Friday, March 28, 2008

Old Man's War

OMW I've been reading John Scalzi's blog (The Whatever) for what seems like years. I originally found it in a link to his post "Being Poor", which I think is just brilliant but some argue should be labeled "Bring Poor in America". I'll concede that point : it's still brilliant.

For reasons I never quite figured out for myself, I never read any of Scalzi's fiction. I got a start on his "Agent to the Stars" in electronic form, but didn't finish it. Either the format or time constraints caused me to put it down. I never "sought out" his other work, either at the library nor BookMooch (still love the BookMooch) or in the store. Again, no specific reason why, just never did.

Recently Tor started to release some of it's catalogue in electronic form, for free. I've been grabbing them as they come out, but had not read any. Old Man's War was the first one released. Finally, a couple of days ago I pulled it up. It wasn't my intent to read the entire thing, just to get a feel for the thing and an insight into what it is.

A read it in two sittings.

OWM postulates a future where at the age of seventy-five you can enter the Colonial Defense Forces, the Earth's defense against galactic bad guys. The CDF has tricks up it's collective sleeve to make John Perry ready for battle when he signs up. After the death of his wife he signs up and heads off to defend the earth and it's colonies.scalzi

Sounds like an old - fashioned space opera? It nearly is. It reads like early Heinlein, and reminds me why I started reading SF in the first place. It's fun in a way that I think much of SF has forgotten how to be, and never takes itself too seriously. At the same time the characters are very real and develop throughout the book, never losing their humanity (even as they become less human) and never ignoring the ethical dilemmas surrounding their unique experiences.

Scalzi keeps the new ideas (and the plausible science behind them) coming at a steady clip. There was only one time I felt that I was reading the dreaded "Insert Convenient Character for Scientific Illumination Here" chapter, but he hung around for the rest of the book, so that was OK.

When you pick up this book you better have some clear time in your schedule, because you're going to need it. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Grand Master is gone

arthurclarkArthur C. Clark has died.

20012001.

 

Rama.

childhoodsendChildhood's End

The Fountains of Paradise

.

I could go on, and on. Clarke is the writer who really expanded my horizons, who made me think big impossible things. Who made me understand, finally, that we are living on this tiny little ball in a backwater section of the galaxy in a small corner of a vast universe. He realized the importance of satellites in communication before there were satellites.

There is apparently one more Clark book forthcoming, a collaboration between him and Fred Pohl. What a gift.

Ad Astra, dear sir.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Two from the King

blaze I freely admit that I avoided Blaze when it came out in hardcover. I knew it was a revised and updated "trunk" novel from pre-publicity, and I think King has talked about it before in one of his earlier works (On Writing or something). So I just wasn't enthused about something he wrote 30 + years ago that he didn't think was publishable then. I thought I'd catch it at the library, or wait for the paperback. Or both.

Well, my boss, knowing me to be a pretty big King fan, gave the paperback to me after he finished it. And I was wrong, OK? Blaze isn't a bad book, and it's well worth reading. I wouldn't put it near the top of any list of King's work, but it mostly held my attention and was interesting.

Clayton Blaidsell is our main character, and he's a big boy who's a few cards short of a full deck. He finds it easiest to make money by being 'muscle' for the bad guys. Then his partner is killed and he's left on his own, deciding to pull of the last big job; a kidnapping.

Blaze is mostly the story of the kidnapping, the aftermath, and the chase. We learn about Blaze in a series of flashbacks that are frankly often more interesting than the 'main' story.

This is typical of early King works, where we know early on what is going to happen and the suspense comes in the waiting until it does. Only here the suspense never really comes, we're just along for the ride. It's a good ride, but not a great one.

So it was with much trepidation that I picked up "Duma Key" in dumahardback. I knew it was a different King story. Not set in Maine, not about an author, not a Dark Tower book. Something new. I had read the short story "Memory" that was at the end of Blaze and was intrigued to see how it would play out.

I don't really have words to describe how profoundly this book affected me. Duma is not merely a great King story, it is a great novel period. It's the kind of thing that makes me glad I stuck with him through the "Tommyknockers" phase. It's just an excellent, excellent read.

It's the story of Edgar Freemantle, a self-made man in the construction industry. He loses his arm and nearly his life in an accident, then proceeds to lose his wife and perhaps his mind. As therapy he picks up and moves to Duma Key, a small isolated island off the coast of Florida. And he paints, meets some local residents, and paints some more.

And that's all I'm willing to say. The plot is amazing and surprising. We don't know where this story is going and it's delightful. There are things that happen that I had no idea would happen, delightful things that are both wondrous and scary. The Florida setting is evocative and well realized.

Plainly put this is just great, great book and you are doing yourself a disservice if you miss it. If you've never read King this is a great place to start.