And since Jake has a taste for war stories, we get his experiences from World War I Gallipoli to World War II’s Tarawa to Vietnam as well as experiences ranging from having the Spanish flu after WWI to getting a bowl of Skyline chili in Cincinnati.
This is a great sci-fi story that plays with ideas ranging from what people would do with immortality to the value that we put on entertainment, sometimes at the risk of our lives. (less)
Haldeman delivers another great sci-fi story. He handles the nuts and bolts of a trip to Mars and what life there would be like with his usual readabl...moreHaldeman delivers another great sci-fi story. He handles the nuts and bolts of a trip to Mars and what life there would be like with his usual readable style that gives you some real science without a lot of technobabble. Best part of this story is the main character, Carmen. Telling a sci fi story from a slightly angry and rebellious teen-age character is a nice change of pace from the type of astronaut heroes we usually get in these stories.(less)
I think that Orson Scott Card and George Lucas must have had a meeting at some point and came up with all the ways you can destroy a franchise by addi...moreI think that Orson Scott Card and George Lucas must have had a meeting at some point and came up with all the ways you can destroy a franchise by adding on useless and clumsy story to your original work.
Card wrote one of my favorite sci-fi books, Ender's Game, and then ruined every good feeling I had towards him by a parade a horrible sequels and tie-ins that either have nothing to do with the original story or repeatedly revise and rehash the original material so much that it's in danger of becoming just as bad. And how stupid am I that I've kept reading long past the point where anger and frustration are now souring my enjoyment of the original?
While the original Ender's Game actually had action and events that had emotional consquences, all the rest of the books are just tedious dialogues about things that will happen and debates about the emotions they should be feeling. And all the characters know what events will happen because of how incredibly smart they are! And they'll tell you that. Repeatedly. It's like sci-fi done by Aaron Sorkin. Painful. Just freaking painful.
There's no genuine conflict here because Card has built Ender up into such a saint and all-knowing being that there's no chance of any outcome but Ender winning by being oh-so-wise.
Set shortly after the ending of Ender's Game, a large part of the book revolves around a power struggle between Ender and the admiral of the ship taking him to the colony where he will be governor. But because Card can't stand to have anyone be smarter or an actual danger to his heroes, all the 'good' characters instantly know that the admiral is planning to sieze control once they get there. Even before the ship leaves. If they knew he was going to try and take over, then why send him at all??
Oh, and be warned. The afterword here states that Card is going to rewrite Chapter 15 of Ender's Game to correct 'mistakes' that don't correspond to the garbage he's written since. My advice is to buy an original copy of EG before that happens, and never, ever buy another one of these craptastic Ender follow-ups. (less)
Unexpected side effect during or after reading: Finally coming to terms with the fact that there will probably never be...moreTwo word review: New Serenity!
Unexpected side effect during or after reading: Finally coming to terms with the fact that there will probably never be another Firefly/Serenity film or tv show.
New thing I learned from reading this book: Mal doesn't want to be rich.
General Observations: For a new Serenity story scripted by Joss Whedon, I was disappointed. Following a story before the events of the movie allows him to use characters who died there, which was nice. But there was something about the writing or art that made this story hard to track for me.
It begins with the crew snatching some shiny tech on a heist, but the guy who hired them pays by telling them where some other loot is stashed so they go and steal that, which turns out to be a fortune. This leads to several fantasy sequences about what the crew is going to do with the money. Meanwhile, an Alliance officer is tracking down former Browncoats who kept fighting after the war and were deemed 'terrorists', and it's more than just a mission for him. The guy who invented the tech they stole is also on the crew's trail. And there's something weird going on with the Doc and Inara. The whole thing climaxes in a massive fight that left me with more questions than answers.
Since this is now an on-going comic, maybe more issues will clear up some of the confusion. Plus, we got a hilarious introduction from Adam Baldwin and plenty of Firefly'esque moments. For example, Jane's reputation as the Hero of Canton has spread.(less)