war

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

When Joe Haldeman, early in his career, penned his 1970s science fiction classic The Forever War, he claimed his niche in the genre. Whatever happened after that, however well or poorly he performed, however much or little he expanded his legacy, his place at the table was secure. The general consensus is that, despite a career with several successes, he has never managed to equal that early novel. My experience with Mr. Haldeman is too limited to opine on that point, but I can say that in 1997, when he wrote Forever Peace, he definitely fell short but did not miss by a large amount.

Julian Class, a physicist and conscript in the American armed forces, is the protagonist of a story that transpires in the 2040s. The United States, now turned into a centrally planned economy, is at war with guerrillas all over South America and Africa. The principal weapon on the ground is the soldierboy, a deadly robot used for anything from patrolling to reconnaissance to assaults and assassinations. The soldierboys are remote controlled by soldiers like Class who are “jacked in” to the soldierboy through a plug surgically inserted into their brains, Matrix-style (perhaps it would be fairer to say Neuromancer-style).

An entire squad of soldiers controlling the soldierboys attain a oneness with each other, such that everyone’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences are collectively shared. More than simply walking a mile in another’s shoes, this jacking is akin to walking an entire life in another’s shoes, socks, pants, underwear, and t-shirt. At one point Julian Class, who is black, reflects that there is no racism among these soldiers, because it simply is not possible to be racist when you have essentially been another race, or several other races, for days at a time. This idea anticipates a larger revelation made later, which becomes the main point of the book.

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ASK THE READERS | What is the best science fiction for people who “serve” in the military? Thumbnail
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Hint Hint

That’s what i09 asked their readers yesterday. More specifically, they wanted to know what is “the best science fiction to read or watch if you’re actually serving in the military. … What kind of SF gets you through the day (and night)?”

You can guess what sort of suggestions io9’s typical readers will come up with. Or you could brave the comments to find out.

But I’m sure we libertarians would have some quite different suggestions.

We wouldn’t be asking what kind of science fiction gets soldiers engaged in unnecessary, counterproductive, imperialist wars through the day (and night). We wouldn’t be asking what sort of fiction soothes their consciences (if they feel any guilt at all) or reinforces their misguided patriotism. Or what merely helps them pass the time while keeping their minds off of the rigors of war or how much they miss their loved ones.

No, we would ask what kind of science fiction would prick their consciences and awaken them to what their “service” really means:
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It might be something like this fantastic new rap video produced by John Papola and Russ Roberts as part of their EconStories.tv project, “Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two“:

One of these days I’ll write an article on why fiction authors, especially science fiction authors (hellooo!), should study the “dismal science.”

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A few years ago in honor of Arthur C. Clarke’s then-recent birthday, I wrote on my own blog that he must never have read Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard,

because according to this quote cited by Gregory Benford in his happy-birthday letter in Locus Magazine (January 2008), he claims that “there are some general laws governing scientific extrapolation, as there are not (pace Marx) in the case of politics and economics.” Well, far be it from me to disagree that Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but Clarke is wrong here. Sir Clarke, you may be 90 years old now, and happy birthday by the way, but it’s never too late to acquire a firm grasp of sound economic theory.

As disappointing as it is, it’s not surprising that he had a natural-scientistic bias against economics. Sadly, he died only a few months after my post.

In a more recent article in the Sri Lanka Guardian, more of Clarke’s economic ignorance is on display:

While researching for this article I came across a searing indictment by Clarke on the American capitalist system. After observing that the structure of American society may be unfitted for the effort that the conquest of space demands he continued, “No nation can afford to divert its ablest men into essentially non-creative and occasionally parasitic occupations such as law, insurance and banking”. He also referred to a photograph in Life Magazine showing 7,000 engineers massed behind a new model car they had produced as ‘a horrifying social document’. He was appalled by the squandering of technical manpower it represented. All this indeed makes one wonder whether he really was a closet socialist.

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BOOK REVIEW | Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition Thumbnail

Good things come to those who wait, the old adage goes, and the world has waited a century for Mark Twain’s autobiography, which, in Twain’s words, is a “complete and purposed jumble.” But this 760 page jumble is a good thing. And well worth the wait.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1: The Complete and Authoritative EditionTwain, or Samuel L. Clemens, compiled this autobiography over the course of 35 years. The manuscript began in fits and starts. Twain, while establishing his legacy as a beloved humorist and man of letters, dashed off brief episodes here and there, assigning chapter numbers to some and simply shelving others. In 1906, he began making efforts to turn these cobbled-together passages into a coherent narrative. He even met daily with a stenographer to dictate various reflections and then to compile them into a single, albeit muddled, document. The result was a 5,000 page, unedited stack of papers that, per Twain’s strict handwritten instructions, could not be published until 100 years after his death.

To say that we’ve waited a century to view this manuscript is only partially accurate because pieces of the manuscript appeared in 1924, 1940, and 1959. But this edition, handsomely bound by the University of California Press, and edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and others of the Mark Twain Project, is the first full compilation of the autobiographical dictations and extracts to reach print. The editors, noting that “the goal of the present edition [is] to publish the complete text as nearly as possible in the way Mark Twain intended it to be published before his death,” explain that “no text of the Autobiography so far published is even remotely complete, much less completely authorial.” The contents of this much-awaited beast of a book, then, are virtually priceless, and no doubt many of the previously unread or unconsidered Twain passages will become part of the American canon.

Stark photographs of the manuscript drafts and of Twain and his subjects — including family members and residences — accompany this fragmentary work. The lively and at times comical prose is in keeping with the rambling style of this rambling man whom readers have come to know and appreciate for generations. Would we have expected any less?

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With great solemnity, “Defense” Secretary Robert Gates imparted on West Point cadets this Friday a hard-earned pearl of newly discovered wisdom:

In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

In other words, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

Sounds like good advi… Wait,what? Not everyone knows this already? Inconceivable!

Any culturally literate person has seen The Princess Bride at least once in the last 24 years1 and certainly knows about the most famous classic blunder:

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  1. The novel by William Goldman was published over a decade earlier in 1973. But I imagine this bit of wisdom goes back much further. 

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BOOK REVIEW | Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein Thumbnail

Podkayne of Mars by Robert Anson HeinleinWhen Robert Heinlein told a tale, it was with a compelling and engrossing voice.  He created personalities with interest and depth and fashioned dramatic interactions to keep us involved.  However much or little happens to his characters, the experience for us readers is enhanced because we become invested in the people who inhabit his stories.  Even a book like Podkayne of Mars, which one might quibble is a touch underplotted, is a satisfying read because of the investment in the people.

Podkayne Fries, a girl on the verge of womanhood with dreams of becoming an interplanetary ship captain, is the principle narrator and protagonist of the story.  She and her younger brother Clark get an opportunity to accompany their uncle on a voyage to Venus and Earth.  Her uncle, however, is an ambassador and there are those who would interfere with his mission, disdaining no despicable act in their attempts.  That is about all there is to the story structure.  There are a few plot points thrown in – such as the mysterious object Clark smuggles on board, or the solar storm that catches them between planets – and the ending is harrowing, but it becomes clear early on that the novel’s strongest points lie elsewhere.

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