Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Read: 13 January, 2017

After a very unusual night, Richard becomes re-acquainted with his college friend, Svlad Cjelli – or, as he is currently calling himself, Dirk Gently. There’s also a ghost involved. It gets weird.

I have my doubts that Adams knew what the solution to the mystery would be before he started writing. This was my impression with the Hitchhiker’s books as well – he seems to just sit down, write what’s funny, and then try to come up with something that’ll end the book.

And that’s fine. This is one mystery where the journey really is all that matters, and the journey is hilarious.

Now that I’ve finished reading the book, I can finally watch that show I keep hearing about!

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The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Read: 19 January, 2013

The use of describing a fictional land to make a political or philosophical point is nothing knew – after all, that’s how Atlantis got its début. Later, during the Age of Exploration, the explorer’s tale was combined with this fictional land device, giving us books like More’s Utopia and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, in which a seafaring explorer happens upon magical lands – each of which teaches us a lesson about ourselves and our society (and what these could be or become).

In The Time Machine, Wells modernises the premise, giving his protagonist a time machine instead of a ship, and sending him far into the future instead of into uncharted lands.

There’s no question that Wells was consciously creating a story of the Utopia or Gulliver’s Travels type, but he does it with a wink and a nudge. Over and over again, the Time Traveller makes assumptions about the futurescape he explores and what led to it, only to be shown wrong later and have to revise his theories. As usual, he learns that things tend to be a bit more complicated than they may appear at first (or second!) glance. Even at the end, when the Time Traveller is gone and we are left only with his theories and the narrator, the narrator calls the final theories into question yet again, informing us that the Time Traveller had always be prone to arriving at those types of conclusions, reminding us that the Time Traveller – the lens through which we see the future – is flawed and untrustworthy.

I found it to be an interesting read. Certainly, the injection of evolution into the poli-sci-ism of More and Swift gave the genre a neat new dimension. But I found it to be a bit short. I think I would have enjoyed the novel more if the 802,701 C.E. storyline had been a little more condensed, and the Time Traveller had gone to a few more points in history. Then again, I know what Wells was trying to do, and the book is certainly interesting and entertaining enough as is.

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The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Read: 7 November, 2012

Brendan Doyle has received a rather strange invitation. He has been asked to give a lecture on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and is being flown all the way to the UK and offered at least $5,000 to do it. The mystery deepens when Darrow, a very wealthy but dying man, explains that the lecture is merely to be the introduction to an evening during which Darrow, Doyle, and several guests will be meeting the actual Coleridge.

Time travel is very difficult to write about. Between the paradoxes and trying to explain why characters don’t foresee what’s coming, it can quickly devolve into comedy. So let me just start by saying that Powers has done it. He’s pulled it off – perfectly and beautifully.

Apart from Doyle, there isn’t too much depth to the characters – since this is mainly an action-driven novel – but they are still interesting and entertaining. Of course, there are types: the woman posing as a man to avenge a lost love, the crazy clown/magician, etc.

But what I especially loved about the novel is how the facts to come are laid out early on (thanks to time travel), so the focus is not on what happens next but rather on how will we get there.

Unfortunately, the climax was something of a let down. While the rest of the plot seemed carefully planned so that everything was predicted through past (and sometimes future) events, the climax had multiple elements that just seemed to come out of left field – in one case, this actually involved introducing a brand new rule for the fictive universe. It’s almost as though Powers just got bored and wanted to move on to his next project. It’s a shame, because it’s a rather big blemish on an otherwise very enjoyable novel.

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