Archive for H. G. Wells

Redlaw by James Lovegrove

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , , , on April 20, 2013 by davehurwitz

Satan & All His Little WizardsThere’s a blurb from The Bookseller that appears on several of James Lovegrove’s book covers that reads “Lovegrove has become to the 21st Century what J.G. Ballard was to the 20th.”  I find this comparison funny, or at least peculiar, as I vaguely recall somebody–possibly Mark Ziesing–calling Ballard the 20th Century’s H.G. Wells.  (Never mind that Wells lived and wrote well into the second World War.)  Does this make Lovegrove–by extension, as it were–the 21st Century Wells?  While I can attest to the validity of the Ballard / Wells comparison, I had never read any Lovegrove until recently.

Lovegrove seems to be best known for Age of Ra, an alternate history sci-fi action spectacular in which the Gods of ancient Egypt have taken over the British Empire.  The premise is a bit outlandish, perhaps, but no more so than the alien lizard people who rule Britannia in Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman Histories.  It could be wonderful.  So why didn’t I start there?  A stroll over to Solaris Books–Lovegrove’s mass market publisher–will show you why.  Though Age of Ra is a relatively recent book, it has already been followed by Age of Zeus, Age of Odin, Age of Aztec, and Age of Voodoo, as well as the novellas Age of Anasazi, Age of Satan, and Age of Gaia.  While the urge to repeat a success is certainly understandable, a palpable odor of dead horse hangs over this series.  I decided to start elsewhere.

The monster in my chest want to eat armed midgets.The new series starter Redlaw seemed more my speed anyway.  Our titular hero, John Redlaw, is an officer of SHADE, the Sunless Housing and Disclosure Executive, Sunless being the politically correct term for vampires.  Redlaw is an aging veteran, having joined SHADE at the time of its formation twenty-some years previously, when the sunless–driven from their traditional Balkan homelands–started arriving on British shores.  At present, the sunless are corralled into SRAs–Sunless Resettlement Areas–fenced ghettos reminiscent of prewar Nazi Germany’s housing for Jews.  In theory, the fences keep the human and vampire populations safely divided.  In practice, the strong and agile sunless can leave any time they like, though they risk summary destruction at the hands of SHADE.  Vampire-hating Stoker gangs roam the borders of the SRAs, eager for a piece of the action.  When this uneasy truce is broken by a series of riots, Redlaw begins to suspect that someone is manipulating both groups.  But to what end?

Vampires aside, Redlaw is your basic troubled-cop-uncovers-massive-conspiracy potboiler structured like an open-play mystery, where the reader knows more than the protagonist.  Our villain, Nathaniel Lambourne, is a fairly standard evil billionaire, aided and abetted by the more well rounded Giles Slocock, a brutally self-serving MP.  Action sequences punctuate the plot at regular intervals, including an all out riot at the very steps of Parliament.

Lovegrove tries to elevate his narrative to the level of allegory, making clear parallels between the treatment of the sunless–most of whom were turned against their will–and the real-world treatment of other despised minorities, especially Jews.  I find this analogy suspect, to say the least.  Left to their own devices, the vampires in this story would most certainly prey on human beings.  They are predators and must be confined, if not destroyed outright.  This is not the case with living minorities.  Contrary to what some people seem to think, Jews don’t drink human blood.

Overall, Redlaw is an fairly entertaining read, even if it takes itself a bit too seriously.  It’s not a patch on Hard Spell or Midnight Riot, but it will do.  I’ll most likely pick up the sequel at some point, though I hope Lovegrove quits before the premise gets stale.  After all, H.G. Wells never wrote Return to the Island of Doctor Moreau or The Time Machine, Part Two.

Dave Hurwitz

Will Ants Eat Your iPod? (The Empire of the Rasberry Ants)

Posted in Random Weirdness, Rotten with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2008 by davehurwitz
The 1977 film "The Empire of the Ants"

The 1977 film

The answer is yes. Especially if you live in or around Houston Texas. Seems a new breed of ant has invaded the shores of Yellow Rose state. Authorities speculate that they may have hitched a ride on a freight ship from the Caribbean. Now these tech eating ants have bred in the billions and conquer more territory at a rate of half a mile a year (unless they thumb a ride, California will be safe for another 2000 years).

These tech munching critters have been dubbed the Crazy Rasberry Ants after the exterminator who first identified them, Tom Rasberry. They are crazy because of the seemingly random pattern they move in, as opposed to the regimented lines typical to ants. They swarm as though attacking, even when simply moving from place to place. They have not be identified to any specific ant species. Currently they have tentatively been labeled as Paratrenicha species near pubens.

The ants are attracted to electrical equipment, which they destroy by sheer weight of numbers. They have ruined pumps at a sewage facility and are marching toward NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “The Russians are concerned,” said Frank Michel, spokesman for Bill White, the mayor of Houston. “I got a call from Moscow wanting to know if NASA was safe.”

Crazy Raspberry Ants attacking your electrical outlet

Crazy Raspberry Ants attacking your electrical outlet

The ants may be attracted to electronics because they make great nests. Species like the Crazy Rasberry ant are constantly adapting to new environments, and will actively seek out new homes. In the wild, these ants might nest under a pile of fallen leaves or inside the branches of palm fronds. Electrical switch boxes, gas meters, or your computer make ideal homes because they are dry and have small, easily defendable entrances.

The ants can’t actually eat the wires inside electronics. Only leafcutter ants can do that, and they don’t care for electronics. Instead, the Crazy Rasberry ants chew on the softer insulation around the wires, causing electrical shorts. The live wire then electrocutes the ant. It releases a chemical alarm pheromone that attracts its nestmates, who further attack the wires. The buildup of dead worker ants continue to hinder the electronics.

These ants are extremely difficult to control. Conventional over-the-counter poisons will not kill the little buggers. The Rasberry Ants are similar to other invasive species and have multiple queens. This allows them to reproduce at an alarming rate. It also makes it nearly impossible to kill the whole colony. Even when attacked with powerful insecticides with fipronil and chlorfenapyr, the survivors turn their dead comrades into an escape route. They pile up the dead bodies to create a bridge over the poison-treated area.

Joan Collins mauled by a giant ant

Joan Collins mauled by a giant ant

The Crazy Rasberry ants kill more than your plasma screen T.V. They also devour fire ants, a long time pest in the Texas area. They outcompete fire ants for food and reproduce faster. However, these unstoppable pests also suck the moisture from plants, and feed on precious insects like ladybirds the Attwater prairie chicken grouse. Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle. They swarm over the eyes, nasal passages, and hooves.
Two “ant invasion” movies come to mind when I consider the Crazy Rasberry ants. The first is the 1977, Joan Collins flick, The Empire of the Ants. This beauty has Joan, playing Marilyn Fryser, selling phony real estate in Florida. They soon discover that a species of giant, and quite intelligent, ants have invaded the area. They have already taken over a small town with a sugar refinery. The queen douses her human workers with pheromones to control them. This movie is based on the 1905 H. G. Wells short story by the same name. The film will be remade in 2010.

The Naked Jungle

The Naked Jungle

The second film is the 1954 Chalton Heston classic, The Naked Jungle. Here Heston plays a cocoa plantation owner, Christopher Leiningen. He knows of an upcoming attack by army ants, the Marabunta, in a few days’ time. Instead of evacuating, he resolves to make a stand against these unstoppable predators. He is joined by Joanna (Eleanor Parker), his New Orleans bride. The tagline for this flim is: He feared only two things on earth…the MARABUNTA…Nature’s deadliest force, and his fiery New Orleans bride!

Chris Kalidor

For those of you searching for the Crazy Rasberry ants, you might have misspelled it the way I did: Raspberry. See Ingrid Kast Fuller’s comment below.

Fear Changes Everything: The Mist and the Hospital Elevator

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , on April 17, 2008 by davehurwitz

When I saw Frank Darabont’s The Mist in the theater, I came home in pieces. I had to hug my kids, hard. I didn’t want to let them out of my sight. I felt as if I’d been mugged, ambushed. Horror movies are supposed to be fun, right? I’d gone out expecting something amusingly schlocky, maybe on par with Dreamcatcher. What I got was the cinematic equivalent of a kick in the stomach, a heavy dose of real horror.

Perhaps I should have known better. Darabont has directed two previous King adaptations, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. There are several criticisms I could level at both of these movies, the worst of which is that both are rather smarmy in places, but I would never claim that either was poorly made.

For those of you who haven’t seen The Mist, the premise is fairly simple. A mysterious mist surrounds a small town grocery store, trapping a number of people inside. Worse yet, there are strange creatures in the mist intent on eating anyone who sets foot outdoors. It quickly becomes clear that the monsters are not the only problem, or even the most serious one. Over a period of forty-eight hours, the prisoners of the mist descend into irrationality and madness, lead by the local religious crazy, played with an awful gusto by Marcia Gay Harden. This is done so skillfully and in such elegant increments that when the prisoners turn to human sacrifice, it feels both unexpected and inevitable. Even when a small number of people who have retained their minds escape from the store, they are not immune to the powerful effects of fear. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the ending Darabont conceived for his film is even more shocking than King’s original.

When I stumbled home from the theater that day, it was not the thought of carnivorous critters that haunted me. Could my neighbors, my coworkers, my friends really be this way? Could I myself, if pushed to the edge of hysteria, really do such things? I knew the truth, though I would have denied it if I could. As stock clerk Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones) says in the movie, “As a species, we are fundamentally insane.”

I can hear, or at least imagine, a few of your muttering out there. “Come on, Dave. Two days from orderly checkout lines to human sacrifice? That would never happen. People aren’t like that.” For those of you who doubt, allow me to present a real life illustration from my childhood.

In a hospital, which I shall not name, there was an elevator. Unlike the other elevators in this frequently renovated building, this one dated to the original construction. And unlike the newer elevators, it was conveniently located to the office of my Peditrician. This elevator was painfully slow but serviceable. My mother and I never had reason to distrust it.

In the course of a visit to the doctor, my mother and I got onto the elevator as usual. Riding the elevator with us was a nurse. Working at this particular hospital, this nurse must have seen, on a daily basis, sick and even dying children, young victims of accidents and abuse, infants born too young to survive. Presumably, she must have dealt with these horrors with some measure of composure. The doors closed, and the elevator began to grind its way slowly upward. Somewhere between floors, the elevator began to shake. The floor, in fact the whole car, vibrated violently up and down to the accompaniment of a loud banging noise. The nurse, this detached caretaker of wounded children, fell to her knees and began to pray.

I’m not talking about a silent prayer for strength, either. Nor was this a swift prayer before leaping into action. The nurse wept. She moaned. She called upon Jesus to save us. Jesus dwelled in the elevator’s ceiling, evidently, if the direction of her gaze was any indication. She prayed loudly and thoroughly for rescue. She did nothing else.

In contrast, my mother immediately told me to sit on the floor with my back against a wall, then helped me to do so without falling over. She scanned the elevator’s controls and pushed the big red emergency stop button. The elevator stopped shaking, stopped moving entirely. The nurse continued to pray. With some difficulty, my mother pried open the inner elevator doors. We were exactly between floors. She pressed the call button.

A cheerful voice somewhere in the hospital assured us that the elevator had been doing this off and on all week, that it was nothing serious, that we could either switch the elevator back on and proceed safely but bumpily to the nearest floor or wait for a rescue party from security, whichever we liked. My mother looked at me, seated more or less calmly on the floor. “We don’t want to miss your appointment,” she said. I nodded. I was young, and my mom knew everything. She switched the emergency stop off and pressed the button for the next floor. The elevator began to bang and bump slowly upwards again. The wailing to Jesus continued.

When the elevator finally arrived, several uncomfortable minutes later, it took quite a while for the doors to open. When they did, we saw that we were at least a foot below the level of the floor. A security guard and an orderly gave us a hand out. The nurse was the first to leave the car. She scrambled out on unsteady legs, wiping at her ruined mascara with the back of one hand. She had fallen silent as the elevator doors slid open, and said nothing more to any of us. My mother and I took the stairs the rest of the way up. We were not late for my appointment. The whole experience had lasted no more than fifteen minutes.

I watched The Mist again recently on DVD. The film was no less wrenching the second time around, though I did notice more details. The film has some thematic similarities to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which I am teaching this semester, and I thought about showing certain scenes to my students. I brought this up in class today. No one seemed enthusiastic. Several students said that the movie was “bad.” None of them would elaborate, though I asked number of questions. The Mist was just “bad.” No further explanation necessary, or perhaps even possible. It didn’t matter. I understood.

David Hurwitz