Showing posts with label audiobooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audiobooks. Show all posts

Monday, January 23, 2017

Signal Watch Reads: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2004, audiobook)



Like everyone else, I didn't think about Alexander Hamilton a whole lot other than knowing he was on my money, invented the Fed, and somehow got into a duel (and lost) with a more obscure Founding Father, Aaron Burr.  The Revolutionary War era and the founding of the United States is such a deeply complex time in history, I've never really had my head around it, and as that history in broad scope tends to work best for me when woven into biographies, I'd long intended to read biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and a George Washington bio written by Ron Chernow that was given to me by NathanC that's been collecting dust for way too long.

Part of my issue is that most of those books are the "why is this 900 pages long?" variety, and I've been so buried in Roosevelt biographies, I've not really made enough time or room in my head for much else, but I've been working to change that.

Of course, along came the Grammy performance of the opening number to Hamilton, a fact-laden number intended to get us to the start of the action but laying out Hamilton's childhood story (which is enough to fill a book itself), and - like for so many of the rest of the people who saw this or listened to the soundtrack recording (or the lucky few who've seen the show), I was compelled to know more.  Maxwell suggested the Chernow bio, so I burned an Audible credit and picked up Alexander Hamilton (2004).  And, 37 hours of audiobook later, here we are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson, 1962 - audiobook)



After reading The Haunting of Hill House, one or two of you (I know Max was one) suggested I check out more of Shirley Jackson's work.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was the lead recommendation, and as I'd really liked the other novel, when October rolled in, I selected it as my Halloween read.

That may or may not have been the best selection specifically for Halloween as it's not necessarily the stuff of the monsters and pumpkins and ghosts I usually associate with the holiday, but everyone does it differently.  Rather, the closest comparison I could draw would be along the lines of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.   But even those are a far cry from this book.

Still, depending on how one were to read it - this book is horror.  Not the creeping uncanny spirits of a ghost tale, or even the realization that the normal is face-to-face with the supernatural.  It's the reader wrestling with an untrustworthy narrator and a creeping descent into something not necessarily sinister but tragic and mad.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (by Candice Millard, 2016 - audiobook)



The study of history in practice can be maddening if the bar you hold up is trying to read up on every single thing anyone ever did before this very moment.  If that's your standard, then I'm a little behind in developing my all encompassing eye into the past.  Example:  I'm a publicly educated kid from the burbs who focused on North America in obtaining his history undergrad degree.  Aside from the bare-bone basics, I know very, very little about Winston Churchill, but I figured I had to start somewhere.  But, why not with a book by a terrific author and starting at the beginning?

I'd previously read Candice Millard's two prior full-length books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, and I can honestly say they were some of my favorite books of the last decade.  Both books covered events which usually appear as footnotes or brief interludes in other historical retellings, diversions in the telling of longer, more expansive stories.  Yet, Millard managed to craft one of the most harrowing stories of real-life adventure you're likely to read in the Theodore Roosevelt starring The River of Doubt, and in Destiny of the Republic, she sets out to set you weeping about the unjust passing of President James Garfield, shot by an assassin and victim of the limitations of his times, just on the precipice of modern knowledge we now take for granted.

I would argue that, by zeroing in on a specific time, place and people, she was able to say more about those people with a greater degree of eloquence - using historical fact, reconstructed timelines, letters and post-facto primary sources - to shed light on moments and giants of our history.

Here in her third book, Millard demonstrates why she's becoming a favorite of many more readers than just myself.  Whether you're a history buff who's already schlepped your way through a number of Churchill biographies or - like yours truly - you find yourself embarrassingly ignorant in regards to the biography of one of the modern West's greatest leaders, Millard's spun Churchill's life as a young man into a narrative in the mold of epic adventure, all while reporting the facts.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick, 1968, audiobook)



The last time I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I was about 15 and had a fairly hard time keeping up with a narrative that wasn't an easily digestible Isaac Asimov plot and which didn't work with a Bradbury-esque flow to carry me over the rough patches.  I didn't know anything about Philip K. Dick other than that he was the name of the guy who wrote the book upon which they'd based Blade Runner, at the time one my new favorite movies (and, of course, still a favorite).  But, I had heard the novel and movie were different.

I really don't know why I decided it was time to read the book again other than that, like most books I read 25+ years ago, my memories of the details were fuzzy.  I mostly remembered feeling that - as screwed as the Rick Deckard of the film had been, the Deckard of DADoES? was in a far more precarious state.  I recalled a "fake" police station, Roy Batty seemed less a threat, and the world of the novel existed in a state of decay that went well beyond even the night-time drizzling menace of the film.

It's not that I had a hard time understanding the story from an A to B to C to D perspective, but Dick's books always seem to be doing what science-fiction can do intensely well, and that's act as allegory for some more universal story or truth or as a thought experiment to explore those ideas.  I'm sure I got it in that "I read what was on the page" sort of way, but there was no way for me to really relate.  Add in my trouble reconciling the differences between the book and movie and expecting the themes and plot to better dovetail, and it was a recipe for forgetting a lot of what was interesting or special about the book as repeated Blade Runner viewings had quashed a lot of what I might have remembered.

Upon a re-read, I'd argue you need to see the two narratives as separate and attempting different stories with different meaning.  There are certainly resonant thematic issues, but in making many of the changes Ridley Scott and Co. went with, Blade Runner is far more a product of expectations of films (no matter which cut we're discussing), of roles within films, and the limited running time of a movie and what can be in that story.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Failure Is Not An Option - by Gene Kranz (2000, audiobook)



If you've seen Apollo 13, you've seen Ed Harris as the vest-wearing Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz.  Kranz served with NASA from the Mercury missions straight through into the mid-90's.  Truly the case of The Right Person in the Right Place for the Right Job, Kranz is famous for his post Apollo 1 disaster speech at NASA where he defined the "tough and competent" mantra of NASA's Mission Control Center.  He was, as evidenced by Ed Harris playing him in the film, also one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 13 who helped pull together the plan to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth.

But Kranz was there during Gemini, working out procedures and flight plans, debating the wisdom of rushing our first EVA to catch up with the Russians, and he was there for Apollo 11, landing Aldrin and Armstrong.

As you can imagine, the history alone is worth the read, and I'll be picking up some more memoirs and. or histories of the race from Mercury to Apollo 17 and beyond (I mean, my earliest solid memories are around the Space Shuttle, and so a history of the development of the Shuttle Columbia would be more than welcome).  But Kranz's personal take is as absolutely fascinating as it is inspiring.

The view from the Flight Commander's Control Console takes us to the point of teeth-gritting responsibility.  While thousands have contributed to building the rockets and space-craft, and many, many others have been involved all along the line, it's the MCC that makes the decisions to abort, must know their systems, the craft, the management of the astronauts, etc.. well enough to make moment by moment calls and respond to each challenge as it surfaces.  Each decision impacts lives of the astronauts, and every choice could be the one that leads to disaster.

And, the Flight Director is, ultimately, the person who is leading his or her control team and responsible for the calls that manage the Flight during their shift.  Anyway, my job suddenly seemed a lot easier.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Return of Tarzan (by ERB, 1913)



What's most surprising about reading a 1913 Tarzan novel is, really, in many ways how modern it feels.  Whether ERB was reflective of a particular brand of cliff-hanger storytelling or whether he shaped a lot of what I think of as a feature of modern adventure entertainment - it's pretty amazing how much you can see of how the adventures of Tarzan work, structurally, in comics and adventure television of all stripes (and probably books, but I don't read that much of this sort of thing).

Tarzan's origin is detailed in the first half of the first book, most of the rest of the book providing the set-up for the ensuing adventures (or, more of the origin, I guess).  This second book picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first as Jane takes off with not-Tarzan, aka: William Clayton (but Tarzan's cousin, who is Lord Greystoke as far as the world is concerned).

It's important to point out that ERB's Tarzan is not the "me Tarzan, you Jane" of the Johnny Weissmuller films.  He's a hyper-intelligent super human who picks up languages the way I pick up unnecessary action figures.  You kind of have to dump everything you've ever read about actual feral-children, maybe one of the saddest things you're likely to read about, and buy into the premise that Tarzan is a really well-adjusted guy in many ways for someone who eats raw flesh and speaks gorilla.

That said - the arc of this second novel is about Tarzan deciding who and what he will be.  And, putting up with a shady Russian who keeps turning up like a bad penny.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: "The Elephant to Hollywood" a bio of Michael Caine by Michael Caine as read by Michael Caine (audiobook)



Normally this sort of thing isn't my bag, but a while back my pal SimonUK gave me a print copy of this book, and I picked it up and started reading it only to hear Michael Caine's voice reading the book in my head.  "Well," I reasoned to myself, "why not see if he actually did an audio recording of the book."  And, indeed, he had.

I don't know much about Michael Caine and I'm not up on his filmography.  But, you know, who doesn't like Michael Caine?

This was actually his second memoir, and I suspect the first one probably played up a bit more of his exploits and wild, free-wheeling ways in the 60's and 70's.  But this one is more or less Caine's reflections on being a bit of a lad from an area of London called The Elephant and Castle, a down and out neighborhood both during his youth and at the time of the book's writing (circa 2010).  He grew up working class, a father serving the army in WWII, and Caine himself evacuated.  Post-war, he grows up a bit tough, decides on theater and acting as a career, and as a young man pursues the idea with dogged determination, even as misfortune and the challenges of life heap up.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Little Sister (by Raymond Chandler, 1949) audiobook



The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep.  Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.

A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office.  She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared.  Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Caped Crusade - Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (audiobook, 2016)



Here's what I know after reading Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (2016) - I would love to spend a couple hours at a bar with author Glen Weldon knocking back a couple of cocktails and talking comics.  

The book is a perfect compliment to the sort of discussion we've been having here at The Signal Watch the past few years, from our Gen-X Recollection Project (still ongoing!  Send in your posts!), to trying to contextualize what we see in movies of the past and present as seasoned dorks.  

As a matter of course, I've read a few Superman retrospectives, but very few feel like an honest conversation.  Les Daniels' works read like what they are - honest if fairly sanitary historical accounts of the rise of Superman in all media.  The very-well-selling Larry Tye book felt like a lot of research into something the author felt would move books but for which he had little personal affinity and seemed surprised that Superman wasn't the character he remembered from his years watching The Adventures of Superman.  Author Tom De Haven has the strangest relationship with Superman, having written a full novel re-imagining the character from the ground up (in ways that often seemed far, far off the mark), and then a sort of retrospective that made it clear - he kinda hates Superman.

But aside from Les Daniels and a few excerpts in books like Ten Cent Plague and Men of Tomorrow, I haven't read up as much on Batman.  I actually heard of author Glen Weldon when he put out a book called Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.  I purchased the book, but hadn't read it as I had a stack of books I was making it through.  Still haven't read it, honestly, aside from the first few pages, which had me cackling in recognition of someone who truly knew their Superman.  But, two days after I picked up the Superman book, Weldon announced on twitter his Batman book was coming, and as I'd just finished the Tye Superman book, I figured - I'll just wait for that one.

I really can't recommend Caped Crusade enough.  This is a "run, don't walk" sort of recommendation.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Colonel Roosevelt (2010) - audiobook



In college I started reading up a bit on Theodore Roosevelt.  If you're reading American History of the 20th Century, he's a figure that looms incredibly large, and I wasn't the first History major to take an interest.  In fact, my instructor for my "Presidents and the Press" course was a bit of a Roosevelt scholar, and when it came time to write a paper and I was asking him for topics on TR, he told me to forget it - there was nothing new to research, and sent me down the path of researching a minor scandal during the Wilson administration (and that's when I turned on Wilson).  

To Dr. Gould's point, there's a lot of stuff out there both about and by Theodore Roosevelt.  And, no, an undergrad history major who wanted to write about the Panama Canal or Russian/ Japanese peace treaty wasn't going to produce any original scholarship on the matter.  You begin with reading about TR's great deeds and see him as a champion you can't believe has become something of an obscure lost-uncle figure to many Americans in comparison to FDR (or even his niece, Eleanor), but, much like Shaft, TR is a complicated man.

Colonel Roosevelt (2010) is the third in a triptych of biographies by Edmund Morris.  The first to arrive came out in 1979, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but I wouldn't read it until about 2001 on a trip with Jamie's family.  On a personal note - reading that book on the porch of a cabin in Minnesota and taking long breaks to fish, cook fish and eat fish, was maybe some the most pleasant few days I can ever recall.  The second installment, Theodore Rex, arrived in 2002, and really covered the era of Roosevelt's presidency (and for anyone who thinks our current administration is acting with unprecedented imperial-like authority, my friends...  not even close).

The third installment, Colonel Roosevelt, covers the era between Roosevelt departing office until his death.  If you think a post-presidency career for Roosevelt was one of quiet solitude, well... (a) your understanding of 20th Century Presidential Politics needs a refresher, and (b) you are so, so wrong.

One day I will read a Roosevelt biography and reach the descriptions of his death and funeral and not get weepy, but, today is not this day.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Walt Disney - The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006) by Neal Gabler



A while back NathanielC suggested this book to me, and after 33+ hours of audiobook, I am, at long last, done.*

I've written about Uncle Walt before, and I've read up on the man and his work in bits and pieces over the years, including The Art of Walt Disney, which is on a shelf about ten feet from me as I type this.  Full disclosure as well - my second job as a teenager was as a fresh-faced "Cast Member" at The Disney Store when it was still a prestige sort of store in the halcyon days of the early 90's (and I could have done far worse.  I learned a lot between the Princess Dresses and Dalmatian snowglobes.).

The name "Walt Disney" is a name that conjures up a wild array of ideas for anyone.  It's a universal brand anywhere in the world, which is really pretty amazing.  As children we love Disney, as teen-agers we get cynical and start feeling clever when we find out that maybe Walt Disney's cartoons aren't the same as the dark and often bloody fairytales which inspired them.  We retain fond memories of cartoons and live action movies, the theme parks and TV shows and everything else Disney can mean.  We wink and nod, no dupes for the product of Walt Disney, right up until we pick up that BluRay or take our kids to another movie or buy that t-shirt, watch anything on ABC, or see a movie produced from a Disney subsidiary making straight up regular movies.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: "The Lady in the Lake" by Raymond Chandler (1943) - audiobook


The great thing about novel adaptations back in the day was that they clearly either adapted the movies of books they'd read ten years prior and couldn't remember anymore, or they'd be damned if they were going to finish the book before pounding out a script.

I say this, because I've seen the odd-ball noir detective film, The Lady in the Lake directed by and starring Robert Montgomery at least twice, but more like three times.  Why?  Well, it's a super strange movie told from a first person POV with a windy plot that takes a surprisingly believable break in the action for Christmas Eve, and features Audrey Totter at her Totter-iest.

Why, yes, I am going to look right into the camera the whole movie.  Why?

But I don't really want to write a compare-and-contrast of the film and book.  First, only one of you has likely even seen this movie (for shaaaaaame...), and, you know, they're two different beasts.

Still, Audrey Totter.

seriously, this movie is odd, and I totally recommend it

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The High Window (1942) by Raymond Chandler



I've been thinking a bit about the difference between the Continental Op work, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.  Brighter minds than me have surely covered this - but you're here reading this, so...  here we go.

To be sure, there are more similarities than there are differences.  Working class detectives working in a shadowy world where wealth buys your way into indulging your perversions and clear of ignominy.  Low class hoods are always on the make.  Dames who can work an angle have it made, until they don't.  And then they wind up cold and stiff.  It's not whether everyone you meet has an angle, it's what their angle is - and if they don't have one, they're a chump.

Mostly, anyway.

The Continental Op doesn't have a heart of gold, but he's a square guy.  He's a brawler, almost always has a gun and will throw some lead around.  Sam Spade has a heart in there, too, one that's more likely to fall for a dame than the Continental Op, who knows he's no looker and has reason to distrust any dame that gets too close.  But Hammett's detectives never really warm to much of anyone, even when they tell you otherwise.  At best, they tolerate others and try not to admit it when any women get too close.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: "Live and Let Die" by Ian Fleming (aubiobook)



Reading the first two Bond books is a bit of an odd experience.  This is still a Bond that's not yet been made into a film, and the books feel oddly slight, especially in comparison to the meandering nature of the typical Bond movie.  I'm not sure if I should rehash that the Bond of the book, at this point, is not equipped with super-science gear or any of the trappings I think of when I consider my first exposure to Bond via the movie For Your Eyes Only.  And after the exotic locales of the first book (to Americans, anyway), setting much of Live and Let Die in Harlem and then St. Petersburg, Florida is oddly pedestrian despite the death traps and odd goings on.  But with the 3rd act change in scenery to Jamaica, it does move the action to a locale I readily associate with the Bond franchise and, of course, Ian Fleming's base of operations when writing his Bond novels.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Casino Royale (1953) - audiobook

One Christmas in my youth, I recall buying my dad a post-Ian Fleming Bond novel, something I thought to be an amazing find.  "Don't worry, Dad!  Yeah, that Fleming guy is dead, but Bond lives on!".  A year later I asked him about the book and he admitted he'd never bothered to read it because: "it wasn't Ian Fleming."  While I felt like maybe I'd wasted a present on The Admiral, I do recall that the book's description seemed a lot edgier than what was in the movies and, thanks to the interaction, developed the notion that we don't need to follow a series after the originator has died.



It's funny, because I have no idea if The Admiral ever read those original Bond novels.  He would have been in the right age range when they were coming out and I still remember he and The KareBear applauding me when he found me and my brother watching Goldfinger.  But, no recollection of the books on a shelf anywhere in the house.

In college, JAL did inform me how much he enjoyed the novels, but I wasn't much of a "reader".  Well, I was, but mostly non-fiction and comics.  And, since then, I think Picky Girl has been the biggest proponent of the Bond novels around these parts.

I'm slogging through the final Parker novels, which have lost a lot of the verve I enjoyed from the beginning of the series, and I'd been thinking of getting into the Bond novels as my next series, so I gave Casino Royale (1953) a whirl to see how it fit my tastes.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (audiobook)

I'd been intending to read Isaac's Storm for years, probably since its initial publication in 2000, 100 years after the actual storm in question.



If you've not heard of the 1900 Storm, it was the Katrina of its time.  In September of 1900, a hurricane passed through the Gulf of Mexico, gaining energy and striking the boomtown of Galveston, Texas, then considered to be a growing metropolis.  Estimates of casualties are always well into the thousands, from 6-8000.   When you consider that the census had just been taken, estimating the entire population of the island at 37,000 - it could have been even worse had Galveston continued to grow.

Isaac's Storm uses meteorologist Isaac Cline as a fulcrum to explore the state of the infant science of meteorology in 1900, the why's and wherefore's of the early national efforts on this front, the growth of Galveston in the late 19th Century and the culture of the town, and the hurricane and its aftermath.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut (audiobook)



When listening to an audiobook of a Kurt Vonnegut novel, something I've now done about 5 times, I'm always acutely aware that I'm missing the doodles and whatnot that sometimes appear in Vonnegut's work.  The truth is, I do most of my "reading" these days via Audible, so I've always accepted that if I want to "read" any Vonnegut before I die, I'm okay with the compromise.

I actually finished this book a week ago and just realized today I'd never written anything about it.  And, here's a secret - my audience for this blog is myself.  I more or less write up posts so I have some time to think about whatever I just watched or read, so I have an opportunity to break it up a bit and not just let media wash over me, watch it or read it and forget it.

For good or ill, I also haven't read anything new yet, so it's still relatively fresh.

This book arrived late in Vonnegut's career, published in 1990, his second to last book.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (audiobook)

I can't remember the last time I actually read Washington Irving's story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but it remains a fun, spirited read, perfect for a quick fix of harmless Halloween fun as we head to the holiday.



I was quite pleased to realize the audiobook I'd downloaded was read by actor Thomas Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on television's Sleepy Hollow, and an actor that is just begging for a part somewhere in the Marvel U, but I'm not sure as who, exactly.

If you saw the Disney cartoon or a hundred other adaptations, you know the story - though, ironically, the one place you absolutely will not get the story of Sleepy Hollow is from the television program of the same name, which went off the tracks and into a ditch immediately with its second season and is struggling to make a comeback with the third.

The book, itself, is relayed not so much in a spirit of spookiness, but in good humor that still translates - and, frankly, translates the long gone world in which the novel was written for the modern reader.  The book serves a vastly different purpose than The Haunting of Hill House.  It's a spooky tale meant to reassure the reader and comment upon the Americans of the era and geographic region in folksy ways, and it's practically a cartoon waiting to be adapted, as Mr. Disney did in good fashion.

Because it's of interest, I'll mention the inclusion of black characters in the story in both a caricaturist fashion and as observing faces who clearly find Ichabod Crane absurd so the narrator doesn't have to spell it out.  I don't expect too much in the way of progressive writing in popular fiction of 1820, but it certainly isn't exactly as offensive as one might find elsewhere.

Really, all the characters of the book are broad caricatures in a way, simple impressions to get the general idea across, and when Irving does get specific about Crane, in particular, the idea is to politely understate the absurdity of a self-important buffoon.

The description of the Horseman and ride are vivid, Irving painting a tremendous picture of the Crane's confrontation.  I have to imagine all of this would be a lot of fun to read to a kid at some point.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (audiobook)

I took some suggestions via Facebook for an October read.  Every year I try to read a "scary" book during the month leading up to Halloween, and while I got a number of suggestions (many of which confused "thrilling" with "Halloween scary"), I had to pick one or two and get on with it.  I almost read The Turn of the Screw again, I went for the source material to one of my favorite scary movies, instead.  In the end, I read Shirley Jackson's 1959 book, The Haunting of Hill House.

The book has been adapted into two movies, The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting (1999).  One of these movies is directed by Robert Wise, who never made a bad movie, and the other was done by the guy who made Twister and Speed 2: Cruise Control.  If you liked those movies, your mileage will vary.



The good news is that the book diverges from both movies, and, really, after the introduction of the characters, has very, very little to do with the 1999 big budget CGI-FX driven snoozefest.  In the case of the 1963 adaptation, the movie and book match and diverge in similarity, enough so that I really wasn't sure what to expect from chapter to chapter.  Really, though, it's the perspective of the book that provides the greatest difference for the reader, and provides an experience the movie simply cannot as the camera must always show something going on, and cannot rely on the reflections of the characters in the same way.  The characters simply are on the screen, perhaps with hints of something otherwise, but the frame has to capture an interpretation one way or another.

Eleanor is a 32 year old woman who has spent her entire adult life caring for her sickly mother.  She has no profession, no friends, no home of her own as she is now in limbo, living with a sister who has inherited her mother's prickly nature and the sister's boorish husband and young daughter.  At some point in the distant past, she experienced a supernatural event as stones rained down upon her house, an act she grew up believing was the work of unkind neighbors, and perhaps it was.  We can't know for certain.

A parapsychologist, Dr. Montague, has scoured the country for those who have experienced legitimate psychic events, and has invited them to the mysterious Hill House, a 19th Century mansion built to house the family of an industrialist with what seems to have been an unhealthy parenting style for his two young girls.  The house was believed "born bad", already evil before the many deaths that occurred in the house even began.

The house itself is built with doors that hang at an angle to shut, walls that are not exactly at the right angle, and various optical illusions meant to make the house a showplace of the era in which it was built.  The effect, however, seems to unsettle and confuse visitors, not create any sense of wonder.

Of the many invitations sent, only two visitors arrive, Eleanor - who may have once had stones hurled at her by unseen forces, and Theodora, a beatnik who may be able to catch glimpses of the thoughts of others.  Also, the young man who stands to inherit the house, an idler and wanna-be playboy, Luke.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (1973, audiobook)

After listening to the audiobook of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I got a rec from one of you (I'll assume it was CanadianSimon, as he reads 3 books a week, it seems) to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of alien contact in our solar system, Rendezvous with Rama (1973).   In my old age, this is exactly the kind of book that is bringing me back to science fiction after a long, long time of not reading the genre.  But, then again, I was always more of a Asimov-Robot-Novel kind of sci-fi reader and felt like I was really pushing the limits of fantasy with Martian Chronicles by Bradbury.



No one is going to accuse Clarke of writing character-driven science fiction, but in imagining both a world in which space travel has become commonplace to the point of interplanetary colonies are treated like nations and how we might react to a truly alien craft entering our solar system (and what it might be like as the crew tapped to take on that challenge) all feels remarkably relevant in 2015 as I am sure it did in 1973 when the book hit shelves.