Last week I read Stephen Baxter’s Anti-ice… and at times I felt like it was Professor Challenger redone (if you’ve read my previous posts on the subject of those books you are probably aware that, as far as I am concerned, that is most definitely not a good thing). Yes, the science was a little better, and –annoying as they were at times– the characters themselves were more or less consistent with what we find in the literature of the period. That was not the problem. That boiled down to the fact that there were a number of elements I just found to be unnecessary, grating and poorly handled, like the leading character’s infatuation with a mysterious woman. Over all the book felt like a concept in search of a plot. That is, at times it seemed to me like the author had had an interesting idea –what would have happened if, in the XIX century the British had come into possession of a powerful technology that would have enabled them to make a technological leap of close to a century?– but then he either didn’t know just what he was supposed to do with it, or he decided to try to force it into a pattern that didn’t quite fit.
I had been warned that this was one of Stephen Baxter’s weakest works (unfortunately I got that warning when I was reading the first chapter, and seeing how I don’t like to abandon a book once I’ve started it, I soldiered on), though in a way the fact that I wasn’t expecting much may have served to lessen the disappointment.
In short, if you are a die-hard Baxter fan, this one may be worth it (and chances are that you have already read it, so this post is likely to be redundant). If you are not, you may want to steer clear of it. No, it’s not dreadful, and it certainly doesn’t plummet to the level of The Land of Mist, but that is not much comfort.
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.
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
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