August 31, 2009

The Stars’ Tennis Balls

Posted in Literature tagged , , at 12:34 am by j128

The Stars Tennis Balls
The Stars’ Tennis Balls

The Stars’ Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry, published in 2000, is a modern retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo; set during the Internet age, specifically the dot com boom. It was released in the United States with the alternate title Revenge.

The original title comes from a quotation taken from John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, in which the full quotation reads: “We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded which way please them.” It’s also quoted in full at one point in the story by the character Babe.

Plot summary in a nutshell

“It all began some time in the last century, in an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used coloured inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing paper with scent.”

The year is 1980 and it’s a good year for Ned Maddstone. He has it all: looks, talent, he’s popular in school, and is in love with a girl. He’s the son of the cabinet minister of Sir Charles Maddstone, and like father like son, he is considering entering a career of politics. As is the basic psychology of when there is a fortunate, happy person with seemingly everything going for him, others less fortunate are quick to despise and hate him. Ned is so innocent, like a baby, and blind to the world’s cruelties and injustices that he does not see or even detect malice towards him: everyone is a friend, yet it is not so. Early on in the novel, it is let on that there are a few fellow pupils who have grown an intense dislike for young Maddstone: it’s generally shared and agreed upon that Ned Maddstone is arrogant and is seriously asking for it. (Yes, there is foul language again, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Meanwhile, Ned is completely oblivious to this. All is fair in love, and…later on, war.

The early stages of trouble start brewing early on when Ned accidentally reads a fellow student’s (Ashley Barson-Garland) diary in biology class. Ashley immediately suspects Ned, noticing a pressed four-leave clover left on his seat which had previously remained in his diary for three years, and this quickly builds up even more resentment until it is just hatred. This mutual feeling is shared by Rufus Cade, another student, who lives something of a hedonistic lifestyle smoking joints. Later on, when his girlfriend Portia’s American cousin comes to stay with her family, the air tingles even more since he begins wanting Portia for himself as he is in love with her also and is intensely jealous of her relationship with “arrogant Ned” (yet still Ned is as unaware as ever).

Ned really lands in the soup while sailing in Scotland, when the captain entrusts him with a letter to deliver at a confidential address before dying. With a little help from his “friends”, a prank in which a joint is planted in his sailor’s jacket, while waiting outside on the street for Portia while she’s at a job interview he’s arrested initially for illegal drug possession, and is then sent to an asylum as a mentally unstable patient, where he is told that his previous life was just a fantasy and his original name and life are so deeply embedded in other fantasies that it has been lost, he almost believes this until he meets Babe, the oldest patient in the asylum. From there Babe teaches him, an education, and at the same time Ned slowly learns as to how his arrest came about, and he plots revenge on those who wronged him. To do this, he escapes from the asylum and with the help of a fortune left to him by Babe he reinvents himself as an Internet entrepreneur, making huge profits by doing high-risk ventures and garnering massive media attention until he goes back to England and unleashes his revenge, driving all four men who did him wrong to their deaths.


As previously stated, The Stars’ Tennis Balls is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. With that in mind, Stephen Fry wrote it in a way that makes allusions to the original work, such as in the characters’ names seen here in a chart copied and pasted from the Wikipedia article. Of course, I think the one that probably gets the most kicks is Portia’s name.

Monte Cristo The Stars’ Tennis Balls Notes
Edmond Dantès Ned Maddstone anagram
Mercedes Portia pun: Mercedes-BenzPorsche
de Villefort Oliver Delft anagram
the Abbe (Faria) the Babe (Fraser) partial anagram
Fernand Mondego Gordon Fendeman anagram
Noirtier Blackrow translated literally (calque)
Capt. Leclere Paddy Leclare homonym
Caderousse Rufus Cade translation: rousse = red = Rufus
Baron Danglars Barson-Garland anagram
Monte Cristo Simon Cotter anagram
Albert de Morcerf Albert Fendeman homonym

The novel opens with some letters of correspondence between Ned and Portia, and that helps set the tone of the novel and helps to introduce its characters and their idiosyncrasies. Stephen Fry does an excellent job of capturing the modern, typical style that teenagers express themselves in the written word, whether letters sealed in envelopes or email, that is often seen and is associated with youth – Portia even uses “prolly” instead of “probably” in her letters – and in the manner in which almost everything, except their love, is written passively: one “boring” thing after the next and a certain amount of swearing just to keep it real – it is considered typical and sometimes is even expected for older teenagers to cuss, right? (At least, in Western society.) It’s just another part of their vernacular.

After Ned is arrested and imprisoned, and later meets the Babe the story picks up pace. Not that it wasn’t already fast-paced before, but let’s say that it starts sounding more like a real novel and not like reading a bunch of young people’s love letters and the like with all their pubescent idiosyncrasies; it starts sounding less like stereotypical “oh-my-gawd”-high-school-cadence and more realistic, how people really talk, and toning down on the #&!%*-bombs. Of course, there’s still a bit of swearing but not exactly to the same extent or usage as it was by the adolescents of 1980 at the start of the novel.

Once Ned has escaped the asylum and has reinvented himself as a wealthy Internet entrepreneur that appeared out of the blue – so far as becoming even bigger than Harry Potter – this is when things really speed up. It’s one bam! after the next, in almost immediate succession. No sooner has he returned to England than the cold-blooded revenge begins and systematically one by one, he knocks down his enemies like dominoes to their ultimate downfalls, all of which end horrifically. Rufus Cade ends up being murderously killed and mutilated by a drug gang whom he’d unwittingly done business with through one of Ned’s henchmen and dies in his own blood; Ashley Barson-Garland commits suicide after being publicly disgraced by the scandal of his secret gay, perverted Internet habits (looking at images of young boys) while he had been promoting Internet security for children; Gordon Fenderman, Portia’s cousin, is ruined and disgraced by apparent unethical actions in his ethical coffee and tea business from Africa and apparently dies from the same reason his father did all those years ago, and finally Oliver Delft is taken to the house where he had first interrogated Ned Maddstone, at the start of the whole mess, and he is given the choice of being admitted to the asylum or swallowing hot coals like Portia from Julius Caesar.

That’s one difference between this and The Count of Monte Cristo is the protagonist’s revenge, and how he decides to execute it. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes infiltrates himself into elite society and makes himself a figure of considerable influence, with Paris practically before his knees, and with strategy he tactfully knocks down those who wronged him one by one, though not always with death in mind: just enough so that they are ruined and/or disgraced, but also at the same time he recognizes the innocents and helps them get what they want with his influence and different aliases. Here in this modern retelling, Ned’s sole motivation is revenge and to make his enemies pay dearly, with their lives. There is no Maximilien and Valentine, etc. It is just cold-blooded revenge.

At the end of the novel though, I feel sorry for Ned. He has his revenge but he isn’t fulfilled, for he still feels the human need for love, but it is not consummated. In Dumas’ story, Monte Cristo made it clear with Mercedes that he couldn’t go back and share his life with her after all he’d been through and after the completion of his redemption he finally allows himself to realize that he does love Haydee, a Greek slave but of noble birth, and it is suggested that at the end of the novel he starts a new life with her. In The Stars’ Tennis Balls, there is a brief hint of a start with the female character Cosima, whom he meets early after escaping from the asylum as he sells the prescription drugs that he smuggled from there, and when he is famous Internet entrepreneur Simon Cotter, celebrity gossip circulates that he is in a relationship with her as they have been seen together, yet it is made clear that his heart is still with Portia. However, after Gordon’s death, Portia flees with her son Albert, only leaving behind only the old love letters between her and Ned.

He stood on the deck looking back towards England. He let the pieces of paper fly from his hand and dart like butterflies in the wake. They came from the last century, an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used coloured inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing-paper with scent.

He slowly ripped the last of them, just glimpsing down at a halved sheet.

I picture your hair flopping down as you write, which is enough to make me writhe and froth like a…like a…er, I’ll come back to you on that one. I think of your legs under the table and a million trillion cells sparkle and fizz inside me. The way you cross a ‘t’ makes me breathless. I hold the back of my envelope to my lips and think of you licking it and my head swims. I’m a dotty dippy dozy dreadful delirious romantic and I love you to heaven.

Ned let the wind whip it from his hand.

August 15, 2009

A Room with a View

Posted in Bildungsroman, Classics of World Literature at 12:05 am by j128

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster was first published in 1908, and is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, in the repressed culture of Edwardian England and her journey of self-discovery, thus it may also be considered as a Bildungsroman. It is E.M. Forster’s most romantic and optimistic work.

Major themes that are developed and explored in the novel include repression, growing up, and true love, while touching upon many issues concerning society and politics in early 20th century Edwardian culture. Symbolism is also equipped in illustrating binary opposites, “rooms” and “views” are often mentioned. Characters and places associated as “rooms” are conservative and uncreative: characters such as Mrs. Honeychurch are often pictured in a room; whereas characters such as the Emersons are portrayed as having a “view”, being “outside”, that represents their open and forward-thinking, modern character types. Such symbolic representation is also expressed in the contrasts between “Medieval” and “Renaissance” characters. (Click here for an explanation of major themes in A Room with a View from Wikipedia.)


Part One

The first part is set in Florence, Italy, and describes the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch’s confused feelings over a young Englishman staying at the same hotel. She is touring Italy with her older cousin and chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett, and the novel opens with their complaints about the hotel; their primary concern being that a “room with a view” had been promised to each of them, their rooms look over a courtyard instead, upon which a Mr. Emerson offers to swap rooms as he and his son George look over the Arno. Before Lucy has a chance to speak, her chaperon cousin refuses the offer as, in her prim fashion, looks down at the Emersons due to their unconventional behaviour and thinking that it would place her under an “unseemly obligation” towards them. Later, however, after the persuasion of another hotel guest, an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe, she accepts the offer.

The next day Lucy embarks on a tour of Florence with another hotel guest, Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who shows Lucy the back streets, takes her guidebook, and subsequently loses her in Santa Croce, whereupon Lucy meets the Emersons again, whom she likes despite them being deemed as socially unacceptable by other guests. Lucy continues to run into them in Florence. One afternoon when she witnesses a murder, George Emerson happens to be nearby and he catches her just as she faints; on their way back to the hotel they have an intimate conversation. Afterward, Lucy decides to avoid George as she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep Charlotte, her cousin, happy. However, when a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy  drive to Fiesole, she accidentally meets George on a hillside, and George, overcome by her beauty, kisses her. They’re interrupted by Miss Bartlett who is outraged, and Lucy promises her that she will not tell her mother of the “insult” as Miss Bartlett would be blamed. The two women leave for Rome the next day, before Lucy has a chance to say goodbye to George.

Part Two

In Rome Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, whom she knew in England, and he proposes to her twice, upon each occasion she rejects him. She returns to her family home, Windy Corner, in Surrey, England, where Cecil proposes once again and this time she accepts. Cecil, as described by Lucy’s mother, Mrs. Honeychurch:

“…He’s good; he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s well connected –  Oh, you needn’t kick the piano! He’s well connected – I’ll say it again if you like: he’s well connected.” She paused, as if rehearsing her eulogy, but her face remained dissatisfied. She added: “And he has beautiful manners.”

Yet the irony here is that, in the words of George Emerson, “he is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people.”

An ironic, catalyst twist occurs when Lucy’s brother Freddy befriends George Emerson and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Lucy, initially mortified at having to face both George and Cecil, also visiting Windy Corner the same Sunday, braves her fears and resolves to be gracious. Her reserve is shaken though by a passage Cecil reads from a light romance, in which a scene is described that suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence.

” ‘Leonora,’ ” he read, ” ‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.’ “
Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

” ‘A golden haze,’ ” he read. He read: ” ‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved, Antonio stole up behind her–‘ ”
Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George, and she saw his face.
He read: ” ‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.’ “

George finds Lucy alone in the garden and, for the second time, kisses her again. She realizes that the light romance was written by Miss Lavish, the novelist acquaintance from Florence, and that Charlotte must have told her about the kiss. Furious with her cousin for betraying her secret, (“Why did you tell Miss Lavish, when you wouldn’t even let me tell mother?”) she forces Charlotte to watch as she tells George to leave and never return again. George argues with her, saying that Cecil will only ever see her as “an object for the shelf” and will never love her enough to grant her independence, whereas George loves her for who she is:

“He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people. That’s why I’ll speak out through all this muddle even now. It’s shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held it back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would have never let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of the great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over – playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for you to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it had been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore – not “therefore I kissed you,” because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I’m not ashamed. I don’t apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore – therefore I settled to fight him.”

Lucy is moved, but remains firm. George leaves. The scales fall from Lucy’s eyes when later that evening Cecil refuses a game of tennis, confessing himself as the chap “who is no good for anything but books”, and she breaks her engagement with him. She decides to travel to Greece with acquaintances from Florence, but shortly before her departure she encounters the elder Mr. Emerson, who is not aware that she has broken her engagement with Cecil. As she cannot lie, Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she’s loved George all along. The novel ends in Florence, where Lucy and George have eloped to without her mother’s consent and although she has perhaps “alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever”, it ends on the note of lifelong love for both her and George.


A Room with a View – Wikipedia

Read A Room with a View on Project Gutenberg

June 26, 2009

Jeeves and Wooster: "The Mating Season"

Posted in Comedy, Jeeves & Wooster at 6:21 pm by j128

The Mating Season The Mating Season is the first full-length story featured in one of the Jeeves and Wooster omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse with a foreword by Hugh Laurie, published in 2001. The Mating Season was first published in 1949.


Bertie Wooster finds himself in turmoil on all sides. A friend of his, Claude “Catsmeat” Cattermole Pirbright, has profuse love for a young lady by the name of Gertrude Winkworth, but is seemingly unable to acquire her as there are two things blocking his way: Gertrude’s mother and her four aunts and a particular young man Esmond Haddock, the son of the owner of a “widely advertised patent remedy known as Haddock’s Headache Hokies.” Allegedly, Esmond Haddock is in love with Gertrude and he intends to marry her.

Then there is Augustus “Gussie” Fink-Nottle engaged to Madeline Bassett. He is low-spirited as he has to face visiting the five aunts of Esmond Haddock, one of which is Gertrude’s mother, and he expected Madeline to accompany him on this visit; however, Madeline altered her arrangements at the last moment to cheer up an old schoolfriend who is suffering from romantic depression. Gussie later comes to meet another character, whom we describe below, Corky.

Meanwhile, Catsmeat’s sister Cora “Corky” Pirbright leaves her newly-acquired dog Sam Goldwyn in Bertie’s care as the vicar, her Uncle Sidney, is not strongly approving of dogs. Corky is also known by her stage name, Cora Starr, and she is in Hollywood.

Bertie is also caring for his Aunt Agatha’s son Thomas, who is a fanatic with celebrities and will go to exremities to get their autograph. When he learns that Corky is Cora Starr, he acquires fifty of her autographs and plans to sell them for six quid apiece. In later developments in the story, Thomas becomes more acquinted with Corky and is even let into her plans.

The ball begins rolling when Catsmeat, under suggestion of Bertie, gives Gussie dinner, as both chaps are low-spirited. Afterwards, at five o’clock in the morning, Gussie wades into the Trafalger Square fountain in search of newts. (Did I mention Gussie is a newt fancier?) Catsmeat had persuaded Gussie to wade and look for newts otherwise he’d bean Gussie (in other words, hit him on the head with something hard). It is not long when a constable arrests Gussie and the magistrate holds Gussie – thus suspending Gussie for a period of time and it is not possible for him to visit Deverill Hall.

It is up to Bertie to go to Deverill Hall impersonating Gussie Fink-Nottle, which will be somewhat easy as the Winkworths have never set eyes upon Gussie. Catsmeat also journeys to Deverill under the alias as Meadowes, Bertie’s valet, as Jeeves is Gussie’s valet since Gussie finally arrives at Deverill as Bertie. Love is in the air, “the mating season”, and it is up yet again to Jeeves to smooth out the tangles and give everyone a happy ending.

June 25, 2009

Arthur: The Seeing Stone

Posted in Literature tagged at 12:16 pm by j128

First paperback edition of Arthur: The Seeing Stone is the first book in an Arthurian trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, retelling the Arthur legends in a first-person view by the protagonist named Arthur de Caldicot, who lives in England/Wales Middle Marches during the Middle Ages, around 1199 just before the Fourth Crusade.

The chapters are in varying length, sometimes only one page, and total in one hundred chapters. For those who have not seen the book’s size and are overwhelmed with the idea of so many chapters, rest assured: it is nowhere near as thick as, for example, The Count of Monte Cristo and, the paperback version, is only three hundred sixty-six pages long. It is probably around the size of the paperback version of Jonathan Stroud’s Buried Fire. (Another book that I will also be writing a review on sometime in the future.)

During the course of the story, there are two plots that overlap each other: that of the world of our protagonist Arthur de Caldicot and within the Seeing Stone in which Arthur watches the eventual rise of King Arthur.


Arthur de Caldicot, our protagonist, is thirteen years old at the start of the story and wants to be a knight, but first he must become a squire and this want of his is put at stake as it is hinted at that his father, Sir John, might wish to make him a scribe as his reading and writing are very good.

His parents are Sir John de Caldicot and Lady Helen de Caldicot of Camelot and his siblings are his sixteen-year-old brother Serle whose disposition towards his younger brother aren’t always kind and his younger sister, Sein, who’s only eight.

One day Arthur helps his friend, a girl named Gatty whose only a year younger than him, pen the two bulls who accidentally escaped and are now in the same field. He and Gatty get into trouble: he, for helping her as it was not his place, and she is severely whipped by her father as she had torn his best coat to put the bulls back in their proper pens. Arthur is also punished in accordance to his actions.

One of the reasons why he wishes to become a squire and then a knight is because as he is not the firstborn of Sir John and his wife, he isn’t applicable to inheritance of his father’s land and must get his own. There are obstacles to be faced, nevertheless, especially as he is left-handed and due to the times back then, has to practice with his right hand in skills such as jousting and sword-play, which makes him not particularly good at them. The other obstacle, as already mentioned, is the possible prospect of Sir John making him a scribe.

His uncle, Sir William de Gortanore, is a rough and tough old man and he is the father of Arthur’s cousins Tom and Grace, whom he is to betrothed to, and the two like each other very much and await the day they should be united. Another important figure in Arthur’s life, who lives with Sir William, is Lady Alice and she is described as being beautiful with almond eyes.

Early on in the story, Arthur is given a magical stone, which is obsidian, by Merlin, who is Sir John’s friend and also becomes Arthur’s guide throughout the story. Only Arthur is to know about the Stone and no one else is to see it or else the Stone’s power will cease. When Arthur looks into it, he is able to watch the legendary King Arthur’s rise to power. Our protagonist Arthur comes to believe that this could be himself in the near future and indeed often times the Stone’s plot is parallel to the boy Arthur’s world.

The Stone’s plot begins with the birth of King Arthur, who is taken away by the wizard Merlin to foster parents and is raised to believe that his foster parents are his birth parents until the truth is revealed to him and he succeeds to become the King of England.

This part of the plot, in particular, mirrors Arthur de Caldicot and his discovery of truth: all anxiety of becoming a scribe is dissolved when, on his fourteenth birthday, Sir John reveals that Sir William is actually Arthur’s true father and this creates a growing subplot about the fate of Arthur’s true mother as it is said that Sir William killed his mother’s husband due to jealousy.

While Arthur is happy to know that he will inherit land, he is also sad because that is the death of his and Grace’s formerly marital future as she is his half-sister. The book ends as Arthur accepts being a squire, in service to Lord Stephen de Holt: the lord of the Middle Marches.


The story continues in the following sequels: Arthur: At the Crossing Places and Arthur: King of the Middle Marches. In 2006, Kevin Crossley-Holland published a follow-up to the trilogy, titled Gatty’s Tale, a story about Gatty joining a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


Kevin Crossley-Holland’s personal website

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Posted in Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Mystery at 12:02 pm by j128


Book cover of "Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?"

Montmorency: Thief Liar, Gentleman? is a novel by Eleanor Updale and was published in 2003. It is the first in the Montmorency series followed by Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency’s Revenge. Stephen Fry has heralded it as “one of the most original, witty, and delicious books” in a very long time. It is set in Victorian London, specifically, 1875-1880 and it details the story of a petty thief and his rise to high social standing.


In Victorian London a thief crashed through a glass window on a rooftop when he had been trying to escape from the police after he had stolen a bag of something. When inspected, it was apparent that the thief was sure to die – he was beyond repair, yet a young doctor defied death by sewing up the thief again through a series of complicated procedures and surgeries.

Once the thief is recovered enough from his injuries and operations, Dr. Robert Farcett (the young ambitious doctor) decides to display the thief at social gatherings attended by first class Victorians. It is while attending these gathernigs that the thief learns of a new development in London: the underground sewer system. Slowly, the thief begins formulating plans and plots his new life once he has been released from prison.

The thief, though, understands that he will not risk being caught again and decides he wants to be wealthy and he realizes he must have an accomplice. The accomplice in question is himself and he decides to take on the challenge of a double-life.

His alter-egos are as follows: Scarper, a disgraceful, grubby thief and also a manservant for the sophisticated, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Montmorency. Now Montmorency only has to wait until he is released into the world and begin his new “lives.”

On the designated date, all of the prisoners are reviewed and are selected as to who will be released and left behind. Montmorency is one of those who are released and he is given a package with something that could have helped him along in his new life – unfortunately, a guard takes it away from him even before he can take a chance to inspect the documents.

Now out in the streets of London, alive and free, Scarper/Montmorency begins by stealing articles of clothing, even paying a call to Dr. Farcett’s house where he removes articles of clothing for Montmorency. Scarper arrives at a hotel where he requests a room for Montmorency.

The hotel is somewhat of first-class and while Montmorency resides there the owner’s childish and lisping daughter is attracted to him, unfortunately for her, Montmorency is not interested and tries to avoid her at all costs. Scarper takes care to scare off the daughter to stay away from Montmonrency’s room or she’ll know what will happen.

Meanwhile Montmorency becomes the star of the show and even goes to the opera as well as attending a lecture by the one person that Montmorency ever liked when he was still only known as Prisoner 493. He also rescues a man from an out-of-control carriage and the man becomes Montmorency’s first true friend and his name is Lord George Fox-Selwyn.

Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency become fast friends and Montmorency is admitted as a member of George’s club. Afterwards, George gives Montmorency a job as a spy in the British government – the first assignment being to break into a Mauramanian embassy and prevent a European war. The success of the assignment gives Montmorency a permanent position and casting aside Scarper and all of his vile deeds, Montmorency returns every stolen possession to every rightful owner, and begins his new life as government spy with George.

Links – Eleanor Updale’s official website. – Article describing brief summaries of the Montmorency books.

The Amulet of Samarkand

Posted in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy at 12:00 pm by j128

The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.


Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.


The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.

Links – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

Doomsday Book

Posted in Science Fiction at 11:56 am by j128

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is a science fiction novel by Connie Willis and published in 1992. It takes place in England in the year 2054 during the holiday season and a historian named Kivrin Engle time travels to the year 1348, when the plague swept across England. The title comes from the census and survey of English landowners by William the Conqueror, from the years 1085 to 1086.

It is a riveting, sometimes atmospherically tense, and exciting novel with realistic insights into the times of the horrible period of the Black Death. No wonder she won a Hugo Award for this book!


In the year 2054, time traveling is commonplace and no longer a theory or something that just exists in books. Time traveling is used as a means of documenting past history for historians, where the historian time travels to a specified time period, unless it is too dangerous, or a glitch happens in which the traveler is jumped to another period, and the base is at Oxford University.

The only way to travel back to the historian’s present time – in the story’s case, the mid-twenty-first century – is to somehow make a kind of landmark where he arrived.

Young Kivrin Engle is one of the few females to be a historian and actually qualify for time travel. She managed to persuade her instructor, Prof. James Dunworthy to allow her to travel to early fourteenth century England, as she specializes in mediaeval history.

However, she does not arrive at her destination as a a glitch occurred, known as a “slippage”, and she arrives just before the time the Black Death hits England, in the year 1348.

Meanwhile, back in twenty-first century England, a severe influenza epidemic occurs and eventually the whole city of London is quarantined. The severity of the influenza skyrocketed due to the fact that in this vision of the future, everyone has some kind of vaccine that fights against disease and nobody even suffers the common cold; however one of the men who helped set up the time travel for Kivrin wasn’t punctual about his injection and thus became contracted with influenza, and was contagious.

Kivrin hardly sets into 1348 when she contracts influenza, too, but because of her injections she got before she went traveling, she recovers quickly. Unfortunately, while she was ill, she was unable to mark her landing spot.

A priest and some rural citizens help her recover and they discover that she is literate, which, back in those days, was a rarity and so they consider her a runaway nun and prepare to send her packing her bags to a convent. It is somehow prevented, though, and she lives with her rescuers.

It is during this brief episode that she discovers she has landed in the wrong year. When the plague hits the crowded town, she tries to keep the citizens from fleeing to other towns and cities to prevent the disease from spreading, but to no avail. While Kivrin documents the history of 1348, she helplessly watches her friends, including the priest that rescued her, suffer and slowly die to their horrible deaths.

Meanwhile, in London, Prof. Dunworthy and a colleague’s nephew try to bring back Kivrin, and a flock of American tourists try to push onward with their peal of bells event at a church. The nephew is proving pretty dependent and not the brightest by means of history. In the midst of all the excitement, Prof. Dunworthy and the nephew finally get through and arrive at 1348, where they find Kivrin who is barely recognizable: she smells and is filthy with blood and dirt that has been caked on from weeks of attending to the plague victims, and she automatically still speaks Middle English. When they find her, she has just buried the priest. She has a breakdown and weeps, shaken by the hardship and grief of the ordeal, and returns to 2054 with the professor and nephew, just a few days after Christmas, and the surviving victims of the influenza return to health.

Further Notes

My review is just recapping the story briefly, as it is complex and the two time periods overlap significantly at times. Connie Willis’ writing is very good and the plot is believable as well as the possible future that she imagined.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book and it is sure not to disappoint! I place this book as one of the top science fiction time travel books next to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I have also read and written a review of, which can be read here, and it remains my favourite by Mr. Wells to date.

I, Robot: A Critical Review

Posted in Essays, Film Criticism, Literary Criticism, Sci-fi tagged , at 12:44 am by j128

This following review is a discussion of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the 2004 movie of the same name, including history of robots.

Isaac Asimovs I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot"

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1950, and despite its title it is not related to Eando Binder’s short story of the same name. Originally, when Mr. Asimov had wished to call it Mind and Iron, and objected when the publisher renamed it.

The omnibus contains nine short stories, set within a quasi-narration (that is seen as memories) by the famous Dr. Susan Calvin, a reputed robopsychologist of U.S. Robots, who works with robots and helps them out with behavioural, psychological problems. Susan Calvin is one of the most well-grounded characters of Mr. Asimov’s robot stories.

Many times over screenplays were written for a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories for Warner Brothers but the company didn’t accept any of them. The most notable attempt was Harlan Ellison’s screenplay, which was viewed with very positive responses from Mr. Asimov himself and he said it would be the best science fiction film ever. Mr. Ellison’s screenplay can be found in the book I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. I have read it and it is definately appealing.

In 2004, a film titled I, Robot starring Will Smith was released in North America, and many fans had anticipated its release in full faith of it being a unique Asimovian film. However, many were disappointed as it had become a science fiction thriller with a deep leaning towards the “Frankenstein complex“, a colloquial term used by Mr. Asimov described as “a fear of robots and other artificial intelligence.”

Quite a few years before I had even read I, Robot I had seen many trailers for the movie, and even though at the time I wasn’t really aware of what it was about, I could definately tell it was some sort of anti-robot movie. When I actually saw the film about one and a half years ago, with references of Mr. Asimov’s stories in mind, I wasn’t impressed. Myself, I see the film as being rather lame and underdeveloped due to its high amount of action and violence, and totally lacking in character development and story structure – even during scenes of high-excitement, I was pretty aloof and there wasn’t a single moment of personal excitement for me. It was like, “Okay, what happens next?”

History of Robots in Literature

Robots have appeared throughout literature since ancient times. In Greek legend, was said to be a creature that patrolled the ancient island of Crete day and night, watching for intruders, and the animated skeletons in the legend of the Golden Fleece could be called robots.

But it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that many believe the first robot appeared in literature, despite Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be organic. Many refer to the Creature as “Frankenstein,” but it is the creator’s name, not the creation. In the story, Victor Frankenstein creates the Creature with several recent dead remains of people, and one night it becomes alive, and it destroys everything Frankenstein loves; in the finalty the Creature kills its creator. Thus, the origin of Mr. Asimov’s “Frankenstein complex”.

Incidentally the same year Isaac Asimov was born, it was in 1923 that the word “robot” was introduced into the English language by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s (pronounced Chapek) Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R. The word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning “slavery, forced labour”, etc., from the Czech word rab “slave.”

Despite the etymology of “robot”, slavery was not the case in R.U.R. In the play, the robots are indistinguishable from human beings – as they are organic – and they are employed by humans. Through the course of the story, the human population increasingly becomes lazy up to the point where the robots are doing all the work – until one day, the robots revolt and attack the helpless humans. The robots later develop human qualities, such as the ability to love and reproduce.

Isaac Asimov’s Robots

Mr. Asimov describes in his introduction to Robot Visions that as he was growing up, he read tons of science fiction, especially the kind that dealt with robots, but he did get tired of the ceaselessly mediocre plot of robots rebelling and wreaking havoc until they were stopped at the eleventh hour, almost a cliché.

Mr. Asimov’s robot stories really eased the fear of robots so many people had and even more so when he made the idea of a robot take-over impossible with the Three Laws of Robotics, which state as follows:

  1. A robot may not harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.
  2. A robot must obey a human’s orders unless they conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect itself unless this conflicts with the First or Second Law.
I, Robot 2004 film (tagline)

Promotional poster for "I, Robot"

The I, Robot Movie

Rumours of a sci-fi film based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories spread quite quickly in the early stages of making I, Robot. For many years, fans had hoped a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories would be faithful to them and based on an earlier screenplay, particularly Harlan Ellison’s (see above). While his screenplay is, as mentioned, the most notable especially as he had personal support from Mr. Asimov, Warner Brothers shelved it due to the fact that at the time it would be very expensive due to the technology involved, but of course, as always, there could be other things in the shadows about the screenplay being shelved.

Anyways, the screenplay written for the film was never based on Mr. Asimov’s works, it was originally entitled as Hardwired. Sometime later 20th Century Fox acquired the copyright and around the same time, rights to Mr. Asimov’s works became available. The director was assigned, who is said to have begun referring to it as “I, Robot” almost immediately.

The film was released in 2004, having been filmed in Vancouver, B.C., but set in the U.S. around the year 2035. In the film, humanity has become accustomed to relying on their robots, and Detective Spooner (Will Smith) is constantly trying to condemn robots but with little success. He hates robots and sees no good in them at all and when the mysterious death of a prominent figure of U.S. Robotics (note the difference in the company’s name), a company that promotes the use of robots and manufactures robots. Spooner directly assumes the cause of death was by a robot, despite others insisting it was a case of suicide.

Spooner suspects one of the new line of robots,the NS-5s, nicknamed Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), yet the robot refuses he committed murder, and he even displays emotions such as anger.

To make a long story short, the high artificial intelligence V.I.K.I., which is what all the new robots are hooked up to (except Sonny), apparently corrupts the robots and the robots begin to revolt against the humans and initiate some kind of curfew. The previous robots, the NS-4s that had been replaced by the NS-5s, respond to the emergency and try to protect the humans only to be destroyed by the new robots.

Sonny, Spooner, and Dr. Susan Calvin defeat V.I.K.I and the other robots, which revert back to their normal state, and everything goes back to normal pretty much.

All that happens within the course of the film displays characteristics such as the Frankenstein complex, robot take-over, and saving humanity at the last moment. There are some references to Mr. Asimov’s works in the film, whether they’re obvious or alluded to, but they don’t really serve the same purpose as they do in the originals. These are some of the robot stories that are featured: “Little Lost Robot”, “The Bicentennial Man”, “The Evitable Conflict”, and “Robot Dreams”; a story that is prominent in the scene when Sonny is seen standing on a hill looking down at all the other robots.

I, Robot Trailer

Further Reading

I suggest reading Mr. Asimov’s I, Robot, and I would also suggest Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. Both are readily available; in late 2004 Warner Brothers packaged the screenplay in book form with I, Robot featuring the DVD cover of the movie.

June 24, 2009

The Illustrated Man

Posted in Anthologies, Science Fiction at 9:04 pm by j128

The Illustrated Man

"The Illustrated Man"

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories published in 1951 and supported by the frame story of the Illustrated Man, a vagrant who has had tattoo work on his body. His tattoos tend to alarm people, thus the reason for constantly wandering, and always having to wear garments that cover his entire body even on the hottest of days – such a day when the narrator meets the Illustrated Man.


Prologue – The Illustrated Man’s tattoos are very life-like, which is one of the reasons of the alarm, and secondly at night the tattoos begin to move all over the man’s body and they all tell their own stories set far in the future – and they are true stories, things that really do happen at one time or other. The person who did the man’s tattoos was a witch and the Illustrated Man strongly believes she was from the future – how else could she have known these things were going to happen?

The narrator watches the tattoos as the Illustrated Man sleeps in the night and the stories begin.

The Veldt – Jack and Lydia are a couple who are both well off and they have two children, Peter and Wendy. They live in a is futuristic high-tech house and they haven’t a thing to do at all for everything is done for them from housework to cleaning their own bodies. There is one room, called the nursery, which is designed for their two children to help them towards recovery, as they are neurotic, and their psychologist recommended it. The nursery is a room specially designed to adapt its interior suited to the children’s thoughts. However, things become awry when the parents become suspicious due to the constant screaming coming from the nursery and they discover an African predator environment. Everything is so real from the burning sun above to the lions feeding on their recent hunt that they are freaked out and after a while Jack calls their psychologist, who says that the nursery has become far too much out of hand and must be shut down. The father does so but not without his children having a crying tantrum and Lydia telling Jack to be a bit less relentless – how could he be so cruel? This all happens as Jack continues throughout the rest of the house shutting everything off and he explains that they are starting life anew for the better and they shall be having a little vacation. Lydia is persistent about the nursery being turned on one last time and finally, her husband consents and the children stop their tears and happily go back into the nursery but for a minute only. As the children are in the nursery, the parents are alone in their room to dress and get ready as the psychologist will be arriving in half an hour to assist them with moving. But before they can do any of this, Peter calls and says they must see something. The parents rush down but find no one. Becoming scared, they enter the nursery, and the door is shut and locked behind them from none other then their children. Jack tries to negotiate with his children to open the door but all attempts are fruitless and as the lions close in, he and Lydia realize in their last moments whose screams they had been hearing.

Kaleidescope – A spaceship has just exploded due to a malfunction and the astronauts fall to their demise. It centres round one particular bitter astronaut who sees he has done nothing at all – nothing worthwhile, that is – before any of this happened. The other astronauts, several miles apart, converse with each other till their deaths. Finally, the centred astronaut wishes his life would be worth something for someone else and his wish miraculously comes true: he appears as a shooting star when he comes into contact with Earth’s atmosphere as he is incinerated.

The Other Foot – For twenty years Mars has been inhabited solely by black people during the time when the white men began to start an atomic war. Now news is coming round that white men are coming to Mars after all these years. Willie, a man who is full of hate for the white men, tells his wife who is opposite to him that they will make the white men second-class and force them to do all the work that the white men forced black people to do. This fails when an old white man tells that just now the war has ended and hardly anything is left on Earth – all of the cities and towns were bombed, nothing is left. Willie sees his foolishness in all of his previous actions and everything that had been set up for the white men is hastily destroyed. They begin anew, old hurts forgiven.

The Highway – In rural Mexico, some people live on the highway and are constantly seeing thousands of people within their cars speeding all in one direction. They do not understand the reason for this and continue on with their lives, unconcerned. One day, after getting some water for the last car filled with four women and one man, the driver, he discovers from the car’s passengers that a nuclear war is starting – the end of the world. After the car speeds off, the man is left wondering, what is the world?

The Man – A spaceship has landed with space explorers and come upon a planet with inhabitants living in a healthy state of bliss. The captain is quite irritated that the population doesn’t even notice their landing, and when Martin, the lieutenant comes back, he says that yesterday a man visited them and this man performed miracles – a blind man’s sight was restored, the mayor’s crippled arm made good as new, etc. The captain can’t believe any of this and wants scientific proof for everything, which the population can’t provide. Their only evidence are their words. Martin wants to stay on this planet, it is what he has been looking for a long time, but he hadn’t realized this what he had been trying to find. The captain says Martin is a fool and that this man is a trick of either two men who must have beaten their team and stole their glory! However, it proves not to be so when a rocket lands on the planet sometime later and the last survivor, near the brink of death, gasps to the captain and Martin that they landed in a cosmic storm and everyone is dead. Soon after he dies as well. The captain then says to Martin, supposing this man is the man that everyone has wished to meet for centuries since his death – a religious figure, possibly Jesus, though his name is never mentioned and is never given because he explains to the planet’s inhabitants that his name will be different on every planet so he has no need of a name. The captain decides to visit every other planet until he meets this man and Martin and a few of the other volunteers stay behind, but not without the captain for the last time calling them all fools.

The Long Rain – Four astronauts, originally six, but two of them have died, are stranded on the planet Venus where it rains heavily and without stopping for a second. They attempt to travel through the Venusian rain to find shelter at one of the sun domes, where there will be warmth, protection from the rain, and food, and in the centre of the dome is a large florescent sun. On the way they encounter an electric storm after they come across their rocket, which they had left behind earlier with two of their dead men. The storm comes towards where they are and they run away from the rocket and throw themselves down, hoping that the storm will strike their rocket instead. The storm comes and does strike the rocket, the two dead men near the rocket, and one of the living men, who, despite the others’ warnings, stood and ran away, scared to death. They find the sun dome, but it is destroyed. They go to the other sun dome, which is not too far off, but not without losing another comrade, who becomes insane due to the unrelenting rythme of the rain, and looks up at the sky breathing in the rain until he drowns. They continue onwards. Then another of the crew, Simmons, slowly becomes insane also because of the same reason the other man became insane, and he stops and sits on a rock, telling the captain to continue to the sun dome. He’ll shoot himself once the captain is out of sight. Unwillingly, the captain does so, he doesn’t even hear the gunshot, and just as he feels he wants to give up as well, he sees a glimmer of yellow, he continues, and discovers the sun dome. And there is food, fresh clothes, and the warm florescent sun.

The Rocket Man – Told from the viewpoint of Doug, the son of an astronaut, he tells the story about his father, how he is always away most of the time because of his job, and thus has little time to spend with his wife or his son. He hears the father come home and go to sleep with his wife and while they sleep, Doug takes his father’s suitcase, which contains his father’s uniform. The son studies it and finds all sorts of space dust on it and takes a sample, then as quietly as possible puts it back in his parents’ bedroom while they still sleep. While he is at home, Doug’s father tells him not to be like his father – not to be a rocket man (or astronaut). The father explains that the problem is that he always feels trapped. Whenever he’s up in space he wants to be back home, but then when he is home he wants to be back with the stars. Finally the father makes a decision: he will go on one last space flight and then he will stay home forever. He promises. Next morning he goes for the last time for another three months. Sadly, he never makes it home – a messenger comes with a telegram and Doug says that his father didn’t die in Mars, or Venus, or Jupiter, or Saturn. He crashed in the sun. After that, the son and his mother’s schedule entirely changed. Doug and his mother would sleep during the day and have breakfast and lunch during the night and finally at six in the morning they would have dinner. Only on days that it rained would they go on walks, as his mother promised that should her husband ever crash into any of the planets or Moon, she would never look in that direction.

The Fire Balloons – Two priests go to Mars, as missionaries, to enlighten the Martians of old sins. While there he discovers the natives are actually the blue light of pure energy and as they have no material form they cannot commit sins and do not need redemption. So the two Fathers go to the settlement to build a church, which will be of real use for the others, not the pure energy forms.

The Last Night of the World – This is a very interesting story in contrast to other stories concerning the end of the world. Everyone has a dream, about the end of the world, and with this knowledge they go on with their daily lives and continue with their normal routines of going to work, doing dishes, taking children to bed, et cetera. At last they go to sleep for the last time.

The Exiles – In the year 2100 or so books containing themes of horror and the paranormal – werewolves, witches, ghosts, were banned and burned on Earth. The holidays such as Halloween and Christmas were banned as well. Classic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and others were exiled on the planet Mars, only living through the remaining copies of their books. Santa Claus also lives on Mars, a very withered old man barely alive. A few astronauts are going to Mars with the last copies of these classic authors. There on Mars they will burn them and all the authors will die forever, never to be reborn.

No Particular Night or Morning – The story takes place in outer space and it is centred around a man, named Hitchcock, who seems to be twisted as he has these ideas that one only live in the present, i.e. when he’s in New York, Boston doesn’t exist and vise versa. He tells his friend Clemens that space is simply nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, and a lot of empty nothings between. Through a small series of unusual events, Hitchcock is finally lost forever in space as he took himself out after dressing into a spacesuit, lost and falling in outer space, “on his way to no particular night and no particular morning.”

The Fox and the Forest – In the year 2155 A.D. war is upon the world and a couple, after hearing of a vacation available from a company called “Travel in Time, Inc.” where one may travel into the past escape in attempt from the war into the year 1938 in Mexico, but they are patiently and slowly being pursued by a government agent trying to force them to go back to 2155 against their bidding. The husband agrees to go back to the future, as long as his wife is safe and left behind. The agent, named Simms, agrees, and tells the husband to meet him in the plaza in exactly ten minutes. Ten minutes later, Simms is run over by the husband whose car had gone out of control, as he explains to his wife after the incident. The couple decide to stay with a director and his film crew, while the party drink martinis, the director suggests the husband’s wife to be an actress: enter Hollywood. And how about starring in a film set in a war period, about a couple like them, and how about set in the year 2155? The director continues on and on and as he does so the entire tale folds exactly as the couple had lived it. Suddenly the manager begins banging on the door and threatens to call the police if they do not open the door. There is a flash and possibly a minute later the manager opens the door and finds the room unbelievably empty.

The Visitor – Mars is used as a quarantine for people with deadly illnesses. And these people with their diseases are pretty much left to stay on Mars till their deaths, never again to visit Earth. One day, a young man is dropped off on Mars, who has the ability to form thought transferance and telepathy. This is a wonderful thing for the exiles, who are able to live in all sorts of places within their minds – New York City, Greece, wherever they want to go. Unfortunately the exiles begin to argue over the young man and consequently when a fight breaks out the young man is killed unintentionally.

The Concrete Mixer – Martians prepare to invade the planet Earth and sieze control… Except for one particular Martian, who is the protagonist of the story, and his name is Ettil Vrye. He has been reading Earth books documenting similar invasions upon Earth and all have been defeated by “a young man, usually lean, usually alone, usually Irish, named Mick or Rick, or Jick or Bannon.” Despite Ettil’s protests and after almost being burned alive, he is forced to participate in the invasion. However, the entire fleet is surprised when they discover Earth has given up war: the people have recently destroyed all their atom bombs, etc. and so have no weapons to defend themselves. They accept the Martians as their victors, though Ettil still remains suspicious. The rocket carrying the fleet and Ettil land in the United States of America and are given a welcome speech and the American ladies take several of the Martians and show them Earthling everday living. Finally Ettil meets a filmmaker, or more properly, approached by a filmmaker who is awfully intent on making a film about the Martian invasion. Ettil discovers that the filmmaker’s name is Rick. After this meeting, Ettil is left pondering the situation, and as the story closes he is being chased by a car full of young people pointing and laughing at the Martian – Ettil.

Marionettes, Inc. – Two middle-aged men, named Smith and Braling, find themselves in conflicting marriages. Braling’s problem is that his wife never lets him go out and she is nervous and very authoritive. Smith, however, has a wife who is madly in love with him and constantly demands his presence. The two men both long for some personal freedom and they talk of a utopian-sounding place called Rio. But pining as they are for their freedom, they endure their seperate situations considering the responsibilities of their selfish motivations. Braling surprises Smith, though, when Smith sees Braling in the upstairs window while at the same time Braling is standing next to him. Braling explains. He recently purchased an android available through an illegal company called Marionettes, Inc. and this android duplicates Braling himself in every possible way. Smith sees it as a swell idea and Braling gives Smith the business card. A conflict arises when the android Braling expresses emotions towards Braling’s wife. Smith says good night and goes off back home, excited about the prospect of Marionettes, Inc. When Smith comes home he shockingly discovers he himself has been tricked by a marionette wife after he hears the familiar tick-tick-tick in his “wife’s” chest. Meanwhile, Braling proceeds to lock up his marionette as he does not need a duplicate at the moment. Further conflict arises when the android Braling express wishes not to be locked up in the basement and the android repeats his emotions towards Mrs Braling. Towards the end the android Braling reveals its plans to travel to Rio with Mrs. Braling and to leave the human Braling in the basement. At last we come to Mr. and Mrs. Braling’s room and someone kisses Mrs. Braling. Surprised, Mrs. Braling wakes up and says something along the lines of, “You haven’t done that in a long time.” Then, whomever kissed her, either the human Braling or the android says, “We’ll see about that.”

The City – Of all the stories contained within The Illustrated Man, this is an absolute chiller. A rocket expedition from Earth lands on a seemingly unpopulated planet and there is only a city, absolutely bare or is it? One of the crew instantly picks up a dislike for the City and expresses his desire to go back to the rocket, whereas the captain wishes to continue to explore. The poor man is absolutely correct about going back to the rocket: the City is apparently contains some sort of high artificial intelligence and it has been waiting for the arrival of humans for twenty thousand years, to act out its revenge since humans, long before recorded history, wiped out their culture with biological weaponry. After the City captures, kills, and examines the astronauts (by extremely gruesome ways) they rebuild the corpses and use them as robots to issue a biological attack on Earth.

Zero Hour – Children across the America are engrossed in a new game, called “Invasion”. The parents think it is absolutely adorable and don’t really think much of it until they find out in an awful way – when it’s too late, that it wasn’t a game at all. Aliens chose their children as allies and to initiate an alien invasion through the children.

The Rocket – Set in Mexico, this is the story of Fiorello Bodoni and his family who are in the depths of unimaginable poverty and Mr. Bodoni works as a junkyard man. Despite his poverty he manages to save $3,000, enough to send one member of his family on a rocket to visit outer space – the absolute dream, the absolute journey of a lifetime. Conflict arises when nobody can decide who should go. Mr Bodoni solves the problem, though, when he uses all of his money to buy a mock-up of a rocket and the aftermath is concluded by sending his family on a journey to Mars.

Epilogue – The narrator has seen the tattoos’ stories and then his eyes wander over to the bare patch on the Illustrated Man’s left shoulder blade, where an image of the person the Illustrated Man has been with for a while shows up, usually in an hour. The image of the person shows the person’s entire life and how they shall die, man or woman. The narrator’s face appears on this very spot and as he watches, he sees his life ended by the Illustrated Man’s hands round his neck. Frightened out of his life, he dashes off the porch: away from the Illustrated Man.

I listened to this book on audio cassette from Recorded Books, unabridged, and narrated by Paul Hecht, who is a truly wonderful narrator and captures all of the stories’ essences.

There is also a copy of The Illustrated Man in book form published in June 1997 with a new introduction by the author. It is available from HarperCollins Publishers.

Jane of Lantern Hill

Posted in Canadian Literature, Children's Literature tagged at 8:32 pm by j128

Jane of Lantern Hill

Book cover of "Jane of Lantern Hill"

Jane of Lantern Hill is a novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, published in 1937. The author began writing Jane in 1935 and had it completed by 1936 and she dedicated it to Lucky, her pet cat. She was planning and preparing to write a sequel but it was never completed.

Like many of L.M. Montgomery’s books, namely Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island makes a great part of the plot, yet this story begins in Toronto, Ontario.


Jane Victoria Stuart, a young girl of eleven years, lives in Toronto, Ontario with her gorgeous mother Robin, her maternal grandmother, and Aunt Gertrude, her grandmother’s sister, at 64 Gay Street. Ironical to the street’s name, Gay Street isn’t cheerful and is quite grey. It was once said that Gay Street actually lived up to its name but in Jane’s time it is awfully gloomy, her only ray of sunshine is her only friend: Jody (Josephine Turner) who is an orphan and lives next door at a boarding house, where she is a servant.

Jane is called Victoria by her family and addressed as Miss Victoria by the few servants, which consists only of a chauffeur and a cook. They don’t have a housekeeper or even a maid because Aunt Gertrude sees to keeping the entire house ruthlessly spic and span, she cannot even stand the sight of dust, and is constantly tidying things and keeping things in order.

Grandmother is a miserable old lady, extremely strict and jealous of anything or anyone that Jane’s mother loves. She is also manipulative and bends people to her will, even if it means by force and as such this is how Jane and her mother live under the same roof with Grandmother. Jane intensely dislikes living with her grandmother and would be glad at any opportunity to get away.

Jane’s mother Robin, who is of said beauty and is youthful-looking is a sad creature and her only comfort is Jane. Jane finds it strange and doesn’t understand how her mother, blessed with beauty and who attends so many parties and social events could be always so sad. Of course, she comes to the conclusion that her sadness stems from the unreasonable suppression and tyranny of her grandmother but neither mother or daughter can seem to do anything about their situation….

Jane’s gloomy world and existence takes a total transformation when she discovers that she has a father and it is confirmed that he is alive. Her whole life, Jane was taught to believe by her grandmother that her father had died, and it was only by her “charity” that Robin and Jane had managed. Naturally, she is quite surprised by this revelation, and dreams of meeting her father and wonders what he’s really like as Grandmother enforced the idea that he was too wild and adventurous for her Robin and that he abandoned her with baby Jane. He’s also a writer.

A letter arrives from Andrew Stuart, Jane’s father, and he writes a request to see “his Jane”, suggesting that she visit Prince Edward Island, where he resides and also Jane’s birthplace. Grandmother is initially against this and stubbornly refuses to let Jane go, but finally consents when an uncle thinks it would be a good idea. Jane doesn’t really want to go to the Island but once she arrives she loves it.

She prepares to go and she goes shopping with her grandmother, who just about chooses every single outfit for her. Robin tearfully chokes not to mention a single thing about her to Jane, a thing that her daughter doesn’t fully understand but obeys.

There she meets Aunt Irene, whom Jane immediately dislikes, and she stays with her overnight. Aunt Irene is her father’s sister and is an uptight aged woman with a sort of “Victorian sensibility” about her and doesn’t understand Jane’s behaviour towards her. Next morning, Jane meets her father for the first time and loves him.

She calls him Father, as she calls Robin Mother, but he tells her to call him just “Dad”, which she likes. They soon by a house for themselves on Lantern Hill and become acquainted with the locals, namely the Snowbeams and the Jimmy Johns and the twin sisters.

They establish their house, supply it with furniture, and Jane grows a little garden of her own with her favourite flowers and assumes the roll of a housekeeper, learning how to cook and also learns other womanly, traditional domestic roles – things that she was never allowed to do in Toronto because her grandmother wouldn’t allow it. She also comes to own two little kittens, which she names Big Peter and Little Peter and her father gets a dog, which they name Happy.

Aunt Irene comes to visit a few times, during which Jane loses complete control of the house as she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the forceful aunt, and is laughed at by Aunt Irene for all her hard work and taking on the job of keeping house. Jane is rightfully indignant, which she keeps under an immense self-controlled cold calm. Her father is disappointed that Jane doesn’t like his sister but she can’t bring herself to tolerate Aunt Irene, not even for Dad.

Throughout the course of the summer spent on the Island, Jane develops character and gains self-confidence as well as backbone. She reads the Bible to Dad, a thing which she always dreaded to do at home, but it is different reading it to her father and she does so excellently. They dig clams for dinner, have wild strawberries and cream for dessert (a thing deemed as “quaint” by Aunt Irene), etc.

When Jane returns, she is a changed young lady. Because of her developed character, she now stands up to Grandmother – a thing that the old lady dislikes – and relishes reading the Bible, a significant change that Grandmother and Aunt Gertrude can’t comprehend. She is no longer afraid of her grandmother or her aunt and she actually loves school now, whereas before she hated it. She also gets along much more easily with Phyllis, an older cousin of hers that used to always intimidate her.

Grandmother is again jealous of Jane’s love for her father and tries to suck up to Jane by giving her a cat as a Christmas present as she has heard tons about the Peters. Jane receives the cat with little appreciation and the cat is indifferent to her. Jane’s mother tries to make Jane love the cat just a little, for Grandmother, but Jane can’t make herself. When the cat goes missing and Jane and her mother apparently find it one wet evening, they take it home, and feed it and care for it. Suddenly, the cat is much more affectionate towards Jane and she begins to love it but Grandmother gives it away due to the fact that she insists its not the same cat she had purchased – it was another lost cat and only looked like the Christmas cat.

In the summer, Jane returns to the Island, and this summer she learns of the mystery and secret of her parents’ long separation and slowly pieces it together. Her mother and father had met and married as a young, happy couple and soon Jane was born. Despite her parents’ happy marital union, adversary was met on both sides of the family. Aunt Irene disliked Robin and Robin didn’t like Irene’s overbearing, domineering ways and who was also always butting into her relationship with Andrew (Jane’s father). Grandmother didn’t like Andrew and his seemingly “wild ways” and, of course, her jealousy applied as well. She eventually manipulated Robin into returning to Toronto and convinced her to stay there. Jane’s father sent numerous letters to Robin but none were ever replied and he assumed that Robin had dumped him. (In reality, it was Grandmother who burnt all the letters and consequently Robin was unaware.) Due to the external battles from Aunt Irene and Grandmother, Jane’s mother and father grew misunderstandings and confusions and overall, drifted apart from each other – a result and conclusion that was satisfactory for Grandmother.

Jane’s Toronto friend Jody is to be sent to an orphanage but with her intervention, she manages to get Jody adopted by the sister twins who have always wanted to have a child but have never been successful in acquiring one as they constantly argue over whether they want a boy or a girl, and the child’s age range, etc. Jane talks to them about Jody and at first they disapprove (one wants a girl, the other wants a boy and Jody’s age isn’t initially ideal for them) but in the end, they decide that they will adopt Jody.

Jody is of course overjoyed she’s going to the Island and happily anticipates seeing Jane in the summer. When Jane returns, she pieces together more of the puzzle behind her parents’ relationship and when she receives a letter from Aunt Irene that mentions her father going to Boston – probably to get a divorce and marry another young woman that Aunt Irene approves of – Jane goes back to the Island to see Dad. She walks all the way to Lantern Hill in the cold and wet and meets a surprised Dad.

She tearfully tells him about Aunt Irene’s letter and she finds that fortunately the spiteful aunt was wrong. Dad is only going to Boston to meet the publishers for a book he has written – that’s all, and for the first time in her life she cries. (Jane had always done her best not to cry because her mother had said that she’d never cried – not even when she was a tiny baby.) She quickly succumbs to pneumonia and this crisis leads her mother to journey to the Island, despite the strong contradictions by Grandmother.

Jane’s parents finally have a reunion and Jane recovers. As the story closes, Jane starts making plans for her family with her parents.


This story was made into a 1990 made-for-television movie from the same people who had made the series Anne of Green Gables. From the many fan reviews and critic reviews I have read on the Internet, it wasn’t overly successful and wasn’t well-received, nor entirely faithful to the original novel.

Next to Mrs. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, Jane of Lantern Hill is my favourite book by her.

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