Friday, October 21, 2011

Giveaway Results: Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex

And the winner of the Dracula in Love giveaway is...

Kristy Nicole!

Congratulations!  And than you everyone for participating.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells

Title:  The Island of Doctor Moreau
Author:  H. G. Wells
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

The Island of Doctor Moreau is truly a multi-genre tale.  It combines elements of Science Fiction and Horror.  It also acts as an allegory, mirroring aspects of society.  Beneath it all is one of Wells' favorite themes:  the horrible things that can come about by reckless meddling in science that should be left alone.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is written in the form of a journal of one Edward Prendick.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Prendick befriends some malcontents on a small merchant vessel and debarks to a mysterious island inhabited by horrible beasts.

These beasts are half animal and half human, and Prendick is immediately thrown into a struggle for his life as he fights against the master of the beasts, Doctor Moreau.  Throughout the novel, as the line between civility and savagery is blurred, Prendick is forced to rethink his preconceptions about good and evil, right and wrong.

This book was very fun to read, and really made me think about the undertones and themes that hide under the surface of the pages.  Doctor Moreau was written less than forty years after Darwin's On the Origins of Species.  Throughout the novel, Wells examines the qualities that separate humans from animals, and eventually comes to the conclusion that we may not be as different as the experts think.  Wells suggests that human and bestial qualities rest under the surface of all life, and only the shell of our flesh separates the species.  Moreau shows Prendick that it is quite easy to turn beasts into men, and we come to learn that it is even easier for men to act like vicious beasts.

The major problem that I have with this book is that it is so improbable.  Yes, I realize that I walk a thin line when I say things like that in reviews, as I write a blog abut fantasy and science fiction.  However, to me, a work of science fiction only works when the science feels like fact.  Wells asks us to believe that turning a beast into a man is as easy as plastic surgery, but this reader remains unconvinced.  The entire premise makes the book feel more like a long metaphor than an actual science fiction novel that one expects when thinking of the author's other works.

In the end, I really enjoyed The Island of Doctor Moreau.  Aside from a few preachy segments in which Wells' message comes through too clear, the novel was a fun ride through a haunted house of grotesque beasts and even more nefarious men.

3.75 out of 5 man bear pigs.

This review is a part of Dueling Monsters 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Excerpt and Giveaway - Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex

Today, I would like to share an excerpt from Dracula in Love, a Victorian horror romance, written by Karen Essex.  You might remember this one from when I interviewed Essex during Dracula Week.

At this point in the novel, Mina Harker wakes find herself in an insane asylum while Doctors Seward and Van Helsinger prepare to perform experiments on her...

"I was in a somnolent state, in which the line between reality and hallucination was easily blurred, my mind alternating between the sweet sensations of my imagination and the faint sounds in the room – the tinkling glass and metal as Seward and Von Helsinger prepared for the procedure, words muttered between them in German, and the low, ambient hum of the asylum’s inmates.

All of a sudden, I felt a shift in the room, as if someone had made a surprise entrance, but through hazy eyes, I saw that the door was still closed. Von Helsinger’s alarmed voice barked exclamatory words to Seward in German, and Seward responded with a strange cry. I wanted to slip back into my reverie, but then something crashed to the floor, as if one of the doctors had dropped a thing made of glass. I opened my eyes again and in my dreamy state, I thought I saw a thick mist seeping through the shuttered window. Confused, wondering if this was part of a dream, I blinked my eyes and looked again. The two doctors – eyes wide with astonishment – stood frozen, watching the vapor as it swirled before them, growing in luminescence and intensity. Before our eyes, the numinous particles began to sculp into a form, and I thought that perhaps an angel ad come to save me.

Slowly the thing took shape. It was not an angel but a shimmering coat of silver fur, which gradually molded itself over great muscled haunches, its outer ends elongating into a bestial tail and head. My dream world collided with my reality as I watched the wolf dog I had seen in Whitby growl at Von Helsinger, backing him against a wall and baring his teeth at the incredulous doctor. Von Helsinger pressed himself against the wall, yelling something in German, and the beast lunged at him, pinning him with its thick paws. The treacherous canines were not an inch from Von Helsinger’s face. Seward tried to get the door, but the wolf dog turned around and, with preternatural speed, leapt on him from behind, sinking its teeth into the doctor’s back. Seward cried out in anguish as he pulled away, leaving some of his flesh in the animal’s mouth. Von Helsinger pushed Seward through the door, but before he could escape, the animal swiped at his face and neck, leaving sharp claw marks from check to throat. With a howl of agony, Von Helsinger grabbed his face and fell through the door after Seward, slamming it shut. I lay in bed paralyzed. The wolf dog jumped on the bed, straddling me, staring at me with its vivid indigo eyes. The last thing I remember seeing in that room was his huge incisors above my face, red and dripping with Seward’s blood." (pp 254-255 of the ARC)

Also, I am excited to tell you that the publisher, Doubleday, has offered a brand new paperback copy of the novel for Lions and Men to give away!  So here's the deal!

The giveaway will run from 10/06/2011 to 10/20/2011.  The winner will be drawn at random and will be announced on 10/21/2011.  US and Canada entrants only.  To enter and increase your chances of winning...

+1 entry:  Comment on this post and include your email address (required to enter)
+3 entries:  Become a follower, or tell me if you are a follower
+3 entries each:  Start following me on Twitter or on Goodreads, or tell me if you already do
+1 entry each:  Link to this post in a tweet, blog post, blog sidebar, Facebook, etc.  Be sure to include a link to your content in your comment.

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: The Call of Cthulhu, by H. P. Lovecraft

Title:  The Call of Cthulhu
Author:  H. P. Lovecraft
Genre:  Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Call of Cthulhu is one of H. P. Lovecraft's most popular works.  It features his most iconic creature of horror, and is the cornerstone of his entire mythos.  Let's uncover the terrifying madness contained within...

Cthulhu is written in the form of an old journal of a man named Francis Thurston.  After his great uncle's death, Francis discovers that he has come to inherit a body of work that attempts to piece together mysteries surrounding mass hysteria and violent cults.  Together with this information and his own investigation, Thurston describes the unspeakable horror that he uncovers.

The story is broken up into three parts.  Part One, The Horror In Clay, relates how Thurston's uncle investigates a period of a few weeks in which people began having horrific dreams of a slime-covered city rising out of the ocean.  Part Two, The Tale Of Inspector Lagrasse, is a second-hand tale of a police inspector's raid of a cult in the swamps around New Orleans.  The cultists worship a creature similar to the one seen by the troubled dreamers.  Part Three, The Madness From The Sea, is an interview with the widow of a man driven insane by what he saw while sailing on the ocean.

The Call of Cthulhu, like many other stories written by H. P. Lovecraft, works on the basis of plausible deniability. The story is told in such a way that the events that occur go unnoticed by the world.  A single character - in this case, Francis Thurston - stumbles upon cosmic mysteries of the universe before fading into obscurity.  The facts that might destroy the world if they got out are simply re-buried.  The world spins and humanity lives on unaware of the horrors that lurk under the surface.

That is what is so tragic about The Call of Cthulhu.  We, as the reader, are treated to the darkness within the world and then watch it slip through the cracks of common knowledge.  This dynamic adds ample tension to the story.  As Thurston stumbles upon each piece of the puzzle, it is both exciting and heartbreaking.

As a standalone tale, it is difficult to give this story an outstanding rating.  The characters aren't the most vivid, and not much happens until the very end of it.  However, I believe that the value of Lovecraft's work is much greater than the sum of its parts.  When considered as part of the whole, The Call of Cthulhu truly shines.  If you have any interest in Lovecraft, you would not be remiss to start here!

4 out of 5 tentacles!

This review is a part of Dueling Monsters 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Giveaway Results: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Thank you everyone for entering this giveaway!  The winner is....

Audra!  Congratulations!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Odd Passenger: An Odd Thomas Story

Odd Thomas, a novel written by Dead Koontz, was one of my favorite paranormal novels when I was younger. It tells the story of Odd (yes, that is his real name), a simple short order cook at a local diner that can also talk to dead people.  In so doing, he tries to bring them peace and prevent future violent acts.  In stead of simply posting a review, I wanted to share with you some video of a story that is based on the character of Odd Thomas.  I feel the following four episodes are a great representation of Odd Thomas, and should give you a good idea of the feel of the novel.

Odd Thomas is also being made into a full-length movie, due out in 2012!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: Deadline, by Mira Grant *SPOILERS OF FEED*

Title:  Deadline
Author:  Mira Grant
Genre:  Horror
Rating:  4 out of 5

This review contains spoilers of the first book in this series, Feed.  This review does NOT contain spoilers for Deadline.  I'm sorry folks, I know I said that I would not include spoilers in my reviews, but it is unavoidable in this case.  All of my feelings for the second book branch off of large events in the first book, and I would be unable to write a complete review if I did not refer to them directly.  If you have not yet read Feed, check out my spoiler-free review here.  If you want a spoiler-free review of Deadline, check out this review on Goodreads.  But, if you have read Feed or do not care about spoilers, click on "read more" below to continue!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Title:  The Strain
Authors:  Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Genre:  Horror
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

It's not every day that two well known names team up to write a novel.  Even more rare is to find a novel about vampires these days that is truly in the horror genre.  How does the first book of their trilogy measure up to this horror reader's expectations?

The Strain follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, an investigator for the CDC, as he tries to make sense of a devastatingly lethal outbreak surfacing in New York City.  It all begins when an airliner lands at the airport with all of its lights off, the shades all pulled down, and everyone on board dead.  Eph quickly learns that these individuals aren't deceased, but infected with a pathogen that turns them into blood sucking monsters.  Each night, the contagion spreads throughout the city.  Together with his CDC partner, a city exterminator, and a mysterious old pawn broker, Eph finds that they are on their own against a city full of vampires and a government conspiracy.

The Strain is an impressive mix of classical horror and science fiction.  The vampires are created by the introduction of a pathogen into an human's blood stream when they are attacked by one of the undead.  Because of this, and because the main characters work for the Centers for Disease Control, much of the book takes on a "cop drama" feel as they try to sort out the ultimate cause of the disease and how it is spread.  Sprinkled throughout are descriptions of the vampires feeding, which are truly horrific.

The strongest point of this book is the character development.  Two of the major characters have large back stories that really makes you root for them.  Eph is fighting to keep his son safe and the elderly Setrakian is trying to avenge the people he lost decades ago.  Even the victims of the vampires are all unique and colorfully depicted, something I didn't expect and was pleasantly surprised by.

I also loved the subtle nods to classic vampire lore that Del Toro and Hogan weave into their novel.  Many age-old myths (aversion to sunlight, inability to cross water, no reflection in a mirror, etc) are either incorporated or debunked as old wives tales.  Even the novel's opening scene, where a plane lands with everyone on board dead, is adapted from a scene in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  I'm happy that the authors recognized where their novel came from, and acknowledged its influences.

One thing that I wasn't exactly happy about was the depiction of the vampires.  I know that the authors wanted to get as far away from the "suave, romantic" vampires that plague literature lately, but I think they went too far.  The vampires are autonomous, shambling monsters that think of nothing other than spreading their disease.  Throughout most of the novel I felt like I was reading a book about zombies.  And although that isn't a bad thing in and of itself ("are vampires really that different from zombies?" you ask me incredulously), I think there is something much more scary about an enemy who is craft and intelligent.  For the most part, these vampires are just target practice for anyone with a silver sword or UV light.

With that being said, The Strain definitely lives up to the hype, and makes me look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lions and Men will be participating in Dueling Monsters 2011!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be participating in the Dueling Monsters event, which is hosted by Heather J. at Age 30+ Books and Jill at Fizzy Thoughts.

What is Dueling Monsters?  H. P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau are the two featured stories.  Any blogger can review one or both of the stories, and submit their links to Heather and Jill.  They will then post links to all of the reviews.

What does this mean to you?  First, you will get to read my reviews of The Island and Cthulhu before the end of October.  Second, you can go check out the host blogs on October 31st to check out EVERYONE's reviews!

Feel free to join, the more the merrier!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Jurassic Park, by Michael Chrichton

Title:  Jurassic Park
Author:  Michael Crichton
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5 velociraptors

Science can do some pretty crazy things.  When a man attempts to bring dinosaurs back from extinction, he risks the lives of everyone in the world. Jurassic Park is a modern classic of science fiction, mostly because of the success of the movie.  But what about the book that spawned that titanic beast of 90's pop culture?

Jurassic Park is a story about two paleontologists that are roped into taking a tour of a yet-to-be opened zoo that features dinosaurs as its main attraction.  Everything goes awry, however, when a greedy computer programmer sabotages the computer system in an attempt to get rich.  With the security fences down, the animals run loose and, well, I don't need to tell you much more than that.

Similar to The Princess Bride, I grew up watching Jurassic Park.  Over.  And over.  And over again.  After reading other works by Crichton, I decided to read the book.  I was nervous that it wouldn't live up to my expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The book is different from the movie in a thousand little ways, most of which are so minor that I don't even remember them a few weeks after finishing the novel.  Some of the ones that stand out are...
  • There is no romantic tension between Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler.  In the movie, there was always something unspoken about the two scientists' relationship.  In the book, this tension is nowhere to be seen.  Ellie is also about 20 years younger than Alan in the book.  I have to admit, I missed this in the book.
  • The book includes many scenes that were not in the movie.  These include Grant and the kids hiding behind a waterfall from the T-Rex and getting lost in a Pterodactyl cage.  I imagine the reason for the scenes being left out of the movie has to do with the technological limitations in 1993.  What is interesting is that analogs of both of these scenes wound up in subsequent sequels to the movie.
Apart from these differences, one notices that the novel goes much further into the science behind the park than the movie does.  Crichton goes to great lengths to try to make his tale believable.  Sure the science isn't really accurate, but hey!  We're talking about dinosaurs here.  The fact that the author tries is good enough for me, and I find it very interesting.  The flip side of this coin happens when Crichton goes to great lengths to describe computers.  Now keep in mind, Jurassic Park was written in 1990.  Back then, computers were a BIG DEAL.  Crichton takes time describing the appearance of computer consoles and the intricacies of DOS-like menus.  Exciting, right?  Maybe in 1990, but not nowadays.  But in some ways, that just adds to the charm of the novel.

A great part of the book is the development of the characters.  And although I had the image Sam Neill stuck in my head whenever I read chapters about Alan Grant, I was able to appreciate the character in a completely new and better way.  Many of the characters have very complicated back stories and emotions.  That alone is a good enough reason to pick up this book.

I had a great time reading Jurassic Park. it was half blast from the past and half brand new experience.

4 out of 5 velociraptors!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Hello friends!  After a long hiatus from blogging, I wanted to thank all of you for sticking with me.  And what better way than with a snazzy new giveaway?

From the back cover...

"While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation."

Also, check out my review of the book here.

This giveaway is for one hardcover copy of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, written by Seth Grahame-Smith.  The giveaway will run from 09/11/2011 to 09/26/2011.  Please, United States entrants only.  The following is a list of how you can enter the giveaway and increase your chances of winning:

+1 entry:  Comment on this post and include your email address (required to enter)
+3 entries:  Become a follower, or tell me if you are a follower
+3 entries each:  Start following me on Twitter or on Goodreads, or tell me if you already do
+1 entry each:  Link to this post in a tweet, blog post, blog sidebar, Facebook, etc.  Be sure to include a link to your content in your comment.

Good luck everyone!

First Impressions and Book Trailer: The Strain, by Del Toro and Hogan

In a world where romantic and suave vampires are the norm, it is quite refreshing (from a horror blogger's point of view anyway) to come across a book that features terrifying and ruthless undead.  Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan promise to deliver that with their novel The Strain.  

A mix between CSI and Dracula, The Strain is shaping up to be a great read.  It has mystery, a compelling protagonist, and a slew of horrible blood thirsty monsters marauding New York City.  Expect a review soon, and until then, watch these great videos, including two book trailers!

A word of caution:  Some of the movies have a bit of strong language.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Movie Reviews: The War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005)

We have already looked at The War of the Worlds novel and the radio broadcast.  Today, I'd like to share with you two movies based on the novel.  One was made in 1953 and the other was made in 2005.  Both of these movies were loosely based on the novel in that they take the events that occur in the novel but follow different characters during those events.  Also, they events take place in different areas.

Title:  The War of the Worlds
Year:  1953
Director:  Byron Haskin
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5 heat rays

This was the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel.  Dr. Clayton Forrester befriends Sylvia Van Buren at the site of the first Martian landing, and we follow them during the assault on the Earth.

This movie feels a lot different from the novel.  The novel focused more on the individual during the alien invasion.  However, Dr. Forrester spends a lot of time talking to government officials and generals in the field.  This gives the movie a much heavier feel.

There are a few parts of the book that I wish the movie incorporated.  The first has to do with the Martians using human blood as food.  This fact paints them in a much more terrifying light.  There is something much more foreboding about humanity being captured and held prisoner as a food source compared to simply being destroyed.  The second point that I missed was the focus on the hysteria that the citizens of the world feel when the planet is invaded.  The only time the movie mentions this is in a small montage, which is disappointing since it was a big part of the novel.

Finally, I need to talk about the special effects.  I'm sure they looked amazing back in the 50's, and there is nothing wrong with old school scifi.  However, the limitations of technology unfortunately altered points of the story.  For instance, instead of large tripods, the aliens ride around in what look like spaceships.  I imagine this is because moving legs would have been to hard to animate.

In all, The War of the Worlds may not be the best movie, but it definitely has a certain charm about it.  Check out the trailer!


Year:  2005
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5 lightning bolts

In 2005, another film was made based on H.G. Wells' classic.  Dock worker Ray Ferrier struggles to protect his two children as the aliens invade New York.

Spielberg took many more liberties with the story than the 1953 movie did.  First of all, the term "Martian" is never mentioned in the movie, and in fact Spielberg said that his aliens didn't even come from Mars.  Instead, they come from a place much more far away and malevolent.

Also, instead of the aliens crash landing on our planet because of the fact that the habitat on their planet was inconducive to life (as in the book), we quickly learn that the tripods were buried under the Earth - possibly millions of years ago.  This makes the motives of the aliens feel much more sinister.  Instead of fighting to survive in a new environment, they are taking back what they believed to be theirs all along using as much force as necessary.

One of the things that I loved most about the movie is the focus on the individuals and the mass hysteria that the invasion caused.  Instead of a famous scientists being the main protagonist (as in the 1953 version), we follow the journey of a middle class guy and his two kids.  They are forced to fight for their lives against the aliens and the humans.  And yes, the threat from their fellow man is just as real as the extraterrestrials.  What would happen if someone had the only working car in the country?  Or if there was only so much space on a ferry that was leaving an alien infested area?  When people's lives are threatened, there is no telling what they will do.

If you are a fan of Wells' novel, then I think you will enjoy this movie.  It is similar enough to appease die-hard fans, and fresh enough to feel new and exciting.  Check out the preview!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spotlight: The War of the Worlds Broadcast of 1938

The year was 1938 - 40 years after H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was originally published.  On the evening of October 30th, families tuned into their radio programs just in time to hear of a horrible alien invasion taking place in New Jersey and New York City...  At least that's what many listeners thought.  In reality, what they were listening to was simply a dramatization based on The War of the Worlds.

In the 1930's, CBS had been regularly airing a theatrical radio show called Mercury Theatre on the Air.  One of the masterminds behind this radio show was actor Orson Wells.  Every week, Wells and his company of actors would put on shows for their radio listeners.  On that October evening, Wells decided to put on a show based on The War of the Worlds.  It begins with an introduction taken from the novel, and is presented as a series of news broadcasts in which a Martian invasion occurs in New Jersey.

Many of the families listening to the broadcast, however, were confused and thought that the invasion was actually happening and that they were listening to actual news broadcasts.  This confusion was due to a few different factors.  The first is that Wells' show only mentioned the fact that it was fiction three times throughout the hour-long broadcast:  once at the very beginning, once 40 minutes in, and once at the end.  So anyone that missed the beginning of the show would have had no idea of its true nature.  This was compounded due to the fact that many people missed the first 10-12 minutes of the show because they were listening to another show that was airing concurrently on ABC.  By the time that they changed the dial to CBS, they were lost.

Listen to the entire broadcast!!!

Although many events have not been confirmed, there were supposedly many cases of fear and hysteria on the part of the ignorant listeners.  People could swear that they smelled the poisonous gas that the Martians were spreading across the country.  Some people were terrified to leave their homes, while others swarmed to the site of the supposed Martian landing.  There is also a story that a group of armed individuals shot at a water tower, thinking that it was a Martian tripod.  The New York Times published an article describing the chaos and fallout:

After the night of the radio broadcast, the public became irate.  They believed that Orson Wells intentionally deceived the listeners.  Neither CBS nor Mercury Theater on the Air were officially punished, and the entire fiasco served to propel Orson Wells to fame.

Orson Wells' reaction to the supposed hysteria his show caused...

I hope you enjoyed this look into one of the greatest "hoaxes" in history!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review - The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells

Title:  The War of the Worlds
Author:  H.G. Wells
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5 tripods

The War of the Worlds is one of the most evocative science fiction novels of all time.  It is also one of H.G. Wells' most popular works.

The War of the Worlds takes place in England in the late 1800s.  It describes a series of events in which intelligent beings from Mars come to Earth.  Their technology and weapons far outclass our own, and all they have on their minds is complete and utter domination of the human race.  They do not want to destroy our world:  rather, they want to take it over and use us as food.  Reduced to nothing more than glorified cattle, man kind is tasked with the most difficult objective yet:  to stay alive in the face of overwhelming odds.

This novel is written in the first perspective, from the view of an educated writer of philosophy.  I have said it in other reviews, but I am a big fan of the first-person view in science fiction and horror novels.  The fact that the reader is limited in their knowledge to what the narrator knows greatly increases the suspense.  There are two points in the novel in which this scheme changes, however.  Instead of the narrator describing his journey, he talks about the journey of his brother in London.  Although these sections are just as enjoyable, ping-ponging between characters decreases the immersion one feels when reading the book.

One of the most interesting aspects of The War of the Worlds is the way in which the Martians are described, and the manner with which they take over the world.  The aliens are not depicted as an all-knowing and all-powerful race.  On the contrary, they have evolved to be the most dominant species on Mars, a planet with a completely different set of environmental obstacles than Earth.  For example, the gravity on Mars is only a third of that on Earth, so the Martians are sluggish on our planet - their breathing shallow and labored.  However, they compensate for their weak physical stature with their technology.

And that is where War of the Worlds comes into its own as a depiction of a terrifying scenario.  The aliens erect gigantic metallic tripods, capable of razing entire cities.  They unleash a devastating "heat ray" on humans, which instantly turns them into a blazing corpse.  Finally, they shoot canisters of dense, poisonous black smoke, which kills anyone unlucky enough to breathe it in.  What is most horrifying is that the Martians use humans as food - collecting our blood and transfusing into their veins for sustenance.

The reaction of the humans in Wells' vision is also very interesting.  At first, people are curious about the extra-terrestrials.  Then, they become defensive and attempt to destroy them with force.  When force proves useless, all of humanity erupts into a mass hysteria - people flee, loots stores, and trample their neighbors underneath carriages and trains.  The War of the Worlds is more than just a silly science fiction book about aliens.  It is a kind of thought experiment about how Earth would react to such an event.

This brings us to the conclusion of the book, and although I will not spoil anything, I must admit that the ending has always seemed a bit like a cop-out to me.  It is as if Wells wrote himself into a corner, and without any other options, he elects to take the easy way out in order to supply us with a satisfying conclusion.

The War of the Worlds is one of the most entertaining science fiction novels that I have read in a long time!

5 out of 5 tripods!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Title:  The Princess Bride (S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure)
Author:  William Goldman
Genre:  Fantasy / Fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Rodents Of Unusual Size

"Fencing.  Fighting.  Torture.  Poison.  True love.  Hate.  Revenge.  Giants.  Hunters.  Bad men.  Good men.  Beautifulest ladies.  Snakes.  Spiders.  Beasts of all natures and descriptions.  Pain.  Death.  Brave men.  Coward men.  Strongest men.  Chases.  Escapes.  Lies.  Truths.  Passion.  Miracles."

All of this and more can be found within the pages of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.  I grew up watching the movie of the same name, and recently decided to read the novel it was based on.  Doing so was a bitter-sweet experience, however...

First:  A disclaimer.  On the front cover and throughout the book, we are lead to believe that The Princess Bride was written by a man named S. Morgenstern, and that William Goldman is simply taking this long novel and abridging it, cutting out the bland parts and leaving only "the good bits".  This is not true.  There is no such person as S. Morgenstern.  There is no "original" version of The Princess Bride, so don't waste your time looking.  I know I did...  Because of this writing style, which I will discuss later on, I feel that I must review this book in two parts.  The first part will be a review of "what S. Morgenstern wrote" (again, he neither exists nor wrote anything).  This includes all of the True Love and High Adventure that the movie was based on.  The second part will be a review of the annotations and comments that William Goldman writes throughout the novel (apart from the actual novel - the entirety of which, once again, he wrote).  Confused yet?  Excellent, let's begin...

The Princess Bride tells the story of Buttercup (the most beautiful woman in the world) and Westley (a poor farm boy, formerly in the employ of Buttercup's father) as they fight to be together in a world that they quickly learn is unfair.  Buttercup, being the most beautiful woman in the world, is forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, the rotten prince of Florin.  Before the wedding, however, she is kidnapped by a giant Turk named Fezzik, a masterful fencing Spaniard named Inigo, and an evil mastermind named Vizzini.  Vizzini plans to start a war by framing a neighboring country with Buttercup's death and enraging the Prince and Florin.  However, all of this begins to unravel when a mysterious man in black shows up.

This story combines solid characters, beautifully conceived settings, and a great plot.  In terms of characters, in the first few chapters, we get to see how Buttercup behaves in her younger years.  It seems she was not always a charming little princess.  She was once a spoiled girl who only enjoyed tormenting the local farm boy and riding her horse.  The characters of Fezzik and Inigo are also really fleshed out.  Each has their own chapter which discusses the circumstances of their employment with the evil Vizzini.  Throughout the novel, these foundations are built upon and the characters all change before the reader's eyes.  The settings of this novel are also great.  Locations such as the Cliffs of Insanity, the Fire Swamp, and the Zoo of Death are all as colorful as their names suggest.  Finally, in terms of the plot, all I can say is that The Princess Bride really is a "Tale of True Love and High Adventure".

If I were simply reviewing the tale that "S. Morgenstern wrote", or perhaps the movie (which was incredibly faithful to the book), my review would end there with a great 5 out of 5 rating.  Unfortunately, because of the way in which Goldman wrote the novel, I need to continue...

As I alluded to earlier, I spent a lot of time trying to track down the original version of this novel by S. Morgenstern.  I've never been one to read abridged versions of novels.  It is my belief that if the author wrote something, it was meant to be read.  I found my further research very frustrating, and eventually discovered that I held the original version in my hand, and that Goldman used this "abridgment" business as a literary device.

Instead of just "abridging" the novel, however (which I would think just involves cutting passages out), Goldman includes a page or two of his own thoughts every time he makes a cut.  Sometimes he criticizes Morgenstern, other times he asks the reader rhetorical questions, still other times he insults his publishers or makes fun of his overweight child.  That's right.  Whether or not Goldman really hates his publishers or really has an overweight child, he uses this literary device to cut into some of the most action-packed scenes to give us snippets of his "life".

The purpose of this is beyond me.  Perhaps it is to make The Princess Bride more unique.  After all, I have never read another book that did this. However, in a stroke of irony, these cuts perform the opposite of what an abridgment should be.  Instead of cutting out boring passages, they interrupt the flow of the novel.  Instead of leaving the "good bits", Goldman's device includes needless passages that I just want to skip over.  Perhaps this irony is what Goldman was trying to accomplish all along, but that still doesn't change the fact that the story would be better without it.

Finally, my version of the novel (ISBN 0-345-34803-6) contains "the first chapter of the long-lost sequel, Buttercup's Baby".  Note:  There is no such thing as a full sequel entitled Buttercup's Baby.  Much like the novel, Goldman pretends to abridge the first chapter of the non-existent sequel written by the non-existent Morgenstern.  Although Goldman once stated that he would have liked to write a full version of Buttercup's Baby, he said he could never do it.  Do you want my advice?  Don't read it.  It is a confusing mess that only leaves the reader underwhelmed at the end of the novel.  Actually, don't read any of Goldman's annotations.  Actually, you're probably better off just watching the movie, as this condenses all of the author's nonsense into a true "good bits" version.  The flimsy literary device employed in the novel gets a disappointing rating of 2 out of 5, which averages out to...

3.5 out of 5 Rodents Of Unusual Size.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Title:  The Time Machine
Author:  H.G. Wells
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5 carnivorous albinos

The Time Machine is a classic of science fiction and a pioneering novel in the sub-genre of time travel.  Truly, if one thought of the epitome of a time travel book, this would be it.  Let's take a trip back in time to uncover the novel that sparked millions of imaginations.

The Time Machine, published in 1895, was H.G. Wells' first novel.  The book is broken up into two parts.  The first of which is narrated by a man that was invited to the house of the time traveler.  During the meeting, he describes how the Traveler attempts to tell them all how he has invented a time machine, and how he describes the fourth dimension (time).  The second part is a retelling of the events that occurred after the Traveler went forward in time.  In the second part, the Traveler meets the beautiful Eloi and the horrifying subterranean Morlocks, both of which are the end result of human evolution.

The way the novel is written uses a narrative style that I have grown to like lately.  Namely, a first person account of what ANOTHER character says.  This makes it seem like the narrator may have gotten some of the facts wrong, and that some elements of the story might have been embellished or left out.  The sense of mystery this gives the reader makes reading novels such as these all the more exciting.

The descriptions in this book, especially of things in the future, are very vivid.  The Traveler travels to the far distant future where society as we know it is destroyed and nature has reclaimed most of our space.  Wells' characters are beautifully described as well.  Even the few action scenes keep you on the edge of your seat.

At the heart of The Time Machine are the Eloi and Morlocks.  The Eloi are small, weak, and spend their days loafing in the sun and eating fruits.  Their lives would be perfect, if it were not for the fact that the terrible Morlocks - with their white fur and insatiable appetites - emerge from under the ground during new moons and feast on the Eloi's flesh.  This is meant to be a warning against the stratification of the upper and middle classes that was present event in Wells' time.  He supposes that if they become further and further separated in a socioeconomic fashion, that the classes would eventually split of biologically, and yield two species.  The upper class would become the Eloi and the middle and lower classes would become the Morlocks.

Although this is a satisfying comparison to make, it represents one of my biggest problems with the book.  The problem is that the comparison isn't subtle or hinted at.  On the contrary, the Traveler spells everything out for the reader.  To me, it ruined the immersion when the author basically shouts at me:  "Watch out!  This is the moral of the story!  Listen up!"

Also, whether it is because of Wells' preoccupation with this moral or simply because he didn't consider it, the Traveler never goes back in time.  And although the novel stands perfectly well without it, I cave come to love time travel for the ways in which one can alter the past and present.

In all, The Time Machine is a marvel of science fiction.  H.G. Wells is the real deal - check this one out!

4 out of 5 carnivorous albinos!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Time Travel in Games: Chrononauts

Today, I want to share with you all one of my favorite card games:  Chrononauts.  Made by a small company called Looney Labs, Chrononauts is a game for two to six players.  In it, each player assumes the role of a time traveler with a unique mission.  You must battle against the other time travelers in order to alter the time space continuum to your liking, all the while amassing a fortune of artifacts from the past and the future to aid you.

The genius of this game is directly related to the Timeline:  a set of cards arranged in a grid that represent important events between the years 1865 and 1999.  By using certain cards called Inverters, time travelers are able to change major events and cause ripples through time.  These ripples paradoxes that must be repaired in order for the time traveler to set the timeline to how he likes it, and win the game.

The Timeline

For example:  On August 1st, 1936, Germany hosts the summer Olympics.  What if a time traveler went back in time and assassinated Hitler at the opening ceremonies?  This would cause ripples in time that would change may things, including World War II.

The concept of the Timeline makes playing this game a truly visceral experience, and really gives the player a feeling that he is altering events that have real repercussions on others.  Players also have secret missions that revolve around them collecting certain artifacts.  If a time traveler completes this mission, they can win the game.  Artifacts can come from the past or the future, and include things like a Cure for Cancer, the Lost Ark of the Covenant, a Live Stegosaurus, and a Videotape of the Creation of the Universe.  These artifacts add a certain humorous flare to the game, and keep the atmosphere very light.

The final way in which a player can win is if they repair paradoxes in the timeline (which are created when time travelers muck around with time-space).  However, travelers must always be cautious - if there are 13 or more paradoxes at any given time, the Timeline will collapse on itself and everyone will lose!

Although Chrononauts may sound complicated, it is a simple game at heart, and does not take a lot of time to learn.  It provides a great amount of entertainment (games last around 30 minutes), and also has a lot of educational value.  If you are a fan of games and/or time travel, check this one out!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review Double Feature: The Anubis Gates and The Time Traveler's Wife

Today we will be taking a look at two other books about time travel.  I reviewed The Anubis Gates, written by Tim Powers, last year, and I am going to refeature it here because of its relevance.  Also, Heather over at The Maiden's Court has read and reviewed The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which I will also share with you.  So, without further adieu...


Title:  The Anubis Gates
Author:  Tim Powers
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  3.75 out of 5 body-snatching werewolves

The cover of The Anubis Gates touts Powers' novel as a "classic of time travel".  Between this statement and the less-than-subtle inclusion of Egyptian themes, I became hooked and brought the book home.  Does it measure up to expectations?  Yes and no.

The Anubis Gates follows the life of Brendan Doyle as he meets up with an eccentric millionaire and travels back to 1810 to watch a speech made by author/poet Samuel Coleridge.  In so doing, Doyle gets involved with bands of murderous street beggars and ancient Egyptian sorcerers.

In short, The Anubis Gates is so packed to the brim with science fiction and fantasy elements that Powers is sometimes unable to juggle them all well.  My favorite thing about time travel stories is how the characters' muddling in the past affects their present.  And although this can be seen by the end of the book, I was less than impressed with the "time" element for most of it.  The main character time traveled, yes, but then the novel seemed to switch over to simple misadventures in 19th century London.  Instead of going heavy into time travel, Powers introduces theories such as Egyptian sorcery, cloning, and body-snatching werewolves.

Throughout all of these crazy plot points, the character of Brendan Doyle develops in a mostly predictable pattern (preoccupied academic learns that it is better to live life rather than study it) and the villains just don't feel evil enough.

In reading The Anubis Gates, I was certain that I was going to give it a rating of 3 or under.  However, in the end, I was pleased with how all of the seemingly disjointed SFF elements were brought together.  Some of the plot points were predictable, but that didn't make them any less fun to read about.  Ultimately, I couldn't decide on either a 3.5 or a 4 rating for this one, so I averaged them.

Is The Anubis Gates an epic knock-your-socks-off time travel adventure?  Not quite.  Although a fun read, there were too many ideas to sift through to make any one shine.  This one may or may not be worth the time, depending on what you are expecting.

3.75 out of 5 body-snatching werewolves.


The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Paperback, 546 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
May 27, 2004

“When Henry meets Clare, he is twenty-eight and she is twenty. Henry has never met Clare before; Clare has known Henry since she was six. Impossible but true, because Henry finds himself periodically displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. Henry and Clare's attempts to live normal lives are threatened by a force they can neither prevent nor control, making their passionate love story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable. The Time Traveler's Wife is a story of fate, hope and belief, and more than that, it's about the power of love to endure beyond the bounds of time.”

Henry DeTamble is just your thirtysomething average guy – he’s a librarian, is in a relationship, and likes to go out and have a few drinks – except he time travels at any given moment and leaves a pile of clothes behind, and when he comes back he is absolutely naked!

Clare Abshire is your average little girl – she has picnics in the meadow, goes to school, and lives in a huge house – except a naked older man shows up in the meadow one day and tells her he’s a time traveler!

The first time Clare meets Henry he is time traveling – 14 years later she meets him in his present time. A romance grows between them and Henry and Clare attempt to work out a life together dealing with his time traveling.

For me, this was my first book that really involved time travel. Henry couldn’t control his time traveling and never knowing when it was going to happen always made for interesting occasions. Also, showing up somewhere naked can really put a cramp in trying to go unnoticed - it can also end up being quite dangerous. One of the things that I enjoyed about this novel was that we get to see how time traveling effects those that Henry loves - the fear that comes with not knowing if he will come back ok. I think this is the first time I ever thought of time travel as something where you could get hurt and not return in the same condition in which you left. The time travel aspect was integrated into the folds of the story entirely - it never felt like it was just thrown in there for kicks.

With all of this time traveling, occasionally it was difficult to keep track of where in time he was and what he should or should not know at this time. As stated in the blurb above - Henry meets Clare when she is 6 and he is much older - so she has known him her whole life, but for Henry, time is not linear so he sometimes is very confused as to what he knows.

I was dreading the end of this book as it approached. I became so attached to Clare and Henry that I didn’t want it to end. I must warn you, this book is a tear jerker – at several points throughout the book. I absolutely loved this book. The characters are so real, true events are used, and the basic rules of time travel are addressed as well. The 600 pages just flew by! The book is also written in a humorous way – just wait for the part about Henry’s dreams, I couldn’t stop laughing.

This novel does have many romance elements but it isn’t the main focus and I would recommend this to anyone – men and women alike – everyone will find something to enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

I hope you enjoyed reading about these two time travel novels!