Mr. O'Brien's third published work is a taut, subtle Cold War thriller centered on mind-control through a now-debunked theoretical substance called poMr. O'Brien's third published work is a taut, subtle Cold War thriller centered on mind-control through a now-debunked theoretical substance called polywater. There is little action, so some readers may find this boring. This has the usual intrigue between USA and USSR, but the real evil is the ex-Nazi concentration camp scientist held prisoner by the USSR, and the nefarious experiments he carries out without their knowledge....more
A few weeks ago I saw trailer for a movie called "Z for Zachariah" and learned it was based on the book by Robert C O'Brien, known mostly for his "MrsA few weeks ago I saw trailer for a movie called "Z for Zachariah" and learned it was based on the book by Robert C O'Brien, known mostly for his "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH." It turns out he had written four works of fiction in his lifetime, and I thought it would be an interesting diversion to read all of them.
Notable for having a girl as the protagonist, The Silver Crown's message is deeply mixed. What's a 10 year old girl to do after her entire family is burned in a horrible house fire? Why, go on a 300 mile journey solo by herself to her aunt's house, of course, . . . and the first thing to do is to accept a ride from a stranger.
This was his first published work, and it feels like a first book. The start is awkward mixture of horrible tragedy and emotional indifference and the ending is a clumsy wrapping up of the various themes. I thought the middle section was the best portion of the book, dealing with the desperate journey that the heroine Ellen and her friend Otto make through an Appalachian mountain pass. This version of the book contains both the original ending and the one O'Brien wrote for the first British edition. Both endings deal only with the denouement of the story, but the original one is lengthy in its attempts to explain previously hinted at backstory but ultimately just adds confusion (at least for me) , while the British ending is more succinct, offers no additional explanation, and was much more pleasing for my taste.
Perhaps an example of some of the finer 1930's era science fiction, it unfortunately does not age well, especially in regards to the roles of women, tPerhaps an example of some of the finer 1930's era science fiction, it unfortunately does not age well, especially in regards to the roles of women, the implied approval of eugenics (only smart, beautiful people are allowed on the ship to the new world) and in terms of racial prejudice. Of the two books contained in this volume I would have have to say I enjoyed the first book more. When Worlds Collide is often a harrowing adventure tale of a small group of men and women struggling to escape a doomed planet. Danger is everywhere, including marauding tribes reduced to savagery, worldwide climactic and geological upheaval, and of course, an approaching planet that will demolish Earth. The tension is offset by moments of poignancy, such as when a main character buries his recently deceased mother, and ponders the point of this ritual in light of the planet's coming end.
The second novel begins shortly after the human survivors' arrival on the new planet. Hopefully no big spoiler there! After Worlds Collide starts out as a tale of exploration and discovery, but slides into an odd sort of thriller with the realization that others (Communists and Fascists, no less) have survived Earth's demise and now want to rule the new planet. There is strategic warfare, espionage, budding romance...and an amazingly quick and tidy anticlimactic resolution of all points of conflict that almost makes it feel like the authors (Edward Balmer being the uncredited co-writer here) got bored or lazy. ...more
I agree completely with what pre-eminent psychologist C. G. Jung wrote in a letter to James Joyce shortly after Jung published a disgruntled review ofI agree completely with what pre-eminent psychologist C. G. Jung wrote in a letter to James Joyce shortly after Jung published a disgruntled review of "Ulysses:"
'I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter. '
When I learned that Vita Sackville-West, scion of ancient British nobility, poet, travel writer, sometime lover of Virginia Woolf and inspiration forWhen I learned that Vita Sackville-West, scion of ancient British nobility, poet, travel writer, sometime lover of Virginia Woolf and inspiration for Woolf's Orlando, had written a book that could be classified as science fiction, I had to track it down. Now that I've read it, I'm really not sure it was worth the effort. Written in 1942, it describes an imagined future (1946) where World War II has ended with Germany defeating Great Britain, and the US defeating Japan. The US has settled into an uneasy truce with Germany, despite the fact that Germany has recently taken control of South America and maybe Mexico.
The entire novel takes place at a hotel located at the Grand Canyon, inhabited by a mixture of European ex-pats, college co-eds, and young soldiers taking a break from military exercises. In a nod to Virginia Woolf, the vast majority of the book is following the trains of thought of many of the occupants this hotel. Very little happens until, as expected, the Germans attack. Little else happens as the rest of the novel follows the trains of thought of the survivors of the attack, who hide out in the Grand Canyon.
Little more than a warning against the policy of appeasing Hitler, there is little literary or entertainment value to reading this book. To make matters worse, at points it is unapologetically racist, sexist, and condescending towards the disabled.
On the one plus side, it has one hell of a plot twist towards the very end, but it just was not enough to make it feel like a worthwhile read. ...more
Once again, the blurb used by Goodreads suffers from a lack of accuracy. This somewhat thrilling and breezily entertaining read is not about "mind-traOnce again, the blurb used by Goodreads suffers from a lack of accuracy. This somewhat thrilling and breezily entertaining read is not about "mind-transference." This is a supernatural tale centered on spiritualism, the spirit world and and a free floating demon spirit. The lead character is Dick, a brawny and not particularly brainy young country gentleman whose circle of college acquaintances include one Avery Booth, a strong-willed master of hypnotism and mesmerism who uses his tremendous will power to control men, women and at least one free floating demon spirit. There are gypsies, seances, crypts, insane asylums and harrowing treks into the desolate wilderness of the English countryside, but the true tragic hero is Dick's sister Blanche. While Dick provides the brute force, she is the one who actually has the will-power and intelligence to face Avery in a battle of wills.
The most frustrating thing about this book is that Dick never understands what is going on, refuses to accept what is actually happening, and when he tries to understand by asking Blanche (who always knows what is going on) she shuts him down by telling him "You won't understand." Since this story is told from the point of view of the good-natured moron Dick, you just have let go of any hopes of intellectual insights, and enjoy the moody and moderately haunting ride....more
I found an original 1902 first edition of this at LA Times Festival of Books and bought it because it was an old book with an attractive cover. ThoughI found an original 1902 first edition of this at LA Times Festival of Books and bought it because it was an old book with an attractive cover. Though not poorly written, there is nothing interesting about the story itself. I'm not sure why some publisher thought it was worthy of being reprinted. ...more
I read Conrad's "The Duel" just before I read this, and they are complete opposites. "The Duel" is action packed with minimal pontification, while "ThI read Conrad's "The Duel" just before I read this, and they are complete opposites. "The Duel" is action packed with minimal pontification, while "The Secret Agent" is overwhelmingly burdened with exposition. Each scrap of dialog is preceded or followed or preceded and followed by a paragraph of description. The timeline of the action is fairly brief (perhaps a week or two) but this excess of description muddles up the sequence of events and even the duration of each specific event. This confusion watered down the impact of this darkly unsettling tale where it seems the driving force of the narrative is to document a series of horrible things that happen to a group of seedy, unlikeable or pathetic people....more
Rating this one was tough, but that may be true of all short story collections. Some stories in this particular collection packed a punch for me (fourRating this one was tough, but that may be true of all short story collections. Some stories in this particular collection packed a punch for me (four stars), while there were others that seemed repetitive variations on a theme (for instance, the stories about an increasingly impossible marionette theater, an increasingly impossible department store, an increasingly impossible theme park, an increasingly impossible construction of underground tunnels in a small town). These I would rate as two stars. The stories that hit the mark for me took a blatantly extraordinary notion and lodged it into a ordinary world. What happens when a man marries a two or three foot tall frog, or flying carpets are real, but are marketed as kids' toys?
Plot is never a major consideration for the writer, as his target is the exploration of characters who find themselves in unexpected situations, and showing what their reactions will be. Perhaps the reasons I liked the stories that I did and that I disliked the ones that I did were that the stories I disliked had a rarely used characteristic and that was, I supposed I could it, a limited first person plural narrator. The story was told only using "we" and "our" for pronouns, as if an entire town was telling the tale of a brief portion of its history, but this multiple narrator This was an interesting experiment the first time I saw it, but as I read more stories told in this fashion, I became detached from them, and the emotional impact was lessened. ...more
This book made me queasy. I couldn't wait to finish it, and perhaps I am a glutton for punishment because I am compelled to completely read a book oncThis book made me queasy. I couldn't wait to finish it, and perhaps I am a glutton for punishment because I am compelled to completely read a book once I've begun reading it, even though I hate it. A far too large portion of this book is straightforward dialog, most of if being Lazarus Long expounding his views. There is very little action until the very end, when he goes back in time to view his childhood as an adult, and gets drawn into World War I.
Several things about this book churned my stomach. First off, despite the fact that Heinlein proclaims women and men are equals, all women defer to the judgment of men (usually Lazarus) who are all condescending in the way they treat women, and seemingly the only thing every woman wants to do is have a baby with Lazarus. Not to mention that most of the female characters get their way with men by threatening to cry. Plus there are several times when a male character says to a female character something along the lines of "Do I need to rape you to keep you in line?" This isn't the exact quote, but it is close enough to show how cringeworthy the sexism is.
Next, this book seems to be a primer on eugenics, always a questionable topic, arguing that the best path for the human race is to purposely breed intelligent and long-lived people, while "culling" the "defectives" which include handicapped people and pacifists. Apparently pacifists are less than human. Thirdly, Heinlein spends a large amount of time and effort trying to convince the reader that incest is perfectly healthy. To show that most if not all sexual taboos are nonsense, Lazarus marries his adopted daughter, has sex with female clones of himself, and spends the last portion of the novel getting seduced by his own mother. Finally, all the characters sound exactly the same, calling everyone else "darling" or "dear." Add this to the fact that there is no conflict and everyone wants to sleep with everybody else, this feels like nothing more than a dirty old man's weird porn....more
As it is written in the introduction to this book, reading this is like stepping inside someone else's hallucination. It is very odd, and I still can'As it is written in the introduction to this book, reading this is like stepping inside someone else's hallucination. It is very odd, and I still can't quite figure out what it is that I read. ...more
I read somewhere that the craft and power of telling ghost stories died out with the advent of electric light. The theory was that creepy tales were tI read somewhere that the craft and power of telling ghost stories died out with the advent of electric light. The theory was that creepy tales were the most thrilling when read in flickering candlelight (or gas lighting) when you could never be certain as to what was lurking in the shadows. Perhaps this why the last stronghold of ghost stories today are around the campfire. Anyway, these stories were written in the 1800s and in my opinion are as authentically eerie as you can get. Le Fanu was at the head of the table when it came to such tales, and it is evident to me that he influenced generations of horror and weird fiction writers who came after him....more
An unusual twist to the ghost story, this is the tale of a man haunted by a young girl who is still alive, albeit living in the recent past. What madeAn unusual twist to the ghost story, this is the tale of a man haunted by a young girl who is still alive, albeit living in the recent past. What made it creepy for me (in the awkward way, not in the spine-chilling way) was the protagonists's attraction to the young girl. When Eben, the protagonist, first meets Jennie, she is a little girl. His feelings for her grow from a paternal protectiveness to a seemingly romantic attraction as he realizes she is a few years older each time he sees her, even though their random meetings are only a few months apart. It is as if she is slipping through time to visit him. It is the romantic notions that the late twenty-something Eben has for the young teen girl that I couldn't shake off as unsettling. Despite this, the emotional impact of the story's climax is still effectively haunting. ...more
This is a loving remembrance of an unusual genius who made a unique and large impact on mathematics. The narrative often wanders off to touch on the lThis is a loving remembrance of an unusual genius who made a unique and large impact on mathematics. The narrative often wanders off to touch on the lives of people connected to Erdos and sometimes goes off on a tangent (math pun!) to describe math problems or concepts which sometimes have little to do with the life of Erdos. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant break from reading fiction. ...more