Tuesday, March 31, 2009
One summer when I was 13 or 14, my best friend's neighbors asked us to organize their books for them. So Chad and I climbed the stairs into a dark, stiflingly hot, attic and I discovered my first lost world. You see, Chad's neighbors were huge science fiction fans and their attic was filled with thousands of paperback novels that they would just finish and toss up the stairs. We were free to take any that looked interesting to us as long as we boxed up all the rest - to make room for more, I guess. To this day I can still smell the scent of dry paperbacks and sweet, aged, attic wood. For a week we straightened up and I came out of that attic with supermarket bags (paper, not plastic) filled with books which we plowed through. I kept going on those bags all summer, even after Chad had lost interest. I read so many titles and stories that they're just jumbled up in my head now - images without author or title. Someday I might start a feature called "What was that book?" and see if some of you can define my query.
Of course, some of the best ones are never forgotten. I read the late Philip Jose Farmer's entire RIVERWORLD series (and I owe an in memorium tribute to this writer who passed away last month). That was also the period in which I discovered Robert Heinlein - the best writer of the golden age of sci fi. One of the things that separated Heinlein from all the other writers of his era was his ability to inject genuine emotion into the characters he wrote about. Sure he was writing about rocket jocks but these were men who were not destined to be heroes just because they happened to be the protagonist of a story. They were filled with fear and desire and courage - they doubted their decisions, their convictions, and they suffered for their choices. Heinlein provided the essential ingredient necessary to elevate a whole genre. Another great twist Heinlein was fond of was telling a story not from the usual hero's point of view. Instead of a space captain's story - Heinlein would tell the story of an ordinary soldier, or a teenager, or any other person who might be unremarkable under any other circumstances but the one they find themselves in. Like Juan Rico in STARSHIP TROOPERS (the book, not the movie). Obviously, I'm a fan of Heinlein. I've written about him twice: first in THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, and now in THE ASTOUNDING, THE AMAZING, AND THE UNKNOWN.
Robert Buettner has to be a fan of Heinlein, as well as a student and, perhaps, heir apparent. His novel, ORPHANAGE, tells a similar tale of a potentially wasted youth who joins the army, survives his own weaknesses to make it through basic training, puts his trust in the mission and system around him, and rises to greatness through the events surrounding an alien attack on earth. One of the astonishing things about his book is the verisimilitude of the military sequences. From the fears and pains that plague a new recruit, through the military tactics and chain of command a troop faces on the battlefield, it reads incredibly real. Like Heinlein who was a Naval officer, Buettner has had real (and interesting) experiences with the military (seriously! Check out his site for the details.) That realism, combined with humor, flair, and a sense of awe make the ORPHANAGE series one you should check out.
Thanks to Robert, we have a donated box of ORPHANAGE being delivered to troops heading to Afghanistan. There will be a major announcement about that soon! In the meantime, you can support Robert for his donation by picking up one or more (c'mon people, it's a series!) of his books. Remember, the proceeds from any book you purchase in the OWL Store goes to support Operation Warrior Library.
Posted by Paul Malmont at 5:38 AM