"A reader lives 1000 lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."
- George R. R. Martin

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Forever War

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is not a book that I would have chosen on my own.  I have heard of Haldeman but never read him prior to this book, which was written just a few years after I was born.  It was given to me for my birthday, and I am so glad that it was.

The first thing I noticed was the quote on the cover stating that it "is the best science fiction war book ever written" (William Gibson). Now, I love science fiction, and I love the stories of war, so this book seemed right up my alley.  I jumped right in, expecting to be tossed into a fantastic new world and experience a new techno-war and all that extra-crispy, sci-fi fun.  What I found were several forwards and introductions giving me a little background on the author and the "where" from which this story was written. 

Joe Haldeman was in the service during the Viet Nam war.  He was stationed in Viet Nam and participated in the battles and everyday experiences that our men and women went through in that jungle on the other side of the globe.  He wrote this book a few years after returning home, and the Viet Nam experience echoes throughout the telling of The Forever War.  Joe Haldeman is a man who was sent off to war in an alien land, facing a people with unknown weapons and capabilities, only to return home to find the world completely changed while he was gone, much like his comrades-in-arms experienced.  In The Forever War, William Mandella is a man who was "drafted" into the army and sent off to an alien planet, facing an enemy with unknown weapons, capabilities, and structure, only to return home to find the world completely changed while he was away (granted this world changed due to relativistic physics, rather than simply politics, but the correlation is acute).

It isn't the physics, or the science fiction aspects of The Forever War that really drew me in, although they are extremely fascinating throughout the book, but rather the political and social changes that occur in the almost two centuries, Earth time, that this book covers.  Our protagonist, William Mandella, grew up on Earth in the years that followed Viet Nam, so that war is definitely a part of his cultural upbringing.  The year is 2007 (far into the future considering the publication date), and the Army drafts the world's best thinkers and smartest people and sends them into space to war with the Taurans.  Due to relativistic physics, as Mandella travels the world he knew disappears.

The cultural changes that are discussed throughout the story, both on Earth and within the Army itself, set the stage for Mandella as he traverses space and time.  Women and men fight right alongside each other, and are encouraged to bunk together and release their sexual urges together.  There is a throwaway line in the book that struck a chord with me, stating that women were required by law to be compliant and willing for their counterpart's sexual urges.  It doesn't mention the men, though.  As the population of Earth begins to reach dangerous levels, the governments begin to encourage homosexual relationships as the best means of population control!  The job market, and how people support themselves, go through some fascinating changes.  Currency is converted from dollars, yen, etc. to Kalories, which dictate how much food you are allowed each month.  And many, many more, each one more thought provoking and fascinating than the last.

Through Mandella's journey you can really see the plight of the Viet Nam veteran spelled out in rather blatant metaphors: he sees the most atrocious things, doesn't understand the purpose of the war he is fighting, kills and watches his friends kill, only to return to his world completely unable to comprehend it, to communicate with it, to exist in it. And through it all, he remains our hero, finding love, respect, self-definition, and understanding. 

Like all things, this book comes full circle, and reflects the human experience in really fascinating ways.  The science throughout The Forever War does not feel dated at all, even though the book is almost 40 years old, and sparks some interesting theories. 

The Forever War made me think, it made me feel (oh the feels!), it made me reflect, and it made me remember.  The story is still relevant, and probably will remain so long into the future. 

I highly recommend The Forever War whether or not you like science fiction, war stories, space, or physics.

This one will stay with me for a long, long time.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dr. Sleep

Danny Torrence is back, and the shine along with him!

Stephen King picks up the story of The Shining with the life of Danny, the boy who shines.  (If you have not read "The Shining," stop what you are doing and read it.  Right now! We'll wait).

Along with It and The Stand, The Shining is one of Stephen King's most beloved books, one of those stories that sticks with you over time.  One of the biggest questions left after the events at The Overlook Hotel is, "Whatever happened to Danny?" 

In Dr. Sleep, King returns to the world of Danny and his shine, walking the reader through the aftermath of The Overlook, and of Danny's father. 

Stephen King, more than most others, has a particular way of bringing the audience into the mind of his characters, allowing us to know them as they know themselves. His style is familiar, and some of his devices have been used before, but they are as effective as always in this sequel. 

After the Overlook Hotel's demise, Danny and his mother move to Florida with Dick Halloran for a while, who continues to help Danny manage his extraordinary abilities.  Some chilling events unfold as Danny, Wendy and Dick recover, but this section of the story is fairly brief.

We then jump ahead: Danny, it seems, has fallen into his father's footsteps and leads a life ruled by alcohol.  Wandering from town to town, and drink to drink, Danny is adrift.  The alcohol seems to dull the shine, which is just fine with him, but it dulls his life as well.  Eventually he finds himself in a small New Hampshire town, rock bottom a familiar feeling, when help arrives and brings Danny to AA.  Now the story really gets going.

We first meet Abra as a baby, who's special abilities may even outpace Danny's.  As she grows up and her abilities strengthen, and as Danny finally finds a life worth living, the odd connections between the two grow stronger.  Throughout the story we jump back and forth between the stories of Danny and Abra, and the goings on of the True Knot, an imortal (?) tribe who survive by sucking "steam" from areas where a  disaster has occurred.  They can also get steam from children with special abilities: children like Abra.

Dr. Sleep offers many chills, several thrills, and even a few tears as Danny and Abra, along with their families and friends, fight for their lives and their shine.  The story of the Overlook Hotel didn't end with The Shining after all, and Danny's story is worth reading. 

If you love Stephen King, especially "classic" Stephen King, I would highly recommend Dr. Sleep.  If you have not read much of Stephen King, then run out and read The Shining followed immediately by Dr. Sleep, It, and The Stand.  Then throw in some Carrie, Dead Zone, The Eye Of the Dragon, and Christine.  Now you can move on to his short stories, which are often better than his novels: The Long Walk, The Body, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption... 

Basically, read Stephen King. A lot.