Friday, 27 January 2012

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

First thing to get out of the way is that I have always loved Paul Verhoeven's 1997 movie that is (very) loosely based on this famous book. I never though to read the book however until I stumbled across Christopher Weuve's great defensive analysis of the book and utter dismissal of the film.

Even after reading and enjoying the book I still love the film but I can completely understand Weuve's hatred of it. The book is serious miltary sci fi with a serious political and philosophical message. The film is tongue in cheek cartoonish space opera. It is in fact a complete and utter travesty of the book.

Anyway the story is familiar to most about a young man growing up in a society where only those who complete a term of military service can vote. Against the wishes of his parents he joins the mobile (space) infantry and ends up in a war against a insect like alien race. Heinlein's political message however is  serious one and when the protagonist's teacher uttered the most often repeated quote from the book: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.” Heinlein was making a direct rebuttal to those in the late 1950's who believed that the USA should back off its nuclear weapons programme. The military side of Heinlein's book is far more serious too than the comically inept  tactics and weapons we see in the film with serious military tactics and weaponry being employed.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this novel for a 2012 reader is how little it has aged after more than 50 years.  Heinlein' vision of troopers in power armour suits free-falling in disposable capsules out of dropships to fight battles on remote planets is still relevant. These concepts that Heinlein pioneered still crop up in literature, video games and movies.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Spider World: The Delta by Colin Wilson

I enjoyed the opening novel of Colin Wilson's Spider World saga ("The Tower") quite a few years ago  so when I stumbled across this follow up in a second hand book sale I picked it up. Sadly this second installment deviates far from the promise of the first. "The Tower" is an exciting adventure tale of a young human trying to survive in a World dominated by giant spiders. This follow on "The Delta" quickly degenerates into an unappetising  mess of mysticism.

Colin Wilson actually wrote more books in the Spiderworld series but I won't be looking for them. One thing to note is that this is one of those series where the US version was published in different subdivisions to the UK version. This leads to considerable confusion among internet sources as to how many books are in the series and what they are called. Many sources refer to the Spiderworld trilogy but I have also seen references to book 6 of the sequence!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

This is the first book of a famous Polish series of fantasy novels on which the Witcher video game was based. I started the book (in English translation) while playing the first game and I certainly recommend the book as an adjunct to the gaming experience. It gives a new appreciation of how well the game sticks to its source material.

The book is really a collection of short stories held together by a common thread of a witcher recalling past adventures as he convolesces after a nasty wound. The gritty character of the Witcher and the World he lives in is quite compelling. Witchers are highly trained killers with enhanced fighting abilities who hire themselves out to kill monsters. The hero Geralt is basically good but also cynical. He had learned not to get involved in other peoples problems. The closest parallel I can think of is Clint Eastwood in the famous man with no name Westerns.

The stories themselves are interesting enough but the writing style in translation is quite flat and becomes tedious. I don't know if this is the fault of the translation our whether it reflects Sapkowski's underlying writing.