Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Trout Lake Media
First Published: 1895
Length: 4 hours, 10 minutes
The Time Machine is a sci-fi novel from 1895. It’s the story of the Time Traveller describing his trip to the future. He travels to the year 802,701AD, where he meets two group of creatures: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small creatures who live above ground in crumbling buildings. They are kind of lazy and dumb, but happy. He befriends a particular Eloi female named Weena. However, after learning that his time machine has been stolen, he discovers another group, the Morlocks. These creatures live below ground in tunnels and they are definitely sinister. The Time Traveller must get his machine back so he take Weena back home with him, but they end up getting attacked by Morlocks.
I first read this book in the sixth grade. While I could certainly map the plot and compare/contrast the Eloi and the Morlocks, I don’t think I really “got” the story. For example, I didn’t realize that this story essentially coined the word “time machine” and the idea of time travel using an object as a vehicle. I also had no concept of how the Eloi/Morlock creatures represented class struggle. The delicate, yet useless, class of creatures living above ground and the underground creatures who run the machinery beneath the surface. Now it’s a little more obvious what Wells was trying to say. My sixth grade brain had no context for that information. I just remember the Worlocks being really scary.
And is it just me, or is the “story within a story” conceit big in the these older books? My most recent classic was Frankenstein, which was a story within a story within a story. Here the narrator is just a dude listening to the time traveller recount his time spent in the future. However, at the end it totally makes sense why Wells did this. In fact, I found the ending the most oddly creepy part of the whole novel. I did not remember it at all.
FINAL GRADE: C Maybe it’s because I’d read the book before, but I found it lacking. It was only four hours long as an audiobook, and it took a long time before the Time Traveller even started telling his story. The actual time traveling, Eloi/Morlock part of the novel was relative short. I wanted more adventure, more action. But I recognize that this is a trail-blazing story, and my thirst for those elements comes from all the subsequent works that added them. It’s definitely worth a read as key work of science fiction, if nothing else.
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all fans of science fiction, Doctor Who, and anyone looking for a quick classic.
Library Recommendation: Put it in a middle or high school library. You can probably find a relatively cheap edition. It’s not for every kid, but it’s a classic and it should be there. Also consider buying one of the graphic novel adaptations of the story, as I’m sure that format would appeal to kids.
What was the first time travel book you ever read?
Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
Downloaded from Overdrive
[#43 in my 75 book challenge]
Sooo…I don’t know why I didn’t read this book sooner. I guess no one sold it to me right. Because it has all the makings of a good book and I didn’t even realize it. It is a well-written novel that crosses many genres. It’s got a dash of everything, including:
One Part Sci-Fi: The story takes place on the Godspeed, a ship traveling for 300 years from Earth to colonize a new planet (Centuri Earth). Seventeen-year-old Amy has been cryogenically frozen because her parents (also frozen) are important to the mission. The plan is for all the frozen people to be unfrozen upon arrival at the new planet 300 years in the future.
One Part Dystopia: Dystopia is technically a sub-genre of sci-fi, but it’s worth mentioning here. The thousand-ish monoethnic people living and working on the ship while it travels through space are ruled by Eldest, who has total power. Elder is the sixteen-year-old being groomed to be Eldest’s replacement one day. The society is very regimented, with specific generations born at specific times, pre-determined careers, and even a mating season.
One Part Mystery: Mysteriously, Amy is unfrozen 250 years into the journey. Why? How? By whom? That’s what she wants to find out. More people are found unfrozen, and it appears that someone is clearly trying to murder them. Amy trusts no one, and she wants to make sure her parents are safe. The main plot of the story is determining who the murderer is, and why this person is doing it. It’s a SPACESHIP FULL OF SECRETS.
One Part Romance: Elder is the only teenager on the ship, since he’s the Elder for his generation. Everyone else is either in their twenties (about to have kids, since it’s mating season), forties, or sixties. Lo and behold, a beautiful teenage girl has arrived. Cue hormones.
The story is told through the dual narration of Amy and Elder, which worked perfectly to show the POV for Amy, who the reader will identify with as a stranger to the place and time, and Elder, our expert on the ship. I loved being able to see Amy through Elder’s eyes and Elder through Amy’s eyes, as well as the ship through both of their eyes. I felt both characters were well-defined and believable. The feminist in me felt Amy was a strong equal to Elder, something I appreciate when it is done well. Of course, Across the Universe is book one in a trilogy, and the second book, A Million Suns, just came out this January. It’s going on my TBR list with book three, Shades of Earth, which comes out in January 2013.
FINAL GRADE: A It’s been a long time since I gave a book an A, but this one earned it because it was awesome and there were no major flaws. I was about to give up on audio books for a bit, but this story got really good around the halfway point. Really good. Almost-late-to-work-because-I-can’t-turn-off-my-car good. I definitely recommend it to fans of the above genres, especially fans of contemporary or romance looking to jump to a new genre! As for my library, I’m on the fence. 99% of the book is fine, but there is one scene that might make it inappropriate for a middle school (highlight the following white text for more info, includes spoilers): Amy is almost forced into sex against her will because the ship passengers are in mating season. Also, the audio is great! The dual narration worked well and kept my interest, and the actors were superb.
A Wrinkle In Time
by Madeleine L’Engle
[#56 in my
52 60 book challenge]
I started this book in 1995. It took me sixteen years to finish it and move it from the “currently reading” pile to the bookshelf. I think I can rest easy tonight with a smug smile on my face because I have accomplished something great today.
Okay, that’s all a bit of a stretch, but I really did give up on this book in the fifth grade and I’ve always said I would come back to it one day and finish it.
Unless you live under a rock, you have at least heard of A Wrinkle In Time and the tesseract/time travel business. I was surprised to find that the plot was more simple than I had remembered. Meg Murry’s father, a scientist, has been missing for many years. One day three mysterious ladies come and take Meg Murry and her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, so save their father. A schoolmate, Calvin O’Keefe, is along for the ride. They tesser across the universe and across time to different planets and stumble across The Dark Thing and great evil while trying to get all the family members home safely.
My favorite part of the story was Camazotz, the weird planet where everyone does everything at the exact same time. It was creepy and mysterious, but also very close to the themes we see in dystopian literature about control. I also like Charles Wallace quite a bit and wanted to know what his deal was. The basic story was okay. It didn’t blow my mind and make me squeal, “OMG, this is my new favorite book!” I know sooooo many people that feel that way, but I just don’t get it. Do it need to read it twenty more times? Do I need to tesser back twenty years and read it then? Someone help me shed some light on this.
The big things I didn’t get mostly involve Calvin O’Keefe. Why was he even there? And what does he end up seeing in Meg? Yeah, Meg has this great quality to love, but she’s not all that special. I don’t doubt that Meg and Calvin could fall in love over time, but it seemed very quick to me. “Hey, I just met you and you are completely average in every way, but I’m going to hold your hand and make googley eyes at you, okay?”
Maybe I’m just too old for this. I missed the boat and missed the magic of this kids classic. Maybe I need to read it a few more times and revel in the liberal religious aspects of the story (L’Engle was an Episcopalian, it seems). My book club kids thought the story was okay, but they still far preferred When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I think I feel the same way.
Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
[#50 in my
52 60 book challenge]
A non-fiction book featuring a series of chapters about various life annoyances and the science (usually brain-related stuff) about why…I’ll sum it up for you: most of our annoyances appear to come from evolutionary responses to things that used to be really dangerous (fingernails on a chalkboard have the same frequency as a scream). That or they come from our expectations not being met — like the expectation that a repetitive sound will stop. The book explains how the science of annoyance is a very new, under-studied science and annoyance is hard to standardize and quantify. Neither of those surprised me, but I found the ideas behind why we would want to quantify and study it quite interesting.
Things I learned included: why skunk smell bothers us, why cell phones in public drive us crazy (learned a new word: halfalogue), and where to buy a novelty item specifically designed to annoy people with a random beeping (look out, family!). The book covered annoyances in multiple senses and cultures, and everything was very well researched.
This was my seventh (and final) audio book for 2011. I felt really, really dumb when I realized that the authors are from NPR. I was listening, thinking, “This sounds more like NPR than an audio book?” Well, duh. I often listen to Science Friday and didn’t even realize that Flora Lichtman is the familiar voice from that show. As audio books go, the NPR-factor made this a very difference experience because the authors read with a much more conversational style. At times it was off-putting, and Flora Lichtman can be a little much over 6.5 hours of content (there wasn’t much of Joe Palca). Don’t get me wrong — I LIKE her. She has a very unique, interesting voice. But I did get sick of her eventually.
A lot of people ’round the web compare Annoying to the books of Malcolm Gladwell (have you read The Tipping Point? You should). I think that comparison is a bit ambitious. However, the comparison makes sense because they are similar books that would appeal to the same audience. Overall, a worthwhile read if you are a science nerd or love NPR. It was a little dense for me at points as a non-science person, but I suffered through and did get something from it.
I challenged them to write tweet-length reviews for the book to promote it to other sixth grade students. We thought about quotes on movie posters and trailers to make our reviews attention-grabbing and exciting…without revealing too much information. They did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself (pictured above).
Now that November is approaching, it’s time for book club to start a new novel. Since When You Reach Me was inspired by A Wrinkle in Time and the kids are on a time-travel kick, we’ll be reading it next. I read 3/4 of the story in the fifth grade, so I’m glad this is going to give me the opportunity to read something that’s been in my TBR pile for approximately twelve years. Awesome! I’ll keep y’all posted on the joys and pitfalls of trying to explain tesseracts and the fourth and fifth dimensions to twelve-year-olds…
…or maybe they’ll be explaining them to me!
God, No! Signs You May Already Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales
by Penn Jillette
[#41 in my 52 book challenge]
Can I stop my review with just that? “Oh my?” Because that kind of sums it up.
I enjoy Penn Jillette’s work, so reading this book was a no brainer. Penn is one of the two-man magic show Penn and Teller, but I really know him from their show Penn and Teller: Bullshit! on Showtime. Penn Jillette is both a Libertarian and an atheist, and he is also a skeptic…which are all things I respect him for. Religion fascinates me and I love Penn Jillette, so I naturally gravitated toward this book.
I say it right now: I am a Christian. I am not an atheist. I didn’t pick up this book to give a mental fist bump to a guy who shares my religious ideology. I picked this book up to learn a little bit about one guy’s life story as an atheist. Even as a Christian, I understand where atheists are coming from and I respect the conviction/intelligence/skepticism that comes with rejecting religion and God…and that it’s not always taken lightly. Atheists are usually very intelligent people, and I value intelligence greatly.
That being said, I don’t think I got much out of Jillette’s book. He outlines the 10 Atheist Commandments in contrast with the commandments from the Bible, but he spends much of his time rambling. The stories he tells, though interesting to Jillette fans as tidbits from his life, are only loosely related to the topic at hand: atheism. Jillette does a lot of Hollywood name dropping, which I found unnecessary. I just didn’t get much out of reading this: I didn’t learn anything, I didn’t laugh out loud, and I was barely entertained. It wasn’t terrible, just mediocre. The kind of book that would be best checked out from the library. But I paid $13 for it on my Nook and now I’m stuck with the digital copy forever. Thus is life.
Oh, and FYI, it’s full of cussing. ‘Cause that’s what Penn does best. Just a warning (though, if you’re an atheist and over age 14, probably an unnecessary one).
Today’s comic over at XKCD is about the Magic School Bus. XKCD is my favorite webcomic, if you haven’t ever read it you should give it a try. Here’s the comic:
10.) The Magic School Bus: Lost in Space
I loved this Magic School Bus book and all of the others because there was so much to read! There were side bars, quote bubbles, and all kinds of things dancing across the pages. Though it is technically fiction, The Magic School Bus: Lost in Space started my life-long love of non-fiction.
I was never a science geek, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a thirst for knowledge. The Magic School Bus made the science accessible to me. It also made it far less boring. Mrs. Frizzle seemed like the coolest teacher ever, even if something was definitely up with her (I would like to know that lady’s back story).
I picked Lost in the Solar System because 1.) I owned it and 2.) I love astronomy. I still remember the sidebars with the kids explaining how much they weighed on each planet, since weight is determined by gravity and mass is constant. That is just one of many, many facts I learned about the world from books I read as a kid.
So there you have it: book #10, and the offical start of my Children’s Book Challenge!