Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2017

Short Story #407: Valley of Dreams by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Title: Valley of Dreams

Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum

Summary:

Book cover to The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum.
This story follows on the heels of Weinbaum's other story, A Martian Odyssey.  Jarvis, the protagonist along with another crew member, Leroy, a Frenchman, return from being away for a few days and look particularly haggard.  They proceed to share their tale about what has transpired.  They had traveled out to collect the films that Jarvis had left behind.  They encounter a large and mostly abandoned city, where they encounter the alien race that Jarvis met before and even stumble upon Tweel.  Tweel gives them a tour of the space, where they encounter large paintings of the aliens and what look like humans but with elongated noses.  Jarvis and Leroy realized that at some point, Tweel's race had made it to Earth and proved the inspiration for Thoth, an Egyptian god.  Later, they discover the reciprocal relationship between Tweel's people, the Thoth, and the barrelmen from the previous story.  Later, as they leave the city, Jarvis and Leroy are drawn to a valley where they are seeing things that aren't there and Tweel fiercely interferes long enough for both of them to realize that the valley is filled with dream beasts.  After the struggle to get free, they return home and speculate as to how the Martian world became what they had become through an absence of coal and oil, the use of the sun for energy and the slow loss of water over many many years.  Jarvis also reveals that he turned over atomic weaponry as gratitude for all that he did.  When the others object, he justifies the good gesture by saying Mars is inhabitable at best and that it would create a good future relationship for trading. 

Reflection

What's fascinating about this story is that while Weinbaum's first posed an interesting questions around neutral first encounters and life-forms that are non-carbon, this story delves into the questions about symbiotic alien relationships, environmental destruction, and the future of human kind.  Additionally, Weinbaum predicts solar-power and offers some considerations of what alien relations will look like in the future.  It's a fun story but also a positive forward-looking one that is surprising to see emerge from the 1930s.  Definitely worth a read!    

Rating:  5 (out of 5 stars)


Source:  The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum by Stanley G. Weinbaum.  Ballantine Books, 1974.  You can read the story for free on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Short Story #406: The Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Title: The Martian Odyssey

Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum

Summary:

Book cover to The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum.
Jarvis is one among four who are the first to travel to Mars in this classic science-fiction tale from 1934.  He is recounting his tale to his companions after surviving a strange and wild adventure.  While exploring Mars, his transportation fails and he's left trying to get back to his companions across a wide expanse of Mars.  Early in his travails across this unexplored world, he encounters Tweel, a birdlike bipedal who is intelligent and from an advance civilization.  Their ability to communicate is limited but the two work together to make their way across the strange landscape and creatures.  Along the way, they encounter pyramid-creating silicon beasts, semi-sentient grass, dream-beasts, and creatures ceaselessly filling their carts to feed some machine.  Together, Jarvis and Tweel mostly avoid calamity until they disturb the unnatural cavern where the machine sits that the creatures feed.  As the creatures pursue Jarvis and Tweel, they find themselves in a stand-off they are unlikely to win but are saved at the last minute by a crew member.

Reflection

On face value, the story can appear to be just a typical space adventure--the eponymous "odyssey".  But, albeit briefly, Weinbaum makes this tale more align with the epic Odyssey by Homer in that it is not only about a man trying to come home and the strange and alien beings he encounters, but it is also about befriending and working together with a complete and utter stranger.  Tweel and Jarvis are different creatures but their collaboration and willingness to trust one another results in the richer lives and endured safety.   As an alien-first-contact story, it provides an interesting alternative to confrontation and offers connection despite differences.    

Rating:  5 (out of 5 stars)


Source:  The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum by Stanley G. Weinbaum.  Ballantine Books, 1974.  You can read the story for free on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: The Jungle

The Jungle The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was the next book I picked up and it hit me hard. I understood the influence of this book, but I never realized it would hit me emotionally. Now, those who have read it may not agree and some have seen the story as more of a propaganda piece against the more problematic issues of unfettered capitalism (that is, a pro-socialism diatribe) than an actual novel, but I think that does a disservice to what makes the book as impactful as it has been. The story begins with the marriage of Jurgis and Ona and traces their experience immigrating to the United States. They eventually end up in the meat-slaughtering district of Chicago where the entire family seeks survival in a brutal world of employment in unsafe working conditions, surplus population, and ruthless employers. Jurgis’s descent from poor but seemingly livable rural life in Lithuania to wanton criminal is heartbreaking at times. The once proud and powerful Jurgis represents the great American ideal (he continually invokes the idea of working harder to attain his financial “freedom”) clashing with the stark reality of life in the late 19th and early 20th century for millions of Americans.

Knowing the larger truth of working conditions to which Sinclair spoke, made Jurgis’s plight more powerful. Jurgis may never existed but inevitably many have walked similar paths and still do. Inevitably, there were parts of this book that I had trouble digesting (pun, intended).

Peter Kuper does a good and stark comic version of it, that if read deliberately can evoke many of the emotions found in the book; though I don’t think it does the book full justice since so much of Jurgis’s plight is vested in a combination of Sinclair’s vivid descriptions of the squalid living conditions, brutal work environments, and emotional desperation of his characters.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a nice coffee-table book or just something to revisit. Though I also feel like this could easily be a "word a day" calendar or a "word a day/week" app. The illustrations were often cool and fun and the range of words offered were fascinating. I had some issue sometimes with the font and script they used for definitions, but I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are fascinated by language or art.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many people recognize the name Jonathan Swift and some of us probably suffered through his “A Modest Proposal” at one point in our education. I say “suffer” mostly in jest because I know that’s what I did when I first came across him; mostly because he was mandatory reading and my engagement with reading was quite different then. I go back now and can certainly appreciate “A Modest Proposal” (and one can even find an a free reading at Librivox). So when Gulliver’s Travels came into my hands, I decided I should read it and found it rewarding. Here’s a book written just under 300 years ago and I was impressed how accessible it truly is. It’s not a fantastic story by any means; after all, there’s very little dialogue and some chapters can be rather drab, but on the whole, I could appreciate Swift’s criticism of humanity and society.

Gulliver’s Travel is the account of a ship doctor and his four escapades into uncharted lands, each with their own unique attributes that Gulliver records. In the land of Lilliput, Gulliver is a giant among small 6-inch humans while in the land of Brobdingnag, he is as small to the natives as the Lilliputians were to him. He visits the floating island of Laputa and finishes his travels in the land of Houyhnhnms, an intelligent and utopian race of horses who eventually banish him from their society. On its face value, it’s an enjoyable story as readers learn about the different societies and how they exist, their customs, government, rituals, and beliefs. Of course, Swift wrote this as a political satire of the modern world of the early 1700s and the different European states. And a good version of this book will inform of you things that today’s common reader might not intuitively know as Swift’s contemporaries might. Still, it’s an enjoyable read because his discussions of ethnocentrism and cultural elitism still permeate in our world today. Every society fosters some belief that theirs is the superior way of life.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature

Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature by Michael D.C. Drout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of Drout's work. This is his 8th or so Modern Scholar production and he's just a joy to listen to. He's always excited and engaged with the course he is presenting and he has many different asides that make it feel like each lecture is a conversation. This lecture series brings a lot of insight into oral tradition, what we assume about it, what it really is, and how it is different from and informs the written tradition. What's great about Drout is that he covers a good range of literature and does his best to go beyond his own comfort zone of training to explore non-Western traditions of oral tradition.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Short Story #405: The Creature from the Black Lagoon by Jim Shephard

Title: The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Author:  Jim Shephard

Summary:

Book cover to Creatures - 30 Years of Monsters edited by John Langan and Paul Tremblay

The story tells the story from the vantage point of the "creature" from the film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The creature has been around for millions of years and presents himself with a sense of disillusion and boredom.  He shares his experiences living in the lagoon, left to his own devices and observing life around him.  However, several people arrive and begin taking measurements and documenting the area.  Some of them leave, but others stay behind and the creature continues to learn about them.  Eventually, the creature approaches those left behind and the interaction leaves the men dead.  New people arrive including a female that the creature grows increasingly curious and fascinated by.  His repeated attempts to grab her attention or capture her result in a confrontation that leaves him mortally wounded and in his last thoughts, essentially accepting that he was indeed deserving of the death he found.  

Reflection

I wasn't enthralled with this story as it felt like a poor attempt at Grendel by John Gardner.  It had its moments and I did appreciate the creature's internal revelation at the end as it descended to its death.  But a story based upon a film that wasn't that great (in my opinion) to begin with meant the story didn't really shine for me. 

Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars)

Source:  Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, edited by John Langan and Paul Tremblay.  Prime Books.  ISBN 978-1-60701-284-9

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Short Story #404: Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program by Joe R. Lansdale

Title: Godzilla's Twelve Step Program

Author:  Joe R. Lansdale

Summary:

Creatures - 30 Years of Monsters Book Cover
After years of fighting other monsters, Godzilla is on the path to recovery, trying to use his might and fire-breathing abilities to do right by the world.  But he struggles a lot.  He doesn’t necessarily have it as bad as other monsters such as King Kong who seems so absence of wit, he only wants to play with Barbie dolls all day, but he does find it a daily struggle not to go on a rampage.  He does have entertainment and an opportunity to let steam out but it doesn’t really match the chance to wreck cities.  His sponsor, Reptilicus, tries to help him through the rough times, but Godzilla falls off the bandwagon after Gamera shows up and starts taunting Godzilla.  The stress builds and Godzilla eventually gives in, obliterating a dog.  But that sip isn’t enough and eventually, he goes on to ravage a city. Before it gets too far the government steps in and offers a devil’s deal.  He can destroy cities, but it must only be cities or parts of cities that they insist on.  When he’s sent to wreak havoc on the part of the city where African Americans live, he rebels and destroys the part of the city where the government is positioned. So fierce is his attack that other monsters join in, while Reptilicus attempts to calm and capture Godzilla with the help of the army.  Though Godzilla is dead and Reptilicus basks in the fame of helping to bring him down, he too begins to hear the call of his inner monster.

Reflection


Such a fun yet morose tale to start of this anthology.  On the one hand, humanizing Godzilla to the point where he’s watching TV and doing human work plays out to some interesting moments, and yet, the monotony and dreariness of Godzilla in a life of repetitive work that seems far from his life’s desires makes a pretty shallow metaphor for human existence and people who find their lives meaningless and ultimately lash out.  Framed in the world of the twelve-step program, it also helps to humanize the struggle substance abuse in the sense that it becomes a self-destructing calling that doesn’t just impact the user but also impacts and even influences the abuser’s friends down similar paths.

Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)

Source:  
Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, edited by John Langan and Paul Tremblay.  Prime Books.  ISBN 978-1-60701-284-9


For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.