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Book Review: The Big Time by Fritz Leiber (Series, #1)

June 3, 2014 1 comment

On a yellow backgrond, two boxes over each other display a snake and a spider. The title and author of the book are written on the boxes.Summary:
It’s the Time War, and the Spiders and Snakes are battling each other up and down the timeline in an attempt to give time the ultimate outcome they each are hoping for.  Nobody knows precisely who the spiders and snakes are, but they briefly resurrect humans and ask them if they want to participate in the war.  Those who say yes become the soldiers, nurses, and the Entertainers who provide rest and relaxation for the soldiers in the waystation.  One waystation is about to hit a ton of trouble when a package shows up and a soldier starts talking mutiny.

Review:
I’m a fan of time-travel as a scifi trope, and I liked the concept of a time war, so when I saw this sitting on my virtual ARC pile, I figured it would be a quick, appealing read.  The book is less about time-travel, and more a type of scifi game of Clue, with everyone trapped in a waystation instead of a house trying to figure out who turned off the machine that connects them to the galaxy, rather than solve a murder.

The book takes place entirely within the waystation.  The waystation exists outside of time to give the time soldiers a place to recuperate without the pressures of time travel.  All but one of the soldiers are men, and most of the Entertainers are women.  The one female soldier is from ancient Greece, the clear idea being that her era of women are the only ones tough enough to be soldiers.  This definitely dated the book and led to some eye-rolling on my part.  On the plus side, the book is narrated by a woman, and she is definitely one of the brains of the bunch.  There thus is enough forward-thinking that the sexist distribution of time soldiers doesn’t ruin the book; it’s just irritating.

The crux of the book is the soldiers wondering who, exactly, is telling them what to do up and down the timeline and worrying that they are ruining time, not to mention the planet Earth they once knew.  The soldiers are told they’re on the side of the good guys, yet the good guys are insisting that Russia must be stopped at all costs, even if that means the Germans winning WWII.  Thus, the soldiers are awkwardly paired up with Nazis in the fight.  It’s interesting to force the Allies to attempt to see Germans in a different light.  However, the whole idea that Russia (and Communism) will ruin the world is just a bit dated.  It’s easy to get past, though, since the dilemma of how to know if who you are following is making the right choices is a timeless one.

The attempted mutineer ends up trying his mutiny because he falls in love with one of the Entertainers.

I decided they were the kind that love makes brave, which it doesn’t do to me. It just gives me two people to worry about. (loc 10353)

The attempted mutiny against the cause is thus kind of simultaneously blamed on love and on the woman behind the man starting the drama.  It’s true that love makes people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I do wish the characters were more even-handed in dealing out the blame for the mutiny to both halves of the couple.  On the plus side, it is left unclear if the mutiny is a good or bad idea, so whether the idealistic couple in love are right or not is up to the reader to decide.

The final bit of the book dives into theories about time-travel, time, and evolution.  It’s a bit of a heady side-swipe after the romping, Clue-like plot but it also shows how much of an impact the events of the book have on the narrator.  At the beginning, the narrator states it was a life-changing sequence of events, and the wrap-up deftly shows how it impacted her.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking whodunit mystery set in an R&R waystation in a time-travel war.  Some aspects of the book did not age particularly well, such as the hysterical fear of Communism and the lack of women soldiers, but the heart of the book is timeless.  How do you know if those in charge are right or wrong, does love make you see things more or less clearly, and does evolution feel frightening and random when it’s happening.  Recommended to scifi fans with an interest in a scifi take on a Clue-like story.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Creepy looking clown.

Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.

Review:
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it.  I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember.  My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably.  My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA.  It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book.  However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them.  So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.

This is not a cheesy scary clown story.  What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up.  The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood.  King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult.  A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night.  Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.

What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later.  King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life.  Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive.  For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.

Did he remember?  Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)

Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods.  Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful.  There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons.  That’s how they feel.  In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find

A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands.  (Location5631)

Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful.  It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience.  There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence.  These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.

Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there.  It gave me chills to recognize them as I read.  Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these.  One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is

Eddie had drawn his aspirator.  He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol.  (Location 20760)

Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read.  I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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