Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jewel of the Seven Stars

The Jewel of the Seven Stars is a short novel by Bram Stoker about the mummy of an Egyptian queen and the plan to revive her with the help of the jewel. It's also a lesson why you should never mess with what an author plans for his or her story.

I downloaded the novel from gutenberg.org and read it all the way through in one day. It's thrilling and you absolutely know almost right from the start that things are going to end badly. The foreshadowing is sometimes a bit heavy-handed, but it's fun to piece it all together.

Finally, the archaeologist, his daughter and the narrator are ready to perform the ritual to revive the queen. And then the story just fizzes out. Nothing happens at the ritual, the mummy is gone and the narrator marries the archaeologist's daughter. I was left with a feeling that I had accidentially slipped into some novel by Nicholas Sparks. Bram Stoker never was one to shy away from the gruesome stuff, so what was this?

Wikipedia enlightened me. Readers reacted not well to the original ending and when Stoker wanted to republish the story, he was told to change the ending. He did and I'm sorry to say that he did a terrible job. Fortunately, the original version has been made available again. The end makes good on all the promises the story makes. It's wonderfully dark and horrifying, just like it should be.

It's a brilliant example of Gothic horror. If you want to read it, by all means get your hands on the original version. Read the altered ending just to see how jarring the break in the story is.

There's a great short story in Kim Newman's Mysteries of the Diogenes Club that involves the Jewel, by the way. It's worth reading even if you have not read the Anno Dracula series. But you should.

Reviews 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bear Cam

A webcam where you can watch brown bears fishing for salmon in Alaska.
Your mileage may vary, but right now there are four bears fishing, one just caught a big salmon and is now eating it, being harassed by gulls. From what I've read in the comment section, that's actually a slow day and you may get to see a lot more bears at other times.
Also: Puffin Cam!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Electric City

After a worldwide catastrophe that destroyed civilisation as we know it, people live in a small community, Electric City, in moderate comfort. They have electricity, nice homes and safety. They also have a group of old ladys who rule over the city from behind the scenes and plan assassinations and crackdowns on any opposition, all while knitting scarves and jumpers.

You can watch all (for now) twenty episodes of Electric City online for free and I can only recommend it. I read about it at The DM's Screen, checked it out and only didn't watch it all in one go because it was already 1am.

They do a very good job of keeping things interesting. The episodes are only five minutes long and each one adds a piece to the story. I like that every episode has a satisfying end for its ministory, but it still leaves you curious for what happens next.

The setting is well thought out and coherent. Electricity is what keep the city alive, but it's not taken for granted. There's little metal, much of it was probably salvaged, and people make do with wood and other materials. The feel of the setting is somewhere between Wild West, noir and steampunk. I'm a sucker for dystopian fiction and this is a great one with a lot of potential. It could work as a setting for a RPG as well.

Also, the music is brilliant. I hope it will be made available, for now I couldn't find it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July Classics Challenge: Moon and Sixpence

William Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite authors and I love his short stories in particular. No-one can tell stories quite like him. There's this immense fascination with the things people do and because he's so interested, the reader is, too. Some are quite dramatic, others deal with very ordinary things and some go from the ordinary to the dramatic (read The Outstation and The Three Fat Women of Antibes).

Moon and Sixpence is the first novel of Maugham's I've ever read and I've read it many times since. This re-read was prompted by the fact that I bought myself a Nook and the novel is available at gutenberg.org.

It's the story of Strickland, who starts out as a stockbroker with no interest in the arts whatsoever. One day he suddenly leaves his wife and children and goes to Paris to paint - he feels he simply has to. He is not successfull, but keeps on painting and eventually moves to Tahiti where he dies, leaving behind a great many paintings that have become masterpieces by the time the book is written.

If this strikes you as vaguely familiar: the novel was inspired by the life of Paul Gaugin, but it's by no means a biography.

Strickland is a memorable character because he gives up the life he has lived for decades on what seems a whim at first. When the narrator speaks to him in Paris, it becomes clear that Strickland lacks the words to explain what has happened to him, but it's vital for him to paint. He does not care one bit for anything else or anyone, not his family, not the people who befriend him and not the woman who leaves her husband for him.

It's quite a feat to create such an unlikeable character and still have the readers care about what happends next. But there is something utterly fascinating about a man who follows the path he thinks he must take with such abandon.

The classics Challenge prompt this month was What is a moment, quote, or character that you feel will stay with you? Years from now, when some of the details have faded, that lasting impression the book has left you with... what is it? --or why did it fail to leave an impression?
There's a scene between Strickland and Dirk Stroeve, another painter whose wife has just left him for Strickland. Stroeve has been letting Strickland use and abuse him for long time. But his wife leaving him is too much and he attacks Strickland, who easily pushes him down. "You funny little man", says Strickland.
That whole scene is absolutely cruel and perfectly illustrates the man Strickland is. It has made quite an impression with me and it appears not just with me. Stephen King quotes it in Bag of Bones (he seems to have a liking for Maugham anyway - good taste, that man).

Fifth book for the Classics Challenge

Reviews 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bond, Jane Bond

I missed this for some reason when it was published for International Women's Day last year, but what the heck, it's worth sharing any time.
We are Equals