The 3 Day Quotes Challenge

“Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.” Ambrose Bierce

I’ve been nominated to take part in the 3 Day Quotes Challenge – thanks to the lovely ahouseofbooks!

The rules of the challenge are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Post a quote on your blog every day for three days.
3. Nominate three other bloggers each day.

Being a contrary sort of beast, however, I thought I’d do all my quotes on one day. It doesn’t say anything about punishment for breaking the rules, so I’m hoping the Challenge Police don’t raid my house and steal all my chocolate…

cartoon policeman

So here goes…

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My first quote represents the standard to which I compare all literary fiction. It comes from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and I’ve seen it translated in a variety of ways, but this is my favourite translation…

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Books that move the stars to pity include…

The Testament of Mary, Sunset Song, American Pastoral, The Grapes of Wrath, Revolutionary Road, And the Mountains Echoed

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The second quote comes from the unique and wondrous pen of the great Plum, PG Wodehouse…

It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

Books that contain aggrieved Scotsmen include…

Laidlaw, Even Dogs in the Wild, Gallowglass, Entry Island, Kidnapped, Docherty

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The third quote is one I’m not sure I believe, except in literary terms, but I love it nevertheless. From John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Books where beauty is truth and truth beauty include…

The Great Gatsby, Nora Webster, Last Man in Tower, The Wind in the Willows, Fallen Land, The Way Things Were

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I’m sorry, but I’m enjoying this so much I positively refuse to stop at three…

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Number four sums up the glory of the cosmos and all that it contains… from that old chap who has tortured generations of schoolchildren with his pesky theorem, Pythagoras…

There is music in the spacing of the spheres.

Books that take us in amongst the spheres and beyond include…

Gravity’s Engines, Dreams of Other Worlds, Nearest Star, The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein, Thirteen, What Galileo Saw

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The fifth quote is of course from the Bible via Wild Bill Shakespeare and is one I have used as the title of more than one review recently…

Woe is me!

Books that are woeful (in one or other sense of that word*) include…

The Goldfinch*, Second Life, The Monogram Murders, The Life I Left Behind, Gone, Lass, Sense and Sensibility – the Trollope version!

*The Goldfinch achieves the special status of being woeful in both senses.

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Since tomorrow is Armistice Day in the UK, when we remember the fallen in two World Wars and later conflicts, it seems appropriate to include the lines that sum up the day, from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Books that will help us remember include…

The War That Ended Peace, Birdsong, Heath Robinson’s Great War, That Dark Remembered Day, The Aftermath, The Telegraph Book of the First World War

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From Ken Kalfus’ fabulous literary sci-fi novel Equilateral comes the wonderful quote…

“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

On the same subject, astronaut Buzz Aldrin said…

“Mars is there, waiting to be reached.”

Books that take us to Mars include…

Equilateral, The Martian, A Princess of Mars, The Martian Chronicles, The Emperor of Mars, The Warlord of Mars

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And finally, no list of quotes would be complete without a wee bit o’ Rabbie Burns – from My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

Books with loves that will last till a’ the seas gang dry include…

Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Persuasion

darcy kiss
(Though really they’re social commentary…)

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D’you know, I’ve had so much fun doing this I suspect there will be another post on it sometime, perhaps a Shakespeare special. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too – and I hereby challenge every one of you, (especially Susan), to join in, either by doing the challenge on your own blog or by leaving your favourite quote(s) below.

Thanks again to ahouseofbooks for the inspiration!

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Have a great Tuesday! 😀

Transwarp Tuesday! The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The naked truth about Mars…

 

Yet another cliffhanger at the end of the second book in the series, The God of Mars, left me with no alternative but to return to Barsoom (Mars) for the third instalment in the adventures of John Carter. Will he ever manage to release Dejah Thoris from captivity? Is Woola alive or was he eaten by the hideous plant men? Are they still all running around naked???

All will be revealed in this week’s…

Transwarp Tuesday!

 

The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs

This review will include spoilers for books 1 & 2 in the series… but since they’re all basically the same it really shouldn’t matter too much…

Last time, we left poor Dejah Thoris trapped in a prison cell with her friend Thuvia and her deadliest enemy Phaidor. As the rotating cell disappeared from view, not to be seen again for a full Martian year, Thuvia had leapt in front of Dejah Thoris to shield her from the knife being wielded by Phaidor. Did Dejah Thoris survive? Did Thuvia survive? Did Phaidor survive? (Exciting, isn’t it?) Poor John Carter – left alone again to wait for his incomparable Princess, with only Woola the dog/cat-like calot for company.

My sweet little Woola...
My sweet little Woola…

He has quelled the forces of the false Gods of Mars and peace has been declared amongst the red, green, white and black races. But he suspects that some of the followers of the now dead goddess Issus are conspiring against him, in particular one man, Thurid. Following him one day, John Carter overhears Thurid conveniently reveal his dastardly plan to open the unopenable cell and steal the matchless Dejah Thoris for himself – for all men love her on sight. Admittedly, all women love John Carter on sight so it seems only fair. In fact, I should probably have mentioned that the three prisoners, Dejah Thoris, Thuvia and Phaidor, are all in love with him – a cosy little gathering, eh?

Admittedly, one can see why...
Admittedly, one can see why…

Anyway, John Carter decides to follow Thurid and, after lots of feats of superhuman endurance and stuff like that, he catches up with Thurid just in time to see him make off with the girls and Phaidor’s Dad (who quite fancies Dejah Thoris for himself). Encouraged by the sight of Dejah Thoris’ unsurpassable beauty, John Carter joins up with Thuvia’s Dad, Thuvan Dinh, to follow them to the ends of the… er… Mars, if necessary. (Hold on! I’ve just noticed a major plot hole! Thuvan Dinh is not in love with Dejah Thoris! Must be a printer’s error, surely…)

Banth by Joe Jusko - he's just a big pussy cat really though...
Banth by Joe Jusko – he’s just a big pussy cat really though…

Accompanied as always by the lovely, loyal, ten-legged Woola, off they go to the wild frozen wastes of the North, from whence no man (or Thark, or Thern) has ever returned. Along the way, John Carter will have to escape from the lion-like banths who like nothing more than a tasty bit of live Martian for breakfast, and the giant hornet-like sith with its poisonous sting. And then he must face the horror of the Apts – giant creatures with four legs and two arms, complete with human-like hands, who prefer their Martians dead in the form of ripe carrion. But nothing is too great a danger for our heroic John Carter, in the throes of love for the unrivalled beauty that is Dejah Thoris, for as he tells us himself with his usual inspiring humility…

If your vocation be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you can do one or the other better than your fellows, then you are a fool if you are not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud that upon two planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John Carter, Prince of Helium.

The horrible carrion-eating Apt... no match for our John though!
The horrible carrion-eating Apt… no match for our John though!

And finally, they will encounter the yellow men of Barsoom (a disappointment – I was hoping for purple) and John Carter will have to battle as he never battled before to win his way through to his peerless Princess. (Well, OK – he’ll battle pretty much the same way as he has battled in every book, but he does have to use a different kind of weapon at one point – so that’s good.) For the evil ruler of the yellow men has fallen madly in love with the unmatched beauty of Dejah Thoris and will stop at nothing to gain her for himself!

Salensus Oll - evil leader of the yellow men and in love with Dejah Thoris - obviously.
Salensus Oll – evil ruler of the yellow men and in love with Dejah Thoris – obviously.

(I know some of you will, like me, be deeply concerned about the possibility of fatal goosepimpling what with the whole nakedness thing combined with the frozen wastes thing. So I’m delighted to inform you that the yellow men wear clothes when they leave the confines of their artificially heated cities. How John Carter and Thuvan survive till they they get to the cities goes untold – one must assume they were carrying suitcases throughout the journey… or perhaps all that battling was enough to keep the circulation flowing. I’m also relieved to note that Dejah Thoris is apparently irresistibly beautiful even when clothed…)

Disney preferred  the peerless Princess Dejah Thoris clothed too, thankfully..
Disney preferred the peerless Princess Dejah Thoris clothed too, thankfully..

For a moment tense silence reigned in the nuptial-room. Then the fifty nobles rushed upon me. Furiously we fought, but the advantage was mine, for I stood upon a raised platform above them, and I fought for the most glorious woman of a glorious race, and I fought for a great love and for the mother of my boy.

And from behind my shoulder, in the silvery cadence of that dear voice, rose the brave battle anthem of Helium which the nation’s women sing as their men march out to victory.

And at the end of the inevitable war, will John Carter and the incomparably lovely Dejah Thoris finally be together? You shall have to read it to find out…

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Great fun! All the books are fundamentally the same but each one has new twists of imagination and John Carter’s feats grow more ridiculous amazing every time. Silly they may be, but they keep me turning the pages and provide much chuckling along the way.  Will I read the next one? Oh, yes, I really think I must…

Little Green Men rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

the martian chroniclesA distant shore…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Written as short stories for magazines in the late 1940s and pulled together with a series of linking pieces for publication in book form in 1951, the book is set around the turn of the millennium, when man is beginning to colonise Mars. But a very different Mars from the one we know today – this one is populated by intelligent beings who seem fairly human in some ways, but have telepathic powers that mean that some of them can sense the approach of the men from Earth.

The book is very episodic in nature though it does have a clear underlying timeline. While the human side of the story is populated with consistently ’40s characters, the Martian side evolves and changes as the book progresses, meaning that it never becomes a fully realised world in the sense of most fantasy novels. Instead, the stories are fundamentally about humanity and it seems as if Bradbury creates Mars and the Martians anew each time to fit the story he wants to tell. This gives a kind of dream-like, almost surreal, quality, especially to the later stories.

the martian chronicles 3 les edwards 2009

The first few episodes tell of the first astronauts arriving on the planet. There are fairly clear parallels here with the arrival of the first settlers to America, with the misunderstandings and tragedies that happen between the races. As happened there, after a few setbacks the incoming race becomes the dominant one, with the Martians proving unable to resist the new diseases the humans have brought to their world. At this early stage, the stories are quite interesting but I was wondering why the book had acquired such a reputation as a sci-fi classic. The science is pretty much non-existent, and there is very little fantasy beyond the basic premise of what can be done with telepathy. Bradbury’s Mars is Earth-like in its atmosphere and requires little or no alteration to make it habitable, and the humans have simply transported their recognisably 1940s world to a new place.

Ask me, then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used, and I’ll say yes. They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we’ll give to the canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we’ll never touch it. And then we’ll get mad at it, and you know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.

However, as the book progresses, Bradbury allows his imagination to take full flight and some of the later stories are beautifully written fantasies with more than a little philosophical edge. There is the usual mid-20th century obsession with approaching nuclear holocaust on Earth, but Bradbury widens it out, using the isolation of the Mars colonists to examine human frailties and concerns more broadly. Loneliness features in more than one story, with the contrasting sense of community and nostalgia that first drives people to make their new homes as like their old ones as they can, and then calls them back home to be with those they left behind when Earth is finally ravaged by the inevitable war.

the martian chronicles 1 les edwards 2009

There is a fabulous story about race, Way Up in the Middle of the Air – black people choosing to make a new home on Mars, leaving the southern states where, while they may be nominally free, they are still treated as inferior beings. I imagine this story must have been extremely controversial and possibly shocking at the time of writing, since it doesn’t shy away from showing the white people as little better than racist abusers.

One of my favourite stories is The Fire Balloons, telling of Father Peregrine on a mission to bring Christianity to the surviving Martians, and fighting against the prejudice of his colleagues that beings so different from humanity could not possess souls. The wonderful imagery in this one is perfectly matched by some of Bradbury’s most beautiful writing, and it is both thought-provoking and moving.

But I could go on picking out favourites, because the comments ‘beautifully written’, ‘great imagery’, ‘fantastically imaginative’ and ’emotionally moving’ could be applied to most of the later stories in the book. Though the episodic nature prevents the reader from developing much emotional attachment to specific characters, the imagination Bradbury shows more than makes up for this lack. In one story, there are no characters – just a house falling into disrepair and eventually consuming itself, and yet Bradbury makes this one of the most moving stories about the after-effects of war that I have read. The final story offers some hope for the future but the overall tone is of the inevitability of self-destruction that was felt so strongly in the world in the decades of the Cold War.

The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air. Help, help! Fire! Run, run! Heat snapped mirrors like the first brittle winter ice. And the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children dying in a forest, alone, alone. And the voices fading as the wires popped their sheathings like hot chestnuts. One, two, three, four, five voices died.

So I too am now convinced that this book deserves its status as one of the great classics. Is it sci-fi? I’m not sure, and I feel to pigeon-hole it as that is more likely to put people off anyway. And I don’t think anyone should be put off reading it just because it’s ‘genre’ fiction – it is as thought-provoking and well written as most ‘literary’ novels and shows a great deal more imagination than they usually do. One I will undoubtedly come back to again and again.

the martian chronicles 4 les edwards 2009

All illustrations © Les Edwards 2009.

Amazon UK Link
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Transwarp Tuesday! The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The continuing adventures of John Carter…

 

Left dangling by the cliffhanger ending of the first in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom Chronicles, A Princess of Mars, I had no alternative but to take up the next in the series. Would John Carter ever find a way to return to Barsoom (Mars, to you and me)? Would the people of Barsoom have survived the danger that threatened to destroy their world? Would Dejah Thoris’ egg have hatched?!?

All will be revealed in this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

the gods of mars

There is no way to review this book without spoilers for the first, so if you intend to read the books at some point, you may want to skip this review…

Once again, we are told the story by John Carter himself, in the journals that he left in the possession of his nephew when he was last on Earth. After spending many years trying to find a way back to Mars, one night John Carter is swept back there (no explanation is given – that would spoil the fun). But rather than being returned to the city of Helium, where he hopes that his lost love Dejah Thoris and his little chicky-child will be waiting for him, he lands in a mighty forest populated by fiercely vicious creatures – the Plant Men!

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dead white – pupil, iris, and ball. Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the center of its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.

From this starting point we are whirled into another frantic adventure story, filled with heroics and battles, love, loyalty and horrors of all kinds. And the greatest horror of all is the ancient goddess, Issus, obese and wrinkled (and, of course, naked – do bear in mind that everyone is naked all the time), who rules the race of the black First Born, who think of themselves as gods. This gives them the right not only to enslave any passing strangers but to…you might want to put down your bun for a moment here…eat all the red and green Martians, and they’re even willing to sample the odd Earthman should he be tender enough. But there is another race who also think themselves gods – the white Therns – who share the appetite for sautéed Martian. And for some reason all the other Martians think that this place is their version of heaven, the place they go to to die, thus delivering themselves up to the ever-peckish gods…if they make it past the Plant Men…

The Plant Men...
The Plant Men…

And by pure coincidence, who should happen along to the forest at the same time as John Carter but his old green Thark friend Tars Tarkas, and a young boy with the nature of a true warrior, and skills that he can only have inherited from his father, whose name is… well, that’s a bit of a secret actually. Much hoohah ensues, with lots of derring-do, and finally John Carter makes his way to Helium only to discover that his beloved Dejah Thoris has been captured by the First Born and is scheduled to appear on the dinner-plate of Issus in one year’s time. Will John Carter be able to get together a war fleet of airships and rescue her in time??

“And you! You shall be the meanest slave in the service of the goddess you have attempted to humiliate. Tortures and ignominies shall be heaped upon you until you grovel at my feet asking the boon of death. In my gracious generosity I shall at length grant your prayer, and from the high balcony of the Golden Cliffs I shall watch the great white apes tear you asunder.”

(A hint for travellers – when a Martian goddess says she loves you, don’t tell her about the little woman back home…)

Finally…finally…John Carter and Dejah Thoris meet as the battle rages around them. (Which is a good thing since it puts a stop to John Carter’s outrageous flirting with every woman he meets!) So brave John Carter shoves her into a side tunnel for safety while he goes off to battle a million or so of the First Born.

Just as an aside at this point, I feel I have to mention that John Carter has brought all kinds of human values with him to Mars, like love and loyalty and heroism, but unfortunately (and I think we must bear in mind here that he’s a man) it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to bring the most important human value of all – that of wearing suitable clothing…or indeed any clothing. It’s bad enough leaving the eternal love of your life unarmed and unprotected in a tunnel, but leaving her there undressed too seems so much worse somehow. I reckon there’s a huge commercial opportunity for us Earthlings to set up Marks & Spencer franchises throughout the Martian cities – surely given a choice the Martian women would be glad of some decent thermal underwear?

Anyway, back to the battle! After numerous acts of heroism, John Carter returns for Dejah Thoris only to find that… there’s another cliffhanger ending!!! Will John Carter and Dejah Thoris ever get together again? Will he be whisked back to Earth? Will my favourite character of all, Woola the dog-like calot, ever re-appear or (gulp!) has someone eaten him?? Will I really have to read the next book in the series to find out???

Woola...four legs missing, but still smiling...
Sweet little Woola…how I worry about him…

Little Green Men rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Amazon UK Link
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Transwarp Tuesday! John Carter

When two tribes go to war…

 

kinopoisk.ru

 

Having recently read and loved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – I was intrigued to see how Disney had dealt with it.

So in a departure from the norm, it’s a movie review for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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Disney does Edgar Rice Burroughs!

 

in

 

JOHN CARTER

 

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter
Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter

Two Martian tribes are at war – the Heliumites and the Zodangans, who for ease we shall think of as the goodies and the baddies. But the baddies are being helped by a mysterious race of superbeings known as the Thern, who have given them the ability to harness the ninth ray of the sun and use it as a super weapon. As the goodies face certain defeat, the leader of the Zodangans offers to spare them from destruction if the Heliumite Princess, Dejah Thoris, agrees to be his bride.

Meantime, back on Earth, ex-Confederate Army Captain John Carter takes refuge from a horde of attacking Apache warriors in a mysterious cave, where he meets a passing Thern and is accidentally transported to Barsoom, which we Earthlings know as the Red Planet – Mars! Once there, he finds the lower gravity gives him superior strength and the ability to jump really high and really far. Captured by Tharks (14-ft tall, six-limbed, green, horned, pretty ugly), he falls in love with the thankfully human-looking Dejah Thoris and is gradually sucked into the ongoing war…

Tharks...
Tharks…

The plot of the film is a simplified version of the plot of the book, which in truth was already fairly simple. The scriptwriters have tried to make sense of some of the gaping plot holes in the book by introducing the Thern, thus providing an explanation for how John Carter got to Mars. They’ve also changed Dejah Thoris a bit to make her more acceptable to modern audiences. She already had a reasonably heroic role in the book but in the film she is kickass! Truly! And intelligent, gorgeous, scantily clad, interestingly tattooed and a bit of a flirt. A description that works equally well for John Carter, minus the tattoos…and possibly the intelligence.

Some people say women can't be warriors...but I bet they don't say it when Dejah's around...
Dejah Thoris in warrior mode…

However the writers (who somewhat amazingly include Michael Chabon) have got rid of most of the stuff about the society of the Tharks, which personally I felt was one of the more interesting features of the book. Oddly, though, they left little bits in but without much explanation, so that I wondered whether I’d have struggled to follow the plot (such as it is) if I hadn’t read the book. For instance, the big reveal about Tars Tarkas being Sola’s father really needed the background filled out to show why it was important – that is, that in Thark society, love between adults is taboo; eggs are laid and children brought up by the community rather than by biological parents.

Thark on a thoat...
Thark on a thoat…

Instead the film concentrates almost entirely on fighting and battles interspersed with the John Carter/Dejah Thoris love story. This works well in terms of the CGI – overall they do a good job of all the different creatures of Burroughs’ imagination* and the very Disney-style battles involve a lot of fun and exciting fighting and killing, while keeping it almost entirely gore-free – with the exception of the blue blood of the great White Ape, and that was really just splattered about for its humorous value. And obviously only the baddies die, and they all deserve it, so the feel-good factor is not disrupted.

(*Special mention must go to Woola – the dog-like creature. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t go for the full ten legs, but they got his massive grin and cuddly personality. On the other hand (pun intended), they went for the simplest version possible of giving the Tharks an extra pair of arms, which wasn’t really how Burroughs described them. He said the extra limbs could operate as either arms or legs as circumstances required… I suspect either CGI or the special effects guys’ imaginations must still have limitations.)

Woola...four legs missing, but still smiling...
Woola…four legs missing, but still smiling…

A fun adventure, as silly and inconsistent as the book but in different ways. I’m not sure I’d be nominating it for Oscars for the script or indeed the acting; and I suspect I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t read the book. But it has lots of heroics, a good deal of humour, a nice little romance (despite my severe disappointment that they cut the bit about Dejah laying an egg) and the special effects looked pretty good to my untutored eye. Overall, the full two hours and a bit passed very entertainingly.

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Transwarp Tuesday! The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov

Water, water, everywhere…

 

robot dreamsOne of the ‘Big Three’ of sci-fi writers of the mid-to-late twentieth century (with Robert A Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke), Isaac Asimov was not just incredibly prolific but also hugely influential – on actual science as well as on later sci-fi authors. He also happens to be my favourite sci-fi author of all time and the one I’ve read most extensively, though mostly long, long ago. Most of his stuff is ‘hard sci-fi’ – roughly speaking, possible human futures based on realistic science – and he’s arguably best known for his robot stories. Pretty much all the later robots and androids of our acquaintance are direct descendants of Asimov’s characters and he was, as far as I know, the first to really speculate in any depth about where the dividing line is between ‘machine’ and ‘life’. Anyone who watched Commander Data of Star Trek fame struggle to become ‘human’ was in fact watching an Asimov-inspired creation – a credit the Star Trek team were glad to give. The ‘positronic’ brain and the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ have not just become a sci-fi standard, but also something that real robotocists (another Asimov term) still use as a goal – as is evident from Michio Kaku’s recent book on The Future of the Mind.

commander data

So when I downloaded this collection of Asimov’s short stories, Robot Dreams, I intended to review a robot story…but I may have previously mentioned my Mars obsession, so instead went straight to the following story for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov

 

As this longish short story begins, the colony on Mars has been in existence for around three generations and the people born there have begun to think of themselves as Martians rather than colonists. However they’re still dependent on Earth for some of their food and, more importantly, for the water that they need not just to live, but to provide their rockets with the power that they need to get their ships into space. As each water-holding shell is used it is jettisoned into space, and the first people we meet are Martian ‘scavengers’, who search for these shells and recover them for their scrap value.

The original pubblication in Galaxy magazine in 1952
The original publication in Galaxy magazine in 1952

But back on earth a politician is whipping up a storm about the amount of water that is being taken from Earth and ‘wasted’ in space or in the colonies. And when Hilder gets into a position of power, he aims to stop providing supplies to Mars, effectively ending the ability of the colonists to stay there. The option is open for them to return to Earth to live – but they feel they are Martian now. So one of the scavengers, Ted Long, comes up with a daring and dangerous plan to find a water source elsewhere in the solar system…

This is hard sci-fi at its finest. Asimov takes what is known at the time of writing and builds realistically on it to speculate what might be possible in the future. Obviously the science is sometimes out-dated now with new discoveries making Asimov’s speculations look wrong – but when you know as little about real science as I do that really doesn’t matter. I once asked a couple of sciency-type people if Asimov’s science is robust and, while they were a bit sniffy about the way he sometimes makes incredibly complex things sound reasonably straightforward, I felt that said more about sciency-type people than it did about Asimov! 😉

MartianWayByIsaacAsimov1950s_0014MartianWayByIsaacAsimov1950s_0028

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it’s not all science, and that’s why he’s so readable. His stories are exciting, with a great mix of suspense and humour, his writing style is approachable even when he’s explaining the connection between quantity of water required and mass plus velocity(!), he sets out to entertain and never patronises the reader, and his characterisation is great. In this one, as is often the case in his stories, the scavengers aren’t scientists – just practical working guys using their skills and experience to solve problems. And, of course, things don’t go smoothly, so they have to be able to think fast and act faster…

An excellent story that is a great introduction to Asimov’s style, you can also read this story online  together with the original illustrations, including the ones I’ve posted here. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read some robot stories…

Little Green Men: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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Transwarp Tuesday! The Emperor of Mars by Allen M Steele

best new SF 24“…red like a fire on a distant shore…”

 

When introducing this little sci-fi series a couple of weeks ago, I somehow forgot to mention that I love stories about Mars. Old-fashioned ones, like A Princess of Mars, with aliens and canals; new-fangled ones, like The Martian, based on actual science; new-fangled ones that pretend to be old-fashioned ones, like Ken Kalfus’ Equilateral.

So the first thing I look for in the index of any SF anthology is a mention of the Red Planet. And that’s why this story has been chosen for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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The Emperor of Mars by Allen M Steele

 

Approaching Dust Storm on Mars by Ludek Pesek
Approaching Dust Storm on Mars by Ludek Pesek

The year is 2048. The place is the Arsia Station, the largest of the Mars colonies. Very few of the inhabitants stay in the colony for life; most are on short contracts for two or three years which allow them to earn enough to make a good start in life on their return to Earth. Our narrator is the General Manager of the station and he is telling us how people can be psychologically affected by the separation from family, and how this can be exacerbated if they hear bad news from home. And the example he chooses to illustrate his point is the strange case of Jeff Halbert.

The Phoenix DVD - called Visions of Mars - on Mars
The Phoenix DVD – called Visions of Mars – on Mars

When Jeff hears that his wife and parents have been killed in a car accident, the station’s psychologist fears he may be becoming suicidal so, to divert his mind, he persuades the General Manager to send Jeff on an expedition that, amongst other things, is going to try to locate the Phoenix probe, sent to Mars by NASA in 2008. The trip is successful and they bring back the Phoenix’ robotic arm for the base museum. But Jeff also brings back the DVD that had been sent with Phoenix, containing a library of sci-fi stories about Mars from the 19th and 20th centuries, together with artwork inspired by the Red Planet. The base computers can no longer play this outdated technology, but Jeff manages to find some old kit stored away and eventually manages to access the disc. This all seems quite positive to the psychologist, until Jeff begins to show signs of believing that he can see the Martians described in the classic books he’s reading – HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Roger Zelazny et al. And soon he is asking people to call him the Emperor of Mars…

“He is now the Emperor Jeffery the First, sovereign monarch of the Great Martian Empire, warlord and protector of the red planet.” A pause, during which I expected Karl to grin and wink. He didn’t. “He doesn’t necessarily want anyone to bow in his presence,” he added, “but he does require proper respect for the crown.”

© Universal Pictures Mars attacks Earth - Flash Gordon and his scientist friend Doctor Zarkov prepare to impersonate the caped soldiers of Ming the Merciless, ruler of Mars.
© Universal Pictures
Mars attacks Earth – Flash Gordon and his scientist friend Doctor Zarkov prepare to impersonate the caped soldiers of Ming the Merciless, ruler of Mars.

To be honest, the plot of this story isn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, although it is interesting. The stuff about the DVD on Phoenix is completely true – it was prepared by the Planetary Society, one of whose founders was Carl Sagan, with the idea of providing a library for future colonists who may one day live on Mars. As well as books and art, it contains clips of radio shows like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds; and parts of the DVD are narrated by Patrick Stewart, aka Cap’n Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. The story of Jeff’s retreat from the reality of the Mars he is actually on into the fantasies created by these great sci-fi writers is nicely done, and gives the author the opportunity to pay tribute to a lot of people he clearly reveres. Not being an expert in sci-fi, I missed loads of the references but I got enough of them to hold my interest, and the story mentions so many classic Martian tales that it’ll be invaluable to me as I explore strange new genres, seek out new stories and new authors, boldly go where…oh, sorry! I do beg your pardon!

Alex Schomburg Image of Mars, 1954 Alex Schomburg's cover for Donald A. Wolheim's "Secret of the Martian Moons" (1954) combined the most accurate telescopic observations of the time with Percival Lowell's canals.
Alex Schomburg
Image of Mars, 1954
Alex Schomburg’s cover for Donald A. Wolheim’s “Secret of the Martian Moons” (1954) combined the most accurate telescopic observations of the time with Percival Lowell’s canals.

Anyway, as I was saying – a well written and enjoyable story, probably of most interest to existing sci-fi aficionados who will pick up on more of the references, but one which would certainly encourage me to read more of Steele’s work.

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Amazon UK Link
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Notes and links:

The post heading is a quote from Ken Kalfus’ Equilateral.

The list of texts included on the Phoenix DVD can be seen here.

All pictures on this post other than the book cover are taken from The Planetary Society’s website and the artwork is all included on the Phoenix DVD.

Transwarp Tuesday! A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

a princess of marsDarcy and Lizzie in space!

 

A dying planet criss-crossed by canals – what an inspiration Mars has been for generations of sci-fi writers to imagine the alien species that must once have lived there…or may still. It’s almost sad that advancements in science have destroyed all hope of finding intelligent life on Mars. However this story dates back to 1911, so Burroughs could allow his imagination to run free, making it an ideal choice for…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

* * * * * * * * *

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

a princess art

He was a splendid specimen of manhood, standing a good two inches over six feet, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of the trained fighting man. His features were regular and clear cut, his hair black and closely cropped, while his eyes were of steel gray, reflecting a strong and loyal character, filled with fire and initiative. His manners were perfect, and his courtliness was that of a typical southern gentleman of the highest type.

Swoon! It could so easily be a description of my beloved Darcy, couldn’t it, girls? But no…this is John Carter, heroic here on Earth but superheroic once he is mysteriously transported to Mars, in a way that Burroughs leaves entirely unexplained. Which is a good thing, in one way, but sad in another, because the true comic heights of this book are reached when Burroughs tries to explain scientifically what’s going on.

This ray is separated from the other rays of the sun by means of finely adjusted instruments placed upon the roof of the huge building, three-quarters of which is used for reservoirs in which the ninth ray is stored.

Arriving naked on Mars, Carter finds himself captured by huge six-limbed green Martians, also naked, repulsive to look at and vicious by nature. However, endowed with superior strength and agility by the low gravity on Mars, the brave Carter has soon killed enough of these creatures to win their admiration and to be made a chieftain among them. This comes in handy when his Lizzie turns up (naked), in the guise of a red human-like (hence thankfully only four-limbed) Martian, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. She has been captured by the green Tharks and is soon to be tortured to death for their amusement. But Carter is entranced by the beauty and spirit of Dejah Thoris and, pausing only to sigh over her little hands, fine eyes and precious dimples, sets out to save her and return her to her own (naked) people, the Heliumites. But, just like Darcy, Carter says something really incredibly stupid that offends Dejah Thoris, meaning that he has to do amazing deeds of derring-do to prove his love and win her heart and little hand in marriage, so that one day they can hopefully make an egg together…

a princess art2

I’m forced to admit it – I loved this book! It’s silly beyond belief and, even making allowances for the fact that it was written in 1911, the ‘science’ aspects are…unique! But it’s hugely imaginative and a great old-fashioned heroic adventure yarn, from the days when men were men and damsels were perpetually in distress. As each new creature is introduced the burning question becomes – how many limbs will this one have? Why stop at six – lets have eight! And what an old romantic Burroughs turns out to be! It’s up to our Carter to teach the Tharks the meaning of love and so show them how they can be tender and caring while ripping their enemies limb from limb…from limb. The passage where Carter wins the undying loyalty of his (ten-limbed) frog-headed ‘hound’ Woola by showing him kindness and affection is genuinely touching, and the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris could have come straight from the pages of a Mills and Boon novel (Harlequin, for my American friends).

“Dejah Thoris, I do not know how I have angered you. It was furtherest from my desire to hurt or offend you, whom I had hoped to protect and comfort. Have none of me if it is your will, but that you must aid me in effecting your escape, if such a thing be possible, is not my request but my command. When you are safe once more at your father’s court you may do with me as you please, but from now on until that day I am your master, and you must obey and aid me.”

The action never lets up from beginning to end, from one-to-one fights to the death, attacks by killer white apes, all the way up to full-scale wars complete with flying ships and half-crazed (eight-limbed) thoats. And then, just when it looks like Carter and Dejah Thoris might finally be able to hatch their very own chicky-child…disaster strikes…dramatic cliff-hanger ending!! Oh no!! Does this mean…will I have to read the next one…???

I really think I must…

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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Oops! Nearly forgot…

Darcy - naked! (Gosh! I bet that increases my page views!)
Darcy – naked!
(Gosh! I bet that increases my page views!)

The Martian by Andy Weir

the martian 2“Mars is there, waiting to be reached.” – Buzz Aldrin

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

After an accident during a dust storm, Mark Watney finds himself alone on Mars. His colleagues in the Ares 3 expedition believed he was dead and were forced to evacuate the planet while they still could. The communications system was broken in the storm so Mark can’t let anyone know he’s alive. And it’s four years till the next scheduled mission to Mars. Fortunately Mark has a few things going for him. He’s an engineer and a botanist, there’s quite a lot of equipment left over from the mission including the Hab – the living quarters complete with atmospheric and water reclamation equipment – and, perhaps most importantly, he has twelve potatoes. And most of all he has the determination to survive…

It died instantly. The screen went black before I was out of the Airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid”. I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

This is a fantastic adventure story set in the near future. It only just scrapes into the sci-fi category since all the science and equipment is pretty much stuff that’s available now – and though it’s chock full of science and technology, it’s presented in a way that makes it not just interesting but fun. Mark is a hero of the old school – he just decides to get on with things and doesn’t waste time angsting or philosophising. And he’s got a great sense of humour which keeps the whole thing deliciously light-hearted. It reminded me of the way old-time adventure stories were written – the Challenger books or the Quatermain stories mixed with a generous dash of HG Wells – but brought bang up to date in terms of language and setting. And although Mark is heroic, he’s a believable hero – he’s a NASA-trained astronaut with a scientific background, so it’s easy to accept that he knows how to make stuff work and also to believe that he is psychologically and physically equipped to deal with this kind of extreme situation.

If I could have anything, it would be a radio to ask NASA the safe path down the Ramp. Well, if I could have anything, it would be for the green-skinned yet beautiful Queen of Mars to rescue me so she can learn more about this Earth thing called “lovemaking”.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a woman. Just sayin’.

mars and earth

As the book progresses we also get to meet the people in mission control and Mark’s erstwhile colleagues on the space-ship. Again, although they are shocked by what has happened, they show their professionalism by just focussing on finding a solution, reacting to each new development as it happens. So refreshing to not have to spend hours and hours reading about how they felt! There’s a place for that in fiction obviously, but sometimes there’s a place for a rollicking good roller-coaster of an adventure yarn too – and that’s what this is.

Andy Weir
Andy Weir

When a book becomes a huge runaway bestseller, there’s always the fear that it can’t live up to the hype. Fear not! This one certainly does! It started out as a self-published book which sold in the zillions, has now gone on to be traditionally published, and the film rights have already been bought up. Well written, though not at all literary; great characterisation in the tradition of the heroes of Star Trek, Buchan et al; enough science and stuff to satisfy the geekiest geek but explained simply and humorously enough for us technophobes to understand – and a brilliantly depicted setting on the surface of Mars. All the best sci-fi comes from Mars and this is a new one to add to that illustrious list. Put it on your TBR!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Ebury.

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Publication Day! Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

“Mars” he said.

Since this book is such a treat, I thought I’d just highlight that today’s the day! Subtle humour, insightful, wonderful pared-back prose, poetic geometry (yes, seriously), fabulous cover art and, most of all, great sci-fi – really, what more could you want?

My full review is hiding behind this link 🙂

Equilateral

Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

Greater than the sum of its parts…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Equilateral“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

It’s 1894, Mars is about to come into its closest alignment to Earth and Professor Sanford Thayer intends to attract the attention of the Martians. With the support of 900,000 fellahin and financing from the entire Western world, he is excavating a massive equilateral triangle in the desert sands of Egypt and on June 17th, he will turn it into a burning signpost…

This shortish novel took me completely by surprise with its scope and deceptive simplicity, and left me breathless. Not a word is wasted or misplaced as Kalfus plays with early science fiction, empire and colonialism, and the arrogance of science. Sly and subtle humour runs through the book as Kalfus’ present tense narration makes us complicit in the attitudes of the time: the unquestioned superiority of the white man, particularly the Brits, and hence the moral and intellectual inferiority, degeneracy even, of other races; the ascendancy of scientific thought and the belief that scientific advancement equates to moral superiority; the status of women, both ‘white’ and ‘native’. There is another triangle at play here too as Thayer’s emotional entanglements with his secretary and serving maid are played out.

(Source: Amazon.com)
Ken Kalfus
(Source: Amazon.com)

There’s all of that in this book, but most of all there’s a rollicking good sci-fi story in the best tradition of Wells or Wyndham. The scientists have the unshakeable belief that the Martians’ advanced scientific skills (as evidenced by their canal-building) prove that they will be more highly evolved in every way than us and will therefore be a peaceful and civilised race. But we, dear readers, have read the books, seen the films, watched as science gets it wrong sometimes…as the climax approaches, the tension rockets…

Superbly written, the prose is pared back to the bone with every word precisely placed to create an atmospheric, sometimes poetic, and entirely absorbing narrative. Even the geometry becomes magical in this author’s gifted hands as the red planet reprises its eternal sci-fi role as a place of mystery and wonder. An unexpected delight.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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