Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein ****

Johnnie Rico is a 22nd century soldier in the Mobile Infantry: the best trained and toughest of the armed services. They are dropped in capsules into the worst battles where their mechanized personal armor and weapons can overpower any enemy in the universe. The current conflicts puts individualistic humans against a communal race (organized like an ant colony - queens, workers, soldiers) that invaded the human worlds.

With this introduction, you might expect Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein to be a story of action and warfare, but it reads more like a paean to the infantry (incidentally by an Annapolis graduate who who received a medical discharge terminating his military career well before WWII). Fully half the book is about boot camp: tough but fair sergeants, brutal but effective exercises, and the pride and camaraderie of those who succeed. The battles are just a few pages of very few chapters.

While Heinlein does not pontificate quite as much as some of his later books, he does manage to explain that only volunteer soldiers should be allowed to vote and that juvenile delinquency is caused by not raising children the way dogs are properly trained.

This is wonder macho view of a macho military and a fun read for anyone looking for a romantic view of life in the infantry.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Light Raid by Connie Willis & Cynthis Felice ****

Ariadne Hellene is 17 as has been evacuated from Colorado Springs to Victoria, British Columbia, because of the light raids (aerial laser attacks from satellites, aka batellites) from the Quebecers. But the North American war is is a distant problem. Her daily problems at the unscrupulous Mrs Ponsonby's home of evacuated children are more along of lines of being starved and forced to clean house and baby sit. The story opens with Ariadne changing Verity Ann's diaper.

As the story unfolds, Ari escapes and returns home to find her father hopelessly drunk and her mother jailed and accused of treason. Ari struggles with her many conflicted feelings about her family, friends, and unattainable love interest. She also explores her latent womanhood, in one case showing up at the ball in a dress which becomes more transparent as it is viewed from farther away.

With an even mix of self-determination and personal initiatives on one hand and damsel-in-distress rescues on the other, Ari does her part to take care of Verity Ann, her parents, her love life, and even help win the war.

Light Raid by Willis and Felice is a nice story of a teenage girl overcoming lots of obstacles and finding love in the end, but I like my female leads more independent and sure of themselves (think Jane Austen or Anne of Green Gables, even), and (spoiler alert) I was disappointed to see her get married at 17.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The World of Null-A ***

Another from the bookshelves. While I remember The Weapon Shops of Isher fondly, this was the book on the book shelf. The World of Null-A by A E van Vogt is famous, in part, for the scathing criticism written by a young Damon Knight. So famous that it is mentioned in the author's introduction to the 1970 rewrite (which I read).

The book suffers from two major problems: The first is the attempt to raise General Semantics to the level of some cult, mystical religion. General Semantics, popular post-WWII, reached the height of notoriety in the late-1960s when proponent S I Hayakawa was appointed head of SFSU. The World of Null-A is an like fan fiction for General Semantics, both star stuck and silly.

Which comes the the second problem... while when the author stops shilling for General Semantics, he write great chapters, but the overall flow of the plot is characterized a protagonist George Gosseyn (author's note: pronounced Go SANE) who bounces through the narrative into and out of danger, like some Perils of Pauline, never effecting his peril or affecting his rescue.

The novel is set in 2560, with the conventional future imagining of the post-WWII period ... including videophones, atomic flashlights, and ubiquitous vacuum tubes.

Unless your are one of the remaining members of the General Semantics cult, this is best left to collect dust wherever it might be.