Tag Archives: Heinlein

Starship Troopers: Book vs Movie

I’m a little late this morning, and I have no other excuse than that I’m still recovering from a busy week. I have no excuse because I didn’t write today’s post. Instead, I shamelessly begged for it from my friend and budding-writer-with-great-promise Jason Fuesting. He made the mistake of mentioning what his final paper for a class was, and I pounced. I wanted it. You see, I love the book, but have never seen the movie, and now I will never need to, because Jason’s comparison fulfills any need I might have had to do this for a blog post. Thanks, Jason, for sharing your paper, and for having taken the time and effort of doing this. 

 

starship troopersStarship Troopers starship troopers movie
Verhoeven’s film vs Heinlein’s print

Originally published by Robert Anson Heinlein in 1959, Starship Troopers has been considered by some to mark the beginning of modern Military Sci-fi.  Just shy of forty years later, director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation hit the screens in late autumn of 1997 and with mixed reception.  Of the major critics, Roger Ebert said “Its action, characters and values are pitched at 11-year-old science-fiction fans” and pointed out that the film was “one-dimensional.” (Ebert)  Less formally, the film received a 63% overall rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I saw the film the day of release and, despite the differences between it and the book, I remember enjoying the film greatly at the time.  However, more than twenty years have passed since I have seen the film or read the book, so to provide a fair comparison I obtained copies of both formats and revisited them.

Taken in a vacuum, the film itself is passable for its time.   Despite being released in November, the film clearly fits the summer action film niche and summer action films are not frequently known for in-depth intellectual dialog or for exceptional acting.  Verhoeven’s work does not disappoint that expectation in the least.   What effort is evident in the film remains focused primarily on either the fight scenes, particularly in special effects and explosions, or in finding ways to justify having the actresses expose some amount of skin in some form or fashion as frequently as possible.  As such, Verhoeven’s film comes off not too dissimilarly from what one might expect of a Michael Bay film, except less subtle in every way.

Cinematography, editing, and score were not exceptional, but quite passable.  The film remained fast paced and for multiple scenes camera placement complimented the special effects and other elements quite well.   The effects themselves were as I remembered, great for the time period.  As far as the individual components of the film in terms of film making are concerned, outside of the acting, the film is quite well done.  As for the acting, what I remembered as campy and otherwise forgettable as a teen turned out to be far worse than I remembered.

When one steps back out of the vacuum, the film ultimately falls apart entirely on writing.  Many would likely ponder how a summer action movie that has managed to succeed on the other points could ultimately be deemed a failure based solely off a feature movies of its kind almost universally ignore.  For Heinlein fans, the film is unequivocally a thumb in the eye.  From that perspective, the director took the author’s creation, fed just enough of it through a sausage grinder to get the flavor out, mixed in his own recipe of inanity, and laid out the resulting abomination in precisely the exact opposite direction.  For those not particularly attached to Heinlein’s novel but still fans of decent writing, a multitude of plot holes and grave inconsistency errors abound, all of which were introduced by the writers meddling in Heinlein’s construct like children run amok.

Amok is sadly an understatement.  The film and the book are two wholly different entities. A Joking comment along the lines of the script used by Verhoeven being the result of the soulless Hollywood machine itself parodied in Robert Altman’s 1992 film “The Player” might be closer to the truth.  Simply put, Verhoeven’s script shares names with the book.

In the film, the main character, Johnnie Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) eagerly joins the military with his friend Carl (played by Neil Patrick Harris,) Dizzy (Dina Meyer,) and Carmen (Denise Richards.)  Before shipping out, the audience sees that there is definite love conflict where Rico wants Carmen, but she’s more interested in a guy she just happened to meet the night before at their last football game, the opposing team’s quarterback.  Said guy also just so happens to enlist at the same time and be assigned orders to the same pilot school Carmen is.   Similarly, Dizzy wants Rico and is insanely jealous of Carmen.  Post-enlistment we find that Dizzy transferred to be in Rico’s training unit.  Rico eventually cracks under pressure and calls his parents to tell them he’s resigning.  While on the phone, an asteroid sent by the bugs hits Buenos Aires, killing his family and millions of others.  Rico changes his mind about resigning, finishes his training, and they go to war.  The film winds onward, detailing Dizzy’s attempts to get Rico to pay attention to her, Carmen sending Rico a ‘Dear John’ letter as she’s decided she liked the other guy better, all interspersed between multiple combat scenes.  Dizzy and Rico end up in a unit lead by his former high school teacher.  By the end of it Dizzy and Carmen’s love interest is dead, but the surviving characters are miraculously responsible for finding the bug’s weakest link, the bugs that control the hive mind.  The film ends with the surviving characters gleefully telling the audience to “Enlist now!”

Differences abound.  In the film, Carl is a nerdy kid with psychic tendencies who enlists into the intelligence branch and goes on to be instrumental in winning the war.  In the book, Carl is somewhat instrumental in dragging the main character into the service, but he is an electronics wiz who gets placed in the Terran Research and Development division, stationed on Pluto and ultimately dies early on in the war when the bugs destroy the station he was on.   Similarly, the love triangle in the movie never happened, nor was the main character, Rico, featured in any sort of sports game, major school event, or anything similar.  Carmen was a classmate he’d befriended and had a crush on, nothing more.  Dizzy as portrayed in the film did not exist, the print version was a guy Rico met in boot camp.  His film rival, the quarterback, never existed.  He never meets his high school teacher again, though they do swap letters.  Similarly, his drill instructor does not purposefully bust himself down to private in the book in order to go back to the front.  In the film, his father is very anti-war, and extremely anti-military.  In the book, his father ends up joining the military after Rico’s mother is killed by the asteroid while visiting Buenos Aires.  A little more than half way through the book, Rico has a chance encounter with his father and there’s a heart-to-heart moment where you find out exactly why his father was angry in the book.

When I saw the movie the first time, I had a friend of mine who was a military buff.  He had a number of questions about the film, as the director’s vision for how the Terrans fought made no sense to him.  My friend asked, “Why is it you never see tanks in the movie?  Why did they use air support only once?    Why were they using World War I style mass infantry charges and dumping huge amounts of ammunition at the enemy instead of anything resembling real tactics?”   Even as an open minded person, the director’s apparent ignorance of basic military concepts broke his suspension of disbelief.  He could not understand why the mobile infantry, essentially a bunch of airship dropped light infantry, were sent in alone with little better than flak jackets and machineguns.  To him, it was nonsensical.  I pointed out to him that in the book, the mobile infantry did not use tank support at all because they were the tanks.  The MI used powered armor which allowed them far more mobility and lethality than a modern tank.  Such oversights and alterations by Verhoeven are common.  The film continually digs itself deeper in a hole by inserting content and ideas the author never discussed or omitting important points, ideas, and events that were part of the book to the point that even other fandoms can’t ignore it, even history buffs.

Early on, the film’s writers change a mention of Carthage into a reference to Hiroshima despite the change completely invalidating the point being made, much less completely missing the original message in the book.  The differences are legion and an exhaustive review of every change would be further belaboring a point already amply clear.  The differences in the writing, however, do add up to the overall theme of the movie, which completely corrupts the theme of the book.

In the early scenes, Heinlein portrayed Rico’s enlistment as a near thing.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to do it as he’d basically played along following Carl’s lead and decides that he isn’t going to do it when his father bribes him with a vacation trip to mars.  He ends up caught between Carmen and Carl when they drag him to enlist and he goes along with it.  In the movie, the same scenes play out as if no thought was given and that it was a wholly joyful occasion.

Thematically, the film plays very hard on the idea that the Terran government was right-wing, and that right-wing entities are all fascist, despite little or no evidence existing in the book to make either assertion.   Verhoeven goes the extra mile to paint anything and everything dealing with the Terran government as fascist, from the uniforms all being based off Nazi army and Gestapo uniforms to inhumane and ultimately insane treatment of anything and anyone who gets in the way of said government.

The film plays off the disastrous initial assault on Klendathu as a result of corruption and war profiteering, while in the book the character is never quite sure what happened beyond finding out that the initial planning was far too complicated and depended on far too many things going exactly correct.  Murphy did not disappoint.  Combined with inaccurate intelligence on the bugs, disaster was assured.   As a simple soldier at the time, there’d be no way for him to actually know what really happened.

Ultimately, the book’s message is one that stresses responsibility, personal, to one’s family, and to one’s nation.   Heinlein repeatedly highlights how military service is not easy, that life is a lot harder than we think it is when we’re young, how war is not the cool thing most children believe.  Verhoeven steadfastly ignores every bit of that and takes every point Heinlein made and twisting it to its opposite: war is great, service is so easy any idiot can do it, the military is filled with unthinking robotic idiots and evil right-wing fascists, and the only people who are held responsible are the ones who get caught without an excuse.   Instead of a story that is more or less a post-hoc biography of a soldier, complete with his regrets, Verhoeven’s adaptation is little more than modern actors in remade Nazi uniforms acting out nonsense between scenes further adapted from Nazi propaganda films.  Verhoeven is so over-the-top in his use of Nazi imagery and defacing the concept of patriotism that his attempted smear against the right-wing gets lost in the noise.

The film is offensive on multiple levels.  First, as a veteran, the book is easily realistic science-fiction that carries multiple very pertinent messages and warnings, especially in today’s society.  Many of these were messages I needed to hear when I was younger, but I had neither the maturity nor the experience to truly understand at the time.  Second, as an author, I am utterly horrified at the wholesale gutting the film makers and their writers gleefully engaged in and the complete mockery of their creation.  The idea that one of my prospective works could receive similar treatment sickens me.  Third, as a Conservative leaning libertarian, Verhoeven’s film lampoons ideas central to the survival of any state, left leaning or right, and does so in such a poor fashion that it fails at being even amateur-level propaganda.  Admittedly, hyperbole is a valid tool; however, when using hyperbole one must ensure both that one’s point is valid and that the use of hyperbole does not destroy your message.  Verhoeven fails on both accounts.

Verhoeven’s defense of his film is simple and forthright, his film is satire and his message, “war makes fascists of us all” (Verhoeven).  Essentially his stance is, as it has been on other films of his, anyone who dislikes the film clearly doesn’t understand it.  At first blush, a generous analyst might deem this defense plausible, but the director’s defense is rather inadequate.  The man admits in another interview, “I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring” (Smith).  How can one satirize something they never bothered to completely experience much less understand?  That is how you get nonsense like Verhoeven’s perfect Aryan Johnny Rico from Heinlein’s Juan Rico, revealed near the end to be a Filipino.  Surely the writers knew, but did the director?

Ultimately, Verhoeven takes a message needed badly by so many today, with their safe spaces and trigger warnings, and turns it into the film equivalent of those same children’s tantrums, a film so poorly written that only Mystery Science Theater 3000 could find use for it.  A better director would have used Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War,” an excellent book in its own right.  Haldeman makes all the points this film bobbled in “Forever War,” but using it would have meant going without all the Nazi imagery that Verhoeven is evidently fond of and not butchering an outstanding work in the process.  Verhoeven’s film is surely satire, but I do not think he realizes the joke is on his side.  It is a sad commentary on our society, where intellectual laziness and bigotry are shielded behind self-aggrandizement and a lackluster defense of “It’s a joke.”

 

 

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. “Starship Troopers Movie Review (1997).” All Content. Ebert Digital LLC, 1997.

Web. 3 Dec. 2015

Verhoeven, Paul. Audio Commentary.  “Starship Troopers” Dir. Verhoeven. Buena Vista

International, 2007.  (DVD).

Smith, Adam. “Triple Dutch.” Empire. Empire Magazine, 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

<http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/paul-verhoeven/&gt;.

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Gold-Plated Misogynist

(I am reblogging this from Cedar’s blog this morning. First, I agree with everything she says. Second, I will admit that my mind is not on blogging today. In just a few hours, my son will be home for the first time in more than a year and, well, that takes precedence over everything. I will be back next week and I’ll be checking comments today. In the meantime, enjoy Cedar’s post.)

That’s what she said. It was in a comment thread online, after a friend of mine had shared a Robert A Heinlein quote. I looked at it, shook my head, and wondered when the man who was accused of being too pro-women in the era he wrote in, had become a woman-hater. It’s not true of course, but people will just say things with nothing to back them up, and unless you question them, observers have no way of knowing they are flat-out lying.

“Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

RAH wrote women who were strong, competent, and happy being women. I have admired Star from Glory Road for her fierceness and dedication to her duty. I put to you Hazel Stone, who is no man’s – nor woman’s! – weakling. Wyoming Knott, in Moon is a Harsh Mistress for goodness sakes. How can you read Heinlein’s work and then dismiss these women as another person in that thread did as ‘oversexed secretaries’ unless you are deliberately being obtuse and lying?

When I asked that question in a group of people who actually enjoy Heinlein’s work, I was reminded to go look at Spider Robinson’s essay on Heinlein. It had been a while since I’d read it, and even in 1980 when it was written, the accusations were being thrown about his work.

(2) “Heinlein is a male chauvinist.” This is the second most common charge these days. That’s right, Heinlein populates his books with dumb, weak, incompetent women. Like Sister Maggie in “If This Goes On—”; Dr. Mary Lou Martin in “Let There Be Light”; Mary Sperling in Methuselah’s Children; Grace Cormet in “—We Also Walk Dogs”; Longcourt Phyllis in Beyond This Horizon; Cynthia Craig in “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag”; Karen in “Gulf”; Gloria McNye in “Delilah and the Space-Rigger”; Allucquere in The Puppet Masters; Hazel and Edith Stone inThe Rolling Stones; Betty in The Star Beast; all the women in Tunnel in the Sky; Penny in Double Star; Pee Wee and the Mother Thing in Have Space Suit—Will Travel; Jill Boardman, Becky Vesant, Patty Paiwonski, Anne, Miriam and Dorcas in Stranger in a Strange Land; Star, the Empress of Twenty Universes, in Glory Road; Wyoh, Mimi, Sidris and Gospazha Michelle Holmes in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; Eunice and Joan Eunice in I Will Fear No Evil; Ishtar, Tamara, Minerva, Hamadryad, Dora, Helen Mayberry, Llita, Laz, Lor and Maureen Smith in Time Enough For Love; and Dejah Thoris, Hilda Corners, Gay Deceiver and Elizabeth Long in “The Number of the Beast—.[1]

 

Brainless cupcakes all, eh? (Virtually every one of them is a world-class expert in at least one demanding and competitive field; the exceptions plainly will be as soon as they grow up. Madame Curie would have enjoyed chatting with any one of them.) Helpless housewives! (Any one of them could take Wonder Woman three falls out of three, and polish off Jirel of Joiry for dessert.)

 

I think one could perhaps make an excellent case for Heinlein as a female chauvinist. He has repeatedly insisted that women average smarter, more practical and more courageous than men. He consistently underscores their biological and emotional superiority. He married a woman he proudly described to me as “smarter, better educated and more sensible than I am.” In his latest book, Expanded Universe—the immediate occasion for this article—he suggests without the slightest visible trace of irony that the franchise be taken away from men and given exclusively to women. He consistently created strong, intelligent, capable, independent, sexually aggressive women characters for a quarter of a century before it was made a requirement, right down to his supporting casts.

 

Clearly we are still in the area of delusions which can be cured simply by reading Heinlein while awake.

I am particularly fond of that last line. Clearly those who are still  flinging mud have slipped dreamlessly into a delusion so deep they might never be able to get back out again. When the woman who had first made the titular accusation was questioned by multiple voices in startlement, she finally admitted that she knew it to be so, because she had read it in Asimov’s biography. Wait a minute, was my reply, you mean that man that Eric Leif Davin in his recent book Partners in Wonder wrote this about? ” Isaac Asimov is on record for stating that male fans didn’t want females invading their space.  According to the letter columns of the time, it seems that the only fan who held that opinion was… Isaac Asimov.  A number of males fans welcomed their female counterparts.  As did the editors, something Davin goes to great lengths to document.” (You can read more on the women that other women ignore here at Keith West’s blog) So this woman has taken a known misogynist’s claim that another man is a misogynist without questioning and swallowed it whole.

This, boys and girls, is why we do our research and do not take a single point of data as truth, just because it fits what we want to see. The final point I will address is one brought up in the thread, albeit with a misspelled name, so I am not quoting it. Heinlein wrote of Gillian from Stranger in a Strange Land that she was a nurse, and made a hobby of men. I’m not sure if the objection was to ‘nurse’ which was a solidly female profession in the time Heinlein was alive and writing, and a very respected one, as well. I suspect the objection was the making a hobby of men. Frankly, my dear, if you have not yet met a woman whose hobby is men, then your life has been a very sheltered and innocent one. Pick up any celebrity rag in the supermarket checkout line and you can look into the airbrushed eyes of a half-dozen of them. Is this misogyny on my part? No. Like Heinlein, I am very interested in people. People are not always nice, and perfect, and noble. Heinlein’s trenchant observations of human nature are a big part of why I enjoy reading his work so much. His characters are real, vivid, fully formed… which means that they are not always conformable to the ideals. Just like real people.

Heinlein had, as is evident from his work, a very high regard for women. But he did not perch them on so high a pedestal as to not see that some women are not perfect. Just like the woman who threw out the accusation against him of being a gold-plated misogynist isn’t perfect. Blinded by her ideals, she seeks to topple a man who helped write some of her freedoms into existence. But he’s a mere old white man, and conveniently, dead, so he cannot defend himself. So I will take up a little of that defense in honor of a man I never met, and further, his beloved wife who by all accounts was a wonderful woman who doesn’t deserve to be backhanded along with her husband.

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Walking the Plank

Today, I am a pirate, Arrr! where’s my cutlass?

You may be laughing (which was my intent), but I actually feel pretty badly about it. I accidentally bought two pirated books. I wasn’t on a pirate site, I was on Amazon. I saw two Heinlein titles on sale, and I pounced on them as I’m trying to gather all of them in ebook as well as paper. I’ve bought quite a few from Baen, including the Expanded Universe (which, sadly, I’ve learned is no longer available through Baen) but these two I didn’t have yet.

Fast forward a few days, I was writing up my weekly review, and griping about all the horrible typos in the Heinleins, and how I ought to have waited and seen if they were available from Baen. I went over to Amazon to grab links so people could avoid them (the covers are distinctive) and I discovered they weren’t there any longer. Digging around in my order history, I found them, and that’s when I realized I had bought counterfeit Heinleins.

heinlein counterfeits

There are a couple of clues, here. I didn’t gig to the covers at first, because often re-issues of old books get absolutely dreadful covers. These are at least paying homage to the science fiction content. When a book is re-issued, the publisher relies simply on the author’s reputation to make sales. And I am sure these two made sales. They made $5 just off me. The other clue is the sold by: Amazon Digital Services. This is the way Amazon sorts out self-published work, and had I looked for this before hitting buy, I would have known. But Alas, this buyer didn’t beware, and one-clicked her way to reading happiness, and now she feels guilty.

As my First Reader and I were talking about it in the wake of my discovery, he pointed out that they had been taken down. But what, he asked, would happen to the monies the books made? I have no idea. Best I can figure, Amazon keeps it. I’m morally certain the pirate has their account shut down, frozen, and until/unless they prove they own the properties (books) they were selling, they don’t get access. I know this because it happened to an author I know (who did own the books, and was able to prove it, but it took a while). Now, the pirate isn’t going to be able to prove anything, they were stealing. So what then? I somehow don’t think I’ll be getting a refund. Nor do I think Amazon will track the rightful owners down (Baen owns Farnham’s Freehold right now, I believe) and disburse the money to them.

Most of the pirate sites I have encountered, in the course of keeping track of my titles and sending DCMA takedown notices, seem to be located in Russia, or at least that’s where their IPs are. I’m sure there are other countries where it would be impractical for IP rights to be enforced. With this seller on Amazon, who knows? I don’t think it was a terribly intelligent way to make money, as this is Amazon, and they do actually pay attention to copyright, unlike the more notorious pirate sites. I sometimes wonder if the rise of subscription book services, like Kindle Unlimited and Oyster, will reduce piracy sites. I know that my return rate on Amazon dropped to almost nothing when I put my short works (and currently, two novels) in the KU. On the other hand, by not having the second in a series in KU, I recently saw a return on that title, which would be someone liking the first, and then reading the second for free… sigh. Some people.

As for me, I’ve been burnt and will be a more cautious book shopper in the future. Next time I see a good deal on a popular author’s book, I’m going to scroll down a bit and see the listed publisher. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this one, but it does make me wonder if a more clever counterfeiter is out there, and what they might be up to. I know an author named Rachel Ann Nunes fell victim to a clever one, and had a very difficult time prosecuting the case against her plagiarist. Another scandal blew up way back in 2013 (feels weird to say that) around so-called authors who were taking advantage of fanfiction sites.

Sad Puppies 3

I’m including this here, but I strongly encourage you to consider not only going over to Brad Torgerson’s blog and reading the whole thing, but also to vote for the Hugos. We’ll be talking about this more here at Mad Genius Club in the upcoming months, as if you don’t remember from last year… However, last year the Sad Puppies campaign was responsible for the highest voter participation in the Hugos, ever. For an analysis of what happened last year, look at Larry Correia’s blog, here.

Keep in mind something, because no matter how much you hear it, this isn’t about politics. This is about making the Hugo more relevant to the greater fandom, as Brad discusses below, and it’s about keeping the Hugo great. It would be truly sad to lose the award of once-greatness into the morass of thinly-disguised revenge porn and poorly written (but socially relevant! To… someone, I’m assuming at least the author, although then again, marketing being what it is…) books that have turned the Hugo award on the cover from must-buy to ew, putting this down now. So let’s work on finding some really great books to nominate, and gathering interested voters who care. I’m an example of someone who didn’t vote for years, and last year, I finally did it. I’ll do it again this year. They say if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. So I pay my money, and I talk about the awards, because a shocking number of people just don’t know about them.

To that end, SAD PUPPIES has basic objectives:

1) Get works and authors onto the Hugo ballot who might not otherwise be there; regardless of political persuasion. Think we’re just a crazy minority of right-wingers out to destroy science fiction? You’d be wrong. For instance, we’d love to see Eric Flint on the Hugo Best Novel short list. Eric is not only a popular author who does the genre credit with his work, he’s a card-carrying Trotskyite. A man who (unlike most slacktivist internet liberals these days) was willing to put his ass on the line for what he believed — back when identifying as a “red” was physically dangerous business in this country.

2) Encourage people who are SF/F consumers (but not “fandom” according to Worldcon) to participate in the nomination and selection of works. To include gamer fans, tie-in fans, movie and comic fans, and everyone else who might want to have a say in deciding who gets selected for “science fiction’s most prestigious award.” But maybe they’ve not gotten the word? Maybe they’ve just been having fun, and the Hugos have simply sailed beneath their notice year after year? “Fandom” seems to think this is a feature of the Hugos: the fewer who vote, the “better” they are. I say it’s a flaw. Bring on the BIG fans. The ones who keep the SF/F pump primed with dollars and enthusiasm every year! SF/F survives and thrives because they put their money where their excitement is. So SAD PUPPIES tries to encourage them to also put their money (and their votes) where the Hugos are.

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Why I’m a Human Waver

by Amanda S. Green

Before I get started, let me give you a quick update. We’ve been in negotiations with a certain kilt-wearing raccoon for the release of Kate, but those negotiations aren’t going very far. He keeps wanting more pie and a certain evil penguin keeps hijacking the pie truck. Anyway, we are confident Kate will be back for her regular Thursday slot. But, in the meantime, I’m filling in for her today.

For those of you who might have missed Sarah’s wonderful series of articles on bringing back that sense of wonder we used to find in science fiction and fantasy, I recommend you read Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, What is Human Wave Science Fiction and You Got To Move It Move It. Also check out Patrick Richardson’s The New Human Wave in Science Fiction.

Like Sarah and all those who have commented on her posts, I miss those days of derring-do in science fiction and I’ve been thinking about why I first started reading science fiction and why, after going away from it for awhile, I returned to it.

I grew up in a house where books were valued friends. I was one of the lucky ones where my parents were voracious readers and they began reading to me very early. When I was old enough, we read together. They encouraged me to read fiction and non-fiction, no book in the house was off-limits. In a time before video games, books were my escape.

When I was an early teen, maybe even a tween, I was spending a week or two at my grandmother’s house in small town Oklahoma. It wasn’t the first time. Every summer I spent at least a week there and another week in Tulsa with my other grandmother. But that summer was different. I’d read all the books in Grandma’s house–all two dozen or so of them. My grandmother just wasn’t a reader. The books that were there were either some left by my dad when he moved out years and years before or by my Uncle John.

Uncle John’s books introduced me to Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. They were good books but short and it didn’t take long for me to read them. So, one day, I did what most any kid who is bored will do–I started prowling the dark corners of the house to see if I could find anything of interest.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a HUGE closet filled almost floor to ceiling with not only books and magazines but also records. I was in heaven. The only problem was that there was nothing to play the records on.

I spent hours going through the books and magazines. There was such a wide assortment of them to choose from. But one thing–well, several actually–that caught my eye. There were a number of If: Worlds of Science Fiction magazines. The covers and story titles intrigued me. I gathered them up and went outside to sit under one of the huge trees to read.

One of the very first stories I read was Jungle in the Sky by Milton Lesser. I’d never heard of either the story or the author before, but there was something about the cover that called to me. I didn’t know then that the magazine had been published in 1952. That part of the cover had been torn away. All I knew was it was something new I hadn’t read at least twice.

The story, like so many science fiction stories, could just as easily have been set in Africa. It was basically a safari set in space, but with a twist. There were aliens, sort of like parasites, that were hunting humans just as humans were hunting other aliens for their expositions on Earth. When our heroes are captured and “infested”, they have to not only find a way to defeat an enemy that is now part of them, but also find a way off the planet and back home to warn the rest of humanity about this threat.

I came across the story again a few months ago. It’s probably been thirty years since I last read it. My initial response on reading it this time was to shake my head when Lesser described the ship’s captain–our heroine–wearing hot pants and a cape while the rest of the crew is in overalls, etc. But then I realized I was looking at the story through today’s so-called sensibilities. This wasn’t a military ship. So the captain could wear whatever she wanted, as long as the ship’s owners didn’t mind. Also, this fit what was being written in the pulps back then. So, I put away the judgmental part of me and just read the story again, wondering if I’d like it as much as I did back then.

I can’t say I did, not completely. But it still made me smile at the right place and cringe when I was supposed to. I still found myself imagining that I was one of those crew members having to fight to survive. Yes, there were structural issues with the story and the science really doesn’t work. But you know what? That really doesn’t matter. It is a good story and I felt good at the end, even though some of the good guys died and some of the bad guys didn’t get the comeuppance I wanted them to.

It didn’t take me long to finish Jungle. So I started looking for more like it. Guess what I found. The first two installments of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was hooked. Oh boy was I hooked. And I was ticked because the last installment wasn’t there. Worse, stuck as I was in Ardmore without a car–my grandmother didn’t drive–and without a bookstore in walking distance–I had to wait until I got home and could con,er convince, my parents to take me to a store to buy the book.

Those two started my love affair with science fiction. SF allowed my imagination to fly. It took me to worlds where I knew I’d never be able to go but I could hope my children or grandchildren could. Even those books that didn’t have a happily ever after had that sense of hope to them. If only the survivor could hold out. If only the rescue team got there in time. There was a respect for humanity and for the human spirit I could identify with.

It’s that respect I have found lacking in so many of the “modern” science fiction novels and short stories. Well, that and the very unsubtle attempt by the author to beat me over the head with their political or social beliefs. It has seemed like the need to “teach” has become more important than the desire to “entertain”. Sorry, but when I read for pleasure, it isn’t so someone can pound a message into my head.

That has seemed especially true when it comes to most dystopian sf. (Well, to be honest, the utopian sf as well. But I have always tended to avoid those stories because, frankly, they bore me.) Governments are bad. Corporations are bad. Your neighbor is bad. Even your companions will sell you out at the drop of a hat and you can’t hold onto your beliefs if your life depended on it. Not only are these stories depressing but they usually wind up flying across the room before I finish the first quarter of the book. Why? Because the characters are unbelievable. Not everyone is a caricature. Just because you are a white, blond male doesn’t make you a villain. You aren’t automatically a victim because your skin is a certain color or you are a certain sex. Give me a break.

Give me Heinlein any day of the week. Do I like every one of his books? No. But most of them never fail to send my imagination soaring. Sarah’s Darkship Thieves does the same thing. Athena comes from a horrible world, but it is still a world where there is hope held by some of its inhabitants for a better world. It’s also a fun romp. Terry Pratchett is the same in fantasy as is Dave.  l have yet to find anything by Dave I haven’t liked. The reason why is simple. Dave and Sarah, like PTerry, RAH and so many others, are storytellers. They focus on story and character, putting the “message” in subtly instead of beating us over the head with it.

So, sign me up for the Human Waver movement. I’m thrilled with the opening of the publishing market to small presses and self-published authors for a number of reasons, including the fact that we will be getting more books that fit the Human Wave model. Even better, this “movement” can be applied to every genre. So who else is with me?

Mirrored at The Naked Truth and here.

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