Scalzi Beaten To The Punch By… Al Franken?

In the wake of the Stephen Colbert Whitehouse Correspondents dinner kerfuffle, I was cruising the Internet[s] looking for prior precedent for comedians excoriating a sitting president to his face when I stumbled across a draft version of Al Franken’s routine at the 1996 WHC dinner. As I perused the speech, I noted with interest the following passage:

Here’s another idea. I am not a military expert so I’m not sure that this is feasible. But here it is. From what I’ve read I understand there is nothing more terrifying in battle than seeing enemy hordes charging at you with no regard for their own lives. Why have we always insisted on asking our young men, and now young women, in the flower of their lives to risk themselves in combat? Why not, in the right situation, use a human wave of our elderly to scare the enemy?
Think about it. You’re an Iraqi or a North Korean soldier. Suddenly, over the horizon, you see a batallion of Americans. They won’t attack, you think. America wouldn’t risk the blood of its precious youth when it could simply employ their sophisticated, expensive weapons. Then you look through your binoculars, and a chill goes down your spine. Retirees! Thousands and thousands of them! Each one older than the next. Each with a life expectantcy of three or four years at most. You think to yourself, “What do these people really have to lose? The four worst years of their lives?” You’re terrified. Then they charge. A slow charge, yes, but that makes it even more frightening.
Admittedly, there’s some kinks to work out. Mobilization would be tough. I don’t know if you’ve ever organized a group of seniors for a theatre trip? I don’t think training would be that much of a problem. It’d be kind of like, “Go out there and run.” And this would give our World War II era Americans a chance to contribute yet again to our country. Just when they thought they were forgotten.
I guess what I’m saying is let’s not just talk about our problems. Let’s talk about solutions.

Hmmm. Remind anyone else of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War? Could it be? Noted Sci Fi author plagiarizes arch-abuser of Harvard grad student ghost writers? Say it ain’t so, John, say it ain’t so!
(In an odd bit of synchronicity, Scalzi has posted his humorous thoughts on the whole Colbert shebang).

The Illustrated Stephenson

Credit goes out to Aron for ferreting this one out. He’s been on a bit of a Flickr kick recently and happened across a Flickr group that is seeking to photographically document the real-world locations described in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (i.e. Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World). Thus far, it looks as if they just have portions of England covered – I’m quite looking forward to the shots that will come from Mexico City, the Phillipines, the Japanese coast, India and the Barbary Coast.

Book Review: Old Man’s War

Old Man\'s WarTitle: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Available From: Barnes & Noble, Amazon
If my blogging has seemed a bit light and/or incoherent this week, it is entirely the fault of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I lay down Monday night with the intention of reading to the end of a chapter and then falling asleep, only to wind up staying up far into the night and reading the book the rest of the way through.
A quick synopsis: In the not-too-too-distant future, humanity has overpopulated Earth and set forth to colonize other planets as a result. In order to help coordinate and defend the colonies from the various and sundry nasty alien races that also happen to populate the universe, humanity establishes the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). Earth itself is now a bit of a backwater, purposefully kept in the dark as to what exactly is going on in the rest of the ‘Verse. No Colonial ever sets foot on Earth and little hard news makes its way back from the colonies. However, it’s a well-known fact that the CDF is always on the lookout for good soliders, with a twist: anyone turning 65 is able to go to the closest CDF recruitment office, sign up for duty and then wait for a period of 10 years before being called into service on their 75th birthday. Rumors abound as to why the CDF only recruits the old but most assume that, through some form of genetic therapy or surgery, the old and infirm can be made into fighting machines.
The book is written from the perspective of one John Perry who introduces his story thusly: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” The story takes off from there.
I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed this book greatly. It had been repeatedly recommended by Glenn Reynolds and that, combined with my experience reading Scalzi’s (free!) online book Agent to the Stars convinced me that OMW would be worth picking up.
Scalzi’s prose is light, conversational and easy to read. His characters are all almost immediately likable and accessible, making it easy to get into his writing style and he almost never spirals off into unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, instead using his words to paint only the faintest outlines of a scene, letting his dialogue and his readers’ imaginations fill in the rest. The story itself clips along at a brisk pace, introducing characters (and subsequently killing many of them off) in rapid-fire succession. He imagines a compelling set of technologies, both civilian and military in use, that are extremely plausible extensions of tech that we either posess at the current time or are just around the corner, meaning that relating to the technology described is quite easy and almost akin to reading a current issue of Popular Science. The language is befitting a military setting; in other words, it’s fairly coarse. If your stomach is easily turned by a goodly bit of old-fashioned cussing in a new-fangled setting, you may want to avoid OMW.
If there is one downfall to Old Man’s War, it is one that it shares with Agent to the Stars: the denoument seems a tad rushed and all too brief. I do not know if it is endemic to Scalzi’s writing style (I will have to give his upcoming Ghost Brigades [*cough* *cough* it’s on my Amazon Wish List, should anyone be so inclined…] a read to see if this is indeed the case), but he seems to spend a lot of time setting up the last few scenes of his book, only to have them come to a thunderingly quick conclusion.
Those of my readers that consider themselves fans of good science fiction would do themselves well to pick up a copy of Old Man’s War. Me? I’ve got to catch up on my sleep in preparation for Ghost Brigades

High Praise For Serenity From A Sci-Fi Luminary

SciFi buffs will most likely be familiar with the name “Orson Scott Card” – yes, that Orson Scott Card. He’s written up a very, very positive review of Serenity. Dig it:

It’s great.
I’m not going to say it’s the best science fiction movie, ever.
Oh, wait. Yes I am.
Let me put this another way. Those of you who know my work at all know about Ender’s Game. I jealously protected the movie rights to Ender’s Game so that it would not be filmed until it could be done right. I knew what kind of movie it had to be, and I tried to keep it away from directors, writers, and studios who would try to turn it into the kind of movie they think of as “sci-fi.”

Go ye and read the whole thing, for it is good.

An Interview Worth Reading, If You’re A Geek, That Is…

I know I’ve been flogging the Serenity horse pretty hard these last few days, but this will be (one of) the last movie-related posts, I swear. TIME.com has posted an hilarious three-way interview with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman that’s well worth reading. Major-league geekage alert for those who click through on the link – Buffy is discussed, as well as Mary Poppins, Time Cop, Sandman and a host of other stream-of-consciousness stuff. Very funny.

(Legitimate) Free Stuff On The Internet[s]

That’s it. It’s time for a “Browser Brain Dump,” folks. I’ve had a huge number of tabs sitting open in my browser as of late, with all sorts of information ephemera taking up valuable virtual memory. Thus, in the interest of personal sanity, I am setting forth here a collection of links to various and sundry information products that people, for varying reasons and to varying degrees, have made available for free to users of the Intarweb. What follows are those links, grouped roughly by their respective mediums.
Books

  1. Accelerando by Charles Stross. SciFi in the vein of Gibson, Stephenson, Asimov, et. al.
  2. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. I’ve mentioned it before, but it deserves another plug. Good, light, humorous SciFi.
  3. Eugenics and Other Evils by G.K. Chesterton. Heavy duty apologetics endorsing a “Culture of Life”.

Geeky Music

  1. NESkimos: Live versions of Nintendo themes.
  2. Optimus Rhyme: Nerdcore artists extraordinare.
  3. Video Game Pianist: Pretty much self-explanatory.
  4. The Minibosses: Rockin’ out in the key of N-E-S.
  5. Y2Khai: One Loc’d out Asian nerdcore rapper.
  6. OC Remix: Remixes of video game music. I’ve mentioned it before, but it just keeps getting bigger and better all the time.

For more info on Nerdcore, check out this Wired article. For more info on the Minibosses, see the NPR article Rocking in the Key of Nintendo.
Games

  1. CodeRED: Quake Deathmatch meets Mars Attacks!.
  2. Nexuiz: GPL’d Deathmatch++.
  3. Mud Magic: For those of us who remember the original MORPGs.
  4. DOSGAMES: All your childhood PC favorites.
  5. The Underdogs: Fill up on abandonware to your heart’s content.
  6. Abandonia: Even more abandoned games.
  7. The Ur-Quan Masters: Open Source rebuild of Star Control 2.
  8. TripleA: Open Source Axis & Allies.

Those DOS games won’t run on Win2000/XP, so remember to grab DOSEMU or DOSBox to be able to play them.
Software

  1. A large list of Windows freeware. Via Jake Jarvis.
  2. Firefox: King of the Web, Browser Supreme, bar none.
  3. DistroWatch: keep tabs on the latest n’ greatest in the Linux and *BSD scenes.

That about clears up my browser “free as in beer” tab spamfest. If you have other suggestions for free stuff that you think I should include in the list, just drop it in the comments.

“Insta” Pundit Strikes Again

As previously noted, Glenn Reynolds has been slacking on the “Insta” portion of his nom de ‘Net. He’s apparently expecting a copy of the physical version of John Scalzi’s superb Agent to the Stars. From the looks of things, Glenn missed out on this one too.
To be fair, I’ve only come to know of Scalzi’s work through Reynolds’ touting of Old Man’s War and via Penny Arcade’s involvement with the cover art for the special edition of Agent.
I’ve already printed out a full copy of AttS and passed it around the office, to general accord. Methinks I may pick up a copy of the print edition as well.

Chuckle For The Day

I’ve always thought that romance novel covers offer an frightening intriguing view into the bizarre notions that publishing companies hold regarding what attracts female readers. Were I a female, I do believe I’d be downright offended at the vast majority of the artwork that “graces” such novels’ covers. As it stands, I usually find them funny and more than a little sad.
For those looking for some truth in advertising, Longmire, equipped with a mighty copy of Photoshop, has adjusted some sample covers to humorous effect.
Heh.