Eleven-year-old Sam Carnabie is not looking forward to a family trip to visit his Great-Aunt Roberta. Great-Aunt Roberta likes cats and china ornament...moreEleven-year-old Sam Carnabie is not looking forward to a family trip to visit his Great-Aunt Roberta. Great-Aunt Roberta likes cats and china ornaments; she doesn't much like children. And there isn't even a proper park near her oppressively tidy home in Reading. Why can't the Carnabies be headed out for an adventure somewhere exciting instead. You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for....Because when Professor Ampersand and his adopted children Zara and Ben zoom up on a yellow motorcycle and sidecar to whisk Sam away from the proposed dreadful visit in Reading, the adventure is well on its way. And it will be more adventure than Sam could possibly imagine.
Sam barely has time for a quick investigation of Professor Ampersand's awesome inventor's digs when one of the professor's colleagues arrives with news that the evil Professor Murdo is out to kill the rest of the original "7 Professors of the Far North"--a group of brilliant scientists who were once going to teach at a university on Nordbergen, an island in the Arctic Circle--as well as making preparations to take over the world. The other professors are called for a meeting at Ampersand's home--but before Professor Gauntraker can fully explain the dangers, Murdo's henchmen arrive and kidnap the professors. Sam, Zara, and Ben manage to hide and Gauntraker leaves a clue behind that will allow the kids to follow to Nordbergen. But how can three children take on an evil genius and his armed minions? The fate of their friends...and the world...is in their hands.
A wonderful adventure book for the nine and older crowd. The opening immediately grabs the reader and the story provides an exciting ride. This is definitely the type of book that I would have devoured in my younger days and I found it quite enjoyable now. It reminds me of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories--written as a straight narrative. While the idea of three children defeating an evil genius may be a little hard to believe, the story as told sweeps you right along and the kids have enough doubts and get just enough help along the way to make it really easy to suspend your disbelief. Great fun and interesting story. There is also a parallel story about Marcia and her parents that works well as it dovetails with the adventures of Sam, Zara, and Ben--and it serves as a nicely done morality story about being happy with who you are and letting others be exactly who they are as well. Good, solid story-telling.
Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler and Margaret Clark (eds) with Michael Okuda providing text is a gorgeous book of Star Trek artwork. It features beau...moreShips of the Line by Doug Drexler and Margaret Clark (eds) with Michael Okuda providing text is a gorgeous book of Star Trek artwork. It features beautifully drawn images from the Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendars and was put together as part of the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek. The artists have taken various ships from all points of the ST universe (through 2006) and rendered them in scenes from both the series or movie from which they came as well as from their own imaginations. The result is a delight for Trek fans.
The book was a serendipitous find for me...just sitting there on the featured books shelf of our Friends of the Library bookstore waiting for me to bring it home. As any good Trek fan would, I did. And promptly sat down the same day (May 1) and read it straight through. And somehow forgot to write up a review--so here it is, better late than never. Highly enjoyable--I spent a delightful evening flipping through the pages and reading the descriptions of each piece. Now I'll be passing it on to my son.
My take: This is a difficult review for me. I almost always can give high marks to the review request books and virtual tour books that I read becaus...more My take: This is a difficult review for me. I almost always can give high marks to the review request books and virtual tour books that I read because I carefully screen the books I agree to review. The synopsis really grabbed me. Roland Hughes has developed a fantastic premise. I liked the idea of tying in all kinds of SF writing and television shows into a fantastic piece of fiction. I had great expectations....
But, I have to be honest (and I only do honest reviews), this book was not, ultimately, for me. The interview format really got on my nerves. The entire book is all tell and no show. No action--none. Even when John Smith is describing what happened it has little effect because it's all dialogue and he sounds like he's giving one long lecture about absolutely everything from what a computer is to why the Hebrews had dietary laws to where the Atlantians went to how the Druids and Mayans figure in to finally answering the question his interviewer came to ask in the first place--what happened in the Microsoft Wars. And he does it all in such a condescending manner.
I also did not care for the antagonistic tone against the sexes. The reporter obviously doesn't care for men although her comments are few and far between and John Smith repeatedly makes incredibly misogynistic remarks about women throughout the book. My "favorites":
The longest lifespan known, or at least told to me, was roughly 250 clock years for a man and 325 clock years for a woman. The stress of living with a woman really does kill a man. That much has remained universal throughout all cycles. (p.133)
Women can't resist making things up for no reason at all and being mad about them for years but that isn't the story we are telling here. (p. 150) [So, your point in saying this is?]
The tone is bad enough...but it might be useful and understandable if Hughes explained why these people are like this. What motivates them? But he doesn't--we're supposed to accept this, apparently, just because that's the way it is.
There are also great inconsistencies...for instance, the reporter supposedly lives in a society that has developed after the Microsoft Wars. Everything has been destroyed. Pretty much all knowledge of what came before is gone--Smith has to explain what computers, dvds, satellites, submarines, etc. and ad nauseum are--even hard copy encyclopedias and maps--and yet the woman knows what socialism is? Seriously? Her people have retained no memory whatsoever of tangible physical objects and yet she understands an obsolete abstract concept.
If you like unusual story-telling formats, then this book is for you. If you like incredible amounts of dialogue, then this book is for you. If you are interested in conspiracy theories and an explanation of what happened to Atlantis and the "truth" behind every UFO siting ever....then this book is for you.
I really am sorry that I cannot give this book a stellar review. But it just did not live up to my expectations and, overall, I just didn't become engaged with the characters. I'm giving it two stars--all for fantastic concept.
**This book was sent to me as part of the Premier Virtual Authors Tour in exchange for my honest review. I have received no compensation whatsoever.
Any project that involves Harlan Ellison really is a mine field...of explosive ideas, earth-shaking revelations, and mental confrontations that are no...moreAny project that involves Harlan Ellison really is a mine field...of explosive ideas, earth-shaking revelations, and mental confrontations that are not for the faint of heart. Link him up with the provocative artwork of Jacek Yerka and you wind up with something very special indeed. Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison does just that. An extraordinary collection of 30 images by Yerka with short pieces by Ellison which tell his story about Yerka's artwork. As Ellison says, "...after you've read my interpretation, you can come back to Mr. Yerka's art time after time and invent a new story each visit."
As one might expect from Ellison, his interpretations are generally rather dark and nightmarish--but beautifully written and exquisitely detailed nightmares direct from the author's fertile imagination. Ellison may have an extraordinarily different point of view--but one thing is certain. The man can write. My favorites in this collection were among the shortest pieces ("The Silence," "Darkness Falls on the River," and "Paradise") with "Between Heaven and Hell" and "To Each His Own" closely following.
Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos is a rare thing for me...a graphic novel. But, being the Ellison fan-girl that I am and having read the synopsis of t...moreHarlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos is a rare thing for me...a graphic novel. But, being the Ellison fan-girl that I am and having read the synopsis of the book sometime last year, I promptly put it on my Christmas wishlist, my own personal Santa came through, and I found it under the Christmas tree last December 25th. I was very excited that two of my category challenges called for a graphic novel, because I knew I had the very thing just waiting on the TBR pile.
Sometime in Earth's distant future, the planet is in danger--not just physical danger, but the very fabric of reality is being ripped apart. The elite call on once-decorated, but then disgraced General Roark to gather six others with special abilities to save them. With elaborate promises of rewards to come, Urr, the renegade robot; Mourna, the Amazon-like woman with steel claws for hands; Tantalus, the incredibly swift insect-man; Ayleen, a Venusian woman with quite literal fire-power; Hoorn, the stealthy and adept cat burglar; and Kenrus the brilliant, outcast technologist all agree to join Roark on a deadly journey to Earth's past on a mission to save its future.
As a graphic novel, the book is pleasing. It has an old-fashioned feel and reminds me of the comic books I used to buy when I was a preteen. I have a certain nostalgia for those stories--I would read everything from those with a science fiction feel to the mysterious and creepy (think Tales from the Crypt). I enjoyed those far more than most of the graphic novels I have tried in recent years. Paul Chadwick's artwork is fabulous.
The story, however, is a bit clunky. There are instances of Ellison's brilliance, but, as other reviewers on Goodreads have noted, there is a certain lack of continuity as if panels or even pages are missing. I'm not sure if that's a result of Ellison writing in short bursts for each panel or what. One can see the bones of a good story, but it is never completely covered with flesh and made whole. It begins with a bang--and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of how Roark gathered his colleagues for the e journey. The trip through the black hole is well done and enjoyable as well and there are moments when the Seven face the villain of the piece that are quite good. Over all, a three star outing for an interesting story and great artwork. A more cohesive storyline would have brought up to four.
Triumph by Philip Wylie is a terrible book. No--I don't mean the writing. Or the way Wylie tells his story. Or anything to do with Wylie's craft as an...moreTriumph by Philip Wylie is a terrible book. No--I don't mean the writing. Or the way Wylie tells his story. Or anything to do with Wylie's craft as an author. That is all top-notch. Five-star reading material. What I mean is...this is the most horrific rendering of World War III, of nuclear holocaust, that I've read. To think that any member of the human race could possibly commit themselves to the wholesale slaughter of the entire Northern Hemisphere just so they could say that they "won." I can't imagine. Or, rather--now, thanks to Philip Wylie, I can.
And that, in a nutshell, is what Triumph is about. It is the 1960s and the height of the Cold War. The Russians have long been plotting the ultimate assault that will lead to control of whatever remains of the earth. Russia's Red army marches into Yugoslavia to "liberate" its people and an ultimatum is given to the President of United States and the leaders of England and France telling them they have two hours to confirm with Russia that they will not interfere. The President barters for time to negotiate, but it really doesn't matter if he has two hours or six. Because at the appointed time, Russia begins attacking the U.S. with everything they've got.
No one ever believed that either of the superpowers would go all-out. If nuclear war came, only certain strategic targets would be hit in order bring surrender. Russia isn't interested in surrender--they want to remove any possibility of any Americans (or any countries in the Northern Hemisphere) interfering with a plan for world domination. So, they play dirty. Literally. Using dirty bombs loaded to the gills with material that is hundreds of times more radioactive than necessary and then setting off special bombs that will send radioactive salt into the atmosphere to clean out anyone the missiles might have missed.
Russia's plan also includes secret, hidden bomb shelters specially designed to preserve a few thousand of the elite, super-Russians (sound familiar? master race anyone?) who will come forth to take over the earth once all phases of the war plan have been carried out. But Russia doesn't reckon on a few specialized submarines that the U.S. navy had managed to keep hidden up its sleeve...or bomb shelter fortress prepared by a Connecticut millionaire which saves the lives of fourteen Americans.
It's not just the idea that anyone could be so hell-bent on power that they would systematically eradicate everyone in the Northern Hemisphere (including, through what retaliation the US and its allies can muster, their own people). And, of course, the U.S. is not portrayed as the white-hatted hero. There is plenty about how our stock-piling of weapons and contributions to the Cold War made this event possible. All adding to the horror of the nuclear onslaught. What is also horrific about Wylie's story is the detailed descriptions of what happened on the surface of the northern part of the earth during the missile strikes and their aftermath. Realistic and terrible. And even knowing that we are no longer living in the Cold War Era doesn't prevent the shivers and the question...what if? What if another Hitler-like madman seizes power in a country with nuclear capability? Would that person be willing to go all-out just for the chance to say, however briefly, "I'm the winner! I rule the world!" It's a very sobering thought.
It is also very interesting to read Wylie's 1960s take on race relations and gender. Yes, it's dated. Yes, there are a few stereotypes that will bother modern sensibilities. But it very much represents the time it was written while allowing Wylie to examine those stereotypes and give them a bit of shake. He allows his characters to learn and change and grow through this horrible experience. Is it realistic to expect that all fourteen of the survivors would miraculously break through whatever hangups they brought with them to the shelter? Perhaps not. But it does provide an excellent character study. As mentioned--five stars for every thought-provoking moment and every horrific shudder at the thought of all-out nuclear war.
Harlan Ellison is an author who likes to shakes things up. He is well-known for his own dangerous visions and his skill at twisting the everyday and m...moreHarlan Ellison is an author who likes to shakes things up. He is well-known for his own dangerous visions and his skill at twisting the everyday and making it thought-provoking. And just when you think you've figured out what kind of writer he is...science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, black comedy, psychological...he throws you a curve ball and does something completely different. Those qualities made him the perfect person to collect and edit the Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions collections back in the 1960s.
Dangerous Visions #3 is the paperback version of one-third of the stories which appeared in the original hardback collection, Dangerous Visions. In it you will find stories by SF greats such as Theodore Sturgeon, Roger Zelazny, Norman Spinrad, J. G. Ballard and Samuel R. Delaney. You will also find names that may not be quite as well-known to you (this was at least the case with me): Kris Neville, Jonathan Brand, Sonya Dorman.... A total of fourteen stories which are every bit as disturbing and thought-provoking as when Ellison first tossed them out to the reading public in 1967.
My personal favorites:
"Judas" by John Brunner: where a man thinks he's defying and dismantling the mechanical "god" of his times...only to find that he's playing right into the myth.
"Test to Destruction" by Keith Laumer: A rebel leader is tested to the limit--both by his opponent and by alien forces. He manages to use one against the other...but at what cost to his own humanity?
"Encounter with a Hick" by Jonathan Brand: A young man's explanation to the court about why an elderly man dropped dead in a hotel bar. Some people just can't take the demolition of their cherished beliefs.
The stories are a mixture of styles and subject matter...as well as producing a mixture of reactions. There were a generous portion that I enjoyed and found interesting and through-provoking as well as those that just didn't touch a chord with me. And one that I just sat and thought "What?" the entire time I was reading it. Good solid science fiction selected by a master...three stars.
We scientists have been responsible for many of the world's ills for a longtime. We've failed to understand that science moves fast, it is revolutiona...moreWe scientists have been responsible for many of the world's ills for a longtime. We've failed to understand that science moves fast, it is revolutionary, while the human mind is slow, evolutionary. As a result, we have a gap of thousands of years between scientific achievement and the human capacity to use it wisely. ~Dr. Dawson (p. 144)
The Big Eye was written by Max Ehrlich in 1949 about the future...the near-future of 1960. In Ehrlich's vision, mankind has learned very little from the two world wars of its recent past--even less than we who have survived the '60s (and '70s and '80s and...). The Cold War has resulted in everyone having a piece of the atomic action and Russia and the United States are playing a nervous game to see who will drop the bomb first. It isn't a matter of "if," but "when."
Dr. David Hughes is a young astronomer sent by his boss Dr. Dawson to meet with the top US officials in an effort to determine if it is in the nation's best interest to be the first to launch the attack. At the last minute, Hughes is called to return to the Palomar Observatory where Dawson has made a discovery that will change everything. The days of the Earth are numbered. A rogue planet, "Planet Y" is speeding through the galaxy on a collision course with Earth. A collision that will take place in exactly two years on Christmas day 1963. Dawson has gathered the world's astronomer's to verify his calculations and they make the terrifying announcement to the people of Earth.
In the wake of the horrible news, David finds some happiness with the woman he loves; and, ironically, the world is able to settle its differences creating a world at peace with the problems of war, hunger, and even cancer solved in the shadow of doomsday. When Christmas 1963 comes, David and Carol go out into the open (along with most of the citizens of Earth) to face The Big Eye (as Planet Y has been named) and meet their doom. What happens next is not a miracle, but a very believable twist that brings the story to a very satisfying conclusion.
This was a decent look at what a writer who has just been through World War II saw as the near-future of the 1960s. The basic story line was interesting and believable--although the viewpoint is old-fashioned and somewhat preachy (particularly as viewed from the 21st Century). I like the idea that mankind when faced with a common threat might actually pull itself together and look beyond our petty fears and disagreements--it would be nice if we could that act together without a catastrophic event looming over us..... Three and a half stars.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the ultimate 70s/80s pop culture, video-game-loving, geek overload of a book. There are references to everything f...moreReady Player One by Ernest Cline is the ultimate 70s/80s pop culture, video-game-loving, geek overload of a book. There are references to everything from Pac Man to Max Headroom, from Star Trek to Star Wars, from War Games to School House Rock. If it doesn't make your nerdy self explode in a Dungeon & Dragons frenzy, then I don't know what will. Oh....and it works for those of us who aren't quite so into video games and pop culture too.
The story takes place in a rather bleak future. Fossil fuels have finally run out and the entire world is in a pretty depressed state economically speaking. There are few jobs and little hope and most people spend as much of their time as possible in the virtual world...a place called OASIS. The OASIS was developed by super-geek James Halliday and his partner Ogden Morrow. This virtual world/gaming paradise places all sorts of worlds at the player's fingertips. Via one's avatar, Vulcan and Endor and probably even Arrakis of Dune are all possible destinations. And every game a gamer can imagine is ready for playing. And access to the OASIS world is free--well, virtually. A one-time fee of twenty-five cents gets you in.
But Halliday's passion was the 80s (and 70s)--he was obsessed with the decade and when he died he left behind a will that said that whoever could find the easter egg hidden in the OASIS would be his heir--an heir to all of the OASIS stock and billions of dollars. The easter egg could only be found by playing "Halliday's Game"--the ultimate treasure hunt with an initial clue given in the will. Every gamer out there has been working for years to try and figure out what that original clue meant--there are Halliday scholars and books and online resources detailing every moment of Halliday's life. Notebooks and journals that tell about all of his obsessions--from early video games to his favorite 80s movies and TV shows to the science fiction novels he loved. No self-respecting gamer (or "gunter" as they're known in the book) would dare enter the game without being able to recite whole movies from Halliday's list of must-see films.
Our hero is Wade Watts--a teenager who is on the low-end of the social strata. He has spent his life in the "stacks"--trailer parks where (since real estate is such a premium) the trailers are stacked on top of one another like apartment complexes. He is the first to break the code in the first clue and soon he and the High Five (four other individuals) are off and running on the treasure hunt of their lives. And it just might cost them their lives--because individual gamers aren't the only ones with their eye on the prize. Also in the mix is the Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a mega-corporation that intends to win the game, take over OASIS, and start charging regular fees and cluttering up the virtual world with advertising. To this end, IOI has hired gunters to work for them--regular paychecks, benefits, gaming supplies all provided and all you have to do is sign away your right to the prize. Wade and the rest of High Five become the target of the Sixers (those in IOI's employ) and it becomes a race to claim the final prize before the Sixers can eliminate the competition--permanently.
This was a very fun book. I'm grateful to all the fellow bloggers who have read this over the last two years and put it on my radar. With so many folks mentioning it, I figured the book would qualify for the "Everybody But Me" category in Book Blogger Bingo. Lots of action and great ride all along the way. I am deducting one star, however, for the rather tedious game explanations (info dumps) that occur periodically along the way. I finally started skimming and can't see that my lack of knowledge about how some of the old video games really hurt my understanding of the novel. I also really enjoyed the characters and the way the High Five group interacted. There was just the right mix of friendship and friendly competition. Four stars for a really good read.
Alastair Reynolds is apparently a fairly big deal in recent science fiction. The fact that I didn't know this and, in fact, didn't even know his name...moreAlastair Reynolds is apparently a fairly big deal in recent science fiction. The fact that I didn't know this and, in fact, didn't even know his name before picking up his Zima Blue & Other Stories for the A-Z Reading Challenge (X, and Z are always such devilish letters to find interesting books for...), well, that just goes to show how out of touch I've been from the SF world.
Reynolds is a British science fiction writer. I have to admit that my SF reading has been very heavily American--with Douglas Adams, Arthur C Clarke and H. G. Wells being my primary authors from across the pond. According to the interwebs, he specializes in dark hard science fiction and space opera and has won the BSFA award for best novel as well as being nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Hugo Award for Best Novella, Locus Award for Best First Novel, Locus Award for Best Collection. This collection most definitely represents his affinity for dark hard science fiction.
There is a lot of war here...war dependent on all sorts of scientific weaponry that I don't even pretend to understand. War between various offshoots of the human race as well as war against mysterious "others" who may or may not be evil aliens. These are the darkest of the stories as we try to figure out who the bad guys really are. The best stories of the collection--"Signal to Noise," "Angels of Ashes," "Understanding Space & Time" and "Zima Blue" --manage to mix that dedication to hard science with interesting human stories without allowing the scientific details to overshadow the human. Among them, my favorite is "Understanding Space & Time"--I love the infusion of Elton John and "Rocket Man" into the story. I am also interested in the main character's search for enlightenment and how Reynolds ties that into quantum physics.
While the two related stories "Hideaway" and "Merlin's Gun" also have a good story to tell, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what the heck all these terms meant. I was distracted to the point that the denouement in each case lost much of its punch. I also think it would have helped if the stories had appeared in the order they were written--"Merlin's Gun" first, followed by its prequel, "Hideaway." Many of the confusing details in "Hideaway" would have been much clearer.
I'm not adverse to hard science fiction. I do think, however, that stories that depend on it and which employ author-generated terms to explain such science should succinctly explain the terms. No long, drawn-out lectures--just enough to let the average reader understand what's going on. That's a difficult task for a short story, and that may explain why most of the world-building hard science fiction stories that I really appreciate are novel-length rather than short stories.
All that said, Reynolds is a good story-teller. I've enjoyed my venture into more recent British science fiction and am very glad that the A-Z Reading Challenge led me to his book. There are some very ambitious creations here involving alternate timelines, the augmentation of the human memory, and reality itself. Three and a half stars.
Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit takes the idea of time travel and possible paradoxes to a whole new level. His Time Traveler has a major dilemma....moreSean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit takes the idea of time travel and possible paradoxes to a whole new level. His Time Traveler has a major dilemma. Every year he travels to an abandoned hotel in the New York City of 2071 to celebrate his birthday. It's an exclusive party--just for him....and his past and future time-traveling selves. Nothing really extraordinary ever happens until the year he turns 39. He's on his way to the grand ballroom to get a celebratory drink when he encounters his 40-year-old-self--after an odd interlude and a brief detour to the upper levels (somewhere he'd never ventured before), the 40-year-old rushes into the elevator, leaving the Time Traveler to the stairs. When he reaches the proper floor, he finds a bunch of the Elders gather round a dead body. His 40-year-old self has been shot and no one knows who did it. The Elders look to him to get to the bottom of the mystery. After all, if he can't stop the death from happening, then all his future selves will disappear. Things get steadily more crazy as the evening goes on--much younger selves (who have never attended the party before) start showing up and soon there seems to be threats from all sides. Then there's the unknown factor--a woman named Lily who comes the party....the first person besides himself who ever has. The Time Traveler finds himself working to save not only his own lives, but hers as well. It would help if he knew exactly what he should or shouldn't do over the course of the next year.....
This is a very interesting take on time travel and the paradoxes that are often associated with it. Ferrell doesn't just address the paradoxes--he gleefully produces them and inundates the story with them. There have been all kinds of theories about time travel paradox....including those that say that you can't go back in time (or I suppose forward) and meet your self. That you can't accidentally kill your grandfather or you'll blink out of existence. Ferrell takes on both of those premises....the Time Traveler doesn't just meet himself. He meets A LOT of himself. It's not his grandfather who gets killed...it's one year's version of himself. Ferrell uses the varying timelines created by these events to get the reader to think about our actions--how they affect us and how those actions affect others.
It's always interesting to read alternate reality stories. But those usually just show one version of what might have happened if certain events had taken place in an entirely different way (what if JFK or Lincoln hadn't been killed; what if Hitler had won the war; etc). This novel doesn't show what happens in one alternate reality...it manages to show what happens in multiple alternate realities all at the same time. This made the story just a little bit dense and hard to follow at times and even labeling different versions of the Traveler with identifying names ("Nose," "Suit," "Yellow," "Seventy," etc.) didn't always help. It's an extraordinarily interesting and ambitious storyline that needs just a little more clarity for this reader. Readers who like intricate puzzles will delight in trying to follow all the storylines and trying to determine which versions the Traveler should trust and which he shouldn't.
My other small quibble relates to various blurbs which made such a point of the humor in this story. I was hoping for a bit of the Douglas Adams touch to go along with the intricate time travel maze...and was disappointed. I didn't find the story particularly funny at all. It's intriguing and engaging. It makes you think. But I don't think it will make you laugh. Three and 3/4 stars for a pretty darn good read--almost four.
The Poison Belt (1913) is the second adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which features Professor George Challenger...or as the subtitle says Being An...moreThe Poison Belt (1913) is the second adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which features Professor George Challenger...or as the subtitle says Being An Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger. After returning from the dangers of Lost World, Professor Challenger becomes aware of changes in the spectrum that signal an even greater danger approaching Earth from the realm of space. He is convinced that the Earth will be shrouded in a poisonous cloud belt floating in the ether between the planets. There have already been reports of madness and death in the coastal and low-lying areas of the world. The cities are taken over by riots and society crumbles just before all life on earth ceases. All life that is except for Professor Challenger, his wife, and the three friends who accompanied him to the Lost World.
Professor Summerlee, Lord John Roxton, and the young reporter Edward Malone all receive urgent telegrams from Challenger requesting their presence at his country home and insisting that they bring along tubes of oxygen. Challenger has arranged for them to watch the end of the world from the confines of a sealed room--with only their meager supply of oxygen to forestall their own death. They are amazed and dismayed to find that the oxygen not only forestalls death, but allows them to survive until the poisonous ether has passed on from Earth's atmosphere. They venture out to survey the terrible results....only to find one more surprise in store.
My take: Sure. We all know now that there is no such thing as ether between the planets. It's all a vacuum. But Doyle was working with what he had and what the science of the day firmly believed. All it takes is a suspension of belief and a step back in time and the story becomes most plausible, indeed. While there are elements of science fiction and speculative fiction to Doyle's story, it is even more evidently a morality play. It teaches us to consider what it really important in our lives and to take more notice of the small, everyday pleasures that we often miss in our hurry to get ahead and get things done. What would we miss most if all of our fellow man and living creatures were suddenly silent? Three stars--as a strict science/speculative fiction it provides an interesting premise, but not a whole lot of action, but as a morality play it is a solid story indeed.
For the record....there aren't a lot of books out there that begin with "Z" that fall into my preferred reading categories and are readily available t...moreFor the record....there aren't a lot of books out there that begin with "Z" that fall into my preferred reading categories and are readily available through the library. Zombies...oh, man, I could have brought home a boat-load of books on zombies (Zombies, Zombies, Zombies!; Zombies Versus Unicorns; Zombies Versus Nazis; Zombies Don't Cry...you get the idea). Classic-style and/or academic-minded mystery authors, y'all need to step it up a bit. Just sayin'. It would help out those of us who do alphabetical reading challenges immensely. Thanks.
That said, after scanning through the online catalog at the local library, I found Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien (winner of the Newberry award for Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH). Young Adult fiction is on my "not-so-much" list of things to read, but this post-apocalyptic, dystopian story really sounded like a winner. And so it proved.
Written in 1974 (Small soapbox moment here--I wish all the reviewers on Goodreads, and elsewhere, would pay attention to that little detail. It makes a LOT of difference to one's perspective if one considers the time and context in which the book one reads has been written.), O'Brien tells us about the aftermath of nuclear war from the perspective of Ann Burden, a 16 year old girl who has survived in a valley protected by hills. Burden and her family lived in a valley that always seemed to have "its own weather." Fortunately, this seems to have been true, because its protected nature manages to keep out the air currents which would bring the deadly radiation and fallout into the area. Initially, Ann's family and neighbors are also among the survivors--but they leave the valley one day to investigate the surrounding area and to search for other survivors and never return.
Ann soon comes to believe that she is the only survivor in the world and begins to plan accordingly. Her life in the valley had been a very simple one and she was taught to shoot, fish, and farm. She settles down to the business of survival and resigns herself to a very lonely existence. Until the day she spots a column of smoke in the distance...a column that nightly moves closer to her valley. She wavers between excitement in knowing that she will no longer be alone and fear of the unknown. What will this person (persons) be like? Will they be friend or foe? She learns that being alone may not be the worst that can happen.
This is a very thoughtful book. It examines ideas of control and humanity. The questions of fear and trust and what makes for a worthwhile existences when everyone and everything you've known is gone. Using just two characters, O'Brien gives us a very vivid picture of two possible reactions to the horrifying reality that all (or nearly all) of humanity is gone. What becomes important? And who has the right to decide? If you're looking for fast-paced, action-packed adventure, then this may not be the book for you. There is conflict and danger, but it is played out as a long-thought-out chess match. Well done for three and a half stars.
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