Reading Ken Grimwood's Replay while revisiting the first season of Quantum Leap on DVD, I couldn't help but wonder if one influenced the other.
Publis...moreReading Ken Grimwood's Replay while revisiting the first season of Quantum Leap on DVD, I couldn't help but wonder if one influenced the other.
Published in 1988, Grimwood's novel starts off with 43 year-old Jeff Winston taking a call from his wife who says, "We need..." Jeff never hears the end of the sentence because he's struck by a massive heart-attack, dies and then wakes up in 1963 as his 18 year old self. Presented with the opportunity to live his life over, Jess takes a page from Marty McFly and Biff Tannen and wins a lot of money by betting on sporting events and making shrewd financial investments from his memories of the future.
After living 25 years in which is life unfolds on a very different path (he tried to re-create his meeting with his wife and instead of convincing her to go out with him, he convinces her that he's a creepy, self-absorbed stalker), Jeff dies again and leaps back into his life 25 years before. It's like a giant reset button has been hit--except that Jeff fully recalls his previous two lifetimes, including the emotional burden of knowing the daughter he fathered in a previous timeline doesn't exist in this one and he won't get to see grow up.
In many ways, it feels similar to the leaping that Dr. Sam Beckett does in Quantum Leap. But while Sam is leaping to "put right what once went wrong," Jeff quickly learns that he can follow a similar path each time he leaps back but there are always unintended consequences to his actions. He also learns that he can't make huge changes to the timeline or history. Early on, Jeff decides he'll try and stop the JFK assignation only to discover that history can't or won't allow such a radical alteration.
In one timeline, Jeff hears of a movie called Starsea that features direction by Steven Spielberg and effects by George Lucas. The film, which is not part of any other time stream, leads Jeff to a fellow replayer Pamela. The two discover that the time of each replay is shortening and while they fall in love and carry the memories from timeline to timeline, they don't always necessarily reset at the same point together. (This leads to some difficulty when Jeff begins replaying first and seeks out Pamela as a teenager only to find she's not there yet)
For some reason, I feel like I've been reading a lot of time travel stories of late. Between 11/22/63, Time and Again and The Man on Primrose Lane, time travel has been at the center of several novels in recent months. (And again, I'm working my way through Quantum Leap, so there's that sense of deja vu coming into play). Of those time travel books, Replay feels the most like it's trying to do something different with the genre, mainly because the novel centers on the emotional and psychological impact replaying has on Jeff. Grimwood spends very little time trying to delve into the specifics of time travel. In Replay, it's just the hook for the larger story being told about Jeff and his lifetimes of experience.
Jeff runs the gamut from being eager to relive his life, to frustrated about how the replaying works. Jeff works to try and figure out how to survive his death each time and keep moving forward, all the while wondering if the whole world is confined to one 25-year period loop and he and Pamela are the only ones who can remember it.
As a concept, it's a fascinating one. And while the premise could easily run out of steam early in the novel, Grimwood wisely tweaks the replays as the story goes along. The introduction of Pamela as well the introduction of a sinister fellow replayer late in the novel help keep the story feeling fresh until the final pages. (less)
Twenty six influential stories from the early days of science-fiction are collected in this book. For years, friends of the genre would tell me that t...moreTwenty six influential stories from the early days of science-fiction are collected in this book. For years, friends of the genre would tell me that this is the one collection I had to find and read. I haunted used book stores for it--and the other volumes in the set. Eventually I broke down and bought the newly published edition, only then to find a full set at my local used book store.
So, yes I have two copies now.
One to keep and one to loan out.
Simply put, this is a great collection of some great stories that chart the course of the sci-fi genre. Not every one is a winner in my book, but I can see why each one is as respected as it is. And the good thing about a short story collection is if one story isn't my cup of tea, I can skip to the next one or come back later to see if I'm more in the mood for a certain author or story.
I've written down a few thoughts on each story in the collection. I will warn you this is a long post since it looks at all the stories.
Martian Odyssey, by Stanley G. Weinbaum It's interesting to read this story close to a hundred years after its publication and in the light of NASA's landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. At first, I wasn't overly impressed with the story because it just seemed like a travelogue across the surface of Mars. However, a little bit of research and use of Google made me realize that while the story seems "old hat" now, it was absolutely revolutionary at the time it was published. Weinbaum's creation and use of Martian natives who weren't hellbent on destroying our world or openly hostile to humanity's arrival was revolutionary and influenced a lot of Martian stories from that point forward. For that alone, I can appreciate the story.
Twilight by John W. Campbell Another story that influenced everything that came after it but doesn't seem as revolutionary a hundred years later. A man from the future is attempting to time travel and overshoots the period he intended. He comes from a future in which humanity has become lazy and given up on pursuits because machines make life a bit too easy for everyone. In some ways, it reminds me of the society we saw in Wall-E. It also reminded me of the Futurama episode where time travel could only move one direction--forward--and our heroes had to keep following the rise and fall of Earth as they tried to get back to their original starting point (or at least close to it). I'll admit that I enjoyed this one a great deal more than the first one, but it went up a bit in my estimation once I did a bit more research on it and cast my mind back a bit to when it was originally published.
Helen O'Loy, by Lester del Rey An amusing little story in which two scientists set out to create the "perfect" woman. In this case, they do it by purchasing the ultimate female robot and making her self-aware. The first-person narrator is forced to go off-site for a couple of months and returns to find that his partner and the robot girl are now married. The story follows Helen over her lifespan with the scientist and ends on a bittersweet note when he died and Helen asks to be cremated to go along with him. Turns out our first-person narrator has been in love with Helen all along as well--he just missed out because of the extended leave required for his job. A lot more fun than the first two stories in the volume, this story sets the template for a lot of the sentient robots to come in popular culture and the genre. Echoes of Data are here. It was interesting to read this after seeing Ruby Sparks because both offer up some interesting questions about creating the ideal woman and the nature of love over the long term.
The Roads Must Roll, by Robert Heinlein It's no great secret that while I respect what Robert A. Heinlein brought to the genre, I'm not necessarily his biggest fan. I think a lot of what he did was good, but often times his novels seem to run out of gas long before we get to the final chapter. So I was hopeful that a short story might impress me a bit more. That wasn't necessarily the case. In many ways, The Roads Must Roll feels like a bit of a warm-up for The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Not my favorite story of the collection, but still an entertaining (at times) one. You can see the early seeds of Heinlein political philosophy that would dominate his later works here.
Microcosmic God, by Theodore Sturgeon If you're like me, you're probably familiar with the name Theodore Sturgeon from the original Star Trek. Among the episodes he contributed was one of my favorite's "Amok Time." Like Heinlein, I probably brought some pre-conceived notions to the story though in the case of Sturgeon they were a bit more favorable. A fascinating premise and a well executed story that went by very quickly and let me curious to read more of Sturgeon's output.
Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov In the late 80's Asimov expanded this short story into a full length novel with help from his friend Robert Silverberg. I read the novel back in the day, but had never read the original short story. On a world with six suns, night only falls once every thousand or so years. The time of night is upon the world with the last sun slowly sinking below the horizon. The debate is on as to how humanity will react to the darkness--will it be paranoia and madness? Will there be light from other far away suns? Will society descend into chaos and be lost?
From my vague memories of the expanded novel, I'll have to say that the short story version is a lot better. While the novel had attempts at character development, that wasn't always Asimov's strongest suit. the short story shows Asimov at his best--bringing up unique ideas and examining if and and how the society in question will react to them. The revelation that the group has created candles to try and combat the coming darkness is nicely done, as is the fact that the story ends where it does. Asimov asks some questions, gives an indication as to how things could go and them wisely allows readers to decide for themselves what comes next.
The Weapons Shop, by A. E. van Vogt Before I started Shop, I had no familiarity wit A.E. van Vogt. After reading the story, I'm intrigued enough to pursue other works and see if they're as good. When a pre-fab weapons show appears in a future town, the residents are shocked but don't seem inclined to do much about it. Except for Fala, who takes action to try and get the shop to go back from whence it came. That is until the shop begins to ruin his business, his family, his reputation and almost his marriage. Going back to the shop to buy a guy to end his life, Fala finds out this is all part of a plot to reveal the true nature of the Empress of Isher and to recruit Fala as part of the resistance against her. The story zigs when you think it will zag and continually surprised me. In the running for the best story in this collection--which given how high the bar is set for this collection is saying a lot.
Mimsy were the Borogoves, by Lewis Padgett A million years in the future, a scientist invents a time machine and tests it by sending some of his children's discard toys back in time. The toys are discovered by Scott who takes them home and begins to play with them. The toys soon begin to alter Scott and, more significantly, his two-year old sister Emma. Scott's parents eventually catch wind of the toys and bring in a child psychologist to try and figure out what's going on. One of the most intriguing stories in the book, it all culminates with Emma evolving into something completely different under the training influence of the toys. It's a fascinating and chilling story that has stuck with me long after the final paragraphs.
Huddling Place, by Clifford Simak I've read a couple of stories by Simak and each time I come scratching my head. He's got some good ideas, but the execution is often lacking. That's the case here. In a world where cities are gone a rich man in a manor house contemplates existence after he buries his father in a family crypt. After the funeral his son announces that he has been awarded an important contract on Mars. Shortly before the son leaves a Martian named Juwan stops by the manor house and informs the man that his son is on the cusp of discovering something big. Atypical for Simak this is a very, very odd tale about the cost of loss of cities and over-identification with home. The man suffers from agoraphobia and is called out of the house when Juwan is struck sick. It is revealed that the house robots have been conditioning him to be afraid of leaving. The story doesn't really end, so much as just stop. I found that a bit frustrating.
Arena, by Fredric Brown In the near future, two vast and mostly evenly matched space fleets are headed for a huge showdown just outside the orbit of Pluto when a representative of each race is whisked away by a superior alien race to a blue sand world to fight to the death. The winner's race is allowed to live while the loser's race will be wiped from existence. Carson, the human, must fight against a representative of the alien race. Between the two of them is an invisible barrier through which some objects can pass but others cannot. The story served as the inspiration for the original Star Trek episode "Arena" though Brown's original version doesn't feature the more optimistic, Gene Roddenberry influenced ending. But it works within the context of this story just as the Trek ending works within the context of the overall universe there. In this version, Carson figures out that by knocking himself close to unconscious, he get across the barrier and kill his opponent. And that's exactly what he does.
First Contact, by Murray Leinster A first contact story in which both participants are hesitant to trust each other. Again, this is one of those stories that had I not seen or read derivations of it in countless other sources over the years, I think I might have enjoyed a lot more. I can see what it's doing and how it's influential, but it's not my favorite of this collection.
That Only a Mother, by Judith Merril Told in correspondence between an expecting couple, That Only A Mother is a story that addressed the nuclear fall-out fears of its time and yet, remains fascinating and chilling to this day. Told in the form of correspondence between a husband and wife during World War III about the birth of their first child, the story is an interesting one with one of those endings that stays with you long after you've moved on to the next story in the collection.
Scanners Live in Vain, by Cordwainer Smith I've not read a lot of Smith's output, but I'm told he's great. Based on this story about the creation of a new form of cyborg to deal with piloting ships through hyperspace, I'm feeling an urge to pick up and explore more of his work--and soon. Scanners are vitally important space-farers who have been altered to become cyborgs. Their job is to pilot ships through hyperspace to other worlds while normal humans sleep through the trip. Their job is so important because ordinary humans go completely insane while traveling faster than light. The scanners have been altered so that they have no sensory input save for sight, and no emotions or fears. Because of the importance of their positions scanners wield enormous political powers anytime off planet. In this story an emergency is called while Martel, a scanner, is "cranching" at home. Martel is married to a normal woman, and cranching is what it is called when a scanner allows other sensory input. While cranching Scanners are capable of talking, feeling, hearing and tasting. Martel is experiencing sensory stimulus such as food and music with his wife at home when the call came. It takes scanners some time to stop cranching, so Martel reports for duty while cranching, which is a serious social faux paus to other scanners. When he reports for duty he and the other scanners are told that a normal human has devised a way for ordinary humans to navigate hyperspace and avoid "the pain of space." The scanners, who are ordinarily a calm and rational bunch, try the scientist in absentia and sentence him to death the next time he sets foot off Earth. The story is about how that conflict is resolved.
Mars is Heaven, by Ray Bradbury One of Bradbury's short stories that later became part of The Martian Chronicles. I'd read it before as part of that collection and while it's good, it's not one of my favorite stories from that set.
The Little Black Bag, by C. M. Cornbluth Another story about something being sent back in time and its impact on the people who encounter it. In this case, it's a little black medical bag that happens to wind up in the hands of disgraced doctor and a woman looking to blackmail him for all he's worth. The bag helps the doctor regain his career and station in life, all while providing future medical techniques to his patients. The partner wants to use the bag to make money by offering greater cosmetic surgeries and things go awry. Unlike the other time travel story, the future is used as more than just a set-up for the events in the past in this one and I think this story works better for it.
Born of Man and Woman, by Richard Matheson Matheson is one of my favorite authors and he's such a solid short story writer. That said, I'm not sure this is the best example of his work and how good he can really be.
Coming Attraction, by Fritz Leiber An intriguing noir genre story that feels like a product of its time. That's not a bad thing or marks against the story by any stretch of the imagination. It's also one of the shorter installments in the collection and one of the ones that's stayed with me long after I read it. In a post apocalyptic America a foreign dignitary is approached and asked for help getting a woman out of the country. The U.S. has become as religiously repressive as any country in the middle east. Women are chattel and are required to wear burkhas in public, but are sexually objectified and used only for release in private. A woman who has somehow managed to hold on to a little bit of wealth tries to use her sexuality to bribe the diplomat to help her, but ordinary male citizens, angered over any public contact between a man and a woman, intervene and take action again and again.
The Quest for Saint Aquin, by Anthony Boucher Another post apocalyptic story that finds the Pope dispatches a priest to search for the body of Saint Aquin, who is rumored to be "beyond corruption," or incapable of rotting. In this place and time Catholics are persecuted and killed on sight. The priest rides off on his "robass," or robotic donkey, which is AI. The two debate the reality of the post apocalyptic world as well as theology, and together quest through one peril after another. When the body of Saint Aquin is found, the priest comes to a startling realization about the nature and future of humanity. An interesting story, though again not my favorite from the collection.
Surface Tension, by James Blish It's always interesting to come across Blish because, to me, he's always the guy who novelized every episode of classic Trek and gave us the first original novel for the classic series. So, it's sometimes odd to come across a short story by him and not have Kirk and Spock show up. That bias aside, I will admit I loved this story about a team that has been sent to a very watery planet to terraform it crashes on the one island above water. They realize that they are going to die shortly as the ship is totally destroyed and their food stores are running out. In an odd attempt to survive, the humans design a microbial form of human, that is fully sentient and intelligent, and seed deep pools of water on the island with them.
The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke It's a deceptively simple story by Clarke and an intriguing one. It's also one of the most famous stories in the collection. A group of monks gets a computer to print out all the nine billion possible names for God. If they find the right one and there is a God, the universe ends. If not, they disprove the existence of God. I won't give away the ending, though odds are you probably already know it. Again, Clarke is one of those writers who can make it look easy, as he does here.
Its a Good Life by Jerome Bixby Odds are you've seen The Twilght Zone episode based on this one. A little boy who can read thoughts and has mental powers rules over a town with an iron fist. Easy to see why Rod Serling adapted it.
The Cold Equations, by Tom Godwin Girl steals away on starship with the good intention of seeing her brother on the colony. One small problem--the fuel is put on the ship for the exact weight of the cargo and crew. No more, no less. Her stowing away raises the ethical dilemma of the ship not arriving at the colony with much needed supplies and there's no way to fuel up in transit. A dark, disturbing little tale that's made even more interesting by the allegations that Godwin didn't write it himself but copied the idea from other sources.
Fondly Farenheit, by Alfred Bester I love anything by Bester and this is no exception. trust fund baby, Vanderleer, who has gone broke is fleeing the authorities with his sole asset, a highly complex and valuable android. The android has started killing people for no reason. Vanderleer does not want to give up the android, because he hires it out and lives off the income from it. After the latest murder he fled to a new planet and fell in with a nymphomaniac jeweler who learns his secret, just in time to be killed herself by the robot. Vanderleer again flees, and in his travels with the robot learns that the thing goes insane in high temperatures only. He resolves only to live on cold worlds, and as he plans their next move, the robot begins to project its consciousness into him.
The Country of the Kind, by Damon Knight Not really a huge fan of this story. It was short enough that I didn't feel the need to skim or skip it, but it never engaged my interest that much. Could be because I was curious to get to my re-read of Flowers.
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes I read the longer novel a year ago and loved it. I was curious to see which I'd prefer--the novel or the short story. In the end, I have to say that both are equally effective ways of telling the same story. It still strikes me as a horror story on some level with Charlie being teased with what he could be and then slowly having it all taken away from him.
A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazney A human linguist is allowed access to the Martian's sacred temple where he is taught the high form of their language. As he learns he uncovers the truth of their sad existence. Zelazney does a wonderful job with the linguistics issue. (less)
Here's a book where I love the concept of the book a lot more than than execution.
The concept of using time travel to go back, create a new race of im...moreHere's a book where I love the concept of the book a lot more than than execution.
The concept of using time travel to go back, create a new race of immortal human beings who will then preserve certain aspects and artifacts from history is an intriguing one. The opening segments of "In the Garden of Iden" that set up this concept and idea are intriguing, fascinating and had me hoping something brilliant would happen in the novel.
Unfortunately, that never really materializes--at least not in this installment. Instead, we meet Mendoza, a botanist who is sent back in time to the titular garden to observe it and to collect some samples that were lost to the ravages of time. Instead she meets and falls in love with Nicholas Harpole, a man who isn't immortal but shares Mendoza believes could and should be.
I have a feeling a lot of what plays out in this story is a set-up for future installments. And that's all fine, but it still leaves "Iden" feeling like a bit of a disappointment in spots--especially after the solid and intriguing beginning.
I may read another novel or two in the series to see if things pick up a bit. (less)
In the previews section of several Dresden Files entries, Jim Butcher includes a personal note about how Lord of the Rings inspired his love of epic f...moreIn the previews section of several Dresden Files entries, Jim Butcher includes a personal note about how Lord of the Rings inspired his love of epic fantasy and his epic fantasy series The Codex Alera. Given my feelings about LotR (respect them for their place in the history of fantasy, but don't love them), I probably should have assumed that this series wouldn't necessarily be my cup of tea. But given how much I've enjoyed Butcher's Dresden Files series, I was cautiously optimistic that he'd offer something new, different or unique to the epic fantasy genre.
Based on the evidence of Furies of Calderon, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Furies has a solid beginning and interesting ending and then there's the third of the novel in the middle in which little, if anything happens. It's the story of Tavi, a boy without magical powers in a world where everyone has some kind of magical tie. It's the story of politics as various factions plot against the ruler (in this case the Cursor), wanting to overthrow him. It's the story of an epic threat from the North (apparently in epic fantasy, evil can only come from that geographical direction. One rarely hears of evil from the East threatening civilization as we know it).
If, as Butcher says, this is his tribute to the style of Tolkien, then I guess he got that right. There's a lot of world-building, description and establishing the magical system for this book and, I assume, the entire series. Unfortunately, the novel covers the same ground over and over again with Butcher repeating critical plot points and character revelations every couple of pages. If a certain character thought one more time about how she thought she knew another better than anyone else and that's why his betrayal was so shocking, I felt like I was going to scream.
I wanted to like Furies, but I just couldn't. At times, it's a slog, but there are just enough glimmers in there of the Butcher I love from the Dresden Files to make me think I may want to pick up the next installment and see if things improve. I had to keep reminding myself that the Dresden Files were good in the first couple of novels but didn't really kick into that next gear until the third or fourth book. Of course, one thing that helped those novels is that I liked the character of Dresden and his first-person narration. The lack of focus on a single character in this series and the fact that I honestly didn't love any of these characters may mean I pick up the next installment later rather than sooner. (less)
When the most intriguing question about a book is the real identity of the author, you know something isn't working.
John Twelve Hawks lives "off the g...moreWhen the most intriguing question about a book is the real identity of the author, you know something isn't working.
John Twelve Hawks lives "off the grid" and his novel, "The Traveler" is a warning to the rest of us consider doing the same. We may not know it, but our world is just one of many realms, though only a special few people can break the barriers from one realm to another. These people are called Travelers and they've apparently been at war with a group called the Tabula for years. The Travelers are protected by the Harlequins, who consider it a duty and honor to protect them and possibly lay down their lives for them.
Apparently, the Tabula are winning the war, using the horrors of modern technology to track down and destroy all the Travelers and Harlequins. Except for two brothers, both of whom are Travelers. The book becomes a race against time for several players on both sides to try and get to the two brothers. One of them, Michael, is kidnapped and brainwashed by the Tabula. The other, Gabriel is saved and goes to an Indian reservation to begin his Traveler training.
If it sounds like a lot of popular movies you've seen in the last twenty years or so, it's probably because "The Traveler" has borrowed a lot from the best of them. The story wants to have the same sense of pervasive paranoia that is a highlight of the stories and novels of Philip K. Dick, but it comes up woefully short. Passages about how Maya, one of the last Harlequins, must change her physical features to avoid the vast machine seem to be ripped right out of the page of any good spy thriller of the past twenty years or the Bourne movies.
The story is full of mystic mumbo-jumbo, little of it delved into at any great depth or even explained. Basically, we're supposed to fear the machines and the only way to live is without the intrusion of machines into our every day life. Well, except for the occasional quick jaunt around the Internet to find information...but only as long as you don't leave a footprint, of course.
The novel plunges forward from one absurd moment to the next without any logic or reason, before coming to a close with a cliffhanger. It's one that you'll see coming, if only because looking at the number of pages left will clue you in that Twelve Hawks won't have time to wrap it all up in the time he has left.
If the story were a bit more compelling, a bit less cliched and the characters anything more than archetypes, I might be a bit more inclined to wonder more about the identity of John Twelve Hawks. Given how pedestrian and cliched the novel is, I find myself wondering if the author is more or less hiding behind the identity of Twelve Hawks not so that he or she won't be discovered by the vast machine, but so his or her name won't be associated with this lackluster novel. (less)
Max Brook's "World War Z" has received a lot of attention and praise since it was first published a few years ago. Inspired by his work on "The Zombie...moreMax Brook's "World War Z" has received a lot of attention and praise since it was first published a few years ago. Inspired by his work on "The Zombie Survival Guide," "Z" puts the lessons there to work in this fictional universe with interesting and varied results.
The story is told from the recollections of various people involved at different stages of the zombie apocalypse and its fallout. Brooks does an admirable job of making each voice just different enough from the last and finding unique perspectives for each of his narrators in the story. However, this does mean you can and will get frustrated when certain events are referred to and either not delved into until much later in the book or are left to the reader's imagination to fill in the details or pull various pieces together.
Make no mistake--this book will require you to pay attention to details if you want to get the full picture of what went on.
It's nice to see a current novel that assumes the reader can follow threads and is smart enough to put two and two together and not get five.
And while all that is nicely done, it's in the later stages the the novel really begins to let down. Brooks doesn't shy away from using the zombies as a metaphor to offer up political and social commentary on the United States and the world as a whole. It's fairly overt but not enough feel like Brooks is ranting and raving and saying you must agree with him in order to enjoy the book. However, there are some sections that become a bit too mired in the dogma of the particular character speaking and the story loses some of its momentum.
The book also loses some momentum in its final chapter, which is a bit of a wrap-up or bringing back various voices from earlier in the story for a bit of a farewell. While I can understand the attempt to offer at least some feeling of closure to the story (difficult to do given the way the accounts are presented), it ends up feeling less like a solid ending and more like a failed attempt to wrap it all up neatly. And in the case of "Z" a neat package ending isn't necessarily what the book wants or needs.
At the end of "Soulless" first time author Gail Carriger says that one of her inspirations for the story was the idea of what if you set an urban fant...moreAt the end of "Soulless" first time author Gail Carriger says that one of her inspirations for the story was the idea of what if you set an urban fantasy during Victorian times. Given the quirks of the society, it's a fascinating concept and that hook alone is enough to make me want to like "Soulless."
Unfortunately, the novel is too much a product of the current publishing climate in which a majority of the books hitting the market must have vampires, werewolves or (as is the case here) both. I'll give Carriger credit that her vampires are genuinely evil, scary and frightening and not misunderstood, sparkling creatures of the night. And her long-standing conflict between the two sides is a lot better realized than the invented for the sake of creating romantic tension conflict that we have in a certain other bestselling series that shall not be named.
But there were times reading "Soulless" that I felt as if this book was being tragically mis-marketed. The cover proclaims it a novel of "vampires, werewolves and parasols" and the character of Alexia Tarabotti, a woman born without a soul who is able to negate the supernatural powers of various creatures she encounters, is an intriguing one. But there are moments in the story that I wanted to throw the book aside and scream with frustration--most of them concerning Miss Tarabotti's interactions with a certain Lord Macon, who just happens to be the head of the werewolves. The novel spends a lot of time focused on the etiquette of the times and their forbidden romance. It's straddling a lot of conventions--not only steam punk, but also Victorian romance and urban fantasy. The problem is that the transitions are rarely seamless, leading to the novel seeming disjointed and coming to an abrupt halt at various points during the narrative.
Alexia spends a lot of time reflecting on her status--not only as soulless but also as a perceived old maid (at the age of 26!)--as well as the romantic entanglement with Macon and doting on food. It's the scenes with Macon where the novel grinds to a complete halt, becoming a romance novel, complete with pages on end about kissing, weakness in the knees and warming of the nether regions. All well and good if it went on for a paragraph or two, but when it ends up taking place over three or four pages and then being ruminated about for the next several more, it serves only to bring the story screeching to a massive halt.
It also serves to rob any and all momentum the story builds up in the early pages as Alexia kills a vampire at a party after being attacked. It robs the storyline of vampires, werewolves and how they are organized in such a time and the implications of the ability to turn humans into vampires without the usual process of its drive and depth. It would be more interesting if we spent more time developing Miss Taraboti into a character who is more than just the definition her society places on her.
Unfortunately, the novel never rises above any of this. It has a solid start but unravels quickly.
Without "The Time Machine," we might not have science-fiction. Or at least not as we know it.
That's not to say that someone wouldn't or couldn't have...moreWithout "The Time Machine," we might not have science-fiction. Or at least not as we know it.
That's not to say that someone wouldn't or couldn't have come along and filled a gap had H.G. Wells not written this. But would it have been as popular and caught fire with the imagination of the reading public if had been something or someone else. Maybe not.
What I'm trying to say is that sci-fi fans owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Wells for this story. Not only was it hugly influential, but it's still entertaining and readable to this day. Following the convention of the period, Wells relates the story twice removed. It's a first-person narrator relating the story of another first-person narrator. Wells introduces us to the Traveller, who has invented a way to break the barrier to the fourth dimension. He plans to travel in time and does so, going into the far future and meeting the Eloi and the Morlocks.
If you've seen the movie, you're probably familiar with most of what unfolds. But if you've only seen the movie, you've really only experienced half of the story. Like many great episodes of sci-fi shows today, the success of "The Time Machine" comes from the abililty to use fantastic fiction to comment on current real-world issues. "The Time Machine" does that in such a subtle way, making readers think and carry that thought process long after the final page is turned.
That's not to say it's all philosophical discourse (I'm looking at your Robert A. Heinlein). The novel wouldn't endure if it was just that. It's got a good adventure story at its center and it hangs the philosophical argument on that. Wells shows a mastery of this type of storytelling that many other writers in this field (again, I point to Robert A. Heinlein) have tried but come up woefully short in achieving.
It's a classic, no question about it. If you've not read it in a while, it's worth a second, third or even fifteenth look. If you've not read it all, you should treat yourself to one of the truly innovated stories in world literature. It's not every day you can read a story that is the starting point for an entire genre. (less)
Alvin Miller, Jr is the seventh son of a seventh son. He's born into an alternate version of 19th Century America--one in which the Revolutionary War...moreAlvin Miller, Jr is the seventh son of a seventh son. He's born into an alternate version of 19th Century America--one in which the Revolutionary War hasn't happened and where folk magic is a strong, powerful and very real force.
Alvin is a maker, a strong and potentially powerful force in the world. And he's got an equally strong, unrelenting enemy, the Unmaker who stop at nothing to ensure Alvin doesn't grow up and into his power. Much of the novel looks at the efforts the Unmaker uses to try and destroy Alvin. It also examines the story of how Alvin comes to realize he has abilities and how he can and can't use them. At one point, Alvin selfishly uses some cockroaches to terrorize his sisters, leading to several fo them dying. At this point, Alvin makes a vow to not use his powers for selfish gains, a decision that becomes pivotal in the final stages of the novel.
As with "Ender's Game" the strength of Orson Scott Card's story is his ability to relate authentic, believable young characters. While not quite as complex as Ender, Alvin is still interesting and relatable while still feeling and acting like a young boy would in the circusmtances. Alvin doesn't seem to realize he has a destiny, though he does realize he has something that sets him apart from others around him.
The story is far more episodic than "Ender's Game" though. The first portion of the novel, relating the day Alvin, Jr is born was originally a short story. Card then decided to expand the universe and does so here, as we check in with Alvin at various other points in his life. It ends up feeling a bit too episodic at times and while the novel is supposed to introduce us to Alvin and his universe, I still can't help coming away feeling like the overall experience was incomplete. Alvin learns to use his powers, yes. And we know that the Unmaker is after Alvin, set to destroy him. But beyond that, nothing much really happens to Alvin, except for a number of potential attacks on him that we get to see Alvin avert. A few more happen off stage as well, referenced by various characters during the course of the story.
This feels like a long prologue to a greater saga. I know there are five other novels in the story but I found myself yearning for something a bit more substantial once the final page was turned. It's easy now that I can go out and find the next book, but I imagine those who read the story when it was first published walked away frustrated at having to wait at least a year for the next installment to hit bookstores. (less)
After devouring "Trader," "The Mystery of Grace" and "Little Grrl Lost," earlier this year, I was hoping for a similar experience when I picked up "So...moreAfter devouring "Trader," "The Mystery of Grace" and "Little Grrl Lost," earlier this year, I was hoping for a similar experience when I picked up "Someplace to Be Flying."
And while this novel certainly had its moments of being just as absorbing as all of those, I still feel like it fell a bit short of my expectations.
It's not that it's a bad story. But the story takes so long for various elements to come together that I found myself taken out of the novel too much. One thing I found missing was De Lint's usual pattern of having alternating sections told in third-person and then first-person narration.
This is a good starting point for De Lint but not my favorite of his works that I've read. However, it doesn't discourage me from wanting to read more. (less)
A friend recommended this to me, saying that "Santiago" reminded him of "Firefly." Being the Joss Whedon obsessed fan that I am, I was immediately int...moreA friend recommended this to me, saying that "Santiago" reminded him of "Firefly." Being the Joss Whedon obsessed fan that I am, I was immediately intrigued so I picked up a copy of this and the sequel novel, "The Return of Santiago."
And now that I've read half of the saga (which, thankfully "Santiago" is a self contained book), I'm not sure I'm in any kind of hurry to pick up the next installment. It's not that "Santiago" is necessarily a bad book--it's not. It's just not necessarily a great book.
In the far future, a man known as Santiago is rumored to exist. But the character of Santiago himself isn't necessarily the point of the story, so much as the stories that exist around Santiago and the search to find him. He's the most wanted man in the future universe, existing outside the law as some kind of bounty hunter/do-gooder with a heart of gold. The story quickly makes it clear that it's not so much the fact that Santiago exists but the idea that he could exist that really matters. And while it's an interesting concept to explore the dichotomy of the man vs the myth, the book spends far too long on the quest to find Santiago and not enough time with the actual man himself. In fact, we don't find Santiago until three-quarters of the way through the book, long after Resnick has trotted out a variety of characters who are all either looking for the man or have looked for him.
It's a book filled with larger than life characters and maybe that's why I didn't care for it as much as I did. Going back to the recommendation and comparison to "Firefly," it's almost like we're hearing the story of Mal and company from outside and following a group of people determined to bring them down and bring them to justice. It's interesting, but at some point I think it would have been more interesting to find out more on how the myth and the man compared. But again, the point is that it's not the person, it's the idea of who they are that matters.
In the end, I was left with an experience that wasn't as satisfying or as complete as I'd hoped it would be. I've read a lot worse books in my time, but I've read a lot better. (less)