Review ~ The Last Days of Night

This book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history–and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society–the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal–private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
The late 19th century is a time of fantastic innovation. It was, as this book is titled, the last days of night before prevalence of electric lighting. This is also a time of industrialization of innovations. In the U.S., the notion of patrons directing invention was never a thing. Instead it’s patents and investments. And at the heart of the current war are Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.

What Worked
Using the point of view of Paul Cravath, a lawyer, Moore allows the story to be, well, a story instead of a primer on electricity. Having said that, The Last Days of Night is more technologically sound than historically sound. All the characters are based on real people, even Paul, but characters are embellished and the events are consolidated and rearranged to serve the story. For the most part, this didn’t bug me as much as it has with other works.

Moore begins every chapter with an epigraph. These epigraphs are quotes by contemporaries of the story like Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla or modern innovators and technologists like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Karl Popper. The use of our present day Edison/Westinghouse—Gates and Jobs—give the story a feeling of scope. After all, isn’t the Apple/Microsoft desktop lawsuit the 20th century’s current war?

What Didn’t Work
While The Last Days of Night doesn’t get bogged down by the science-y aspects of the story, it also doesn’t have more than one speed. It chugs along at a good pace, but it lacks any of the tempo changes that signifies that something is actually happening in the story. The ending in particular felt flat to me and rather “Hollywood” in the way many things were wrapped up.

Overall
About mid-way through the books I felt that it would make a pretty good TV show. I later found out that it had already been optioned for a film with Moore serving as screenwriter. Indeed, Graham Moore wrote (and won an Oscar for) the screenplay for The Imitation Game, a movie that annoyed me a bit with the “Hollywood” rounding of Alan Turing’s story. Still, I’ll probably give The Last Days of Night a watch if it ever gets made. I like the period and I like the characters. The story can stand by itself.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Random House, Sept. 20, 2016
Acquired: NetGalley, 5/11/17
Genre: historical fiction

This is 2/10 Books of Summer!

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “The Stoker Memorandum”

(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 Stoker Memorandum” by Lavie Tidhar

Card picked: K
From: Daily Science Fiction, Jan. 20, 2012

I’ve read and enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s science fiction anthology/novel Central Station, but I hadn’t dipped into what might be more up alley: his Victorian steampunk series the Bookman Histories. Until now…

“The Stoker Memorandum” is connected to this series and introduces an adjacent 19th century populated by characters fictional and real, terrestrial and celestial.

The Queen herself was there, in the Royal Box, stately as ever, with her forked tongue hissing out every so often, to snap a fly out of the air. I remember the prince regent did not come but Victoria’s favorite, that dashing Harry Flashman, the popular Hero of Jalalabad, was beside her. So were many foreign dignitaries and many of the city’s leading figures, from our now-Prime-Minister Mrs. Beeton, my friend and former rival Oscar Wilde, the famed scientists Jekyll and Moreau (before the one’s suspicious death and the other’s exile to the South Seas), the Lord Byron automaton (always a gentleman), Rudolph Rassendyll of Zenda, and many, many others. Your brother, the consulting detective, was there, if I recall rightly, Mr. Holmes.

The Memorandum is, of course, written by Bram Stoker. He’s not yet the writer that we know him to be, but he’s being given the opportunity to write the biography of Charles Babbage, a recluse who has taken up residence in castle beyond the Borgo Pass… There’s a lot of literary allusions and steampunk-ery. Almost maybe too many, but I’ll probably give the first in the series The Bookman a try at some point.

(Aside: Central Station just won the Campbell Award. Congrats, Lavie Tidhar!

It’s Monday, What Are You… (6/19)

…Reading?

The Last Days of Night The Princess Bride

Should finish The Last Days of Night in the next day or two. As I was reading I thought, “This would make a great TV series.” Turns out, it’s already been optioned as a movie. I decided to switch out a couple of books on my 10-ish Books of Summer list under the pretense of professional growth rereads. Since I’m writing (what I’m calling) light fantasy, I figure I should probably reread a couple of the classics. One of those is The Princess Bride. I also need to catch-up on short stories.

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

…Watching?

Started watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It’s a fun show and the 20s aren’t an era I’ve seen a lot of in TV. Alas, the plots do suffer a bit from “well, that’s convenient” syndrome. Often, characters seem to be in just the right place at just the right time…

…Doing?

Trying to stay cool and not succumb to the summer blahs. Not an easy task with this temperature trend:

Review ~ The Lost World

Cover via Goodreads

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

Professor Challenger–Doyle’s most famous character after Sherlock Holmes–leads an expedition into the deepest jungles of South America. Together, the men–a young journalist, an adventurer and an aristocrat–along with their bearers and guides, search for a rumored country and encounter savagery, hardship and betrayal on the way. But things get worse as they get closer to the hidden world they seek. Trapped on an isolated plateau, menaced by hungry carnosaurs, it begins to look as though the expedition may never return. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Since reading The War of the Worlds back in December, I’ve been working my way through the “scientific romance” genre. I decided to branch out from H. G. Wells and read one of my favorite authors of the era: Arthur Conan Doyle. Of course, I’m not sure I had ever read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle other than his Sherlock Holmes stories…

What Didn’t Work
Remember how in A Study in Scarlet there is a fairly long digression to the Salt Lake Valley and it’s perhaps not the most scintillating of Doyle’s writings? I felt that way about much of The Lost World. Parlors and the backstreets of London seem to be what Doyle does best. The wider world? Maybe not so much. (Doyle is one of my earliest writing influences; I don’t do the wider world any justice either. I blame you, ACD.)

What Worked
The thing that Doyle does do well is create problems for his characters. Being on safari in Brazil to an area filled with strange and dangerous beasts isn’t enough. No, our heroes must be firmly trapped, food and ammo dwindling, on a high plateau filled with dinosaurs and warring clans of natives and ape-men. As ornate as the problems are, so must the solutions be. Of course, Prof. Challenger and the rest are up to the task of escaping and proving to the world that the Lost World exists.

Honestly, I haven’t decided whether the gender politics of the story should go on the pro or con side of this review. The sole female character of this piece is Gladys, the object of affection for our narrator, Ned Malone. Honestly, she doesn’t seem that into Ned and sets him an impossibly task to win her love. I don’t know who’s worse here: Gladys for not telling Ned that she’s not interested, or Ned for buying into her BS and //***SPOILER***// being heart broken when he gets back and finds that she’s married a clerk //***END SPOILER***//. The whole situation almost feels like satire, which I’d be amused by. But I’m not sure it is.

Comparison With Wells
So far in this genre, I find that like Wells’ fiction better. Ranking what I’ve read in the past year would probably go like this:

  • The Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells, 1896
  • The Time Machine, H. G. Wells, 1895
  • The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells, 1898
  • The Lost World, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1912
  • The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells, 1897

Two things have thus far stuck out to me. First, Wells doesn’t really give the readers a hero to follow. Yes, there are geniuses in his stories, but they are ambiguous characters at best. Often, the narrator in a Wells tale is only managing to squeak by rather than being particularly heroic. In what I’ve read of Wells, there are no manly man like Prof. Challenger to save the day or even a Ned who is trying his damnedest to prove himself. Wells’ characters are survivors, while Doyle’s are conquerors.

Second, Wells always seems to have a point to make. While I don’t find him particularly preachy, or at least he balances it with entertainment, his views shine through. Doyle, less so. When Challenger and the other explorers help the “Indians” defeat the ape-men, there is some minor note about the horrors of weaponry and a smidge mention of colonialism, but mostly it’s celebration of the modern over the primitive. Mostly, I’m okay with Wells adding some politics to his stories.

Overall
The other two Professor Challenger stories sound very different from The Lost World, so I’ll probably give them a look. But probably not before I read more Wells.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, The Project Gutenberg EBook, originally 1912
Genre: scientific romance

This is 1/10 Books of Summer!

It’s Monday, What Are You… (6/12)

…Reading?

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens The Last Days of Night

Aside from working on Book 10 of Eric’s series, I wanted to make considerable progress on Believe Me while on vacation, but man, ARCs often handle footnotes* poorly. Things were a bit jumbled on my Kindle and scrolling on my laptop with the touchpad was annoying. So, I did very little reading on that. Instead, I skipped over to Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, which I’m enjoying.

* Yes, of course, there are footnotes. Have you ever watched Eddie Izzard’s comedy?

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

…Adding to Your Shelves?

The Science of Illusions
(Click on the Lizzie’s pic for the story of Civil War quilts.)

Visited a couple bookstores while on vacation. In downtown Prescott, I had Mom and Dad stop at The Old Sage Bookshop. Solid, local shop with a good selection of regional titles. I bought Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk, 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Meyers. Lizzie Fisk, from Connecticut, married a former Union soldier who went to seek his fortune in booming Helena, Montana.

Randomly, we ended up having dinner on Tuesday night at a Buffalo Wild Wings situated by a strip mall with a bookstore. Again, my family humored me. The Open Book is a nice second hand store with a clientele that included a couple guys sitting around a table debating comics and gaming. Bought The Science of Illusion by Jacques Ninio.

Deal Me In, Week 23 ~ “The Snake-Oil Salesman and the Prophet’s Head”

(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 Snake-Oil Salesman and the Prophet’s Head” by Shannon Peavey

Card picked: Q
From: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 172

The Story

They’d preserved his brother’s head in grain alcohol and floated it in a dirty glass jar. Leo peered through the glass and his own face looked back at him, slack-jawed and cloudy-eyed.

“Don’t know him,” Leo said.

“Some people say that thing talks at night,” he said. “Haven’t heard it, myself.”

Leo said nothing.

Leo and his twin brother Cary are kind of like the “one man who can speak no truth and the other man who can tell no lies” puzzle. Cary, who has become a head in a jar in Colonel Klee’s WORLD’S MOST DEPRAVED TREASURES, can hear what people mean when they speak. Leo, who is a roadie with Klee’s travelling show (and snake oil pitch), can only speak what people want to hear. It had been more convenience than brotherly love that had kept Cary and Leo together. Who else could know what Leo meant to say? Unfortunately, Cary told Leo something Leo didn’t want to hear, which lead to the head-in-a-jar situation. Leo thought that he was done with his brother. Leo was wrong.

Great little Weird West tale. Weird West is usually a genre that I want to like more than I do. It’s probably because I am fond of Westerns and too much “weird” can sully the things I enjoy about that genre. This story has the right weird:west ratio.

The Author
I read Shannon Peavey’s “A Beautiful Memory” last year during #24in48 and was looking for more by her. And now I’ll still be looking for more by her.

 

Review ~ The Princess Diarist

Cover via Goodreads

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. (via Goodreads)

I.

I started listening to The Princess Diarist as an audio book sometime back in December or January, but that wasn’t the right time for me. Instead, it wasn’t until I listened to Kevin Smith’s tribute to Carrie Fisher on an episode of SModcast that I finally really wanted to read this book.

II.

Often Doctor Who fans identify their era of Doctor Who with who their Doctor is. Is it Four (Tom Baker)? Or Ten (David Tennant)? James Bond fans do this too. (George Lazenby, anyone?) And maybe Star Wars fans will too. Is Rey your girl? Or Padme? Or Jyn Erso? Or, like me, is Leia your kick-ass, blaster-wielding diplomat alter-ego?

I was three years old when Star Wars came out. I remember seeing it at a drive-in and that was probably more than a year after it came out. I had lots of Star Wars action figures, and all the Leias.

Later in life, I remember being a little disappointed that Carrie Fisher had such a messy life. Forgive me, Carrie, I was young and dumb.

III.

The Princess Diarist is set up into three parts. In the first Fisher tells about her early education and career, getting the job on Star Wars, and how she came to be involved briefly with Harrison Ford.

The second part is the diary she kept during that period. It is, despite the singular situation, very much the diary of a 19-year-old girl. Of course, at the time, Star Wars wasn’t StarWars.  It was just some low-budget sci-fi flick that no one was getting paid very much for. It was a job and Carrie Fisher was an actress who wasn’t even sure she wanted to follow in her celebrity parent’s footsteps.

The third part of the book is Fisher’s musings on the celebrity that Princess Leia brought her. Imagine the nineteen year-old version of yourself being pretty much eternal. Imagine having fans who feel an intimate connection with you due to love of the film. Imagine fans who are a little disappointed that you aren’t entirely Princess Leia.

IV.

I’ll never be a blaster-wielding diplomat princess. I’m never going to be a quick-witted superstar writer either. But I wouldn’t mind being a woman who can age and keep a messy life together with and eye-roll and a glitter bomb. That’s something we can all reasonably aspire to.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Penguin Publishing Group, November 22, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: memoir

This is .5/10 Books of Summer!