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Atlas Shrugged as a Novel

Posted by hyperpat on December 19, 2013

Got to wondering about just what makes the Tea Party members tick after their disgraceful showing in the government shutdown debacle, so I decided to re-read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which many Tea Partiers will list, if not as their Bible, at least as their inspiration.

WARNING: There are major plot spoilers below. If you haven’t read this book yet, and don’t know what happens within it, stop reading here!

Now this is a massive tome, clocking in at near 500,000 words, and is basically Ms. Rand’s magnum opus, laying out in detail (very detailed!) her philosophy of life. I first read it when I was about 18, along with her other novels and some of her non-fiction works like The Virtues of Selfishness. Many of her points registered very well with my younger self, though even then I could see some problems with parts of her stated positions.

This post will try and tackle the merit of the book as a novel, without (as much as possible) delving into the philosophy; later posts will tackle that aspect. Now this book has, in various reader polls, been highly touted as one of the best in American literature in the 20th century, so one might expect to see a truly impressive work that delves deep into what makes people act the way the do and provides great illumination into the mysteries of life. Unfortunately this is very much not the case.

First is how Ms. Rand depicts her characters. Every character who stands on the ‘good’ side is depicted as standing straight, with forceful demeanor, with great pride in both body and mental outlook. Every character on the ‘bad’ side slouches, won’t look other people in the eye, and has either confused or poor images of themselves. This is not a realistic depiction of people in real life, but rather the type of characterization typical of melodramas. In real life you can find heroic characters who are fat and slovenly, and lowlifes who look great and have both charisma and strong positive interactive traits with other people. The constant depiction of all the characters in this manner eventually becomes quite annoying.

Then there is the aspect of her major characters on the ‘good’ side all knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives at a very early age (like 12), and who actually follow through with those initial choices. Again, not realistic. On top of this, the three major characters all work their way up through their occupation of choice, starting at the very bottom of their industries, even though they did not have to, while those characters on the ‘bad’ side either directly inherit their positions or obtain them from friends in high places. Then too, her ‘good’ characters are always superbly competent at whatever task they try and tackle, while the opposition is portrayed as remarkably incompetent and incapable of making any decision of any import. Even her minor characters follow this template, this either-or construct of being very competent at what they do or totally incompetent, not capable of doing anything constructively. This black-and-white depiction of people is more suited to an allegory than a novel about real people in a real world.

The portrayed sexual relationships of her characters are also far removed from reality. Each of them, just at the sight of someone of the opposite sex who embodies Rand’s ‘perfect’ traits, falls immediately in love with same. And if someone comes along who is even a better match for what Rand considers ideal, well, the love allegiance immediately switches to this new person, with hardly a guilty glance backward to the prior lover. Also noteworthy is that same-sex relationships are carefully not touched upon, even though there is a stated strong bond between those who respect each other. And it’s a very white world that is depicted; people of color don’t seem to be part of it, or if they do show up, it is in very minor roles.

So why do so many readers so closely identify with her protagonists, who find these characters intriguing and very much worth emulating? I think the answer to this lies in the fact that they are presented as out-and-out heroes, a thing that has become very uncommon in American literature from about the mid-20th century onward, replaced by Joe everyman, the man in the street, the psychotic, the down-and-outers, the milquetoasts and just-get-by people (as a prime example of this, and a very good one, see Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman). There is an element in most people that needs someone to look up to, someone who is much better than they are, that they can imagine themselves as possibly having some of the same traits, and Rand’s heroes certainly fit this need. Then too, Rand’s heroes actually change the world by their actions, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, and fighting a seemingly never ending battle against the forces of obvious evil. This, I think, produces the same kind of attraction that something like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings does; everyone has at least a small fantasy of being able to change things for the better.

Let’s look at the setting for this work. It imagines an America that is slowly falling apart, where industrial production of goods and services keeps falling, and company after company is failing. It is an America that is very much dependent on the railroads for essential transportation of most resources and products, which will probably strike a modern reader as a little odd. Here I have to give Ms. Rand a little slack, because at the time she starting writing this work (1946), this dependency was actually true. Like many authors trying to predict a near future world, she did not foresee certain advances such as the rise of the airlines as cargo carriers and the interstates with 18-wheel semis that made her depicted world somewhat anachronistic. And it is still true that the railroads do carry the lion’s share of natural resources and bulk items around the country, although their passenger business has declined radically. Where this becomes important is exactly in the passenger area; the ability of people to get from place to place quickly hinges in this novel almost solely on the railroads, a great odds with the world as it is today.

Also highly visible in this setting is the role of government in commerce, in taxation, in the setting of rules that companies, unions, and the working man must abide by, a stifling, omnipresent octopus invading every aspect of American life. Some may claim that this intrusion of government into everyday life has gotten far worse than what prevailed at the time this work was written, that there has been a steady erosion of individual freedom to do as they wish, but many of these things are at least intended to help the individual avoid catastrophic risks (think airport security checks). Within the confines of this work, Rand sees the government as the ultimate looter, taking from all those who are productive and giving some to those who are only looking for handouts while lining their own pockets. I will cover this aspect in greater detail in the posts on the philosophy of the book.

In terms of plot, the first two-thirds of this work mainly follows Dagny Taggert, Vice President of of the largest railroad company in America, and Hank Reardon, a self-made man who has invented a new metal considerably better than steel and who has built a large company of foundries and forges, becoming one of the preeminent suppliers of this basic construction material. Each faces opposition, Dagny from her brother James, who as President of the company takes all the credit for her successes, and is the one with so-important ‘connections’ with Washington, even though he himself never seems capable of making a decision or have an idea of his own, and Hank from his wife, who doesn’t understand his obsession with making the best structural metal in the world, who wants him to be her slave, who feels entitled to everything he does, without any effort on her part.

Both Dagny and Hank, in order to perform their job, are dependent on the products of other companies (iron, copper, coal, oil, railroad switches, diesel engines, etc). The best companies that can supply these things are headed by forceful, decisive, and forward looking people, people of the same mold and mindset as Dagny and Hank themselves. But mysteriously, one by one these company heads are disappearing, ‘retiring’, even though they have very vocally and publicly declared they would never do such a thing, that their companies were their lives. As these people disappear, their companies are taken over by incompetents, and can no longer be depended on to supply the things Hank and Dagny need. The government’s reaction to this problem in the supply chain is to declare an economic emergency that freezes pay and profits and makes it a crime to leave a job, and intellectual property must be ceded to the government for proper ‘use by all’. Seemingly as a sidelight to this, Francisco D’Ancona, head of the largest and oldest copper mining company in the world, is portrayed as a wastrel, a party-hound, out to destroy his own company, even though he is clearly highly intelligent, competent, and keeps making statements that are in direct opposition to this image.

These elements do make for a fair amount of suspense (who is making all these people disappear, and why?), and much of the middle section of the book focuses on Dagny’s search for the “Destroyer”, all the while battling the increasing problems of continuing to make her railroad operate properly. However, I have a serious problem with Rand’s assumption that companies need to have super-competent and driven people in charge in order to function, and that therefore the removal of these people would cause an economic crisis. First, there are simply too many companies producing all manner of goods, in a very complicated interweave of interdependencies and with a large amount of redundancy, for the demise of merely a few companies to seriously impact the economy. Second, many companies function quite well without having a hotshot in charge – sometimes a cautious, risk-averse company head is exactly what’s needed to keep the company producing its goods on time and on budget.

And this is the prime assumption underlying the plot – that a strike by a few main ‘producers’ of the world will eventually bring the entire world economy to its knees and force a realignment of the social order. Clearly this assumption does not have a good basis in the real world, so when this is revealed as the basis behind all the disappearances, it makes the reader feel like he has been cheated somewhat, that the entire framework of the novel as a novel is based on something that is not real.

Dialog within this work seems to go on forever, as character after character spouts multi-page discourses on morality, sex, economics, the goal of science, what constitutes ethical behavior, the value of money and the gold standard, looters and moochers, and every other part of what constitutes Rand’s philosophy. This all culminates in a 60 page (!) speech by John Galt, the person who instigated the strike. Once again, normal people do not speak like this, and the repeated statements of various parts of this philosophy become quite wearisome by the end of this work.

Given all the above, I find it remarkable that this novel is not only still read today, but is immensely popular. As a novel, this work is blatantly bad. It only really has two points going for it: its portrayal of real heroes, and a presented philosophy that seems to resonate with many people who don’t look at its underpinnings too closely.

I’ll look at those underpinnings in later posts.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Religion and Science Fiction

Posted by hyperpat on November 10, 2009

Religion seems to be endemic to the human condition. Every culture around the world and throughout recorded history (and probably much further back than that) seems to have some belief in a higher power, even though, to date, there has been zero directly observable and possible to confirm evidence for such. So it is no surprise that science fiction has occasionally delved into this area of the human condition. What is surprising is just how few sf works have really looked deeply at it, and even more surprising that of those that have done so, almost all are excellent works.

There are many, many sf works that paint very detailed pictures of future societies, but in most of these religion, if mentioned at all, is relegated to the side-bar, not front and center. Perhaps this has been due to a reluctance by some of the authors to tackle such a deeply controversial subject, while others may have felt that it was not germane to the story they were telling, and still others may have felt that religion would eventually end up in the dust-bin of history as a failed concept, or antithetical to the basic rules of science that science fiction has as its base. But as science fiction uses precisely this ability to depict future, different societies as mirrors for our current society and its problems, books that ignore the great influence that religion has on the great majority of people are, to some extent, missing the boat.

Happily, those books that do tackle religion head-on almost invariably seem to have something very cogent to say about it. There are those books that look closely at the disturbance to established religious dogma that meeting up with other intelligent species would cause, both from a personal and societal viewpoint. In this category would be things like James Blish’s A Case of Conscience, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God, Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, Grass by Sherri S. Tepper, and Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke.

Then there are those that look at religion as a force that helps shape a society and its rules for living, morality and ethics. Here we have the great A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., Dune by Frank Herbert (Maub’dib and the Fremen Jihad have much to say about just how powerful a force religion can be), Soldier, Ask Not by Gordon Dickson, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (a very unusual look at a non-Christian belief system), and Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

But perhaps the most important category are those books that are sharp satires on established religions. Here we have Davy by Edgar Pangborn (the Holy Murcan Church is the lynch-pin of this imagined future world, and comes in for some heavy satirical commentary), Towing Jehovah by James Morrow, Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein (so sharp an attack on Christianity, using the exact words of the Bible, that this book was denounced by several religious groups), To Reign in Hell by Stephen Brust, and of course the elephant in the room, the book that not only tore gaping holes in some practices by certain established religions but invented a new religion so believable it led to the establishment of a new church based on it, Heinlein’s Stranger in Strange Land. Whether this book really did grow out of a bet between Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard over who could create the best ‘invented’ religion (I don’t include Hubbard’s writings on and the establishment of Dianetics and Scientology as science fiction, but more as a deliberate attempt to con the connable, and which has unfortunately, to my mind, been all too successful), or was merely the outgrowth of things Heinlein wanted to say for many years and only slowly found his way to crafting this work, it still reigns supreme as one of the best books science fiction has ever produced.

Regardless of your own religious beliefs, reading the books I’ve listed here should be a journey of exploration. While many of these books are scathing in their attacks on certain aspects of religion, at the same time I think they can reinforce a person’s confidence in his own belief systems, by forcing the reader to examine exactly why he believes as he does, and thereby giving him a better foundation for that belief. And it should be a great journey as every book I’ve listed has either been nominated for or received the Hugo Award, a marker of just how well these books are written.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Hugo Awards, religion, science fiction, SF | 3 Comments »

People Do Judge a Book by its Cover

Posted by hyperpat on August 12, 2009

There’s been quite a dust-up over the cover art originally chosen for the American ARC edition of Justine Larbaliester’s new book Liar, which portrayed a white girl with long hair, when the actual person inside the book is bi-racial with nappy hair. So much of one that Bloomsbury, the publisher, has now made the decision to change the cover for the hardback release, scheduled for late September. I’m happy to say that the new cover is both appropriate and quite stylish. The cover, along with Justine’s comments about it, can be viewed here.

The reason for the original cover? Unfortunately, it was apparently a marketing decision that felt that a cover with a black person on it just would not sell as well. Now marketing folks should be focused on the color green (as in money), but, as Justine herself says here, this is neolithic besides being racist thinking, fed by bookseller’s impressions with little hard apples-to-apples comparison data to back it up. Plus it showed just how little power an author really has in terms of how their work will be promoted.

The cover art for this book is important. I think the book itself is pretty damned good (see my review), and if it doesn’t get the promotion it deserves, it will be a shame. Because there aren’t many speculative fiction works that have protagonists that are people of color, and covers with white faces will probably not attract (and may actively discourage) young people of color from picking up this book, and discovering a marvelous person who has severe problems with who and what she is and how she eventually comes to grips with those problems. Not bad lessons for any young person of any color, nor for that matter any adult reading this (and they should!).

While I applaud Bloomsbury’s decision to change the cover, it makes me sad to think that this whole fiasco ever had to happen in the first place.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 1 Comment »

The 2009 Hugo Awards

Posted by hyperpat on August 10, 2009

The final list:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)

Best Novella
‘‘The Erdmann Nexus’’ by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette
‘‘Shoggoths in Bloom’’ by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story
‘‘Exhalation’’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)

Best Related Book
Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John
Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story
Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones
Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne
Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim
Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed
Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant
Enemy)

Best Editor, Short Form
Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form
David G. Hartwell

Best Professional Artist
Donato Giancola

Best Semiprozine
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fan Writer
Cheryl Morgan

Best Fanzine
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima

Best Fan Artist
Frank Wu

I was somewhat disappointed that Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother did not win in the Novel category, as to my way of thinking it was clearly better than Gaiman’s effort – but Gaiman has that aura of win to him every time he’s on the ballot. Little Brother did manage to come in second, overtaking Neal Stephenson’s Anathem in the second round of vote counting. (Full voting results are available here).

Wall-E taking the Dramatic Presentation was almost a given; it’s only serious competition was The Dark Knight, and the voting reflected that. Why the Academy Awards couldn’t recognize this movie as the best of the year, well, I’ve expounded on that earlier.

And unlike last year, where almost all my picks ended up winning, the only ones that made it this year were Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, Cheryl Morgan as best fan writer (long overdue) and Wall-E. Most of my picks ended up at the very bottom of the voting lists.

There has been a fair amount of yack-yack out in the blogosphere that this year’s list of nominee’s, especially in the Novel category, were all a bunch of mediocre, standard fare, popular but not significant, or that somehow the Hugos are all a conspiracy by the SMOF’s to keep the best (read: their choice) works off the nominee list. With this I must violently disagree. First as to the quality of those that did get on the list: Little Brother is possibly the best YA novel to appear in the field in the last 20 years, and touches on social and political themes that are both important and highly relevant to today’s world. Anathem is cutting edge experimental, and a difficult, mind-bending read, which should put paid to the concept that such books are not recognized as significant by the average SF fan. Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale shows just what clear, unadulterated space opera can be, with great characterization and not cluttered up with a hundred pages of esoteric scientific theory.

Yes, I would have liked to see Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World or Le Guin’s Levinia make the short list, but the ones that did make it are certainly reasonable. People need to remember that the best literature must be readable and entertaining; those that have these qualities will normally rise to the top of any popularly voted award (as opposed to those awards given out by jury selection). And for those that didn’t like how this year’s nominee’s and winners worked out, I highly suggest they quit whining and become members of next year’s World SF Con, and send in their own nominations and votes. I note that there were 1074 voting ballots sent in this year, more than in past years, but still not anywhere like the number it could be if those who care about these awards would get off their duffs and vote.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Hugo Awards, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | Leave a Comment »

The Lord of the Rings, Happily Revisited

Posted by hyperpat on March 2, 2009

I re-watched the entire Lord of the Rings movie set Saturday and Sunday, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now I know that there were some people who were highly upset with some of the liberties that Peter Jackson took with book, such as eliminating the section on the Scouring of the Shire, the Boromir/Faramir thing, the dropping of Tom Bombadil, etc, etc, etc. But regardless of these ‘infractions’, the end result is gorgeous, absorbing, and totally captures the feeling of the book. There are damned few movie adaptations of novels out there that can say that. I sincerely hope, with fingers crossed, that with this example in front of them, the people doing the movie version of The Hobbit won’t screw it up,

I’m also aware of some of the criticism that the book has received over the years, such as the class distinctions between Sam and Frodo, the obvious parallels (no matter how vigorously denied by Tolkien himself) between the industrialization of England and Saruman’s efforts with Isengard and the World War, the book’s simplification of what compromises good and evil, it’s long descriptive passages and side trips to some of the history from the First and Second Ages, it’s heavy borrowing from folk legends of Northern Europe, and quite a few other nit-picks. And in the end, that’s all the criticism amounts to, is nitpicks. It’s a great novel that succeeds of many levels; it’s a great ‘pure’ adventure story, it’s a finely honed commentary on some of the worst social evils of the twentieth (or any) century, it’s characters have deeper and deeper depths to them the more you look closely, and it appeals to nearly everyone’s sense of magical wonder.

I’m sure that eventually someone will write another fantasy work as good or better than this (one candidate for which is currently in progress but which may take quite a while to finish), but for the moment, this work still reigns supreme.

Posted in Book Reviews, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 4 Comments »

Literary Markers

Posted by hyperpat on May 8, 2008

Just how is a consensus opinion about the quality of any particular book formed? And what impact does that opinion have on the book’s sales?

First I think we should look at the intended audience. Most books are not written to try and appeal to everyone. This is obviously true in terms of ‘genre’ books, but it is also true of those written as ‘mainstream literary’ works – the audience for this type of book is just as limited. Often there is very little crossover between books that appeal to, say, an SF fan, and one that targets potential Pulitzer prizes. ‘Best Sellers’, by definition, appeal to a larger proportion of readers than other books, but they still won’t appeal to everyone.

But within its target audience, each book eventually gathers some form of opinion about just how good (or bad) it is. How? It used to be that the word about new books was disseminated via a very limited communication method, reviews in newspapers, magazines, and journals by professional reviewers. Often libraries would base their purchase decisions on those reviews. Only after the book had been out for some time would there be any feedback from Mr. Average Reader by way of word of mouth to their friends and co-workers, and which books Mr. Average Reader looked at was at least partially influenced by those same professional reviews or by the book’s availability at the library. This made it quite difficult for new authors who didn’t immediately wow the professional reviewers to get much notice (or sales), unless their publisher really pushed to market the book (not something most publishers did with unknowns). On this basis, it’s quite probable that books were published in years gone by that deserved a wide audience, but never got a chance. Of those that did get noticed, it would often take years for a book that only received initial lukewarm reviews to start to gather a reputation for being something that should be put on everyone’s reading list. Within all of this, literary awards played a significant role. Books that won Pulitizers or Booker awards were almost guaranteed best-seller status, and a lot of attention from literary scholars. Winning one those awards, though, was then (and is now) something of a crapshoot, as the judges for these awards are a small number of people, each of whom has their own biases, likes, and dislikes. What appeals to this limited group of people may or may not appeal to a larger audience, giving these awards a somewhat limited utility as a guide to Mr. Average Reader – but because they are award winners, that reader is much more likely to give the book a try. More significant, though, is winning such an award gives the book a ‘marker’ about its quality. And it is the accumulation of such markers that eventually define its literary reputation.

Today there is something called an internet, and it is changing just how books accumulate such markers. First is the fact that critical reviews are no longer the property of professional reviewers only. Amateurs can not only write their own reviews, from their perspective, but have them prominently displayed for all the world to see on sites like Amazon. While many people still rely on professional reviews for determining what they’ll read next, these on-line reviews are gathering more and more credence as viable ‘markers’ of a book’s quality. And, while some of these amateur reviews are truly amateurish and provide little help to Mr. Average Reader, a great many of them are at least equal to the quality of those written by professionals, with the added benefits of having viewpoints different from those of the professional critic and not even potentially influenced by the effect of cash payments for the review.

Now most of these amateur reviewers are inspired to write reviews mainly for those things they read and liked (and the self-choice factor means they probably pick more books of the type they will probably like in the first place). But there are also a significant number who are just as inspired by books they hated, and the reviews they write about these books are often of great value to the prospective buyer/reader of same, giving very cogent and specific reasons for what they felt was wrong with the book. If there are enough of these negative reviews, it will eventually push the book into the trashbin of literary history, even if the literary academic world thinks it’s great. Literary greatness is not measured solely by its credit ‘markers’: its awards, the in-depth analyses it gets, its acceptance by the academic world, etc, but must also, somewhere along the line, impress enough ‘average readers’ that it has special qualities, that it is worth the time to read, understand, and enjoy, before it can really join the pantheon of ‘classic literature’.

Clearly, today’s publishing market has changed. While aggressive advertising campaigns can still push a book onto the best-seller lists, at least temporarily, the long-term sales outlook for a book is much more likely to be dependent on feedback from the readers than was true in earlier times. And its reputation for being a solid, worthwhile book, rather than a forgettable piece of fluff, is also getting more than a little of its assessment from those same everyday readers. The chances of a really good book that is not aggressively marketed (or marketed at all) getting noticed and achieving decent sales have improved as word-of-mouth via these on-line reviews travels faster and to a far larger potential audience than what was achievable via local reading groups and letters to editors.

Publishers are just beginning to realize the power of these ‘amateur’ reviews. Literary academics have so far ignored them, but they may not be able to much longer. It’s a more democratic world out there, with more freedom to publish via print-on-demand and other such vehicles, and more and more a book’s reputation is being established by a consensus of all of its readers, not just those who make a living critiquing books.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Writing | Leave a Comment »

The Grapevine in Action

Posted by hyperpat on August 15, 2007

Apparently, some book, game, and CD publishers are finally getting hip to the fact that the online community of reviewers are a valuable resource, and that the reviews such people post are often  as good or even perhaps better than those written by ‘professional’ reviewers (though not always – there are quite a few pretty atrocious ones out there too). Evidence for this is a new program from Amazon, which they are calling ‘Vine Voices’, where those who are members of the program can get free advanced review copies of some works in return for writing honest, unbiased reviews of same – which is basically the same deal that professional reviewers have gotten for many years, and this program is obviously being supported by the publishers. I’ve signed up for this program, and ordered up as my first choice under this program a new book by Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road.

There have been at least a few instances of the book publishers using quotes from some of these ‘amateur’ reviews as back-0f-book blurbs, and there is now a fair amount of evidence that decent reviews on places like Amazon can have quite an influence on book sales. With many newspapers and magazines cutting down on the space they allocate for reviews, for many books online reviews may be the only recognition a book gets.

For a long time, many of the ‘professional’ reviewing set have denigrated these ‘amateur’ reviews as poorly written and/or ineffective. It looks like at least a few are waking up to fact that this is not true.

Posted in Book Reviews, Writing | 5 Comments »

This Year’s Hugo Nominees

Posted by hyperpat on April 30, 2007

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been assiduously reading all the current crop of Best Novel nominees. Eventually I’ll probably get around to writing individual reviews of all of them, but for now my overall take:

‘Hard’ SF dominates. Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, Stross’s Glasshouse, Watt’s Blindsight aren’t just hard SF, they do fair to being a crash course in modern day physics. Now each of these books have their own pluses and minuses, but none of these are something you can hand to someone who isn’t already steeped in SF and science and expect to get anything other than a very confused “Huh?” This may not be good for the general health of SF. Somewhere along the line there needs to be new, good books written that are accessible by the average man in the street, books that neither insult his intelligence with obvious nonsense nor require Ph.D. to decode what’s happening. If at some point the SF community doesn’t reach out to people who aren’t already members of this tiny cult, it will eventually dry up and die away. This is not to say these books aren’t good. Blindsight especially is very intriguing, with a very insightful look at whether self-awareness is really useful or desirable in a living entity – but it does take quite a bit to get into this book, as the concepts and characters are very different from the norm, and at least early in this book there is little explanation.

So how about the other two nominees?

Novik’s Her Majesty’s Dragon is fantasy combined with an old-time sailing story; Horatio Hornblower with dragons. It’s a unique (I think) idea, and her execution is good. And it doesn’t require a science degree to understand it – in fact having such a degree will probably spoil this one a bit, as the basic concept of flying dragons of the size she posits violates several basic scientific tenants, from the square-cube rule to the energy requirements needed to produce the appropriate amount of aerodynamic lift. This one is just a fun read.

Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim is not hard SF, even though 12 dimensional manifolds and light-speed variations figure prominently. It is rather an alien contact story, aliens who bear a strong resemblance to giant grasshoppers, as seen mainly through the eyes of a 14th century priest. Neither the theological nor emotional sides of such a contact are slighted here, and this one will probably end up making you cry and think at the same time. The science here is also somewhat unique, deep mathematics right alongside of historical research. This was expanded from a novella published way back in 1986 (which was nominated in that category for the 1987 Hugo) – and as an indication of how strong the story arc is, I still remembered that original story. For my money, this is clearly the best of this year’s crop, understandable, engaging, with real people and a lot of important things to say.  This is the type of book you can give to that average man in the street.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 4 Comments »

Fascism and Starship Troopers, Once More

Posted by hyperpat on December 28, 2006

This is part two of my comments about David Itzkoff’s ‘review‘ of John Scalzi’s works.

In the second paragraph of this, while talking about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, he makes the following statement: “but to a contemporary reader it is almost impossible to interpret the novel as anything other than an endorsement of fascism, from an era when the f-word wasn’t just a pejorative suffix to be attached to any philosophy you disagreed with”.

Really? Let’s look at the definition of fascism and see if there is anything in Starship Troopers that fits that definition: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition (Merriam Webster).

Let’s take these pieces one at a time.

A dictatorial leader – nope, don’t find one in the book. The society Heinlein envisioned still had elections (yes, only veterans could vote, but they were still elections), still had courts, still had law making bodies.

Exalts race over individual – a very specific no. Heinlein makes a point that anyone, regardless of race, creed, political affiliation, or any other characteristic (including being blind and disabled) were treated identically within the military, and that everyone could join if they so desired.

Exalt nation over individual – a qualified yes to this one. Heinlein made the very specific point that the individual, as a member of a society that provides him benefits, owes that society a debt and a duty to help serve that society. In fact, it’s the lynch pin of his envisioned world, as he felt that only by balancing the power represented by the vote with the individual’s acceptance of responsibility towards the society could the malaise of the average voter of today voting for bread and circuses be prevented. Though it’s not in the book (apparently cut during his editing of it), Heinlein in later interviews also indicated that not just military service would do to qualify for the vote, but other service to the community would fulfill the requirement, such as things like the Peace Corps, as long as such service demanded real commitment by the individual. In other words, even conscientious objectors could qualify.

Severe economic and social regimentation: nope, not here either. Juan Rico’s father certainly had the liberty to conduct his business as he saw fit, and only complained about new government tolls and requirements when they were deep into a war footing. Regimentation? Don’t think so, when the local town punks think it might be great fun to mix it up with a few ‘low-life’ soldiers.

Forcible suppression of opposition: not there, though the general political landscape outside of the military was not greatly detailed. There was some commentary about how little political unrest there was in this society, attributed to having all the ‘wolves’ be part of the decision making process, but not because the government actively suppressed all opposition.

So the fact is the actual contents of the book do not support Mr. Itzkoff’s statement.

Now the movie version is a different matter – and I have exactly the same objections to that movie as to Mr. Itzkoff’s statement. Quite frankly, that movie was a travesty, completely mis-representing the philosophy Heinlein was trying to present. Given Mr. Itzkoff’s statement, I wonder if he’s actually read the book, or only seen the movie.

Now, on the other hand, Heinlein did do a bit to glorify the military. The service he shows is efficient (in fact, Heinlein shows specific methods of improving the head-to-tail ratio that normally plagues military organizations), it has an officer corps trained not just by military academies but by actual experience in the field (something not true of our current military, where 90 day wonders are all too prevalent), and it’s training courses are meant to train not just interchangeable bodies but to educate the minds of the soldiers in why they fight. Then he cheated a bit by concentrating only on those soldiers who see direct front line action, and he set up a war scenario where diplomacy was impossible and our species survival was at stake, thereby hiding the fact that the decision to wage war, and how to wage it, is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

But it should also be remembered that Heinlein was a graduate of Annapolis, and duty, honor, and patriotism were hallmarks deeply engraved in the man. This book was a response to what he saw as a dangerous trend within American society, the ‘better Red than dead’ faction. Heinlein did not serve actively in the military in WWII, as he was medically discharged in 1934 with tuberculosis, but he did serve in the fashion he was allowed, working on high-altitude pressure suit research and other avionic work. But he certainly knew and detested everything about the Hitlerian regime.

Finally, Mr. Itzkoff makes another statement that is foolish on its face: ” “Starship Troopers” might be the least enticing recruitment tool since “Billy Budd.”” It might surprise him to know that this book has been on the recommended reading list of all the service academies – and I really don’t think it would have been placed there if it was a poor recruitment tool. And personally, I enlisted in the Air Force in 1968, when Vietnam was really warming up, and quite a few of my friends were figuring out every possible way to avoid the draft – something that Heinlein was absolutely against, as exactly the kind of slavery that a fascist state could demand. A good portion of the reason I did so was the influence of this book.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Politics, science fiction, SF | 16 Comments »

Critics Who Use a Newspaper for Bodily Functions Other than Information Input

Posted by hyperpat on December 27, 2006

The New York Times devoted an entire page to a review of John Scalzi this last Sunday. As written by Dave Itzkoff, I found it to be the epitome of everything I don’t like about critics. This response will be in two parts, the first being on the failings of this critic, the second on an accusation he makes within the review that I take extreme exception to.

In general, I find that far too many critics:

1. Can’t read

2. Can’t write

3. Can’t think.

4. Force their own pre-conceived notions onto what they are supposedly criticizing.

Mr. Itzkoff displays all these qualities in fine style here. Taking the second item first: This is supposed to be a review of Mr. Scalzi’s works. But the entire first half of this piece is taken up by a diatribe on the supposed failings of Robert Heinlein, with Scalzi not even mentioned till the fourth paragraph. Now Scalzi is known to have been influenced by Heinlein, but it might be noted that anyone who writes SF today has been influenced by Heinlein, whether they know it or not, and anyone who writes a military-oriented SF book is guaranteed to have some comparisons made to Starship Troopers. Now back when I took a few courses in writing, having an introductory paragraph to ease into the piece’s theme was fine, but backhandedly slipping in a review of Heinlein’s work in a piece that supposed to be about Scalzi, and then highlighting it by having it be the entire first half of the piece, is bad writing.

Now let’s look at the piece’s content when he does get around to discussing Scalzi. The first paragraph of this is reasonable, detailing the plot of Old Man’s War and drawing parallels with Starship Troopers. But in his next paragraph, Mr. Itzkoff shows his biases by attributing much of OMW’s commercial success to “recommendations from conservative political blogs like Instapundit and The Volokh Conspiracy”, ignoring the fact that word of this book was spread by a large contingent of SF fans, of all political stripes, and doesn’t even mention that it was nominated for the Hugo Award. The next paragraph sees the statement “Heinlein may have cultivated a philosophy that now seems distasteful bordering on appalling”. To whom is this philosophy appalling other than Mr. Itzkoff himself?

Then Mr. Itzkoff has the temerity to diss Scalzi’s latest novel, The Android’s Dream, because “there is still a position less commendable than having dangerous ideas, and that is having no position at all”, totally missing the fact that this book is meant to be a fun romp and not a political diatribe. Then he has even more chutzpah to insist that Scalzi get back to works like OMW and more political philosophizing, that The Android’s Dream was merely a detour for Scalzi’s career. All of this is a pretty good example of items 1, 3, & 4.

Now since Mr. Itzkoff has indicated he is at least somewhat familiar with Heinlein’s works, I would direct him to the last chapter of The Number of the Beast, where there was a special room set up just for critics. I think he belongs there.

Now any exposure in something with as much clout as the NYT is probably good for increasing sales of Scalzi’s books, even something as negative as this piece. I just wish the NYT would find someone else to review works in this genre.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Politics, science fiction, SF | 8 Comments »

Organizing the Opinions

Posted by hyperpat on November 16, 2006

For those readers into book reviews, I’ve added a RSS feed to my reviews at Amazon in the right hand side bar. This is something new that Amazon has just implemented, and I expect there may be some glitches in this for a little while (Amazon is not known for having glitch-free software rollouts). What displays here are the links to my latest 10 reviews. If you really want to see all of them (253 as of today), go to My Reviews (you can also get there by clicking on any of the review links here, then clicking on the link beside my picture that says “see all xxx reviews”). With this link available, though, I won’t be posting any more of my reviews here, though I still may have comments about various books as they relate to something else I’m talking about.

Reviewing is something I’ve been doing for quite some time. Even before Amazon existed, I was merrily telling my friends on various message boards what I thought of various works. So when Amazon came along and became established enough to look like it wouldn’t fold in the next week, I latched onto it as a good place to put these opinions out before a much wider audience. Writing for this format was a bit different, much more formal and detailed, and some of my very early reviews on Amazon weren’t very well done (there’s a learning curve to everything!). I do get a nice ego-boost out of Amazon’s system for ranking reviewers – at one point I was listed at #410 (out of 2 million reviewers) on the US site, and am still listed at #24 on the British version of Amazon (unfortunately, the UK site has some severe adminstrative problems in handling reviews, and I haven’t submitted anything new over there in quite some time, hoping they’ll finally fix their problems). Reaching revewer ranks higher than this, though, calls for more work than I have time for, but if you do so happen to read some of these reviews, and find they helped you make a decision about purchasing/reading the item, please vote! That will at least keep me somewhere in the 500’s.

I’ve also put a few reviews up on Epinions (I didn’t do so in the early days because back then they had an exclusivity clause in their contract), expanded versions of those on Amazon. But I find it too much work to write at the length and detail that Epinions seems to like, so I’ve pretty much stayed with the Amazon format.

Happy reading, and I hope my reviews will direct you to something you really enjoy.

Posted in Book Reviews | 2 Comments »

Sheepless in San Jose

Posted by hyperpat on November 8, 2006

While watching the election returns last night, I was reading what might be considered the perfect complement to all the talking heads, John Scalzi’s latest novel The Android’s Dream:

My Amazon Rating: 4 stars My scale: 7.0

Scalzi, in his Old Man’s War, showed that he can write serious drama about important things, and was written very much in the mold of a Heinlein novel. With this book, he shows that it’s going to be quite difficult to pigeon-hole him into any particular category, as this is a fun romp, with large satirical bites suffusing it, somewhat like those of Neal Stephenson, an overall plot that is reminiscent of another author who has tackled the space-opera of old, Bujold, and with kudos paid to Philip K. Dick. Anyone who can bring such disparate influences together in a coherent whole will never have to worry about being accused of a being a one-note writer.

The book opens with a rather extended joke, where a mid-level bureaucrat manages to do away with his opposite number at the diplomatic conference table via a rather ingenious device that can send messages via scent. Of course, this sparks an immediate diplomatic crisis. In determining how this event managed to transpire and what to do about it, new elements of computer hacking, DNA manipulation, the Church of the Evolved Lamb (shades of L. Ron Hubbard) and their blue sheep, impending all-out war, palace coups, James Bondian skullduggery, and a super-competent hero who nevertheless seems to be constantly getting whacked upside the head are introduced and folded into this whacky mixture.

The plot’s the thing here, as none of the characters are super-deep, though they are all well enough presented to make them believable people. At some points, it seems as if the story line has gotten out of hand, gone in just too many directions at once, but the conclusion manages to bring each of the threads together in a surprisingly logical whole. All the while, the action is fast-paced and engrossing, with a humorous leavening to guarantee there will be no morning-after depression syndrome.

It’s not a great book, but it wasn’t heading that way in the first place. Rather, it’s an entertaining book, a fun way to relax and be carried away from everyday cares.

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Amazon is being persnickety about posting this today (they apparently have a software bug that has frozen everything for the last few days), so it looks like it this review gets to appear here first.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, science fiction | 2 Comments »

The Hugo Awards Revisited

Posted by hyperpat on October 26, 2006

In an earlier post I indicated the nominees and winner of the Hugo Best Novel Award for 2006, and that my own choice was John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. After having read a couple of the other nominees, not only is it still my choice, but one entry (Acclerando) makes me seriously wonder about the whole Hugo selection process, as it’s clear that some entries get there on the basis of radical new ideas only, rather than ideas + literary merit. Not that I have a problem with the actual winner, it’s quite good, just not quite as well done as Old Man’s War – but that’s just my opinion, and I’ve had that level of difference between nominees and winners in prior Hugo Awards. But every once in a while I run into something that was nominated and/or won the award, and find myself scratching my head about why it made the list – are my tastes really that much different from the average SF fan, or am I just too demanding for wanting good literature with my SF helping? The following are my reviews of the nominee crop:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My Amazon Rating: 5 star My Scale: 8.0

Life Begins at Seventy Five 

After reading about ten pages of this, I had to go back and check the title page for the author, sure that it would read Robert Heinlein, not John Scalzi. Mr. Scalzi has obviously spent some time and effort analyzing Heinlein’s methods and style, and the result here is an excellent novel that reads just like a brand new Heinlein.

The opening paragraph grabs: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” Simple, direct, and immediately intriguing. And from this idea of geriatric soldiers the entire story unfolds: how these advanced age people are given new, enhanced bodies, interfaced with a remarkably effective internal computer, and sent to fight the baddies of the universe. Why they must fight. What the reasons are for living. Where the human race is heading. The problems with making assumptions about other life forms – and the effect that has on diplomacy.

Plot wise, this is a series of incidents and battles in the life of a soldier, without any strong goal or endpoint in mind. But as the scenes unfold, the person that is John Perry comes into clearer and clearer focus, a quiet, unassuming man who nevertheless can think on his feet, is not dismayed by radically new things, a natural leader with seventy-five years of experience to back up his decisions and actions, a man capable of deep love. Most of the people around him are not so well realized, but they really don’t need to be.

Comparison is obviously invited with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with its similar theme and environment. But where Starship Troopers is very much a coming-of-age story, this is an adult trip into the land of survival. And where Starship Troopers had a large amount of philosophy directly exposited, Scalzi’s opinions in these areas are much more muted, more shown rather than told. Replacement of Heinlein’s powered armor with Scalzi’s enhanced bodies doesn’t cut down on the action, but does highlight the importance of the mind inside the body, its spirit, its willingness to fight not just for himself but for all of his compatriots and the race as a whole. Where Starship Troopers might be considered a treatise on government, civic responsibility, and military organizations, this has a somewhat less lofty goal, of showing why life is worth fighting for.

For anyone who loves Heinlein, this is a must. For those who like military science fiction, this is a must. For those who like a good story, powerfully told, this is a must.

*************************************

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

My Amazon Rating: 4 star My Scale: 7.0

Time in a Bubble

‘Hard’ science fiction novels, all too often, get bogged down in their `gee-whiz’ science, to the detriment of their story and characters. Happily, such is not the case here, as the characters of Tyler Dupree and Jason and Diane Lawton are well depicted, and their story, of just how they react when all the stars suddenly disappear one night, remains front and center throughout this book.

The `gee-whiz’ science here is the `Spin’, a membrane folded around the earth that slows the time rate experienced by its denizens by a factor of 100 million versus the `normal’ universe. This has an implication: in just 40 Earth years, 4 billion years will have passed on the outside, our sun will be nearing the end of its life, and will have expanded to the point that an unprotected Earth would be immediately fried. Where did this membrane come from? Who put it there, and perhaps more importantly, why? What can be done about it? Wilson’s characters, in one way or another, attempt to answer these questions, an involvement that shapes much of their lives, and the lives of everyone on Earth, who are effectively facing a true end of the world scenario.

Wilson presents his science in fairly small, well explained chunks – you don’t need to be an actual rocket scientist to grasp what he is presenting, and this presentation doesn’t interrupt the story flow, unlike all too many books that belong to this sub-genre.

While all the above is quite good, I found I was disappointed in the final answers the book provides. I saw most of the answers long before they were directly shown – not good for a concept of this grand scope. Nor was I greatly impressed by the philosophical points raised. In these two areas, I expected more from a book that took the Hugo award over some other books that are just as inventive and possibly have a deeper level of meaning than this one. The Martian, introduced about the middle of the book, was not characterized very well, nor was his described culture very believable – probably because his function was that of deus-ex-machina device, a way for Wilson to get to his `solution’ space.

An entertaining read with some good concepts, but for my money the Hugo should have gone to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

********************************************

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

My Amazon Rating: 3 Stars    My Scale: 6.5

A Sea of Words, Signifying Little
The most inventive, intriguing, literate, and engrossing adult fantasy to be written in thirty years, has, unfortunately, hit a rather large road bump with this, the fourth volume. As I don’t follow Martin’s web site I was not aware that this volume only presents half of the main characters of the first three, leaving out some of the most interesting and loved ones, their portion of this time period relegated to the fifth volume, whenever it will be published. This alone is not that much of a problem; Martin’s tapestry is so large that there is plenty of story to be told even within the remaining subset.

The real trouble is, he doesn’t tell that story for the first five hundred pages! Instead, we are treated to seemingly endless descriptions of heraldry; new viewpoint characters whose stories are definitely peripheral to the original story arc – and this is in a story that already has so many characters that it takes sixty pages of appendix just to list them, definitely posing problems for the poor reader trying to keep track of them all; and way too much scheming and talking rather than action. Very possibly a good half of this work could have been cut without losing any of the important story details, and the net result would have been a much stronger work, better paced, where anticipation of impending action could have been sustained until things actually start to happen, which is about the last one hundred pages of this.

That last hundred pages do a fair amount to redeem this volume, where things finally coalesce into definite story lines, and the complex interweave of characters, each with their own desires and schemes to get what they want, which was the overriding trait of the first three volumes, becomes evident again. Jamie at least starts to become an interesting person; Cersie, the person everyone loves to hate, looks like she may have boxed herself into a corner; Sansa, it appears, will be forced out of her safe cocoon and back into being a player in the game of thrones; Arya has, perhaps, the most interesting change in life style and circumstances.

If the fifth volume can maintain the pace and interesting events of the last one hundred pages of this work, the full story will be back on track as one of the best fantasies, ever. However, if it too gets bogged down in too much unnecessary detail and non-happenings, I think it will spell the end to this series, and volume six won’t be purchased by me at least.

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Accelerando by Charles Stross

My Amazon Rating: 2 Star My Scale: 4.0

Computation Overload
This book managed to come in second in this year’s Hugo Award voting. Unfortunately, I don’t think it deserved that kind of recognition.

This is another entry in the ‘hard’ sf sub-genre, one that has as its major point of focus the Vingeian Singularity, which assumes that technological progress is on an exponential slope that will eventually lead to a complete breakdown of civilization as we know it, being replaced by artificial intelligences that will consume all the physical resources of the solar system.

The book is episodic (which follows naturally from its roots as separate short stories), covering three generations of one family as the world moves from pre-Singularity to post-Singularity times. It also leads to the major problem with this book: none of the characters are particularly well-defined or explored in depth. Many of their reactions to the events of this book do not ring true, do not ring human. Of course, Stross may have been trying for exactly that impression – humans of this future world are not the humans of today. While it is interesting in an intellectual way to see how a normal human will morph into something of much greater thinking capacity as he becomes more and more wired up to external computers, and eventually can become a disembodied intelligence, what is lacking here is any emotional basis for believing in these people. The scientific ideas run rampant over the story and characters, and some of those ideas will be difficult for someone not versed in computer-speak to assimilate and understand, leading to some confusion about just what is really happening at various points in the story.

The ‘solution’ Stross offers to the Fermi paradox (if there are lots of aliens out there, where are they? Why have we seen no evidence of them or had any communications from them?) is plausible, and a lot of the ideas he so casually tosses around are intriguing and stimulating. But without a solid story and strong characters to work within this idea space, the book comes across as more of a scientific treatise than a novel.
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Only one more hope left: Learning the World by Ken MacLeod,  but I don’t have high expectations given what other reviewers have said about this one.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Science fiction and fantasy | 5 Comments »

RAH, RAH, RAH – and Spider

Posted by hyperpat on October 13, 2006

In the past, I’ve posted all my book reviews on Amazon and my web site. But I suppose a little more exposure won’t hurt. And this one has a fair amount of buzz associated with it, given the high profile of the first author listed. The link will take you to the Amazon review page, where you can see a few other opinions about this book besides mine.

Variable Star by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson

My rating: Amazon 4 star, my scale 7.0

This book, like many posthumous `collaborations’ that are attempts to complete an unfinished work, has both good and bad things about it.

First, yes, Heinlein’s touch is definitely evident, mainly in the basic story setting and its main characters. Clearly the outline and notes that Spider worked from defined these elements unambiguously, and anyone familiar with Heinlein’s work will find much here that will evoke that feeling that so many of his YA books from the fifties had. The story is very definitely set in the `Future History’ line, with references to Red Planet, If This Goes On, Coventry, Time for the Stars, Starman Jones, Space Cadet, and multiple other stories. Its protagonist is, at least at the start of this book, a rather typical Heinlein older teen, a young man who starts with no clear idea of what he wants from life, and while quite intelligent has a tendency to leap without fully considering all the consequences.

But it is also true that this is Spider writing, and as such it’s told in Spider’s voice, with his own very distinctive style, which includes his penchant for punning, and to some extent, mysticism, neither of which Heinlein would normally touch. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I’ve enjoyed many of Spider’s other books, and his style normally complements his story material very well. But here I found some of this a little jarring, as it simply didn’t match my expectation of how Heinlein’s voice would have told this story. Not that Spider either should or could have really matched Heinlein’s voice – any attempt to do so would have probably been a disaster.

The objections some others have raised about Spider inserting some commentary about current events into the Future History time line (as `The Terror Wars’) I found was actually fairly well done, giving a more solid basis to the rise of Nehemiah Scudder than Heinlein ever did (though this was an area that Heinlein himself avoided, as too depressing to write about). Spider does manage to create characters that I could fully believe in, and they bear a strong resemblance to what these characters would have been like under Heinlein’s pen, and this does much to keep this story highly readable and enjoyable.

But I found that the direction of the plot for about the last third of this book rather upsetting, as it plays havoc with the Future History as we have come to know and love it – and this area is pure Spider, for as stated in the afterword, Heinlein’s notes were incomplete, and did not include an ending. The ending that is here has both a deus-ex-machina device (but one that Heinlein himself used in one of his other stories) and a clear path to a possible sequel, as clearly there is more story to tell, if Spider (and the Heinlein estate) would so desire.

I finished this book with very mixed feelings. Yes, it’s another entry into the Future History corpus; yes, it’s well written, engrossing, and enjoyable; but no, it’s not Heinlein, and it branches in a direction well outside the known Future History, at the very least requiring another major branch in the World-as-Myth world view. But if Spider ever does write a sequel to this, I’ll be there at the bookstore waiting to buy it when it comes in.

I find Amazon’s 5 star rating system to be a little confining (besides being somewhat inflated). My own system (which I’ve been using for 40 years) is a 10 point scale, with half-point increments. This breaks down as:

10 = perfect, the greatest book ever written, 9.0+ demands a reread, 7.5-8.5 excellent, has special qualities, 6.5-7.0 Above average, but usually only good for one read, 5.0-6.0 = average, nothing special, but readable, 4.0 – 4.5 = fair, 3.0 – 3.5 = poor, 2.0 – 2.5 = bad, 1.5- = should have been burned instead of published.

And if you don’t catch the allusion of this post’s title, shame on you for not knowing all your Heinleiniana.

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