Overcoming a challenge

Yay, I am finally done with the Professor Challenger stories. I have to say that, with the exception of The Disintegration Machine, they were something of a challenge. For the most part they come across as incredibly dated, the arrogance they reflect is, more often than not, downright annoying (for instance, the whole premise of When the World Screamed is that the Earth is a sentient being and Professor Challenger’s great achievement in that one is to injure that being, thus getting it to acknowledge his existence)… and don’t get me started on The Land of Mist.

Well, that’s done now, and I’ve moved on to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and The Lost World, which so far seem to be enjoyable enough.

Collar of no shame, a how-to

my dog wondering what she did to deserve this.

And here we have another pointless personal post… or maybe this one won’t be quite so pointless.

Yesterday I had to take my dog to the vet. She had an allergic reaction to something and she was scratching so much she was sent home with several drugs and an e-collar (aka a ‘collar of shame’). The thing reminded me of a medieval torture device, my dog was miserable, I was miserable and it took me about twenty minutes to decide that the thing just wasn’t working, so I set out to find an alternative.

I found some very fancy products online, but none of them came across as particularly appealing and they were not available from my local vet. Seeing how I needed them now, not in 48 hours, they were most definitely not an option. That meant I had to come up with an alternative by myself… and I had to use materials that were readily available.

Here you have a picture of what I came up with, and I have to say that she is much happier. She can see where she is going, she can eat and drink, she can rest comfortably and she is not bumping into things or falling down the stairs. Continue reading Collar of no shame, a how-to

A Breath of Fresh Air

Needing a breather from the pile of manure that The Land of Mist seems to be at times (er… no, I’m not enjoying that one), and taking full advantage of what seemed like a perfectly timed release, yesterday I turned my attention to Terry Pratchett’s latest opus: The World of Poo. The contrast was remarkable. No, this little gem does not pretend to be a masterpiece, though Young Sam Vimes wouldn’t hesitate to label it as such, and it is certainly not for everyone… in fact a good rule of thumb would be that, if you don’t know who young Sam happens to be, you may as well steer clear from this one.

For the uninitiated, please keep in mind that there is no ‘h’ at the end of the title. In other words, if you are looking for a cute teddy bear you are likely to be disappointed. The book is exactly what it sounds like: a tale of a boy’s inquiries into everything pertaining to one of those activities that are common to both kings and beggars as he assembles a collection that he hopes to turn into a rather unique museum… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

As you can probably guess, this is a mock-children’s book. It is also a tie-in to the Discworld series, especially Snuff. No, it is not a must-read, not even for Discworld fans (in fact at times it feels like an attempt to milk hardcore fans for everything they are worth), but it is certainly enjoyable… if you are in the right frame of mind.

A Line in the Sand

One of the things I have been dealing with in these past few days as I make my way through some very early works of what would eventually come to be known as science fiction is… whether or not they can be counted as science fiction at all. Yes, Twenty Thousand Leagues holds together remarkably well, The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic scenario and as such it falls into what has since become a well-defined sub-genre, and even The Star Rover seems to fit the bill somehow, though there really isn’t that much science in it at all. It is oddly enough with the Professor Challenger stories that this becomes more of an issue.

These works are, at best, very soft SF… or at least The Lost World is. The question is whether or not that label can be expanded to include the rest of the series. What is ironic is that what first got me thinking about this was precisely a line in The Poison Belt that deals with the way in which our perception of what ’science’ happens to be tends to change as our knowledge evolves: Continue reading A Line in the Sand

Looking forward, looking back

So I’m done with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As I said in a previous post, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. One of the first things I realized, however, was that this book was not really written with a young adult audience in mind. It is too heavy on the science aspect of things for that, and in a really twisted kind of way that is probably what led to the popularity of Mr. Mecier’s dreadful translation: it was not just a dreadful translation, it was also a deliberate dumbing down of the book in an attempt to suit someone’s idea of who the book’s target audience was supposed to be. I guess in a way this is similar to the way in which animated features usually get –or rather used to get– an almost automatic G  or PG rating. Continue reading Looking forward, looking back

Speaking for myself

Hey, I have a voice!

Ever since I first started the comparison of POD publishers I have had no choice but to try to remain impartial… and that meant that there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I could say nothing about, now I can. Oh, I realize that e-mail is supposed to be private, so I’m not going to be quoting from my inbox here, nor am I going to be naming names, but if something annoys me, at least I will be able to get it off my chest.

In fact I had an incident along these lines the other day when one of my ‘favorite’ pushy publishers wrote to me to whine that there was a ‘mistake’ in the comparison. After a back and forth that caused me to waste the better part of an afternoon, said publisher went back to his/her site, made a change to correct the problem s/he had been arguing did not exist, and then continued to insist that it had been my mistake all along. For the sake of accuracy I did modify the comparison to reflect this change, but the truth is that the whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Yes, I realize that publishers have a reputation they are eager to maintain, and in that regard I understand why some of them may not be too happy about how they come across in the comparison, but the bottom line is that when someone goes back to correct a problem they have stubbornly been refusing to acknowledge, and then insist that it was the other’s mistake all along, that does not paint a very pretty picture of their sense of ethics, and that most certainly qualifies as a red flag.

Diving into the sea of the past

For the past few days I have been busy reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (first published in 1870), and I am not done with it yet. Over all I have to say that I am enjoying it more than I thought I would, but one thing that has become clear is that, even though the S part of SF comes across as being more than a little dated, the approach itself is as hard as can be. In fact at times it is a little too hard, as thousands of words are devoted to a careful analysis of the classification of marine life. Seeing how I am no marine biologist, I can’t really vouch for the book’s accuracy (or lack thereof). As is the case with a lot of nineteenth century literature, however, there are times in which I find it hard to leave my twenty-first century sensibilities behind. The book is not politically correct, nowhere near it, and there is no reason it should be… but in this particular instance it isn’t so much the characters’ attitudes towards their fellow man as their attitudes towards the natural world that I am having a hard time trying to come to terms with. Continue reading Diving into the sea of the past

A round of ‘Spot the Moron’ (and a special thanks)

Yesterday I decided that I wanted to reread Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I had read it eons ago, and I figured it would be interesting to read it from an adult perspective. I got as far as the Table of Contents before realizing that either Jules Verne had been a perfect moron, or the book had been translated by one.

That may seem like a shocking assertion, but what I found while going over that TOC was that Chapter XX in Part II had the following title: From Latitude 47° 24′ to Longitude 17° 28’… say what? Latitude and longitude define a single point, so there’s no going from latitude to longitude, end of story. Having read that I headed for Project Gutenberg and looked up the original. In French that chapter is called Par 47°24′ de latitude et de 17°28′ de longitude (In Latitude 47° 24′ and Longitude 17° 28’). That was a relief, I had spotted my moron and it certainly wasn’t Verne.

A bit of additional digging (i.e. a quick trip to Wikipedia) confirmed that the book had been essentially gutted by a man by the name of Lewis Page Mercier in what is in fact the standard English translation, but in addition to that I also found that there was a far more accurate version which was produced in 1966 by Walter James Miller… and that he had also been kind enough to release it into the public domain. It is available via Project Gutenberg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2488.

I haven’t tackled it yet, but I am looking forward to it. The thing is that if you read this one as a kid you may want to go back to it and have another look. I also want to thank Mr. Miller, and whoever else happens to be responsible for this decision, for making this work available for free.

Red, Green and Blue

About a month ago I decided to take a small break from the classics and tackle Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy instead. Over all it was an interesting experience. I enjoyed the hard approach to science fiction, and the fact that the science part of the equation is pretty much up to date was a nice change of pace from the ’50s take on the future I had been dealing with lately (the books were published between 1993 and 1996). As many have said before me, reading this series comes as close to going to Mars as most of us are likely to get, in fact at times it is a little too detailed for my liking.

The books chronicle the colonization and terraforming of Mars (Red refers to the original surface, Green refers to the appearance of plants and Blue to the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface) as viewed by the original colonists and some of their descendants, and to say that the author has done his homework in that regard would be putting it mildly. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, though I have some problems with the third one. So what went wrong? Continue reading Red, Green and Blue

Crash and Burn

Yesterday I finished reading J.G. Ballard’s Crash. This is technically transgressive fiction, so the fact that the author goes out of his way to shock, disgust and horrify doesn’t really come as much of a shock. The problem is that I wasn’t so much shocked, disgusted and horrified as I was bored.

Yes, I realize that the book is almost thirty years old by now (it was first published in 1973), and the amount of violence and gore we are exposed to on a daily basis has increased to such an extent since then that it may well have served to lessen its effectiveness, but as far as I am concerned that is not the real problem. No, that problem goes back to something far simpler than that: call me old-fashioned, but there are some things I expect of a novel in terms of plot and character development, and it is in that regard that this book fails to deliver.

Does this mean that the idea lacks merit? Nowhere near it. In fact I realize that within its style –one I freely admit is not my favorite– the book is well written. My problem has to do with its length. As far as I am concerned, the idea is an interesting one, and Crash could have been a truly fascinating short story, twenty or maybe even fifty pages long… only it isn’t. It is a 224 pages novel that seems to drag on forever.

I spent one and a half afternoons reading this thing, and as far as I am concerned I would like a refund for one of them, the other half I would consider well spent.

Let’s tell the future

While in the midst of a classic SF binge the other day I wound up reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the book deals, among other things, with the impact on Earth of the arrival of a protective alien species, known simply as ‘the Overlords’, that essentially reshapes human society.

As is the case with most visions of the future dating back more than fifty years (the book was first published in 1953) this one obviously gets quite a few things wrong… but I was amazed by how many details it actually gets right. Things like the advent of effective contraception and DNA testing, the ease of modern surveillance and the impact of our media saturated culture on our lives (to say nothing of our waistlines)… only we have managed to do it ourselves, no alien Overlords required at all. Continue reading Let’s tell the future

Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind (excerpt)

Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind
A wish, a child, a betrayal, a death… and the barriers begin to crumble (click on the image to purchase).

Title: Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Fantasy/Pseudo Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Page count: 372 pages
ISBN:978-1475265972
Price: $17.95

Chapter 1: Wish upon a Star

The night was more than a little chilly as Sylvia made her way home after a long day at work. Her day had been particularly unremarkable and, seeing how all of her days were, almost by definition, quite unremarkable, that was saying something. She got up every morning at exactly the same time, got dressed, had a cup of coffee and two slices of toast for breakfast as she listened to the day’s forecast, went to work and then, after eight very long and boring hours, she went home, always walking the same streets and seeing the same people at exactly the same time. Continue reading Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind (excerpt)

Soulless (excerpt)

Soulless
No sex, no aliens, just a chilling possibility… because the end has already begun (click on the image to purchase).

Title: Soulless
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Philosophical Horror
Format: Paperback
Page count: 252 pages
ISBN: 978-1475260359
Price: $13.95

Chapter 1

He woke up, covered in sweat, but the dream, the nightmare, kept calling him back. His father was there before he knew it, holding him, comforting him as if he were afraid. Continue reading Soulless (excerpt)

Laira (excerpt)

X or Y? Utopia or dystopia? In a world in which death has become a thing of the past the answer may well depend on X or Y (click on the image to purchase).

Title: Laira
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Science Fiction/Novella
Format: Paperback
Page count: 118
ISBN:978-1475254426
Price:$9.95

5.

Laira 4 was overwhelmed when the 5 was placed in her arms for the first time. She had seen babies before, of course, but the mere notion that something so tiny could actually be a human being had always amazed her. She was reassured by the presence of the others, all five of them were together, as they were meant to be. It had been almost thirteen years since they had had a 5. Granted, there would be one only for a few years, but that didn’t really matter. Continue reading Laira (excerpt)