Sunday, May 31, 2009

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

The plot is split into two halves: first is the hunt for a mysterious and deadly sea creature, and then an adventure on Captain Nemo’s famous submarine, the Nautilus. The early part is exciting, even though because of the book’s fame the reader already knows the sea monster is really the Nautilus. Once the narrator is on board the sub, the excitement fades quickly. The ship travels around the world, visiting sunken ships, underwater forests, and battling giant squids; this half of the book felt more like a collection of short stories than a cohesive narrative. Some of these vignettes dragged on too long, and the catalogs of sea creatures were interminable. The conclusion was a deus ex machina that I found quite unsatisfying; disappointing for such a promising start.

One thing I found fascinating was that there was no villain in the book, no mission to accomplish, no quest to complete. Everyone has a sense of honor that governs their actions, and there are no one-dimensional characters. Nemo kidnaps the narrator and his party, but did so to save their lives. Ned wants to escape, but doesn’t hesitate to join the crew to fight off attackers and returning the weapon he used when successful. This depth makes the story more interesting, even in the slow parts.

First Sentence:
The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Myths for the Modern Age, edited by Win Scott Eckert

Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, edited by Win Scott Eckert

Philip José Farmer believes that the meteor which landed near a small village in England in 1795 irradiated roughly eighteen people and changed their genetic makeup. These mutated genes were passed on to their descendants, many of whom became extraordinary individuals. These amazing people have been the real-world models for some of the most popular fictional characters through the years, such as Sherlock Holmes, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Allan Quatermain, and James Bond. Myths for the Modern Age is a collection of faux-scholarly essays exploring this concept.

As with many anthologies, the various authors here are hit and miss with their efforts. The Arms of Tarzan by Farmer goes into excruciating detail about the coat of arms of Lord Greystoke, better known as Tarzan; this is easily the least interesting essay in the collection. Brad Mengel’s Watching the Detectives was my favorite, where we learn that Simon Templar, Lara Croft, Ellery Queen, Barnaby Jones, Archie Goodwin, and Robert Goren are all descendants of Sherlock Holmes. He also postulates that Holmes nemesis Moriarty had well-known offspring, such as “Howling Mad” Murdock, better known as the helicopter pilot for the commando unit known as the A-Team. “Intriguingly, the leader of the A-Team, John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, is the great-nephew of Sherlock Holmes making this perhaps the first time that a member of the Holmes family and a member of the Moriarty family worked together.” Connections like this make this concept a lot of fun!

At nearly 400 pages, this can be a long read—especially for the less interesting chapters. There is an excellent set of endnotes throughout the essays that give sources and hints as to who some of the more obscure characters are (Lew Archer, anyone?) but somewhere in the 200’s the numbers get out of sync, with the text and the reference mismatched; this led to quite a bit of confusion for me until I realized what had happened. All in all, I was disappointed by this book. The idea of a shared genealogy crossing fictional boundaries I love, but feel it fell short of its potential here. If you are a die-hard lover of conspiracy and literary humor then pick this up, but otherwise just go spend some time on Thom Holbrook’s crossover site.

First Sentence (from the introduction):
The Wold Newton Family is a group of heroic and villainous literary figures that science fiction author Philip José Farmer postulated belonged to the same genetic family.

Mage-Guard of Hamor, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Mage-Guard of Hamor, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

This book picks up immediately after Natural Ordermage, with our hero returning home to Recluce. Rahl is one of the whinier heroes Modesitt has given us, but we see him mature into a leader under the hard gaze of his mentor. I thought the twists were telegraphed and way too obvious, but the magic-and-military campaign kept me interested. The plot is as formulaic as all the other adventures in this universe, but I still enjoyed it. This is an entertaining read, perfect for a rainy afternoon or a crowded airplane.

First Sentence:
Rahl stood on the port wing of the fast frigate’s bridge, looking out at the seemingly endless gray-blue waters of the Eastern Ocean.

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