Friday, April 24, 2009

Sometimes old school just seems old

I finally got my hands on a Matter for Men, the out of print, but much loved start to David Gerrold's unfinished War Against the Chtorr epic. I am quite mixed on this book. On the one hand, the sci-fi ideas in the book are great. It is an alien invasion book, but the tack Gerrold takes is novel. Rather than land in ships with tanks ablazing like World War 2 from space, this war is approached more in a guerilla fashion. The aliens impose their ecosystem on earth, slowly taking over niches so that become integrated into the ecology and that much harder to uproot. Its a neat metaphor for insurgency warfare and it isn't surprising that the initial forces sent to deal with them are Special Forces.

The political world he creates is equally fresh. In his world, the US is the 21st century Weimar, held down by the other nation's who fear its use of military power. The other nations have come, as was the case in the 1930s, to resist any call to use military power, which causes conflict in how to deal with the Chtorran invasion.

The story itself makes for great scifi reading, but the characters and the dialogue made me grit my teeth. Gerrold dedicates the book to the Heinleins and he is clearly emulating Heinlein in the book. He shows the growth of a young man into a key leadership position, but I didn't find this character development terribly convincing or interesting.

Gerrold devotes long chapters to Socratic dialogues where, for example, the main character receives his political education at the canny hands of a grizzled vet teacher. Later his gains knowledge from a series of military and political figures where he goes through the cycle of FNG rejection, to grudging respect, to eventual team membership. More than once the "I don't know whether to shoot you or promote you" cliche is rolled out. Our hero doesn't want to listen to the Man's rules or orders you see, yet he is in the military.

Then there is the depiction of women, rarely a point of strength in science fiction, but pretty bad here. We have the ice-cold leader types and the screaming hysterical types who can only speak in stream of consciousness self loathing emotionalism. The latter are particularly annoying. To be fair, the main character is given to emotional outbursts himself, but he also has a bit more nuance.

So this is a tough one. For those who can look past the warts, there is some great stuff here. Just beware.

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