The Time Machine is more than cool, classic sci-fi. It's more than just THE original story to include a scientific rationale to time travel. It's a stThe Time Machine is more than cool, classic sci-fi. It's more than just THE original story to include a scientific rationale to time travel. It's a story that delves into the differences and injustices of class relations. It's a story that considers a burgeoning scientific revolution. And it's a story that explores evolution and the fate of mankind (at the same time as the World is still grapples with Darwin's theory).
The story is quite simple. The Time Traveller (TTT - no name is given) creates a machine that's able to travel through time. TTT demonstrates, in miniature, how the machine works and then travels himself, in full scale, 800,000 years into the future. The narration is handled by The Writer (also no name is given) who witnesses the miniature demonstration and is present when TTT returns from his trip to the future.
TTT finds himself in a future inhabitated by the child-like Eloi living a vegetarian and almost Luddite existence. The Eloi are innocent, fun-loving, sympathetic simpletons. When his time machine disappears, TTT explores this future land and ultimately discovers the Eloi's underground-dwelling symbiotic cousins - the Morlocks. Symbollically, the Eloi serve the role of aristocracy, patrician, or white collar; while the Morlocks serve the role as commonor, plebian, proletariat or blue collar. The Morlocks are carnivores (you can guess where they get their meat), and industrial, who can only see in the dark and are afraid of fire and the light.
After battle the Morlocks and losing his one Eloi friend, Weena, TTT recovers his Time Machine and launches himself further into the future.
The image of a desolate, grim far-future inhabited only by large crab-like creatures is as haunting and memorable to me as an adult as it was when I first read it 20+ years ago. The Signet edition of The Time Machine includes one additional future vignette that was edited out of the definitive edition of the story. This additional scene precedes TTT's visit to the crab-beach. He finds what he believes to be the last vestiges of humanity having taken the shape of large grey formless rabbits who are hunted by enormous caterpillars. These few additional pages evoke the same creepiness as the beach crabs and are a nice complement to the original story.
TTT relates his journey at a dinner party at his home. We view his adventure and discourse through The Writer's detailed account of TTT's return. English society is represented at the dinner party and, naturally, nobody quite believes the tale.
Modern scifi stalwart Greg Bear writes an introduction to the Signet addition and provides informative context to the story, it's place in writing history, and background on H.G. Wells as well as his place in the authorial pantheon.
If you've never read The Time Machine before, I strongly recommend you jump into this turn of the 19th Century classic. It's a little soft by modern comparison, but it's the original upon which so much contemporary scifi is based....more
H. Rider Haggard's "The Virgin of the Sun", like his classic "King Solomon's Mines", is not written in the mold of a modern wam-bam action adventure.H. Rider Haggard's "The Virgin of the Sun", like his classic "King Solomon's Mines", is not written in the mold of a modern wam-bam action adventure. First, Haggard's writing style is more classical, which tends to be a bit verbose. Second, he is not particularly focused on exposition. He doesn't spend much typeface detailing location which is in some regards a shame considering the romantic locations he tends to write on - in this case a virginal South America. Third, his stories are deep and exploratory. Haggard doesn't write to get to an ending, but rather his stories have multiple layers that sit underneath the core narrative. In the case of "Virgin", Haggard explores love, friendship, and women, all while Adventuring across the Atlantic and over South America.
Historically, Haggard does a nice job blending Inca history and myth into his adventure tale. In "The Virgin of the Sun", he explores the Inca myth surrounding the rise of one of the Americas greatest pre-columbian leaders - Pachacuti. Now, Pachacuti is most well known for mountain retreat - one of the most recognizable icons in the world - Machu Picchu. "Virgin of the Sun" was published in 1922, only a scant 11 years after explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered the lost city nestled in the Peruvian mountains. Bingham hadn't yet connected Machu Picchu to Pachacuti, but myth had already surrounded the Inca ruler who's credited with expanding Inca rule to cover a huge swath of territory on South America's western coast.
Haggard's story unfolds as a "modern day" anitque hound translates 400-year-old letters found in an ancient chest. The letters tell the tale of Hubert - a fisherman working and living in England. Following a few small adventures and misadventures, our hero, Hubert, meets and befriends a strange man from a foreign land. After Hubert's wife of less-than-24-hours commit suicide and Hubert kills her former lover, he and his friend, Kari, are off into the Atlantic Ocean. Kari acts as a phyiscal and emotional guide to Hubert who's immediately declared a White God by the various natives they come across after finding landfall in South America.
In addition to the Victorian era-like romance that leads to his wife's death, Hubert also falls in love with a beautiful Indian princess, Quilla - daughter of the moon. While their loves develops rather abruptly, Haggard does a nice job of using a surprisingly touching romance to further Hubert and Kari's adventure.
The story is enjoyable, but takes a little effort to get used to Haggard's writing style. The pace of the story picks up considerably about 1/3 through following Hubert and Kari's flight from England across the Atlantic. Consider this a strong historical adventure. ...more
This book is perfect for budding adventurers, dinosaur hunters and archaeologists. It follows the life and times of paleontologist and explorer Roy ChThis book is perfect for budding adventurers, dinosaur hunters and archaeologists. It follows the life and times of paleontologist and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. During the early part of the 20th century, Andrews finds dinosaur bones in the Mongolian desert, explores the tropics for rare animal species, and becomes one of the earliest scientists to study (rather than hunt) whales.
The book is written at a fairly high elementary school level - maybe strong 3rd grade readers and up. I'm reading the story to my first grader and finding myself modifying some of the language so he can understand better(ex: hanging jungle lianas becomes hanging jungle vines).
In addition to exploration and discovery, "Danger" introduces anthropology and cultural awareness when Chapman spends some time in a Mongolian ger (tent) while finding himself lost in the Gobi desert. My son particularly enjoyed hearing what the Mongolian's ate and how they were able to quickly collapse their ger, move to a new location, and pop it back up.
One of the stories is a little raw (Chapman's best friend dies in a boating accident), but all of them will appeal to a boys' imagination.
I highly recommended "Danger in the Desert"....more
My wife is a sixth-grade teacher and has taught this book for many years. She's told me that I'd like it and so finally my daughter and I read it at tMy wife is a sixth-grade teacher and has taught this book for many years. She's told me that I'd like it and so finally my daughter and I read it at the same time as part of a class project.
I found it to be rambling and vague at its worst and uninteresting at its best.
Intellectually, I understand its appeal and educational value. I thought my daughter might connect with the main character, Meg, but there was nothing there for her. I do, however, understand why Meg would be a draw for some children. For the purposes of an educational exercise, the book is full of symbolism and solid characterization.
For adults, it's a quick read, but start with tempered expectations....more
It feels like I just finished a race. A long one. Where I didn't take many breathers. And I was chased by vampirI just finished "The Historian". Wow.
It feels like I just finished a race. A long one. Where I didn't take many breathers. And I was chased by vampires.
"The Historian", at it's blood red heart, is a crime mystery/thriller. A man discovers a strange book, left mysteriously for him at a library. The book contains only a woodcut stamp of a dragon and the word "Drakulya". After showing this book to his professor, the man learns that not only has Professor Rossi also received the book under similarly mysterious circumstances, but he's spent years researching what it may mean, and is convinced that vampires, and Dracula himself, walk the Earth.
The night that Professor Rossi discusses his research, he disappears. From then on, the story is an intense roller coaster ride, complete with long slow pulls up steep slopes that build anticipation until you reach a peak and speed down an insane drop.
All while being chased by vampires.
Kostova does a wonderful job pulling the reading into the story. Her primary device echos Bram Stoker's use of letters and diaries to tell his story. She does an even better job of teasing the reader by ending almost every chapter through the first half of the book with a mini-cliffhanger. I found myself waking up more tired than usual after having spent another night reading "just one more chapter".
There are a couple of, dare I say, beautiful romances within the story. Each are parallels of each other set in different time periods. And I have to be honest, I thought they were both charming and passionate.
I've never had much interest in Eastern Europe, but Kostova paints wonderful imagery of the locations and their histories. The scene-setting is, however, sometimes rather drawn out.
"The Historian" is quite long and has as many twists, turns and clues as there are books on vampires. I felt the payoff was wonderful and the ride to get there even better.
It's Gothic, intricate, romantic, tragic, fun and surprising. I haven't read Stoker's original "Dracula" in about 20 years and most of the details I'dIt's Gothic, intricate, romantic, tragic, fun and surprising. I haven't read Stoker's original "Dracula" in about 20 years and most of the details I'd either forgotten or had been smudged, smeared, and overwritten by a lifetime of modern vampire stories and myths.
"Dracula" is set in the late 19th century and is presented through a series of letters, memos and recordings between numerous characters who, through no fault of their own, become entangled in Dracula's plot to move away from his rapidly dwindling (and more "vampire-aware") food supply in Romania to the hip and crowded urban living in London.
Stoker's mythology around Vampires had a few surprises (to me, at least...apologies in advance if any of these are common knowledge to Stephanie Meyers lovers...). Vampires only lose their powers during the day. They don't burn up or anything in the daylight...they just can't morph into animals, use superhuman strength, etc. Vampires can't turn into anything fancy when they're over water...which was a convenient plot point revolving around Dracula's travels to and from London via boat. Also, Stoker describes Dracula as having a long thin moustache...so I can't help imagining a fu manchu.
Van Helsing comes across as a Victorian age vampire-fighting Yoda. Stoker may have been writing Van Helsing's backward-talking soliloquies to be delivered with a Danish accent, but perhaps the Stoker estate should have a chat with Lucasfilms...
Harker's wife Mina is a central figure throughout the book - initially only as the target of Jonathan's letters from Transylvania, and eventually as a key figure in the hunt for the Count. Her passion and love for hubby Jonathan is both melodramatic and touching. One can't help but feel a very Victorian-England vibe in their relationship.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Stoker original. He does a masterful job connecting the plot dots through diaries and correspondence. Even by today's standards, I find his approach very fresh. The first quarter of the story takes place in Romania and Dracula's castle, and Stoker is at his best in his exposition of place and in setting the weighty and Gothic tone of Dracula in his environs. The image of the Count crawling down the outer walls of his castle, while Jonathan Harker watches from above, is burned into my mind....more
Anthony Everitt's "Augustus" is a solid biography on one of history's most influential people. Augustus, born Gaius Octavius September 23, in 63 BC, lAnthony Everitt's "Augustus" is a solid biography on one of history's most influential people. Augustus, born Gaius Octavius September 23, in 63 BC, lived to the ripe old age of 77 and ruled the Roman Empire for almost 45 years...both staggering amounts of time considering the average lifespan 2000 years ago and the average lifespan of Roman politician.
He is arguably one of the most impactful individuals ever to roam the earth. His existence intersected Julius Caesar (his grand-uncle and adopted father), Marc Antony (primary competitor for the Roman throne), Cleopatra (Antony's lover, and co-competitor for Roman throne), Jesus Christ (born during his reign), the Battle of Teutoberg Forest (key moment in empire's expansion), end of The Republic (initiated by Julius Caesar, completed by Augustus himself).
Everitt provides peeks into Augustus' life at all stages and ages. Some of the views are limited, thin or highly speculative as necessitated by the sources at Everitt's disposal. As he does in his biography of another engimatic Roman leader, "Hadrian", Everitt speculates and analyzes multiple sources when inconsistencies arise. Much time is spent laying out the political atmosphere, and complex interrelationships that provide the context and backdrop for this incredibly intense period of history.
What's enjoyable about Everitt is his narrative approach to the biography. Many elements of Augustus' life are highlighted with vignettes and stories. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on the day in the life of the Emperor, cobbled together from specific and non-specific references. The chapters on his adopted father's rise and downfall are fascinating as well, though it's difficult to keep up with the names of people, places and battles. It's particularly frustrating keeping track of individuals with similar names (there were two different "Brutuses" involved in Caesar's murder, for example). Everitt does his best to reminding the reader of re-introduced characters.
The book spends much time on the second civil war pitting Augustus against Marc Antony. For me, this was the first indepth study I’d read and I found the author’s approach very readable.
"Augustus" is similar to Everitt's "Hadrian" in that one comes away unable to fully reconcile what kind of man Augustus was. How did the younger Octavian go from a sickly and almost accidental high stakes political player, to the self assured rebuilder of the Roman world? Everitt writes that he was "devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of the law." Family was important - he and Livia were together for 50 years - but when his limits were tested, he reacted severely. In his later years, Augustus' daughter Julia was shut out of his life and exiled for the remainder of hers. His grandson Agrippa Postumus, while the only remaining successor by blood, was also banished.
Everitt points to Augustus' political reforms as some of his most courageous feats even though some took tweaking over time to get right, and some never stuck at all. He attempted to reset moral perspectives of the Roman elite. He instituted a governmental bureaucracy (Augustus-aucracy?) that paved the way for governmental growth (and, oddly enough, greater efficiencies).
I couldn't help but reflect on Robert Grave's fictional version of the life of Augustus and Livia in his "I, Claudius". While contemporary and near contemporary accounts suggest that Livia was deeply involved in her husband's political world, it would appear that Graves may have overstated her involvement in just about every important death during Augustus' reign.
The book is fact-filled, well written, highly notated and comes with several maps, photos and drawings, and a list of suggested reading. The writing is strong, but, by its nature is dense and, as I've mentioned, sometimes hard to follow.
For those interested in a very readable biography of Augustus, but also a anthropological study of the time in which he lived, then I'd highly recommend this book. ...more
Pirate Latitudes is a quick and fun read. It makes the perfect complement to a beach-based summer vacation, where one might almost be able see the SpaPirate Latitudes is a quick and fun read. It makes the perfect complement to a beach-based summer vacation, where one might almost be able see the Spanish Galleons and pirate ships on the horizon.
Michael Crichton's posthumously published novel isn't actually about pirates...it's about privateers. One privateer in particular - Charles Hunter - a relatively honorable rogue rambling around Port Royal, Jamaica in the mid-17th Century. Privateers aren't quite the same as pirates. They do everything that pirates do, but under the auspices of a legal pursuit contracted by a local government. Hunter doesn't have the wackiness of Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, but he's creative, loyal and turns out to be one of those solid and likable bad guys who's actually a good guy.
I wouldn't consider many elements of this book deep...the characters, the plotlines, the subplots. The book has the feel of an episode of The A-Team (sorry if I'm dating myself a bit here). The bad guys are drawn heavily and clearly. Their motives are clear. The good guys are are sort of the right side of the law, but only barely and always in the name of being better behaved than the bad guys. And there's always a plan coming together.
The story is a fast-moving, fun, adventure yarn. A couple of things to be aware of however: 1) This isn't classic Michael Crichton. While Crichton has woven in a good level of details around sailing and some science around 17th Century gunnery, this is, by no means, a sci-tech thriller. There are, however, interesting uses of explosives, and some exploration of "grenadoes"...early versions of grenades. 2) The story contains some very interesting sub-plots. Unfortunately, none of them is explored a satisfying extent. Cazalla is portrayed as the seriously nasty Spanish antagonist. Crichton digs into the shallowest depths of this counterpart to our rogue hero Hunter. Cazalla killed off midway through the book. 3) Hunter and his crew are attacked by a giant squid...what the sailors all call the Kraken. But this only last for about 10 pages. 4) Hunter engages in a couple of dalliances which could add some interesting drama to his adventures, but both are handled too briefly to be truly engaging. These mini-subplots all have a very obvious feel as to their use as plot devices and yet all feel very random.
I'm giving the book 3-stars, but would easily have jumped up to 4 if things were drawn more deeply and dramatically. Michael Crichton-lite is better than having nothing new of his at all. ...more