I had been meaning to read Old Man’s War for about a decade now and am hugely glad that I finally got round to it. I knew (from what friends have said) that it was going to be a little bit like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers mixed with a bit of Haldeman’s The Forever War but as both of those books were superb, it shouldn’t be a problem. And it really wasn’t.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was published in 2005 but happily it could have been written last week – the ideas are still fresh and abundant. There are more to the series but it works as a standalone, so don’t worry if you don’t want to launch into something too involved.
The premise is this – when you are 65 you can apply to join the Colonial Defence Forces (space marines) and when you are 75 you actually join. What happens then is a secret but it is generally believed, for obvious reasons, that you are made young again.
The story starts with a guy called John Perry who is 75 and after visiting his wife’s grave, he joins up. This isn’t a spoiler, it is the first line of the book. Given the comparisons between Old Man’s War and the other two novels I mentioned, it is clear that he goes on to see combat. I won’t give any more plot away.
The book isn’t just space marines shooting the shit out of tons of aliens. That does happen, but the aliens are massively varied and the battles are fun. There are a multitude of other themes explored however – longevity, space travel and it’s implications, relationships, and questions about whether you can morally justify shooting the shit out of tons of aliens. John Scalzi is chock full of ideas and he scatters them liberally throughout.
I loved Old Man’s War. I read it in two days and then immediately bought the sequel. It is a fairly quick read but it is immensely fun, exciting, touching, and well thought out. I don’t read much military science fiction but this was full of ideas and was entertainingly written. If you hate the sub-genre then move along, otherwise I highly recommend it.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
I’ve recently decided to get into epic Space Opera. So I’ve stocked up on Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, and so on. Plus I’ve also just finished the third book of E.E. Doc Smith’s Skylark classic Skylark series. My mind is filled with exciting adventure on exotic planets. Actually it’s always like that just but normally there are slightly more zombies, a few pirates, and a ton of hot women in shiny spandex. I love my brain.
I’ve read quite a few of Iain M. Banks’ scifi stuff and Consider Phlebas is a good one.
The story concerns a guy called Horza who is an agent for an alien race called the Idirans. He is asked to rescue a mega powerful multi-dimensional computer brain called a ‘mind’. The Idirans are at war with the humanoid based ‘Culture’ who are ruled by these ‘minds’. But in a good way. Complicating matters, there’s also an agent of the Culture, a lady called Balveda, who also wants the get the mind. Unfortunately, the mind has crash landed on a ‘Planet of the Dead’ which is guarded by a being from a massively powerful race of aliens that consist of pure energy.
Got that? Good.
Actually the plot doesn’t really matter all that much. The first two thirds of the book just follow Horza as he has a series of extremely exciting adventures across the galaxy. Consider Phlebas begins with him strapped to a wall in a dungeon that is rapidly filling with water and has already reached his head. That’s how damned exciting things get from the start. As a series of mini adventures this book works brilliantly. He joins up with a crew of mis-matched mercenaries, has to fight to the death in single combat, raids a temple filled with armed monks, gets tied up and offered as a sacrifice to a really gross entity, escapes an exploding artificial world, has a massive gunfight in underground tunnels, and lots of other exciting escapades.
I massively enjoyed Consider Phlebas but I am already familiar with the Culture and Banks’s space worlds. Consequently I was able to just sit back and enjoy the adventure. If you are new to his scifi work I would probably recommend Player of Games or Use of Weapons to start with. They are a bit easier to read and work better as complete novels. If like me, however, and you somehow skipped this book (it was his first) then definitely give it a go. It’s full of his awesome ideas and has some truly brilliant episodes. As a novel, it doesn’t quite satisfy, but as a series of Space Opera adventures it’s great.
48 by James Herbert
’48 by James Herbert is the most exciting book ever written. Probably. It’s certainly the most exciting book I have ever read (although Conan and the Road of Kings comes close.)
The story is set in 1948. Hence the title. When the Second World War was coming to an end and Hitler realised that the good guys were going to win, he implements his final solution. This involved firing a load of rockets that contained a deadly virus that pretty much wipes out the whole of mankind. Everyone except people with AB negative blood in fact, which is about 3% of the population. It’s the ultimate in spitting your dummy from the pram.
’48 begins with an American pilot who was stationed in London but is now just trying to survive. He is perfectly healthy because of his blood type. Not everyone got a full blast of the virus, so some are dying slowly. In London, most of the remaining ill-types happen to be blackshirts. British fascists who were fans of Hitler and had consequently been in the out-crowd for most of the 40s. They also happen to be slightly insane and want some healthy blood.
So we have the setting for a chase with diseased Fascists, lots of guns, all through a post-apocalyptic London. Which is pretty awesome.
As I said, this book is buttock clenchingly exciting. The first line is: ‘What the hell was that?’ There then follows an epic chase during which the main characters are established (our hero meets some friendly people), as is the setting and the premise. All while bullets fly, things catch fire, stuff explodes and buildings crumble. The first bit even resembling a moment of calm doesn’t arrive until about a third of the way in. Then it kicks off again until the end of the book where there is an epic showdown at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
48 isn’t flawless but the flaws don’t detract from what the book is trying to do. There isn’t a lot of plot but there rarely is in post-apocalypse tales, they are tales of survival. There are a few other questions such as why the blackshirts seem to have survived in such great numbers and are all diseased. Everyone else in the book has AB negative blood and is ok.
James Herbert’s ’48 isn’t deep but is just great fun. Highly enjoyable action/occasional horror fare. The characters are great and the action is relentless and well done. It should be a movie but I suspect it will give people heart attacks. I loved it and this was my second read of it.
Most. Exciting. Book. Ever.
Old Sci Fi covers are brilliant
I bought a kindle about a month ago and have been experiencing a bank-busting eBook buying frenzy. I love books and will always buy them. Especially second hand science fiction paperbacks with the sorts of cool covers people don’t seem to do anymore. I do love the convenience of having hundreds of books in my pocket though. It’s a bit like someone who still collects vinyl but has an iPod.
Most of my old collectable books are currently in a load of boxes in my parent’s attic. Where they will stay until I have a huge house and can display them with pride. But the thing is, I still want to read the books. So I went to the kindle store, all excited, and prepared to buy some classic sci fi.
For some reason I had a hankering for adventurous science fiction. None of your deep soul searching novels just cool ideas with great characters – I wanted fun and exciting premises. Space pistols and daring adventure on dangerous planets. Cities in flight or planets of death. Killer robots and meddling aliens. Visions of the future where you could smoke a pipe on a spaceship’s bridge. And so forth. In particular I wanted two authors that have always satisfied this need: Edmund Cooper and Harry Harrison. There are obviously lots of others but these two were among my favourites when I was a teen. To my surprise they weren’t available until the end of September and they both had the same publisher – Gateway.
On the 11th October I got an email from this publisher informing me that their website SF Gateway is up and running. And I’m well impressed. It has only just started but they have a lot of old scifi books and authors on there already. Golden age maestros like James Blish, E.E. Doc Smith, Jack Vance, Joe Haldeman, Cooper, Harrison and more.
Before I sound like an advert I will stop. I’m just excited that someone is finally addressing this gap in the kindle market. Set lasers to die, charge up the rockets, get the women in spandex and lets get those evil aliens.
The website is here: http://www.sfgateway.com/
A friend of mine sent me a very cool link to a marvelous site called SFSignal (http://www.sfsignal.com). It’s a pretty cool site. Almost as cool as this one. Almost.
To be fair, they clearly put in a lot of time and effort as the chart my friend (hey Tim) sent must have taken bloody ages. And god bless ’em for the effort.
What they have done is to organise a list of the top 100 Sci Fi and Fantasy books of all time and arranged them into a ‘decision chart’. There is probably a correct terminology for this sort of chart but I have never worked in HR or worn a suit or even had my own desk in an office, so who knows? (Writing and TV work rules!) What you do is answer questions and find the book you should read next. Like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book without the dice or pencils or death. Errr, ok just the ‘choose’ bit. Anyway check it out.
Here’s the link: http://www.myextralife.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/SFSignalNPR100Flowchart.jpg
Or just click below.
Choose your own book!