Jim's Blog Ramblings about novels, comics, programming, and other geek topics

31May/110

Stranger in a Strange Land (Book Review)

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Stranger in a Strange Land was written by Robert Heinlein and claims to be the “most famous science fiction novel ever written.” I’m not sure of the claim, but the book is widely popular and a must read for sci-fi genre fans. This review is based on the 438 page version of the book which excludes 90 pages worth of cut material that was later released in an uncut version of the book.

The book won the Hugo Award for Best Science-Fiction Novel and gave us the word “grok” which has been adopted and ever used within the sci-fi, hacking, and geek communities for many purposes.

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

-- Stranger in a Strange Land

26May/110

The Forever War (Book Review)

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The Forever War was written by Joe Haldeman in 1974, who served in the US Army during the Vietnam war. His experiences during and after the war inspired this book which won Hugo and Nebula Awards for outstanding science-fiction stories. When he was trying to get his book published, he ran into several problems since the book draws many parallels to the Vietnam war. Luckily, one publisher took the chance on the book and it became one of the most famous novels of it's genre (military science-fiction).

The story's protagonist is William Mandella, born in 1975 with two hippie parents. During his college years, he's drafted by the Elite Conscription Act. The ECA drafts citizens with high IQ scores (>150) to join the United Nations military force (UNEF) and fight the Taurans - an alien species discovered in 1996. His UNEF superiors are veterans of Vietnam - a point which Haldeman wanted to include, which also lead to the book being dated; however, if you just ignore the years, the story still works perfectly.

The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand - despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite military unit, Private William Mandella, has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties and do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But "home" may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries...
-- The Forever War

The main story focuses on the psychological impact of war and returning home after/during the war with a slight twist - time dilation. Time dilation occurs when the military units go through the collapsars (think of them as a wormhole, stargate, hyperspace, etc.). When traveling at the speed of light (or in excess), the relative time stays constant for the travelers, but time progresses as usual for those outside of it. For example, William returns after his 2 year enlistment is up, but due to him traveling through multiple collapsars about 10 years has passed on earth. By the end of the book, 1168 earth years have passed, but he is still in his late 30s (less than 10 years passed for William).

19May/110

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction (Book Review)

With the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG, I wanted to read some of the Old Republic novels. The most recent Old Republic novels weren’t in paperback yet, so I decided to try the first book from the Darth Bane trilogy. This book was written by Drew Karpyshyn who is one of Bioware’s writers from the Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic and Mass Effect video games produced by Bioware and the author of three Mass Effect novels which I’ve previously read and reviewed.

As far as Star Wars (expanded universe) novels go, I’ve only read a few from the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series back in 2001-2002. I don’t know why I never continued reading Star Wars novels. This novel is my first Star Wars book since then and I quite enjoyed it.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction takes place about 1,000 years before the Battle of Yavin. The Battle of Yavin is a benchmark event where Luke Skywalker destroys the first Death Star in the first released move - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

10May/110

Quick Book Reviews

I've been busy and haven't had a chance to post any in-depth book reviews, so I wanted to post a few quick ones while I still remember what I read so far this year.

Halo: Ghosts of Onyx By Eric Nylund
I remember reading this around the end of last year. I did enjoy the other Halo series, but I remember not really liking this book as much as the others in this series.

Mass Effect: Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn
I was lucky to pick this book up at Comic Con 2010 and get it autographed by Drew Karpyshyn. I'm a big fan of the Mass Effect novels, games, and comics. I did enjoy this book and I was happy to see Captain David Anderson back in a novel. This book felt quite a bit different from the other two Mass Effect novels, but it was still a good read. I enjoyed the introduction of the new assassin character and information about the Illusive Man and Omega. I felt that ME2 didn't have enough missions and detail to Omega and I hope they add more to the space station in the next game scheduled for 2012 release.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
I also bought this book at Comic Con 2010. I had never been a fan of zombie movies, novels, or games, but I decided to pick this book up. It took a while to draw me into the story. The first several stories didn't really lure me into the setting or back story and it felt like I was reading one of those NPR stories where they just interview some random guy on the street. However, around the 1/3 mark I started to really enjoy the format and stories. The novel format is also quite different than other novels. The book is a collection of first hand accounts of what happened during the zombie outbreak and war told by it's survivors to a researcher working for the UN. He travels the globe conducting interviews for a report after the war has ended. It's a very unique way of storytelling and for a first-time zombie reader (myself), I think it worked well and I believe there's a movie based on this book coming around 2014 with Brad Pitt.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Several months ago, I figured that since I enjoy science fiction so much, I should really go back and read the sci-fiction classics. I picked up Brave New World from a local used book store for a few dollars and read it during a business trip. The book was written in 1932 and is considered one of sci-fic classics and must-reads for all sci-fi fans. The book also felt somewhat shorter than usual novels. For a book that's almost 80 years old, I think it still reads fine. I can see how it might have been considered controversial or surprising to readers in the 1930s. Overall, I think it's a good book. A movie is schedule for released sometime in 2011-2012 staring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Ridley Scott. There's been a few movies and TV shows already made based on this book and many dystopian settings draw influence from this book.