Classic book review: The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is a much shorted book that the previous ones I have read. This 183 page novella tells the story of one man’s (and in parts, his brother’s) story after Martians land in Surrey, South Eastern England.

War of the Worlds front jacket

From wikipedia: Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866 – August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He [was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Both Wells and Jules Verne are sometimes referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

The basic plot is that Mars is dying, so the squid-like Martians invade Earth by means of a giant projectile firing gun which shoots capsules across the void. These cylinders arrive on successive nights working their way from Horsell Common in Woking, through Surrey and across the city of London. At first they are a curiosity, but soon turns violent as the technically advanced and emotionless Martians go about extinguishing life on Earth so they might make it their home.

It is an interesting story and has clearly influenced so much science fiction written or filmed since. These days if you were to create a new story regarding any kind of violent encounter between humans and an extraterrestrial race you would touch on themes from this book, even if you’ve never read it. Although the writing isn’t the most coherent or articulate book you have ever read, or even the science particularly accurate, this story does draw you in and makes you wonder how you would react if a similar situation ever arose.

Statue of an Alien fighting machine in Woking, England

The book and subsequent place in popular culture have created great endearment amongst people, from the residents of Woking who have created the above statue of a Martian fighting machine within their town square, to the residents of New Jersey who were considered victims of Orson Wells famous radio broadcast. Well worth a read to understand so many other alien stories.

One thing I found a struggle was the locations mentioned in the novel are not familiar to me. Chobham, Shepparton, the joining of the Thames and Wey rivers -all perhaps make sense to a Londoner but is all a mystery to me. I would have appreciated a map in the book showing locations so I could better visualise the invasion. Or maybe a Google maps mashup that follows the events in the story.

Classic book review: Bram Stokers Dracula

Edvard Munch - The
Vampire

Abraham “Bram” Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. Bram Stoker was an Irishman working in a London Theatre, the Lyceum, when he wrote this novel. Apparently he wrote other works, but Dracula is the only one commonly read today.

The novel is in the form of journal entries and letters, telling of the vampire Count Dracula and involving hypnotism and other occult interests. The Count, as Bram Stoker envisioned him, is a white-haired military commander type, with a bushy moustache and bat-like cloak.

I must say I found this a cracking read, much more entertaining and involving than the previous two novels I read, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book is very suspenseful, being very discrete with what information it reveals and the nature of the dark forces at work.

The blurb on the back of the book includes:

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young womans neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the Count and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

As the format of the book contains news articles and diary entries from different characters the plot line is slow to reveal itself, lots of different thoughts and tangents slowly resolving together. Obviously some of Stokers own opinions come through in the opinions of his characters, the place of women and how men value them so, American resourcefulness and English perseverance, superstition and occultism amongst eastern Europeans.

If you come to this book free from too many preconceived ideas from Buffy, Anne Rice or bad black and white movies, you will be taken on a most enjoyable ride.

Homemade Irish Cream

Baileys shot

Mixed up a batch of “Irish Cream” on the weekend as well. Got the recipe off the Internet – hard to pick one amongst the many, but this is the one I went with, modified from the original for quantity purposes.

2 tins condensed milk 2 tins evaporated milk 600ml thickened cream 250g blocks milk chocolate 4 teaspoon vanilla essence 700ml Irish whiskey Optional – 1 teaspoon instant coffee

  • Melt chocolate in a double saucepan. Heat condensed milk and gradually stir into melted chocolate.
  • Mixture will become lumpy, don’t worry, just blend until smooth in an electric blender. Allow to cool.
  • In a very large bowl (I used a punch bowl) mix chocolate with remaining ingredients.
  • Pour into empty, cleaned, scotch bottles and refrigerate at all times.

Makes 3-4 x 750ml bottles

Dad has been drinking it, apparently it is quite delicious, nice and thick.

Special Lager

Fermenting: 04/08/2007 Bottled: 05/09/2007

Wals Lager

Finally started brewing a new beer. This one is made from a can of Wal’s Lager, 1 kg Euroblend, which is 600g light malt extract, 200g dextrose and 200g lactose, and added 24g of Nelson Sauvin hops.

I think when I bought the ingredients I asked for a malty European style lager which wasn’t as bitter as the usual pilsners I make and enjoy. The custodian recommended the ‘Nelson Sauvin’ hops as he had just got them in, special order, from New Zealand. The name come from the region they are grown, near Nelson on New Zealand’s south island, and the Sauvignon Blanc grape vines found in the next field which have influenced the flavour of the hops. They smell delightful and hopefully will make an excellent beer.

Bottling notes: This beer had a fantastic aroma as soon as you opened the lid of the fermentor. It was also a lovely golden/orange colour – closest to a James Squire Golden Ale in colour perhaps. Tasting the (flat) beer while bottling – wow, this looks like being one of the best flavoured beers I have made in a long time. Other than the American Pale Ale wetpak, probably the last one that smelt and tasted this good was the Dry Lager of almost 2 years ago.

Classic book review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, it was originally serialised in a magazine and reprinted in novel form the following year.

1945 film version

The basic plot is interesting – a young man desires youth and beauty that he wishes a new portrait of him would age rather than himself. The wish comes true and he spends the next 20 years carrying out every sin known to man, without any care or misfortune coming upon him. After all, how could one so beautiful be so depraved?

The portrait grows old, grows malignant, grows a cruel uplift to the mouth and eyes that appear evil. Dorian keeps the portrait hidden so no one can see how black his soul has become, only his veneer of wholesomeness.

As with much literature of the 19th century I found this a difficult book to read. Not quite Wuthering Heights bad, but up there. The language was flowery and intellectual – art for arts sake is one of the main principles of Wilde, parts of this book seem like writing for writing’s sake. And he is eloquent and beguiling, but the plot moved a little slow for me.

Once the plot is in it’s stride and Dorian is starting to become more interesting the book becomes a little easier, speeding up it’s alarming events as the end draws near. Unusually for us today, the book does not seem to make moral judgments against the actions of the protagonist, merely letting the chips fall where they may. I guess this is a reflection on Wilde and his principles as it is a rejection of any kind of absolute truth.

To read the first 10 pages online, go to this Amazon page.

An interesting book and again something referenced in many places in pop culture, such as a book I read recently named Saigon Express and the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Amazon seem to recommend the next 3 books I read are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Robert Louis Stevensen’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

In not so classic book news, my new textbooks for CCNP study arrived yesterday, so it’s back to the grindstone for me.

Reason Music

Simon sent me a link the other day to Reason Music. Their blurb: Reason is a group of Sydney-based musicians producing worship songs and training resources for church musicians.

They have some excellent articles for church musicians to read. The best so far is Putting together a simple arrangement in Church. It is part of a much larger series called Leading music is a small church.

As a church musician, it’s easy to feel limited by a lack of resources. You’d love to have a big church band, but all you’ve got is a couple of piano players, a violin, and a guitarist who first picked up the instrument three months ago. There’s a constant shortage of people to fill the rosters, and you struggle to get through all the songs in your limited rehearsal time each week. Especially when the musos arrive half an hour late.
Then there are the tech issues. Your sound system dates from the 1970s, and the person operating it – let’s face it – he hasn’t got much of an idea. Someone keeps misplacing the overheads, and even when you check they’re all there before the service, when the congregation stands to sing it’s either the wrong song, or there are typos all over the place.
And the congregation is a musical brick wall! You’re sure that if you could only raise the standard of music at church – then they’d get into it. But not only do most people at church seem utterly indifferent towards the music (your attempt to get some clapping going results in a momentary smattering of hands for about 10 seconds) but some of them actually complain – either they don’t like the song selection, or the style of music, or it’s too loud, or too soft… you even heard one person say they dislike the music so much that they wonder why we bother singing at church at all!

So basically the writers have a very good idea of what it’s like to be in a non-mega church in Australia today. Their arrangement tips are good – piano players need to let everyone else play their role, and everyone else needs to actually fulfill the role set down for them – and they address the structure of the songs we play, when to be up and down, when to build, when to pause.

I’d encourage anyone involved in church music, whether a large band or small, to have a read through the articles at Reason Music – especially those coming to our new music day this week.

Your average church band?