Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE CROQUET PLAYER by H. G. Wells:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/26/2016]

THE CROQUET PLAYER by H. G. Wells (ISBN 978-0-803-29842-2) is atypical Wells, more in the style of M. R. James, or even Henry James, if one thinks of THE TURN OF THE SCREW. It is Wells's attempt to write an atmospheric ghost story, but whether one thinks it a successful attempt is a matter of taste. It is difficult, after all, to abandon a writing style that has been honed on the rational in order to convey the irrational. The comparison to Henry James seems apt, since Wells and James were in a dispute over whether it was better to write about events in the physical world, or psychological states in the mental world. Henry James was the brother of philosopher William James, who wrote THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, so perhaps his bent towards internal states ran in the family.

To order The Croquet Player from amazon.com, click here.


ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU by H. G. Wells:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/22/2010]

I recently watched ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (based on ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU by H. G. Wells). One thing that struck me was its similarity in at least one regard to A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. How, you may well ask. Well, in ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, Laughton is basically a god to his creations, and he has provided them with "The Law":

Not to eat meat, that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to go on all fours, that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to spill blood, that is the Law. Are we not Men?

When Laughton/"God" tells Ouran to kill Captain Donahue, he says that the Law does not apply this time. But Ouran and others take this, and extend it, and decide that the Law no longer applies at all.

Now, in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, Thomas More asks Will Roper, "[Would you] cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?" Roper replies that he would "cut down every law in England to do that." And More says, "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide .., the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ..., and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake."

And there are still plenty of examples in real life where people have decided that the laws--divine or man-made--do not apply in their special case. ("I'm saying that when the President does it, it is not illegal.")

Is all this in Wells's novel? Not in this form. The Law there is:

Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

But Moreau makes the same mistake. He shows one of the creatures, his servant, how to skin and cook a rabbit, and that is how they taste blood. But there is more the implication of the creatures being overcome by their animal nature than by having the Law explicitly nullified by Moreau.

To order The Island of Dr. Moreau from amazon.com, click here.


THINGS TO COME by H. G. Wells:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/25/2007]

We recently watched THINGS TO COME, based on the novel and screen treatment by H. G. Wells. The miniature of Everytown at the beginning is really marvelous, even though it is only on screen for a few seconds. It incorporates aspects of many British towns (e.g., St. Paul's from London, Arthur's Seat from Edinburgh [I think]) to create something that was truly "Everytown". And there are other touches: all the children's Christmas gifts at the beginning are martial. The Boss is obviously intended to be a negative character in a fascist mold; he dresses like Mussolini and says things like, "You are warriors. You have been taught not to think, but to do--and--if, need be, die. I salute you--I, your leader." But the technocracy Wings over the World brings does not look much better to our eyes. They show up in Everytown, announce that they are taking control, and say things like, "Now we have to put the world in order," and "first, the round-up of brigands." (Interestingly, Wells has them "settle, organize, and advance" first, then round up the brigands, while the film has the brigands rounded up first.)

And what do they do? Well, Cabal announces, "We shall excavate the eternal hills," and then we see massive strip-mining operations and huge factories, apparently fairly polluted, since all the workers are wearing full body suits and helmets. When Theotocopulos cries, "Stop this progress before it is too late!" we are likely to agree at least somewhat with him. (And how do Theotocopulos and Cabal project their voices in their debate across about a half-mile of distance without any microphones or speakers?) In spite of all this, this is a film that cries out for a good restoration--I wonder why no one has done one?


THE TIME MACHINE by H. G. Wells:

With H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE, it's possible that the George Pal film is as good as the book, though very different in tone. (I haven't seen the new version, but rumor has it that it comes in a poor third.) And if the length of the previous two books is daunting, this is perfect. (By Hugo standards, it is actually a novella rather than a novel, being about 32,500 words.)

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/28/2003]

And there was H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE, read for my library's science fiction reading group. I can't recall if I had noted before that it appears that Wells originated the idea that the elite would live on the surface and the workers underground, and then Fritz Lang may this visual in METROPOLIS.

To order The Time Machine from amazon.com, click here.


THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/01/2005]

H. G. Wells's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (ISBN 0-812-50515-8) was this month's selection for our science fiction discussion. Rather than rehash what has been said a zillion times, I'll note two things. First, even H. G. Wells can write an ungrammatical sentence: "No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible and improbable." What is obviously meant is "No one gave a thought ..., [or if they did, they] thought of them only...."

Second (and I know I'm being to sound like a broken record), some of Wells's more bigoted comments have been bowdlerized in later versions. In chapter 16, "The Exodus from London", the original describes the scene after the bag of coins breaks as, "The Jew stopped and looked at the heap," and later says that the brother was "clutching the Jew's collar with his free hand." In later editions, the man (who has been described as "a bearded, eagle-faced man", is referred to only as "the man." And the "Jewess" in chapter 22 disappeared in a major re-write of everything after the death of the curate. (I believe that this rewrite was the conversion of the original magazine publication to book form.)

One line which appeared almost verbatim in Jeff Wayne's musical version was "'The chances of anything man-like on Mars are a million to one,' he said." Wayne changed it to "'The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one,' he said." Timothy Hines keeps it precisely verbatim in his direct-to-DVD three-hour H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. (Steven Spielberg never mentions Mars.)

And since I have mentioned the Timothy Hines version, I might as well say a couple of things about it. It is extremely faithful to the novel, with almost all of the dialogue taken verbatim from the novels. There are a couple of minor differences (the extortionate newspaper cost is one pound, rather than four pence or a shilling as in the book, and the brother finds the bicycle on the street rather than taking it from a shop window).

Yes, the acting is not naturalistic. But it's the same style as the way the Jane Seymour character acts on stage in the Edwardian period in SOMEWHERE IN TIME. Yes, the image compositing has flaws; so does the compositing in the Paris flashback and other scenes in CASABLANCA. Yes, the effects look non-realistic at times, but if you like the visual effects and style of such movies as SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE or SIN CITY, this should present no problems.

The Hines/period version is available on DVD for $8.42 at Walmart, or $10.49 from amazon.com. Considering how much movie tickets for the Spielberg version cost, this is cheaper than two matinee tickets. I really hope that people would give this one a chance.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/19/2011]

We recently watched WAR OF THE WORLDS for the umpteenth time, and I noticed yet more new things. For example, the scene of the Martian war machine coming down the street at about 33 minutes into the film is the same scene as the one at the end when the ship crashes. That is, it was shot as a single scene, and then cut so the first half was used in the early scene and the rest at the end.

There are scenes in the middle of the film of animals fleeing in terror: wild horses, deer, and birds. But in the horse scene you can see wranglers along the ridge driving the horse down the side of the hill.

At the end, all of the Martian war machines in Los Angeles go silent at the same instant--a very unlikely scenario.

And while there are a few Hispanic characters, there is only one Asian (other than visiting dignitaries) and no African-Americans. This hardly reflects the composition of Los Angeles at the time.

To order The War of the Worlds from amazon.com, click here.
To order the film H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds from amazon.com, click here.


"Murderbot" series by Martha Wells:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/19/2018]

ALL SYSTEMS RED (ISBN 978-0-25021471-3), ARTIFICIAL CONDITION (ISBN 978-0-250-18692-8), ROGUE PROTOCOL (ISBN 978-0-250-19178-6), and EXIT STRATEGY (ISBN 978-0-250-18546-4) by Martha Wells are the four books that form her "Murderbot" series. They are published as part of Tor Books line of novellas, about which my only complaint is the price: $17.99 for a novella seems rather steep, especially as this makes the cost for the full story, which might otherwise be published as a single volume novel, a rather pricey $71.96. Most novels normally run $28.99 or so.

Price aside (and there are always libraries), I definitely recommend this series. It's noir fiction with a twist: the first-person narrator is a security bot, basically a robot (with some organic parts) who has broken free of its controlling software and is now functioning independently, although no one else knows this (at least at first). Each book has a mystery and/or a task that requires what is effectively a private eye. Think of it as a cyborg Philip Marlowe.

Wells intended the character to be truly genderless, and the character uses "it" and its declensions to refer to itself. She also has characters who are "tercera" and use the pronouns "te" et al, so our narrator need not appear either male or female when attempting to pass for human.)

Because it has so many interesting aspects--noir, enhanced humans, gender issues, the rise of corporate governments--I recommend the "Murderbot" series.

To order All Systems Red from amazon.com, click here.

To order Artificial Condition from amazon.com, click here.

To order Rogue Protocol from amazon.com, click here.

To order Rxit Strategy from amazon.com, click here.


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