Monday, August 29, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days

And here I continue my reviews of Verne's novels with the classic Around the World in 80 Days.
It starts detailing the character and nature of one Phileas Fogg, an eminently respectable gentleman of the most exact and regular habits. He is wealthy, although no one knows where he gained his fortune, and he has no living family. He usually spends his day at the Reform Club, a society composed of other wealthy and respectable gentlemen like himself, although none are quite as machine-like. He spends his time at the Reform Club reading the daily papers, and playing whist, at which he is very proficient. He has just hired a French servant, to replace his old one(the other servant being discharged for preparing his shaving water several degrees Fahrenheit off). The new servant, named Passepartout, is very pleased with his new master, because he has always wanted to settle down quietly. That is, until Mr. Fogg returns home earlier than usual, bearing the news that he and his servant are going to travel around the world in 80 days, on a wager. They bring little luggage, Mr. Fogg bringing only a carpetbag full of bank notes, as they will buy what they need on the way.
 So they travel to India. They ride an elephant and rescue a young Indian girl who speaks English. She travels with them. It turns out she had relatives in China, and since they are headed in that direction already anyways, she goes with them.
In China, Passepartout is separated from Fogg and the girl, so he manages to work for food until he bumps into them again. The Indian girl continues with them, as her relative apparently moved, and is no longer in China.
 Throughout all this, they are pursued by a London detective, who is absolutely convinced that Phileas Fogg is the bank robber he was hired to catch.
They sail to America, where they get into a street fight. After that, their train is waylaid by Indians, but they manage to escape.
But all this had delayed them somewhat, and by the time they in England again, it remains to be seen if they'll make it in time or not.
And then the detective manages to procure a warrant, and Fogg is put in jail until he can be tried.
But it turns out that the real bank robber was captured weeks before, and that Fogg had been detained for naught.
Despite their best efforts, it seems that they are late. Fogg does not bother going back to the Reform Club that evening as it would be useless. The next morning, he proposes to the girl, and they resolve to be wed at once. But Passepartout, on going to procure a preacher, discovers that by some freak incident of time, they were actually one day early, but they have mere minutes to reach the Reform Club before they really do run out of time.
 Meanwhile, back at the Club, Fogg's friends are watching the clock slowly tick towards the time when the money is theirs. Just as the last seconds roll past, Fogg bursts in. And so he has, indeed, been around the world in eighty days.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The War of the Worlds

H.G. Wells' classic, The War of the Worlds, starts out promising great adventure and excitement, but the real danger is to the reader rather than the character. Losing a grip on reality is not what I had in mind for a good read. If you are easily depressed, then this book is not for you. I, happily, can sit hear and say "It was really depressing," without feeling anything of the sort, but it really is a rather gritty story. Besides, the story(told from first-person) usually gives things away, by alluding to things that haven't happened yet. If this is the best job that one of the Fathers of Science-Fiction can do, I am very disappointed. But I digress.
 So a couple of men see a bright light flashing across the sky, some sort of comet or meteor, which lands on earth.
The next day, people from around that part of England gather around the pit where the projectile has landed. The missile is smooth and metallic, very large, and not at all like previously documented meteors. Then, the lid on the the meteorite begins to turn slowly. When opens, horrible creatures from Mars emerge. They are at first very sluggish and slow, due to Earth's greater gravity and air pressure. The crowd runs, screaming, in all directions away from the pit.
The narrator, the main character, stays hiding in the brush nearby, transfixed by fear.
And the Martians are unleashed! 
They come out in horrible walking machines! And burn everything in sight! The English countryside is in ruins! They unleash a choking black smoke! Sickly red weeds grow everywhere, threatening to choke out every last bit of plant life!
Oh look, they're all dead. Well, that was easy.
Because apparently, Martian immune systems are underdeveloped, considering that they are, after all, merely brains. So they are all dead.
But, an odd mark has now appeared on Venus. Like a crater. Oops. So much for the Venusians.
So, yeah. The Martians invade, they destroy, they die. Then attack Venus.
I wouldn't really recommend reading it. I don't know about any of H.G.Wells' other books, because I haven't read any yet. But I hope to eventually.
Maybe those will be better.

Dyke Darrel the Railroad Detective

This is the heading of the newspaper column describing the railroad robbery. This is what immerses Dyke Darrel, the amazing and successful detective, into a great mystery.
When it turns out that the person murdered during the robbery was Dyke's friend, nothing can stop him from plunging headlong into the clues, unearthing every bit of evidence until the villains are brought to justice.
It is almost like Sherlock Holmes, only infinitely more amusing. Sherlock Holmes rarely goes through such perilous adventures as Dyke. Holmes never needed to rescue his kidnapped sister. Indeed, despite the villains being obvious from the start, the ending still manages to surprise.
Even when things are at their blackest, the intrepid detective manages to pull through. He escapes innumerable perils, all in his quest to hunt down every last one of the railroad robbers.
It is definitely worth the read. I can barely say anything about the book at all, for fear of ruining it, so all I can say is this: Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot might be the brightest Belgian egghead who ever adorned a mystery novel's pages, and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes may be a pop culture icon, but they don't have anything on Dyke Darrel, Railroad Detective.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Punctured Poems

This book, Punctured Poems, by Richard Armour is a short little book full of "famous first lines and infamous second lines". Two-lined poems accompanied by a picture and some "footnotes" make up the contents. The first line of each poem is the first line of some poem written by another poet. The second line was added by the author of this book. I laughed so hard.
My favorite was this:
John Milton, "On His Blindness"
When I consider how my light is spent,
I'm glad utilities come with the rent.

Several of the poems are rather rude, but most are in good fun. So I was glad to spend four dollars on it at the used bookstore.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Longing

The Longing came early this year
thick heavy and sharp.

No relief is in sight
until I am old.

I want to be old quickly, quickly!
Give me patience with my passion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I must admit that I was originally drawn to this book by its most peculiar and fascinating title. A world at the center of the celestial sphere, reached only through some secret way, piqued my imagination. Also, I consider Jules Verne to be an excellent author, and I have been trying to read every book I could find by him, so it was a natural choice.
The book is presented in a first-person narrative form, from the perspective of a young man named Henry. He begins his tale by describing his uncle, who is very eccentric and has the queerest habits. He is extremely impatient and can come across as gruff at times, although he is, in reality, very kind and devoted to his nephew. This uncle is a great scientist and professor, and he loves old books.
The Uncle has just found a scrap of paper, engraved with Icelandic runes. The uncle immediately attempts to translate it. He enlists the help of his nephew in this task, who, after several hours spent on this task, finally cracks it. They find the name Arne Saknussemm on it, as well as these words: "Descend into the crater of Yocul of Sneffels, which the shade of Scartaris caresses, before the kalends of July, audacious traveler, and you will reach the center of the earth. I did it."
Because of his uncle's personality, Henry is at first afraid to show these words to his uncle, lest he decide to attempt such a voyage himself. Eventually, however, he does show them to him, and his fears are realized.
They start at once, leaving for Iceland the very next day. They spend several weeks traveling, and as these weeks are almost completely uneventful, I will skip ahead to when they reach Mt. Sneffels.
They have since hired a guide, to lead them to Mt. Sneffels, and this guide descends into the crater with them. His name is Hans, and the only peculiar or interesting thing about him is that he is extremely unemotional.
These three climb down the inner face of the crater, finally reaching the bottom. There they find several tunnels. The uncle chooses the tunnel he thinks best, but want of water drives them to choose another one. The break open an underground stream, which supplies their needs for some time.
Even just thinking about reading the chapters detailing their underground trip wearies me, as it was rather dry.                     
Finally they have reached a vast underground ocean, where they build a raft of semi- petrified wood, and begin a long sea voyage. They witness a fight between two vast sea monsters, and are caught in a gigantic storm which sends them back to where they started. Harry and his uncle are greatly discouraged at this, until they find the fossils and skeletons of many creatures, including, to their great surprise, the remains of a human.
The uncle finds the way by which Arne Saknussemm reached the center of the earth, but it is now blocked by a great boulder. They attempt to blow it up using the supply of gun-cotton that was brought with them, but the blast accidentally initiates an earthquake. The vast underwater sea is drained out through a hole caused by the earthquake, and they go down with it. Eventually, all three people(and their raft) are blown up a volcanic shaft on the island of Stromboli, where they return to civilization.
The professor and Henry are hailed as scientific heroes after they tell their fantastic story. Henry gets happily married. Hans goes home to Iceland. Everybody's happy.
I personally was slightly disappointed with the outcome of everything, especially the implausibility of being blown up a volcano and surviving, but it is faster paced than some of Verne's other books, and I would highly recommend it. It might not be up to the level of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it is definitely a classic.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Of Jules Verne's many classics, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is one of his best known. In it, Verne makes several of his famous predictions, like, for example, predicting that subs would be able to reach the South Pole by going under the ice. In 1958, two U.S. nuclear submarines crossed the Northwest Passage, a band of ice between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, by going under the ice. One of these subs was named the Nautilus, after Verne's famous vessel. It was also the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It starts out from the perspective of a Frenchman named Pierre Arronax, a well-known and respected professor of marine biology. Numerous ships have been wrecked or lost at sea, and many of these accidents were attributed to a monster of great size and power. Naturally, as a marine biologist, this interests M. Arronax considerably. When pressed to give his expert opinion on the matter, he says:
"After examining one by one the different hypotheses, rejecting all other suggestions, it becomes necessary to admit the existence of a marine animal of enormous power."
This statement, written by a distinguished professor, excites great controversy and excitement.
M. Aronnax is invited to a voyage on board the battleship Abraham Lincoln by her owner, Captain Farragut. Their goal is to track down this immense creature and kill it. M. Arronax accepts with great pleasure.
They spend several weeks in this way, searching in vain for a giant narwhal. When Captain Farragut finally orders his men to head back to shore, that evening they come upon the monster. They find, to their surprise that it seems to be fluorescent, glowing in the dark like phosphorus. They attack the monster, pursuing it around and around, but it seems capable of great speed without any apparent effort. It then strikes, smashing their rudder and screw-propeller, rendering the Abraham Lincoln incapable of any motion. In the great shock of the impact, M. Arronax is cast overboard. His servant, Conseil, is extraordinarily loyal and jumps overboard with him.
Arronax is rescued by Ned Land, a famous Canadian harpooner, one of the(former) passengers aboard the ship. They find shelter on the back of the "monster", finding, to their surprise, that it is made of steel plates, riveted together. A hatch below them opens, and they are dragged inside my six masked men.
They are locked up inside a room, where they remain for some hours. At last, they are visited by two men, the first of little importance, the second evidently very important. The prisoners tell their story in every language they know, but the two strangers remain silent, until they leave. Although the prisoners are very comfortable, for the room they are in is not a jail cell, and they are well fed, all of them are in an agony of suspense as to what is going to happen to them.
The important person visits them again, introducing himself as Captain Nemo(Nobody). He informs them that although they can never leave his vessel and rejoin the rest of humanity, they are guests aboard the Nautilus. Their alternative is death.
So that is their situation! Read the book yourself to find out what happens to them! I would highly recommend it. Although it leaves you hanging, in some ways, and you need to read the next book, The Mysterious Island, to find out who Captain Nemo truly is, I believe that you will enjoy it. It is the sort of book that needs slow, thoughtful digestion. Some parts you will inevitably find boring, and if you are not mechanically inclined, then there are even more dull sections. But the suspenseful moments make up for it. You will be alternately enchanted and lulled to sleep, drawn into the excitement and tempted to skip over parts.
Take it slowly.