Just bringing this discussion over to ning...

What books are you reading right now that don't have a narrative driven by images as well as words?

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The Old Man was a big Wyndham fan, and he didn't usually like science  fiction.

I think most of his better-known novels - I haven't read them all - are stories about familiar people responding to fantastic events or situations, rather than stories about men of the future and flights to other planets. His stories are of both types.

His spaceships SF is good, but if someone told you the stories were by a Golden Age US author I don't know you'd doubt it. A lot of his stories first appeared in American SF magazines.

P. G. Wodehouse The Clicking of Cuthbert

This is a collection of zany golfing stories. Most are related by the Oldest Member to point a moral to a listener. The loopiest might be "Sundered Hearts". "Ordeal by Golf" has a particularly satisfying twist ending. "The Long Hole" makes fun use of the rules.

Fredric Brown Night of the Jabberwock

A Lewis Carroll fan who is the owner/editor of a small-town newspaper experiences a night of danger, fantastic mystery and murder. I don't know why Brown's mysteries aren't more famous. The book is like a combination of Dashiell Hammett and Agatha Christie, and the final pages are very satisfying indeed.

A. E. van Vogt The World of Null-A

A man with false memories learns the solar system is about to be invaded by a galactic empire, and he is the unknowing agent of a mysterious opponent of the invasion. To thwart it he has to learn how to unlock the potential of his unique mind. The book has the form of a breathless adventure story. The hero can't be sure who he can trust, and his struggle to understand what's going on is simultaneously his search for self-knowledge. I think Charles Harness's The Paradox Men (a.k.a. Flight into Yesterday) must have been modelled after it.

Procopius The Secret History (G. A. Williamson, trans.)

Procopius was a historian of the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The Secret History is a short supplement to his earlier history of Justinian's wars which dishes the dirt he couldn't put into it. He slams Justinian, his wife Theodora, and Antonina, the wife of the general Belisarius. This is my favourite part:

Some of those who were in the Emperor's company late at night, conversing with him (evidently in the Palace)- men of the highest possible character - thought that they saw a strange demonic form in his place. One of them declared that he more than once rose suddenly from the Imperial throne and walked round and round the room; for he was not in the habit of remaining seated for long. And Justinian's head would momentarily disappear, while the rest of his body seemed to continue making these long circuits. The watcher himself, thinking that something had seriously gone wrong with his eyesight, stood for a long time distressed and quite at a loss. But later the head returned to the body, and he thought that what a moment before had been lacking was, contrary to expectation, filling out again. A second man said that he stood by the Emperor's side as he sat, and saw his face suddenly transformed into a faceless lump of flesh: neither eyebrows nor eyes were in their normal position, and it showed no other distinguishing feature at all; gradually, however, he saw the face return to its usual shape. I did not myself witness the events I am describing, but I heard about them from men who insist that they saw them at the time.

But the book is mostly made up of brief accounts of Justinian and co.'s misdeeds. The last third is about the Emperor's rapacious financial methods.

So, Justinian was a shape-shifter.

The passage is on the possibility that Justinian is a demon in human form. Procopius returns to the idea a couple of times, but this is the only passage which retails fantastic stories. In another part he says the disasters of his reign (a terrible plague, floodings and earthquakes) caused people to say God must have given the Empire into the power of the devil.

Philip Ketchum The Cougar Basin War

Western, set in Colorado. After outlaws wreck a horse rancher's place and drive off his horses he goes to work for a cattle rancher named Iron Kate. She wants him because her Texan new neighbours are planning to bring in more cattle than their ranch can support, and the implication is they're going to seize land from her or her longtime enemy, Lorimer. Kate's and the Texans' ranches are attacked by night. But why? (The answer is the local banker has told the Texans Lorimer is willing to sell out. He means to have Lorimer murdered in a night raid so he can complete the sale using a forged signature.)

K. W. Jeter Morlock Night

Semi-sequel to H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. When the Time Traveller returned to the future he was killed and his time machine captured by the Morlocks. They have been using it to travel between their time and 1892 and are about to launch an invasion. The ultimate result will be the end of the flow of time. Britain is normally protected by King Arthur, but a magician named Merdenne is working with the Morlocks and has used the machine to separate Excalibur into four parts. Merlin, under the name Dr Ambrose, recruits one of the Traveller's guests and a woman fighter from the altered timeline to empower Arthur by reuniting Excalibur.

Edgar Wallace Again the Ringer

Short stories featuring Wallace's vigilante antihero. The Ringer is an ambiguous figure: he brings justice, but his moral judgements are based in his personal likes and dislikes, his methods are amoral, and he also takes private revenge. His wife only appears in the last story.

H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

The first half of the novel is taken up with what happens when the Invisible Man takes a room in a Sussex village. In the second half he tells an old acquaintance his story. This part explores the limitations of invisibility. The book's moral theme is the wrongness of believing one is set above ordinary humanity and not subject to moral constraints.

I think a good essay to write would be to compare and contrast The Invisible Man with Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

I've not read Ellison's work, but Wells's novel might also have a political meaning. Griffin's sense of superiority makes him impatient of others. Due to the combination of the freeing effect of invisibility and his frustrations he becomes increasingly violent, and he ultimately plans a reign of terror. I think Wells may have intended this as a parallel for the mentality of violent revolutionaries.

Wikipedia compares the novel to the story of the ring of Gyges from Plato's Republic.

I read Ellison's book ages ago. I feel like I ought to read it again.

Finished reading Hard Times, by Charles Dickens.

Next up is a change of pace: The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens.

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