As a part of a project for school I was required to make a timeline. I figured that it would be a good idea to make this timeline about the dates in which several of American Literature’s most famous novels were published. One thing I noticed in this project was that I never realized exactly how new some of these books still are, especially when compared with famous stories like that of Shakespeare or the Classical Epics, like the Aeneid. I mean. Huck Finn was barely written over a hundred years ago, and The Good Earth was only written in the midst of the Depression. It’s very interesting to see how far American Literature has evolved in so short a time as in 150 years.
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.
Now I know that the year is not yet at end and that there is still plenty of time for finding new even better books to read, but I felt that now would be a good time to review some of the gems I have found this year. Not all of these books have been reviewed yet, but rest assured that I shall get to them all eventually!
1.The Diamond Age : Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
-This is on the number one spot for a number of reasons. The first is that I have never read anything quite like it before or since reading it. Neal Stephenson manages to craft a startlingly wild yet beautiful future for his characters to live in. It becomes more realistic every year with the massive advancements in nanotechnology and 3-D printing that have been occurring as of late. The story presented in this masterpiece of the Cyberpunk Genre is that of a young girl named Nell, growing up in the slums of Shanghai, who comes across a computerized book. This book bonds with its owner and helps to “raise” its owner to thrive in whatever environment the owner lives in. Through this book and other events both around her and around the world she manages to become something great.
2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
-Long considered the Bible of the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is a milestone of early Science Fiction. This novel taught us how to grok in life and how hard it can be to understand new things when first experiencing them. This novel tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the only survivor of the first Human expedition to Mars. He is only a child when his parents and their fellow crewmates die and is raised by the indigenous Martians of the planet. Several years later he is “rescued” by a second expedition and comes back to Earth. Here in becomes something of a celebrity as he tries to figure out not only his fellow humans, but also strives to bring what he learned on Mars back to Earth.
3. Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen
-Picture a world far into the future where combustion engines and electricity are banned, where librarians fight duels with flintlock pistols for honor and wind trains are the main means of getting from one destination to another. If you can adequately do this than you have only a part of the picture that Sean McMullen created in this amazingly well written book about Australia more than 2000 years into the future. This book is also the first in what is known as the Great Winter Trilogy. I am only on the second book and I am constantly surprised with how well thought out the premise and execution of the story in both books are.
4. Confederacy of Dunces by John K. Toole
-Before I read this book I had never actually believed that a comedy novel was possible. What is usually labeled “Comedy” in book stores and libraries are more often memoirs of famous comedians like Chelsea Handler or Tina Faye or very old joke books. John Toole was able to accomplish what I at first thought was impossible. He was able to create a very silly story, make the characters both larger than life, yet quite believable, and to write it in a very enjoyable style. This novel tells the story of Ignatius Reilly, a good for nothing mama’s boy with a History degree of Medieval History. He only has two delights: criticizing the world around him and eating. Set in the little used (outside of vampire stories) setting of New Orleans, it gives a charming portrayal of life there in the 1950s.
5. Child 44 by Tom R. Smith
-This was one of the more chilling books I’ve ever read. It takes place in the Soviet Union during the final days of Stalin, a place that is so “utopian” that murders don’t take place. Enter MGB agent Leo Demidov. Disgraced by a jealous comrade he is banished to a small dirty city east of Moscow. Here he comes across numerous murders of children. In a nation where murders are swept under the rug by those who swear to protect the citizens only he can solve the crime. This novel is also the first in a series and is exceedingly well researched. The crimes portrayed are based on the murders committed by famous Russian serial killer, Andre Chikatilo. Extensive detail also goes into describing life under Stalin and how literally millions of people lived in fear every day.
6. LZR-1143: Infection by Bryan James
-While this is an action packed story of zombies and the terror that always accompanies them it is all somewhat comedic in tone. Mike McKnight is an action star condemned to a high security mental ward for the murder of his beloved wife. One day he wakes up from the daze of “calming” medications to find his cell unlocked and the orderlies gone. This novel is full of the normal gore we find in other zombie stories, but I found the idea of an action star in the zombie apocalypse quite interesting. It turns out that someone like that may be better equipped for it than anyone else. There are numerous instances that Mr. McKnight has to use something he learned from covering people for his roles to get out of a tight spot. The character developments as well as the description of a broken America are also quite entertaining to read.
7. Rest in Pieces by Bess Lovejoy
-I previously reviewed this book in July (the review can be read here: http://wp.me/p3mys6-2K). It is a collection of true stories as to the eventually fates of the corpses of famous people. Some of the corpses profiled are that of Einstein, Columbus, and Hunter S. Thompson. This book was good fun to read. It was entertaining and informative. At times it got kind of disgusting and hard to read, but those parts never lasted too long and in the end they were worth the read.
8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
-This book is one of the hallmarks of Civil War Literature. It is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg from the viewpoints of many of the famous generals and soldiers involved. Much like Child 44 and Rest in Pieces this book is also well researched and this fact adds to the veracity and entertainment value of the story. Many parts of the book are accompanied with maps which helps the reader top better understand the full scope of the battle.
9. War Trash by Hai Jin
-This book twists the POW-theme we are all used to from such movies and novels as the Great Escape or Bridge on the River Kwai and turns the theme on its head. War Trash portrays the experience of being a POW from the enemy’s point of view. In this case a Chinese POW during the Korean War. The book portrays camp life under the Allies as being no less tough than it was for American POWs in other wars. The main difference is that while American POWs were tortured and harassed by their captors in this story the captives are harassed by their own fellows. The prisoners are divided by their allegiance to either the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and that of the Republic of China in Taiwan. While most just want to be left alone, these two sides soon drive them to one side or the other through a mixture of fear tactics and outright torture. This book gives a very unsettling, yet poignant view of the Korean War.
10. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
This book will stick out in the mind of any reader. It the most famous written source about the Rwandan Genocide of the early 1990s. It is hard to put this book into words as it is so ambitious in its scope and so brutal in its descriptions of the mass murders that took place in the small African nation. While this book describes the violence of the event it also attempts to explain how and why such a terrible event happened in the first place.