Stranger in a Strange Land— another item from my “Keeper” shelf

Stranger CoverAs a youngster, I loved science fiction. From being a little kid watching Fireball XL5: The Complete Series on television to reading the novels of Robert Heinlein while in school, to seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope at the cinema while in college (gosh, I’m old, right?) I really loved sci-fi. Actually, I still do, but this is a blast from the past post, so here goes.

Heinlein, now considered one of the “grand masters” of classic science fiction, wrote young adult novels and short stories for a number of years. However, his groundbreaking and movie inspiring Starship Troopers is considered a turning point into adult fiction because this novel begins his exploration of themes that appeal to a more mature audience, including libertarian politics. Perhaps modern readers wouldn’t realize it, but the powered body armor in Starship Troopers was one of those prescient inventions that makes reading and watching science fiction so important to the development of technology.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Remembering Tomorrow)was published a couple of years after Troopers, and while less “realistic” the novel takes some giant leaps into thematic explorations. The novel deals with the life of one Valentine Michael Smith, the first human born on Mars, and because he was orphaned he was reared by the natives of that planet, and later brought back to earth as a young adult human who knows absolutely nothing about his home planet or its inhabitants, hence the title. This situation is a fabulous set up for what science fiction does best: explore what makes humanity work (or not.) I used to read this novel annually, and I have never tired of it, because there are so many themes. Indeed, while doing a master’s degree in English, I wrote a pretty decent term paper on the topic of how Heinlein uses the world savior theme in the novel, and didn’t get thrown out of my fairly conservative program.

The characters in Stranger are often larger than life, but Jubal Harshaw, lawyer, doctor, and homespun philosopher (as well as the voice of the author) is my favorite. His employees and associates included Anne, a “fair witness” which is sort of a human version of a body cam, as she only reports what is seen. As in many Heinlein works, there are any number of gems, but even people who haven’t read Stranger may use the invented word “grok” which is a Martian term for being one with someone or something, in such a way that it is fully understood or appreciated.

Modern science fiction has split into many sub-genres, but Stranger in a Strange Land pre-dates that, and in a good way. Grand Master Robert Heinlein was not restricted to hard science or the softer “social” aspects of the genre, although he uses both hard and softer themes to challenge societal norms. Indeed, this novel broke new ground when first published, and it is just as thoughtful and thought provoking today. Certainly, it deserves a read, but it is so complex that it almost needs a Cliff Notes commentary but not quite yet. Despite its age, it is still in print, so go get a copy!

Hollar— and great customer service

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Mostly, I intend to write about writing, but real life does get in the way of that, and this post is about the fabulous customer service I got from an online “dollar store” known as Hollar.com. When I ordered from them for the first time, I got several items to try, and a puzzle to share with my family, who are (just like mom) big fans of Star Wars. Let me be perfectly honest— the price for the 100 piece puzzle was $1. But, when the group effort was finished, one piece was missing. Hubby laughed at me and had some disparaging remarks about my being cheap enough to order a $1 puzzle. He is right about me being cheap, however.

Slightly annoyed, I whipped out my iPad, took a picture of the 99 piece puzzle, posted it as a comment on the Hollar Facebook page. Within a few minutes, I had a couple of responses from concerned folks at Hollar. They asked for the order number, and when I replied via FB messenger with it, they assured me that I would get a new puzzle. I was expecting (maybe) a credit on my next order, but they said the item was in stock and would soon be on its way. Kudos, right?

A few days later, I got the box, which was bigger than expected and heavier, too. Curious, I opened the box and there was another boxed Star Wars puzzle. Below it, heavily cushioned, was a very nicely framed Star Wars puzzle, with a missing piece, along with a personal note explaining that they, too, didn’t like missing pieces. Hubby, who had brought the box from the post office couldn’t stop laughing, and I was so pleased with the item that I immediately hung it.

Nowadays, people love to say that almost all companies have “customer no service” rather than treating people right. Obviously, Hollar.com has a different philosophy, as well as a great sense of humor. Needless to say, I will be visiting the site again, because such great customer service deserves a second chance.

Go check out Hollar.com. Really!

Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!