Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Map of Time (Science Fiction)

Perhaps those troubling sounds we hear in the night, the creaking noises we assume are the furniture, are simply the footsteps of a future self watching over us as we sleep, without daring to disturb us. 

The Map of Time, written by Felix J. Palma and translated into English by Nick Castor, is a blend of historical fiction and science fiction, with just a dash of mystery. It is entertaining, sometimes poignant, and sometimes amusing. It is set at the end of the 1800’s and includes both historical and fictional characters.

Briefly, the novel consists of three main storylines that share a number of characters. The real life writer H. G. Wells plays some part in each plot. While the narrator is omniscient, s/he has a personable style. In the first storyline, Andrew falls in love with a prostitute. When she is murdered by Jack the Ripper, Andrew is inconsolable. To save his life, his cousin devises a plot to have Andrew go back in time and kills Jack the Ripper before he kills the woman. In the second plot line, a young woman travels to the year 2000, where a hero saves mankind. She falls in love with him. In order to prevent tragic consequences, H. G. Wells must help out. In the third plotline, people are being murdered with a weapon that does not yet exist. H. G. Wells’ help is enlisted to find the murderer.

The novel contains a beautiful chapter that could easily be a stand alone short story. Earlier in the novel we learn that Wells has a basket, which he gently touches for inspiration when writing his novels. It appears to be some sort of fetish. In this chapter we learn the origins of the basket. After reading one of Wells' short stories, The Elephant Man invites Wells for tea. Wells is both repulsed and fascinated by the man. Finally, Wells sees his humanity.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I am a fan of time travel novels and of H. G. Wells in particular; I read The Complete Science Fiction Treasury of H. G. Wells earlier this year. I am looking forward to reading Palma's follow-up novel, The Map of the Sky.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gone with the Wind (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

An Idealized Love. A Family Estate. Slavery. A Promise. War. Poverty. Reconstruction. Survival. The Victors. The Vanquished. Money. Opportunity. 

I started reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind with a feeling of dread. This winner of the 1937 Pulitzer for the Novel is over a thousand pages of almost solid description and little dialogue; this is a long, long novel. On top of that were the expectations. It is considered one of America’s most beloved novels and was made into one of America’s most beloved movies. I had never even seen the movie. After over four weeks of nightly reading, I can say that this is also one of my favorite novels.

Briefly, the story begins with a sixteen-year old Scarlett, who is the oldest daughter of cotton plantation owners in Georgia. She teases her many male admirers but is in love with Ashley. Her first crisis is when he announces his engagement to Melanie, his cousin. Out of spite, Scarlett decides to marry Charles, Melanie’s brother. The only person who knows the truth is Rhett, who had earlier overheard Scarlett confess her love for Ashley. Thus, the die is cast for the rest of the novel. After the death of Charles, Melanie becomes Scarlett’s closest ally. Scarlett and Rhett bicker through most of the novel. Scarlett continues to pine for Ashley. All their lives are shaped by the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction. The story ends when Scarlett is twenty-eight.

Scarlett is a fascinating character. Sometimes I loathed her; sometimes I loved her. I often admired her. At times I felt sorry for her. She is a character that many women have used as a role-model.

I admire Margaret Mitchell’s writing. The plotline has a succession of dramatic rises and falls, keeping the reader’s interest, and ends in a final resolution. I suppose a modern editor might have suggested breaking the novel down into smaller books. The major characters are complex. Mitchell shows multiple sides of their personalities as the plot progresses.

For me, one of the first rewards of reading Gone with the Wind was that I finally understood some of the allusions to it that I had seen in the popular media. A classic Carol Burnett skit shows Carol wearing a curtain with the rod still in it. Now I know the scene from Gone with the Wind that it comes from.

If you haven’t read Gone with the Wind, I would encourage you to do so. To make life easier, you can find an audio or digital version. The novel is a key part of the American literature.