Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The master of anti-climax

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Okay so I must admit, I was hesitant to read another Clarke novel after I read 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then I learned that Clarke wrote that in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick as they were making the film version. A proto-multimedia event, so to speak. I guess that was all the rage in the '60s. Anyways, that made me feel a little better about attempting another of Clarke's book and I decided to go with a rather short one as well.

So Childhood's End is basically the story of the Earth and its development from the time that an alien race arrives and basically takes control of the planet to the point where the aliens leave because their mission was complete. Topics include alien invasion, colonial psychology, space exploration, human evolution, and last human psychology.

Through reading this novel I have come to regard Clarke as a master short story teller. He clearly had hundreds of ideas for short stories because he uses about 7 or 8 in this 200 page book. This trait was apparent in 2001 also but not to the same extent. Here there is no central storyline, just several separate stories that do not necessarily influence each other in any way. Only the overarching background of the "colonized Earth" ties all of the stories together. Clarke also seems to be a master at anti-climacticness. Every time it felt like the plot was reaching a huge, life-altering turning point, building excitement and suddenly just petered out and nothing actually happened or the change wasn't important or something else. Seriously, how does Clarke do that so consistently? It takes talent...I guess.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day of the Triffids

Day of the Triffids (1951) by John Wyndham

This is your regular post-apocalyptic novel infused with heavy doses of Cold War paranoia. As you can see it was written in 1951 when nuclear bombs were on everyone's minds. However, Wyndham actually avoids the nuclear trope fairly well and instead focuses on satellite missiles which must have been a pretty new, if not still theoretical, technology at the time of writing.

The narrator finds himself in a world where most everyone has gone blind. Through a convenient accident he is not blind and he soon finds others who are not as well. Despite this happening overnight society has suddenly collapsed with only rare semblances of it's former self. Thus we get a good glimpse of survival ethics and psychology as the narrator bounces around London trying not to get sick or murdered. To add to the fun there are also the triffids. These strange plants appeared out of nowhere and slowly began exhibiting signs of intelligence. Humans being humans, they just ignored the triffids unless they caused a direct problem. Now that most people are blind the triffids decide to take over the world, something that seems fairly easy for them.

Despite the fact that it is supposedly their "day" not much time is spent examining the menace of the triffids. It almost seems an afterthought really. The climax of the book comes and goes without resolution of the triffid problem. In fact, the characters place much of the blame for the current situation on the arms race and the selfishness and insecurity of nations. A very biting book at the time, I am sure.

For someone quite removed from the Cold War mentality this conclusion only serves to amplify the convenience of the triffid problem. Okay, so if they aren't an alien species bent on world domination and had nothing to do with causing the blindness pandemic then where did they come from? What's their motivation? Why did they suddenly start breaking loose and rampaging about London the very day after people lost their sight? Too many questions left unanswered for my liking, but I probably would've overlooked those and been affected more by the message had I read it when it was first published.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Okay, here's a movie review to tide you over until I finish my next book.

Lonestar (1996) written and directed by John Sayles.

So I admit, I enjoy Westerns, which is why I picked this one up. It has a similar basic premise to Thunderheart (1992); modern day western small town setting, mysterious death, law officer exploring his own past. It worked for Val Kilmer, right?

Lonestar stars Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson in all of 15 minutes of the film. Chris Cooper is the actual main character of Sam Deeds who just recently returned to his hometown to be the sheriff. Some evidence surfaces that puts into question the events of the past, specifically the disappearance of Sheriff Wade and the elevation of Deeds' father from deputy to sheriff, all 20-30 years previous.

As Sam Deeds investigates this possible murder from the past he uncovers a lot about his own past that had been kept secret by the various townspeople through the years. Unfortunately, this fascinating whodunnit story ends in a startling revelation, not only of what actually happened to Sheriff Wade but also that Deeds unwittingly committed incest earlier in the film. For some reason, this fact does not appear to be a big deal to those involved; almost as if it is an acceptable situation in Texas. Or maybe it's not, but the final scene sure doesn't leave you believing otherwise. Very disturbing, indeed.

One thing that Lonestar does well (and often) is pan transitions. The entire story is interspersed with scenes of past events and the transitions between past and present and present and past are quite awesome. Overall, the movie is really good. Aside from the whole ickiness factor, of course.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Hyperion by Dan Simmons; 900-1000 pages.

Okay, so technically this is a review of two books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. I'm treating them as one book because I read them as one book and also because there is no point in reading the first book if you don't read the second. Unfortunately, you have to slog through 900+ pages before you finally reach any sort of resolution. My tolerable limit must be around 600 pages.

Simmons used the Canterbury Tales-Decameron method for the first book. The seven main characters are, in fact, on a pilgrimage together although not so much for religious convictions as for personal quests to find out information. They have a conveniently long voyage so that they can all tell their background story which led them to undertake the pilgrimage. Not only is this voyage long enough for each person to share their entire life story but it is so long that the book runs out of pages just as they're actually getting somewhere. Or perhaps Simmons meant to write it that way. Whatever.

The second book introduces an 8th major character who basically serves as a window into this universe through which the reader can see what is happening. Ironic, since he serves that same function within the narrative only between the pilgrims and a 9th major character. Basically, the plot finally develops and resolves, albeit rather circuitously over 500 more pages.

The second book is the real heart of the story whereas the pilgrim stories of the first book merely serve as a foundation on which to place the story. The purpose of the pilgrimage and the political intrigues surrounding it are only fully revealed in the second book. I often wondered if it was even necessary to read Hyperion first.

This book demonstrates one of the most successful techniques in science fiction. Unfortunately I have no idea what it's called. In media res? That's a slightly different technique which Simmons also used. One problem with science fiction is when technology or concepts are so obviously explained that it pulls the reader out of the story, breaking any connection they might have had with the universe of the narrative. Simmons avoids this almost to a fault; practically to the point where nothing is explained. However, the reader ends up learning how things work, almost without realizing it.

Overall, not a terrible book. Just rather long. I still haven't decided if it could be condensed, but if possible, it would definitely be beneficial.


Beginning can be a difficult thing to do even when you have a plan. Rarely do I ever have a plan, especially when it involves writing; probably why I don't write very often or for very long anymore.

My intentions here are to review books, movies, music, and basically anything else I happen to experience. Currently I'm on a science fiction kick in my reading and watching. An attempt to catch up on several years of inaccessibility while completing school. This may change or may not any time soon. You'll just have to find out the hard way.

Some bad news about posting frequency: I'm not a very fast reader. Not slow, but definitely not fast.
Good news: I've read a lot before now so not every review will be for something I recently finished. Although I prefer to do it that way since my feelings and thoughts on the subject are fresh, if I adhered to recent readings there would be large gaps between posts. This was also the reason that I decided to expand my reviews beyond books.

Basically, that's the gist of it. Enjoy!