Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: June 2014

Mark Charan Newton – Drakenfeld

Drakenfeld (Lucan Drakenfeld, #1)Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Intriguing story held back by some very broken up narrative and dialogue. So much so that it seriously gets in the way. It never flows smoothly. Apart from this, the tale could have used with a bit more flair too – and we never get in the mind of Drakenfeld enough. He’s far too faceless. First person perspectives are a good opportunity to get into the head of your character, mess with them a little, spice them up, but we don’t know any more about Lucan Drakenfeld at the end of this book than we did at the beginning. It’s far too matter of fact.

Not sure if I want to pursue this series if one does eventuate.

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China Crisis – Flaunt the Imperfection

Record number three from these northwestern English purveyors of edgy softish new wave. I was recommended this LP from reading a review in Smash Hits which gave it a 9/10 rating. I’d heard some of their earlier stuff like Wishful Thinking (one of the most beautiful things ever recorded) and the rollicking Working with Fire and Steel. Well nothing on this record sounds anything like their previous stuff.

In truth, it’s a stretch to call it new wave. For sure, there are plenty of synths (especially on King in a Catholic Style), but there’s a jazzy sophisti-pop feel about the whole record, probably courtesy of producer Walter Becker, of Steely Dan fame. It’s very pretty music, and while I do recall the band being slammed in some parts of the media for making “wimp music”, I feel it’s an unjust accusation. From the opening confident refrain of Highest High to the languid airs of Blue Sea, what we have here are ten songs of gentle, melodic pleasure. There’s no filler here. While the songs do kind of blend into one another, it does so in an effervescent and positive manner.

It’s soft and breezy, without falling into the realm of background or elevator music.

The highlight would be Gift of Freedom, which starts off Side Two but I said before, there isn’t any filler and there’s no real weak track. I bought their next album, What Price Paradise and the band had moved on into the realm of big drums and big synths. Very disappointing, but it was to be expected alas.

Yet, there was no difficult third album syndrome here – this record is a wonder.

flaunt the imperfection

The Church – Remote Luxury

All right, firstly – this album was never released as a single unit in Australia at the time. Instead, we got two EPs – Persia and Remote Luxury. Persia contained Constant in Opal, Volumes, No Explanation, Violet Town and Shadow Cabinet. Remote Luxury (EP) had Maybe These Boys, 10,000 Miles, Into My Hands, A Month of Sundays and the instrumental Remote Luxury. It’s since been remastered and re-released in combination with the earlier EP Sing Songs. Great value, if you ask me.

With that aside, what we have here is Church album number four. After the boom crash ding-dong-along of Seance, the drums have thankfully been pared down in the mix. Things aren’t as dark on this record as they were on the previous one, not that’s that is a bad thing. If you’ve been following along with my dainty little reviews, you’ll know I like dark.

The Church has gotten subtler over the intervening years between this and The Blurred Crusade too. Only Maybe These Boys is truly “open” in its style and structure, however it doesn’t mumble as much as Seance did. Mind you, that mumbling was glorious, but that’s a tale for another review.

The whole thing starts off with Constant in Opal, which sees our Fab Four in fine form. Weird lyrics and even weirder music, and yes, do check out that lovely bizarre music video.

The Persia section of this album is the more up-front one, with greater dynamism and rockier beats. No Explanation would be the highlight of this crop, though many fans cite Shadow Cabinet as their favourite.  Affairs become dreamier and more reflective with the Remote Luxury half of this record. Apart from the pulsing and confrontational Maybe These Boys, the other four songs vary in their reverie, with my favourite being A Month of Sundays.

The music jangles, the lyrics obfuscates and the entire thing is most likely an acquired taste to anyone not in tune with The Church.

Really, the whole shebang was never meant to be a single album and it’s perhaps the least cohesive thing this band did. Regardless, I love it and I thoroughly recommend people go forth and find it, and savour its hidden corners. You can see signs of where they were going next with some of the scintillating guitar weaving and Heyday was the culmination of all that.

remote luxury

H.G. Wells – The Time Machine

Welcome to the first of my in-depth book reviews.

the time machine

Original cover for the first printing of the Time Machine. Source: Wikipedia/public domain

Introduction

This book is the archetypal “scientific romance”, the wondrous joy that set the tone and mood for all others of its ilk to follow. I’ve started with The Time Machine, as it’s my favourite book or story. I read it as a sixteen year old and it had the most profound effect upon me. It was this novella that spurred me into a writing escapade of my own. Forsooth, my first book was an attempted sequel to it. Yes, it was not very good though I wish I still had it…

According to shmoop.com, this was Wells’ first published novel (though he had published many short stories beforehand). Wells had written about time travel before in a short story called the Chronic Argonauts. That story was expanded upon, and at the urging of his publisher, Wells wrote the novella, where it was serialised in The New Review.  Reputedly, he was paid £100 for his efforts, a sizeable sum in 1895. It has never been out of print since.

The novella is written in the style of a third party narration, where an unnamed guest (though he’s identified as Hillyer in some sources) is recording the words and deeds of the Time Traveller. So in effect, it’s written from the viewpoint of two people.

At 33000 words, it’s brief and is easily read in an afternoon. It is in the public domain in many places and can be found in downloadable form if searched for.

At this point, I need to be clear that there were two published versions of The Time Machine. The novel was submitted simultaneously to English and American publishers, and the text of the American Holt version differs from the English Heinemann edition. This review refers to the Heinemann edition. In addition, a section of Chapter Eleven was removed at Wells’ insistence. This segment is commonly known as The Grey Man and can be found here.

Plot

The Time Traveller (who isn’t named) is gathered with a group of his friends, where he starts to discuss his theories of time. The novella has arguably one of the more awkward sounding introductions in literature:

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.

I remember having to consult a dictionary with reference to “recondite” and “expounding” – neither of which were words in the canon of a sixteen year old. Even so, it’s an odd and off-putting introduction, and much has been made of it elsewhere. The American Holt edition has a syntactically simpler introduction.

All right, the Time Traveller is discussing time with a select group of friends, and he demonstrates a small example model of a time machine (see a picture from the 1960 movie). While his friends watch with varying states of credulity, he sends the model into the future. He then takes the party to his workshop to view a larger model upon which he intends to go travelling.

We return to the house in Richmond, London a week later, with a slightly different cast of friends. The Time Traveller is late for dinner, but arrives shortly after in a very dishevelled state. While his friends listen (and the narrator records) the Time Traveller gives a recounting of his adventures into the future. He travelled to 802,701 AD, where he finds a ruined yet outwardly idyllic landscape, of bountiful fruit trees, endless gardens and tumbled and deteriorated buildings. He encounters the Eloi, who are small child-like folk approximately the size and shape of a seven or eight year old child. He rescues one of these from drowning, and notes at the time the complete insouciance and disregard the Eloi have for each other when imperilled. 

The Eloi live an ostensibly serene existence, doing no work or toil, living out their days playing games and other carefree pastimes. Apart from an initial curiosity, the Eloi pay the Time Traveller no further regard, an attitude that gives the traveller some pause.

Returning to the area where he arrived in this age, he finds his time machine gone, seemingly dragged by some unknown force into the the base of a large sphinx-like statue nearby. It’s about this time he realises that humanity has diverged into two separate strains after witnessing a Morlock escape a cluster of falling masonry to run and clamber down a well-like structure further away. He’d previously wondered why the Eloi were not active at night, and stayed in doors in tight knit groups.

He develops a paternal (and innocently happy) relationship with the Eloi he rescued, who gives her name as Weena. From her, he learns the rudiments of the Eloi language, and some basic information about the world including the startling fact that fear had not yet left the human world. She makes it clear to the Time Traveller that she (and presumably the remainder of the Eloi) live in fear of the new moon, when the night is completely dark.

The reason for this is made clear to the Time Traveller after he descends the well into the Morlock’s domain. He sees meat on a table and later makes the connection that the Morlocks eat the Eloi – they are their only source of food. He also wakes pre-dawn one morning to see a brace of Morlocks scurry away holding a captive between them.

The Time Traveller, devising a plan to retrieve his machine, takes Weena and heads to a distant building, which he dubs the Palace of Green Porcelain. There he finds it is a museum, complete with a whole array of varying exhibits. More importantly, he finds both a weapon in the form of a lever, light in a box of matches and fuel in a lump of camphor.

So armed and with Weena in company, the Time Traveller starts out on his return walk back to the vicinity of the sphinx. Night falls, and he and Weena are beset by Morlocks. He keeps them at bay by lighting a fire, which quickly gets out of control in the dry underbrush. During the fight with the Morlocks, he loses sight of Weena (who had fainted) and her ultimate fate remains unknown.

The next morning, he returns to find the base of the sphinx open and his time machine in plain view. Avoiding another close call from the Morlocks, he moves ahead into the future. There, he discovers a world in its final days, all trace of mankind vanished into the ages. The sun is a huge red orb, the oceans still, the air thin and what life there is, is a sad pitiful remnant of what once was.

He returns to his own age, where he relates the tale (dutifully recorded by the narrator). The following day, prepared with provisions and supplies, he travels again on the machine, never to be seen by friend again.

Analysis

At its heart, The Time Machine is a story of those who have and those who have not. The Eloi have it all – leisure time, freedom, happiness, the open air, sunlight, peace, and though it’s implied, there’s signs of sexual liberation. The Morlocks are the have nots. You could argue they have freedom in their own way, but they are also beholden to their habits. In truth, both races are products of hundreds of thousands of years of divergent evolution.

You see, the story is a fictional relating of the class and social theories Wells held. His Time Traveller (who often acts a mouthpiece for Wells) theorises that the Eloi and the Morlocks are the end product of a separate evolutionary process that started in 1800’s Industrial Revolution England. For as much as The Time Machine is an adventure story, it’s a social treatise. The Eloi are the descendants of the upper classes and the Morlocks are the proletariat, the working classes slaving away in the dim factories of the late 1800s.

Yet, as the novella eventually portrays, there is interdependence – nearly a mutualism, to use an ecological term. Both races are bound to each other, are exactly one half of a total ecosystem. They cannot survive without each other, though there is absolutely no beneficial contact between the two species. You see, the Eloi rely upon the Morlocks for their clothing, housewares and other utensils, and in turn, the Morlocks rely upon the Eloi for food.

This aspect of the story was not obvious to me when I first read it. What moved me the most was Weena, specifically her loss that night on the hill. I can’t say it as effectively as Wells said it, so let me quote it here – my exact feelings on this. These are the last words of the story.

And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

For all the futurity, and the gulf between the Time Traveller and Weena, the time they shared together – as innocent as it was – was a reaffirmation that the humanity and the scope for compassion had never left the Eloi. That simple act where Weena filled the Time Traveller’s pockets with flowers. Or when she tried in vain to stop him from climbing down the well into the lair of the Morlocks. Plain and simple heartfelt gestures. Sweet and trusting moments.

And it makes her loss that night on the hill that much more poignant. So, this novella works at many levels. For sure, there’s the Social Darwinism, the evolutionary divergence, the communistic overtones, the ultimate sense of futility of human ambition but underpinning it all is the attachment to basic human values. The desire for company, the need for shared affection, and resolution in the face of adversity.

It’s what makes The Time Machine the greatest tale ever written.

Positives

All covered above. I’ve really nothing more to add here except to say this short tale is a profoundly moving experience.

Negatives 

It is a little on the short side, and the romantic in me wishes Wells had spent a bit more time exploring the interpersonal between Weena and the Time Traveller. Nothing edgy mind you, just a bit more – rounded both of them a bit further.

Rating

10/10. Couldn’t be anything else.

Further reading

I have a brief review of the 1960 film version of the novella here. While it hardly remains true to the Wells’ novella, it is a better film in nearly all aspects than the later 2002 remake. I’ve not seen the TV films made so I cannot comment on them.

Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle

This album came out shortly after his last Tubeway Army effort was released. I mentioned there that this record is generally viewed as his magnum opus. On the strength of its songs, I’d agree, though I have a greater personal liking for Replicas simply because I heard it first.

In many ways, it’s more of the same. The major exception to that broad statement is that there’s no guitars on this record. It’s all synth and drums. It’s a showcase for the Polymoog.

As with the prior album, you’re in android territory here. Nearly all of the songs are from the view of a robot or a human caught in a robotic world and/or mindset. Even Cars, the world-wide hit, sounds like a product of an android’s fevered mind. It’s wonderfully impersonal music, though I have to say, it’s a lot warmer than its predecessor. The ballad Complex sounds far more human than the corresponding Down in the Park on the prior record.

There are no real weak tracks on this record, though you could argue it lulls a little through songs like Observer and Conservation. Some of the best music Numan has made is to be found right here, from the opening surging instrumental Airlane to the closing, pulsing Engineers. Apart from the aforementioned Cars (which isn’t even the best thing on the record) you have the classical groove of metal, the sad fey of Complex, the soaring charge of Films (album highlight), the mechanical pity of M.E and the steely reflectiveness of Tracks.

Make no mistake, this is a landmark record and it’s possibly the last great thing he ever made. The next album, Telekon, has its moments but it goes downhill from there as Numan moved away from the sound that brought him fame.

All hail this android masterpiece!

the pleasure principle

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