Science Fiction

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Date of Publication: 1962, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Number of Pages: 211

Synopsis (from Amazon.com): It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

Review: Having only very vague memories of reading this as a child, I was pleasantly surprised this second time around. I immediately fell in love with the Murry family, especially oddball Meg, who seemed to be a mirror image of myself as an awkward adolescent. This story is completely enchanting, from the very beginning, and L’Engle’s writing totally drew me into her world. I found myself tearing up at certain, heartbreaking moments in the story (I don’t want to give anything away). Also, I found that reading it as an adult allowed me to grasp the writer’s philosophical theme. Normally, I steer clear of books with heavy Christian overtones (my one exception being The Lord of the Rings), but L’Engle masterfully weaves together science and spirituality. This is not, by strict definition, a “Christian” book. Jesus is mentioned only once as being one of many people from Earth who have battled evil throughout human history. And it somehow delightful that the most pious characters in the story are the aliens of the planet Ixchel. The three Mrs. Ws (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which) act as guardian angels (and are referred to as such by Calvin), and various mythological names and beings make appearances throughout the story, a further demonstration of the un-religious (as in specific, organized religions) spiritual theme of the book.

A Wrinkle in Time is a book that teaches. It teaches the importance of love, as both a simple emotion and as a weapon against great evil. It teaches the importance of trust, as the children’s trust, in each other and in those around them, is repeatedly tested and shaken. And it teaches that the simple pleasures of family, friends, good food, and good health are all that are needed to live a good life.

I recommend this book both to children and adults, as it has lessons and delights for people of all ages.

Rating: 10/10

Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers

Date of Publication: 2008

Number of Pages: 380

Synopsis (from back cover): If New Orleans has earned its “Sin City” nickname for its debauchery, then its nearby sister Devil’s Cape has earned its “Pirate Town” moniker for the violence and blatant corruption that have marred the city since its founding. A city where corruption and heroism walk hand-in-hand, and justice and mercy are bought and paid-for in blood, Devil’s Cape is a city like no other.

Devil’s Cape blends the gritty Louisiana noir of James Lee Burke with the unforgettable characters and horror of Stephen King – all within a gripping story of superhuman heroes reminiscent of Alan Moor’s Watchmen or NBC’s mega-hit Heroes.

Review: This is the most unusual story I’ve ever read. This is an America that is different from the one in which we live; this is an America where superhumans battle supervillains, and the helpless citizens take it for granted that they live in a war zone. Devil’s Cape was a haven for pirates, and is now in the grips of ruthless mobsters and violent gangs. Superheroes have come and gone, but the supervillains have stuck around…for centuries. The story centers around three unlikely superheroes, from very different walks of life, people who had only wished to live normal lives until fate intervened.

The story starts out at a fast pace, going back thirty years, setting up the main characters and the history of Devil’s Cape. At first, I was a little put off by the nonchalance with which the superheroes are treated, making them seem like no big deal. They are indeed national heroes, but in this reality, superhuman powers are not that uncommon, whether acquired or inherited. Some superheroes are like Batman: they use technology and their own, normal, fighting abilities to fight crime. Others are born with these abilities, or they acquire them through some other means, like the curse of an angry Voodoo priestess or an unusual baptism ritual. Weaving through the science fiction atmosphere is a sense of the supernatural, making the heroes and villains themselves more complex and interesting.

Rob Rogers manages to make this story flow nicely, except for the somewhat inconsistent time flow. Sometimes the action goes back years, or sometimes just seconds. I understood the need for this technique, but it made the reading feel stilted at times. I enjoyed the book, but felt that the concept could have been ironed out a bit. The technical content was very well done, and the characters themselves, even some of the villains, were relateable. I recommend this book to any fan of contemporary fantasy or classic comic books.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Date of Publication: 1995, Alfred A. Knopf

Number of Pages: 393

Synopsis: It is now six years since the secret disaster at Jurassic Park, six years since that extraordinary dream of science and imagination came to a crashing end – the dinosaurs destroyed, the park dismantled, the island indefinitely closed to the public. There are rumors that something has survived. ~Blurb from inside over

This book is the triumphant return of Ian Malcolm, who was rumored to be dead after his ill-fated trip to Jurassic Park. He hears stories about dead dinosaurs washing up on the Costa Rican beaches, and is determined to find the cause. He is joined by his nemesis and colleague, the brilliant paleontologist Richard Levine, Levine’s two eager students, his one-time girlfriend and animal behaviorist Sarah Harding, and two equipment experts, Doc Thorne and Eddie Carr. Their expedition to Isla Sorna, InGen’s secret factory island, is almost an accident in itself. The group must do battle with behaviorally-challenged dinosaurs and survive long enough to get off the island. In the meantime, Malcolm and Levine study the strange behavior of the dinosaurs and attempt to unlock one of the world’s greatest mysteries: what happened to the dinosaurs?

Review: I loved this book even more than its prequel, Jurassic Park. The movie disappointed me tremendously, as the plot and the characters are so completely different, it’s a stretch to give the movie the same name. Many things in particular bugged me, but most of all was the relationship between Malcolm and Sarah Harding as it was portrayed in the movie. In the book, they are no longer lovers, but friends. Malcolm respects Sarah’s knowledge about animal behavior, and her expertise saves their lives many times. When the adult T-Rexes attack the trailers (one of the only things in the book that also happens in the movie), Malcolm falls and re-injures his bad leg, which he originally injured in Jurassic Park. Sarah slings him onto her back, being injured herself, and climbs her way to the top of the trailer and gets them both out, before the trailer falls off the cliff. It’s an incredibly exciting moment in the book, and it’s obvious how much respect Crichton has for this character. Throughout the book, she remains the center of calm and is able to make quick decisions. In the movie, however, it is Malcolm who saves Sarah, his impulsive girlfriend who blindly runs off to the island on her own. It’s disappointing to see the traditional gender roles being forced upon these characters.

As for the book as a whole, it is probably the most interesting I have ever read. It’s not often that I come away from a work a fiction having learned something new about the world. This book, like Jurassic Park, contains many scientific details, but this time they are in the form of fascinating theories about evolution and animal behavior. The pace is frenetic, and the characters are both funny and intelligent. It also has a very satisfying ending, especially for those who have read Jurassic Park. No dinosaurs run amok in an American city in the book; instead the story is suave and smart. I recommend it to anyone who did not enjoy the movie…you will love this book!

Rating: 10/10

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Date of Publication: 1990, Alfred A. Knopf

Number of Pages: 400

Synopsis: An island off Costa Rica will soon be the world’s most ambitious theme park–a dinosaur preserve. A visionary financier’s biotechnology company has succeeded in cloning these extinct reptiles. Fifteen different species, presumably incapable of breeding, are now placidly roaming around, but Jurassic Park’s resident mathematician, an expert in chaos theory, predicts that the animals’ behavior is inherently unstable. When a rival genetics firm attempts to steal frozen dinosaur embryos, things go haywire. Two cute American kids, eight-year-old Lex and 11-year-old Tim, a safari guide from Kenya and a Denver paleontologist set things aright–almost. Crichton (The Andromeda Strain) ingeniously interweaves details of genetic engineering, computer wizardry and current scientific controversy over dinosaurs to fashion a scary, creepy, mesmerizing techno-thriller with teeth. It can be read as a thought-provoking fable about technological hubris and the hazards of bioengineering. ~Amazon.com (includes some corrections)

Review: There is almost no one in America or beyond who has not read this book or seen the movie. Although I loved the movie, the book is far superior. The story contains a lot of scientific details which may intimidate some readers, but as someone with almost no scientific aptitude, I find the story immensely engrossing. The details add an element of credibility, which makes the story more scary. You have a sense that “this could actually happen” as you read, and everything is explained in such a way as to make even the average person understand it. I don’t mean to say that it is dumbed down, because it isn’t. It’s just so interesting that it makes you want to understand.

The dinosaurs are scarier in the book than in the movie. They are also incredibly more complex. Crichton delves into the behavioral patterns and family structures of velociraptors, tyrannosaurus rexes, and other animals we can only see in our dreams. He makes them real, and that makes them terrifying. The book also tells a more intricate story. There are more subtle hints of danger and of dangers still to come.

If anyone out there saw the movie and enjoyed it, but still has not read the book, I highly recommend it. It’s very readable, and remains after 15 years at the top 5 of my favorite books. And believe me – it gets better each time you read it.

Rating: 9.5/10