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!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Time Travel in Music: Broken Bride, by Ludo

Time travel is a very popular topic of science fiction novels, but what about music?  Although a quick Google search yields a few quirky videos, I was able to find something much more epic for you all.

The little known rock band Ludo, which specializes in songs laced with heaping doses of geek humor, has released a five-song "mini album" about time travel.  In the rock opera, entitled Broken Bride, a nameless time traveler invents a machine and flies through time in order to save his deceased wife from a fatal accident.

Each song has a different feel to it, which reinforces the feeling of traveling through time.  From up-beat pop to more heavy rock and roll, Broken Bride spans multiple genres and generations.  I have embedded a player with the songs below.  The album is less than 30 minutes long, so if you love time travel, you should definitely give it a listen!  A quick summary of the songs will follow.

Part I:  Broken Bride.     A song sung to the Traveler's lost love.  In it, he describes how she died, and what he has done to try to save her.  It appears he has overshot his destination and crash landed in a world filled with dinosaurs, tar pits, and glaciers.  This song really has an epic feel, and its fast pace gives the listener a sense of urgency similar to what the Traveler must be feeling

Interlude:  Save Our City.     This time, we are treated to a glimpse into the future.  There is a conflict between the mayor of the City, the king he has aligned himself to, and a mysterious "tyrant god".  Zombies wander the streets and devour the helpless citizens.  One young boy travels to the mayor to plead for him to help.  The Traveler doesn't actually appear in this song.

Part II:  Tonight's The Night.     This peppy song returns us to the Traveler's plight, as he once again recounts the loss of his wife.  The up-beat lyrics and music of this song makes it clear that Part II actually takes place BEFORE Part I.  The optimistic Traveler lays out his plans to save his wife.  Little does he know the hardships he will face in trying to get back to her.

Part III:  The Lamb And The Dragon.  The Traveler has done it this time...  It seems he has flown to the future - one many years after the events of Save Our City.  It is clear now that the conflict has escalated, and the Apocalypse is almost upon humanity.  A band of rebellious humans has conspired to release a dragon, to fight the "tyrant god" who is now trying to destroy the world.  At the end of the song, the Traveler's machine is destroyed.  He speaks to what appear to be angels, and asks for a miracle to see his wife just once more...

Part IV:  Morning In May.  The Traveler wakes up in his bed, only to find his living, breathing wife laying next to him.  In this bitter sweet conclusion, the Traveler learns that he was never able to change the past, and that this morning in May really will be the last time he sees his love...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: The Map of Time, by Felix J. Palma

Title:  The Map of Time
Author:  Felix J. Palma
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  2 out of 5 attempts to change the past

The Map of Time, by Felix J. Palma, is one of the more recent novels to be welcomed into the genre of time travel. I love anything that has to do with time travel, so I quickly picked this one up to read during the summer. The front cover says that it is “a brilliant and breathtaking trip”, unfortunately, this reviewer doesn’t believe that the Map lives up to the hype.

The Map of Time is broken up into three parts, each one telling a different time-travel-themed tale. These stories are interconnected, however. Characters and events from each affect the others in unforeseen ways. The first part recounts the journey of Andrew Harrington, who begins the tale in the throes of depression, and resorts to traveling through time to right the wrongs of his past. The second part deals with a love story between the well-to-do Clair Haggerty and the brave Captain Shackleton which breaks through the time-space-continuum and defies all laws of physics. The third relates the exploits of H.G. Wells (real-life author of The Time Machine) as he tackles the ramifications of traveling through time.

This format, though successful for other books, did not work for me. The events outlined in the exciting plot synopsis that is printed in the jacket (something we all consider when searching for great books, am I right?) are mysteriously nowhere to be seen for the first 500 pages of the book. I felt as though I was forced to wade through characters and plots that I didn’t really care about – just to reach something that I believe resembled the novel that I paid for. Unfortunately, by that point, the remainder of this “novel” was only fifty pages or so.

Along the way, the characters that we meet do little to hold our interest. They seem flat, bland, and all together devoid of life. They all seem to be whining or complaining about one thing or another, and they didn’t inspire anything resembling empathy in this reader’s skeptical heart.

Palma’s choice to set his novel in Victorian London also had me underwhelmed. 19th century England is such a lush and colorful setting, but the author neglects to use it to his advantage. For the most part, any of the plot points could have happened in any time period. For a novel that is supposed to be about time and time travel, one would have hoped that the actual time period would have played more of a role. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

All of this could have been forgiven, however, if the plot was solid and intriguing. When reading a novel about time travel, I want the story to be lush and multilayered, in which all possible repercussions of traveling through time are considered. Palma, however, gives only a passing glance at the intricacies of time travel, and seems to only focus on random aspects that suit his needs at the time. Truly, most of the plot points felt contrived and ultimately unnecessary. Characters often make extreme (and illogical) jumps of logic, only to move the story forward.  Palma's supposed plot twists, as opposed to being exciting, are merely disappointing, and change the novel from bad to worse.

With so many excellent science fiction and time travel novels out there, I find it hard to dig up much I liked about The Map of Time. Perhaps the only bright spot is the character of H.G. Wells. He has a part in each of the three stories, and is ultimately the protagonist of the whole mess. However, when added to the rest of the novel, his inclusion seems only to serve as a desperate grab at a bit of “science fiction notoriety”, which Palma seriously lacks.

2 out of 5 attempts to change the past.