In Search Of Solid Science Fiction

Lately I’ve been consciously trying to do more leisure reading.  Unfortunately, I’d gotten out of the habit, because when you spend your work day reading it’s not easy to come home and read some more for pleasure.  But I love books, and I’d rather nod off at night while reading than nod off while watching some mindless TV show.

I’m not very systematic about my reading choices.  Kish is; she peruses the New York Times book review and uses the excellent Columbus Public Library on-line resources to reserve books that look interesting.  I tend to focus on one genre — such as biographies, for example — and read books exclusively in that genre until I’m ready to move on to another one.

issac-asimov-predictionsSeveral months ago I asked Richard what he was reading, and he said he was in the middle of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy, part of which I’d read in high school.  He recommended the series, so I picked it up . . . and enjoyed it immensely.  Since then I’ve read Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, as well as some other assorted Asimov and Heinlein efforts.  I’ve always liked science and science fiction — one of the first pieces I ever wrote on this blog was about The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, one of my all-time favorite books — and I’ve decided that I want to get a better grounding in what the science fiction genre has to offer, both in terms of the other authors, like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, who helped to create science fiction’s golden age, and the more recent writers who have been well-received by critics and readers alike.

I’ve taken to making internet searches for sci fi “best” lists, and on the basis of those searches I’ve just started John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and I’ve got Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon next in line. I’d be happy to get any other recommendations on worthwhile sci-fi that Webner House readers are willing to share.

The Forever War On Screen

I’ve written before about The Forever War, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

The book is the story of William Mandella, a brainy but essentially non-martial physicist drafted to fight in a never-ending war that combines time dilation, terror, and pointlessness.  Because Earth’s battleships and soldiers reach the faraway planets to fight the Taurans through “collapsar jumps” that invoke Einstein’s theory of relativity, Mandella keeps returning from battles to a society that has changed by decades and then by hundreds of years.

Richard sent me a link to this story, which reports that Ridley Scott — the director of Blade Runner and other classic films — has acquired the rights to bring The Forever War to the big screen and is working with the screenwriter for Blade Runner on the effort.

I’m holding my breath.  I would love to see The Forever War made into a movie.  It is a great story from a visual standpoint, and I think Ridley Scott is well-suited to bringing out the weirdness, humor, and sense of utter dislocation that Mandella experienced.  At the same time, when I see that the screenplay is in its fourth draft, I think:  please don’t change the story too much!  Sometimes movie versions absolutely nail the book and capture the characters perfectly — the epic TV series Lonesome Dove is a great example of that.  In other cases, however, the movie version will change characters in fundamental and unwanted ways, or modify the plot to the point of being unrecognizable.  I don’t want that to happen to Mandella, Marygay Potter, and other beloved characters.

As I said, I’m holding my breath.

The Forever War

Thirty years ago, during the winter quarter of 1979, I took one of the best classes I ever took at Ohio State, which introduced me to my all-time favorite book. The class was called Science Fiction as Literature (or something with a similar, college curriculum-sounding name) and the book was The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. The book was part of a great reading list that included A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Behold The Man, by Michael Moorcock, and works by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and others. Never was it so easy to finish the required reading for a course!

The Forever War is the first-person story of William Mandella, who somehow manages to retain his humanity and the love of his life, Marygay, while fighting in a war that lasts for thousands of years due to the time dilation predicted by the theory of relativity. As the broad wheel of history turns about him, Mandella finds himself increasingly out of place as culture, social mores, and even language change in ways he can barely comprehend. Yet the book’s voice is bright and accessible and filled with humor. The book features my all-time favorite line from a book, spoken by Mandella after returning from years in a spacecraft and self-contained fighting suit: “There are no words to describe a cold beer and a chicken sandwich after two years of recycled shit.”

I’m not sure why I have found the book so enormously appealing, even after 30 years. I just know that I have read and re-read it more than I have read and re-read any other book, and at some point I am confident that I will read it again. It is like a comfortable visit from an old friend, where the stories are all known but there is great pleasure in the re-telling.