Tag Archives: science fiction

Book Review: Starship Troopers

Book Name: Starship Troopers
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
First Published: 1959
Winner of Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960

Robert A Heinlein started his career as a writer by publishing short stories in Astounding Science Fiction, which was edited by John Campbell. He went on to write many more short stories and novelettes for Astounding Science Fiction, many of which later were republished as short novels. Heinlein’s first novel that was published as a book was Rocket Ship Galileo. It had been rejected at first because the notion of going to the moon was considered to be too outlandish, but Heinlein soon found a new publisher, Scribner’s, that began to publish a Heinlein “juvenile” novel once a year at Christmas. Eight of these first edition young adult novels were illustrated by Clifford Geary in a distinctive white-on-black style. The Heinlein Juveniles featured a mixture of adolescent and adult themes, the characters experiencing the sorts of personal issues that young adults commonly find themselves in, combined with fantastic futuristic machinery and complex ideas. Heinlein was of the opinion that young readers were much more sophisticated and able to handle more complex themes than people of the times realized and his writing reflected this.

Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel was Starship Troopers. It is said that this novel was his personal reaction to the calls for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to stop nuclear testing in 1958. The novel met with great success and won the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is still in print to this day.

Starship Troopers is a coming-of-age story about citizenship, duty, and the role of the military in society and is set during an unspecified time of the near future when humans have developed interstellar travel. The book portrays a society in which full citizenship, in order to vote or to hold public office, is earned by the willingness to place society’s interests before one’s own and in participation of government service. In the case of the young hero, this was military service. The novel is seen through the eyes of young Juan “Johnnie” Rico who narrates the story through a series of flashbacks. Johnnie remembers his enlistment and training in the Mobile Infantry and his part in the interstellar war with the Arachnids (the bugs) of Klendathu. Through combat and training, Johnnie begins as a lowly private, but eventually becomes an officer and decides that being a career soldier is his life’s path. Life in the military shapes him into the man he becomes.

Rico, through a series of conversations with Ret. Lt. Colonel Jean V. Dubois, his instructor of History and Moral Philosophy during his high school years, and Fleet Sergeant Ho, a recruiter for the Armed Forces of the Terran Federation, the political and military ideas of the novel are presented. This is the meat of the novel, the concepts of how this particular society sees itself and their version of manifest destiny. The ideas are robust, but controversial.

One of the main virtues of science fiction is to depict other ways that society and culture might organize and function, giving us the reader new sparks of ideas of how society might otherwise function. I am not certain if all the political ideas that this novel portrays would completely work, but it does give one plenty of room for contemplation. Even now, 50 years after its published date, Starship Troopers inspires heated debate about its core concepts. Somehow, I believe that Heinlein would have been pleased to know this.

While the development of powered armor is Starship Troopers most famous legacy, the novel’s influence into the concepts of contemporary warfare are myriad. The novel is on the official reading list of the US Army, US Navy and the US Marine Corp, the only science fiction novel to have that distinction. The all volunteer, high-tech strike force military of Heinlein’s book, a futuristic concept at that time since the armed forces of Heinlein’s day were filled by conscription forces serving a two year hitch, is now similar in style of our own modern day volunteer armed forces. I know of more than one young man that told me that he volunteered for service in the infantry based on reading this novel. The story is powerful and to some minds it might be disturbing.

Of all the authors that I read growing up, Robert A. Heinlein was the most influential on me, both as a writer and as a citizen. The ideas of libertarianism, of self-reliance, and of personal responsibility all came from reading the myriad of novels and short stories that this author wrote. His dead-on prediction of many scientific gadgets that we take for granted today, such as flat screen television, cell phones, and other everyday items was astounding. There is a saying among writers that “Heinlein was here first.” For good reason. His stories have shaped the genre of science fiction in ways that are incalculable. If you are to become familiar with science fiction in general, Robert A. Heinlein should be on your reading list.

List of Robert A. Heinlein’s Juvenile Novels:

    Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947
    Space Cadet, 1948
    Red Planet, 1949
    Between Planets, 1951
    The Rolling Stones, 1952
    Farmer in the Sky, 1953
    Starman Jones, 1953
    The Star Beast, 1954
    Tunnel in the Sky, 1955
    Double Star, 1956 — Hugo Award, 1956
    Time for the Stars, 1956
    Citizen of the Galaxy, 1957
    Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958 — Hugo Award nominee, 1959
    Starship Troopers, 1959 — Hugo Award, 1960




starship troopers book coverStarship Troopers can be found at your local library or any bookstore. It is not in the public domain, but often times you can find a used copy at a very reasonable price.

Book Review: Dune

Book Name: Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
First Published: 1965

Frank Herbert began researching and writing Dune in 1959. The idea for the novel originated from a magazine article he was writing on sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon. He became involved in the ecological information about the dunes and how these sand structures influenced the animals and the town of people nearby and he ended up with far more raw material than was needed for an article. Instead of finishing and submitting the magazine article, the data and idea of the shifting sand ecologically became the seed for his novel Dune. It was the first ecological science fiction novel, embracing a plethora of sweeping, inter-related themes and multiple character viewpoints, a style of writing that ran through all Herbert’s novels

I will attempt to summarize the plot of Dune, but it is such a complex story that it is impossible to touch on all the concepts, the rich characters and the intrigue of this story.

Emperor Shaddam, head of House Corrino, has come to fear House Atreides due to the growing popularity of Duke Leto Atreides within the ruling Houses of the universe. Not wishing to do an overt attack since it would lead to a civil war, never the less, Shaddam decides to destroy House Atreides. He employs House Harkonnen and its Baron Vladimir who has been feuding with Atreides for centuries to trap and destroy his target. In order to remove Atreides from their home planet of Caladan where his royal navy protects him, Shaddam offers Leto Atreides control of the lucrative planet Arrakis, known as “Dune” for the vast desert it contains and for the “spice”, a prized drug that facilitates space travel, extended life and other benefits.

Leto Atreides accepts the Emperor’s offer and takes his concubine Jessica and son Paul with him to take charge of the planet. He is able to thwart the initial Harkonnen traps and complications while also building trust with the desert people of Arrakis known as the Fremen. However, when House Corrino’s troops ally in secret with House Harkonnen and are assisted by a traitor in the Atreides camp, the Atreides family is scattered and Duke Leto is killed.

Jessica and her son flee to the desert and are taken in by the Fremen. Jessica gives birth to a daughter named Alia, a full sister to Paul and becomes a Fremen Reverend Mother. As a Reverend Mother, she is able to protect her children as they live among the Fremen. Meanwhile, the spice in the air and water begins to effect Paul Atreides, evolving him into something that had been bred into his genes by Jessica’s Bene Gesserit religious order, but was not supposed to come to fruition in him, but instead to his progeny. Paul’s ability of prescience allows him to grow in influence among the Fremen. He and his mother teach the Fremen the fighting skills of the Bene Gesserit and the desert fighters grow to rival the warriors of both House Corrino and Harkonnen. He takes the name Muad’Dib (the mouse) among them and takes his place as their prophesied messiah.

Eventually, Paul Muad’Dib leads the Fremen to retake Arrakis and to force the Emperor’s hand. Using his power of prescience and his training of being a Duke’s son, he is able to avenge his father’s death, destroy House Harkonnen and wrest the title of Emperor for himself by holding the planet of Dune hostage. Paul Muad’Dib Ateides becomes the master of the known universe.

Honestly, I was afraid to read this book until I was in college. I had heard about it often and thought that I should read it, but it seemed wild and cruel to me, something that might shake my innocence. When I finally found the courage to crack open this Hugo and Nebula award winner, I was completely transported into a world of intrigue, sandworms, drugs, adventure, war, philosophy, and quotes that have become part of my vocabulary from that day forward. Perhaps fear is the little mind killer that we need to face after all? I know that I have not been the same since I read this novel.

Dune is a classic tale that draws from Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces for the first time in science fiction and on such a scale that it touches down into that basic core of mythos that we all spring from. Over the decades it has not dated itself, nor has the ideas and concepts at the core of the story. I believe that this is one of the science fiction classics that should be on everyone’s must read list, but it is not for children due to the violence and to the adult concepts it contains.

Iron Maiden’s song To Tame A Land:

He is destined to be a King
He rules over everything
In the land called planet Dune
Body water is your life
And without it you would die
In the desert the planet Dune

Without a stillsuit you would fry
On the sands so hot and dry
In a world called Arakis
It is a land that’s rich in spice
The sandriders and the ‘mice’
That they call the ‘Muad’Dib’


Dune Book CoverDune is not found by free download, but you can seek it out at your local public library or online at any book vendor of your choice. Chances are high that it will be there for sale in one form or another. Keep a copy in your digital or paper bound library. Dune is the first of a series of novels in the Dune Saga, not only by Frank Herbert, but continued by his son, Brian Herbert.

Book Review: The Warlock In Spite Of Himself

Book Name: The Warlock In Spite Of Himself
Author: Christopher Stasheff
First Published: 1969

Christopher Stasheff’s long love affair with television began at an early age. He started on staff at the University of Michigan as a paid student and moved up the ladder as his degree progressed into the Manager of the entire Student Staff. Once he obtained his M.A, he moved on to a position in the Broadcast Department of the University of Nebraska. At this point he switched his field of study and began to work on a Ph.D. In Theater Arts.

It was at this time that he read about a competition for unpublished writers of science fiction and fantasy and he decided to enter the contest. While he did not finish his manuscript in time for the contest, he ended up sending The Warlock In Spite Of Himself to Ace Publishers. They bought it and it was the start of a long career in writing novels. He has 44 titles to his name to date.

Stasheff continued to teach broadcasting at various universities for another fifteen years before he gave it up to become a full-time author. He is married with four children and with grandchildren on the way.

The Warlock In Spite of Himself, a title that plays on the old british novel The Doctor In Spite of Himself, begins when SCENT spy Rodney Gallowglass lands on the backwater planet of Gramarye in a spaceship that is disguised as an asteroid. Rod and his epileptic robot/steed/sidekick Fess discover a feudal world right out of a modern day renfaire. Sprinkled through the population are fantasy creatures such as witches, ghosts, werewolves, dwarves and elves that came about due to the psychic abilities of the people that settled on the planet. SCENT, a planetary democratic federation wishes for this world to be guided toward democracy and represented rule. Rod decides that the best way to promote this is to set up a constitutional monarchy that will foil off-world anarchists, a coven of home-brewed witches, and a man that wishes to become the dictator of Gramarye. Due to Rod’s use of technology that the natives do not understand, he is branded a warlock and uses this misconception to further his aims.

Sometimes you discover an author who has that perfect blend of interests and writing that simply comes together for you. I am a science fiction and fantasy buff with a radio/television/film degree. How perfect is it to find an author who was one of the first to combine a fantasy with science fiction elements, something that is commonplace now, but certainly not when this novel came out, but also an author who creates a fictional catholic saint of television producers and IT computer geeks? I adore the entire concept of St. Vidicon, an order of monks who wear a small screwdriver in a pocket of their robes. While there are customs and concepts about women and the way that Gallowglass behaves that seem right out of the 1950’s and might prove jarring to younger readers unaccustomed to old-fashioned ideals, still the story is charming and humorous. This is Stasheff’s first novel and the first of a long series of books about the Gallowglass clan. It is well worth checking out to see if you are ready for this unique adventure in reading. Prepare to be enchanted.

The Warlock Inspite of Himself Book CoverYou can find The Warlock In Spite of Himself at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at your local used book store.

Book Review: Earthman’s Burden

Book Name: Earthman’s Burden
Author: Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson
First Published: 1957

Poul Anderson is known for his larger than life adventure stories of political satire and in the direct and inextricable connection between human liberty and expansion into space. A great supporter of the space program, Anderson’s science fiction stories took great care in using provable science in its objects and settings, the only exception being the use of the theory of faster than light travel. Gaining his baccalaureate degree with honors in physics, Anderson made no real attempt to work in that field. Instead, he published his first story while still an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, and then began his career as a free-lance writer after his college graduation in 1948. In 1953, Anderson married Karen Kruse and left Minnosota with her to live in the San Francisco Bay area. Their daughter, Astrid, was born soon after the move. They made their home in Orinda, California, near Berkeley. After Poul’s death, his wife donated his typewriter and desk to the local bookstore in Berkley, where the author had given readings over the years.

Gordon R. Dickson was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1923. After the death of his father, he moved with his mother to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He served in the United States Army, from 1943 to 1946, and received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, in 1948. From 1948 through 1950 he attended the University of Minnesota for graduate work. It is at the University where he met his fellow anthology collaborator, Poul Anderson.

At the start of Earthman’s Burden, Ensign Alexander Braithwaite Jones crash lands on a planet 500 light years from earth. He is rescued by a cuddly race of aliens that resemble over-sized teddybears. The Hokas have the ability to absorb any trace of Earth culture they encounter and reproduce it with devastatingly unpredictable and hilarious results. You’ll see the wild wild west, an Italian style opera featuring a teddybear Don Giovanni, an atmospheric Victorian England featuring a Hoka Sherlock Holmes, a science fiction space patrol featuring a Scottish accented Hoka space engineer, pirates and French legionnaires.

Underscoring the fun, is a witty satire about the burden to raise up these “primitive” aliens so that they can join the space federation as full citizens. Jones, the appointed ambassador plenipotentiary to Toka, begins to understand the complexity of his aliens charges and that they are not the silly innocents that they appear on the surface. It is a direct commentary on the concept that the English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem The White Man’s Burden that he wrote for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and defined the English idea of imperialism that was commonplace during the 19th century.

I first encountered this novel in my early twenties when I was looking for a light summer read at the bookstore. With teddybear aliens on the cover, I did not expect anything of substance. Inside the book I discovered a world with more depth than I expected and a satire that made me think about I viewed the world and my place in it. Over the years, the novel tends to come up in conversation, especially among vintage science fiction buffs such as myself. It is a novel well worth reading and adding to your collection. It will delight you with humor and leave you feeling uplifted. My favorite story is the first one about the sheriff of canyon gulch.

Stories included in the anthology:

    “The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch”
    “Don Jones”
    “In Hoka Signo Vinces”
    “The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound”
    “Yo Ho Hoka!”
    “The Tiddlywink Warriors”

Earthman's Burden Book CoverEarthman’s Burden is not available as an ebook, but you can still find copies for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at your local used book stores.

Book Review: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Book Name: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1870

Jules Verne was born the son of an French attorney in Nantes, France. As a boy, Verne developed a great love for travel and exploration, which was reflected in his science fiction writings. His interest in storytelling often cost him progress in other school subjects. It is rumored that the child Verne was so enthralled with adventure that he stowed away on a vessel going to the West Indies, but his voyage of discovery was cut short when he found his father waiting for him at the next port of call.

As Verne grew to adulthood, he began to write libretti for operettas even as he was studying in law school. When his father discovered that he was not attending to his law studies, his educational funds were cut off. Jules Verne turned to being a stockbroker to make his living, a profession that he hated. Around this time, he met and married Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. Honorine encouraged her husband to do what he loved, to write.

Verne’s writing career improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an important French publisher, after being rejected by many other publishers. Verne and Hetzel formed a successful writer-publisher team until Hetzel’s death. Verne was prone to be overly scientific and melancholy in his writing, Hetzel forced the author to be more upbeat and to add in more adventure and less science. The combination proved to be gold. Verne began publishing his novels two years after the birth of his son and generally published two books a year after that point. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of his more famous works and one of the earlier novels that he published.

The novel begins in 1866 when a mysterious sea monster is sighted by ships of several countries. In New York City, an expedition to track down and kill the menace is formed by the US government. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a renoun french marine biologist, is invited to join the expedition at the last minute. Aronnax, his assistant Conseil and harpoon master Ned Land set sail from Brooklyn aboard the naval ship Abraham Lincoln and travel around Cape Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean.

The monster is discovered and the ship enters into battle. During the fight, the three men are thrown overboard and find themselves stranded on the “hide” of the monster. Much to their surprise, they find that the animal is a metal ship. The men are captured and brought on board the strange vessel where they meet its creator and commander, Captain Nemo. The vessel is an electrically powered submarine known as the Nautilus which roams the oceans to carry out marine biology research and to serve as an instrument of revenge for her captain. Nemo and Aronnax form a friendship as Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea views, despite the fact that Nemo has forbidden the three passengers to leave the vessel. Only Ned Land continues to plan their escape.

The title of 20,000 leagues under the sea does not refer to the depth that the electrical submarine dives, but rather the distance that the vessel travels in the ocean during the story. The passengers of the Nautilus see the coral reefs of the Red Sea, the shipwrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves and the fictional sunken nation of Atlantis. The crew does battle with sharks and other marine life and the ship itself is attacked by a giant octopus.

In the end, Nemo’s vessel is attacked by a ship from Nemo’s home nation. The battle pushes Nemo into an emotional depression and in his grief, he allows the Nautilus to enter a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. During this distraction, Aronnax, Conseil and Land manage to escape the submarine and return to land. However, the fate of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus remains a mystery.

I can’t remember a time when I did not know of and love the stories of Jules Verne. So many of his stories have been adapted into movies, his characters have been adopted into other novels, and there was once a ride in Disneyland based on the book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the first of his novels that I read, prompted by seeing the Disney movie by the same name starring Kirk Douglas (who sings!) produced in 1954. This movie is likely the most famous of numerous films based upon this book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered one of his “Voyages Extraordinaires” novels which also include Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island, and From the Earth to the Moon. Many of the inventions that Verne wrote about are now real technology that we see everyday. Verne paid attention to the state of the art scientific information of his time and embellished upon it with his vivid imagination to create his fantastic worlds of the future. If you have not read Jules Verne, I urge you to look into his novels. You’ll see long ago dreams that now have become the shape of life as we know it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered in the public domain and is available for free download at Project Gutenberg or at your local public library.