One of my favorite books, it's Heinlein’s homage to Edgar Rice Burrough -
full of the swashbuckling, macho, romantic ideals of ERBs Barsoom (John Carter/Mars) series (including the silly romantic banter).
Heinlein’s witty, insightful, and caustic (at times) commentary on the military and the Vietnam War in particular are spot-on. The off Earth adventures are over-the-top, filled with sword fights and monsters. The character development is good, especially the grudging respect that grows between Oscar and Rufo.
All in all it is just plain fun and well worth the listen.
I ran across the movie first and, as always, the books are waaaay better. Having said that, if you haven’t seen the movie, get it (a bit more on that later – now back to the book).
As far as the story, even though I’m a long time sci-fi and horror fan, I found my imagination and mind (and a few times even my suspended belief) being stretched, but always in a good way. It’s one of those you’ll either love or hate – you’ll either think it’s some of the greatest prose written down or just plain rubbish. But give it a chance – there is a lot going on amid the backdrop of scary monsters and sophomoric humor (both of which I absolutely loved). Stephen Thorne does a fantastic job with the narration and characters.
Of all the great things in the book, I was most impressed with the character development. In part because, initially I didn’t think there was much for the first 2/3rds of the book and was beginning to get frustrated by it. Here was all this intriguing stuff going on and the characters were coming across as just regular old boring people. Then it clicked – that was why it was so good…they were behaving just like “regular” people. Once I realized that and stopped fighting it I was hooked. It wasn’t your typical heroes or slacker anti-heroes here, especially the two main characters. NO ONE was in control or had their $#!@ together and when you think about it who would in that situation? They are often selfish and lazy, at times heroic and brilliant, and other times, despite their best efforts, things go horribly, horribly wrong. I’ve never gotten so far into a book and not known who was going to live or die.
It really is a great book – I can’t say enough good things about it. (Don't miss the second book: This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It. It's even better...)
One quick note on the movie – Don Coscarelli (director/screenplay) did an amazing job. It’s truly incredible that he was able to convey the main concepts of two books (almost 1000 pages, 30 hours audio) in 99 minutes and on a relatively low budget. There are a couple of significant differences, but if you think about it you’ll understand why. Cast is great (especially Paul Giamatti and Glynn Turman, but really to pull a story like this off, everyone did an amazing job of acting).
If you listen to this as a Heinlein book (as I started doing) you'll likely be disappointed. If you listen to it as what it is, a Spider Robinson book based on Heinlein's notes, (as I ended up doing) you'll probably love it.
Spider Robinson and the Heinlein Foundation didn't intend this to be a Heinlein book, so don't blame either if you try to make it that - it's pure Spider Robinson; however, I think he captures the the spirit of Heinlein throughout.
And yeah, he sings a bit, but come on it's not THAT terrible. Suck it up and just deal with the minute or two and enjoy the overall story. And yeah, there are the terrible Spider Robinson puns, but the same goes for those.
I did find one lengthy and very out of context current cultural reference extremely annoying. Almost to the point I stopped listening (I love what it is based on, but if you recognize it, you'll know what I mean); however, upon finding out Spider is now a Canadian citizen, I forgave him as the item in question should be a Canadian national treasure.
Bottom line, keep in mind what it really is and it's a great book.
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