Tag Archives: vintage science fiction month

#VintageSciFiMonth Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

H. G. Wells: The Invisible Man

One of the eternal questions debated on many a playground is if you could pick one superpower, which one would it be and why? Odds are that a lot of the responses are going to be the old standards of flying, running fast, or becoming invisible.

The becoming invisible portion is the basis for one of the building blocks of the science-fiction genre in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Odds are that even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of the basic outline of the story thanks to multiple pop-culture retellings or uses of the character over the years.

vintage-sf-badgeFor this year’s Vintage SciFi Month, I decided that I’d take a look at the foundational novel in the genre and see if it holds up.

Since it was included as part of my Audible subscription, I decided to take advantage of it and began listening. And immediately found myself not really looking forward to going back to it. The story of a scientist who invents a serum that allows him to become invisible and then becomes a raging ball of id just never quite connected with me this time around. Doing a bit of research, I found that Wells initially serialized the story, which then put into the Doctor Who frame of mind of figuring out where the cliffhangers all were. And maybe the story would have worked better unfolding in weekly or monthly installments. But I’m honestly not so sure. Continue reading

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Vintage Sci-Fi Month: Looking Forward

vintage-sf-badgeIt’s Vintage Sci-Fi Month! It’s a time to celebrate the foundation (pun fully intended) and look back at some of the building blocks that brought us to the future.

Hosted by the Little Red Reviewer, “vintage” refers to anything published on or before 1979. And while, I’ve picked out a few books to read during the month, I have to admit part of my excitement about 2021 will be two adaptations of two of the giants in the genre.

Yes, I’m referring to the upcoming adaptations of Foundation and Dune.

Dune has had multiple attempts to bring it to the silver-screen, including the David Lynch version and a couple of Sci-Fi Channel miniseries back in the mid-90’s. Both had their good points, both had some limitations. But I can’t wait to see what director Denis Villeneuve brings to this sprawling epic. His work on Arrival (which made me weep at the end. If you haven’t seen it, go into it without knowing anything) alone made me think that he could do for Dune what Peter Jackson did for Lord of the Rings. I have to admit, I’m extremely encouraged by the preview we got late last year and while I have HBO Max, I may still pony up for a ticket to see the one on a huge screen with cutting edge surround sound.

A_foundation_seriesI’m also equally intrigued to see Issac Asimov’s Foundation novels come to life as a tv series. I read these for the first time back in high school and loved them. I read them at the time when Asimov appeared to have a bit of a resurgence on the best-seller list and was working to tie all of his various universes together (with varying degrees of success). It seems like there were rumors for years that the novels would become a movie franchise, though I have to admit after I, Robot, I was concerned that a two-hour movie might not do justice to this seminal sci-fi series. Now, that it’s a series for Apple TV, I hope it has the time to tell it’s story right and hopefully open up this world to a whole new generation of fans. Again, the preview released late last year has me intrigued.

I know we’ve got a bit of a longer wait for Dune than Foundation (which I think is promised this spring). And I really do hope that both live up to my expectations and dreams for them.

Either way, I think I may spend some of my 2021 reading time with these old friends. I’ve already purchased the audiobook of Dune to refresh my memory and I’m leaning toward doing the same for the Foundation novels.

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Review: Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain By Issac Asimov

vintage-sf-badgeFantastic Voyage II:  Destination Brain

In his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn’t satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic Voyage and that this novel is an attempt to correct some things he didn’t like about the first novel.

The result is this book which is less a sequel to the original and more a re-telling of the original story and concept. Asimov tries his hardest to make the concept of miniaturization more scientifically plausible, but it’s at the the cost of making the second installment far less interesting and page-turning. The first novel took about half its page length to get the crew miniaturized and inside the human being in question to try and save life. Unfortunately, so does Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. At several points, I found myself muttering “Let’s get on with the shrinking already” as our hero, Morrison expresses a sense of trepidation about the procedure he is about to undergo.

And it may be with Morrison that this book finds its biggest flaw. Asimov sets up our protagonist as a scientist whose fortunes and favor in the scientific community are on the decline. When approached by a Soviet agent about coming to the Soviet Union to help in an experiment, Morrison is quick to decline, despite the fact that he has no prospects on the horizon in the United States. Even when asked by his own government to go, Morrison declines and eventually has to be kidnapped and taken to the Soviet Union in order to become part of the team.

Morrison protests this treatment a lot over the course of the novel. It feels almost like Asimov wants to remind us every ten or so pages that Morrison has become part of this project against his will. This works to the detriment of the book. Part of the fun of the original was no matter who fantastic the situation, the participants were at least enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel inside a human being and possibly save his life. Here the motivation isn’t so much saving a life but not allowing a scientist to die without passing on vital knowledge that could make the process of miniaturization easier and more cost effective.

Yes, you read that correctly. One of the motivating factors for this journey inside the body of a man and to his brain is to unlock his secrets is entirely budgetary. A good reason, sure. But not exactly one that compels you to turn pages and wonder what will happen next. At least the first novel had the specter of the Cold War hanging over it to drive some of the character and plot motivations.

I kept hoping that once our team of scientists got miniaturized and injected into the subject that things might pick up. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and the novel plods along at its leisurely pace even once we’re injected and running against the clock. The only moments of tension come when the ship is diverted by a white blood cell and later when Morrison is forced to go to extreme measures to try and make the mission a success. (And even then, he has to be blackmailed into it by the Soviet team though threats of destroying what little is left of his academic reputation.)

The book also suffers from the same flaw that several later Asimov projects do — his desire to tie all his universes together. Thankfully it’s not quite as egregious as Robots and Empire, but there’s a coda that makes Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain a stepping stone toward Asimov’s Robots and Foundation novels. It’s only a couple of pages and it’s meant to serve as a coda, so it’s a bit easier to overlook and forgive than some of the other examples from the Asimov library, but it’s still there.

Had I not read the original novel first, I might have liked this one more. Of course, had I not read the original I might not have been willing to give Asimov the benefit of the doubt I needed to keep plowing through this one in the hopes things would get better.

This one just validates my theory that 80’s Asimov output is no where nearly as entertaining and readable as those stories from his early career. I can see what he’s trying to do here, but I still think the original novel, despite all of its scientific implausibilities, is a more entertaining and enjoyable reading experience.

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