Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Every once in a while everyone comes across a book that fundamentally changes how the reader sees the world and their place in it. For me that time came when I was 17 years old, and that book was Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Never before had I read a book as fascinating before, and never had a book asked me about my place in society and my purpose along with it.

The high action movie version that seems to be more well-known these days is nothing like the book. While much of the movie takes place through action scenes with little character development, the book takes place largely in flashbacks and in classrooms. Of course there are scenes of action, but these are few and far between.

The story is about a young man named Juan “Johnny” Rico and his training for and eventual participation in a war to protect humanity from a race of insect like creatures known as Arachnids. While this war rages, however, we see through several flash backs how the man at the beginning of the story came to be, first through images of philosophical debates presented to him in school and second through his intense training for the Mobile Infantry. The Mobile Infantry is the name of the military force of the Terran Federation, the super national government which controls Earth and her colonies in other solar systems.

The Terran Federation is a limited democracy, which means that only a select few can vote. The population is divided into two sections: Citizens and Civilians. Citizens earn the right to vote through some type of service to the state (usually a two year term in the Mobile Infantry) while civilians are ordinary people. Other than voting rights there are no real differences between citizens and civilians. Other than voting both groups enjoy the same freedoms and protections by the state. The rationale behind this divide is that only those who are willing to sacrifice their individuality for the greater whole can be properly trusted to vote in the best interests of civilization rather than for their own personal gains.

The book makes the argument that every person must come together to help make the larger world better for all. While this sounds communist in nature it surprisingly isn’t. Heinlein makes the point that all jobs, no matter how petty or unimportant they may seem are always important to the larger picture. A doctor who cures patients is just as important as the janitor who keeps areas clean and sanitary for all to enjoy.

The book also gives a good description of a future military force. All soldiers wear a type of mech-suit which increases strength, maneuverability, and the gathering of battlefield intelligence. Each soldier can do the entire workload of a squad of normal soldiers, thus increasing the capabilities of large armies. Another interesting aspect of the Mobile Infantry is that EVERYONE fights, not just the normal grunts. This includes chaplains and commanding generals. The rationale behind this is that it builds up a greater sense of brotherhood amongst the troops, fostering a higher level of trust in the chain of command.

In conclusion this book is a Sci-Fi classic, while at the same time being a philosophical novel at the same time. I believe that it can interest a whole score of readers, even if they aren’t interested in Sci-Fi or military based fiction.

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The Ender’s Game Saga and Ender’s Shadow Saga by Orson Scott Card

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia

Spoilers!!!

Why I usually only profile one book on this blog, today I am going to be ambitious and not only profile an entire series, but two. I started reading the first Ender Series book, Ender’s Game, with what can only be described as apprehension. I knew what the plot was and it seemed rather cheap to me. After two hours in, I am proud to say that I was gravely mistaken. The plot is not only very memorable, but the characters just stick out in your mind. The world Mr. Card builds through the story is also very thought provoking.

The premise of the main story in the first and most famous book Ender’s Game, is that in the future the world has been twice attacked by an alien enemy known as the Formics, better known through the derogatory term “Buggers”. The Formics are an insect race which are controlled by “Queens” much in the same way ants are. The Formic’s second attack was only just overcome by the combined force of Earth’s many nations. However, despite Earth’s victory the Formics have never been truly defeated outside the Sol Galaxy. To combat this overarching threat the nations of Earth operate a military force known as the International Fleet (IF). The IF institutes a program where extremely gifted children from around the world are collected and sent to the IF’s Battle School to be trained to be the planet’s most gifted military geniuses to lead the Fleet against the Formic threat. The Battle School is located in an orbiting space station far above the Earth. Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggen, the youngest child of an American Family. The IF takes a peculiar interest in Ender and soon Ender is on his way to the Battle School. Once there he makes many friends and enemies. The students at the Battle School are broken into 41 teams which battle each other in a null gravity room. In this null gravity room the teams act as armies in mock wars and use various tactics to beat one another. After being passed among several teams, Ender is eventually given a team of his own to command. He quickly conquers the other teams to become the battle station’s top commander. Eventually he and his top commanders are taken from the Battle School to Eros were the fight against computer controlled enemies with mock fleets of ships. Eventually Ender beats the simulated enemy and eradicates the enemy’s home planet. At this point it is revealed that the mock war wasn’t a simulation. It was a real war against the Formics that Ender won by completely destroying the Formic Homeworld. Due to the stress from the pressure put on him as well as the guilt at having committed Xenocide (the complete destruction of an entire alien race), Ender temporarily snaps. After the war, he goes of to help build humanity’s first off world colony. Once there he find the last surviving Formic Queen, through her, Ender learns that the Formics didn’t mean to ever interfere in human affairs ever again and regretted the first two wars they started. The third war was started and ended by the Humans. To help redeem himself, Ender agrees to help find the Formic Queen a new home to restart her race. This sets the stage for the rest of the Ender’s Game Saga.

The Ender’s Shadow series deals with the world Ender Leaves behind and how his fellow students from the Battle School deal with their return to Earth. Their return causes many political intrigues to be played out which often result in all out war between countries who use the Battle School students to plan ingenious military plans in an attempt for global Hegemony. Where the Ender’s Game Saga is very spiritual in nature the Ender’s Shadow Saga is much more political in nature.

Throughout both series, Card creates a world that is exceptionally similar to our own, while at the same time very different. For example, while the countries are unofficially united against the alien threat, much bickering still happens between nations. Also the technology, past the spaceships and interstellar travel doesn’t seem to be so different from our own. Tablets seem to be much more commonplace in this world than our own, however.

What really get’s me about these two series are the themes that Card manages to explore with his characters. Besides the usual war and politics of most sci-fi stories, Card also manages to explore such themes as Sibling Rivalry, Collective Guilt, Child Labor, as well as the Concept of Necessary Evil. What get to me most about these stories is how Card manages to get you genuinely love each and every character. When A character achieves joy, the reader experiences it with them, when a character feel pain, the reader feels that as well. The events in every story also keeps the reader in a constant state of wonder and an eagerness to figure out how the characters will solve the problems they will encounter.

On a special note, what I found especially interesting in this novel was the many instances that Catholicism plays a part in the stories. Many of the characters are either practicing Catholics or have a Catholic past. Now to many this may not be an issue, but I find this interesting as Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, and high in the Church at that. Now please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mormons or their faith. I am, however, almost certain that Catholicism is a major symbol in the stories, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what the symbol is. I find this to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the novels. I would love to hear any and all ideas on this as well.

Needless to say that I am very excited for the Movie verions of Ender’s Game to premier later this year (trailer shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP0cUBi4hwE) and I will post a review of it whenI finally get to see it. I suggest these novels to anyone and everyone who can read them. They have something for everyone and they will genuinly make you think.

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

 

Spoilers!

My Significant Other suggested this book to me while we were discussing the subject of “practical love” with a friend of ours. I mentioned how odd it is when in many cases people’s’ grandparents often didn’t marry for love, but because a person could give them the best chance of survivability in the real world. This is in contrast to today’s world where people can truly marry out of love rather than survivability. To simplify, let’s explore the following situation: You have two people in your life you can marry. The first candidate is rather beautiful and you’re truly in love with them. The catch is that the person is rather unskilled so while you’ll be married to the person you love they may not be able to adequately provide for you and your future children. The second choice is someone you may not be fully in love with, but they can provide for you and you’re future family. Who would you chose?

The Good Earth tells the story of a young Chinese peasant, Wang Lung and his arranged wife, a former slave from a great house named O-Lan. It goes on to describe their life together as their fortunes go up and down from destitute poverty and famine to extreme luxury. Throughout the story various aspects of Chinese Culture Pre-World War Two is described in beautiful detail.

Wang Lung is the main hero of the story and his character is a testament to an almost Ayn Randian vision of hard work and success. Throughout the story he is constantly striving to better the fortunes of himself and his family through perseverance and hard work. At some points famine and hardship severely hamper his fortunes, but again through perseverance he overcomes these hardships to become a wonderfully rich man. Despite all this at times he loses focus on his family which later comes back to hurt him.

O-Lan is his quiet wife. She is a former slave and it is mentioned how rather average she is when it comes to looks. Despite all this she is an immensely strong character who endures any hardship with barely a word. At one point in the novel she gives birth by herself and later in the day is back in the rice paddies harvesting the crop. She also is reminiscent of an Ayn Rand character in that she is the strong female helping to support the hero with little to no attention to her own needs. She was hands down my favorite character as she seemed to be one of the strongest female characters I have ever encountered in a story. She did this all with barely speaking a full sentence in the entire story!.

The story is absolutely breathtaking in its scope. The writing is beautiful. The story is written so simply, no large or complicated words are used, this fits with the story of poor uneducated peasants. The authors description of the home village of the charachters in the Anhui Province of China as well as the description of the people who inhabit it and who come into contact with the main characters show a startling realism rarely encountered in most stories.  One of my favorite aspects of the story was the authors description of the various Chinese Traditions that are performed throughout the story. Her descriptions of the traditions are simple, but while keeping the simplicity she manages to explain the purpose of the tradition without losing the gentle flow of the tradition’s place in the story. All these aspects as well as many, many others come together to create a beautiful tapestry that actually brought tears to my eyes at times.