Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Ghost Brigades

As you may recall, I was completely clueless during Gibson’s Neuromancer. Since then, my only visits to the land of sci-fi have been with Scalzi. This guy writes some really cool stuff and it gives me hope that there is other good sci-fi out there that I’ll enjoy.

This is book two of a trilogy. It’s a follow-up to Old Man’s War but revolves around some new characters, so I think you can get away without reading book one, but I wouldn’t suggest it.

It’s roughly the same setting as Old Man’s War. The Colonial Defense Force is protecting the human race from all sorts of non-humans, but the non-humans are getting more organized and pose a more immediate threat than ever before, especially since they are assisted by a treasonous human. To combat this situation, the Colonial Defense Force calls in the Special Forces.

It’s a lot of military sci-fi after that, but also a fair amount of social commentary. Remember that Old Man’s War had a lot of commentary on the horrors of war. This book’s social commentary relates more to governments, their subjects, the choices that each make, and the amount of free will that the common person actually has.

It’s just great, fun sci-fi. Scalzi is a genius.

Old Man’s War

If you recall, the last time I tangled with sci-fi, it didn’t turn out that great. Well, I think I’ve made amends with the genre because this one turned out fine. Here is the route I took to the point of purchase:

  1. Read this article in the University of Chicago magazine about John Scalzi.
  2. Grabbed the feed to his blog, Whatever, in my Google Reader.
  3. Heard Dave Itzkoff talk about Scalzi on the NYT Book Review podcast.
  4. Purchased this book in paperback at Borders on Clybourn and Webster.

There was a lot of pressure on Mr. Scalzi because I was pumped about this book. His blog is fun to read and the accolades for the guy on all fronts are numerous. This is his first book and it was nominated for the ultimate award in sci-fi, the Hugo. I had very high expectations. Not to worry though, it was a trip worth taking and it exceeded my expectations considerably. It’s a great read and very manageable for someone who rarely reads sci-fi.

Here’s the plot. Earth is only one of many planets habited by humans. To protect all these humans, there is this interstellar group called the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). The main character, John Perry, joins the CDF when he turns 75. That happens to be the minimum age for joining up, but don’t worry, your body gets totally rejuvenated through some genetic mumbo jumbo. What ensues is a good amount of military sci-fi, but there is a heckuva lot more.

I just sit back in awe at Scalzi’s creativity. You can do stuff with sci-fi that you can’t do with regular fiction. Anything is fair game and it just makes for a ton of fun. For sure, it’s a lot more than hi-tech weaponry and virtually indestructible aliens. There is a lot of humor, a little romance, some physics, and a perspective on the victories and horrors of war.

Not that strangely, it’s part of a trilogy. What is the magic in a trilogy? All these sci-fi fantasy books seem to come in trilogies because I guess it beats writing a 1,000 page book. Plus, you charge pretty much the same for a 1,000 pager versus 300 pager, so you may make more money. But why doesn’t anybody do a quartet or a quintuple or something. It could be because the Dune trilogy really started to suck when Frank Herbert decided to do a second, follow-up trilogy. And look at Star Wars, that follow-up, pre-trilogy was kind of bad. I have a feeling that Scalzi will stay true to his trilogy because he just seems like the type of dude to do so.

Neuromancer

I went through a small period back in the mid-1990’s where I read a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy. I read the Dune trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and the Lord of Rings trilogy. That pretty much gave me my fix and I have not really touched it since. That is, until this week, when I grabbed Neuromancer off the shelf.

When you see lists of sci-fi/fantasy classics, all of the books mentioned in the preceding paragraph are usually included. Neuromancer is different from the others though because it was written in the early 1980s, so it is barely 20 years old. Young by comparison to the others, but advanced based on the year it was written. It envisions a world of interconnected computers, spread across the globe, referred to as the matrix. Those who have the power to master access and information on the matrix can steal, kill, and wreak all sorts of general havoc.

That’s where Case comes in. He spent his younger days jacking in to the matrix and having his way with other people’s information, and money. He made the mistake though of putting a little cash aside for retirement and his boss somehow destroyed his ability to jack in ever again, but kept him very much alive. Now he basically roams the streets of some Japanese city, doing drugs and engaging in contract jobs that may involve killing people. However, he gets a second chance to use his electronic expertise when some shady characters promise to perform an operation to restore his former abilities in return for assisting them in a certain matter.

That’s where this book loses me. It just got very complicated, very fast and I got lost. He introduced characters that I forgot about and started using terms that were never defined. I spent huge chunks of the middle of the book basically without any clue about what was going on. I had the gist of it, the pacing felt like adventurous sci-fi, and I could pick out the main characters, but it was just very confusing. My perspective did come around however, and the last quarter of the book was manageable.

If you are into sci-fi, go for it. I feel like you have to be in practice to read hardcore sci-fi like this and I was just not ready for it. I could pick out many of the ingredients. There is a huge, international conglomerate that is trying to control things with artificial intelligence. There is a leather clad, female assassin with genetically modified, retractable steel claws. And in the end, there is a frantic pursuit to find answers and save the good guys. I don’t know, I guess I’m just not smart enough for this type of book.