Tag: sci-fi

Maybe I’ll See You on The River, Philip Jose Farmer

From PJStar:

Science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer died this morning at his home. He was 91.

The Peoria-based writer had written more than 75 books and was awarded the top honors in his field. That includes the Grand Master Award for Science Fiction in 2001, an award also given to noted authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.

I "discovered" Philip Jose Farmer when my I was a kid – my father owned or gave me a copy of the first book of his Riverworld series To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and I remember really enjoying it, even though there was no way I was mature enough at that time to comprehend much more than the main plot of the book.  Any novel whose scope is so great that it includes all 36,006,009,637 people ever born on earth (from to origin members of homo sapiens through the early 21st century) is sure to make a lasting impression that stays with you.  My father told me that he read all of the Riverworld series and some of the other Farmer novels, and I planned to follow suit. 

Somewhere along the way I couldn't find any more books by Philip Jose Farmer at the library and forgot about searching for them until my interest was rekindled this month when I began to re-read the Riverworld series all over again (as you'll see from my GoodReads profile, if you're following me there).  Although the series does have some minor issues, it's as awe-inspiring now as the first time I read the novels.  Maybe even more so as I'm catching philosophical, theological, and historical references that totally blew by me when I was younger.

The world has lost a great author today, and is a little bit darker for it.  Farmer was one of those great authors whose works I could read over and over again.  There's a lot of his novels I haven't yet read, but now each one that I pick up will remind me of the passing of a writer who had such a strong influence in developing my love for reading in general, and sci-fi in particular.

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Ross Reads: Variable Star

Variable Star
Robert A. Heinlein & Spider Robinson

Hold the phones, stop the presses – Robert Heinlein is writing new novels from beyond the grave!

Well, technically, it's a collaboration, but Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson reads like a Heinlein novel, and delivers everything you could want from a book written by two of the greatest writers of modern science fiction.

Set in the not-too-distant future, just a little while past Heinlein's Crazy Years period, the protagonist is a young musician (saxophone) and composer named Joel Johnston.  Joel's pride and stubbornness (and a whirlwind series of events) cause him to book passage on a colony ship destined to become the Earth's 20th colony, on a planet 85 light-years away from everything he held near and dear to his heart.  The novel is as much about humanity, kindness, love, music, and hope as it is about the Joel's experiences on his voyage to the stars.

The novel feels like a Heinlein juvenile, and for good reason.  During the period that Robert A. Heinlein was writing his juveniles, he put together a very dense-but-unfinished outline of eight typed pages and fourteen 3×5" index cards of extensive handwritten notes about Variable Star.  And then, for some reason, he never wrote the novel and instead put them in a desk drawer, where they sat undiscovered until members representing his estate went through all of his works, and in 2003 asked Spider Robinson to turn the outline into a full novel.

Spider Robinson, first called "the new Robert Heinlein" by the New York Times Book Review in 1982, eagerly accepted the challenge to turn the outline into a novel that would make the Grand Master proud.  He managed to follow faithfully in the classic model of a Heinlein Space Opera, complete with RAH's own trademark phrases and quips.  Yet Robinson also poured his own life and soul into the story, bringing about a depth to the characters and scenes that only Spider Robinson could dream up.  Although he restrained himself somewhat compared to other of his novels (like his Callahan series), Robinson still managed to sprinkle a liberal dose of puns throughout the story – but rarely, if ever, do they appear to be puns for punning's sake.

Readers should be aware that Robinson does bring a bit of the contemporary to the stereotypical '50s style of Heinlein's earlier works.  There are some references to sex & drugs, and some minor profanity that you wouldn't expect if the novel was solely authored by Heinlein.  However, these are not very graphic at all, and I would say the book is a safe read for anyone 13 years and older.

This book is a fantastic read that kept me up way too late for many nights in a row until I devoured it from cover to cover.  As a long-time fan of both authors, I could not think of a more enjoyable story to cap off Heinlein's long writing career.  This is a definite must-read for anyone who is a fan of Robert A. Heinlein's books, and fans of one of Heinlein's greatest students will not be disappointed with Spider Robinson's latest creation, either.

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