Literary Things: The One Trick Rip-Off and Visual Poetry

Well hello again, all. It’s been a while since I’ve flexed the review muscles here at Tellurian Things, so apologies for the long absence! Over the past few months, I’ve been devouring a lot of books– mostly graphic novels– and I thought of one in particular that might just appeal to all of you prose-heads out there. I talked about it a little bit over at my Tumblr, but I’m expanding and clarifying my thoughts here.

Allow me to introduce you to the mad brushwork of Mr. Paul Pope. Part fashion-designer, part Dark Prince of Comics, this is a guy who fuses poetry, literature, and world cultures into a heady package. And this book should be your gateway:

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The One Trick Rip-Off (+ Deep Cuts) arrived in the mail about a month ago and it was a fairly quick read, even at over 200 pages. But I liked it. My previous encounters with Paul Pope taught me that, if anything, he has this carefully cultivated vibe that reads like a less anti-heroic Lord Byron. He’s the cosmopolitan romantic of the comics world.

His C.V. is pretty impressive. Besides doing design work with Diesel and DKNY, he’s known for his time at Japanese manga giant, Kodansha, as well as his independently produced (and frustratingly hard to find) Mars comic, THB. He also counts comic grandmasters like Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Frank Miller as personal friends and mentors. Back in the early ’00’s, he caught the eye of DC Comics, who invited him to do some original graphic novels for their Vertigo line, then play in their licensed characters’ sandbox with works like Batman: Year 100 and a gorgeous Adam Strange serial in Wednesday Comics. He’s also got a new monster fight comic called Battling Boy coming out from First Second later this year.

Part of what makes Pope a super comics-god is his sinewy and sensuous brush line. His pages are a mess of black splatters and angular anatomy, but they decode quickly into environments where pretty people pose, converse, and fall in love with endless cool. It’s something like if Jack Kirby turned to fashion illustration and lived in Tokyo. There’s a lot of power, but also a lot of ache in Pope’s ink– it’s visual poetry, essentially– and it’s a big part of his appeal.

Of course, style isn’t much if you don’t have substance to back it up, and Pope’s reputation makes you anticipate an angle or two. I think one thing that refreshed me here was that this book is his “early work” collection, culled from his first decade in comics. As a result, these stories are all old enough to show a more loose, experimental version of the artist, and it’s fun to watch him figure out what he had to say.

The titular story, which takes up the first half of the book, was pretty darned great.  It concerns two young lovers who aspire to get the heck out of their dead-end city. The only problem is, they’re associated with a street gang called the One Tricks, and they think the best way to bring their dreams to life is to betray and rob their cohorts. Naturally, conflict ensues– and since the “One Trick” is essentially a low-level form of hypnotism that allows you to manipulate your enemies, it plays out in a delightfully unusual fashion. It’s a solid model of mood-building, it has a romance you can believe in, and the climax has high emotional stakes. (It’s the first time I winced in anxiety at a comic, I think). Its also an examination of the tension between pride and love, which I found intriguing. Some spotty character rationale crops up in the middle, but overall, this is the strongest solo work I think I’ve read by Pope. I’ll take messy-but-sincere over polished and distant any day of the week.

The other stories that round out the book are also engaging, though not as meaty. If anything, the rest can be categorized as experiments in adapting poems, making a go at manga (“Supertrouble” is a fun example that can be enjoyed at face value), and doing some autobiography. The personal bits are some of my favorites in the second half, especially “Four Cats,” where Pope lowers his guard enough to let us relieve a memorable rebuke. It’s a different take on the pride vs. love scenario, but on the level enough to sting a little more.

The book is bound in a glossy hard cover, and it feels and smells like a brand-new high school textbook. Considering the lessons you can learn from looking at a master cartoonist’s formative work, I’d say it’s an apt format. If you’re interested in comics that have some literary ambition and tons of style, it’s definitely worth picking up.

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Literary Things: Percy Jackson

Hey y’all this is Christin here for the book review this month! A fair warning: this will probably be a little short because I’ve been watching the stupid Vampire Diaries and can’t stop. I’m a little embarrassed about how quickly I got through the first and half of the second seasons…Anyways, this post in NOT about The Vampire Diaries, although I find the show…compelling…it is about Percy Jackson and the Olympians!

Oh Percy Jackson, you son of Poseidon. At least, he is the half-mortal, half-god son in this world that Rick Riordan has created. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a five book series in which Percy and his other demi-god friends are fighting to save the world from Kronos and the other Titans who are trying to take over Olympus. There are monsters to face, gods to fight, and gods to save, all with a very sarcastic, angsty, and lovable protagonist. All of the young heroes are outcasts in normal society, because they just don’t quite fit – they’re ADD because they are meant to be in battle or dyslexic because they should be reading Greek  – but it’s amazing how powerful an accepting community of friends can be.

After Riordan created this world, and Percy and his buddies saved it – he couldn’t just leave it alone. He is currently writing another five book series about the Roman demi-god counterparts, and what happens when the Greek and Romans mix. This time, there is a new leading man – Jason Grace, the son of Jupiter. But don’t worry, all of the favorites from the first series start showing back up, including Percy in the second book. The third book, The Mark of Athena, was just released at the beginning of October, and it’s a fun ride.

I would describe both the series to be mind candy. Fun, short, and sweet, but with very little lasting substance. However, it is fascinating to see the ways Riordan incorporates the different Greek/Roman myths and legends, most of which I don’t know about until I wiki them. Even though they are all over 300 pages, you could finish them in a weekend pretty easily. I’m not saying these books are going to change your life, but they can be a nice change of pace when you feel busy or stressed out.

Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief was released as a film in 2010, which featured the Parthenon from my home sweet home of Nashville, TN and starred Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson (who was just in the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I encourage you to check that one out as well). Anyways, the movie about the second book in the series, the Sea of Monsters, comes out in summer of 2013. These books and movies are a good time – pick them up if you need a little “mind candy” or just pass along the recommendation to your 7th grade little brother, Mom will love it if he starts reading almost anything, right?

Literary Things: A Visit From the Goon Squad

I think it’s important that you and I are confounded. We often turn to entertainment to cope and escape, but that’s a problem when it’s too easy to digest. We’re more rewarded when we reject passivity and grapple with something that tells us truth. Everything else is just plausible drama, and that, friends, comprises the empty calories of the soul.

That’s the manifesto. Now let’s get to the revolution: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. Talk about delight and confound. This is a book that sticks to you like pancakes.

Critics have had fun trying to pin this thing down. One one hand, it acts like a short story collection (and several of the chapters previously appeared as short stories in the Who’s Who of literary magazines), but on the other, it moves and reads like a novel. At least, the same characters appear and reappear at intervals throughout the book, and it tells a whole story. Then again, it does so without following a plot. Does that sound like fun?

It is, and I think maybe, for our purposes, “Mixtape” is probably the most accurate way to describe it, because, even though it isn’t audible, it links a bunch of tonally diverse pieces through theme and sentiment.

Or what other way would you pigeonhole a book filtered through the strainer of post-modernism? Similar to Pulp Fiction, Crash, or Lost, Goon Squad forces you to triangulate a narrative and make connections through a variety of protagonists and time periods. It also takes place against the backdrop of the American music industry, circa 1970 through 2020, which gives it a unified setting not dependent on one given location. Good thing, too, because the turn of a page might land you in Africa, a facist region of South America, or the turbulent waters of New York’s East River.

The book lacks a consistent protagonist, but the throughline is provided by Sasha, a kleptomaniac wisp who starts off the story assisting Bennie, an aging music producer in the modern day. Bennie’s relatives and teenage friends also occupy significant portions of the narrative, but the story always careens back into Sasha’s orbit, whether via her best friend and college sweetheart going for a fateful excursion in New York’s East River, her one-time date, Alex, bookending the tale, or her teenage daughter, Alison, coping with the realities of the nuclear family 20 years from now.

Alison’s chapter is a prime example of the book’s sheer inventiveness. Somehow, it proves to be one of the more cathartic sections of the book despite its lifeless structure, because the entire chapter is Alison’s journal in PowerPoint format. Charts and graphs map her family’s tics and interactions over the course of a single night, with her brother’s study of silent intervals in rock songs tying back into the book’s music industry motif.

Egan’s quoted saying that the Goon Squad of the title is literally time, and the decaying effects of aging are projected on landscapes and people alike, not to mention the evolution of music production. Even our communication seems to get diminished with time, as Egan illustrates in her brilliant final chapter (if you thought Orwell’s NewSpeak was a scary prospect, watch how we dumb down our mode of expression when a whole generation grows up relying on text messaging).

There are some very rough moments, whether in regard to language, sex, or death, so be advised that this isn’t reading for the teen audience or below. However, the whole is generally redeemed by the thoughtful treatment of a variety of characters, all interconnected, all raging against the dying of the light…

…and learning how to rock on the way.

Literary Things: The Passage

Hey everyone! Ben here. I need a favor– and it may be slightly shady. I’m looking for the address of one Justin Cronin. He’s 5-something with a shock of brown hair, 40 or so years old, teaches English at Rice University,  takes his daughter on bike rides through the neighborhood and has, you know, backyard barbeques or something.  He and I both live in the greater Houston area, and considering that nearly 6 million people dwell here, that’s a lot of doors to knock on until I find him. And I’ve got to find him– I’ve got to know how it ends! It’s supremely important that I know how it ends.

This is the author, should it help you locate him. (Photo credit: Andrew Crowley, The Telepgraph).

“It,”of course, is Cronin’s in-progress post-apocalyptic trilogy that commenced with The Passage, a 2010 novel that inspired a crazy Hollywood bidding war. It’s important that you know this book for a multitude of reasons. And maybe then, you can understand my mania here.

The first piece of the puzzle is that The Passage isn’t just a beach read– though you’d never think that while you’re in the thick of it. It’s engrossing, and a lot of that comes from the pedigree that Cronin brings to the table. This is a Harvard-educated author of literary fiction (and scoff if you will, but Cronin won the PEN/Hemmingway award for his first book, which is no small feat) who was prompted to turn to genre fiction after a conversation with his young daughter of the afore-mentioned bike rides. If you’ve ever read Michael Chabon, you’ll know that this is a good thing. The conversation went something like this:

The Author: “So sweetheart, why don’t you give me two things you want to see in our next book.”

His Daughter: “Um, I dunno.”

The Author: “Come on, sweetheart. Think about the other stories I’ve written. What’s something new we can try?”

His Daughter: “Well, Dad, your other books have all been kinda… boring.”

The Author: (Laughs) “Well, what do you think we should do, then?”

His Daughter: “Write a book about a girl who saves the world. One who has red hair.”

This girl is Amy Harper Bellafonte, who the book informs us at the outset will live for a thousand years, and indeed, will save the world. Amy is born into a paranoid America where terrorist bombings have become commonplace and military checkpoints are positioned along most major highways and interstates. The Military complex realizes that in a world where war is the order of the day, our soldiers need to be harder. Better. Faster. Stronger, even.

It’s serendipitous, however, when a group of cancer patients return from a Make-A-Wish trip to South America seemingly cured. The source of the cure? Bwa-ha-ha-ha:

It’s vampire bats.

And the military using bat DNA to regenerate soldiers or cure cancer? You know where this is going.

Which brings us to another reason you need to know this book: it offers vampires for dudes. Scary vampires, of which we currently lack proper representation. I mean, if you’re in the market for sensual vampires, you’re covered. But if you’re in the market for hypo-thyroidal creatures with knives for teeth and faces that look like that creepy Nosferatu child from Weekly World News? You’ve been waiting for The Passage.

This face also counts. Good Lord– I’m never watching Salem’s Lot.

Amy’s about the only character I can talk to you about without spoiling the book, though, because this thing has SCOPE. It’s widescreen, with lots of complex and compelling individuals that show up and get mowed down in frightening order. This is the story of the Vampire Apocalypse– think the tension of the first thirty minutes of Will Smith’s I Am Legend combined with the adventure of The Stand and the hopeless backdrop of The Road, and you’ll get a sense of what this book successfully does for nigh 1,000 pages.

Nothing’s wasted, though. Sentences either advance action or reveal character– we don’t do a ton of navel-gazing here. There are love triangles, an epic journey, a doomed last stand of human survivors, and in a bit of the self-mythologizing Texans are infamous for, a key role for the city of Galveston. A few folks even get super-powers.

That last part lends itself to the only major drawback in the book: Cronin has to balance the precise mechanism of a genre plot with super-believable characters. Here you find the suspension of disbelief necessary to a post-apocalyptic tale fighting with the nigh-reality of the individuals that populate it. One promise in particular becomes awfully convenient at a late point in the story. But then again, if you’re picking up a book about the Vampire Apocalypse, you’re not expecting much more than a funky, brainless ride. The Passage obliterates that notion, then leaves you gasping for more, more, more with a damning last sentence delivered in the cold tone of an academic report.

If you’ve not found enough reasons here, please help yourself to The First Chapter, which is a masterclass in how to begin a story. But get started soon, and here’s why:

Book Two comes out in a month and a half.

Literary Things: Perelandra

C.S. Lewis is one of the few treasures of 20th century popular Christian writing. It’s a shame there haven’t been more like him, but then again, most writers, regardless of faith, would be pretty hard pressed to match the man’s output. For his sheer volume of work and accessibility, Lewis is the go-to man for intelligent Christian discourse that won’t make your friends roll your eyes.

We tend to forget, though, that Lewis also had a good deal of respect in academia. This is a man who published multiple scholarly works, was tenured at Oxford and Cambridge, and was recognized as an expert in medieval and allegorical literature. His writing, both pre and post-conversion, was highly informed by an active imagination and a thorough indoctrination in classical Greek, Roman, and Norse texts. In fact, his conversion experience came about through conversations with fellow academians and reading a couple of good books (specifically Phantastes by George MacDonald).

So it’s interesting that over a seven year span, Lewis chose to meld both his Christian outlook and his considerable literary pedigree into something a little unconventional—a science fiction trilogy.

Lewis wrote three sci-fi books between 1938 and 1945—the height of the pulp sci-fi boom—with each book more ambitious than the one that preceded it.  And whenever I compare notes with folks about the trilogy, Perelandra, the second book in the series, comes up as the perennial favorite. I wouldn’t argue.

My experience with The Space Trilogy was a little unusual, admittedly. I worked backward, beginning with the final book, That Hideous Strength, in middle school, and got around to Out of the Silent Planet in early college. Both were good reads, and full of interesting ideas on the nature of man, spirituality, and God’s activity in the universe. But Perelandra—which is the in-story name for the planet Venus- takes these same tropes and ramps them up in an engaging and thrilling fashion. The read is entertaining, the stakes are high, and the payoff is mind-bendingly good.

Caveat: the beginning is a little slow. Ponderous, even. Lewis himself is the POV character in the first few chapters, taking his time to usher the reader from the world of the mundane into the realm of the fantastic. The point is to introduce Elwin Ransom, a (fictional) fellow professor and, somehow, God’s chosen representative regarding interstellar matters. The front matter concerns itself with recapping the events of Silent Planet—wherein Ransom was kidnapped and taken to Mars, only to foil a demonic plot to overthrow that world—and introducing the characters and reader to a scientifically-plausible version of angels.

However, once the angels teleport Ransom to Perelandra for a new divine mission, things get really interesting. And rollicking. In fact, one of the touch-points of the book is the number of jarring experiences Ransom has, even down to the environment surrounding him (Lewis, working  before the era of interplanetary probes, envisions Venus as a planet where islands are made of spongy plant-masses and the whole of the surface is a giant ocean.) There are brutal fisticuffs, imaginative bits of world-building, and an examination of the fall of man from a very unique perspective.

And our protagonist will eventually find himself in the unique position of being filled with holy divine rage so that he can beat the SNOT out of a satanically-possessed scientist-slash-astronaut (though, the guy is attempting to introduce original sin). Throw in naked green people, a giant what-the-heck monster from the pits of Venus, and the correlation between angels and Greek deities, and you’ve got a heady mix of ideas.

“Eve of Perelandra” by James Lewicki

In lesser hands, it wouldn’t cohese, but Lewis balances it all nicely. Each chapter builds logically on the next toward a conclusion that magnificently comments on God’s creativity in a way comparable only to Tolkien’s creation account in The Silmarillion.

The manifold ideas in here reward rereading. And the plus is, though the book is a middle installment in a trilogy, it is perfectly structured to stand on its own and thus is very accessible. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a little action and entertainment with a side of spiritual/mental edification.

Literary Things: The Wheel of Time

Hey all- Ben here. When Ian decided to add Literary Things to this blog, it was actually somewhat of a package deal– two Humeniuks for the price of one. And now that you know me and my love of science fiction, allow me to introduce my better half and a true connoisseur of fantasy: Christin. We’ll actually be swapping out on posts each month, which is lucky for you– she’s a lively and talented writer who devours books in overnight binges. For this first outing, she’ll be giving you an overview of perhaps her FAVORITE of the many series she’s tackled.

So without further ado, take it away, Christin!

As one of the few females asked to write on this blog, I tread lightly and nervously; it doesn’t help that my natural strengths lie more with numbers than words. In order to make up for my nervousness, I have chosen to write about a series that is near and dear to my heart – The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (may he rest in peace).

I was first introduced into this wonderful fantasy world back in 2004, but I was late coming to the party. The first novel, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. I read the first ten books (yes that’s right folks, I said TEN) in about six months – and I am still waiting on the 14th and final book – hopefully coming out in January of next year (thanks to the help of Brandon Sanderson). I will attempt to “share the love” regarding this series because — for realsies – it’s awesome.

SO okay, the books always start off with the same sentence about the Wheel of Time turning, ages passing, and how there are no beginnings or endings… but the story you’re about to read is a beginning anyway. Before we even meet the main players in the first book, we find out there are some special folks (Aes Sedai) who can wield the One Power (magic…kind of), which is divided into two halves; the female half – saidar, and the male half – saidin.

Unfortunately, back in the Age of Legends, the male half of the source got tainted when the Dark One was sealed into a prison by a male Aes Sedai – “The Dragon” – leaving any man who is capable of touching the One Power to go completely nuts. And I mean crazy psycho – like “killing-everyone-around-you-and-even-causing-mountains-to-be-formed-by-your-rage” psycho.

This is even a bigger bummer when we learn that the Dark One is getting out now and the only one who can stop him is…dun dun dun…the Dragon Reborn spun out from the Wheel.

The real journey begins when we meet Rand (not-spoiler – he’s the Dragon Reborn), a young shepherd and his two best buddies, Mat and Perrin. They don’t know it, but they’re gonna change and eventually (I hope?) save the world. Throughout the books, Rand has to come to grips with his destiny and his crazy self – from the tainted source – as he prepares the world as he knows it for the last battle against the Dark One. All of his friends are swept up in this journey as well – but they each find their own distinctive path along the way. It turns out to be pretty difficult to unite neighboring cultures and warring kingdoms together – even when the enemy is so clearly…evil.

One of the things that I LOVE about the series is all of the kick-butt girls along the way – who seriously make the series incredible. With the female half of the source the only safe half to use, they truly hold the power in most circumstances (magically, politically, and often emotionally). Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, and Moiraine…ahh just thank you. And I didn’t even mention Verin, Siuan or Min. (And I very purposefully did not mention Faile.)

A few things that you would need to prepare yourself for if you choose to undertake this 11,000+ page journey is just that – the length. Jordan is absolutely and certainly in love with this world and characters he created – so pretty much no one dies (spoiler!) and at times it can start to feel a little bit like Grandpa is just going and going and he forgot the reason he started tell the story.

BUT – if you give yourself a chance to get into the books, then you can forgive him for this, because it’s going to be hard for me to say goodbye, and this has only been a small part of my life for eight years. It was his WHOLE life for over 20 years.

I know WoT isn’t perfect, but I promise it is rewarding. The amount of love that is shown to this series by its fans can be a testament to that. There are SO many websites dedicated to this series – my personal favorite is The WoT Reread on Tor.com by the hilariously talented Leigh Butler. I recommend checking out her interpretation of the first few chapters if you need a refresher, or you can get the paperback/Kindle copy for about eight bucks a pop on Amazon.

Try it out and let us know what you think (Ian’s a WoT junkie too), and then we can all go to JordanCon together next year…ha.

Christin holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics (with Honors) from Baylor University, leads the Middle School Ministry at StoneBridge Church, and will teach you the proper method of eating individually packaged applesauce if you ask kindly. Kindly do not cross her in a game of Settlers of Catan, unless you like the taste of defeat. You can find more of her posts at Our Neck of The Woods. And yes, her husband totally wrote this blurb.

Literary Things: Starship Troopers.

File this one under “Books You’ve Meant To Read but Never Gotten Around To.”

You know what I mean. That glimpse of the battered paperback version on your friend’s dad’s bookshelf. Finding the library-bound copy in your high school, even though you’re not quite done with what you’re already reading. Starship Troopers is one of those books that manages to hover at the edge of your vision and tug at your interest.

And of course, it’s a Good Book that hasn’t been ruined by getting branded a Classic. It won the Hugo Award. It’s penned by Robert Heinlein, and he’s supposed to be pretty renowned by all those other guys who wrote sci-fi in the 50’s and 60’s. Plus, the cover suggests military space-trooper big-gun action, and we’re all about that, right?

So, why haven’t you picked it up yet? Its clarion call is small but determined, and the promise of a rollicking good time lies within.

Probably… because you’ve already satisfied your curiosity about Starship Troopers.

"Wait... isn't this supposed to be an episode of FIREFLY!?!"

Like you, my first exposure to the material was Paul Verohoeven’s 1998 film. It’s got its flaws, but two things at least give it cult-classic status:

1) It IS a rollicking good time. Big bugs, big guns, many guts, over-the-top acting, and (as Ian humbly reminded me) NPH as a psychic.

2) It’s also an excellent satire of the material upon which it purports to be based. Said short: it mocks the book while streamlining the plot.

Should these two qualifications be enough for your satisfaction, please stop reading and proceed immediately to YouTube. There you can find the film chopped, sliced, and low-rezzed. You’re not going to want to read the book, however.

Because the book– it’s sincere. And it’s sincere about this:

–OVERARCHING MESSAGE OF STARSHIP TROOPERS TO FOLLOW–

Serving in the military… is the finest thing you can do with your life.

This is why the book– especially in the early years of its release– has courted controversy. Reading Starship Troopers means encountering Robert Heinlein’s treatise on How Things Should Be. And in his mind, the best possible society is one orchestrated by veterans. After all, what better measure of your ability to serve the common good than actually fighting for it?

I have a hard time dismissing the premise. This is partially because my father-in-law gave me the book, and he’s both a West Point graduate and a retired Army Ranger. I have great esteem for his character and the service that he provided this country. Looking at him, how could I deny that military training turns out remarkable men?

That, friends, is the heart of Starship Troopers, and– I’m guessing– why you’ll dig it when you finally pick it up. The protagonist isn’t a particularly remarkable man when we first meet him. In fact, Juan “Johnnie” Rico is a fairly average guy from a well-to-do Puerto Rican family. In Johnnie’s future world only vets can vote and hold office, but capitalism is still alive and well, and for the most part, the majority of humanity is too comfortably off to need the rights of citizenship. Military recruiting offices even go out of their way to staff maimed veterans so they can scare off headstrong potential enlistees.

Johnnie joins anyway. His well-considered rationale is to impress his high school crush, Carmen, and perhaps, to make something of himself apart from his wealthy father. We follow Johnnie through the major stages of military life, starting with a lengthy apprenticeship in basic training, then his initial days in a Mobile Infantry unit, his painful ascension through officer training school (the boy sucks at math, which is a necessity in this future military), and finally, a climactic skirmish on a barren world.

(Does this sound familiar? It should– on one level, this book is pure bildungsroman.)

However, Johnnie still gets the shakes before combat drops. He’s unsure of his place in battle. He even gets publicly flogged for a stupid maneuver in basic. In fact, throughout the story Johnnie does nothing but get chewed out, lectured, admonished, and generally, just does a passable job of fighting for the survival of his planet. He’s not the ideal man– he’s just a man, and that’s just the point. Heinlein is showing us that people may not be inherently special– but proper experiences and training can make them special.

That Johnnie and his “mates” fight interplanetary bugs is almost incidental– it’s essentially a way for Heinlein to show how his utopia works without disqualifying his premise. After all, an enlightened humanity that requires a military has to fight something.

There are whole gobs of material that I won’t even attempt to do justice to. Well worth the price of admission is Heinlein’s theory of the Mobile Infantry and their powered armor suits– something the Verehoeven movie omits wholesale. Also interesting are Heinlein’s egalitarian views on gender roles and– the most love-it-or-hate-it part of the book– the sequences in Johnny’s History and Moral Philosophy classes. Fair warning– the classroom portions can be a little long-winded, but they’re nothing compared to Melville’s asides in Moby Dick. Just strap yourself in and prepare to disagree a bit.

For pure story thrills, the opening sequence is great, there are some clever twists at the end (take notice if characters are described by rank instead of name), and there are a surprising number of heartwarming moments that would come off as pure schlock in less capable hands.

Fortunately, Heinlein– described by Issac Asimov as one of the greatest sf writers in existence– knows exactly what he’s doing here. The only major flaw of the novel is that the characters, aside from Johnnie’s boot camp instructor, Zim, are virtually interchangeable. They’re almost like a Greek chorus of direct admonishment. In the end, however, they still don’t detract from a fascinatingly fleshed-out society– one that’s slightly alien, but also just familiar enough to recognize.

…just like the call of the book.

The cover I most associate with the book, done for the 80's/90's paperback edition.