Read Recently — December 2007

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Scalzi, like Brian Keene, is a writer I discovered by accident, through his blog. For Scalzi, this is apparently not an unusual way to find his work; he’s been blogging for years now and has amassed a large community of fans. When I ran across Old Man’s War I decided to grab it. On the cover, Publisher’s Weekly compares Scalzi to Heinlein. I had trouble figuring out if they meant that as a compliment . . . or a warning.

Actually, it’s a very good book. My main complaint is that every time I read the title I have to fight the urge to filk Steve Earle.

John Perry is 75 and newly widowered, so he joins the army to see the universe.

No, see, in this future the Colonial Defense Forces want experienced soldiers . . . people who know something about life. 75 is the minimum age to join the army, meet interesting new life forms, and blow them away before they eat you. Yes, it’s a tough old universe, and once you join the CDF you can never go back to Earth, but the flip-side of it all is that they make you young again. No one quite knows how, at the beginning of the story, so I can’t decide if revealing it would be a spoiler or not . . . and actually, it doesn’t matter. They are made young, and then they go off to war.

It didn’t remind me at all of Heinlein. It’s a very different story in all ways. Scalzi puts more ambiguity into his war; John Perry is, of course, more mature than Juan Rico and the opponents Scalzi throws at him are no unspeaking, mindless hordes of bugs. There is also no sense that the author intends the whole thing as a series of lectures on the proper way to run a society, which is highly unlike anything by Heinlein.

Caveat: I am a big Heinlein fan.

All right, a medium-sized Heinlein fan.

Highly recommended.

In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn

Developer Sarah Beaumont is checking out a new property (which is, actually, a very old property, really, a turn-of-the-last-century place in Denver) when she and her architect find an old list behind the plaster in a wall. There are names and dates, famous events and the obscure mixed together. “Cliological” something is also mentioned. In a hidden room in another property, she finds a collection of Babbage Analytical Engines, and handwritten books of 19th century mathematical theory. Trying to figure out what she has hold of, she does some online research and soon someone tries to kill her. Her architect friend is hospitalized in an accident and then vanishes. It seems that Sarah has stumbled onto an old and powerful conspiracy that will do anything to remain secret.

Actually, there are two conspiracies. One, the Babbage Society, uses computers and math to determine future trends with a high degree of accuracy, and then acts to control those trends (they were behind the assassination of Lincoln, for example). Cliology is what they call their science. The other conspiracy, the one that takes Sarah in, uses computers and Cliology to analyse future trends and then uses that information to make themselves rich. Sarah is bothered by this; she thinks there should be more to it all then this. But they teach her how to do Cliology, and in analysing trends Sarah finds out something disconcerting: there’s a third conspiracy out there. And maybe more . . .

The book become something like Illuminatus! meets Foundation. Conspiracy meets counter-conspiracy, secret societies crawl out of the woodwork, and the reader goes nuts trying to figure out where it’s going. Flynn wrote the excellent Wreck of the River of Stars, and he’s pulled off excellent work here, too. It isn’t, actually, as funny as the comparison to Illuminatus! might make it sound, but it isn’t, quite, deadlly serious, either.

Recommended.

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