Reading the Classics: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Exciting covers did not exist

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is a revolutionary novel, apparently the first first-person narrative focused on the moral/spiritual development of a main character (thanks Wikipedia!). That moral and spiritual development is also reflected in a subtle criticism of society that is woven throughout the novel.

I’d like to focus on that last point first. There are many societal ills brought up in the book, whether it is the treatment of mental illness, the expectations placed on women, or the broader expectations related to class and wealth. Bertha Antoinetta Mason introduces the question of mental health, as she is shut up in a home and relegated out of society. Her husband has gotten to the point where he essentially pretends, when he can, that she doesn’t exist, and he longs for human contact. The cruelty of this situation is highlighted again and again, no more so than when Edward Rochester tries to marry her and the revelation of his marriage to Bertha is revealed. The resolution of this comes somewhat abruptly towards the end as Bertha dies in the fire she lights burning down Edward’s house and dies in suicide. The horror of her situation, though, is never downplayed and reading it one can’t help but demand better care.

Apparently when the book came out it was seen as anti-Christian by some due to its challenging of hierarchy, but it is clear that Brontë is deeply faithful in her Christianity and indeed highlights the injustice of placing men and women on different levels in society. It’s not necessarily overt, but the critique of how society treats men and women is found throughout the whole novel.

As for the actual story–something probably worth talking about in a look at a classic novel–it has Jane Austen-levels of drama throughout. From her time as a young girl in dire straits–another social commentary–to the expectations placed on her about marriage, the plot moves along at a decent clip despite being a lengthy novel. The twists keep coming, and Eyre’s narrative voice is strong. It’s excellent.

Links 

Reading the Classics– Read more posts in this series as I work my way through classic literature.  Let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more.)

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Haunted Stars” by Edmond Hamilton

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is over (it’s in January), but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop reading vintage sci-fi. After great response to my posts during January, I’ve decided to make it an ongoing feature to read and review individual vintage sci-fi books. As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like.

The Haunted Stars by Edmond Hamilton

I have never read Edmond Hamilton before, but he was a well-known pulp author in his own time. He wrote for DC comics, started Captain Future, and scattered his pulpy sci-fi across fandom. He was also married to Leigh Brackett, whose work I have enjoyed (as you probably have, since she co-wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back). Anyway, I saw someone recommend The Haunted Stars during Vintage Sci-Fi Month, saying that fans of Star Trek would probably like it. I’m a fan of Star Trek, and the cover’s simplicity had a weird innate appeal to me, so I grabbed it.

The Haunted Stars initially seems somewhat like a red scare novel, but its main character, Robert Fairlie, is a linguist, which was not an established trope at this point. The United States has apparently discovered an ancient military base on the moon, and has called a team of scientists in to decode what they found there. One character pushes for an expedition after they figure out how to make an Ion drive and also discover that the people who made this base are, in fact, the ancestors of all of humanity. They go to Ryn, the planet of the Vanryn, those ancestors of humanity. When they arrive, they meet a cool reception from most because they announce they want to find additional weapons/technology. The Vanryn, apparently, live in millennia-old fear of the Llorn, who defeated the Vanryn and scourged them from the galaxy 30,000 years ago.

All of that plot occupies about 85% of the book, and at this point it is a pretty excellent sci-fi adventure novel with some hard sci-fi mixed in. Really, it has most of my favorite sci-fi features: ancient ruins found by humans, some linguistics mixed in, some real (pseudo-) science peppering the plot. It had its flaws at this point–like women being at best tertiary characters, but it stood up as a solid novel. But it didn’t feel like Star Trek in any way whatsoever, and I wondered why it was recommended to fans of that franchise. Then the ending happened.

That last 15% or so of the book is the real deal. The Llorn show up, which wasn’t a surprise given how heavily foreshadowed the idea was, but they have news. It turns out that the Llorn were not the aggressor in the war with the Vanryn, but rather they fought only to prevent the Vanryn from wiping out all life throughout the galaxy. The Vanryn were simply seeding all planets and taking them for themselves, wiping out indigenous populations or stages of life that had yet to evolve intelligence. The Llorn, by contrast, work to simply allow life to exist in its many-faceted wonder, hoping to improve the universe through the uplift of many different intelligent species bringing their own cultures and assumptions to the galactic table. The Llorn tell the humans they will not interfere again, should they (the humans who are Vanryn) decide to spread across the universe again, but they show them a premonition of the endless war and destruction that will follow that course of action. Fairlie and the other scientists are left to bring the message back to Earth, unsure of how humanity will take it.

I adored that ending. It reminded me quite a bit of a kind of inverse of The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels). Will humanity heed the warning? Will the Red Scare doom them all to bitterness and war? Will ambition, pride, and hate overcome a possibility to thrive throughout time? We don’t know! Hamilton doesn’t tell us. It’s a somewhat shocking offering in what seemed to be a simple pulp sci-fi classic that makes you as a reader think and reflect on what it means to be human. I love it so much.

The Haunted Staris well-worth your time as a lover of science fiction. It has some flaws, but overall it is excellent reading. It’s pulp sci-fi with much more thoughtfulness than one might expect, and an ending that is just spot-on. I recommend it especially if you also like those tropes I mentioned- space archaeology, linguistics, and hard sci-fi mixed in.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1964

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1964 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

Way Station (AKA Here Gather the Stars) by Clifford Simak (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A-
I think the best word I can think of to describe this book is ‘quaint,’ but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It is quaint in the best way–it hearkens of a different time and different ideas. But that shouldn’t undermine the magisterial work Simak did here, because he was forward-thinking in many ways, including the awesome idea at the heart of the novel. The way he tied so many divergent threads back together was marvelous as well. It’s a great read that shows the huge promise early science fiction pointed towards. I’m being intentionally vague because to be anything but would ruin things. Definitely worth the read.

Glory Road by Robert Heinlein- Grade: D+
This is weird Heinlein, and not in the good way that some weird Heinlein is. At times it reads like a rather prosaic space adventure novel, but at other times it delivers Heinlein’s anachronistic hippy fantasies into the plot as well. Is this a Mary Sue book? Almost certainly. Heinlein seems to love writing characters who are desired by strange women (or all women, or everyone) and also seems to think that this is especially edgy or delightful. Given the number of times he shows up on award lists, he wasn’t alone, but many, many of his books do not stand up well to the test of time, and Glory Road absolutely is one of those. Honestly, who cares what happens in this book? It alternates between surreal, weird, silly, and dull. I think that’s enough of a summary.

Witch World by Andre Norton- Grade: C+
How I long to love Andre Norton’s work, but I’ve yet to find one that truly gets to me. Witch World is a fine novel, but as much as it certainly is not bad, it also isn’t very good. I listened to this one, which usually serves to increase my enjoyment (it forces me to pay attention and also a good narrator improves even bad stories). Witch World is a kind of science fantasy, one of those books that transports the protagonist into another world, here with strange fantastical powers/witches. The pitfall of so many of those books is that they read like the author just wasn’t sure how to make a protagonist strange enough and alluring enough to appear “other”–as in from another world/species/etc.–and in Witch World, that pitfall is triggered. As I said, it’s fine. There are even some cool moments of worldbuilding mixed in there. It just isn’t particularly compelling.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut- Grade: D+
It is difficult for me to process this as a novel. Like ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ this book has as bare-bones a plot and characters as are possible. Unlike that horrendous nightmare, here Vonnegut manages to grab some interest by making up a kind of Gnostic vision of religion. It’s certainly not a good book, by any stretch, but it isn’t as abysmal as that most hated book. The primary difficulty is that, once again, Vonnegut apparently felt the need to couch his political and metaphysical commentary in what some people take to be a novel. But really, this is just a series of barely connected vignettes written in a kind of vomiting of consciousness. It would be like me writing down every thought I had on religion, politics, and the like all day and then inserting those thoughts into the mouths of poorly-constructed characters to push my ideas onto you. It doesn’t qualify for a good read, in my opinion, but at least I see where some pleasure might be derived from his work.

Dune World by Frank Herbert- Mulligan
I am not counting this one here as it was later added to the full Dune and I will be reading/reviewing that for the Hugo Awards in 1966.

Links

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“A Queen in Hiding” by Sarah Kozloff – An unexpected epic fantasy

Sara Kozloff’s “The Nine Realms” series has been hyped up as a chance for fantasy readers to binge an entire epic fantasy series over the course of just a few months. The whole series is being published over the course of four months, with a book each month, starting in January 2020. I’m writing this in February, and the second book is already in hand! A Queen in Hiding is the first book in the tetralogy, and it does not disappoint. I want to hype it to you, dear readers, so you can go get it and talk about it like I want to! I’ll try to keep the SPOILERS minor, but if you prefer to avoid spoilers, I’d say get this book if you like your epic fantasy to take a few new directions while still scratching that itch.

First, I love how unexpected some of the plot points were in the book. There was an early scene in which Cerulia meets a young peasant, and how this is woven into the plot later. It was such an innocently perfect scene of kids befriending each other–the kind of scene that is almost never found in epic fantasy.

Second, I loved the plot taking place quickly over the course of years rather than days. There’s certainly something to be said for intricate, intimate details of every aspect of each character’s life for months (you know which series I refer to–there’s a wheel, and time, and stuff, and yes I love it), but there’s also something refreshing about skipping ahead and learning more about the character through snapshots of life. I wonder if the other novels will go back in time at all or whether this whole series will be an extended, decades-long rumination on the coming-of-age, exile, and perhaps eventual rule of a Queen? Because that would be awesome. Either way, I’m excited.

Third, the characters were fascinating and worked in ways that  felt real. They messed up, they made mistakes, they loved, they cried. It was wonderful, heartfelt, and genuine.

Those three points summarize my love of the first book of Kozloff’s series. I have the second book in hand, so I look forward to diving into it ASAP! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments! And if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to check out this new epic fantasy.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1963

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1963 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Winner) Grade: B-
I still can’t figure out the ending, but it was an enjoyable book. Fascinating idea (Japan/Germany win WW2) that is frequently-explored in alternate history but done well here. Dick’s strength is in the way he conveys a mix of humor and horror. Most of the book feels a bit like a travelogue, though, and one that doesn’t seem nearly as foreboding or interesting as it ought to be given the compelling idea behind the plot. Dick’s obsession–like many other SFF authors of his time–with questions of sexuality and pushing whatever boundaries he thought he needed to push against isn’t overwhelming here, but it is definitely an underlying theme. Since reading the book, I’ve watched the first two seasons of the TV show, which is pretty fantastic and shows directions Dick could have gone to make the book even better. I liked the book, but wish it had been more.

The Sword of Aldones by Marion Zimmer Bradley- Grade: C
There’s way more going on here than I expected when I read that this was a sword-and-planet science fantasy work. It’s almost more of a family genre/mannerpunk book in some ways than it is a science fantasy book. Genre questions aside, Bradley offered a compelling enough world and characters, but throughout the whole book there was a lack of punch. I just kept losing interest. Maybe that was my expectations about what I was getting into, but it just felt kind of ho-hum to me. The edition I got had an introduction from 1977 from Lester del Rey (cofounder of the publishing house) that was particularly revealing when he noted that Bradley’s work kept getting categorized as juvenile fiction because of a lack of overt sex. I guess that shows what was going on in that time related to SFF and also, if true, helps explain why so many books in this earlier part of the Hugo awards seem utterly obsessed with (ironically) juvenile notions of sex and titillation.

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke (My Winner)- Grade: A-
There’s something about a good sci-fi thriller mixed with hard sci-fi that I find totally irresistable. This is an earlier one of Clarke’s works, but of those I’ve read from him it is the one that seems the most human. He puts a group of people together in a skimmer on the moon (and yes, we know the moon isn’t covered with a sea of dust now, but it could be any fictional place), has disaster fall upon them, and we sit with them as search and rescue begins, seeing the action from several angles. There’s something alluring about this plot. It’s so basic, but so fascinating. It’s like the stories about getting stuck in an elevator and befriending everyone aboard–it just works, with this inherently relatable feel to it. I was absolutely absorbed by this book from the beginning to the end. The only fault is that it shows the casual sexism of the 1960s through and through, whether it’s women naturally being selected for cooking, or appealing to vanity for women to get them to do things. Nevertheless, this book is a gem, and exactly the kind of book that makes a quest like my Hugo Award reading worth doing. Clarke weaves hard sci-fi throughout as well, as he explains without too many details–never in a boring way–the science or fake science behind so many of the events. And unlike other authors of hard sci-fi who sometimes get to the point where it reads as a textbook, Clarke weaves the science into the narrative in ways that even the occasional info dump seems to make sense–it just becomes a ratcheting up of the tension. A fascinating, fantastic read. Also, that first edition cover is stunning in its simplicity.

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper- Grade: B-
The titular creatures are cute, and Piper seems to have been one of the few authors to pioneer the “aliens might not be the worst” subgenre of first contact novels. The writing is a little uneven, and the characters don’t quite break out of their molds, but it is all done in a kind of vanilla fashion that doesn’t leave that much to complain about. It’s an enjoyable taste, but nothing life changing. What is clear though, is the tremendous impact this book has had on the first contact subgenre of science fiction, from the debates over sentience/sapience to the way characters make discoveries about the aliens. It’s an influential book, and a quick read.

Sylva by Jean Bruller- Grade: C
The plot is that a fox becomes a woman becomes a wife becomes a fox-human mom. It’s weird. There’s a literary quality to it that both makes it seem a bit more well-written than some early science fiction while also managing to avoid being pretentious. But really, this is a kind of strange tale. The ending is much more alarming than I expected, though not because its horror or anything of the sort. It was just a major surprise. I found it a decent book, but not one I’d return to. It is so obscure now, apparently, that searching “Sylva Bruller” on Amazon doesn’t actually bring anything up. I feel fortunate to have tracked a copy down through interlibrary loan.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

My Read-Through of the Hugos- Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “Shards of Honor” by Lois McMaster Bujold

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is over (it’s in January), but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop reading vintage sci-fi. After great response to my posts during January, I’ve decided to make it an ongoing feature to read and review individual vintage sci-fi books. As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vorkosigan Saga is a series that had been on my radar for a while. A few years ago I found a nearby library that had the whole series and binged the heck out of the whole series front to back. I couldn’t stop. Now, I decided to embark on a re-read of the series, and my wife has joined me for her own first read-through of the series as well. It was a lot of fun to introduce her to the world Bujold created, as it is one I enjoy immensely. We’re going to read it in chronological order–something I normally don’t do, preferring publication order, but the first time I read through it was chronological and it made sense.

Shards of Honor is an unexpected book. If I told you that there was a military science fiction novel with some romance thrown into the mix, I doubt you’d come up with a book anywhere near the plot Bujold made. For one thing, the characters are old. No, not actually old, but it’s a far cry from series in which every main character is 18-20 years old and everyone is finding love in their late teens, early twenties. Here, our main characters are in their 30s, as I recall, which makes it feel a little more real in some of their actions, their status as commanders, and the way they fall in love. This could almost be classed as a romance novel, to an extent, though there is little explicit in the book. But romance is a driving force in the novel, and its refreshing to read a science fiction novel that does this and does it quite well.

Additionally, the way Cordelia and Aral discover more about the culture of the other is delightful. There are many scenes where as a reader you get to see how naturally the two characters intermesh. I recall one scene, and I’ll probably mangle it, but Cordelia is trying to describe Aral to her parents (I think?) and they’re like “He’s a murderer!” and she responds “No–I mean, he’s killed several people, but it made sense! Or something.” It’s humorous, yes, but it is also absolutely believable that people would respond to each other in that way.

The plot of Shards is absolutely character-driven, but you can already tell there are portents of a wider world and more possible conflicts happening. Bujold manages to intermesh subtlety of setting with a “Just the action, please” narrative style. Many people say the series just gets better after this book, but frankly Shards of Honor is one of the more unique science fiction novels out there in terms of narrative style and characterization. I’d recommend it very highly, and then to go read the rest of the series immediately.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Mechanical” – Ian Tregillis’s Steampunk Epic

I first read The Mechanical after I saw it at a bookstore. The premise immediately struck me as something I’d be interested in, so I gave it a try. I was completely enamored at once with its compelling cast of characters and extremely high octane drama and intensity. I want to commend it to my readers here, so I’ve written up a short review. There will be some minor SPOILERS here so if you want to avoid that, just go read the book, it’s great.

The Mechanical

There are many things that make this book great. First, the setting. It’s set in the early 1900s in an alternative world in which the Dutch have mastered a kind of magical clockwork that allows them to animate robots to do their bidding. This has led to the Dutch dominating much of the world. Meanwhile, readers are also treated to following the attempts of New France to become a power again, using their chemical know-how to fight the mechanicals of the Dutch. Throughout all of this is woven a heaping helping of religious strife, with the Dutch Protestants and French Catholics being at odds against each other on almost every level.

Another aspect of the series is its fantastic characters. Ian Tregillis writes not just one, but three extremely compelling characters that were sympathetic almost from the start. On the flip side, it’s not always clear who is “good” or “bad” in many of the scenarios presented. Because much of the conflict is over both religious and economic war, it is difficult to find a right side, and that certainly reflects the real world. But tied into this is a third fantastic part of the series, which is the deep philosophical questions raised about free will and religion that come with it. Jax, a mechanical and one of the protagonists, is immediately sympathetic as one who seemingly has free will thwarted by clockwork. Meanwhile, other characters must deal with almost opposite effects. It is all fascinating.

Yet all of these wonderful details are tied into a plot with an absolutely roaring pace that never lets up. Whether it’s spy drama, nefarious evil, or warfare, there is an enormous amount of action in this book, and it never lets off the gas. It is a thrill ride that has much deeper elements than one might expect.

I have read the rest of the series, back when it first came out, and it is all very good. I will be re-reading it on audiobooks now as I continue. I recommend this series to you, dear readers. Check it out! Read The Mechanical now! And come back and discuss it with me!

Links

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis- A Steampunk Delight– Like Steampunk? Be sure to also read Robyn Bennis’s fantastic “The Guns Above.”

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.