Throwback SF Thursday: Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein

I don’t read a whole lot of YA fiction these days (or ever, really).  Even less middle school fiction.  And I suppose Have Space Suit—Will Travel, like The Hobbit, would be marketed as middle school fiction were it to be released today.  There isn’t a love story, and a book simply must have a love story—preferably a triangle—to be YA.  But what it is is good—better than most and certainly different than anything I read.  Like The Hobbit, it threatens to be a bit too twee at times, but I never found it overwhelming.  It is, like its protagonist, unabashedly earnest; entirely unapologetic in its love of science and engineering and work; and sharply written, showing full well Heinlein’s immense talent for aphorisms—if I hadn’t stopped writing down or tweeting every great line I would still be reading it.  It also has two absolutely killer hard science fiction action sequences.

You see, I had this space suit.

How it happened was this way:

“Dad,” I said, “I want to go to the Moon.”

“Certainly,” he answered and looked back at his book.  It was Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, which he must know by heart.

I said, “Dad, please!  I’m serious.”

This time he closed the book on a finger and said gently, “I said it was all right.  Go ahead.”

“Yes . . . but how?”

“Eh?”  He looked mildly surprised.  “Why, that’s your problem, Clifford.”

Pretty much everything you need to know about Have Space Suit—Will Travel is in that quote.  (Don’t worry, I have more to say.)

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2017 Hugo Awards Nominations

I almost certainly won’t wind up voting on the Hugos this year.  The number of people nominating and voting on the awards jumped way up, but that hasn’t markedly improved the quality of the finalists.  And it’s clear that a lot of people involved don’t want the make-up of the finalists to change—at least not for the better.  And those people are committed to doing whatever it takes to guard their fiefdom, including putting No Award over very fine work.

Voting means an enormous time commitment for works that aren’t special enough to merit the commitment and without the opportunity to have much of an impact on the final results (especially when a large chunk of the voters obviously aren’t bothering to read many works).

But I did buy a supporting membership for this year’s WorldCon, so I am eligible to nominate.  I’m not going to go out of my way to try to read anymore works from 2016 before the nomination deadline.  And after recently finishing Death’s End, I can’t think of any works off the top of my head that I’m dying to finish anyway, especially anything that has any shot at being a finalist.  Although I may add some shorter works if I can get caught back up on Cirsova Magazine and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction before the nomination period closes.

But Hugo Awards notwithstanding, I have read some really great speculative fiction published in 2016 and I’m happy to promote it.

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Review of Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

With its completion with Death’s End, I can now say that the Remembrance of Earth’s Past is my all-time favorite science fiction series (says the noob of a sci fi fan).  It opens just like you would expect the final volume of an insanely ambitious hard science fiction series to open, with a magician offering to help the emperor prevent the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.  Wait, what?  This has never been a series interested in hewing to convention.  And so we get a story spanning a few million years (specifically, 1453 – 18906416).

“Once, ancient Romans had whistled in their grand, magnificent baths, thinking that their empire, like the granite that made up the walls of the pools in which they floated, would last forever.  No banquet was eternal.  Everything had an end.  Everything.”

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(SPOILERS for the first two books in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series below the fold.)

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Throwback SF Thursday: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

demolished-man-cover-mineTension, apprehension, and dissension have begun . . .

Alfred Bester may have had a touch of psionic ability himself.  The Demolished Man reads like equal parts hardboiled noir and cyberpunk.  It’s tense and taut throughout, if it never quite matches its own ambitions.  But unlike many writers who set their sights high, Bester never stumbles at the lower orders of storytelling.  It’s a damned fun story of two men engaged in combat, each trying to destroy the other.

Squared off are Lincoln Powell, Prefect of the Police Psychotic Division and 1st Class Esper, and Ben Reich, the scion of the Monarch Utilities and Resources commercial empire and a man who would be equally at home as the hero or the villain in an Ayn Rand novel.  There are many minor characters, but the plot is entirely driven by the cat-and-mouse game between Powell and Reich.  Reich plans the perfect crime—the only kind you dare contemplate in the world of The Demolished Man—to kill his rival in commerce, and Powell is the only man who can bring him to justice.  Powell’s ace in the hole?  That part about being a 1st Class Esper, or telepath.

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Review of APB

I have a review of Death’s End coming, honest!  But I have a LOT to say about it.  In the interim, reading The Forever War and The Demolished Man have my mind turned to science fictional crime fighting.  How well-timed, then, that I saw the commercials for APB during the Super Bowl, with the premiere scheduled to air the day before I needed to get a post up.

Police work isn’t rocket science. It’s harder. Inspired by true events, APB is a new police drama with a high-tech twist . . . .  Sky-high crime, officer-involved shootings, cover-ups and corruption: the over-extended and under-funded Chicago Police Department is spiraling out of control. Enter billionaire engineer GIDEON REEVES . . . .  After his best friend is murdered in a botched attempted robbery, and the killer remains at large, Gideon demands justice.  Putting up millions of dollars of his own money, he makes an unprecedented deal to take over the troubled 13th District – and reboot it as a private police force: better, faster and smarter than anything seen before.  With cutting-edge technology created by Gideon himself, this eccentric yet brilliant outsider challenges the city’s police force to rethink everything about the way they fight crime.

APB marries science fiction with one of the few things the networks are comfortable with—police procedurals.  So how is it?  Read and find out!

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Review of A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

In my review of book 1 of the Sorcery Ascendant sequence, I compared it favorably with 90s fantasy and noted its potential.  Book 2, Blood of Innocents, was by no means bad, but there was far too much wheel-spinning.  Book 3, A Shattered Empire, builds on the first two books and brings the various plot threads together for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  If you’re in the mood for traditional fantasy, Hogan is a writer to watch.

Shattered Empire cover

How incredible is this cover?

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Vintage Science Fiction Month: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Vintage SF Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer.

The year is 1997.  Otherwise known as the “far future” for people living in 1974.  William Mandella is a bright, young physics student.  Or he was, before he got drafted into the United Nations Exploratory Force (emphasis on force) under the Elite Conscription Act of 1996 (because wars aren’t really an outrage until the elite get forced to do their part).  Humans in 1997 haven’t just colonized the solar system.  With the discovery of “collapsars” in 1985, you can now “send a shipload of colonists to Fomalhaut for less than it had once cost to put a brace of men on the moon.”  That’s because you can travel between two collapsars with a travel time of exactly zero.  The galaxy just got a lot smaller.  Small enough for humanity to bump up against the alien Taurans (our word, there being no way to talk to them).  As you can guess, first contact doesn’t go well.  We are now in our first interspecies, interstellar war.

By chapter 3 Mandella is training on Charon.  Between the cold (cold) and the lack of atmosphere, they won’t be fighting in their skivvies.  We get treated to several chapters on power armor training.  They haven’t even started fighting yet, and this is really cool stuff, mainly because Haldeman is serious about keeping his science hard.  Between the cold and lack of atmosphere, if you suit fails, you die.  At temperatures approaching absolute zero, it’s easy to fall down.  You fall on your exhaust fins—heck, you just lean on them—you die.  And people do, long before we ever see an enemy.

We’re 50 pages in before we get a look at a Tauran.

He had two arms and two legs, but his waist was so small you could encompass it with both hands.  Under the tiny waist was a large horseshoe-shaped pelvic structure nearly a meter wide, from which dangled two long skinny legs with no apparent knee joint.  Above that waist his body swelled out again, to a chest no smaller than the huge pelvis.  His arms looked surprisingly human, except they were too long and undermuscled.  There were too many fingers on his hands.  Shoulderless, neckless.  His head was a nightmarish growth that swelled like a goiter from his massive chest.  Two eyes that looked like clusters of fish eggs, a bundle of tassels instead of a nose, and a rigidly open hole that might have been a mouth sitting low down where his adam’s apple should have been.

Like the aliens in The High Crusade, the Taurans don’t know much about fighting humans.  But they will.

From there we get a damn near perfect speculative fiction tale.  The science is hard and there is a lot of it.  As military SF, it is heavy on a mix of Kafka-esque bureaucracy and gallows humor, paired with some really good battles.  The futurology is always thought-provoking, if not particularly accurate (it never is).  It’s not just a military SF novel, it’s a war novel, and the characterization as Mandella grapples with war is terrific.  There is even a good love story stuck in there.  And the entire thing works on a figurative level (it was certainly a reaction to both Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and to Vietnam).  If this is message fiction, it’s message fiction as it should be done: smart, open to multiple interpretations, thought-provoking, subversive (to any orthodoxy), woven into the fabric of the story, and always, always entertaining.

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