Big Read Discussion #1 ~ Opening Remarks by Professor Prasch

I attended the first book discussion (a second one is scheduled in January) on the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien this past Wednesday night.  Please see my previous post about the kick off of the Big Read earlier this month.  As is my wont when I attend discussions like this, I record the proceedings so I can concentrate on the lecture and discussion fully.  I used to scribble notes constantly, but besides giving me a cramp, it also prevented me from participating and enjoying the experience.  I contacted both Terri and Professor Prasch to gain their permission to include the recording and my transcription of the first third of the evening.

A bit about the transcription process:  Earlier in my life (say a couple of decades ago), I spent years as a legal secretary.  Because I typed so fast, I inherited the most prolific attorneys in whatever office I happened to be employed at.  I got to a point where I could literally type faster than most people could talk and I actually increased the speed of my transcription equipment to save time.  Those days are long gone, but I still maintain a modicum of my once magical ability to race through a tape.  This transcription is mostly verbatim, but I have taken the liberty to clean up some of the structure of the professor’s remarks.  Professors and attorneys are very articulate when they speak, so please rest assured I only glossed over the occasional ‘um’ or ‘you know’ or ‘right? ‘ and other such phrases that all of us fall into when we are thinking and talking extemporaneously.  For completeness sake, I will include the original audio files if you prefer to listen rather than peruse the transcribed content.

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Book Review: The Chaplain’s War by Torgersen (4.5 Stars)

The Chaplain’s War

by Brad Torgersen

4-4.5 out of 5 stars

Release Date: 10/7/2014

I previously read parts of this as a short story and as novella (one of which was nominated for a Hugo last year and got my enthusiastic vote).  This novel fills in the gaps in Chaplain’s Assistant Harry Barlow’s past and a few important bits of his future.

The original stories were expanded and an additional story line added to pull all of the narrative into a cohesive whole.  I related well to Harry Barlow and had no trouble re-reading parts of his story.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Chaplain’s War by Torgersen (4.5 Stars)”

Book Review: A Call to Duty by Weber and Zahn (4 Stars)

A Call to Duty

by David Weber and Timothy Zahn

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

A new series in the Honorverse, slated to be released next week.  We find ourselves back before Manticore knew it had a major wormhole, back before it had any spaceship building industry and soon after a Plague that wiped out much of its nascent population.  One of our protagonists is Travis Long, who enlists in the RMN (Royal Manticore Navy) while his supposed friends rob a neighboring jewelry store.  Travis acquires a couple of monikers during basic training that reflect upon his always by the book philosophy with respect to rules and regulations.  The political climate on Manticore has a faction of the civilian government clambering to dismantle the Navy and/or replace it with a Coast Guard like service that patrols the local system and protects merchants and miners from pirates.  The action ramps up when Manticore sends representatives to a Haven sponsored military surplus spaceship sale.  Pirates (or what we are led to believe are pirates initially) masquerading as legitimate buyers attempt a heist of their own on a much grander scale than Travis’ juvenile delinquent buddies.

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Book Review: Armor by Steakley (3 Stars)

Armor by John Steakley

2.5-3 out of 5 stars

Read in April 2009

I sympathized or empathized with Felix. I detested Jack Crow until the last part of the book. I understand some of the motivation and psychosis of Felix, but I’m scratching my head with respect to the Antwar. I must be missing the point with this plot.

Besides Old Man’s War, this is the only military science fiction I’ve read to date. I like the former, I’m ambivalent with the latter. Two more titles await me on my to-be-read list – Starship Troopers and The Forever War. Perhaps they will be an improvement.

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Card (4 stars)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

4 out of 5 stars

Read in Dec 2008

WARNING: Spoilers

I liked everything about this book, except perhaps the ending. And I can’t even say that I particularly disliked the ending; it just made my soul ache with remorse and regret – for Ender, for humanity, for the buggers.

Ender is six years old when we meet him. He is the third son of the Wiggins and a child genius. Not surprising, consider both of his older siblings are both child prodigies, but with vastly different temperaments. The Wiggins were allowed to have a third child as part of an experiment; an effort to create the best of both of the other siblings and something to could be molded into a perfect military savior.

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Book Review: Old Man’s War by Scalzi (4 stars)

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

A good story, regardless of genre, and an especially great military science fiction tale.

Our point of view is through the eyes of John Perry. We meet him on Earth, as a seventy-five year old widower living in Ohio. It’s his birthday and it’s time for him to report for duty. He (and his wife) both signed up for the Colonial Defense Force ten years ago, recruited with visions of renewed youth and minimum of two years of service. Kathy died eight years ago of a stroke while making cookies in their kitchen. John makes his farewells to friends and family and visits his wife’s grave one last time.

John and several thousand other 75-year olds are transported to a Colonial transport ship and enjoy the usual military “hurry up and wait” routine. Eventually, after seemingly endless and pointless tests, the day of truth arrives and the recruits report for their final physical improvements regimen.

Rather than a retrofit of his existing body, John receives a new improved not quite human body with many enhancements, including green photosynthetic skin, cat-like eyes, SmartBlood (nanotechnology), BrainPal (PDA and HUD with extreme Internet access all embedded in the brain – both voice and thought activated) and superhuman reflexes, strength and endurance. After training, designed mostly to convince the recruits that their old inhibitions do not apply to their new bodies, the soldiers are dropped into battle with a variety of incomprehensible, tenacious and prolific alien species. Their goal – to defend the scarce “real estate” of the human colonies and potential colony planets.

For me, the best parts of this story were the relationships. They were sparse but gripping. Perry’s memories of his wife and marriage. The familial bonding among the Old Farts and the grief of their passing. I was especially touched with the death of Maggie, who composed a heart-wrenching jisei poem as she plummeted through a planet’s atmosphere:

Do not mourn me, friends
I fall as a shooting star
Into the next life

And lastly the burgeoning relationship between Jane Sagan, occupying the body of Kathy, John’s wife, and John Perry. Her anonymous postcard sent to John inviting him to find her when he retires and start a new life with her brought tears to my eyes.

I recommend this to anyone who loves military science fiction, with a good dose of wit and sarcasm, flavored with a gentle touch of what it means to be human in an insane non-human galaxy.

Book Review: The Forever War by Haldeman (3.5 stars)

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in July 2009

If I had been born in the 50s and also been born male, I’m positive I would have loved this story. All the pain, confusion and futility of Vietnam but strung out and extrapolated over three thousand years (or about three years relatively speaking). The last fourth of the book salvaged the first three parts.

I didn’t have any trouble grasping the science, the physics or the technology. Haldeman did an excellent job conveying them without making me take a course in quantum physics or string theory.

But again, similar to The Accidental Time Machine, character development suffers, even though we spend months bored in transit. I personally didn’t care for or agree with his predictions for societal changes on Earth and elsewhere that occurred while Mandella travelled at relativistic speeds. I did agree with the morale of his story, which is similar to Ender’s Game in philosophy.

I’ve now read most of the classic (and one neo-classic) military science fiction novels. My personal favorite seems to be Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, followed closely by Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Haldeman’s Forever War follows and the distant finisher remains Armor by John Steakley.