June 25, 2009

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!

Summary

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.

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.

Summary

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.

May 21, 2008

The Time Machine

Posted in Classics of World Literature, Science Fiction at 5:40 am by j128

First edition of

First edition cover of The Time Machine

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is a science fiction novel, first published in 1895, and is cited to have developed an interest in the possibilities of time travel via a machine, such as the one described in the book. The term “time machine”, coined by Mr. Wells, is universal in regards to such a vehicle.

The History of The Time Machine

Mr. Wells had actually explored the concept of time travel in a previous, lesser-known story called The Chronic Argonauts; when asked by his publisher to write a serial novel based upon the subject, he readily accepted and wrote it based it on the Block Theory of the Universe, and was paid £100 upon its publication.

The Time Machine‘s published book form was slightly abridged when it was released: an extract from the eleventh chapter was censored from the book as it was believed to be too frightening and disturbing and it has been subsequently released as The Grey Man. The censored excerpt is contained in the summary.

Summary

The story begins with the Time Traveller, the protagonist of the novel, who has just demonstrated to his invited guests by using a miniature model, that time is a fourth dimension and that a suitable apparatus can move back and forth in this fourth dimension. He built a larger machine that could carry himself and set off into the future.

Next Thursday, he returns and details his journey to his guests, which takes up the length of the book except for the last chapter or two. He describes that while time traveling it gives a feeling of disorientation to one and as the machine travels farther and farther into the future, the outside sceneries become a blur and the Time Traveller witnesses the rapid changes and evolution that occurs in the sceneries surrounding him until finally arriving in the year 802, 701 A.D.

In the year 802, 701 A.D. the Time Traveller discovers a idyllic, utopian, and peaceful future where a kind of subspecies of humans live and they are called the Eloi. They are described as being simple, childlike, and happy, and are about four feet tall with curly hair, small ears and mouths, and large eyes. There is hardly any distinction between the men and women as they are similar in build, and they have high-pitched voices and speak an unknown language, and are apparently unintelligent and live without conflict or fighting.

The Eloi live in large futuristic but dilapidated buildings, and the land around London has become a sort of sprawling garden with many curious flowerings and fruits. The Eloi eat the fruits, of which their diet solely consists of. There isn’t any evidence of technology or agriculture, which the Eloi seem incapable of doing.

The Eloi eagerly accept the Time Traveller into their community and share a meal with him, which is a spread banquet with a variety of fruits, but the Time Traveller begins yearning for a nice piece of meat, and tries to speak to them, only for the Eloi to be confused.

Afterwards he decides to explore the area and with a scientific mind, and explains the future he is in hypothetically: he muses over the factors that have resulted in the Eloi’s society and physical conditions, being that humanity had finally been successful in transforming and controlling nature through the technology, art, creativity, and politics the Eloi developed; furthermore, due to the discontinuation of improving life with technology, agriculture, and other innovations the Eloi developed a lack of intelligence and became unimaginative and lost their curiosity regarding the world.

Without work, the Eloi became physically frail and weak, and became shorter in stature. This is especially so since there is nothing to distinguish between the sexes, as in former times males had worked but now in this future they have a loss of physique, which explains the reason for this lacking dimorphism. The Time Traveller also supposes preventative medicine was also developed as there isn’t any evidence of disease among the Eloi and that also some form of birth control had been implemented so as to prevent overpopulation.

At sunset, he finds the Time Machine has disappeared and thinks that perhaps the Eloi moved it to their sanctuary, but it isn’t there, and when he begins trying to communicate with them, his behaviour and manner frightens them. He gives up trying to explain and searches for the Time Machine all night until finally falling into a restless sleep.

As the Time Traveller continues his explorations, he discovers that the utopian society is actually deceptive in that the class structure has survived from his own time and humanity has diverged into two branches: the Eloi are actually devolved from the wealthy class, and he also discovers that deep below in the depths of darkness are the fearful Morlocks, which have stemmed from the working classes bent under the wealthy, which are faintly hominid, yet cannabalistic, and resemble human spiders. They work underground and maintain the machinery that keep the Eloi – which they feed upon – docile and plentiful. They only surface at night and any unfortunate Eloi that is still wandering meets its horrible death.

During his stay in this future, the Time Traveller rescues a female Eloi from drowning, and her name is Weena. Surprisingly, she remains grateful to him and follows him everywhere, and over time the Time Traveller does develop affectionate feelings for her.

The Time Traveller eventually ascertains the Morlocks took the Time Machine into the depths of the underground in which they dwell and he goes down to find it, only to have the Morlocks groping his clothing as he makes his descent, and he only manages to keep them away with his matches. He hears loud thumping of machinery and only just manages to escape the darkness and the Morlocks.

Sometime afterwards, he and Weena go exploring and rest at night in a meadow with flowers. Weena is fast asleep while the Time Traveller has discovered the horrific realization that the Morlocks feed upon the Eloi, and the poor creatures are unaware of this horrible, horrible fact.

The Time Traveller and Weena arrive at the Palace of Green Porcelain, which is realized by the Time Traveller to be the remains of a great museum. Inside, they find various artifacts of past ages such as dinosaur fossils, minerals, machines of war, and all other things that build civilizations and that which makes them great. Weena grows apprehensive as the museum continues into darkness and the Time Traveller senses the presence of the Morlocks. He takes some of the artifacts with him as weapons: matches, camphor, and a crowbar.

The Time Traveller, with Weena in one arm, and his weapons in the other, tries to escape the persisting darkness, the Morlocks stalk him. Finally, he has to set Weena down to defend himself, and throws a lighted branch at the Morlocks, which are repelled temporarily.

He lights a fire, by which Weena is fascinated and tries to play with it, only for the Time Traveller to dissuade her from such a notion. Sitting down in the forest, the Time Traveller fights sleep only to succumb to it. Later, he wakes up, and the fire is burning low and the Morlocks have surrounded him and Weena.

The Time Traveller defends himself and Weena, attacking the Morlocks, and in the confusion the forest goes up in flames, and he is lost, and Weena is nowhere to be found, whom he comes to believe to be dead.

Now that he knows the Morlocks most certainly possess the Time Machine, he goes back down into the Morlocks’ territory and there he finds his invention. The Morlocks trap him and the Time Traveller only just narrowly escapes when he propels himself into the future.

[What follows is the censored excerpt published elsewhere as The Grey Man.]

The Time Traveller wakes up in his Time Machine after escaping the Morlocks and finds himself in an unrecognizable far future. He sees peculiar creatures, resembling rabbits or some small breed of kangaroos, only to discover they are actually some kind of plantigrade, and he suddenly sees a score of them. He hopes to capture a speciman and successfully stuns one by hitting it on the head with a stone.

Upon closer inspection, he discovers the creature has five feeble digits on both its fore and hind legs like that of a human, a roundish head with eyes positioned in the front, and lank hair. It is also tailess and has long legs.

The Time Traveller has to abandon his specimen when a giant, metallic centipede-like creature comes, and all the other grey creatures flee. He goes one day forward and finds the centipede-like predator gone and his specimen as well. He tries to capture another of these grey creatures but to no avail as none of his aims are as successful as his first one. He theorizes that these grey creatures are descendants of the Eloi and travels further into the future.

[As the above summary of the incident of the grey creatures was deemed too disturbing, it was subsequently omitted from the published book, and the following was substituted.]

The Time Traveller travels about thirty million years into the future and arrives on a kind of beach, where monstrous crabs try to grab him for a meal, but he sets one month between himself and the creatures, only to arrive again at the same spot with the crabs looming in the distance.

He continues to travel into the future, stopping every once or so in a while, curious to learn and observe the Earth’s fate. Towards the very end of the world, the only remaining life left are small life forms such as lichen and the Earth is very dead, now a harsh environment and the Time Traveller is so shocked by this revelation that he feels incapable of making the return journey, but when he sees a roundish creature about the size of a football (soccer ball) with tentacles falling from its body, the mere sight of it frightens him, pivoting him to launch the Time Machine back to his own time, with the sceneries whizzing past him at a blurring pace and he arrives back at the time where the story began.

All but one of the guests are skeptical, the only one who is not is the other narrator who is never named. They go home, with the narrator fascinated by the incredible story the Time Traveller told, yet it was so credibly and soberly told. Next day, he goes to meet the Time Traveller, and the young scientist tells the narrator to stay for lunch and that he’ll be with him within half an hour.

The narrator consents and waits for the Time Traveller. But the Time Traveller has disappeared into time and hasn’t come back yet – he’s been missing for three years.

Recommended Editions of The Time Machine

The Time Machine is indeed a marvelous work of literature and art, and it is my favourite by Mr. Wells. His writing is so compelling and creative, and the words and phrases he uses to describe his ideas and stories so well are such fine examples as are found in good storytelling.

I’ve only ever listened to The Time Machine and so I can’t really recommend it in book form, though I do suspect none of them contain The Grey Man, but if one wishes to, he can find a link below for the “short story.”

  • For audio books, I would recommend the Recorded Books (1996) edition and it is available on audio CD. It is unabridged, containing four discs, totaling four hours in length, and is excellently narrated by Simon Prebble.

Film Adaptations

Two film adaptations have been made of The Time Machine, one in 1960 and a remake in 2002 by Mr. Wells great-grandson Simon Wells. I haven’t seen either, but from my reading of the reviews, they are only loosely adapted and they each make some drastic changes to the plotline, such as the Eloi fighting against the Morlocks towards the end of the 1960 film or the Time Traveller having a girlfriend who is killed, which in turn inspires him to travel in time to prevent her death, only for her death to be a temporal paradox in the 2002 version. I really can’t say what I think about them, only that I don’t feel in any rush to see them.

Links

The Time Machine

Review of The Time Machine About.com

Teacher’s Guide to The Time Machine – PDF format

Summary of The Time Machine – Wikipedia article

The Time Machine at Wikisource (complete)

The Grey Man at Wikisource

The Time Machine on Project Gutenberg

How Time Travel Works

Topics related to The Time Machine

Heat death – one of the “end of the universe” theories; Mr. Wells’ interpretation of heat death is based on the imaginings of scientists of his day, such as William Thomson, First Baron Kelvin (Lord Kelvin), who developed ideas during the 1850s.

December 10, 2007

The Invisible Man

Posted in Classics of World Literature, Science Fiction at 4:34 am by j128

Cover of the Folio Society edition of \

Folio Society edition of The Invisible Man (a link to the Folio Society website can be found in my blogroll, under Reading)

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells was published in 1897 and while not exactly one of Mr. Wells’ strongest stories (compare The Time Machine, published 1895)due to a slightly meandering plot, it is a marvelous read. It is the story of Griffin, the Invisible Man, who reaches a certain point of frustration, and possibly insanity, due to his state of invisibility and the burden which he carries of not being able to confide in anyone about his predicament.

Summary

Griffin reached his invisible state by several experiments he conveyed secretly and privately alone; for fear of others knowing what he was up to. He discovered his positive invisibility results when he experimented with the formula on a white cat, which turned out to be a neighbour’s, and she (the neighbour) inquires after her cat under suspicion he has it in his possession. The cat does become invisible except for its claws and its eyes’ retinas and those are visible only slightly. Realizing what he could do, Griffin experiments on himself after the landlord comes to check on Griffin’s domain due to the neighbour who owned the white cat (the neighbour was very determined to prove Griffin had been vivisecting her cat).

After burning down the building so that his tracks are covered, Griffin escapes out into the world enjoying his blessing of invisibility. But for what seems to be a blessing it soon transforms into a curse as he discovers the disadvantages as well as the advantages of being invisible. He explains to Dr Kemp later on that there were disadvantages with the weather: if it snowed, it would begin to settle and form a figure, if it rained, pretty much the same thing, and in fog there was the faintest outline of an individual.

Illustration from the Folio Society edition of \

The Invisible Man sets out of London to Iping, somwhere in West Sussex. Iping is a small village and when he comes heavily cloaked and wearing a bandage round his head with a moustache and beard, goggling spectacles, and a pink shiny costume nose he causes a sensation in the village and many come to inquire who he is or what he’s up to with one thousand and one bottles. Griffin is prone to quick temper and prefers to be left in solitude, hardly disturbed, and above all else, complete privacy.

Mr. and Mrs. Hall of the local inn, The Coach and Horses, which is where Griffin is lodging, discover his invisibility along with others in the inn when they question him about his queer behaviour and the violent furniture that attacked them the other night, the same night the vicar and his wife were robbed. When he removes his bandages, costume nose, spectacles, artificial facial hair, he causes ultimate panic and fright. The police are called to capture him but Griffin only escapes by removing all his clothing.

Now having escaped, Griffin convinces a tramp named Mr. Marvel to help him restore his possessions he had had to inevitably leave behind at The Coach and Horses. Mr. Marvel does not know of the incident that happened at the inn but he is scared by the bodiless voice, which could only belong to the Invisible Man, and he does as Griffin wishes; only to flee once the task is accomplished along with Griffin’s notebooks and cheques and attempts to betray Griffin to the police. The Invisible Man threatens to kill Mr. Marvel and is in hot pursuit when a black-bearded American man shoots his gun and Griffin is wounded.

Griffin bandages himself at a house, which is revealed to be the house of Dr. Kemp, whom Griffin was acquainted with during his college days. Griffin explains to Dr Kemp he is invisible until Dr. Kemp comes to believe it and he also begins to believe all those stories in the newspaper. After reading all the news stories he can get his hands on about the Invisible Man Dr. Kemp contacts the police.

Meanwhile Griffin tells Dr. Kemp his life story after college, including that of which is described in the beginning paragraphs above. Some of the occurances not mentinoed in the beginning paragraphs were his first experience of a disadvantage of being invisible when he walked up a stairway after hours of walking barefoot and two men see dirty footprints on the freshly cleaned stairway stop abruptly without a clue, after that he stayed overnight in a seemingly large department store that had everything the Invisible Man needed and he began feeling human again as he wore clothing but he had to throw them off when the staff found him next morning, and before he departed to Iping he went into a man’s house, who owned a costume shop, and after several days of living in the man’s house secretly and setting the man on his nerves due to Griffin’s carelessness the man began carrying a revolver and locking up all the doors. Finally out of desperation Griffin knocks the man over the head and bundles him up in a sack while Griffin took what he needed to disguise himself.

Shortly after that episode Griffin made his way to Iping and that was where all the adventure rolled downhill. He reveals to Dr Kemp that he is to begin a Reign of Terror and anyone who stands in his way he will kill including those who try to defend the victim and Dr Kemp is to be his visible ally.

Griffin was trying to find a way to make himself visible again but all the notes and formulas are in the notebooks Mr Marvel stole.

Dr Kemp is in no way willingly going to help Griffin, not only because he does not wish to associate himself with this Reign of Terror, but also because he sees Griffin as a maniac, and soon the police come. Griffin attacks Dr. Kemp, saying he is a traitor, and also tackles one of the policemen before escaping.

The next day Dr. Kemp receives a note written on greasy paper notifying that he is the first on the list to be killed by the Invisible Man and that it is the first day of the first year of the Epoch of the Invisible Man.

Unfortunately for the protagonist, the Epoch does not go very far. Indeed, the navy kills Griffin on the first day, when Dr. Kemp cries for help as a vacuum of air is attacking him.

Badly wounded and beaten, Griffin dies, and as he does so he becomes visible once more beginning with outlines of albino skin until his entire naked body can be seen with his eyes “like garnets.”

In the epilogue, it is said that to know more about the Invisible Man to ask the landlord. The landlord will refuse to know anything about the notebooks but when all is quiet, in a room, he will take out a box. And in this box are the three notebooks and Mr Marvel, for it is he, will struggle over the equations, getting no further than “Hex, little two up in the air, cross, and a fiddle-de-dee”, which is his struggling attempt to verbalize Griffin’s algebra notation “X2+.”

Links

The Invisible Man on Project Gutenberg

Invisibility Cloak – Article on HowsStuffWorks about the possibility of a cloaking device rendering one invisible.

August 29, 2006

Chocky

Posted in Comedy, Science Fiction at 3:59 am by j128

Book cover of \

Chocky (this is the edition that I read)

Chocky is a science fiction book by British author John Wyndham which was published in 1968 and was his last book, a year before his death. So far, it’s my favourite John Wyndham book.

Chocky is a very witty story, but also contains twists of seriousness, etc. It is told in the first person by David Gore, who is the father of the Gore family.

Summary

The Gore family consists of David, who tells the story, David’s wife Mary, and their children: Matthew and Polly. Matthew is their adopted son, and Polly is their daughter by birth. Mary was quite insistent on having a child, but after many tries and no results, they used the alternative: adopting a child.

Polly had an invisible, imaginary friend and was very attached to her friend, so much that there were some embarrasing scenes, i.e. they ‘forgot’ Polly’s friend back home and the result? They had to loop back home, pick up Polly’s “friend”, and then set off once again. Matthew acquired an imaginary friend as well, but this causes some concern in his father because it seems that Matthew is too old (ten years old) to have an imaginary friend.

Chocky, Matthew’s friend’s name, is actually an advanced alien from a world thousands and thousands of light years away and resides in Matthew’s consciousness. Chocky is trying to find out about Earth and through discovering, there are several conflicts between Matthew and Chocky. Some sample questions are, for example, what is the point of two parents? Why not just one? Because if you get angry with one parent, how can you still love the other? And so on and so on, very complex and interesting questions.

Trouble arises for the Gore family when Matthew nearly drowns with Polly, but is then saved by ‘an angel’, who is actually Chocky. Matthew is kidnapped, and the people who hold him in confinement say to him that he broke his leg and are fixing it. Matthew later tells his parents he assumed it was a hospital, it was clean and its people were clean in the same ways a hospital should be. Then in the middle of the night he is taken in a car, a second car, and falls asleep continually because he is drugged, and then when he wakes up again he is far away from his hometown. That’s when he asks a policeman where he is and whisked back home because Matthew had been missing for several weeks and the police had been combing through the country looking for him.

Before Chocky leaves forever, Chocky tries to explain to David about what her mission was on Earth. But she also explains other things, such as the failure with Matthew. Then she takes her leave and is never seen again.A very good book and it is a pleasure to read! Of course, this isn’t a detailed article about Chocky and there are large gaps in-between, so you aren’t getting the whole story. If you would like to learn more, read the book!

Notes

There was a Chocky television series produced by Thames Televison and all were written by Anthony Read. It was shown in six episodes between Jan. 9 and Feb. 13 1984. Two sequels were produced for television: Chocky’s Children (six episodes shown between Jan. 7 & Feb. 11 1985) and Chocky’s Challenge (six episodes, shown between Sep. 29 & Oct. 16 1985). These sequels were not based on John Wyndham’s Chocky. It is available on DVD, though I am not sure if it is only available in a specific region code.

August 25, 2006

A Wrinkle in Time

Posted in Modern Classics, Science Fiction at 7:18 pm by j128

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (this is my favourite cover)

A Wrinkle in Time by American author Madeleine L’Engle was published in 1964 after several refusals due to the fact that, in Madeleine L’Engle’s words, “it was too different.” Copies of A Wrinkle in Time, published by Random House Children’s Books, has an added afterword, though not by Madeleine L’Engle, explaining the science behind A Wrinkle in Time.

Summary

The story begins with the line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” an allusion to the opening words of Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

The protagonist is Margaret “Meg” Murry, thirteen, and eldest child of the Murry family. Her siblings are Sandy and Dennys, twin brothers, who are two years younger than Meg, and Charles Wallace, Meg’s “dumb baby brother” who is five. Charles Wallace is often considered dumb because he does not talk around other people other than his family and is described as “something new” by Mrs. Murry.

Mr. and Mrs. Murry are both scientists, though in different fields. Mr. Murry, who’s been missing since before Charles Wallace began to talk, is an astrophysicist and Mrs. Murray who is gifted with gorgeousness and violet eyes is a microbiologist who works in her lab from her home.

The plot of A Wrinkle in Time is about the rescuing of Mr. Murry, who’s been missing for some years after a secret and closely guarded experiment conveyed by the government.

The people who rescue him are his children, Meg and Charles Wallace, and their new aquaintance, Calvin O’Keefe. The children are aided by three eccentric and mysterious women, Mrs Who, Mrs Which, and Mrs Whatsit. (N.B. Madeleine L’Engle requested to have the abbreviation of mistress the British way, but it was either ignored or the publishers went ahead anyway.)

The three women tesseract with the three children, making a wrinkle in time to Camazotz after visiting a few other planets and witnessing a horrible black thing, the visible manifestation of evil. But they say that this black thing is being fought by many beings, the greatest being from Earth. The children name some of the greatest people of all time including Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.

Camazotz is being ruled by a large dismembered human brain, referred to the population as IT. IT has Mr. Murray trapped, and Mr. Murray is fighting IT’s power.

Charles Wallace is tricked by the Man-with-red-eyes and is sucked into the power of IT. Meg almost dies, except that Mr. Murry tesseracts with Calvin and Meg in time. They leave Charles Wallace behind with IT.

After Meg has recovered on a safe planet inhabited with strange creatures who are furry beings in various sizes and possessing various limbs Meg rescues Charles Wallace with the one thing that IT does not have.

The Murrays fall back to Earth, and it seems not a minute has passed. And not a minute has passed because they tesseracted, they made a ‘wrinkle’ in time.

The family reunites and the “Mrs W’s” call Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin aside to tell them something, but the children never find out what the strange women were going to say for they are blown away suddenly.

Notes

A Wrinkle in Time was adapted by Disney as a television movie in 2003. After having seen it, I don’t think it’s the best version of the story, shall we say, and the story was modified for the movie’s sake. The special effects, such as Mrs Whatsit’s transformation, could stand for some improvement with CGI, I think. It is available on DVD.

Other books in these series, sometimes referred to as The Time Quartet are: (in chonological order) A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Links

A Wrinkle in Time– Detailed article including summary and discussion, etc. about A Wrinkle in Time.

August 23, 2006

The Arm of the Starfish

Posted in Science Fiction at 9:43 pm by j128

The Arm of the Starfish

The Arm of the Starfish

The Arm of the Starfish, by American author Madeleine L’Engle, best known for her novel A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1965.

Summary

Adam Eddington is an American sixteen-year-old, going on seventeen, just finished high school, and is a marine biology student. He is going to Portugal to work as an assisstant for Dr. O’Keefe, a marine biologist. While waiting at the airport, after having his flight postponed for the third time due to fog, he meets a young woman Caroyln Cutter, a.k.a. Kali.

Kali fills Adam full of suspicion about Dr. O’Keefe, as well as Canon Tallis and Polly, Dr. O’Keefe’s daughter who is in the care of Canon Tallis at the moment. She warns Adam to be careful and that she will be seeing Adam soon, hopefully.

The O’Keefe family, as Adam finds out despite his planted suspicions by Kali, are actually very nice. There is Dr. O’Keefe, Mrs. O’Keefe, their children (in order of age) Polyhymnia or Polly, Charles, Sandy, Dennys, Peggy, Johnny, and Rosebud or Rosy, although Rosebud was baptized as Mary.

Dr. O’Keefe is working on starfish, studying the mystery of how starfish regrow a lost arm. Dr. O’Keefe is studying starfish because in the evolutionary scale human beings come almost directly from the starfish. As Adam explains, “Man is a member of the phylum Chordata, and we developed directly from the phylum Echinodermata, or the starfish. We both had an interior spinal column and the same kind of body cavities.” Dr. O’Keefe’s intentions are perhaps that discovering more about the starfish could also benefit mankind.

The Arm of the Starfish is like Madeleine L’Engle’s other works: centred around family life, science, and love. In Starfish Mrs. L’Engle also weaves in mystery, where Adam has to choose which side he is on: the O’Keefes or the Cutters. It is up to him.

Want to know more? Read the book!

Read More

A Wrinkle In Time