Heinlein Alternative

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#1 by tyrog
2019-09-03 at 09:39
What follows is a brief outline of Heinlein's fiction and my opinion on how it is best to approach it. I figured it's better not to clutter your Age thread with unrelated comments, so I'm posting here.

First, a word about Heinlein himself. What makes him arguably the most important science fiction writer to date? The reason is simple — he established most of the tropes of the SF genre as we recognize them today. Thus, we have:

The concept of a "future history", a self-consistent body of work that traces the evolution of humanity as it discovers new technologies and expands to other planets, meets other intelligent species, and overcomes threats to its survival;

Time travel and time paradoxes, The Door into Summer, "All Ye Zombies";

Colonizing the Moon; the benefits and threats of artificial intelligence, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress;

Generation starships, "Universe";

Reality as artificially imposed construct, "The Unpleasant Profesion of Jonathan Hoag";

Exploring the fourth dimension, "And he Built a Crooked House";

Encountering a vastly superior intelligent species and the resulting paradigm shift, Stranger in a Strange Land (though it's not really about aliens);

Unlimited lifespan, Time Enough for Love and others

The list goes on, but that should be enough to give a general idea why Heinlein is important.
I find it puzzling that the Wikipedia article fails to mention H. G. Wells, the writer who influenced Heinlein the most. A lot of the themes he explores are reworked and expanded versions of ideas put forward by his famous predecessor.

So what is the best point of entrance into Heinlein's work? I recommended Starship Troopers because it is thematically similar to Muv-Luv Alternative, but it and Stranger in a Strange Land, his most famous novel, are usually the worst choices for someone new to Heinlein. Just as many people hate these books as love them, and if you turn out to be one who falls into the first category, you may be soured permanently on Heinlein's fiction and not give the rest of it a chance.
I think for a Muv-Luv fan it's safe to start with Troopers, but otherwise I would recommend: Double Star or the The Door Into Summer (Chuable Soft's VN Astraythem openly acknowledges drawing inspiration from that novel), two novels that everybody likes and which are in many ways Heinlein's best; one of the so-called juveniles, featuring youths having adventures in space — Red Planet is the best of the bunch in my opinion; or any one of his short fiction collections. Particularly good is The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag; the eponymous novella was made into an excellent movie, The 13th Floor. A lot of people think the Moon is a Harsh Mistress is his best novel, but I would leave it for later.
By the way, Starship Troopers is a standalone novel. It is considered the last of his early period, when there is less introspection, philosophizing, and using the characters as mouthpieces for his political, social, and metaphysical views that characterize much of his later fiction. There's plenty of that in Troopers, however, and I've always found such divisions artificial.

A final comment on the SF genre as it applies to VNs: The main reason I don't see the Muv-Luv Series, or Baldr Sky for that matter, as quite the masterpieces most VN fans think they are is that I have read so much science fiction that there is really nothing in these works I haven't encountered before. They are still impressive in they own right in their skillful handling of familiar tropes, and as a hardcore SF fan I'll always keep coming back for more, but I would like to see more works that venture off the beaten track. One of the VNs I've been reading lately, Bradyon Veda, explores cutting edge physics concepts that are right up my alley but are probably too abstruse for a mass audience. I'm having a blast with it, but I understand why such works will never become mainstream. Regardless, more science fiction VNs will always be welcome.
#2 by hybtranslation
2019-09-03 at 18:32
Hey tyrog, thanks for replying to my question in such detail! I agree it was a good idea to make a new thread for this.

There's one thing I want to reply in detail, in regards to what you said about Muv-Luv not being a masterpiece. From a literary perspective, I agree with you. I have read my own share of SF, of the adventurous kind (e.g. Star Wars), of the technical kind (e.g. Lem), of the social kind (e.g. Asimov) and the philosophical kind (e.g. Vonnegurt). If I put my mind to it, I definitely could come up with shortcomings for MLA.

The reason why I still call MLA a masterpiece is that I think it's the best of its whole genre. To me, reading a VN feels more intensive than reading a book. I especially like that there are no page-long descriptions of how a room or someone's clothes look like, and can take all of that in in a single glance.
I read MLA twice already, and both times were like a rolercoaster ride. A "traditional" book, even if its better, rarely provides such a rush for me. Neither do movies. It's kinda like VNs take the best of both worlds.
Sadly, many VNs don't really focus on plot or world-building, so there's a somewhat limited selection. :( Might be why I liked Schwarzesmarken - it was orignally a (light) novel, as far as I know. So it's probably got a more solid foundation than many other VNs, as far as the writing is concerned. Kindof like you notice when an anime has a book as a basis.

Anyway, back to SF and Heinlein. ^^

If you wanted to, you could probably trace most SF ideas back to a few pioneers like H.G.Wells and Jules Verne. Maybe that's why they didn't mention that in Wikipedia, since that would grace most SF wikipedia articles. Although, I guess the connection is more direct for Heinlein than for nowadays work, so it would probably make sense to mention it.

Sadly, I haven't seen the 13th floor, so that's not really a help. I took a look at Astraythem, but I cannot say that it really catches my interest. (Based on the description, I wouldn't have guessed that Heinlein, or any SF author for that matter, has anything to do with it, though.)

After some consideration, I'll probably start with Starship Troopers and Red Planet, your personal recommendation. I really liked Starship Troopers the movie, and in general I still like fiction with a healthy dose of adventure. Call it juvenile, if you will. :)

You also made me a little curious about Bradyon Veda. Being somewhat of an astrophysics geek, cutting edge physics does sound interesting. I also like infodumping like in e.g. Steins Gate, which does seem to put off many other readers. It's a little sad, actually.

P.S.: I was thinking about making a few recommendations of my own, but you seem like someone who's got a rather long back-burner list. I can make suggestions for the authors I mentioned above, if any of those catch your interest.Last modified on 2019-09-03 at 18:34
#3 by tyrog
2019-09-03 at 21:35
Thank you for the well-considered reply.

I actually think it's great that you love Alternative as much as you do. I always get this warm fuzzy feeling inside when I see someone express appreciation for a fictional work, as I love fiction in all its forms. In fact, I plan on rereading it sometime in the not too distant future. I read it in English years ago, before I started reading VNs exclusively in Japanese, and this time I'll read it in the original. Maybe I'll like it even more the second time around.

You are right about my SF background — there are few major writers in the field I'm not familiar with, and I'm well aware of what's considered good by those I haven't read.

I'm impressed that you mentioned Lem; he's more cerebral than your typical SF writer, and otherwise genre-savvy individuals are unfamiliar with his work. Sadly, I've spoken with Polish people who didn't know who he was. I've read Solaris six times and I love it to pieces — my physical copy literally fell apart. I've read a host of Lem's other works, too: the Cyberiad, the Star Diaries, Pirx, Summa Technologiae, etc. In fact, I've probably read most of his output. I've also read a lot of Asimov and some Vonnegut as well.
I'm always open to recommendations, but they better be obscure or there would be no point.

A black spot in my VN reading career is the fact that I haven't read Stein;s Gate. I never felt the inclination, since it looks to be such a prototypical SF story and not likely to offer anything unexpected. I'll read it eventually; it might surprise me by surprising me.

It was nice talking with you. Tyrog signing off.

P.S.: If you do decide to read the Forever War at some point, perhaps you'll be in a position to answer a question that's been bugging me for quite some time now: Does Meia know the French corkscrew or not? Judging by that threesome scene in Muv-Luv Supplement, I suspect that Tsukuyomi, at least, does.
#4 by hybtranslation
2019-09-04 at 20:28
Hm, I see! Looks like I'll have to pull out the big guns if I am to surprise you. :) I'm afraid I'm somewhat outgunned, though. ^^

To be honest, Lem is probably the SF author I've read the most of, although most of that is purely coincidential. I'm somewhat of a drifter and often read what people recommend (and lend ^^) to me. Well, in general this means my SF knowledge is not very deep, because I don't really read one author a whole lot.

To be honest, I have not yet read Solaris, which is probably his most well-known (and maybe also best?) work. Maybe it will drift into my hands one of these days. :)

My personal favorite of Lem's work is The Futurological Congress. Before that, I felt Lem had a weak point with everything being a bit rigid, but that book taught me that he not only had a very sharp mind, but a good sense of humor too. Well, it was his first humorous work I read, so I'm probably biased.

Regarding Stein's Gate, I think it might actually be closer to your tastes than Muv-Luv. It's dealing with time travel, so you probably won't be super-suprised by anything, but it's pretty well researched. You even get a crash-course into relevant physics at one point, including string-theory and black hole thermodynamics. More a broad overview, but still.
In general, it's more a story about showing the ethical problems of time-travel than going super-deep into the technical stuff, but it's got its bases covered. Some liberties are taken to enable the story, but I see no problem with that.
Only thing that sucks a little is that it's got the weirdest system ever. Instead of the classical VN choices, you get messages on your smartphone and your replies (or non-replies) determine which route you (can) end up on. I highly recommend using a walkthrough, if you ever do read it, so that you can branch into the different routes. Also, I recommend leaving the true ending for the very end. (Which means completing the game at least twice, though.)

P.S. No idea what a french corkscrew is. I'll let you know if I ever find out. I hope it isn't a sexual position and I just embarrassed myself. :)Last modified on 2019-09-04 at 20:36


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