Friday, October 26, 2012

Starship Troopers [1959]

Starship Troopers was arguably the most controversial book by Robert Heinlein, one of the ‘Big Three’ of Science Fiction (along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke). The book earned severe notoriety for its deification of militarism – it was a classic elucidation of the saying, “If you wish for peace, prepare for war” – and for its ultra-right wing tone and theme (some have even called the book and its author “fascist”, but that was too far-fetched methinks). The story is set in an unspecified future when the right to citizenship (and consequently, vote and hold public offices) can only be earned through voluntary federal service, and the world is in constant inter-stellar battles with an extra-terrestrial species referred to as the “bugs”. Narrated in first person, the story is about a young lad called Juan “Johnnie” Rico who joins the Mobile Infantry against his father’s wishes. Over the course of the story, he goes through a grueling boot camp, and then rises through the ranks while the war with the Bugs takes the form of a catastrophe of galactic proportions. The book was a very easy read on account of the breezy pace, simple style and smooth plot progression. But it was also tad underwhelming on account of the lack of any significant character developments or any emotional buildups. It is filled with polarizing political and social commentaries, delivered in the form of monologues by military officers, who, quite obviously, were mouthpieces for Heinlein – though foods for thought and potent trigger points for debates, they transformed the book into an ideological essay at times. The book won the prestigious Hugo Award in 1960 (interestingly, Heinlein wrote this by taking a break from Stranger in a Strange Land, which too won that award), and continues to remain a pop-culture milestone. Paul Verhoeven adapted it into an engaging, hyper-violent and an equally controversial movie in 1997.

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Science-Fiction/Military Adventure/War/Philosophical Fiction
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, October 8, 2012

All the King's Men [1946]

Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning All the Kings Men, included by both Time magazine and Modern Library in their lists of 100 best novels of 20th century, is widely regarded as a milestone in political fiction. Such is its resonating influence that is has become a cultural icon as well. The book, the title of which was borrowed from the famous nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, remains a powerful commentary on the corruptible nature of power, as also a scathing look at the realpolitik philosophy of ends justifying means. Alternating between past and present, it tells the cautionary tale of Willie Stark, a powerful, cynical and impossibly ambitious Governor, with a gift for the gab, in a Southern state during the 1930s, and his spectacular rise from an idealistic, na├»ve and a petty nobody. The story’s narrator is Jack Burden, a former history student and political journalist who is now the de facto right hand man for Stark. In the weaving yarn comprising of a multitude of characters, Burden takes a journey – which is as much spiritual and personal as it is political – of getting to know the various shades of Stark, and in turn, finding out who he really is. They remain two of the most complex, multi-layered and fascinating characters in American literature. The novel in fact abounds in various other memorable characters as well who play significant roles in shaping and/or defining the two incredible protagonists. The book wasn’t flawless – some of the subplots, especially the Cass Mastern episode and Jack’s oedipal relationship with her mother, could perhaps have been done without, the epilogue ought to have been briefer, and the plot developments, at times, bordered on the implausible. Nonetheless, Warren’s poetic yet gripping writing style, and the moral choices that shape the two central characters, made it a memorable read.

Author: Robert Penn Warren
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Roman a Clef/Classic
Language: English
Country: US