War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds is probably HG Wells’ best known book, having been the inspiration of two major Hollywood films, an infamous 1938 radio play by Orson Wells, as well as Jeff Wayne’s 1970’s recording extravaganza (revisited from 2006 onwards live on stage).

TWOTW.jpgThe radio play and two films relocated the story to 1930’s, 1950’s and later 2000’s America while the musical version retained the setting of Victorian England.

While looking for something to illustrate an earlier blog post about Red Mars, I came across the following video, and was motivated to dig out my copy of Wells’ book.

A few decades must have passed since I read it. I suspect it might have been as far back as my teen years, scarily almost half a century ago now.

One thing made obvious by War of the Worlds is how things have changed since Wells wrote the book. The “science” and the societal attitudes expressed in the book could best be described as naïve or ill-informed.

Too much criticism of the science is unfair, considering it’s only in recent decades that our scientific knowledge has reached the capability of identifying Mars as an uninhabitable, desolate planet, with many long held assumptions about it being overturned by information gained through NASA’s space program.

Criticism of “societal” attitudes is a different matter. There is a clear colonial superiority displayed early in the book, where Well’s narrator tries to understand the justification of Martians attacking earth and wiping out humanity.

“…before we judge them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?” [my bold emphasis]

That idea of “inferior races” may also have some relevance in the fact that the Martian invasion of earth seems entirely focused on London (presumably the centre of the civilised world in Victorian thinking), with the invaders cylindrical spacecraft all being launched at targets in the countryside surrounding London.

I considered that maybe London only seemed to be the target because the story is being told by a narrator from that area, and the actual invasion is more widespread. But if that was the case, how is it possible for some to flee London, by ship, to safety in Europe as many do?

She had never been out of England before, she would rather die than trust herself friendless in a foreign country… She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that the French and the Martians might prove very similar.

Apart from the politics and science, the style of writing is also clearly of another era. Written in a dry, matter of fact way (with just an occasional hint of restrained melodrama: ” ‘Death!’ I shouted. ‘Death is coming! Death!’ “).

As a reader, through most of the book, I felt like a dispassionate observer with little reason to feel the horror, sorrow or fear that would in reality have pervaded the characters’ experience throughout the story. There’s a strong “stiff upper lip” feel to the narration.

The narrator’s voice also creates distance through its use of formal, perhaps outdated, language. I can only wonder how that would have worked with Wells’ contemporary readership. Would they have been more emotionally drawn into the story?

The outdated language also provides an occasional unfortunate turn of phrase:

He heard footsteps running to and fro in the rooms, and up and down stairs behind him. His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in dressing-gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.
[A term used a few times by Wells to describe a character’s vocal outburst – onesimus]

The Victorian setting provides one of the more interesting aspects of the book: being written when communication wasn’t instant.  In a time when news travelled slowly, even to the next town or village. Those only a few miles away remain ignorant of a major, world-changing event, a Martian invasion, because news sources and communication methods are limited, relying on telegrams, newspapers, and word of mouth from travellers.

…he saw a news vendor approaching him, and got a paper forthwith. The man was running away with the rest and selling his papers for a shilling each as he ran – a grotesque mingling of profit and panic.

And from this paper my brother read that catastrophic despatch of the Commander -in Chief:

“The Martians are… slowly advancing towards London destroying everything on the way. It is impossible to stop them.”

That would be handled so differently today, where the majority of the population would be informed instantly by text, email or social media of what was going on. In considering that, I have to wonder how much of the news of a present day alien invasion would be dismissed as just another internet conspiracy.

When Wells wrote this book, obviously so much technology we take for granted didn’t exist – and neither did alien invasion literature. This is the book that started it all. When we look at the countless novels and films about invaders from mars, or “it” coming from outer-space,  or invasions of body snatchers – and countless similar scenarios, it was HG wells who started it, with this book.

Forty Signs of Rain

forty_signs_of_rain(cover)If not for my commitment to finish every book I start, I think I would have given up on this one.

So what was the problem I had with it?

Firstly, there was an extensive early section of scientific jargon, something seemingly about genetics and proteins and immunology, that might make sense to someone with insider knowledge, but I couldn’t follow what it was all about. A more concise usage could have given the required flavour, without completely dulling the overall  effect.

I have nothing against the use of scientific discussion within a book when used to enlighten, or to add a sense of authenticity to the story. I recently read and enjoyed the author’s  much larger book Red Mars, and wasn’t put off by the technical/scientific content that often went way over my head. That book engaged me through character and landscape and its overall sense of wonder. I could accept it’s technical elements as  texture to the story and not a distracting, unfathomable  intrusion.

In contrast to the “hard science”, there was a section about a stay-at-home dad working part time work for a senator, and struggling to balance the work and child-raising. While giving a more human, domestic aspect to the story, the early sections of this narrative thread didn’t engage or maintain my interest, and again I had to push myself to keep reading.

Other parts of the story were about the political and commercial wrangling required by scientists to carry out their work – influences and hindrances that may even prevent worthwhile science from progressing. Commercial interests pick up and discard according to perceived profitable outcomes with years of research and slow progress being cast aside to pursue more immediate possibilities of financial gain.

What has been reluctantly tolerated as  frustrating bureaucratic reality, in the day to day politics of practicing science,  inevitably becomes crippling when science is faced with a crisis that  has no regard for political or commercial ideologies. *

I’d read through a lot of the book before I found that it was part of a trilogy and that all three parts have been compiled into a single volume (updated and abridged) under the title Green Earth.

Before I bought this single volume of the first book, I already had Green Earth on my “wishlist” with an online book seller and didn’t realise that Forty Signs was part of it, otherwise I would have bought the compilation and not this first book.

I bought Forty Signs of Rain because it was supposed to be about climate change.  Disappointingly, climate change seemed at best a peripheral issue through most of it, only becoming more important towards the end.  But now, knowing it is the first part of a trilogy, I can see the book as an introduction or a prelude instead of a novel in its own right. It also helps me make sense of a relatively short book’s apparently slow narrative progress.  That same pace in a larger book could be more acceptable.

Above I mention the heavy loading of scientific jargon in a section referring to “genetics and proteins and immunology”. Within this book that section seemed to have no narrative purpose and to me it seemed like padding – or as if the author was feeling his way along a path that he decided to abandon.

Could that episode have later relevance in the later parts of the trilogy? That’s a question I could ask about several other loose threads in the book that don’t seem to have purpose or lead anywhere.

Now the questions I need to ask are – should I treat this as a one-off, mostly disappointing novel and forget the rest? Or should I take the chance and carry on with the rest of the trilogy with the expectation of it all working better as a longer story ?

If the latter, do I turn to the newer abridged compilation (which may have removed some of the more tedious aspects) or do I try to find the original editions of the remaining two separate books?

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*        Note, this book addressing climate change was published in 2004 – and today, 15 years later, ideology is still trampling over scientific reality when it comes to climate science.

 

My Top Ten Books (novels)

I knew I’d written about my “top ten books” many years ago, but I couldn’t find the article on my earlier book blog where I thought it would be.

I’ve now found it on an almost forgotten site that I had several years ago before I migrated to WordPress.

A link to the original article is provided below, and an explanation of my list can be read there.

Back then my “top ten” had only three books listed.

Dune.jpgeyedracula

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Dune by Frank Herbert
2) That Eye the Sky by Tim Winton
3) Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

They were all books that had a significant effect on me at the time of reading, and that is why they made my list. If I’d started the list today, its possible none of them would have been included – which clearly would make for a pitiful top ten.

Since I wrote that article, only one other novel has appealed enough to be added to my list – leaving only six more slots to fill.

That addition is:

 

book theif

 

4) The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

It’s a book I read in 2011 (when I called it my ‘book of the year’) and therefore has not been hurriedly added to the list.

I wanted to revisit my top ten because not long ago I discovered a podcast related to Frank Herbert’s Dune series. The opening few minutes of the first episode were an excerpt from the beginning of David Lynch’s film version of the story.

The spoken monologue and the introductory music from the soundtrack gave me goose bumps (particularly the music), and made me want to dig Dune out of my book cupboard as soon as I can. I’m not sure I can even think of starting the book I’d originally planned to start reading today, until I’ve dealt with Dune again.

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http://onefile2.blogspot.com/2005/12/top-ten-books.html

Crown of Blood

crownThis is one of the many books I received for Christmas.

My interest in Lady Jane Grey started decades ago, after reading about her in a Blue Peter annual when I was 10 or 11 years old.

Since that time I’ve read several histories and historical novels about her.

Crown of Blood by Nicola Tallis is the newest addition to my collection.

While most commonly remembered as “Lady Jane”, Jane Grey was in fact Queen Jane, even though for a short number of days. The exact number seems to be disputed, most commonly stated as being 9 or 10, but if taken from the death of Edward VI (who she succeeded) her short reign was more like  13 days.

Jane was  England’s first Regnant Queen, ruling in her own right (as contrasted with a “Queen consort” – wife of a King), even though that status is usually given to Mary I who through popular consent and stronger military support, soon took the crown from Jane and eventually had her executed.

The strongly Protestant Edward had tried to determine the succession after his impending death, to make sure the crown didn’t go to his half sister, the Catholic Mary; but the justification for by-passing Mary (alleged illegitimacy) also applied to his other sister the protestant Elizabeth. The next in line to the throne after his half-sisters was Edward’s cousin, Jane Grey, a choice most likely influenced by John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland.

Jane didn’t want to be Queen, but was used by the power hungry Duke of Northumberland and her father, the Duke of Suffolk, who between them arranged marriage between Jane and Northumberland’s son Gilbert Dudley, hoping to install Northumberland’s own family on the throne after the death of Edward VI.

But the plan failed and Northumberland, Suffolk, Jane and Gilbert Dudley were all sent to their end, courtesy of the axe-man.

Despite the failure of Northumberland’s scheme, his hope for his family to ascend to the throne later came close to fruition through another of his sons. Although condemned to die with those mentioned above,  Robert Dudley was spared and after Queen Mary’s death became a favoured suitor of Queen Elizabeth I.

 

 

 

Blackened Tanner by Ron Irwin

blackened-tanner.jpg

The principles of natural justice are based on three core rules.

The hearing rule provides the right to a fair hearing. When conducting an investigation, it is important that the person being complained against is advised of the allegations in as much detail as possible and given the opportunity to reply to them before any decision is made.

The bias rule requires that no-one be judge in his or her own case and that investigators and decision-makers act without bias or perception of bias in all procedures; where a person has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal or family involvement, they should not investigate the matter.

And the evidence rule provides that decisions must be based on logical proof and evidence, not on mere speculation.

When I set out to look at the cases involving Denis Tanner, I discovered that these principles of natural justice had all been ignored.

This is the beginning of Ron Irwin’s first chapter in his book Blackened Tanner.

Like Denis Tanner, the subject of the book, Ron Irwin had been a police officer in the Victorian police service.  He writes of a man who was identified as a murderer at an inquest into the death of his sister in law- but because there was insufficient evidence to put him to trial, was never given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him.

Denis Tanner and his family had to continue living within a community where he was seen as someone who had literally got away with the murder.

Irwin makes it clear there was something rotten in the state of Victoria, especially within the legal processes and their dealings with Denis Tanner.

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/evidence-backs-jennifer-tanner-suicide-theory-late-cop-ron-irwin-claims/news-story/a6e1853995dbdaf5c94e7380e58560c1

Cold Shot, Dani Pettrey

cold shotA Christian friend brought this author to my attention.
After frequently expressing concern about me reading “crime fiction”, he told me about Dani Pettrey’s books: crime fiction by a Christian author.

Cold Shot was my personal introduction to her work, and I don’t think I’ll be following up with any more of it.

She seems to have a strong following (no author would have published more than ten books without a devoted readership) but based on this book I won’t be joining that readership.

On the positive side, the story kept me reading, wanting to find out how it would be resolved. It was also refreshing to have prayer included as an ongoing feature.

Not so positive, was finding the characters and their dialogue unconvincing. To me they didn’t ring true. One case in point concerns the murder of a co-worker of a major character – something that seems to have no emotional impact at all on that major character who discovered the body.

To this non-American reader, there was also the issue of guns. While it was understandable that a murder by shooting was at the centre of the book, there was a disturbing reliance upon guns by (Christian) law-enforcement personnel, with a number of shooting deaths at the hands of those “good guys” before the case is finally resolved.

And also on the issue of guns and gunmen – it is established quite early that the killer being pursued is a sniper. One hurdle to finding him is the fact that snipers are apparently numerous within that community and they need to determine which one of them is guilty of the crime.

I suppose for an American crime story the prominence of guns should be expected – one only needs to have seen a few American police dramas to be aware of that.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

While I was on leave over the Christmas break I watched a brilliant film: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

metropolis (2)I used to have it on video back in my university days. It was part of a film course I did.

But the version I saw a week or two ago was “reconstructed and restored” to its original two and a half hours. From memory the previous version I’d seen was about half of that and therefore seemed disjointed and hard to follow.

The story of Metropolis (Reconstructed & Restored) flowed very well and was easy to understand. It also included the original orchestral score written for the film.

My previous version had the typical jangly piano attached to a lot of silent films.

Of course being a “silent” film the acting wasn’t subtle – but I started to see it like a dance performance and that approach worked for me.

Even Gloria watched the whole lot – and usually that kind of film would NOT be her “cup of tea”.

The story was powerful and very topical, about the oppression of the poor workers by the rich elites.

There was also a strong current of biblical allusion throughout, something that increased its appeal to me.

I was aware of the film long before I saw the shorter version at university. It has been proclaimed as a classic, early science fiction film. As well as its futurist cityscapes and portrayal of oppressive industrialisation, it also features one of (if not the) first on-screen robot, credited with inspiring many that followed in later decades, such as Star Wars’ C3PO.

Previously, whenever anyone has asked me to name my favourite film I never had an answer – I think for now I could say Metropolis.