Sunday, May 1, 2016

ST: The Patrian Transgression

The Patrian Transgression
© 1994 Simon Hawke



Annnnnnnnnnd kickoff for the Warp Speed Challenge! In The Patrian Transgression, the Enterprise arrives at the planet Patria to investigate a plea for help. According to the planet's leaders, the Klingons are supplying weapons to a terrorist organization, threatening to destabilize the republic completely. The Patrians would like the Federation's help, but when Kirk beams down to the planet he is contacted by one of the rebels and told that the powers that be are lying to him.  On the heels of this revelation, Kirk learns that Patria employs a relatively new police force called the Mindcrimes Unit, who are telepathic and target those who merely intend to commit crimes.  While a Mindcrimes agent's word is good as evidence in courts, they are also empowered to end the threat on sight -- shooting alleged criminals in cold blood.  Perhaps the rebels are in the right all along, but sympathy is hard to come by given that they're holding innocent civilians and Spock hostage.  Ultimately Kirk and company unravel a criminal conspiracy with a couple of layers of complexity. The Patrian Transgression makes for enjoyable light Trek reading, as the author has a fairly good handle on the characters and produces quite a few good lines of dialogue.  More unusually, it is McCoy who gets the girl of the week, this time an attache to the Federation ambassador. (Kirk is too busy arguing with the diplomat to play Romeo.)  The opening third is quiet, but the action and tension really pick up from there.  Star Trek Voyager later played with the idea of "thought crime", but the Enterprise crew are never targeted for violent thoughts here like Torres was.   Transgression makes for a fun start to this challenge series.

Next up will be a TNG novel; I'll be following a TOS-TNG-DS9 pattern as long as the books permit.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Wrapping Up and Boldly Going

Read of England 2016 was by any reckoning a roaring success. Not only did I finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy. but I sampled a good variety of renown English authors from mid-March 'til yesterday.



English Classics
Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

English History
Waterloo, Bernard Cornwell

Other Works Set in England:
My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson
When the Eagle Hunts, Simon Scarrow
The Memoirs of  Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
In the Days of the Comet, H.G. Wells

Other Works, by English Authors
Frodo's Journey, Joseph Pearce
Bilbo's Journey, Joseph Pearce
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian
The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin


If I had to pick 'best of', it'd be  Jane Eyre.  The best use of Characters Wandering Around in Moors goes to Great Expectations, though, despite the competition from Jane and In the Days of the Comet.  I'd intended to read Sense and Sensibility as well, but somewhere around the time Lucy revealed that she was actually engaged to Edward, my interest in these people's love lives had more or less evaporated.  I'm not quite off the horse, though.

Getting us back into the normal swing of things, I have a few interesting science, science fiction, and history books on the way, drawing from that science TBR list and including complete surprises. I’m also starting a long-term project: the Warp Speed Discard Challenge!




See, in one corner of my bedroom is a half-sized bookcase full to the brim of Star Trek paperbacks. I have as many books  in that space as the laws of physics will allow, and as I cannae change said laws,  it’s time to deep-six the excess.  The preposterous thing about this problem is that most of these books were purchased six years ago, when I graduated uni and suddenly had spending money. Being without the usual vices, I chose to buy several boxes of books via eBay, netting several hundred for the paltry sum of $20.  In the six years since, I’ve read perhaps three from that acquisition,  reading instead newer releases, but  have been reluctant to part with any of the pile without having read them. So, I’m making myself read them, after which I can donate them guilt-free. It will take a fair bit of time, especially as I don’t intend for it to distract me from my usual enthusiasms.  The boxes included TOS, TNG, and DS9 paperbacks of the numbered variety, so they’re episodic and incapable of violating canon.  If nothing else, Star Trek’s boundless optimism will serve as a nice distraction from the grisly spectacle of  D.C. politics.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Voyage of the Beagle

The Voyage of the Beagle
© 1839 Charles Darwin
448 pages*



As a young man, Charles Darwin lacked sharp direction. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but he hated the sight of blood.  His passion was natural philosophy, the observation and study of the natural world,  and he briefly considered becoming a country parson so that he would have the time to pursue that passion. A chance opportunity to join the crew of the HMS Beagle, assigned to survey the extreme southern end of South America,  gave him more occasion to practice natural observation than he might have ever expected. It was on that journey that he collected the data that would produce his first book,  a monograph on coral reef formation, and stir his imagination about life's abundant variety.

Voyage consists of a log by Darwin, divided into sections of interest, and follows him and the Beagle  from England to South America, then across the Pacific back to England again. Darwin's real purpose on the ship was to keep the captain company,  a man who would have otherwise had to have made conversation with common sailors.   Virtually all of his commentary is given over to descriptions of Darwin's time spent on land, aside from brief mentions of dolphins frolicking.   Young Darwin explores the surrounding area every time the ship puts into port, but he is often dropped off for several days on end, trekking into the interior. Voyage is a work of scientific journalism, describing the flora and fauna of South America's rims and outlying islands. Darwin's commentary reveals an already practiced scientific mind, especially in the area of geology.  The author is most famous, of course, for his insights into biology, particularly the way natural selection forces living populations to change over time.    His  chapter on the Galapagos island and its famed finches drops a hint of the patterns Darwin was beginning to detect:

"Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends."

In addition to detailing the behavior of pumas and the native economy of this-or-that group of Patagonians, Darwin has a few extraordinary experiences. At least once he is marooned in-country during a revolution, and as the Beagle is sailing up the coast of Chile, there is a volcanic eruption and several earthquakes.  Darwin does not limit his commentary to the plants and animals he collects; he also has much to say about the peoples they meet, and here he comes off rather nicely. He views Spanish and English civilization being created in these distant lands an improvement on say, human sacrifice, but recognizes that the age of 'discovery' has also been one of violent ruin for many.   He takes in the many strange customs he sees not with condescension, but with wonder -- with the exception of commenting on stagnant rural economies.  Upon departing the eastern coast of South America on the return trip, he sighs with relief that he will never again witness a slave-country; in Australia, he exhibits a strong sympathy for the aboriginal peoples, who have lost their land to both Polynesians and the English.

For the reader with a scientific appetite and the willingness to chew on pages of description, Voyage is appealing.  This is not some layman's travel guide to South America, obviously, but a book intended for those who wish to learn about the land's geography and life. In 2016, of course, there is added historical appeal; not only in exploring a continent not yet hit by industrialism, but in seeing a giant of English scientific achievement in his youth, still gathering material awaiting the imaginative spark.

*I read from an online version from Literature.org, so pagecount is taken from an Amazon edition. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In the Days of the Comet

In the Days of the Comet
© 1906 H.G. Wells
276 pages



Have you been cyanogened yet?  Carl Sagan delivered that preposterous line in the original Cosmos, reading the newspaper headlines of a century past. Then, as Halley's Comet approached the Earth, fear and wonder spread -- and some enterprising rascal sold gas masks to people who feared the comet's toxic fumes. As it turns out, they needn't have worried; the comet's fumes are magic!

That's the setup for In the Days of the Comet, which opens with an old man reminiscing about his youth, set in the last days of Earth before 'the Change', when all was foul and dismal.  He spent that week brooding, ignoring his mother, and stalking an ex-girlfriend across the country with the intent of shooting her.  Fortunately for all concerned, as he crashed through the brambles firing his revolver at the girl and her new beau, the fumes of an approaching comet mixed with the atmosphere of Earth and made the world anew.  Every living thing fell into a stupor, wakes up, and -- after a contented belly scratch -- decide to abolish everything and create The World State.  And we all lived happily ever after.

Aside from a joke about Texas,  very little of In the Days of the Comet made for enjoyable reading. The narrator is from the start a boor, one of those types who has discovered the Secret of Life and is intent on lecturing everyone who will listen, and berating those who won't for being sheep.  He grows even more tedious after The Change, because now his eyes are open to how much else was wrong with the old world, and since his fellow characters now agree with him, the only audience for his lectures is...the Reader.  Alas.   In the Days has nothing of science fiction in it; it is instead a bit of wish-fulfillment in which Wells writes about what's wrong with the world: property, marriage,  tradition, and Jews.

Wells' status as an enlightened man of science takes quite the hit here, and not just because of the antisemitism. His views on society and economics are simplistic, to say the least,  with science depicted as maaaaaagic.   I guess they can't all be War of the Worlds, eh H.G.?




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Much to Hope from the Flowers

(Wild Roses, Rick Hansen)


Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

--

The rose's smell and color are presumably useful to its pollinators, but it's still a lovely thought. Roses and "Moonlight Sonata" go a long way.


Teaser Tuesday: Murder on the Moor?

Teaser Tuesday bids participants to share a two-sentence excerpt from their current read.  It's hosted by Books and a Beat.

I stopped dead the other afternoon in my walk across the moor, where once the dismal outskirts of Swathinglea straggled towards Leet, and asked, "Was it here indeed that I crouched among the weeds and refuse and broken crockery and loaded my revolver ready for murder? Did ever such a thing happen in my life?

p. 9, In the Days of the Comet. H.G. Wells

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
256 pages
© 1894 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle




Has it been five years since I read a Holmes collection? I remember picking up Memoirs shortly after reading The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, not nothing that Memoirs was published well before that, but I fell into distraction at some point. More's the pity, because here collected are eleven classic stories that include both the beginning and the (first) end of Holmes' career, "The Gloria Scott" and "The Final Problem".   It contains a few iconic scenes; Holmes stalking about in his cape and seeming to read Watson's mind, as well as some of his best lines:

"Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
 "That was the curious incident."

Some Trek author inserted those lines into a novel years ago and it absolutely mystified me. Well, glad to have cleared that up. (On that Trek note, I must say that The Next Generation deceived me in regards to Professor Moriarty. He's charming onscreen, but decidedly uncharismatic here. Granted ,his only appearance is to threaten Holmes with death if he doesn't keep plotting the 'Napoleon of Crime's" Waterloo.)  Memoirs has the same engaging writing as the previous collections, and adds some interesting aspects to Holmes' character, namely his eccentric home decor (storing cigars in Persian slippers, using the wall as target practice).

A few of the mysteries:

  • "Silver Blaze": A prize horse has gone missing. (Okay, granted, it's not as ambitious as the missing train from Further Adventures, but it's still very mysterious.)
  • "The Musgrave Ritual": A brilliant butler vanishes after being caught studying nonsensical couplets used in an initiation ritual. Could it be that he divined some meaning into the lines?
  • "The Gloria Scott":  What secret does a cranky sailor have over this nervous country squire?
  • "The Greek Interpeter": A man is driven into the middle of nowhere and used to question a Greek man being held against his will --- why?
  • "The Cardboard Box":  Who ordered two human ears packed in salt? 


I think I've gone through all the short stories my library has access to, so when next I visit Baker Street, it will be for a full novel!