Oscar Wilde is immensely quotable and witty, I’m sure you’ll all recognise some bits of his prose. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic tale full ofOscar Wilde is immensely quotable and witty, I’m sure you’ll all recognise some bits of his prose. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic tale full of various themes, but centrally the fear of aging and the idea that our sins are visible to the outside world through our aging. What would happen if you could halt that process?
I did feel a bit sorry for Dorian in places. He does seem rather naïve at the start and is led astray by Lord Henry Wotton, who thinks being a good person is incredibly dull. It doesn’t go into detail about the sinful things Dorian gets up to but it’s inferred through the fact he ends up with a pretty awful reputation. Yet every now and then there’s a glimpse of the old Dorian and I wished for him to finally see the error of his ways.
This 1891 edition is an extended version rather than that which first appeared in a magazine, and it was also censored in places that hinted at a same sex romantic relationship. I still think it’s quite obvious that Basil fancied Dorian to a modern reader but my clothbound version included endnotes explaining what had been changed. I think I would have liked to have read the original version because I did think it went on a bit in places, it spends a long time talking about the opulence of their surroundings and a lot of conversations about art.
Not that it doesn’t have things to say about the nature of art, but really I wanted to get back to the painting and what Dorian was going to do. Another thing in the back of the clothbound, is a section containing contemporary reviews and, oh my, weren’t the critics scathing in their day? More-so that even the snarkiest blogger, and these were people writing in the national press. Oddly a Christian paper seemed to say the nicest things about the book, seeing it more as a moral tale than one of degradation.
Lord Henry Wotton is pretty sexist, I’m not sure if he’s meant to reflect Wilde’s own views or not, but in his mind women are air-headed, sub-humans. I could have done without all his mean comments but you wonder how much the way society made women act, made them come across that way. Perhaps the societal pressure around marriage was too much for Wilde, so he lashed out against the opposite sex. Maybe he was just angling for laughs....more
I, Robot is a collection of interconnected stories exploring the Three Laws of Robotics. Anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction or robI, Robot is a collection of interconnected stories exploring the Three Laws of Robotics. Anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction or robotics will have heard of Asimov’s laws and they have continued to be influential over 65 years later. The book is also charming to read.
Having learnt that introductions in many editions of classic novels often contain spoilers, I skipped the introduction here, without realising it’s actually part of the story. Take note! The premise is that a reporter is interviewing robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin for the Interplanetary Press. Calvin has spent her career at the heart of US Robotics and has plenty of tales to tell.
The first story tells us of Robbie the robot who is a nursemaid for a young girl who loves him, but feelings towards robots are starting to turn. Soon robots are to be banned from Earth, but this tells of time when robots could be trusted with the most precious tasks.
Many of the stories follow Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan, two men employed by US Robotics and posted out on remote planets to oversee various models. Working with some of the newer or more experimental robots they start to see where the Three Laws let them down. The stories aren’t necessarily about robots being a danger to us, more that the Three Laws can limit them, or cause bugs.
Yup, there’s one story that felt like Asimov had been working in software development. There’s a new release and there’s something wrong with it. But no one knows what exactly and Powell and Donovan can’t seem to recreate it. It only happens when they’re not looking. This is so very familiar.
In one story we see a politician accused of being a robot in hiding. Calvin is brought in to investigate but should a person comply with the Three Laws, it doesn’t prove them a robot, perhaps they are just a good human being. In fact, it is interesting that the main representative of US Robotics in these stories is the psychologist, putting emphasis on the robots are more than just machines; it explores their behaviour in relation to the Laws and how they may evolve into beings more like us.
It really didn’t feel dated at all. The positronic brain might be an unexplained thing that allows the robots to exist in a time when robots were pure speculation, but they don’t feel too unrealistic now. We might not have humanoid robots wandering our streets, but robots of a kind do have a huge impact on our lives. You can talk to a small computer that you carry round in your pocket after all! The Machines at the end are the closest I’ve seen someone get to the prediction of an interconnected world network in fiction.
If you’ve seen the film with Will Smith, it really isn’t the same story at all although there are elements which made it into the adaptation. A robot with altered Laws hides amongst visually identical robots and a test must be conceived to identify it. Dr Lanning is in both but not really the same character. The idea that humans turned against robots and removed them from the streets is only briefly mentioned in the book, but was more of an undercurrent in the film. ...more
On the Beach is one of the saddest things I have ever read. The fact that everyone is so jolly and getting on with their lives, for however long thatOn the Beach is one of the saddest things I have ever read. The fact that everyone is so jolly and getting on with their lives, for however long that may be, makes it even more tragic. Not a single character is a villain, no one deserves to die, certainly not a horrible prolonged death. Radiation poisoning is one of the scariest things out there; with very little anyone can do to help.
It all starts off quite chipper. The short third war has destroyed the northern hemisphere but down in Australia, no one quite believes it will affect them, not yet. They are having to make do without petrol and aeroplanes, but life is continuing. Mary plans and plants her garden for next year. Inviting the American captain down and keeping him entertained so he doesn’t stop to think about his family; doesn’t see the baby and cry. Creating make-shift vehicles driven by cattle and pedal power.
They would much rather have another drink, than worry about it; Moira has decided to switch to brandy as gin rots the insides. There’s even rumours that getting pickled will increase resistance to radiation. It gives the whole thing a cosy catastrophe vibe.
Whilst the state of the world is without hope, there is optimism in human nature. These people don’t turn against each other or exploit the situation, instead they are helpful and kind. It is the kind of community we would all like to be part of if the end was nigh, not having to struggle in our final days, but just pottering along.
A sole American submarine is still in operation, stationed in Melbourne. A small crew take it out to take readings and study the movement of the radiation across the globe. At first I wasn’t that interested in the goings on of the Navy, however it provides a useful tool to relay information about the rest of the world. They are living in isolation, no news can come from lands where no one lives and the submarine is the only thing equipped to go close to radioactive areas.
All world leaders should be made to read this book. It humanises the horror of nuclear war more-so than any graphic telling of destruction. It’s the slow, inevitable wait for the extinction of the human race....more
I’m beginning to suspect Mr Bradbury had a time machine after all. How portentous Fahrenheit 451 is of many of the aspects of our modern society. IndeI’m beginning to suspect Mr Bradbury had a time machine after all. How portentous Fahrenheit 451 is of many of the aspects of our modern society. Indeed, the new HTTP code for legally restricted pages (eg. censorship or government-mandated blocked access) is 451 in honour of the book. Watching mindless TV. The dumbing down of the news. Even the mechanical hound is something not too far off current technology.
The root of the censorship is the desire to not offend anyone, meaning people stop speaking their minds. You can’t please everyone but that’s what the Americans of this world tried to do. So much was censored because it upset this group or that group. We do learn from reading differing opinions, from reading work that may be problematic. If we are never exposed to these things, how do we work out for ourselves what we really believe?
I do think there’s a lot of tiptoeing around these days, maybe not so much in book topics, but definitely on the internet in certain circles. There should be room for freedom of speech as long as no one is forcing it down your throat. Freedom to choose what to read should be more important than freedom to never be offended. Actually, I think many of us secretly like a good rant, what if we stopped having anything to rant about? I’m not convinced humans could cope in a utopia, we’d only mess it up.
There’s an anti-war message as well as anti-censorship and a nod to the traditions of storytelling in the intellectuals that hold onto the great works in their heads. Stories will never die, unless we wipe ourselves out, that is.
It’s clear that Fahrenheit 451 originally started out as separate stories as the narrative flow isn’t cohesive enough. I enjoyed each part by itself and there is so much that is spot on, but I’m not convinced it needed to be turned into a novel. I'm looking forward to reading some of Bradbury's short stories, as I imagine that is his more natural storytelling form....more
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is something I remember from my childhood but I was never quite sure if I had actually read it before. Had it been readThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase is something I remember from my childhood but I was never quite sure if I had actually read it before. Had it been read to me? Or had I merely conflagrated the adaptation with the book? Who knows, but I did thoroughly enjoy reading it as last month’s classic.
First published in 1962, it was originally intended as a bit of a spoof of the gothic Victorian adventures Joan Aiken read as a child. Knowing this makes me like it even more. It’s loads of fun, with adventure, danger and plenty of funny bits. There’s one bit on the train which really makes me think J.K. Rowling had been inspired by these books too, though turns out the mysterious man isn’t quite as nice as Professor Lupin.
It’s set in an alternate version in 1830’s England, where the channel tunnel was built much earlier and meant Britain became overrun with wolves. These wolves don’t keep to themselves either, and it’s bad news to be out in the countryside after dark.
Bonnie’s mother is sickly and her father, Sir Willoughby, is taking her off on a cruise for health, leaving Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia in the care of their sinister new governess, Miss Slighcarp. As soon as the parents are out the door, things start to change. Bonnie is locked in a cupboard and all the faithful servants are fired. There’s definitely something amiss but can Bonnie and Sylvia save their home?
Amongst the frivolities, there are hints at the poverty and cruelty that once were common place. Sylvia’s mother is struggling to make ends meet when she sends her daughter to Willoughby Hall, although Bonnie is oblivious. They find themselves at the mercy of uncaring staff and fall even further in grace when their world is pulled out from under them.
There are a number of other books in the series, all set in the same alternate history however I’m not sure all the characters are the same in each. I’d definitely give another a try if I was in the mood for a fun and easy read....more
The forefather of dystopian fiction, the Russian We (confusingly called My in its original language) starts of in a utopian society. Someone in the paThe forefather of dystopian fiction, the Russian We (confusingly called My in its original language) starts of in a utopian society. Someone in the past has discovered the mathematical equations for happiness and the city is run on a strict schedule. Your name is a number. You eat at the same time as everyone else, go to work at the same time, and sleep at the same time. And repeat each day.
The walls are made of glass, there is no need for privacy and secretes when everyone lives by the same rules. Yet they can’t quite beat every primitive instinct from man, they have curtains which they can draw at a prescribed time, to partake in pastimes that may not be wholly approved of. Or time when they can have sex with whoever they have a pink slip agreement with. Love no longer exists and sex is a formal arrangement.
Or that’s what everyone believes. Of course, we know the kind of thing that happens, D503 meets a strange women. He intends to report her for irregular behaviour, but events get in the way and he misses the deadline. His thoughts start to become erratic, he reports himself as ill, but all the time being drawn into a plot to change the equilibrium.
I can see perhaps why Nineteen Eighty-Four became the better known book. I enjoyed reading We for its influence of dystopian fiction today, but sometimes D503’s narrative is a little hard to follow. He becomes delirious in him writings, as he starts to lose grip on his carefully calculated reality.
We was banned in the Soviet Union for its criticism of communism and Yevgeny Zamyatin was arrested and exiled. Its legacy can be seen in pretty much every dystopian novel written today, from enclosed cities to regulation of relationships, from surveillance to designated roles within society. And, of course, the idea that the government controls your every movement....more
The Haunting of Hill House was my Halloween read this year, even though I didn’t read much of it on the actual day. Something I love about books from The Haunting of Hill House was my Halloween read this year, even though I didn’t read much of it on the actual day. Something I love about books from this sort of period is the amount of booze consumed in a casual sort of way. Worried the house is evil? Never mind, have a brandy! It seemed there was a time where a drink solved everything. Or maybe it just helps to distract you from the ghosts…
It’s not a very scary book though. The only time I got a bit creeped out was because I was reading on the bus and then had to walk down the road in the dark and fog on quite a cold evening. The haunting manifests itself in cold spots in the book, so clearly it managed to latch on to one bit of my brain.
I did enjoy it though, more as a period piece about an odd group of people staying in an isolated house. There was a point where I did start to wonder if it were all in Eleanor’s mind; which is scarier, ghosts that can’t harm you or being terrified by your own mind?...more
So, The Great Gatsby. It's set in a superficial Long Island community and is narrated by Nick who is somewhat an outsider in a smaller, less glamourouSo, The Great Gatsby. It's set in a superficial Long Island community and is narrated by Nick who is somewhat an outsider in a smaller, less glamourous house next door to Mr Gatsby. He seems to do lunches and goes on excursions with his cousin and her friends and not a lot else. When Gatsby invites him to a party, he begins to understand why he's there but never really gets to know his mysterious neighbour.
If you were familiar with the sorts of people inhabiting the northern coast of Long Island in the twenties, you might find this an accurate social commentary but they just came across as vacuous, boring people who didn't seem all that affected by tragedy. Whilst the second half of the book was an improvement, it was lacking emotion. In the end, it's a boy meets girl, loses girl, finds girl again, barrier now in the way of happiness, do they, don't they story but without the fun emotional roller-coaster ride you'd get from some good chick-lit.
I found the language a little odd and in places forced. Maybe that's just what the trend was at the time but it didn't endear me to the prose:
"She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet."
There are however some undeniably good quotes, most of which have annoyingly been pre-highlighted in my Kindle edition, but you have to wade through a lot of pomposity to get to them. I can imagine at the time of publication it was an entertaining read but I'm not sure I'd add it to a list of time enduring classics....more
El Matadero is reputed to be one of the most studied texts in Spanish speaking South America. It's a fairly short story, only 32 pages once translatedEl Matadero is reputed to be one of the most studied texts in Spanish speaking South America. It's a fairly short story, only 32 pages once translated and details the events of a day at a Matadero, one the public slaughterhouses common in 19th century Argentina. The story paints a vivid picture of the culture at the time and the manic pace within the Matadero as well as having a political aspect.
The real gem of this book is the accompanying appendixes and glossary which really hit home the reality of that political message. I haven't really had much exposure to Argentinian history and didn't know much more about the country than gauchos and a passion for football and polo. Like many countries, they have travelled a rocky path to get to where they are now, including a civil war between Unitarians and Federalists and a dictator running the country; Juan Manuel de Rosa. This book can describe the history much more eloquently than me, but the story of The Slaughteryard favours the Unitarians, something that would have got Echeverria into deep water if it had been discovered.
The Accounts by Other Travellers includes passages from various travellers within the country between 1818 and 1863, including Charles Darwin. These accounts all describe the Mataderos from an outsider's point of view.
I would really recommend it to anyone studying Spanish as a second language as it also contains the original text as well as a selection of poems. How often do you get both in one edition?
Took me forever to read but I think that's because my mind is on other things. The passages where people are speaking with an accent were hard to undeTook me forever to read but I think that's because my mind is on other things. The passages where people are speaking with an accent were hard to understand but overall a wonderful classic. Definitely worth a read if you like modern vampire fiction....more