OK, 2 points to anyone who knows where the title quote comes from. Any Sci-Fi commando worth his waldoes should know that one. In any case, I’m right in the middle of a re-read of David Weber & Steve White’s “The Stars at War”, and it’s a rocking good read. An omnibus edition containing two great novels, “Insurrection” and “In Death Ground”, “The Stars at War” follows an ensemble cast through two Interstellar wars. Weber is a master of space combat, as those of you who’ve read the Honor Harrington series know, and Steve White knows what he’s doing as well.
Without going into a complete synopsis of the two stories, suffice it to say that they’re both about virtually unstoppable alien warmonger’s who invade human space. After suffering initial setbacks, mainly caused by self serving politicians and liberal fascists, the honor, courage & commitment of the human armed forces saves the day.
I tend to go through cycles of reading material, moving from hard sci-fi to fantasy, to military fiction, and back. “The Stars at War” falls squarely in the military sci-fi camp, although it tends to have deeper levels of meaning. But that’s the great thing about really good science fiction, even in an old fashioned space opera, with the ray guns blasting and the warp drives singing, there’s something that makes you think about what it means to be human. And I don’t mean in the biological sense. I’m talking about the Terentius, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, sense here. With all of the diversity around us, the major differences in culture, religion, thought, philosophy, we all have the same hopes and dreams. A better life for our children, freedom from pain and suffering, the chance to find love, the pursuit of happiness… And some of us have had to (or are willing to) fight for those things. Creating a universe where we can explore what would happen if we all pulled together against the real enemies out there is the truest function of science fiction. It shows us an idealized mirror where our defining characteristic is not that we’re Jews or Christian or White or African, but that we’re human, that we’re people, and it let’s us imagine what might happen if we could put aside our differences and work together. Maybe that will happen someday when and if we finally do find that we’re not alone in the universe, or maybe it will remain a pipe dream, but I love Weber & White for making me think about it.
Now there’s a proposition for you. What does a 19th century English novelist have to do with late 20th century Science Fiction? He made it possible, that’s what. Inspired by the recent PBS airing of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, I’ve been thinking a lot about how some of the classic works of literature have influenced Science Fiction. Specifically, in Hardy’s case, some of his works prompted some of the most successful anti-censorship activity in history.For those of you who’ve never read “Tess”, you should take a look. The story of a young woman coerced by her poor family into seeking out wealthy relatives, Tess is one of the most tragic characters in all of literature. Raped by her cousin, she is denied love, abused, downtrodden and finally ends as a murderess (You go, girl!). Needless to say, 19th century England was scandalized.”So what in the heck does that have to do with Science Fiction?”, you may be asking yourself. I admit it isn’t a direct connection, but Sci-Fi & Fantasy is all about exploring. Exploring your thoughts, beliefs, wishes and dreams and pretending that the normal boundaries don’t apply. That kind of thinking has allowed us to advance our “hard” sciences, expand the limits of medical possibility, and put a man on the moon. Science fiction is pure unbounded imagination, and in great measure, it owes its freedom to those who have gone before. So, if Thomas Hardy hadn’t refused to cut the objectionable bits out of “Tess”, then we may have never had television’s first inter-racial kiss (Capt. Kirk & Lt. Uhura), and Heinlein certainly wouldn’t have been able to publish “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (lots of kinky stuff there). So, I say we all owe a great debt to Mr. Hardy for refusing to bow his head in the face of harsh criticism, and you’d do well to pick up a copy of damn near anything that he ever wrote.
I read almost everything in ebook format. I’ve never been one of those people who loves books for their physical presence. To me, the story inside the book is what’s important. Ebooks let me take multiple books wherever I go and I just find the format more practical. That being said, there is a lot of controversy surrounding ebooks. For the same reasons that the RIAA is suing little old ladies for downloading music, many authors and publishers frown on the (illegal) downloading of ebooks. On a basic level, downloading media that you haven’t paid for is illegal, but here’s my take on things.
I recently posted about discovering David Gemmell’s Drenai series. I downloaded “Legend” from a P2P site. I wasn’t sure whether I would like it, I’d never read any of his work before, and I couldn’t justify the money. However, after reading Legend, I liked it so much that I actually bought the next four books in the series. So, who’s the loser here? I think it might be time for publishers to take a second look at how they distribute their work.
Baen Books, one of the great science fiction publishing houses, has already taken the next step. Through the Baen Free Library, you can freely download many of their offerings. Generally, they offer older works for free, knowing full well that if you like those, then you might buy more. This is one of the reasons why I trust Baen. I know that they’re counting on the strength of their authors, some of whom include David Drake, Eric Flint & David Weber, to sell their products. And that’s an approach that makes sense to me.
Rock on, Baen.
I haven’t been posting as often as I should be. It’s just that I’ve been on a rampage of reading lately. After being introduced to David Gemmell’s “Legend”, I pretty much went Drenai crazy. I read basically the whole saga, and man does it rock. One of the very interesting things about the Drenai series in general, is the way Gemmell treats many of his protagonists. A lot of them are older warriors, past their prime but still with plenty of drive. And as any student of kung fu movies knows, old men have the skills and experience to whip the snot out of any young whippersnappers. Still, in a few places, Gemmell almost manages to create something new in literature, a reverse bildungsroman. If a bildungsroman is a youth’s journey into manhood, then I guess a reverse bildungsroman would be a man’s journey into innocence. That’s what happens often in Gemmell’s universe, a hardened warrior sees how his actions have affected the world, and moves from cynicism back into innocence. In any case, Gemmell’s work, at least with the Drenai saga, is powerful and moving. If you aren’t reading it, you should be.