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review 2017-01-07 06:07
Another Collection of Holmsian Mysteries
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

In a way I’m not entirely sure how I should approach this book, particularly since I generally don’t review short story collections as a whole but rather each story on its merits. Mind you, that is probably going to cause a little bit of a problem when I get around to reading the Collected Tales of Edgar Allen Poe, particularly since I can’t do The Raven the injustice of lumping it together with a bunch of other stories. Then there is At the Mountains of Madness, though it has been a while since I have read anything by Lovecraft, and even then it was only one story, ironically ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. However, I will get around to writing about them when I finally get around to reading the books (and I might read them a short story at a time, as I did with a collections of stories by Joseph Conrad).

 

However, the problem with Sherlock Holmes is that it is, in a way, the lack of variety in the stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories themselves are bad, it is just that pretty much, with the exception of the content, all of the stories end up being of a similar structure. In fact the novels also followed this structure as well, namely: Holmes is confronted with a problem (which takes up the first part of the story), Holmes wanders about and works it out, Holmes then spends the rest of the story explaining what happened. As it turned out this formula worked out really well, if the five collection of short stories, and four novels, are anything to go by.

 

It’s not as if these stories are unoriginal either – a lot of mystery novels that I have read basically all deal with murders, and in a way it starts to become a little dull and dry. However, while people do die in a Sherlock Holmes story, and of course you have the occasional one where the eventual victim hires Holmes due to some mystery, murder isn’t always the case. In fact, you have ones that involve missing objects, or objects that have been discovered and Holmes is attempting to locate the owner. We have another one that involves a child of a previous marriage that the mother is trying to keep a secret, or a naval treaty that has become the centerpiece of a mystery. In fact it is not the crime that is important, it is the mystery, as in some cases it turns out that no crime has actually been committed.

 

I guess that is one aspect of our human nature – we love mysteries. In fact not knowing is far more exciting than actually discovering the answer, because once we know the answer all of a sudden it ceases to be a mystery and the revelation turns out to be really boring. Mind you, it isn’t as if the revelation is boring, it is just that knowing the answer is boring. It is sort of like hunting, or even courting a future wife – it isn’t the success that is exciting, it is the journey to reach that point. Sure, not all journeys are thrilling – being stuck in economy class traveling from Singapore to Frankfurt (which takes something like 12 hours) isn’t at all exciting, especially if you have somebody behind you kicking your seat (something that fortunately I didn’t have to experience), or the guy in front of you lying his seat back as far is possible and leaving it there for the entire journey meaning that I can’t use my laptop (and that is after having the previous occupant kicked out of the seat because ‘he must has a window seat’, though as it usually turns out, the previous occupant is usually moved to business class as compensation for the inconvenience – something that has happened to me).

 

One interesting thing is that it seems to be apparent that Doyle was attempting to wind up his Holmes stories – why else would he finish the final story by having Holmes thrown off the top of a waterfall. Personally, I’m probably not surprised because while people may have enjoyed the stories, Doyle might have been having a lot of trouble coming up with new stories – writers block if you will. Otherwise, it simply might have been that he had become somewhat bored with the character and wanted to move on. The problem is that once somebody creates something that is beloved by the community, then it can be pretty hard to put it behind you. In a way it is the curse of the celebrity status – once you have become a celebrity you are no longer your own person – you are now what the media, and the fans, make you out to be, and if it turns out that you break this mould, then you run the risk of losing that status all together – while it is painful, it is also incredibly addictive. One simply cannot stop being a celebrity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/470321982
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review 2016-10-23 04:27
A Man Who Wants to Be Bad
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson,Vladimir Nabokov,Dan Chaon

Like me, many of you out there in Booklikes Land probably have never read this story and only know it through images like this (though since this is Booklikes then I suspect more people have read the book than the general population):

 

http://animatedviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/BugsHowl-03.jpg

 

 

This is not surprising since many of the stories that we have grown up with have been so butchered by Hollywood that we actually don't know the real story that is behind them. For me, all I could tell you was that this story is about a good man named Dr Jeckyl who creates a potion that turns him into a monster, and that is basically about it. Okay, there are scenes where he runs around scaring people, but the actual story, well, I couldn't tell you anything about it.

 

What surprised me about this novella is that it is more of a detective mystery than a horror story, though there are a lot of horror elements in it. As one person has suggested, you can actually skip a large portion of the story and go straight to the last chapter, which is a letter written by Doctor Jekyll about what had come about of him, and where he ended up.

 

The funny thing is that I find it difficult to accept that Dr Jeckyl is actually a good and pure hearted man when he is performing experiments to pretty much unleash the side of him that is basically a monster. However, I do not get the impression from this book that the monster that is Mr Hyde is a monster in the sense that we see in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Rather the monstrous aspect of the character is that he simply has no morals whatsoever, and no sense of guilt over what he had done. Seriously, why on Earth would a human, who is actively trying to suppress that side of him, suddenly want to unleash it through the use of drugs.

 

Now this is an interesting concept, and it is something that was sitting at the back of my mind as I was reading this book: the connection with drugs. Now, at the time of writing people were using drugs, and as far as I am aware, one could get access to drugs like cocaine and morphine quite easily, but I suspect that it also applies very much to alcohol as well. The funny thing is that what Stevenson is writing about is a substance that basically reduces your inhibitions and that in many cases are what drugs and alcohol do. I have heard many times that beer is referred to as a social lubricant.

 

However, there is another aspect to this, and that is the fact that alcohol can cause you to do things that you would not do when you are sober. Currently in Australia, particularly in Sydney, due to the death of another person who had been caught up in alcohol fuelled violence, there is a debate as to what to do to prevent it (they have since introduced lock-out laws and mandatory closing times, which has effectively destroyed Sydney's nightlife – not to mention the bouncers that are everywhere). People have also suggested that violence caused through the use of alcohol be treated as an aggravated offense (and even then, the defense of 'I was drunk and did not know what I was doing' isn't a defense that will hold water in a court of law). Yet sometimes I wonder whether this is simply an Anglo trait because when I was in Europe I noticed that the Germans, who are famous for drinking their litre glasses of beer (though is it turns out that is actually a myth that is not true in places of Cologne), did not seem to be as loud and raucous as the English were when I was wondering around the streets of London late at night (or even what I notice when I am wondering around the streets of some unnamed Australian city).

 

In a way many of us want to put the story of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde purely into the fantasy realm, but I suspect that maybe this is not where Stevenson was intending. As I have explained, we don't need to lock ourselves in a laboratory and attempt to create a potion that will turn us into a monster, that potion already exists, and can be purchased at any number of shops as long as you are able to prove to the vendor that you are of an age that will allow you to purchase the product (though of course not everybody turns into a monster when drunk, but in many cases they will still do things that they will unlikely do when they are sober).

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/839386626
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-07-13 14:46
Wells' Dystopian Vision
The Sleeper Awakes - H.G. Wells

When I started reading Jules Verne a number of years back I became increasingly interested in some of these pioneers of the science-fiction genre, and while many of us have heard of Wells' more well known books, after digging around the internet I discovered that there were quite a few other books that he had written that I was particularly interested in, especially the ones where he writes about the possibility of flight and how disruptive a technology it would become. Okay, [book:The War in the Air] is still sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, however since it had been a while since I had read a Wells book I decided to grab this one.

 

Sure, I knew a little about this book – namely a man went to sleep and woke up two hundred years in the future to discover that, not surprisingly, everything had changed. I guess the thing that attracted me to this book was what Wells' vision of the future would be. Mind you, it is not his only foray into this speculative realm, since he also does it in The Time Machine and The Shape of Things to Come. Still, I do have this interest to try and see how visionary Wells, and other writers, really were.

 

As it turns it – quite so. In fact this book reads very much like the more famous dystopian visions of our age, such as 1984 and A Brave New World. In fact there are quite a few things in this book that as I was reading it made me wonder if he had actually had a crystal ball and looked into the 20th Century. For instance we have the working class who earn only enough to make it from day to day, which seems to be where the working class of this era is quickly heading, while the wealthy are able to spend their lives in pleasure domes and when they either get board, or run out of money, they can then euthanise themselves. What is also quite interesting is how the working classes are kept in line through something that is reminiscent of modern television, or even the internet – otherwise known as 'The Babble'.

 

The story goes that Graham suffers from insomnia, so he undergoes a treatment that allows him to sleep. Unfortunately he oversleeps – by a long shot. It sort of reminds me of Ash in the alternate ending of Armies of Darkness (which I actually saw once, and was really annoyed when I bought the DVD and it didn't include it in the special features, not that the DVD actually had any special features).

 

Armies of Darkness Image

 

As it turns out, Graham has become some sort of legend – the sleeper – namely because when he went to sleep he had some money saved in the bank, but over two hundred years it grew thanks to compound interest, to the point where he had so much that he could literally buy everything on the Earth. Okay, he didn't do that, namely because he was asleep, however a trust was appointed to look after this money, and as the money grew they used to to pretty much take control of the world. However, they didn't count on him waking up, so they decided to lock him up, which doesn't get them far because he escapes and meets a chap named Ostrog who, with Graham's help, overthrows the trustees (which are now known as The White Council), installs Graham as a figure head, and takes control of the world.

 

Mind you, he doesn't last all that long because the people once again revolt, but I won't spoil the ending by saying any more. However, what I will mention is this idea of money compounding over hundreds of years. In fact Futurama did an episode where Fry had discovered that he was broke, however remembered that he had some money in a bank account – a measley 93c, back in 2000, and decided to see if he could withdraw some, only to discover that he was now a billionaire. That started me thinking, so I found a compound interest calculator on the internet, plugged in the numbers, and low and behold:

Fry's Bank Account

 

For those unable to read it the figure comes to just under nine billion dollars (at 2.3% interest a year).

 

Anyway, I could probably write a lot more on some of the ideas that came out of this book, however I might leave it for a blog post down the track, particularly since there is actually a lot I could write. However, I should mention that it is interesting how people like Wells viewed the future, particularly since prior to him writers never actually seemed to be all that concerned with speculating as to how society would turn out – rather they seemed to write about society as it was then, and while writers like [author:Bentham], [author:Marx], and [author:Rousseau] did write social commentaries, they only did so to address the problems that faced society at the time as opposed to attempting to predict what would come to pass in the future. What we have with authors such as Verne and Wells is the idea to not look at society now, but where society is heading, both technologically and socially.

 

Some might suggest that it was because the world was starting to see a rapid change with technology, but technology had been progressing for hundreds of years. However, it could also have a lot to do with industrialisation because what was happening was that the traditional agrarian society was suddenly being disrupted. Up until that time a bulk of the population lived in the country and cities only existed as centres of trade and administration. Industrialisation not only meant that more could be made quicker, and cheaper, but also labour was needed where the factories were as opposed to where the farms were – and the factories tended to be located near the coast, which is where a bulk of the cities existed, and grew. Even in Wells' age society went from travelling as fast as a horse could run, or the wind blow, to travelling as fast as an engine could spin its wheels – in fact the world was changing right before their eyes as the internal combustion engine first made sailing ships obsolete, and then the good old horse and buggy.

 

Yet writers such as Wells, and later Orwell, could see a dark side to progress, as they both portrayed in books that are remarkably similar. However, by the time Orwell was writing 1984 a new technology was appearing in the form of the television, which had built upon the foundations of film and radio before that, and television ushered in a new age of thought-control through what is know known as the mass media.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1691627794
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review 2016-06-18 12:33
The Tragedy of Unrequited Love
The Seagull - Anton Chekhov,Michael Frayn

Russian literature seems to have a very bleak undertone to it, though I must admit that the only Russian authors that I have read are Dostoyevski and Chekhov, and the only other author that I know of (and do intend to read one day) is Tolstoy. I guess when you are swamped with the plethora of English writers, then writers from other nations really have to stand out to be noticed, but then I suspect that that is also the case in England.

 

I am not sure if Russian literature developed in the same way that English literature developed, but as I have mentioned previously Russia was pretty much thrust into the modern age where as the countries of central Europe gradually developed, and I suspect that this sudden rush had an effect upon the national consciousness. Russia never experienced a reformation and at the turn of the 20th century was probably the only country in Europe that operated under a feudal system of government. However, ideas had been filtering in for the last hundred years, and revolution was boiling under the surface.

 

However, the Seagull is not about revolution or the backwardness of Russia, but rather it is a play about unrequited love that is played out among a group of artists who are trying to define themselves through their art. We have a novelist, an actress, and a playwright, and each of them have their own ideas of who they are and their own ideas of how they desire to express themselves. The playwright is an interesting character in that his plays are simply non-traditional and also play out in the existential role. The problem with that is that nobody actually understands what is going on but him, which in a way leaves him feeling that he has failed as an artist.

 

Then there is the idea about unrequited love. In this play it is not simply one person pursing another but I believe up to four people who are all pursuing each other, and getting nothing in return. Unrequited love is a very painful experience to go through, and I ought to know because I have been through it too many times to count, and it is not simply me pursuing a woman who does not want to return my affections, but being blind to another woman that wants me to show affection to her. I guess the other problem is that I am what is known as a hopeless romantic. I want romance in a world where romance is dead and only the physical matters. Okay, people are still romantic today, but I have in the past got so caught up in a passionate desire for a romantic relationship that I have blinded myself to what is really going on.

 

Hollywood has a lot to answer for with regards to unrequited love though because, unlike this play, these love triangles all end up working themselves out. Take the Big Bang Theory for instance. For two seasons Leonard is chasing Penny but getting nothing in return, and all of the sudden it works out in the third season (but not for long, though by the sixth season they are back together again). In real life this really does not happen, or at least in my real life this does not happen. Instead, I have ended up moping around my house pining for a woman that I can simply never have, yet as I look back on it now I see how foolish I have been. In fact, a part of my life I almost felt that I was not complete unless I had a woman to pine over, and in fact the pining was more desirable than the relationship itself. In the end though, I have come to feel content with my singleness , but I still don't know how long that will really last (the singleness that is, not the contentment).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/728229379
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review 2016-05-22 09:55
Shelley's Political Rant
Queen Mab: With Notes - Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was Shelley's first long poem and it was written initially to his first wife (the Queen Mab of the title) when he was 19. All I can say is that if this was his first poem then Shelley's ability is impressive. However, the nature and contents of this poem did actually get him into quite a lot of trouble, no doubt due to the attacks against the king and also the significant atheistic overtones, and it is not that the atheistic nature of the poem is subtle: it is quite blatant, though it is not as if Shelley was necessarily walking new ground, particularly since Blake and others were writing along these lines prior to him.

 

Mab of the title possibly comes from the reference to her in Shakespeare (which, according to Wikipedia, is the first major literary mention of her). No doubt Shelley would have been familiar with the reference, and in Romeo and Juliet, she is described as a fairy who grants dreams of wish fulfilment to those who are asleep. Maybe the nature of the title reflects Shelley's desire to see a better world where the lower classes do not live under the heel of the ruling class. Unfortunately this has not necessarily come about, even though since Shelley's time social welfare has moved significantly from where it was then and the poorer classes, at least in the Western World, live much more luxurious lives than they did back then. However, there is still a massive distinction between the haves and have-nots, and still an underlying goal in regards to the pursuit of wealth.

 

One of the interesting things that I have picked up while reading this poem is how political and social criticism is nothing new, which is obvious, but having lived through the period of the Bush administration where political and social criticism reached a level of popularity which I had not seen before, it is interesting to reflect on this style of commentary in ages past. In a way, this period of history also saw a rise in such commentary, particularly since Europe had just been through the French Revolution and the United States had formed a republic out of a rebellion against the English throne. However, it was not the American Rebellion that had been the counter-point of this agitation against the ruling class, simply because it was a rebellion of the wealthy merchant classes against the aristocratic classes. What France has signified was a rebellion of the lower classes (though the leaders of the rebellion were still bourgeoisie) against the aristocratic classes, and the desire for a real democracy, not based upon land ownership (as was the case in the United States) but based upon the fact that everybody is a human being and in that everybody is equal.

 

It wasn't as if Shelley was writing anything new because writers before him, such as Rousseau, had already been exploring these issues, and even then writers as far back as Jonathon Swift, had been writing allegorical criticism (since in those days writing in the style of Noam Chomsky would have got you in a lot of trouble). It is not even as if he was a Romantic poet in the style of Wordsworth and Colleridge (though we know that there was a lot of influence from that sector) though he does use the romantic style to forward his political agenda. Even then, one questions whether Shelley had much of an impact in his day, but then in many cases such agitators generally do not live to see the effect that they have during their lifetime (Martin Luther King didn't).

 

Another interesting thing that I have noticed is how Shelley rails against Christianity in this poem. The idea is that the concept of God the Father is a reflection of our understanding of our father from when we were children. However, the tyrant God, as many view him to be, is a reflection of the tyranny of the day. The tyrant God, which is what Shelley is attacking (and what many agitators have attacked before and since) is a means of control over the population. In the same way it is as the idea of the divine right of kings was a method to prevent rebellion against a king because to rebel against the king is the same as rebelling against God. This is something that is still practised today, particularly if you look at parts of Romans which indicate that rulers are raised and deposed at God's whim, and to attempt to remove a ruler yourself is to go against God.

 

However, I do not believe that such passages indicate that God is a tyrant God, but rather a God of order. Nor do I believe that the passage is saying that we have to accept the ruling of any authority without questioning or challenging it. What I believe that it is talking about is armed rebellion, not political agitation. We do see that in the New Testament that where governments order us to behave in a way contrary to the Gospel then we are to question and challenge that order. It is not challenging the government, but seeking to replace a government through rebellion. Further, there are reasons for this warning, and these reasons necessarily come out in other places, and I have written about these dangers elsewhere as well so I will not necessarily dwell on them here.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/580508169
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