…SF addict …

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Master of the World! Jules Verne's swan song!

"Let no one attempt to seize or stop me. It is, and will be, utterly impossible. Whatever injury anyone attempts against me, I will return a hundredfold.As to the money which is offered me, I despise it! I have no need of it. Moreover, on the day when it pleases me to have millions, or billions, I have but to reach out my hand and take them. Let both the Old and the New World realize this: They can accomplish nothing against me; I can accomplish anything against them. I sign this letter: The Master of the World."

Another good read from Verne! This one was his final novel written in 1904 and is actually a sequel to an earlier novel called The Clipper of the Clouds (aka Robur the Conqueror). I only discovered this when part way through I found out the name of the antagonist-Robur! The great inventor Robur zooms across the Americas in first a car that can travel at least 150 miles per hour, putting the current speed of about 80 m.p.h to shame in a car race! Then an equally fast boat is seen; later still a submarine, and then an airplane! The protagonist of this story, Strock, a police investigator, soon gets the idea that these 3 vehicles are one and the same.
In the previous story, Robur determined to show to the world that heavier-than-air craft was the way forward, and during an exposition in which a great air balloon was shown to the world, Robur produced his offering, a dirigible type craft propelled not by lighter-than-air gas but by engines with propellers (air screws), and with this he overtook the balloon causing its occupants to crash to the ground. This event is alluded to in this later work as a kind of re-cap. Not having read the earlier book it was a bit of a surprise but having said that I didnt feel that I should need to have read that earlier work-the work stands alone!
Anyway I found the book quite entertaining and fast paced  and is my third Verne novel so far.

My review of 20,000 Leagues under the sea can be found here

Monday, September 20, 2010

The wonderful naiveté of early SF

Anyone coming to vintage SF for the first time, that is stories from way before golden age, may get a few surprises! With the odd exception of works like Wells's The War of the Worlds one may appear to see bad science or incredible naivete! For example it seems everyone in 1900 expects to find water and vegetation on the Moon-and Mars of course is quite breathable, just a bit cold! Reading these stories today raises a chuckle or two- I mean just how could they imagine such 'silly' scenarios? But then one must realise that back then science was in its infancy-especially astrophysics! They didn't know what the moon was made of-even Clarke in his 1961 book A Fall of Moondust had to make an educated guess and got it slightly wrong! (great book by the way!) Of course I've always maintained that its not SF's job to predict the future!

But even so when you read these really early works set in space you can't help smiling!
The book I'm reading now, George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (1901) is a joyous romp into outer space aboard the ingeniously powered Astronef, first landing on the moon for breakfast. They have spacesuits (called 'breathing dresses'-how wonderful!) But to check for air the captain lights a match!

Later, when approaching Mars they make ready their revolvers, while still in space, just in case! And once on the red planet  the captain removes his helmet for a sniff! Going by what we know today I have to stop myself thinking that surely, if they had the technology to venture into space, and are aware of celestial mechanics,orbits and such, as indeed many of the authors were, then surely they would also have an inkling of the atmospheric conditions  of at least the moon!

Garrett P Serviss follows up Wells's book by visiting a lushly vegetated Mars peopled by 15 foot giant humanoids-totally in contrast to Wells's original concept! And a little later we have Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom books which presents an image of Mars which is even further from the truth! The funny thing is that at the time they were seen as SF-but nowadays they read as fantasy-like Conan on another world!

Its fascinating how time, and progress, changes our perception of SF! (Incidentally, reading these early works does prepare you for their modern equivalent-Steampunk!)
Enjoy these books and stories, but keep the salt pot handy

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A return to Mars!

But not by Wells!
Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898)
This 'sequel to The War of the Worlds' was written in the same year as Wells' marvellous tale but by another author-Garrett P. Serviss.

Serviss was an astronomer and scientist who wrote many non-fiction works on astronomy, both for beginners and the more advanced astronomer-think of him as an early Sir Patrick Moore! (who himself has written SF!)
Anyway the premise of this story is that an American contingent decide to make a trip to Mars before the Martians can return for a second attack, and needing the ships to make the trip they turn to inventor Thomas Edison to design the ships- also serving as a pilot. On the way they make an odd discovery on an asteroid that would surely have a great effect on Earth's economy! Also they discover a race of giants living on a well known asteroid-very bizarre!
Despite the subtitle 'the sequel to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds' the two novels couldn't be more different! While Wells's martians were 'mere round bodies with no arms nor legs-quite repulsive', Serviss describes them as giant humanoids 15 feet in height with larger heads, 4 limbs like humans,  the heads having odd bumps depending on their role-warriors or scientists, a deliniation that reminded me of the lives of Bees!
Also his Mars is a watery place not much different to Earth, rather than the dry barren world of the former book-in Serviss's book it is somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom.

Despite such differences and a certain naivete (the crew have no radio, and the individual ships must communicate with each other via flags and lights!) it made for a good read with decent science, and at times it is amazing that it was written before 1900!
If you fancy reading it you can get it here, free:
The copy I downloaded though, with images, had a glitch in as much as some of the images overlaid the text making it hard to read where such an image appeared-the html-ePub conversion being done with errors. Of course it is possible to get it without the images.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No-one would have believed.....

Just finished The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells-and enjoyed it very much, as I knew I would, though I was quite surprised by the brevity of the novel, 164 pages in the collection I have it in (H.G.Wells, the Complete Fiction volume I)-I always imagined it would be a doorstop of a book!

We all are familiar with this story from the movies but how many have actually read the book? I have to say that no movie thus far produced is close to the ideas and story set forth in this book. The aliens themselves are described briefly in  passing with little detail yet are truly alien (no body, just a large round head with a large eyed face and a single large auditory receptor at the back) but it is the machines in which they ravage London and its surrounds that take centre stage. In the book, unlike the movies, they are gargantuan tripods, setting the earth afire with Heat Rays and black dust, trampling all underfoot somewhat in the manner of the At-Ats in Star Wars, only much larger!

At one point later in the story it almost becomes a last-man-alive story as our hero makes his way across a ravaged and dead London, all about him death and decay and the prospect of a lost humanity-quite eerie at that point! There's also a degree of scientific scrutiny-Wells was not just a fantasist-he knew his stuff, or at least where to get the latest scientific  information from, and used it well here. For a novel written in 1898 the depictions of events and of mars itself are quite relevant and accurate, given the state of scientific progress at the time! Mars is no wild frontier as found in Edgar Rice Burrough's adventures, but a cold, dusty world.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Purple Cloud by M.P.Shiel

This is a 'last man alive' story written in 1901 by English author Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865 -1947) but is also a story of paranoia and what changes come over a person when faced with the reality of loneliness.
(This is an e-book, downloaded from Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/11229 )

After earning a place aboard an expedition to reach the north pole, Adam Jeffson becomes isolated when one by one his team mates die, not from the cold but from some strange purple-hued vapour, notable for its smell of peach blossoms. As our explorer makes his way alone across the frozen wastes he encounters many ships, each one drifting aimlessly with dead crew-he eventually realises he is all alone!
He takes his ship, the Boreal, further and further south encountering further devastation eventually reaching England and his own home, now empty and cold. The bodies, both human and animal, he encounters are notable for being strangely preserved-(tied to the the unusual smell perhaps?)-there is no decay, no disease, just inanimateness all around!
With various methods Jeffson makes his way around the world, his manner and attire changing  as he goes.

I found the writing quite accessible for such an early book -some of the usage was a bit odd compared to modern English and I had to make use of the dictionary on my phone a few times but on the whole it was easily digestible,somewhat reminding me of Jack London, and I quite enjoyed it!