Tag Archives: Robert Heinlein

Confessions of a Geek: Literary Influences, Part 1

An artists vision of what Starship Trooper's power armor looks like.

An artists vision of what Starship Trooper’s power armor looks like.

A few weeks ago I was looking over a friend’s Facebook page and noticed they had posted a list of movies and/or books that had influenced them. It was a nicely mixed list and I soon found myself considering the books that had influenced me. I have decided to share with you three separate lists of books, movies and comics that have influenced me and a little of the reasoning behind why. Today we’re going to start with books, in no particular order (well, they’re in the order in which I thought of them).

  • Starship Troopers – This is one of my all-time favorite books. Robert Heinlein masterfully combines a science fiction, war story with Libertarian political views, without ever making it seem preachy.  While I don’t agree with all of the political things that Heinlein has to say, they do make for interesting thoughts and debates.
  • The Hobbit – Honestly, this almost goes without saying. Like many of my generation (and my parent’s generation) this was my first introduction to the fantasy genre.  The Hobbit really is just that, an introduction.  Tolkien gives just enough of all the various pieces to make readers want more without feeling as though they’ve been cheated.  It’s also a pretty light read, which cannot be said of The Lord of the Rings.
  • The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – Keeping with fantasy for a moment, this is the C.S Lewis classic. I first came across this book sometime around third or fourth grade (maybe earlier) and was so immediately enthralled that I read the entire thing in a single night. This was the first time that I have been so in love with a book that I physically could not put it down.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Anyone who has read Hunter S. Thompson knows exactly how bizarre his work can be. Underneath the layers of drug use and general weirdness in his books There is a surprisingly accurate and thoughtful look at America. I certainly don’t share Mr. Thompson’s political views, but from time to time there are things in his work that I find myself agreeing with.
  • Marvel Comics: The Untold Story – There are two things that have fueled my interest in comics history:  a panel about the history of censorship in comics at the 2012 NYCC and Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, which I also got at NYCC. This book was so good that despite being in the middle of two other books, I dropped everything else I was reading and read this as much as possible. It reads more like a novel than a history and makes the reader feel like they know all the people personally. It has also had the effect of driving me to get more books on the history of comics.
  • Horus Heresy: Horus Rising – I picked this book up on a whim in college and then spent every moment of the next three days that I was not in class (and probably somewhere I should have been in class) reading.  This series isn’t always very good, but it has reminded me that I can enjoy purely indulgent fiction. And I’ve read TWENTY-TWO of the books, so they’ve had to have some influence.
  • Complete Works of Shakespeare – This is cheating a little, I know. Shakespeare is not only one of the greatest works of literature in the world, but it has also had a considerable impact on my life.  I started reading Shakespeare in fourth grade and it opened up a whole new world of ideas to me. Back in high school I was vice-president of school’s Shakespeare Society.  Some of my favorite books and movies even now are adaptations of Shakespearean works.

To Be Continued…

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Filed under Andrew Hales, Books, Geek Life

What Might Have Been

There is a curse on our society.   It is a dangerous and insidious plague that works its way into the very heart of the most precious part of our lives:  our entertainment.  I am, of course, referring to DVD bonus features.  While tempting and tantalizing, they have cursed us with the knowledge of what might have been.  This extra content often reveals the director’s original vision, before things like budget and other physical constraints get in the way.  Without this knowledge, fans are more than happy with the final product, but with the additional knowledge we begin to ask ourselves how much more would we have loved what might have been.

An artists vision of what Starship Trooper's power armor looks like.

An artists vision of what Starship Trooper‘s power armor looks like.

Starship Troopers is my favorite book, hands down.  I’ve read it at least a half dozen times.  Robert Heinlein crafted a fantastic science fiction universe, and the centerpiece of that universe is the Mobile Infantry, with their suits of powered armor.  These suits protect the infantrymen and provide them with enhanced strength, sensory perception, communications, and weaponry. These suits are described in the book as looking like giant, armored gorillas. Of course, this is not what appeared in the film. Instead, it was a box office disaster that didn’t have powered armor at all. That being said, the movie has some redeeming qualities as a B movie and I was willing to accept the movie for what it is—that is, until I saw the special features.  In them, director Paul Verhoeven spoke very excitedly about what he was planning to do with the suits.  Special feature interviews with Verhoeven show various concepts of what the suits might have looked like and, while they were all very different, they were all really cool looking. Instead we got really crappy body armor (This same armor made an appearance in episode two of Firefly).  Had I never seen Verhoeven’s original vision, I would have never expected anything other than the final movie version.

If you thought the armor looked familiar, you were not going crazy.

If you thought the armor looked familiar, you are not going crazy.

While Starship Troopers was an all-around disappointment, of which the armor was just one small part, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was an awesome film. Abrams was able to successfully reboot the franchise while still retaining the aesthetic, the positive vision of the future, the characterizations, etc. that made Star Trek so amazing in the first place.

USS_Enterprise_engineering_concept_2

Accompanying the reboot is a refreshingly streamlined Enterprise. Everything looks so shiny and sleek. Well, almost everything. The engineering spaces are completely out of place with the new look.  They have more in common with the engine room of a modern cargo ship than with any of the previous incarnations of Star Trek engineering spaces.  I felt that this disconnect detracted from the film and for quite a while I was forced to wonder why J.J. Abrams made that particular choice. When my answer finally came, I was both pleased and disappointed.  Again, thanks to DVD special features (ok, this time it was Blu Ray) I was shown the original designs for engineering. Everything I could have hoped for, it was streamlined, and meshed perfectly with the rest of the redesign. So what the hell happened? Turns out it was the almighty dollar sign. There just wasn’t enough money in the budget to make everything happen, and since it isn’t as integral to the film, engineering was forced to take one for the team. Unfortunately, now that I have seen the concept art, I can’t help but think about what the engine room could have looked like and how cool it would have been.

USS_Enterprise_engineering_concept_1

Of course DVDs are not the only place to get these kinds of behind the scenes secrets. Thanks to the internet there is a plethora of information and it usually doesn’t take more than thirty seconds of searching on Google to find it. In recent years studios have gone so far as to release concept art well in advance of the movie’s release in order to drum up as much excitement and anticipation as possible. I’ve always thought this was tremendously risky. What if the final product doesn’t live up to the expectations of the fans? If they didn’t already have this information, they would have never known and might have been satisfied with what they actually got.

DVD special features are great. They can be lots of fun, but they also carry with them the inherent danger of ruining the final product for the fans. One must be careful not to become too fixated on those things that might have been.  Instead we should be content with what we have and leave the speculation for someone else.

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Filed under Andrew Hales, Movies