Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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You in the Red Shirt

Tonight, I went to a John Scalzi event at Borderlands! There was John Scalzi, talking about geekdom, reading about aliens, answering endless questions about the Old Man's War movie, answering MY question about balancing humor and heartbreak, being all-around entertaining.

I almost wore a lavender shirt, and then I wanted to smack myself because duh.

John Scalzi thought I looked familiar, and I reminded him that we had met last year at Comic-Con, when I was wearing a Jayne toque. He said I looked like an Indian friend of his, and I joked that, yes, we all look alike, and he responded that, no, you don't, but I do look like his friend.

I also said I was Mark's Hugo campaign manager.

"Mark?" he asked.

I motioned behind me: "Oshiro!"

His reaction was utterly glorious, as his face lit up with glee and he pointed at him: "DUUUUUUUUDE!!!"

I told him how much I enjoyed Old Man's War, and he said I had a cool Indian character to look forward to, and he was generally an affable person.

Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein, is the prototypical military sci-fi novel, kicking off decades of stories about soldiers fighting aliens while wearing powered armor. There's no denying its influence, but is it actually worth reading?

Yes and no.

The book is notable for having a non-white protagonist, Juan Rico. Heinlein only gets the minimum number of points for this because Juan Rico has no personality at all. He has more personality than Case, but that's not saying much. Rico joins the army to fight Bugs in space. Rico goes to boot camp. Rico goes to officer school. Rico fights Bugs in space. There, I have summarized the entire novel for you. You do not read this book for the plot, which is simply a chronological series of events. You do not read this book for the characterization, which is nonexistent. (Lloyd James's rather lifeless reading did not help in either regard.)

All of the strengths of this book lie in the worldbuilding. Not regarding the aliens or the war or anything, which are developed very superficially. The book is notorious for its pro-military, possibly fascist stance, and it's filled with lectures and discussions about the reasons for war and violence, the best way to govern, the value and price of citizenship, and much more. They made me uncomfortable, but they were fascinating, especially because Heinlein does make some very interesting points that made me think. He fashions a world where a soldier is the only person worth being because only someone who has served in the military has the right to vote: they've earned the right to have a say in how the country is run by offering up their lives for it.

Starship Troopers is not a rollicking action adventure but a manifesto. As a book, I thought it was all right. But I am really looking forward to reading various books that respond to it.

John Scalzi burst onto the sci-fi scene with Old Man's War, a highly acclaimed novel that reads like a modern classic, synthesizing decades of military sci-fi from Starship Troopers to Ender's Game and injecting the genre with a more modern sensibility. It has the weight of history behind it but has its own distinct voice.

In fact, the opening recruitment scene is almost identical to a similar scene in Starship Troopers, but the tone is completely different. Scalzi sets up the premise implied by the title: at seventy-five, you have the option to join the Colonial Defense Forces and defend humanity from the scores of alien races who have out for us. You kiss your life on Earth goodbye and say hello to combat in a younger body and life in the colonies after your service is over. A younger body, you say? Why, yes, it's magic! Or science.

Our Hero is John Perry, a widower whose love of his wife forms the emotional core of the book. He makes friends with some other recruits, and although they're a little hard to keep straight at first, they do each make an impression, which is bad because you know that this is war and they're not all going to make it to the end of the book alive.

The first third of the book reminded me of Redshirts with its what is going on? feel. Why is the CDF so technologically advanced? How are they going to make them young again? Is there some deep dark evil secret at the bottom of all this? There always is, you know; John Scalzi has read books before.

What Scalzi is startlingly good at is maintaining a healthy sense of humor about the whole thing but still punching you right in the feels at unexpected points. I almost teared up a couple times. Once in public.

I was completely engaged from page one because of the worldbuilding, and I never at any time lost interest; in fact, I just became more and more addicted to the book until I already knew I wanted to read the rest of the series before I was even done with it. The last third really kicks it up a notch. It's readable as all hell, with likable characters, fascinating sci-fi technology and concepts, and exciting action scenes. Scalzi dreams up alien races with varied physiologies and cultures, and he also explores what it means to be human.

I had little idea what I was getting myself into with Old Man's War, but I am already kicking myself for not having the rest of the books ready to go. Between this book and Redshirts, I think John Scalzi does a lot of things I like and he does them really well, so clearly I must read all of his books as soon as possible.
Tags: being indian, books, i am so awesome, personal, pictures, real life friends
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