Sunday, August 5, 2007

Old Twentieth

Joe Haldeman is one of my favorite writers, hands-down. The Forever War is one of the finest books I have ever read. Go find a copy, and read it.

I just devoured Old Twentieth, and I am astonished by it. It's magnificent.

But it is very odd, also. The pace is not uniform, although it does increase its intensity. It wriggles with the surprising, chaotic, awkward twists and turns of lived experience, reduced down to a plot line. It is suspenseful, follows a single thread of plot... and still refuses to be tidy.

In many ways, OT may be better than TFW. (If you have ever discussed the latter with me, you will know how dazzled you should be by that statement.) That may be my personal bias, as cyberpunkish questions about learning, maturity, and sentience are a big part of my own writing and thinking at the moment and they form some of the central themes of this book.

I'm not going to do a full review. To do so might spoil it. I am going to tell you that if you like futurist fiction, reveries on mortality and melancholia, gritty war writing, and psychological science fiction, and particularly if you have ever been interested in cyberpunk concerns with nuances of sentience, you might want to pick this one up.


Robert Link said...

I hate it when my comments get lost. Take two...

Stipulate: a) TFW was other than an attempt at a 70s update of Heinlein's classic, "Starship Troopers", b) TFW was somehow better than Mindbridge or All My Sins Remembered. Even so, you've got an uphill battle convincing me the new work is better than TFW. What did you think of "The Forever Peace," which I started but couldn't stick with?

While we're at it: Diamond Age or Snow Crash?

Ducks said...

I have read neither of the latter... although I have written down the name Snow Crash a hundred times on the recommendation of people whose opinions I respect. I absolutely must pick up a copy.

As for Forever Peace... it took me no less than six attempts to read it. It was actually quite good once it got rolling, but it took its time getting there. The motif was sobering and a little difficult for me to get into... but where it went was worthwhile. I don't think it's at all in the class of TFW or OT.

I dream scenes from TFW, and I am not sure I'm ready to displace it from its pedestal yet... :) It's an amazing book. But Old Twentieth is DEFINITELY worth a read. It's just as visionary, but in different ways; one tightly bounded future historicity rather than several, and many scenarios of the past to round it. However, there is something captivating to me about the storyline of OT, and the ending, although unsatisfying by its very nature, is suffused with a breathtaking and dark optimism... the way I read it.

It is very, very fine. Although you may not rank it above TFW (and I'm still not sure I do), it is a good one.

Robert Link said...

You almost have me convinced.

Snow Crash is a must read, if not for the "metaverse" then for the Sumerian mythology. But I think "The Diamond Age" was a much better piece of writing.

I had thought my next SF indulgence was going to be the new Gibson, "Spook Country", which Cory Doctorow over at has been talking up. But maybe I'll try OT when it comes to paperback.

Ducks said...

It's in paperback... I never read anything that isn't, because I read in the tub and otherwise I fall asleep and hit myself in the face with a HEAVY book. ;)

I'm excited about Spook Country, too.

Off topic: I've been trying to comment on your blog in stolen moments all day. I'll have to do it from home... forgive me if I forget or am super late, but such thought provoking posts lately...

Ducks said...

Finally got them posted.

I've been thinking about it. I think the Forever War is better for more people; it's got greater scope and more unforgettable subject matter. But the craftsmanship of this book is possibly finer-- it's quite captivating.

My brother loaned me Snow Crash, bless him. Now I just need to read the sucker... in my "copious" free time, haha.

Robert Link said...

Cross-pollination: Robert Pirsig authored "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and "Lila". One sentence review of the former: Reminisces schizophrenic English teacher with delusions of enlightenment travels cross-country with son who shows signs of teen-onset schizophrenia. But that's not how most people see it. ;)

Ducks said...

Oh, OH! I know who he is now...

I don't know why that one didn't make a deeper impression on me than it did. Perhaps I should reread it, now that I'm not wrestling with teen-onset schizophrenia myself. ;)