Review: Shield (9/10 stars)

Shield is an old novel by Paul Anderson. It is not one of his best known works but it stuck with me anyway. It was written in the early sixties so a lot of the tech is dated (no internet for example) but it is still good.

Personally I find it interesting to read books written that long ago by masters of science fiction. All science fiction will be dated at some point after all, even mine will be some day. A book should be good even after this happens.

The book is about a naive astronaut that returns from mars. His was far from the first expedition, but it was the first that had the goal of pooling scientific and engineering knowledge. While the Martians were not much more advanced then us, they did go along paths we did not. Because of this the main character was able to create what he called a Shield. It was a device that projected a pill shaped bubble around the user that would stop everything but visible light (by design for obvious reasons) and relativistic particles (which it did not have the power to stop, but a larger unit could).

The main character thought that upon return to earth he would become a minor celebrity and the plans for the shield would be made public, as it said in the mission statement for his trip. Instead agents were sent to take the shield and to kill him. He ended up running because everyone, from the the US government to other governments and even crime bosses wanted the Shield.

The book has an interesting political landscape that plays into the book, but the really interesting thing to me is the idea of what would happen when a truly transformative technology is introduced.

The prototype shield is pill shaped with the user in a harness in the middle. This means that there are a lot of limitations in it’s use. However there was no reason it could not be shrunk down to the size of a pager, and made to cover your skin. Or made larger to cover cities and shield from even a nuke strike.

Stories like this are why I love science fiction.

 

Battling technologies

One thing that becomes apparent when you look at the history of technology is how common having two different technologies force each other to develop is.

The best example of this is how during the middle ages both armor and weapons improved. Over the centuries this meant that there were times where having the best armor made you all but untouchable, and other times when a really good weapon could go through any armor you would face.

This is a good reason to have a technology be developed, or to keep being developed.

Review: Ready Player One (5/10 stars) [Heavy spoilers]

First I will say that I have not (yet) read the book, I do own it but I don’t exactly have a lot of free time these days. That said, a movie should stand on it’s own merits and that is how I will review it.

Overall I would say the movie is borderline worth the money to see.

There are three main issues I have with it.

First the main character comes off as kind of dull. I mean that in the sense he is kind of boring and that he is kind of stupid. For example he assumes that the people he meets conform to the age and gender of their avatar. This is after he gives an onscreen narration about one of the good things about the Oasis being that you can have any avatar you want. I can understand a convention developing that for conversational purposes you assume people fit the age/gender of their avatars but no one would assume that its real.

He “falls in love” after less then an hour of conversation with a avatar of a young women who does nothing more then pay attention to him. I mean I am not saying that is unrealistic, but it is not endearing.

He just was not a great protagonist.

Second, there were two protagonists that were, in theory, important but were never given the screen time. In the book I am sure they are given enough but in the movie the scenes with them are just wasted. They should have either been written out or expanded.

Third, and the big one for more, the world was just not developed enough. The movie is set in thirty or so years. Despite this we have roman style debt slavery (you become the slave of the person you owe money to until you work the money off). A game company has what looks like a swap team that operates so openly they wear company logo’s. We are told names of wars and stuff but we are never given context. It is implied that getting jobs is hard, but never stated.

Thirty years is enough time for a lot of stuff to change, but not enough for you to make such basic changes to everything without any explanation.

The game company that has a swat team has their CEO personalty try to kill someone. Me, I assumed this meant that they had so much power and influence that he was above the law. Even if a cop saw him do it, he would just pay them and they would look away. Yet he was dragged away by the cops.

On Death

One interesting question always to ask is what happens they your characters die, or when an important object is destroyed.

This CAN change everything, The best example of this is Ned Stark, his dying made everything much more interesting then if he had lived. Never forget that a book can be sad, or depressing and still be good. It can not be boring and be good.

I am not saying you should kill characters just as a cheap way to make your book interesting. However it often will not occur to you because you have so much invested in them. You should think about how you characters would/should die, even just as an exercise.

For example, Spock in Wrath of Khan dies in a way only he would. It made the movie much better then if they had found some easy way out, it gave the movie a weight that it would otherwise not have had.