Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Just what is To Say Nothing of the Dog?

First, it’s a book by Connie Willis. Second, it’s what you get when you cross the time-traveling science fiction of H.G. Wells with the cleverness and humor of P.G. Wodehouse. It’s quite a hybrid, but it works from beginning to end.

The year is 2057. Lady Schrapnell – a rich and imperious old dowager – has invaded Oxford University’s time travel research project, promising to provide funds for it if they assist her in restoring Coventry Cathedral, a grand old building destroyed by a Nazi air raid way back in 1940. She bullies almost everyone into the program, forcing them to make “jumps” back in time to locate particular items.

Enter Ned Henry, a 21st century Oxford history student. When too many jumps leave him suffering from a severe case of time lag, a relaxing trip back to Victorian England seems like the perfect remedy. His mistake. Complexities like missing cats, incongruities in the time continuum, and love at first sight make Ned’s “holiday” anything but peaceful. To say nothing of the way an extraordinarily hideous bit of Victorian art can alter the flow of history.

Willis’ book derives its title from the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome’s comedic classic Three Men in a Boat. A particularly funny scene involves Ned Henry catching sight of Jerome and his two friends in – you guessed it – a boat. After much excitement and a futile effort to explain what is happening to his Victorian friends, Ned realizes that

if [the three men] were just now on their way upriver, Three Men in a Boat must not have been written yet. I hoped when it came out, Terence wouldn’t read the copyright page.

The literary allusions don’t stop there, either. Nods to geniuses of the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle abound, adding even more fun and humor to the story.

The characters are delightful. Ned Henry is a likable everyman-type hero who finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of crazy events, dashing to pieces any hopes he had of getting some good R and R. Verity Kindle is a sweet and sometimes impetuous heroine, and you can’t help hoping she and Ned will get together in the end. The cast of sub-characters, including a hapless bull dog named Cyril, is equally well-conceived, and each one serves a unique purpose in Willis’ comedy of errors (and manners).

As far as content goes, there’s little to be concerned about. Foul language is used very infrequently, and when it does occur “damn” and “bloody hell” is as bad as it gets. A few mildly suggestive remarks are made; and in one scene, Ned learns that his Victorian friends have a marked aversion to openly discussing “the facts of life”. (The scene is actually quite tasteful and written in a humorous, lighthearted way).

So, if you’re looking for hysterical comedy with a serious edge, pick up To Say Nothing of the Dog. It is, simply put, brilliant. I’m sure I’ll be picking it up again very soon to enjoy a second romp through Willis’ fantastical tale.

Source Code

Cool idea. Great acting. Crisp directing. Stylish visuals. And an absolutely fantastic musical score. Too bad the film never quite lives up to the ingenuity of its premise. It wants to be a thinking man’s actioner a la Inception. Think about it too hard, though, and it begins to fall apart. The science is vague and muddled. The ethics, even more so. My verdict: it was entertaining while it lasted. But once is enough.

“What would you do if you knew you only had one minute to live?”

(I’ll be posting a more in-depth review
of Source Code on my movie blog Reel Quick)

Book Review: The Terminal Man

Ever since a brutal car accident, Harry Benson has been prone to sudden, violent seizures that render him a danger to himself and everyone near him. But there may be a cure. Dr. Roger McPherson – esteemed head of the Neuropsychiatric Research Unit at University Hospital in LA – is certain he can help Benson through Stage Three: a unique experimental surgery in which electrodes are placed on the patient’s brain, targeting its pleasure centers with soothing electrical pulses.

The operation is successful, and for a while, Benson seems to improve. But when he figures out how to get the pulses with increasing frequency, events take a sharp turn and he escapes into the city – a psychopath with a deadly agenda.

Let me begin by saying that I typically enjoy this kind of story. The premise of this techno-thriller by Michael Crichton really does fascinate me. It had such promise, such potential for resulting in an absolute gem of science fiction. It is unfortunate, then, that this potential remains unrealized, resulting in a lackluster tale that amazes the reader with its ability to underwhelm.

For starters, Crichton’s characters are a wreck. They’re stale, cardboard cutouts that show little depth and no development throughout the course of the story. Even the maniacal Benson failed to arouse any sort of interest in me. We also have the stereotypical independent female – you know, the one who ends up making all her male peers look like a bunch of idiots.

For another thing, the plotting really lacks the intensity requisite to this type of fiction. No genuine suspense is generated by the goings-on; and far from being persuaded of the precariousness of the situation, I felt like yawning.

Which brings me to the ending, the supposed “climax” of the whole shebang. I can sum it up in one word: pathetic. Upon finishing the book, I said to myself, That’s it? Really? After all I trudged through, that’s it?

Can this story get any worse? Yes. It can.

There’s plenty of profanity scattered throughout Crichton’s story, but worse than that is the amount of sexual content, consisting of tasteless humor, crude dialogue, and suggestive behavior (one entire chapter takes place in a strip club). And this risque trash is necessary to a good story in what way?

This review is merely my long-winded way of advising you to avoid this book like the plague. You’re not missing anything. Except garbage.