Wednesday, July 4, 2007

More Star Wars Action

Amongst the many books I read during my hiatus from the blog include Book 4 of the Legacy of the Force series of Star Wars books. This entry, called _Exile_ is brought by the pen of Aaron Allston. I like genre fiction; I won't deny it. It's comforting, can be fun, and every once in a while you get a real corker. This one, however, is lots more of the same.

Jacen Solo, Jedi Knight, continues his slide to the Dark Side, assisted along by a half-Sith with motives of her own. And there's this krazy female Twi-lek in it..

Blah, blah, blah...

Reading this series, I get the feeling it could have been compressed into a trilogy. It's not. I felt like not a whole lot went on here: more politicking, more mistrust, more Luke concerned about his son Ben. I already have quite a bit invested in the series, so I HAVE to finish it now (I'm a little obsessive to boot...). Hopefully later books will pick up more on the action...

For my next entry, I'm going to write about Mike Stackpole's latest ( and rare) entry in the Mechwarrior franchise of genre fiction, _Masters of War_. There's been a bit of electrons spilled on this book --well written but plot holes you can drive an Atlas through. I like to make up my own mind on that. And while I've always liked Stackpole's writing (the Warrior trilogy is amongst my favorites), the words I've read in response to this book have me concerned. We'll see.

I'm also going on vacation, and plan to read while down on the beach. I have an omni of Drake's Hammer's Slammers, so I think that'll go into the queue. After that...?

Little Green Men

In a departure from my normal routine, I picked up _Old Man's War_ by Scalzi, and started reading the first few pages. That was a mistake. Over the next couple of evenings (I has a little girl -- 18 months at the time of this writing -- so my time can be limited) I finished the book.

According to the blurb in the book, this is Scalzi's first work of fiction. It was a pretty good entry into the cut-throat competition of the bloated Scifi literature industry...(yes, I'm being a little sarcastic).

Here's the premise. In the future, competition for galactic real-estate is fierce. Sitting down and talking about it takes time, and it's just easier to send over a few divisions and secure the planet via "aggressive negotiations." Earth's answer is to recruit OLD people. People way past their prime. But before sending these geriatric 75 year old shock-troopers to the front line, everything that makes them who they are are transformed into the body of a green skinned, high tech super trooper. And away they go.

Scalzi sets up the premise well. I have no idea what I would do as a 75-year old geriatric transformed into the body of a virile early 20-something, but his idea of nonstop green-skinned nookie sounds about right to me... And while the main character shows a sufficient amount of pluck, he is in no way one of the ├╝bermensch of the book (in fact, besides his ideas an leadership ability, he's quite average...for a supersoldier). Oh, and why are they green? It's the chlorophyll...

There was only one point in the book that bothered me. A small aspect of the plot is an incident where human oil-rig jockeys go on strike. The green-skinned supertroopers escort scabs in to get the rigs working again. The strikers go berserk, assault the troops, and feed them to some shark-like creatures. The oil rigs are retaken, and in a fit of battlefield justice, the ring-leaders are fed -- alive -- to these creatures. While one can argue the crime done was rather inhumane, the fact that the troops perpetuated this action (and it seems had some sort of official license) smacks less of "justice" and more "revenge." But then a long murder trial wouldn't be as kewl and wouldn't show what kind of bad-asses we're dealing with, I suppose...

Next up, more Star Wars...

Roman Twilight, Part 1

It's been a while since my last post, but I have hardly been standing still!

As I indicated in my last post, I would be reading the Heather book on the Fall of the Roman Empire. Let me say this is a weighty book, but a good one. With that in mind, I have decided to split up my treatment of the book into sections. This also helps with my occasional book ADD I sometimes suffer from...

Naturally, here is section one.

Heather divides his book into sections, with the first being a general broad overview on the political institutions, general picture, and state of the Empire in the 4th C. More importantly, he analysis the meaning -- what it meant to the 4th C inhabitants of the Empire -- of being Roman. It was no longer an aspect of being a citizen of the city of Rome, or a descendant thereof. During Rome's slow but inexorable advance across Southern Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa, it brought Roman culture with it. And with it, it brought its best means of integrating the disparate and diverse ethnic groups inhabiting the Mediterranean Basin into a cohesive whole. These subject people, Heather maintains, "bought into" the Roman culture, and while they may have still maintained aspects of local culture, over time they were transformed into Romans, and looked at the Empire as part of their birthright. This, in the end, would be part of the problem behind the collapse of the Empire: essentially the Empire was no longer able to contract its borders and defend areas important to its maintenance. It would be like the United States abandoning California, or New Jersey.

Furthermore, the popular image of the hairy, uncivilized barbarians may also be incorrect. Heather maintains that the Germanic peoples had begun to adapt their civilization thanks to close contact with Roman (and Mediterranean) civilization. Where previously Germanic tribes were an almost ad-hoc political organization centered around a strongman and his warband, the later Germanic tribes began to organize themselves more centrally, with aspects of Kingship and hereditary leadership developing. Furthermore, the material and political culture of the German people began to transform through trade and cultural contact, enriching them immensely.

Finally, and while the greatest threat of this time was the Sassanid Persian Empire to the East, the Romans had adapted their political and economic organization in order to deal with this upstart -- and increasingly powerful -- rival empire. The disasters of the 3rd century were painfully dealt with, and at the dawn of the 4th, Rome had regained a semblance of stability again.

How long would it last, and what was the stake in the Roman heart? More on that later...