Last Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I thought it fitting to make this the last recommendation of the year (and last of the weekly recommendations). The book is in itself a time machine as most books are. It was originally published in 1895, but holds up well in 2018. Of course, the language is a little dated but not so much to cause difficulty in reading. It may even increase your vocabulary as several words in it aren’t commonly used anymore.

It is still an entertaining book. Enough so that it has been made into movies as recently as 2002. I’m sure in 1895 this book would have been considered outlandish, entertaining, and even frightening, but today I’m afraid it would seem just another story. There is an enormous amount of science fiction today that includes time travel. However, this story is the first mention of the concept (I would be more than happy if someone proved me wrong here). It is always interesting to go back and read books like this that seem to be an integral building block to one of today’s most popular fictional subjects. As a writer, it is also interesting to read what had inspired other writers throughout the years. You begin to notice similarities the more you read whether they may be intentional or not.

Time travel has always been of interest to me because it is very hard to pull off in terms of making it believable or at least practical. There is always a chance missing a small incongruity that ends up debunking the whole concept. These are often in the form of paradoxes but sometimes can just be continuity errors. Either way, they bring in doubt which greatly weakens the story.

H.G. Wells was very clever when he wrote this story because he made it simple with no complicated processes that could easily have initiated such an error. He introduces the machine itself without diving into the technical aspects about how it works (a technique often used by Christopher Nolan in many of his films). He does so in a way that makes it simply believable. We don’t need to get to the nitty-gritty. We just want to see what happens next. Wells then has the traveler go so far into the future that no one could ever refute what happens in the story. Too many time-travel stories make the mistake of setting the future to within one or two generations which quickly dates them, such as Back to the Future. In this book, the character travels hundreds of thousands of years. The world we see through the time traveler (since that is all we know him by) is one that is, for all we know, plausible.

Through clever writing and an engaging narrative despite several dated terms and a standard Victorian structure, The Time Machine holds up for modern audiences. It is shorter at around 120 pages and broken up into 12 chapters, which allows you to break up the reading if you don’t want to read it all in one go.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. My now father-in-law bought this book for me over a year ago and I just got around to reading it last month (that to-be-read pile never decreases). Of course, Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis is best known for writing the Chronicles of Narnia series. I haven’t read that series, and now that I think about it, this might be the first of Lewis’s books that I have read.

This book reads as a collection of letters sent by Screwtape, a demon/devil, to his nephew, Wormwood. The letters offer advice on how to effectively tempt a human in such a way that they end up in Hell as sustenance for fellow demons. Though I am not a religious man, I enjoyed this book for several reasons.

The first being the historical context and reassurance that humanity has suffered the same or similar societal issues for at least the past 100 years. This book was published in 1942. Many of the tricks that Screwtape offers his nephew to persuade his patient are also reflections on human nature and its social interactions. I was surprised to find many of the behaviors spot on even for today, nearly eighty years after they were written, in a time drastically different due to technological advancement and the connection of humanity across the world by the ambivalent internet.

I know that C.S. Lewis had a crisis of faith at one time and that J.R.R. Tolkien, along with another friend, helped him during this time. The result ended up with Lewis bolstering his beliefs and going on to write many theologically influenced books, including this one. Lewis even dedicated this book to J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis and Tolkien were best friends as they taught at Oxford and remained friends their entire lives. They often reviewed each other’s works and offered advice. I could go further into their relationship, but I’ll refrain because I’ll end up talking more about Tolkien than Lewis, or this book of his that I’m recommending.

The letters often refer to a war and how it could be used to win the battle for the human soul. This war refers to World War II, but I wouldn’t be surprised if World War I had some influence as well. Apparently there are many ways for us humans to be influenced toward sin and other actions. There is also many ways we can seemingly be redeemed (and fairly easily). This book is considered “Christian apologetic novel” and honestly I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it has many interesting lectures I think anyone can enjoy. Lewis stated that he had a hard time writing this book because Screwtape was such an abhorrent character (being a demon). Luckily for us, he was able to produce this interesting religious and social commentary.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney. For anyone who only knows the name Tesla because of Elon Musk, you are in for a surprise because the company was named after a genius of a man. That man’s full name is Nikola Tesla and he was born on July 10th, 1856, and went on to become the reason we have electricity in our homes. Yes, Thomas Edison played a huge part in that, but he and Tesla also had a large feud historically named the Current Wars that went on to determine the future of electricity for the entire world.

This book, along with another written by Cheney called Tesla: Master of Lightning, goes into the details of Tesla’s life and how he was influential in his field while remaining fairly unknown. I think his name is coming back into popular view because of companies like the one named after him and because electricity is currently being used to produce more economically friendly alternatives throughout the world.

I became enthralled by Tesla when I was around fifteen. I was always taught that Edison had been the front-runner in the field of creating and producing electricity, but when I found out that Tesla was just as if not more influential in the field I could not help but delve deeper into who this seemingly unknown man was. I am glad I did because he remains one of my heroes. He is someone at the top of my list when asked that theoretical question: Who, alive or dead, would you like to have a conversation with?

Margaret Cheney was 22 years old when Nikola Tesla died in 1943. She has done thorough research and, luckily for us, produced excellent books that elaborate on a still mysterious man. This book was originally published in 1981. She uses articles written at the time of the events to show how Edison (technically indirectly) ran a rather inhumane smear campaign against Tesla. Seriously, they electrocuted an elephant, as well as other animals, to try and show that alternating current was dangerous. If they tried to do that today, they would all be in jail.

Tesla, on the other hand, never cared about money or fame. He only cared about his work. He even had an idea that would provide free electricity to everyone in the world. Sound familiar? Elon Musk recently threw out the idea of producing free (or cheap) wifi for everyone in the world. It’s good to see they are following in the footsteps of the man they admire. The Tesla company also pulled a namesake move when they released the patents on their electric vehicles to the public and stated that they would not charge royalties for anyone using them.

Anyway, before I give too much away, give this book a read if you are interested. As with most historical/biographical books, this one also gives a great glimpse into what life was like 120 years ago when electricity was a luxury.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick. This book was one I found randomly at a book store. I had no idea it even existed, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say you hadn’t either.

I’ve recommended several books by Philip K. Dick before so of course I am a fan of his work, but this book is different. It’s actually an interview. Published in 2000, this “book” is really just a transcription of taped interviews that Gwen Lee had with Dick two months before he passed away on March 2nd, 1982 from a series of strokes. The transcription is unaltered and includes all “um”s and side-tracked conversations.

What I loved most about this short little “autobiography” of sorts is the glimpse into his mind. One of the key points included in this “book” is that it offers an insight into the book he was working on when he died. A book that never was finished. All we have of that would-be book is from these tapes. He discusses the plot in detail and gives us a glimpse of his writing process. The book would have been titled The Owl in Daylight and would have been an awesome read.

These interviews took place during the production of the Blade Runner movie as well, which is based on Dick’s novel Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? It was really cool seeing how excited he was about the movie. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see it beyond a few clips. He does discuss his book and the movie in these interviews.

I found it really interesting that he claimed he rarely read fiction. As a science fiction writer, you would think he read a lot of other novels including other science fiction work, but at the time of these interviews he admits he rarely read fiction anymore. He mostly read nonfiction and scientific books or articles. He was definitely an academic and loved learning new things. He mentions he learned Greek so he could read a religious text without a translation to make sure the there was no confusion about the context.

As a writer, I found it really interesting how he wrote his novels. The few details we get state that he would pump out a novel in one go. Write the entire thing within a matter of ten days or two weeks. He would become obsessed with the work until it was finished. Even at the cost of his health unfortunately. This is something that pops up when he talks about The Owl in Daylight and I’m not sure if there was a purposeful connection or not. One character is making incredible art, but it is physically killing him, and the ultimate choice he is given is to continue as he is, making the art until he dies, or go back to making mediocre art and regain his health. The more I think about it, the more I wish the book was completed.

Most of Dick’s work centers on a concept. That’s what I like about it so much. It is a conversation that the reader gets to be a part of. You can finish a short story or novel and you don’t feel like you’ve simply read a story. It gets your mind going. As with most of his stories, even this “book” that is really an interview made me want to write more. To explore concepts of my own and delve into the strange worlds I can create.

I’ll wrap this up before I ramble on too much. If you haven’t read anything by Philip K. Dick, do so as soon as possible. If you are a writer and haven’t read his work, do so as soon as possible or rather this very moment. Even if you have read his work and think it’s not for you, try this one out because it is about the man himself. Too often we enjoy the art, in whatever form, without really knowing anything about who created it. I’m glad I found the man as interesting as his work.

Happy Reading.

 

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is a place you can’t help but be curious about, and Clay Jannon unintentionally finds himself a job there working the night shift where he sees few if any customers. Clay quickly notices that the “regulars” never actually buy any books. They rather checkout volumes that cannot be found anywhere else in the world (at least not on the internet). Clay quickly becomes wrapped up in discovering what is happening in this seemingly quiet bookstore that holds an entire library of obscure books.

This book caught my attention several years ago and had been on my “to buy/read list” but I never pulled the trigger on it until recently. I happened across a copy at an annual book sale put on by the local library and finally picked it up. I opened it up and read through all 288 pages in less than one week, which was both liberating and reassuring for me since I have been in a reading slump of late. That alone should tell you how intriguing this book is. The mysteries within it unravel at the perfect pace as you follow Clay along in his journey to discover what type of business his employer is actually in.

One thing I really liked about this book is the way it weaves together the old with the new. The old being the books (some of which are hundreds of years old) and the new being technology. Clay is a web designer who is happy to have his job for Mr. Penumbra because any job is better than no job during a recession. I would consider another level of old and new to be the relationship between Mr. Penumbra and Clay. They are a perfect example about how we as people can learn from each other. Mr. Penumbra is fascinated by what Clay can do with a computer, while Clay in enthralled by the experiences Mr. Penumbra has had.

I’ve written this recommendation while carefully avoiding several key elements about the book could potentially be considered spoilers. Since I would hate to give anything away, but I still have an overwhelming need to tell you more, I will leave you with one cryptic word that shouldn’t give too much away.

Cipher.

Happy Reading.