Monday, December 31, 2012

Revisiting the Classics -- The Magician's Nephew

I first read C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew back in college, and it remains my favorite book of the Narnia series (Aslan got to be kind of a hardass by Prince Caspian).

The protagonists of The Magician's Nephew are Digory Kirke (the Professor from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) and his neighbor Polly. They live next door to each other in pre-war London, and in fact their houses are connected to each other by an attic. They spend some time exploring the rafters and one day  find that it leads to the study of Digory's Uncle Andrew, a morally questionable self-proclaimed magician who is letting Digory's sick mother live with him. Uncle Andrew proceeds to put slip a strange ring on Polly's finger and she instantly disappears into the Wood between the Worlds, an inter-dimensional nexus. Digory, although angry at Uncle Andrew, grudgingly goes after her, and they end up in the dead world of Charn. There they meet the evil Jadis and accidentally bring her to London, and later they are all present for the birth of Narnia.

I've always liked The Magician's Nephew because it answers a lot of questions one might have about Narnia. Why does Professor Kirke's wardrobe lead there? Why is there a lamp post in the middle of nowhere? Where did the Witch come from and why is she so ill-tempered? How did the Professor know about Narnia in the first book? Also, Lewis had a knack for wonder and whimsy that few others possess.

One caveat, though: People who aren't Christians might not appreciate the Biblical allegory of Narnia's creation. The whole thing parallels Genesis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan represents Christ, but here there are a lot more Bible metaphors. Of course, this is par for the course when it comes to C.S. Lewis.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Revisiting the Classics -- The Songs of Distant Earth

Recently I decided to start a new feature on this blog, where I take a look back at great sci-fi books of yesteryear. First up is Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. First published in 1986, this book remains relevant today.

At the beginning of the 21st century, mankind discovered our sun was dying. In response, the human race built seed ships to colonize other worlds in far-off star systems before doomsday. The planet this story takes place on is called Thalassa, a peaceful, almost entirely aquatic world with only three islands for its inhabitants to live on. One day the colony ship Magellan arrives at Thalassa, and its crew informs them that Magellan was the last ship to leave Earth, and they need the Lassans' (what the people of Thalassa are called) help in building a new ice shield to protect the ship for its final journey to distant planet Sagan 2. The Lassans agree to help their space brothers, but not everyone on Magellan wants to continue on to Sagan 2 when they have already found paradise on Thalassa. Friendships are made, secrets are uncovered, and loyalties are tested as the Lassans and their new space-faring friends work to secure the future of the human race.

To me, the best aspect of The Songs of Distant Earth is the fact that, even today, the story is grounded in real science. Clarke goes on at length explaining the difficulties of interstellar travel, and I found it particularly interesting that the hardest part of going close to the speed of light is not just getting to that speed, but stopping once you've reached your destination. According to Clarke, it takes an ungodly amount of energy to brake at sub-light speeds. I also liked his explanation of neutrinos and how they could one day allow us to anticipate the death of our sun.

However, The Songs of Distant Earth isn't for everyone. If you demand a lot of action with your sci-fi, you may want to look elsewhere. Most of the conflicts in the story are resolved rather peacefully, and there's only a hint at future violence in the epilogue. Also, people of faith may not like what a few of Clarke's characters have to say about religion. They tend to view it as a negative influence, although at least one of them keeps an open mind about it.

Nevertheless, this book is an important piece of science fiction, and most sci-fi fans would do well to read it at least once in their lives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kindle Spotlight -- Moonlight and Mechanicals (The Gaslight Chronicles)

Today I'm bringing you my review of Cindy Spencer Pape's Moonlight and Mechanicals, part of her Gaslight Chronicles series. I'm actually not sure which book in the series it is since the Amazon page doesn't say and the story contains numerous references to the characters' previous adventures, so I'm just going to treat this as a stand-alone story.

The protagonist is Winifred "Wink" Hadrian, 24-year-old adopted daughter of the Hadrian family. The Hadrians, a motley crew of orphans and stepchildren, are part of the Order of the Knights of the Round, descendants of King Arthur's legendary group. The Order fights threats to England, whether those threats are supernatural or technological. Wink makes numerous mentions of having fought vampires in the past, but only one shows up in the story and is quickly dispatched.

Getting back on track--Wink has always been in love with Liam McCullough, Scotland Yard inspector and reluctant werewolf. Because of his bestial nature and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father (and far worse beast), he is firmly convinced he would make a horrible husband and father, and so does his best to see Wink married off to eliminate the temptation to bed her. Meanwhile, the heroes investigate a series of bizarre and seemingly random disappearances and whether or not they have anything to do with a group of angry young men supposedly seeking revolution in England.

Moonlight and Mechanicals is a good story featuring compelling and likable characters, and excellent formatting and editing. While most of the book deals with Wink and Liam trying to come to terms with their feelings for one another, when they finally do the story really picks up steam (pun intended). A word of warning, however: This one's not for kids. It contains the most detailed sex scenes I've ever read, so parents be warned. If, however, you're not bashful about this sort of thing, this book is well worth a read.

You can buy it here: