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The World Set Free (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 10 June 2012 07:52

According the Wells, all it will take for world socialism and sunlit-fields-upon-high utopia are radioactive volcanoes.

The World Set Free was written in 1913 (under the looming war). In its format, it's very similar to In the Days of the Comet, another Wells' book. We have a "Dickens" view of the world, bleak and unfair and evil (I agree with him on this). The middle act is the disaster, the events so amazing that it would take Hollywood in all its CGI to do them justice. And after that, the level world reexamines itself, sorts itself out, corrects itself (and becomes, of course, socialist). I love HG on this - so much romantic hopelessness (which sounds 2012-gloomy, I suppose).

Of course, the world sucks. We get a nice POV take on this by a rich man who's father bankrupts their family, and he goes from holiday to the streets in one quick plummet. As noted here...

Indeed, in his book, he thanks fortune for them. "I might have lived and died," he says, "in that neat fool's paradise of secure lavishness above there. I might never have realized the gathering wraith and sorrow of the ousted and exasperated masses. In the days of my own prosperity things had seemed to me to be very well arranged." Now from his new point of view he was to find they were not arranged at all; that government was a compromise of aggressions and powers and lassitudes, and law a convention between interests, and that the poor and the weak, though they had many negligent masters, had few friends.

"I had thought things were looked after," he wrote. "It was with a kind of amazement that I tramped the roads and starved - and found that no one in particular cared."

The book works towards its main concept, that atomic energy is understood, and that things are getting better and better as cheap and limitless power comes to us. But such powers have a unseen prices. For example, cheap power means automated factories and the streeting of labor (a concern in our own time). But it also results in more dangerous and direct uses...

He had in his hands the black complement to all those other gifts science was urging upon unregenerate mankind, the gift of destruction, and he was an adventurous rather than a sympathetic type...

The atomic bombs Wells envisions are as horrible as ours but in a different way. His don't just go BANG and leave a lot of people dead. His produce an explosion that explodes and explodes for two weeks or so, a long continuous detonation. And when dropped (220 times or so on capitals and other places of militaristic interests), their explosions burn through the crust of the earth, releasing a volcano that absolutely destroys the area.

I felt that Wells didn't quite capture what this would really be like, with 220 plumes of volcanic ash thrown into the air, of the perpetual gloom, of the world-changing events. He doesn't even mention the columns of death that should be visible in every sky. In our days under climate change, these seems like an odd ommision. But he does capture the horror of such detonations, of a woman with her hearing blown out and her leg mangled, of a man whose hand is shot away in trench warfare.

And in the end, of course, the world is forced, by the doom it toys with, to become better. The rulers come together, casting down the tyrants and madmen, joining up as a world council. Too often, world socialism just happens (that's what the Hyde Park socialists believe). But here, Wells makes a good point, that a world of refugees, of starvation and desperation, might be ready for such a thing...

They found far less friction than might have been expected in turning the loose population on their hands to these things. People were extraordinarily tamed by that year of suffering and death; they were disillusioned of their traditions, bereft of once obstinate prejudices; they felt foreign in a strange world, and ready to follow any confident leadership.

As are we all in 2012.

The book does have its windy moments, its slow Randian grindings. But I'll forgive Wells for those; I love him too much as a life-time fan to let it sway me. And, of course, there are the interesting takes of this brave new world, of women's rights imagined by a 1913 eye (I'm actually happy to see that, for once, we shoot higher than his ideal). Overall, it's not his best work, but it's still Wells, so it's going to be better than anything on the shelves today.

You can get it for free thanks to Project Gutenberg HERE.


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 June 2012 08:46
Footprints of Thunder (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 June 2012 08:00

It was the cover that caught me in the used bookstore, of a dinosaur foot standing next to a sand castle - says a lot when you think about it. But it irked me that the footprints on the beach beyond were singular - what was this dino doing? Hopping?

Footprints of Thunder had a couple of things that twitted me - not seriously, mind - I rather liked the book. For instance, it starts with a team of scientific hobbyist investigating strange occurrences - fish and flowers and corn which fall from the clear blue sky. However, it appears that their computer models are all driven by doom-heavy prophesies from an ancient Babylonian scientist (whose name looks suspiciously like a Persian priest from 450 BC or so). And that bugged me - nothing a Babylonian scientist said will be hard enough data to basis a mathematical model on. His world is still pretty small, and any incidents he records will be from the provinces or brought by traders, with dates too vague to be of use. Later, the author appears to put more credence in the data points coming from more recent occurrences so I forgave him. To me, the whole Babylonian deal seemed like a blind alley.

Anyway, after meeting characters all over the US (there is a big list of them in the beginning, which, surprisingly, I didn't need - hat's off to James David for clear characterizations), we get down to business. Something (I won't say what, because that's the payoff and it's pretty good) "quilts" time, meaning sections of our world vanish, to be replaced by sections of the ancient past. And pretty much ALL these sections are dinosaur-infested patches (at first I thought "Where are the knights? Where are the Indians?" before remembering that MOST of history would be dino-based. So that works).

And so everyone is dealing with monsters. Cool.

The book has a number of great sub-stories going on - a family on a wrecked sailboat off Naples finds refuge on the back of a huge swimming dinosaur (but what orcas are doing in the Gulf of Mexico, I don't know - quilted, perhaps?). A group of the afore-mentioned scientists travel into one quilt, pooh-poohing the need for guns. An old widower on the edge of quilted downtown New York (half the city has been replaced) begins to feed a dinosaur sugar - it actually comes to her building, looks up at her  window, and goes "Ahhhhhhh!" (Cute!).

But the best part (and the tip of the quill to the author) are the deaths. No, this isn't Jurassic Park with its moralistic karma-carnage. Bad characters die, good characters die, lots of characters die. Most of the deaths are pretty bloody, and involve chomping noises. One of the characters appears to die, but what happens to her afterwards is sooooo mucccchhh worrrsseee! I shiver to recall that scene.

And it all ends well because, unlike the usual western view, there is nothing that can be fixed here (though the one attempt to repair it ends in multimegaton disaster).

No, I liked it - other than a couple of personal peeves, it wasn't bad. If you see it second-hand, pick it up (or write me and I'll send you my copy). Good Jurassic fun without all that Alexis Murphy screaming.


Last Updated on Sunday, 03 June 2012 08:46
...Something I Could Quit (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 May 2012 19:00

The wordy name for this book is I wish there was something that I could quit. What drew me to it (on the CD shop bookshelf) was the old drawing of a railroadman leaning out of a tower, pocket watch in hand, watching a set of 1950's diesels blur past.

The 50's are great fodder nowadays; full of irony.

So the story is about four young folks, Laura (a gloomy rock-throwing-at-military-trains nutcase), Aaron (the nutty-yet-earnest fellow living in his dead tour van in her driveway), Susan (the bartender seeking a strong man and...) Jemuel (her boyfriend, baby-weak yet organized to a fault). It's the usual 20's-something-lifestyle-noir deal, dead-end McJobs, no future, no strong relationships, no hope.

I'll go with my personal take on this (since it's a personal blog and I'm over 50) - hope and success is something you need to push for until you bleed. Happiness doesn't just fall on you - you've got to go out and earn it. Sorry, kids.

So let's look at that cover again. Railroads were organized in the 50s, run on timetables and synchronized clocks (standard time was displayed at all stations). And so this is actually two-sided irony - the first is the classic irony of the fifties and its tightly-wound company-man clockwatchers. But the ironical backlash of the cover is there - the people of the fifties know their place in the cosmos. The young people in this book lack any sort of structure or worth. They live trashy lives in trashy dumps, in a dispirited little town where the trains roll through night and day.

Okay, I'm done with the grumpy moralizer mode.

On the upside, the writing is pretty crisp and the author (Aaron Cometbus) makes a number of tight literisms. That's where off-shelf writing such as this shines - it isn't written for the masses, it's written for a more vibrant (yet smaller) market. Unlike suburban pap, writing like this brings certain truths up, certain observations that are worth considering

On my first read, I was surprised to suddenly find myself, full stop, looking at the back cover. The story seemed to aimlessly just end in the middle of pointless dialog. But on second glance, I heard the echoes of what the author might have been saying, a faint whisper of hope in all this. Perhaps. Can't tell you.

So I'll say that it's a strange book, a troubled book, and perhaps a second pass will help me to understand it better. Tight and strange and urban.

Good luck.


Last Updated on Sunday, 27 May 2012 14:00
Pandemonium: Smoke (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 20 May 2012 07:22

I'll remind you that while I was in London a few months ago, we visited the Tate Modern with its display of John Martin Paintings. I also picked up a hard back from the gift shop, Pandemonium, a series of short stories based on the paintings reviewed. I loved the paintings and really loved the book (limited edition - I snagged number 7 out of 100). I reviewed it HERE.

With great expectations, I ordered Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke, a book purportedly focused on London, mostly Dickens' London, but London all the same. Got it and read it in about three days.

The prognosis?

Meh. (and I hate to say it)

See, I love the idea of a publishing house pulling in all sorts of talent for a high-grade publication of interesting, out-there story-telling. In these days of Nook and Kindle, having a limited edition hardback is something I can savor, the primary reason that books will always be books, and Ireaders will always be the end-of-the-fucking-literary-world-as-we-know-it toys.

But the stories didn't quite live up to the first edition.

It started, not on a bang, but a nuclear explosion. "Inspector Bucket Investigates" really hit me between the eyes. Disney has built a replica of Dickens' London, one staffed with clones of the characters (based on DNA extracted from the graves of those Dickens based his characters on). It was nasty, slimy, disturbing, and great.

And there were still stories in the vein I enjoy. "Aye, there's the rub" had a great premises and a fantastic twist. "City of the Absent" was a moody Dickens' piece, a study of churchyard and city nooks observed on quiet Sundays - this is about as close to time travel as we shall ever get (Mason Trellis aside). But most of the stories failed to make the hit of the original Pandemonium premise, that of humanity facing the finite, of end of self and world, of the chilling look at what-is-to-come. No, this was more mainstream - one or two of the stories were so predictably come-uppance tales, I was surprised to not see them on Spielberg's old Amazing Stories

Review aside, what you might not understand, Dear Reader, is the horrible chance I run at posting this. See, the Pandemonium folks are coming up with a new anthology, one set in the American West. To that, I have submitted. As to the wisdom of giving a tepid review to the same folks you are hoping for inclusion, well, I was never the smartest sibling in our family.

Actually, I'm the writer. How stupid is that?

Anyway, the series held me because I have an interest in such things, but let's home the next set will be darker, edgier, and far more concentrated.


Last Updated on Sunday, 20 May 2012 08:06

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