Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Cover

Okay, so let's take a look at this bad boy.

That's the cover of the hardback edition I ended up with, dominated by Chuck Norris and an unhealthy shade of yellow-green. Our hero - for who else could this ripped, laser-toting barbarian be? - stands before a ruined city, bravely blazing away as unidentified vehicles scream through the sky above him. Behind him, another human is being shot in the back by one of a trio of... things. They look like guys in hazmat suits and gasmasks, and they are looming over two other humans - captives? Collaborators? Slaves? On the back cover we see a flight of spaceships who seem to be shooting at the ruined buildings on the front cover. They soar over two opaque domes in front of smokestacks that suggest a modern mining facility.

There's also reviews.

A terrific story.
- Robert A. Heinlein

The story may very well inspire terror, yes.

P[words obscured by Euclid Public Library barcode sticker]00 words written by a sup[text obscured]ge of Science Fiction... wonderful adventure... great characters... a masterpiece.
- A.E. van Vogt.

Technically, "masterpiece" means "greatest work of an artist's career." I haven't checked out L. Ron's other novels, so for all I know this is sadly the case.

This has everything: suspense, pathos, politics, war, humor, diplomacy and intergalactic finance.
- Publishers Weekly.

Note that they didn't say it did any of those well.

The pace starts fast and never lets up.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Relative to the latter half of the book, yes, the pace does indeed start fast. And no, there is no relief at any point. Except the last page.

If you like the kind of fast, unrelenting Raiders of the Lost Ark action, then this is the book for you. It's a real page turner.
- Rocky Mountain News.

Slight against one of the greatest adventure movies of all time aside, the last part of that is pretty accurate. I was eager to turn the pages and get to the ending too.

Tight plotting, furious action, and have at 'em entertainment.
- Kirkus Review.


Let's take another look at our hero now.

Beneath a face framed by the rugged beard of a frontiersman are chiseled abs, hulking pectorals, and an unhealthily bulging vein running from his shoulder to his right forearm like an implanted cable. Eschewing a shirt, our hero wears simple buckskin leggings and moccasins, as well as a red mantle of some sort over his shoulders. Two gunbelts encircle his waist, in addition to the belt holding his pants up. I think that's a bit much, but Tetsuya Nomura would ridicule our hero for only wearing three belts, so to each his own. Now, those strange cylinders on his gunbelts can't be bullets, since those are clearly laser pistols. Obviously they're some sort of ammunition canister. Four thin cuts slice across his chest, but our hero seems to be ignoring them and the wounds aren't bleeding - old scars? I bet the book with have an exciting story about how he got them!

Notice the guns: our hero is dual-wielding laser pistols, and firing both of them. At different targets. Without aiming either. The left pistol is shooting almost at a right angle to his body, firing downward off the cover. The right pistol is held in an extremely awkward grip and is shooting off to his right, but his eyes are gazing straight at the reader. So either our hero is so incredibly awesome that he can target enemies independently of his eyes, or else he's just screwing around. Meanwhile, those three aliens are butchering his fellow humans while he stands oblivious on a hill, firing wildly at nothing in particular.

The aesthetics here are also interesting: the guns are smooth and flowing, while the spaceships are shiny and sleek, mostly torpedo-like hulls and delicate wings. The word for today is zeerust.

Zeerust: the particular kind of datedness which afflicts things that were originally designed to look futuristic.
- The Meaning of Liff

Now this is significant - Battlefield Earth came out in 1982, five years after Star Wars popularized the concept of a Used Future and helped set the trend for sci-fi that came after it. By presenting a cover that favors the "classic" style of Raygun Gothic, the book is evoking the kind of pulp fiction featuring lantern-jawed heroes battling over-the-top villains that you rarely see in "modern" science fiction. Back then, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. In other words, the style suggests Buck Rogers instead of Blade Runner, so we can expect little moral ambiguity, but lots of flashy action and a good ol' fashioned showdown between good and evil.

Whether or not this style of space opera will be maintained in the story remains to be seen. By you. I've read it already and know the answer, but I'm not telling.

As a final note, the cover proudly tells us that the book's a New York Times bestseller. There's an interesting reason for that.

Back to the Premise

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