Frankenshout’s War


Stavros de Frankenshout raged
His battlecry encompassed
By short semiautomatic soliloque
Rat a tat tat quick justice
The bullets required bandages to wind
Beans to feed,
Boots to shoe
And yet somehow they were only remembered
As if in a dream
A haze of dulled senses
and disenfranchised thought
A sea of worry
And hate
And retribution
And pain
And somehow through it all
They came

Seven feet tall and taller,
The strangest beings he’d ever seen
Weapons grown from within them
Inherent bonelike gleam
Slow and ponderous and strong
The creatures of the night
Stars their origin and destination
Light years travelled for this fight
The bullets spewing forth
Frankenshout’s weapon raised high
As the Ragers advance
The magazine has run dry

Toss the pistol, grab the sword
Perhaps that is the way
Stavros never wondered
If words could hold some sway
Surely his commanders,
Decorated men them all
Had already tried discussion
Before ten thousand’s fall
The blade seems more effective
But close quarters isn’t safe
Tommy, Franky and Johnboy
Caught boneknives in the face

And now the war is over
Done, dusted, had it’s time
That was a wasted effort
De Frankenshout lost his mind
If you must know, we lost
Everything we had
And now we are much happier
Did you know war is bad?
Our masters, they don’t rule us
Not like in the past
Turns out the Ragers love us
Man, we learned that fast

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Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem



Solaris tells the tale of an entire planet that is sentient and it’s machinations and effects on the scientific researchers who visit the strange globe from which the book derives it’s name. Its a cool idea, an ocean, covering most of a planet that can think and act based on those thoughts. The ocean defies physics and has had human researcher’s baffled since it’s discovery some decades before the novel takes place.

Kris Kelvin arrives at Solaris Station to find that the researchers are shook up, dead or dying or living in self imposed exile. As Kelvin struggles to do his job under in-optimal conditions he begins to have delusions and visions and visitations as he seems to slowly go insane. An old lover appears to him, despite her suicide years earlier, and he struggles to find the meaning of this torment. It seems that the other scientists are undergoing similar delusions. Kelvin races to find the answer before it is all too late.

Lem writes beautifully and the feeling of madness and disbelief is palpable. The main message to be taken away from Solaris is that communication between humanity and any other form of consciousness is futile and will almost certainly end in dismal failure. Any alien man encounters will be so vastly different we might as well attempt conversations with an ant hive mind or a herring. There is an overbearing sense of darkness peppered with distrust and outright hostility that pervades the book but these all come from the human characters and their reactions to the situations thrown up by the Solaris entity.

It is interesting to note that the English translation of this Polish novel has been deemed second rate by the author, himself fluent in English. It is a shame because even as a second rate translation it is a powerful and moving book but it seems unlikely that another translation effort will be forthcoming. Lem also has derided the three film adaptations saying that the book is called Solaris, and not ‘Love in Space’, as all three focus on the returned dead rather than the psychological and philosophical themes that are at the books core. That said, the 2002 version staring George Clooney is certainly watchable, despite avoiding all of the difficult questions asked in the novel.

Solaris is a complex and deep novel that is worth the time and effort. A must for scifi lovers everywhere. Extra points for learning Polish for the sole reason of reading the book in it’s original and apparently superior form.

4 Stars

Slaughterhouse Five (1969) by Kurt Vonegut



Slaughterhouse Five (or the children’s crusade: a duty-dance with death) is a satirical scifi novel that focuses on a character that is unstuck in time. As the story follows Billy Pilgrim, an unwilling soldier during world war 2, he jumps around in time seeing his life in small flashes before and after he has lived it. Vonegut makes excellent use of non linear story telling and at no point does the reader really feel lost with whats happening.

The main setting for the story is in a slaughterhouse in Dresden before the famous bombing that levelled the city and killed over 100000 people. Billy and one of his companions, Roland Weary are captured at the battle of the bulge and transported to Dresden.

During his time jumps Billy variously visits his past and future, including being abducted by aliens and kept in a zoo, his death years later and manybthings between. Towards the end of his life Billy becomes something of a spiritual guru, giving speeches on the true nature of time and aliens and many things between. The story flows nicely despite all the jumps, proving through the way it is written that linear time is a myth clung to by humanity.

While being held by the aliens (known as Tralfamadorians) Billy learns about how they write novels. They take small stories that when read together form a vision of life in totality. The Tralfamadorians are similarly unstuck in time like Billy and they teach him alot about his ‘problem’.

Slaughterhouse Five is an exceptional novel and a great read.

4 stars.

War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells



Orson Welles famously scared everyone half to death during his one hour radio play adaptation of The War of the Worlds. The first forty or so minutes were presented as a emergency broadcast relating events of a real invasion. Welles narrated the radio play in one of the best pranks ever. If you have been reading these reviews for a while now you may have noticed a certain science fiction trend in the books I choose. I am making my way through the ‘top 100 Sci Fi novels’ and The War of the Worlds sits pretty at no. 20.

The War of the Worlds tells of the invasion of earth by martians at the turn of the 20th century. This has been a frequently rehashed idea and even ignoring the genre which it birthed there are multiple war of the worlds movies and sequels and plays and adaptations galore. The idea of aliens arriving from space and attacking humanity clearly has a hold on the imaginations of entire generations of people and this novel (and it’s offshoots) explore a few key aspects of humanity and civilization with the lovely clip and pace of 1900s London (perhaps the most civilized civilization there ever was…) and it is thoroughly readable. Last year I read The Time Machine and I enjoyed that immensely. The War of the Worlds is, simply put, a better tale. The narration is better, the ebbs and flows are numerous and unexpected, and the characters are much more real.

The narrator tells of his own experiences during the invasion of earth by the enormous tripod martians, as well as his brothers experiences and a few of the people he meets during his flight from the war zone his home had become. Personally I quite like this narration style, it feels like sitting beside the fire and listening to stories with family during winter. The individual ebbs and flows are lost in translation to film, especially when the 2005 version staring Tom Cruise takes only the title, the description of the ‘baddies’, and the ending, and then jam it full of Hollywood dross to pad back out to 90 odd minutes. If there is another war of the worlds film I really hope they do it right and go with the late 1800s ascetic (so I can steampunk in my head…) and show the Maxim Guns firing while the hussars charge the alien tripods to no effect and then are cut down by the heat ray and so forth. Pipe Dream I’m sure…

There isn’t much to say about one of the most innovative novels ever written that hasn’t been said before. The War of the Worlds is a masterpiece of fiction and definitely one of the finest novels I have ever read. This, I’m sure, is Wells’ best work and if you are like me and want to experience alot of different writers then this is a great place to start.

Read it now!

5 Stars




Rendezvous with Rama (1972) by Arthur C. Clarke


ImageRendezvous with Rama is a beautiful novel written by the great Arthur C. Clarke. An enormous bullet shaped object has entered the solar system and looks to be made by aliens. It is fifty kilometers long and ten wide and it is perfectly machined and manufactured so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this celestial object is heading towards earth with a purpose. A team is quickly reassigned and before long they enter through a triple reinforced airlock into the cavernous interior of Rama.

The descriptions of the shifting changing nature of the inside of the giant ship are what make this such an interesting and thought provoking search into the meaning of the universe. A long asked question, “are we alone in the vastness of space”, has long been the vehicle of exploration into the human mind, via the medium of Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke is nothing short of a genius. The ships insides are vast and over the course of the novel the sterile environment changes into one of lush beauty including the mind bending and surreal thought of looking up and seeing land and water hovering kilometres over your head (less mind bending having seen movies like ‘Elysium’ and ‘Upside Down’ but still…).

The Cylindrical Sea, a massive body of water that encircles the entire inside of the ship in a huge circle, was my personal favorite. Clarke uses simple reversals of everyday physics to create a magical world that could actually exist, given the right circumstances, but one that we can hardly comprehend despite it’s conforming to the laws of physics. It is ideas like these that make Clarke a master of making hard work look simple.

The Cult of the Space Jesus (not the actual name) is a funny aside made even more hilarious by the fact that none of the things being said are much different that the ‘actual facts’ offered up by modern day religions and Clarke doesn’t ridicule them openly. Reading between the lines you can tell Clarke isn’t one for organised religion. He is a spiritual man asking spiritual questions but he is a scientist in equal measure.

All told this is another classic Sci-Fi novel and definitely one for the ages.

5 Stars