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H.G. Wells

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Title: The Invisible Man
Author: H.G. Wells
Year: 1897

Wouldn’t it be great to be invisible? After long scientific endeavour, a young medical student named Griffin discovers a way of turning himself invisible, and in the beginning, he’s awestruck both by the feeling of being invisible and by the thought of all the things an invisible man can do, especially one who lacks a moral compass. However, his newly found ability soon turns into a curse he tries to rid himself of, but to no avail. His temper grows bitter and angry, further deepening the madness, projecting it on the outside world.

The story isn’t told by the Invisible Man himself, but from many other points of view. The effect in the beginning is somewhat spoiled, because since the reader knows the title of the novel, it’s pretty obvious that the mysterious stranger is indeed the Invisible Man. However, the story from that point onwards doesn’t suffer from being closed in or predictable, mostly because of the fact that the main character (the Invisible Man, that is) is such an unsympathetic fellow. If he would have been a normal man with normal desires and temperament, the book would have been utterly boring, but indeed he isn’t. Instead, he’s a malignant and irascible man who demands much from the world without being prepared to give much in return. In my view, this personality is part of what makes this novel good.

I’ve always liked Wells’ way of telling stories, although sometimes I feel that the stories themselves aren’t that great (see The Time Machine). In this case, however, I feel that more things than usual work out, which merits a higher grade. The shortness and focused character of the novel also speaks to its advantage. To The Invisible Man‘s disadvantage, I must say that it was written more than a hundred years ago and that since the concept isn’t new or amazing to me, it loses some of its magic. The sense of wonder along with a nice main character is still enough to reach four snails, though. This book was far better than I thought it would be.

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Title: The Time Ships
Author: Stephen Baxter
Year: 1995

There lies danger in taking a famous piece of fiction and use it as the origin of an entirely new story. First, if the reader is familiar with the original work, there are expectations, bias and so forth regarding what this sequel might be like, even if I a skilled author can of course use this to his or her advantage. Second, it risks disappointing people who liked the first book, but who aren’t very interested in the style or particular genre of the new book. I think that I can forgive such things in a book, provided that the story itself is good. However, The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter fails on all accounts. Not only is it entirely different from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and should be placed in an entirely different category altogether, but the story itself is also completely worthless.

Before I start bashing this dismal novel, I will mention a few good things. The story takes place after (if that word has any meaning when time-travel is concerned) the events depicted in The Time Machine, the Time Traveller has returned home, but soon sets out on even more (allegedly) spectacular adventures. He visits a number of places in space and time and at least some of them are fairly interesting, such as the alternate history of 1938, where the Great War never ended lingers on two decades after it really ended in our time. Germans and Allies do not race to develop the atomic bomb, but rather to get their hands on the means of time-travel in order to go back in time to wreak havoc on their enemies.

Apart from this, though, there is little of merit in this novel. It is less than 500 pages, but it feels like 5000.  Most of the pages are spent on exploring future or past scenarios, mostly through the Time Traveller’s future friend telling him about them and the Time Traveller asking stupid questions. All these scenarios are either not interesting, have been described before much more adeptly, or are so basic that they are pointless. There are nice ideas buried in the general dullness of the novel, but much like diamonds in bedrock, they are far and few between and generally not worth the effort.

A considerable amount of time is also so spent on high school science, including geology, astronomy and so forth. Truly, I don’t enjoy basic explanations of the Earth’s geology, stellar evolution or quantum mechanics. On an adequate level, it might be interesting, but if I, who have only studied natural science in high school, can follow the discussion and think that I already know all this, it becomes only slightly more exciting than a text book. These parts are perhaps the worst of the novel. Many fairly basic science-fiction concepts are presented, such as space elevators, a Dyson sphere and so on, but they are presented as though they were wonderful innovations and not rather standard ingredients. This might be partly due to the fact that the events are described by a man from the 19th century, but this is only a bad excuse and nothing else. Xhakhal, a friend of mine, listened to the audio book at the same time, and this picture is her own reaction to the novel. She stopped halfway, but I decided to endure the rest, thinking that the author might save himself somehow. I include the picture here because it’s a nice summary. Sometimes, a picture does say more than a thousand words, or 895 to be strictly accurate.

What bothers be most about this novel is the general composition. There are a number of different books within the book, all making use of different settings and different times, which perhaps would have been okay if there was a scarlet thread running through the narrative, but, alas, no such thing can be found. Yes, the two main characters remain the same, but they are so anonymous and flat that they hardly count. They aren’t characters, they are narrators of a chain of events, a chain split into far too many different parts. Each of these might have been interesting if they were the focus of either a short story or a novel, but Baxter has skillfully managed to get it completely wrong. Some stories might have worked out beautifully if developed further, but feel shallow and coarse in their current form; yet others feel far to wordy. It feels like the author is only summarising the chain of events for the reader, rather than telling a story.

The character development, social interaction and inner life of the characters are utterly non-existent, which is a pity, because it might have saved The Time Ships. I don’t want to say that this is necessary for all novels, but I do say that a novel needs something to keep up the motivation to read on. The Time Ships lacks this and I considered giving up roughly halfway. I have no idea why this was nominated for a Hugo Award. It’s perhaps the worst science-fiction novel I’ve read so far. This is the only novel I’ve read by Stephen Baxter, but if this kind of novel is what has made him famous, there’s something seriously wrong with the world.

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Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Year: 1898

The War of the Worlds is a story that few people have escaped. It was first published 1898 and has since been reproduced in many forms, most notably including a radio adaptation by Orson Welles spreading real panic in the United States shortly before the Second World War, as well as a musical by Jeff Wayne (a dear favourite of mine) along with at least four films I haven’t yet watched. To explain it simply. it’s one of the earliest narration of an invasion of earth by extra-terrestrial beings, in this case Martians. It is the story of a journalists struggle for survival in this social and military upheaval.

It is difficult for me to assess the quality of this story independently, because it has been with me since I was very young; I  knew it intimately before reading the book. However, I can say some things. One of the best aspects of this book is the atmosphere of the late 19th century, with the British Empire at its apex of power, and suddenly having this feeling of security utterly demolished by the invading Martians. A book written today about the same events would be utterly boring, but the retro feeling of this invasion is simply adorable. I also highly enjoy the parts dedicated to humans and their struggling, such as the curator the journalist encounters, who gives up all faith in God and hope for humanity’s future, or the young artileryman, accepting that mankind is beaten, but with a somewhat delirious vision of a future rebellion against the Earth’s new masters.

That being said, it seems to me that Wells cannot decide if he wants to tell an interesting story or if he wants simply to depict the invasion, so he does both. The parts that simply are there to explain what happens are not very interesting, especially when they are disconnected from the main narrative (some parts are told by the journalists brother, for instance). Descriptions of the Martians physiology, technology and so forth contribute little to the greatness of this story. Also, the ending is as endings go not very good. It is abrupt and without relation to what the characters do. I have gotten used to it though, so knowing how it would end beforehand meant that I don’t consider this very serious. Some people say that the story is an analogy of the West’s colonialisation of the rest of the world, which seems fairly plausible considering that Wells in the preface mentions just this, cautioning us not to blame the Martians too much, because, after all, aren’t we guilty of the same crimes?

Still, even though it isn’t perfect, this novel is still great. The atmosphere is marvellous (I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like for Wells’ contemporary readers) and the overall story is interesting. It felt odd to read a novel I knew so well, mainly from listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical way too many times, but I’m very glad I did. Wells’ language makes the story well worth reading, not because the events themselves are interesting, but mostly because of the atmosphere radiant in most chapters of the novel.

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Titel: The Time Machine
Författare: H.G. Wells
Utgivningsår: 1895
Recenserad: 2006-01-15
Status: N/A

Med modern SF är det sällan man tänker på exakt när boken är skriven. När tiden kryper bakåt till 50- och 60-tal så börjar det märkas, men det är fortfarande inte några problem. Det förändrar dock ens inställning till boken om man vet att den är skriven för 50 år sedan. The Time Machine är skriven för mer än hundra år sedan och det är svårt att bestämma sig för hur man ska relatera till science fiction från förrförra seklet.

I vilket fall känns The Time Machine relevant, även idag. Detta bör ses som en bragd i sig. Utöver det är den tämligen välskriven, även om det inte direkt strålar om den. Handlingen är spännande, men idéerna är inte vidare engagerande. Det beror nog mest på att andra skrivit om liknande saker efter honom, så det är egentligen inte författarens fel. Enligt wikipedia är detta den första bok som skrevs med temat tidsresor, vilket bör göra den otroligt viktig och den bör ha påverkat många samtida och senare författare.

I handlingens centrum står en man kallad the Time Traveller. Han är en uppfinnare och vetenskapsman som varje torsdag bjuder in människor till middag. En kväll berättar han om att han till slut lyckats med sitt projekt att skicka något in i framtiden. De andra är skeptiska och nästa torsdag när de kommer dit, har the Time Traveller provat sin maskin och berättar en sällsam berättelse.

Hans intryck av framtiden är varierade och skiftar många gånger under tiden han berättar. Här kan man tydligt urskilja författarens värderingar och en del har valt att tolka boken som en indikation på vad som kommer att hända om kapitalismen för att härja fritt. Allmänna funderingar om vad som driver människan och vad effekterna av en utopi är, presenteras också.

Jag har svårt att sätta betyg på the Time Machine. Den måste ha varit helt fantastisk då den publicerades. Nu sätter jag dock inte betyg efter vad andra tycker om boken, utan försöker bedöma vad jag fick ut av den. I så fall måste jag ändå säga att det är en bra bok, men att den misslyckas med att för mig vara originell. Det kan tyckas grymt orättvist då det egentligen är helt tvärtom. Jag bedömer boken med mig själv som utgångspunkt och i så fall blir det tre och en halv snigel.

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