Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again...

In the mail today, my first ever Stephen King fiction purchase (I own his wonderful writing memoir, ON WRITING). Besides the memoir, I've only ever read one other King book and didn't think much of it, but when I realized he'd written a time-travel extravaganza featuring one of the seminal events of my lifetime, I took the plunge.

11/22/63 appears to be (from the reviews I've read) a book meant for me. At least I hope so.


In the meantime, here are five other time travel books worth a good look - if you, like me, are intrigued by the whole idea.

1) THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis

Travel backwards to the Middle Ages. A time-travel snafu has placed a 21st century Oxford historian in the plague-infested English countryside. Can they get her back before it's too late?

A brilliant, award winning book by my favorite sci-fi writer.

2) TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis

A comedy of manners. A drawing room comedy I would have said except that lots of it takes place while floating down the Thames on a nice afternoon during Victoria's reign. (The title is taken from Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat - To Say Nothing of the Dog.) This time out, a trip into the Oxford of the past takes a much less tragic turn for another historian whose search for an ugly church relic leads to all sorts of mischief.

3) TIMELINE by Michael Crichton

Another trip to the middle ages, this time through a time portal created by a physicist at ITC, a large money-grubbing corporation (aren't they all?) In typical Crichton style, there's plenty of talk about quantum physics and other esoteric scientific data which, I must say, I kind of enjoyed even if I didn't quite understand most of it. When a professor is stranded in medieval France, it's up to his modern day students to go back and fetch him. A really terrific book that was turned into a less terrific movie in 2003 starring Gerard Butler. Actually, the movie's not that bad, it just didn't measure up to the book.

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney

In this time travel classic, it's 1970, and a New York sketch artist, Simon Morley goes back in time with the aid of a secret government project which uses self-hypnosis as a form of time travel. Sequestering himself inside an apartment at the famed 19th century Dakota apartment house bordering Central Park, Morley is able to fixate on a view of the park unchanged in seventy or so years and thereby send himself back in time. (It makes some sense in the book.)


An 1895 classic  novella which coined the actual term, 'time machine'.  A Victorian scientist builds a contraption which enables him to travel forward or backward in time. As he cruises millions of years into the future he catches glimpses of a dying world. A few years back from the brink and he stumbles upon the Eloi and the Morlocks. Are these two unattractive 'civilizations' the evolutionary dead end of man?

The movie with Rod Taylor was a pretty good adaptation I suppose, though its ending still seems flat to me. I prefer the more ambiguous ending of the book.


  1. 11/23/63
    You will like this, Yvette. It's still has the SK trademark. He does love logos doesnt he. But so far, it is moving in the right direction. The story moves forward, without too many side-tracks ie SK style. Jake explores a 1958 Maine, always having to make comparisons to his own era, 2011. To adjust himself to the culture, and fashion at that time.

  2. Ha! That's what I'm here fore. :)

  3. I was there in '63, Dave, so I'll know whether he gets it right or not. :)

    This one will have to wait a bit until I finish my library books brought home a few days ago. But I hope to finish it before the end of the year...!

  4. This is the only Stephen King novel that has ever interested me. It's on my TBR list too. Can't wait to see what you think.

  5. Me too, Bev! The moment I heard about it I said, aha! Then the NY Times gave it a rave review and that's all it took for me. :)

  6. Oh, and a couple of other good time travel books:

    Replay by Ken Grimwood
    Time out of Mind by John R Maxim

  7. recommended time-travel (and related) novels not yet mentioned:

    TIME AND AGAIN by Clifford Simak (Simak had the title earlier)
    THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ
    HAWKSBILL STATION by Robert Silverberg
    THE BIG TIME by Fritz Leiber
    MASTERS OF THE MAZE by Avram Davidson

    And such short fiction as:
    "Try and Change the Past" Leiber, again
    "Anachron" by Damon Knight

    Stephen King is a slightly troubling case for me. He is talented, and has written good work by me (CARRIE, "The Night Flyer", "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut") and ON WRITING is indeed some of his best writing so far, if less interesting as advice than it is as autobiography. (See Damon Knight's MODERN SHORT FICTION and [his widow and writing-teaching partner] Kate Wilhelm's STORYTELLER for much better advice.) Then there is a huge pile of dull, derivative, sloppily-written and basically unedited works, going back at least as far as the utterly abysmal short "The Cat from Hell" and the novel THE RUNNING MAN that was so clearly a copy of Robert Sheckley's THE SEVENTH VICTIM (unrelated to the 1940s film, but filmed itself in the '60s as THE TENTH VICTIM) that King settled financially, with apologies, with Sheckley. And that's part of what makes King's unevenness so troubling...he's got a very clear view of his own work, and is even not falsely modest about the overpraise that's heaped upon him, noting that many people read him in their youth, didn't read any of his models, and have let their nostalgic ignorance color their perceptions. Robert Bloch and Theodore Sturgeon were very controlled and innovative writers of horror and related sorts of fiction, and had huge influence but little widespread recognition; their students Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury were much more widely-praised, for their somewhat more uncontrolled prose and slightly less groundbreaking work, and their student King is prolix and often terribly unoriginal and is among, in no longer the singular among, the bestselling writers in English.

    So it goes, as another fan and regular Sturgeon reader famously noted more than once (a fan and reader who created his character Kilgore Trout as affectionate caricature of Theodore Sturgeon).

  8. "if no longer the singular among" I meant to type. It's getting early.

  9. I gave up on Stephen King years ago, to the chagrin of some of my friends. I'll wait to see what you think of this one.

  10. Yvette,

    I'm not a big fan of time travel stories, but Jack Finney's _Time and Again_ is one of my favorite works and my No. 1 All-Time favorite time travel book.

    I didn't find the sequel, _From Time to Time_, to be as good, but it's still an enjoyable read.

  11. Bev: I'm making note of all the time travel suggestions. Thanks. I have to admit that a lot of the time travel stories I've started out to read just got too silly.

  12. I have never read King because I don't read horror save for Blatty, Straub and Jay Anson which I read several years ago. I'd like to read his writings on writing, though.

    By the way, Yvette, I was reading the review of King's new book at NY Books and came across an interesting piece on cover art in the novels of Penguin Modern Classics. It's sitting on the homepage under "The Reading Life". You might like it.

  13. Todd: I've heard of Clifford Simak, his books are highly recommended by Nancy Pearl as well. But I've not found any in the library. I'll probably have to go with Alibris.

    I will add your suggestions to my Time Travel list as well.

    I'm not a big reader of sci-fi and it takes something like the current subject matter of King's book to get me to read one of his tomes. I notice that the length of the book is artificial, since the type is actually a little large.

    And you know, I don't read horror if I can help it. Except for the occasional Dean Koontz once in a while, but his quality too is up and down. He can write the most wonderful story and then right after, you get a stinker.

    I think these guys just write too quickly.

    And I think they sometimes forget that not EVERY idea is a gem.

    I did not mean for this list to be a comprehensive one, obviously. I just remembered, off the top of my head, what time travel books I enjoyed.

    Love that name: Kilgore Trout. :)

  14. Ryan: I admit I bought it on the strength of the topic AND the NY Times review. If I wasted my money we'll soon find out. :)

  15. Fred: I didn't finish the sequel. But I did enjoy TIME AND AGAIN. I couldn't understand why I hadn't read it the first time around. :)

  16. Prashant: Great minds think alike, I read that piece on the Penguin covers. The slide show was very interesting.

    Well, as I said, I normally would not read any King, but the subject matter on this one sold me. I'm hoping for the best.

  17. Hardly great at this end, Yvette! It's so difficult to part with books with great cover art.

    I look forward to reading your review of this book. As an aside, what did you think of JFK starring Costner? I thought it was a very good film, with an end as inconclusive as the case is to this day.

  18. Yvette,

    If you're interested in short stories, I would highly recommend the following short works featuring time travel.

    Robert A. Heinlein, "All You Zombies." He has fun playing with time travel. If you remember the old song,"I'm My Own Grandpa," that will give you an idea of what RAH's short story is about.

    The other story, P. Schuyler Miller's "As Never Was," creates a time travel paradox.

    Both are short and very enjoyable reads.

  19. Prashant: I never did see Costner's JFK film primarily because I thought it was just a fictionalized account of one of many theories surrounding the death of JFK. Didn't want to go there.

  20. Fred: Thanks for this. I'm not normally a short story reader, but I do indulge once in a while.

    I'll add these titles to my list. I do find the idea of time travel so ingriguing.

  21. Fred: I meant to add that I'd read Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER - a novel which sort of involved time travel - the guy was frozen for years. Enjoyed it.

  22. "'All You Zombies-'" was a sort of late recasting of an earlier time-paradox story by Heinlein, "By His Bootstraps"...with an attempt at a bit more character development tossed in. Certainly among the better Heinlein stories, both of them.

    Well, if you love time travel fiction, you Are an sf reader, Yvette. Even if you mostly read Kurt Vonnegut's sf (it was he who created the Sturgeon caricature Kilgore Trout).

    JFK the film was full of Oliver Stone's usual machismic chestpounding anguish, and not terribly responsible, no. Few Stone films are. NIXON, however, is unintentionally hilarious.

  23. The problem for King and Koontz is that they have an audience ready to uncritically suck up anything they publish. The problem for better writers of horror (and you seem to love suspense films and like fantasy, so why boycott horror?) is that their work is dismissed by more discerning readers for being supposedly like King or Koontz (when it isn't so much) or by less discerning ones for not being enough like K or K.

  24. I'm not uncritical, Todd. But I suppose you mean everyone else :)

    Horror has too much ugliness for me, that's why I don't like it.

    I've never read Vonnegut, I merely picked the Trout name up from your comments. I do like good science fiction but it has to be the sort of science fiction which makes some sense to me. Know what I mean?

    Time travel, I guess, makes sense to me.

  25. Yvette,

    Ah, I had forgotten _Door into Summer_. One of the reasons is the cat, Pete, or Petronius Arbiter. I have a cat that does the same thing. She wants to go out the front door, but if she doesn't like the weather, she immediately goes to the back door, probably hoping there's better weather there.

  26. That you've not bought a King novel before leaves you off the list of King's uncritical audience, indeed.

  27. Fred: Cats make eminent sense. :)

    It's dogs that rush out helter skelter - well, except for my chihuahua, Rocky. He hates rain - same as Pete.


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