Review ~ The Time Machine

Cover via Goodreads

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine tells the story of the Time Traveler, an inventor living in Victorian England. Traveling into the distant future using his time machine he encounters the descendants of humans and witnesses the end of life on earth. Wells’ first published book, The Time Machine, popularized the concept of human time travel and has influenced countless works of fiction. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
After reading The War of the Worlds in December and Melville’s Moby-Dick in February, I’ve become intrigued by the amount science and natural history that is included in these 100+ year old novels and by the genre called scientific romance. (No, Moby-Dick doesn’t quite fit that genre, but it does include an enthusiasm for scientific fact that I feel is missing from a lot of modern literature, even modern science fiction.) So, there’s probably going to be quite a bit of Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures in this blog in the near future.

I also have a guilty pleasure to admit to. Back at the beginning of March, ABC premiered Time After Time. It’s based Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name (and a subsequent 1979 movie). The premise? A young H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the modern era and falls in love with Jane, a historian (in the TV series). The science in the show is terrible. Actually, much of the writing is pretty bad and occasionally cliched. But H. G. and Jane are so cute together.* It’s enough to melt even my cold unromantic heart. But if you haven’t watched, don’t invest your time; it’s already been cancelled.

* I’m guessing that the series wasn’t going to bring too much of the historical Wells into the story. His views on sex were, uh, progressive.

What Worked
I enjoy Wells’ writing style. He adeptly mixes science with his social and psychological views. The Time Machine is a fairly simple story. Our narrator tells of the Time Traveller and recounts the Traveller’s tale after he returns from journeying to the far future.

The Traveller’s first jump takes him to a future in which humanity has split into two species: the Eloi and the Morlocks. Both are the products of a society in which one class valued ease of life and the other class has been forced to be the laborers. Taken to the extreme, the Eloi no longer know how to do anything, while the Morlocks only thrive underground, taking care of the machinery that keeps both societies going. Since agriculture is no longer supported, the Eloi live on plants and the Morlocks…live on Eloi. In both cases, intellectualism has fallen by the wayside. The Traveller’s second jump takes him to the end of the world.

In both cases, the imagery Wells uses is unlike anything I’ve read. I’ve watched the 1960 film ages ago and I don’t remember it doing justice to the text in this regard. It’s far enough into the future to be alien. And, while the novel (novella) might have spawned an entire science fiction genre, it doesn’t deal with the usual time travel paradox problems.

What Didn’t Work
It was way too short. I was reading an ebook version released in conjunction with Felix Palma’s The Map of Time. The last half of the file was a preview of that book! Curse you, ebooks!

Also, I part of my brain cries out, “But Katherine, didn’t you just complain about three guys creating a world-altering technology basically in their basement. Isn’t Wells doing the same thing here?” And, well, yes. Perhaps the Victorian scientific romance is the basis for the now very annoying trope of the lone mad scientist. (Or maybe it’s Mary Shelley’s fault. I haven’t done enough reading…) But, I’ll give hundred year old novels a bit of a pass on this one.

Likewise, I’ll give it a pass on the only female in the book being Weena, a helpless Eloi who continually needs to be saved and/or protected. For a while, Wells doesn’t describe the Eloi in terms of having gender. They seem to be a rather dim bunch, with a simple language, living in structures that they have not built themselves. Kind of reminded me of villagers in Minecraft…

Overall
I enjoyed The Time Machine. It wasn’t on my March TBR list, but it might have broke my reading slump.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Atria Books, May 31, 2011
Acquired: March 10, 2017, Amazon
Genre: science fiction, scientific romance

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Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan-Feb 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017 edited by C. C. Finlay

I reviewed the Nov-Dec issue on January 27th. Here it is only March 22rd and I’ve finished the Jan-Feb issue. Progress! These are the standouts from the issue. Note: I didn’t say favorites.

“Vinegar and Cinnamon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I could lead a comfortable rat-wizard life.

Maura is the golden child of the family; she has some ability with magic and is being taught how to use it. Sam is the good child of the family; he does his chores and then some to help the family get by. One day, by mistake, Maura turns Sam into a rat. And as a rat, Sam could have a very different life… Lovely story full of fairy tale and sibling rivalry.

“Alexandria” by Monica Byrne
This only slightly a science fiction story. Beth is a widower. A native of Kansas, she married a man, Keiji, from Japan. On their honeymoon, they went to Egypt to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria, not realizing it no longer existed. After that, they both “traveled” through their mutual love of books and maps. But now that Keiji is gone, Beth is left with farm land and very little to remember her husband by. So she builds a monument. The sci-fi elements are the sectional epigraphs from the future describing the confusing archaeological artifact found in what was once Kansas. It’s only March, but this might make it to my year end “best of.”

“Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” by Marc Laidlaw
According to the introduction, Marc Laidlaw lives on the island of Kauai. Therefore, I’m going to take his use of Hawaiian culture and slang as genuine and well-intentioned. I hope so, because it’s that Hawaiian flair that gives this light Lovecraftian story some extra omph.

“One Way” by Rick Norwood
Oh man, this story annoyed me. We start out with Harvey (has-been physicist), Jerry (boy genius), and Sam (uh, does the soldering). Together, just the three of them, build a perpetual energy machine…that just might destroy the world. My first objection to this story is the built-in-a-basement style engineering. That isn’t how things are developed and made. To recuse myself, I’m married to an engineer. The majority of my social circle are engineers. I’m a little protective of the fact that it takes many more people that anyone realizes to create the electronic wonders we use daily. And then there was Deloris, Jerry’s girlfriend. Deloris is an English major. Deloris doesn’t know science. Direct quote from Deloris: “That sounds important. I don’t know any science…” Deloris’s only purpose in the story is to have one of the male characters explain to her (and to us, the readers) what’s going on. It really bothered me that a story in one of the more prominent sci-fi literature magazines had such a poorly depicted female character. To further recuse myself, I have a degree in English literature. I also know some science.

Deal Me In, Week 11 ~ “Nesting Instinct”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Nesting Instinct” by Scott Baker

Card picked: 5♠
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

The Story

Tracy travels to Paris to live and study for a year with her sister Liz, who already lives there. But, when Tracy arrives, her sister has left for Nice and Liz’s apartment isn’t hers at all, but her boyfriend Marcelo’s.  Tracy is sent to stay with Isobel, but Isobel is leaving for Lisbon (where she’ll meet up with Liz) to tend to Isobel’s brother’s remains. But Tracy can stay in Isobel’s apartment as long as she needs. Ownership of the place simply passes from friends to friend. As Isobel explains:

The rule is, you can use anything here but you can’t keep it, and you have to leave something of your own when you go. And you can’t leave the apartment empty, or else we’ll lose it. If you move out you have to find someone to take your place.

The apartment is a wedge shape, a slice of the top floor of a round building, and full of things left behind by the sixteen others who have lived there. Initially, Tracy is afraid to be alone. She never has spent much time alone, but after Isobel leaves, the apartment becomes cozier to Tracy. She luxuriates in long hot baths and over-sleeps the curious loft cubby-hole the serves as her bedroom. And though originally afraid of the wasps that build their nest just outside her window, she develops a kinship with them…in more ways than one.

Tracy’s being away from home for the first time reminded me of when I first moved away (but not too far away) for college. It was scary, but it was also exciting to have so much freedom. The uneasy aspect of this story for me is how easily Tracy’s sense of freedom is twisted into being its own sort of prison. If this were a Joyce Carol Oates story, it would be stiflingly claustrophobic and deeply unsettling. Luckily(?), it’s not. Instead, Scott Baker only makes it a normal amount of  unsettling and therefore readable without frequent breaks for air.

 

Review ~ Ghostland

Cover via Goodreads

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made—and why those changes are made—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I enjoy reading/hearing about hauntings. I was browsing through the library’s audio catalog and Ghostland had a good narrator.

What Worked
Like a lot of folklore, ghost stories are strongly tied to the history and culture of place. In Ghostland, Colin Dickey takes some of the most famous haunted places in the US, fact checks the story’s details (when applicable), and then takes a look at how the setting and history of the location has played a part in the narrative’s current form. There are differences between ghost stories in Athens, GA and Hollywood, CA after all.

Dickey also examines how modern society views ghosts. On one hand, there is a cachet to having a ghost “destination.” Many of the hauntings in Ghostland have been featured on ghost hunting TV shows. In many cases, like the Winchester Mystery house, not-quite-true stories continue because that is the narrative that sells. On the other hand, no one *really* wants to live somewhere they believe to be haunted, even if phenomena can be easily debunked. Ghost are good if you want a tourist trap, bad if you want to sell a house.

What Didn’t Work
The structure of Ghostland was roughly chronological, but also broken into specific types of locations—domestic places (houses), commercial places (bars, hotels), public works places (prisons, cemeteries, parks), and even cities themselves. I probably would have preferred a more strict chronological order.

This is also a popular nonfiction work, not a scholarly work. Some of the tenants of Ghostland aren’t exhaustively investigated. For example, it’s argued that the ghost stories of the American south edit out the horrors of slavery in favor of more romantic stories, like Myrtles Plantation’s Chloe. But a good investigation of such an assertion could take a book itself. Ghostland is a sip from the well instead of a deep dive.

Overall
Overall, thumbs up. It was good to listen to during my reading slump. If you’re a fan of podcasts such as Lore or Just a Story, this is definitely up your alley.

Publishing info, my copy: OverDrive Listen audiobook, Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, October 4, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: nonfiction, pop culture, history

Deal Me In, Week 10 ~ “The Invisible Man”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Invisible Man” by G. K. Chesterton

Card picked: K
From: Found at East of the Web

The Story

Young Angus wants Laura to marry him. His is not Laura’s first proposal. Before she moved to London, two other men asked for her hand in marriage. The first, Smythe, is an imp of a man, short as a jockey and swarthy. The second, Welkin, is tall and almost handsome aside from an alarming squint. Since she is attracted to neither and neither seems to have good prospects, Laura lies and says she can’t marry a man who hasn’t made his own fortune. Both men vow to come back for her after they’ve earned her hand. Unfortunately for Angus, that day has come, at least in the form of Smythe. Always the inventor, he has become an appliance mogul. His business, Smythe’s Silent Service, provides automaton butlers and maids.

Until Laura mentions Smythe’s Silent Service, I couldn’t remember why Chesterton’s “The Invisible Man” had ended up on my Deal Me In list. Not that it’s a sub-standard story or that I don’t care of a mystery, but it didn’t strike me as a story that I would have added to my list after coming across a review of it from someone else’s Deal Me In roster. But automatons? Of course, it made my list! The automatons are a minor detail, really, but one doesn’t expect to find the odd science fiction element in a mystery story. But maybe one does in a 1911 mystery. At the turn of the 20th century the Western world seemed enamored enough with science and technology to regularly include it in fiction.

But back to the story: What has really been scaring Laura isn’t Smythe’s inevitable return to claim her, but the fact that she hasn’t heard anything from the creepier Welkin. That is until Smythe’s last letter was delivered. As she read it, standing where it was delivered, she clearly heard Welkin laugh and say “he shan’t have you” though no one was around. Welkin also leaves a large message tacked up on the display window of the bakery where Laura works:

“If you marry Smythe, he will die.”

No one saw anyone deface the bakery.

Queue Smythe’s return. Despite his interest in Laura, Angus decides to take an interest in events and even tries to protect Smythe while he goes off to find his detective friend Flambeau. Visiting Flambeau is Father Brown, a  Catholic priest who is actually the one to solve the mystery of the invisible man. I had previously not read any of Chesterton or his Father Brown mysteries. I’m kind of surprised that Father Brown has almost as much “screen time” as Smythe’s futuristic residence and robot butler and maid.

 

Review ~ Fascist Lizards from Outer Space

This book was provided to me by McFarland & Company via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson’s V by Dan Copp

When Kenneth Johnson’s science fiction miniseries V premiered in 1983, it netted more than 40 percent of the television viewing audience and went on to spawn a sequel, a weekly series, novelizations, comic books and a remake. Entertainment Weekly named the show one of the 10 best miniseries of all time and the franchise continues to enjoy ardent fan support at science fiction conventions around the world. Yet the 2009 V reboot was cancelled in its second season, despite a robust premiere. Both versions of V were products of their respective times, but the original was inspired by classic works by the likes of Sinclair Lewis and Leo Tolstoy. Johnson’s predilection for literature and history helped give his telling of V a sense of heart and depth that the contemporary version sorely lacked.

At first impression the original two-part alien invasion epic may seem a mishmash of science fiction cliches. Yet behind the laser pistols, anthropomorphic reptiles and flying saucers lies a compelling treatise on the nature of power, oppression and resistance, inspired by both classic literature and historical events. Featuring exclusive interviews with cast and crew, this book examines V’s cultural impact and considers the future of the franchise. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was eight years old when the original V miniseries premiered on NBC. Living in a household that appreciated science fiction, it was certainly a viewing event for us. In my wider world, even Star Wars wasn’t playground fodder, so I had no concept of how popular V was.* What I knew then was: V aired in the 8pm-10pm time slot and my bed time was 9pm. I begged and begged to be allowed to stay up. My mom relented. I could watch on the little TV in my room (black and white, btw), but I had to be in bed and the TV was to be turned off at 10pm sharp.** I was glad to have my covers to hide under, because the second half of the first night, when the villainous Diana eats a hapless guinea pig whole, was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old.

At that age, I knew nothing about WWII or the Holocaust, but I still felt that V had a different weight to it than its TV contemporaries (Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica). V‘s story was happening in something closer to the real world than other sci fi. When the character of Abraham Bernstein, a Holocaust survivor, refers to the past, it’s actually the real past. While I didn’t understand it, it wasn’t lost on me as a kid.

* Note also: I’m a girl. Maybe the boys were playing Visitors vs. Resistance…
** Even though it was kind of a big deal to have my own TV in my room, I don’t recall abusing the privilege. My parents might remember differently.

What Worked
Dan Copp does a really good job showing how Kenneth Johnson, writer and director of V (and many other sci-fi shows), grounds his speculative fiction stories in literature. V is more or less a retelling of Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, a novel published in 1935 about the possible rise of fascism in the United States, with strong nods to the scope of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Copp also looks at Johnson’s career before V for evidence of science fiction strengthened by literature and finds it in the classically heroic underpinnings of Johnson’s The Incredible Hulk and The Bionic Woman episodes. Copp also notes how, without Johnson’s influence, V: The Final Battle and the V television series in 1983 and 2009 rarely rise above a shoot-em-up or the usual prime-time drama.

One of the other things the V does really well that  its later siblings doesn’t do, Copp points out, is show the use of media to control a population. In 1983, that was easily achieved by the Visitors taking over the small number of TV networks. The 2009 TV series (which I personally had forgotten existed until mentioned in Fascist Lizard‘s introduction) missed a great opportunity to similarly take advantage of how a fascist regime might levy social media.

What Didn’t Work
Much of Fascist Lizards from Outer Space is about how bad both TV series are. There is a nearly episode-by-episode breakdown of things that the TV shows do wrong. Some of it illustrates the choices that NBC (the 1983 series) and ABC (the 2009 series) made concerning the show’s budget and what they thought made the original popular. That part is interesting, but after a few strong examples, the litany of errors just gets boring.

I was also a little disappointed that Copp didn’t extend his evaluation past V to include Johnson’s Alien Nation. I was inspired by Fascist Lizards to rewatch both the original V and the Alien Nation TV series (1989). It’s hard not playing the “currently relevant” card right about here.

Overall
If you like reading about the history of science fiction in the movies and on television, this is solid choice.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub ARC, McFarland , April 1, 2017
Acquired: 1/17/17, NetGalley
Genre: nonfiction, pop culture

It’s Monday, What Am I Reading? 3/6

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years

Mostly, I have short stories and “work” on my plate for this week.

  • Finish listening to Ghostland by Colin Dickey – loan expires Sunday.
  • “The Invisible Man” by G. K. Chesterton – Deal Me In.
  • “The Regression Test” by Wole Talabi – Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction catch-up.
  • “A Gathering on Gravity’s Shore” by Gregor Hartman – Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction catch-up.
  • Finish SOUThErN AlLiaNCe – Eric’s manuscript.
  • Finish read-through of Wicked Witch, Retired – my manuscript.
  • Finish Writing on the Wall by Tom Standage

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!