Sunday, February 13, 2005

Light reading, sort of

I've just finished two books, both of which I heard about from blogs. One is Old Man's War by John Scalzi, which was recommended here and here. This is a science fiction military "coming-of-age" story in the tradition of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Haldeman's The Forever War, with the twist that the characters are already 75 years old when they join up. It was pretty good, but I think it suffered from the protagonist being too lucky and successful. One of the great things about Heinlein's novel is that Rico screws up along the way, and his mistakes are costly. His growth is therefore more believable and has greater moral significance because he and others pay for it. Scalzi's protagonist is too smart or too lucky. Indeed, for a while I thought that the hero's luck would turn out to have a hidden significance within the story. (Think about Teela Brown in Ringworld.) But no such, um, luck. But I enjoyed the book

The other book was Wolf Time by Lars Walker, which was recommended here. This is a book that was published by Baen Books, but is now offered by them freely on the web. In fact, there are quite a few Baen titles available in this way, and many others available for a fee. Though I prefer paper books, I'm quite happy reading a book online. (Some years ago I spent several weeks at the university in Innsbruck, and the books that I had brought with me ran out within a few days. This was distressing until I realized how much there was available over the Web. Project Gutenberg, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, and the Gaslight site provided everything I could want. I could put a solid weekend of reading, compressed, on a single floppy. What delight!)

Anyway, Wolf Time is a remarkable mulligan stew of a book, a wild combination of Lutheran theology, rural Minnesota culture, Viking history, Norse mythology and magic, campus politics, social satire, etc. I tried to describe it to a friend by saying that, if Charles Williams had grown up in Lake Wobegon, he might have written this book. Amid all this wonderful and entertaining stuff is a fairly serious meditation about keeping faith and living the truth in a world that seems to have gone off the rails, together with a rather bleak picture of the ruinous state of institutions that once served that faith and that truth.

Do I recommend it? Yes -- with the warning that my own tastes are known to be a bit peculiar. I am not sure that Wolf Time is a really good book, exactly. Yet for me, it was a stimulating entertainment and also, in an odd way, a kind of spiritual preparation for Lent. Caveat lector; but also, just possibly, tolle lege.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want a new Starship Troopers/ Forever War wherein the protagonist DOES grow by screwing up and paying a price, Forever War author Joe Haldeman, himself, said the book is Orphanage by Robert Buettner. Other reviewers say it is faster, funnier and "vastly more intense" than Scalzi's book.

11:28 PM  

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