Thursday, January 20, 2005

Fiction Help

The problem with a lot of military-oriented fiction (science fiction, technothrillers, mystery novels, etc.) is that it is written by people who have no experience in the military and are too lazy to do the basic research. (This is especially true of television!)

Luckily, there are some ways of correcting this!

(With thanks to Winchell Chung for passing this and many other interesting odds and ends along!)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Later Tales of H.G. Wells

The latest contribution to the year's reading is a slim volume by H.G. Wells, The Croquet Player (Bison Frontiers of Imagination Series from the University of Nebraska Press, 2004). Weighing in at 109 pages (if you include the "scholarly" afterword by John Huntington), it can barely be called a novel.

The story seems pretty simple at first. A somewhat vacant middle to upper class Englishman, the Croquet Player of the title, is spending some time at a resort. He strikes up a conversation with another guest and learns something that changes his life. The other guest, a doctor, claims to be from a English village called Cainsmarsh. He bought a practice there hoping to get away from the stress of life in London. However, he notices a number of strange things. There seems to be a abnormally high use of various drugs there. There are a number of suicides. There have been a few murders. People do odd things like abuse animals and children.

What is going on? Various people advance theories. One local priest feels that its due to the archaeologists digging up the remains and stirring up ghosts. A local curator of the museum feels that people have been burst from the frame of time and are horrified by the realization of a immensely long history and a equally long future. The doctor starts to feel the pressure of the place and is haunted by the image of a prehistoric skull he saw at the local museum.

Later, the Croquet Player encounters a therapist that is treating the doctor. The therapist tells him that there's no such place as Cainsmarsh. True, there have been incidents of abuse and death, but all over England, not just one area. The therapist seems to feel that these are problems affecting the whole world.

The book ends with the Croquet Player taking an interest in world events as he never did before...having trouble sleeping...being haunted by images...

It is a slim book. The writing is somewhat sparse. But Wells manages to convey a lot of atmosphere in this slim book. There are echoes of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft here, as well as British author William Hope Hodgson. (And oddly enough, I foresee the spare but effective writing of a later British author of speculative fiction, one Arthur C. Clarke.)

So what is going on in Cainsmarsh? Is it the spirit of Cain as one person asserts? The ghosts of our prehistoric past? I was struck by the concept of being burst from the frame of time and wonder if Wells was feeling "future shock" long before Alvin Toeffler coined the phrase.
The Motion of Light in Water

Re-read this one because I was trying to do an essay on Delany (still trying!). As good the second time around as it was the first.
The Star Conquerors

I first read this book by Ben Bova as a kid. It's a volume in the wonderful John C. Winston science fiction series for young adults and one of the hardest to find. Bova took the setting in this one and extended it for several more books. Many of those have been reprinted, but for some reason he has refused to allow this volume to come into print again (driving those collector's prices even higher). Set in the future where the small collection of Earth-centered worlds is fighting a losing battle against a mysterious enemy, Bova bases the story on a number of historical events (such as Alexander's conquest of the "known world"). Good space action, some interesting characters and a gripping story (even for a "young adult" book). Come on, Ben, bring it back into print!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Islands of Space

Following up on some reading last year, my first completed book of 2005 (and no doubt will not be the last book I read, or even the last book I read by Campbell!) was Islands of Space, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

I won't repeat most of what I said in the previous posting, take a look there for the general comments on style, history, etc. In this installment of the saga of Arcot, Wade and Morey, our heroes keep themselves busy. Building on the success of their interplanetary ship, the Solarite, they decide to go one better and build a interstellar ship, the Ancient Mariner. Incorporating all of the various inventions of the first book (an invisibility ray, a heat ray, a molecular motion ray) and a couple of fantastic materials, they build their ship, stock it, and take off for parts unknown.

Their first stop is a brief fly-by past Sirius, where they discover that the inhabitants of the Black Star have kicked Sirius B out of its orbit and taken up residence there. They then move out, and start to visit the Islands of Space, or other galaxies. Several adventures occur, each more fantastic than the previous (and include incidents such as tossing stars together and getting involved in another interplanetary war).

But enough about that. Let's talk about the biggest problem with the series. What about Fuller? Who's Fuller? Well, Arcot, Wade and Morey are the scientists. They come up with the new concepts and the initial clunky invention. Fuller, however is the engineer. Think of him as an early version of Scotty (from Star Trek), without the accent. Fuller is the one that takes Arcot's wild ideas and badly executed designs and turns them into useable finished products.

It is clear in the course of Islands of Space that Arcot, Wade and Morey should be Arcot, Wade, Morey and Fuller, as Fuller is there to execute ideas, cook food, and generally keep Our Boys out of trouble!

So let's hear it for the unsung hero of the series: Fuller!