The Nightmare of Black Island by Mike Tucker

“Lewis Carroll. He was an odd one. Real name was Charles
Lutwidge Dodgson. Completely denied having anything to do with the Alice books.
Daft as a brush. You’d have liked him! Loved inventing words. Ever read Jabberwocky?
Loads of good words in there. “Tulgy”, “whiffling”, “galumphing”. And “burbled”. How come “burbled” gets to be in the Oxford English Dictionary but “tulgy” doesn’t? Hm?'”

My first Doctor Who novel. Late, I know. But the idea of books based on TV series has always made me uncomfortable. The annoying Buffy Season 8* did nothing to help; but if I write about that, I’ll probably burst into angry flames. These, though, are highly addictive, I have since read two more, the third arrives any day now!

Summary: On a lonely stretch of Welsh coastline, a fisherman is
killed by a hideous creature from beneath the waves. When the Doctor and Rose
arrive, they discover a village where the children are plagued by nightmares,
and the nights are ruled by monsters. The villagers suspect that ancient
industrialist Nathanial Morton is to blame, but the Doctor has suspicions of
his own. Who are the ancient figures that sleep in the old priory? What are the
monsters that prowl the woods after sunset? What is the light that glows in the
disused lighthouse on Black Island? As the children’s nightmares get worse, the
Doctor and Rose discover an alien plot to resurrect an ancient evil…
My thoughts: Mike Tucker has captured the voice of Rose and the Tenth Doctor perfectly nicely, giving them just those sort of quirky Doctor Who moments we love. The prose, though, is oversimplified: filled with page-long descriptions and little character depth. Since we already know the characters, and the imagery is very apt and vivid, that style of writing works in his favour. Where there is little plot movement, the spooky atmosphere keeps you engaged. The children, the nightmares, the creepy man in the wheelchair, the angry Ms. Peyne: the book has all the elements of horror. The ending is a bit unsurprising and sensationalized; but it also just somehow works. The whole book reads like an hour long episode, and it’s easy to ignore that little predictability. I suppose these books would make great reads for someone whose default state isn’t in a book. If you love the Tenth Doctor like I do, and have a hard time getting involved in books, read this. The Nightmare of Black Island is quick, funny, original and exciting.
I’d been too busy this month to read anything other than that one book I read weeks ago. What with little time and lots of work, this was just the guilty-pleasure-YA break I needed.

*Another Buffy connection: There is an audio version of this read by Anthony Stewart Head, but I’m not the biggest fan of audiobooks, and his voice still says Giles, and that just wouldn’t have seemed right.

Let’s assume I read this for the 2014 Science Fiction Experience. The other books I’ve read for this event are Time and Again by Jack Finney, and three dystopian short stories by E.M. Forster, Jack London and Kurt Vonnegut. Sadly, I only just found Timescape by Gregory Benford, and I doubt I could finish reading it in a day!

Time and Again by Jack Finney

I can’t believe I let almost an entire month go by before I posted anything, but having had to choose between the blog and the book (time constraints and all that) I naturally chose the latter. That being said, I’ve been able to read very few books this new year, that is to say, I’ve finished only one. This. But what a book.
Stephen King called Time and Again the great time travel novel at the end of what I’d then thought was the great time travel novel. Needless to say, he was right.
Time and Again by Jack Finney is essentially a mystery. And the story is driven by that very curiosity, that pressing need to find out what happened, to piece together a puzzle no matter how little or inconsequential. When artist Simon Morley is recruited by the government to take part in a highly classified experiment to go back in time, he chooses to go to New York, in the winter of 1882. Why? To trace a mysterious letter that drove his girlfriend’s grandfather to suicide. Again, why? Because something so curiously small in scope is just what they need as Si’s project: to see if making a largely inconspicuous change in history alters the present, to see if the experiment could be used to increase our understanding and knowledge of the past, mostly because, why not?
Of course, while the plot would kind of collapse without this mystery (What did the letter that made Andrew Carmody kill himself really contain and who sent it?) at its heart, the book is about New York city. Of the present day, which in case of this book is 1970 and of the past. To someone who has actually been to New York, I’m not sure how the book will read; but to me it is fascinating and vivid. The descriptions are accompanied by illustrations, in the form of oldish photos and sketches that Si makes. Comparing the descriptions with the pictures is endlessly intriguing; the atmosphere couldn’t have been better translated into words. When in 1882, Si falls in love, it’s not with the one woman but with the entire city and who wouldn’t?
Finally, I love the sheer simplicity of this concept of time travel. In Time and Again, feeling that you are a
part of January 1882, brushing away all your awareness of the present century
and replacing it with the past, convincing yourself that you are travelling in
time, that 1882 is your present, is the key to going back. As is explained to Si, our present is the constant
subconscious awareness we get from all the knowledge fed into us and around us
and all our modern surroundings and memories. Without this knowledge or
with the ability to extract ourselves from this constant certainty, to remove
the continuous feeding of ‘presentness’ into our subconscious, we might find
ourselves in the past. Time travel in this book involves a self hypnosis of sorts, under the right conditions.
And I love the history that Si lives. When he first sees a man up close in 1882, he is taken aback by how real he looks, how not-out-of-a-photograph his face is, red from the cold, and how he surely looks at the world from the eyes of someone from the nineteenth century without even being aware of it. I loved how Si blurts out to a driver that there should have been traffic signals. How he finds the furniture old fashioned and then a moment later, realizes the irony. It is amazing that when they make Si study the past, they make him look not at rags saved up in a museum but things that are just as new but different from today – beautiful things women would actually want to wear, the shoes, the dresses.

The ending: that’s just the most amazing thing. I felt bad there was a sequel. I don’t see myself reading it. This, on the other hand, I’d recommend to everyone. Hasn’t the length of this post already convinced you? Get the book here.

The 2014 Science Fiction Experience

I’m not your biggest expert in science fiction, not having read most of the bests. So undecided as I was about what to read for The 2014 Science Fiction Experience, which has begun already this month, I downloaded all the free science fiction short stories and novellas available on my phone. So far, I’ve read three.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London: This is supposed to be a classic dystopian; the book description called it a post apocalyptic fiction novel. To me, it seemed less like a novel and more like the basic framework of a novel. Set in the year 2072, the story follows an old man, Professor Howard James Smith, the only survivor from the old world and his savage grandsons. The old man tells them the story of the scarlet plague, which, ironically, struck the world in 2013 and wiped most living creatures off the earth. The savages listen to the old man’s detailed descriptions with disbelief, dismiss his complex language as the ravings of a mad man as the once Professor Smith mulls over the fate of civilization.
This book made hardly a story, narrated mostly in flashback. If it really were one of the first dystopians ever written, I can understand the charm. It is ingenious and does make you wonder. But the fact is, now, for the most part, it seems like a dull narration, put in contrast with many post apocalyptic stories I really like. It is too short to be called a novel (made me wonder if that slim Call of the Wild copy of mine is in fact, unabridged) and recommended, I guess, only to fans of the author.
The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster: This is a short story set in a future world where people live wholly underground with everything they need provided to them in their solitary cells. The only contact with the surface of the earth is during flights, but people prefer not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and when they do, they’re mostly uncomfortable and nearly always, scared of the view. The only activity people do is share their ideas through machine messages. This Machine, which runs their lives, has slowly gained a mystical, godly image and people have begun to revere it. One of these people is the main character, Vashti, who is invited by her son Kuno to visit her, out of the blue. He turns out to be a rebel and Vashti’s reluctant visit leads to her shocking discovery that Kuno has been to the surface of the earth, illegally.
If all this sounds just too obvious for your liking, consider this: the story was written in 1909. I know quite a few people who didn’t like Howard’s End much, but I seem to be very comfortable with Forster’s writing style. For a book written more than a hundred years ago, it is quite perceptive of the future and the characters and interactions so aptly and simply put will certainly strike a chord with today’s readers. If our machines stopped, would we be able to survive? In a few pages, the story makes you rethink a lot of your basic assumptions about the world and yourself. You can read it online here
2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut: 2BR02B, with the 0 read as ‘naught’, is a very short story, a brilliant satire about a future where they’ve found a cure for aging. What would happen if, like in this new world, the government took up the responsibility for administering all births and deaths? It goes like this: for every person to be allowed to be born into the world, one person has to volunteer to die.
This story was very Kurt Vonnegut. Dark, hilarious and abrupt. It took me only a couple of minutes to read this, it was over even before it really began and I found myself chuckling at the end! Basically: I loved it. Go read it here.
I’d say this was a good start to the challenge, and I mostly want to read short stories and novellas for now.