Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ruled Britania by Harry Turtledove

A while ago I tried reading a series of books Mr. Turtledove wrote about aliens invading during WWII. It was, quite simply, boring beyond imagination, at least for me. So when a friend handed me a book called "Ruled Britania" by the same author I took it with a bit of trepidation, but I was wrong.

The book is excellent and flows quite well. The first 40-50 pages are somewhat slow, but once the action starts, it keeps up right until the end. The basic plot of the story is a 'what if' (for which Harry Turtledove has become known as the absolute master) in which the Spanish Armada wasn't defeated in 1588, and instead successfully invaded England. A rich english aristocrat, Elizabeth's former spy master, sets about commissioning Shakespeare to write a place called 'Boudicea' to inspire the people of England to revolution. Of course, at the same time, the governor of England commissions him to write a play about King Phillip the II, to commemorate Spain's dying King. Shakespeare has to do both at the same time in an otherwise extremely difficult situation.

The thing I found most fascinating was the fact that many of the minor characters (but not all) were quite real as well. Mr. Turtledove did a very good job of making them seem quite real. For example, the Spanish are somewhat brutal, but they are hardly mustache twirling Snidely Whiplashes. Added to this fact is Turtledove's use of Lope De Vega, a Spanish playwrite (and in this case soldier as well) for the Spanish perspective and you get a rich and deep plot.

I highly recommend it if you like historical fiction.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin

I like the book though I don't necessarily agree with its politics. The basic premise of the book is a self made billionaire sees that the system is on the verge of collapse, has terminal lung cancer, so he makes a self contained cryogenic unit and buries it in a mountain where it lies for several centuries. What remains is a perfect libertarian paradise where the government magically works perfectly, there is no tax and the government can provide no service that is not also competed against in the free market. There is no war, little crime and plenty of food. Medicine has removed all sickness and people essentially live forever.

There is only one fly in the ointment. Anyone who is born automatically has themselves incorporated, with their parents getting 20% and the government getting 5%. Beyond that, almost everyone has to trade between 6-14% to receive an education from a university, which also owns a part of you until you pay it off or buy your stock back. Reaching a majority, and thus controlling your own destiny, is the goal of essentially everyone in this civilization.

Thus when our billionaire wakes up, the corp that finds him wants to lay claim to him and incorporate him. Through a bit of trickery, he manages to get free and thus a massive legal battle ensues wherein he is trying to keep his soul and not become incorporated.

The book does indeed feel Heinleinian, and I like Heinlein, though the background government sure isn't Starship Troopers that's for sure. The best part of the book is the struggle for individuality and the right to be free, despite blatant attempts by the authors to turn the non billionaires who like the idea into cartoon characters.

David Weber does the same thing in the Honor Harrington books, but does so with so much class that you don't mind. That, and the main bad guys AREN'T cartoon characters. Overall its a good read, but given how good this idea is and how ham fisted they were with their politics, I'm betting I won't be as entertained by their next book.