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Thursday, August 31, 2006


Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
Seamus Heaney (Editor)
Publisher: W. W. Norton; Company; Reprint edition (February 2001)
ISBN: 0393320979

I’m not going to do a full on review here for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s Beowulf. It’s an epic poem that’s survived for a thousand years, and will probably survive a thousand more. If you like epic poems (and I do), it’s good. If you don’t, then you won’t like Beowulf either. That’s about all I have to say on that.

            The version of Beowulf, specifically, is new translation done by Seamus Heaney. It’s a nice translation. It reads well. I can’t read Old English, so I have no idea if it’s a good translation or not. Poeghostal tells me that a different version is more faithful to the original wording. So be it. This one reads fine. The book actually gives you the original Old English side-by-side with the translation, so if you could compare them, if you know the language. Even if you don’t, it’s neat to be able to make the comparisons, and see if you can pick out certain words.

            Me? I love epic poems. Iliad, Odyssey, Aenid, Beowulf, Paradise Lost…I love ‘em. I love epic heroes, I love the language, the style, the whole bit. And Beowulf taps into my generic Viking love, so I love it even more. It’s a great story, and Heaney’s version, while it might not be completely accurate, is a pleasure to read. Definitely worth the look.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Time Machine

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells
Ace Science Fiction (April 1988)

Note: The publisher and ISBN for this one are for my version of the book. There are certainly many others available. As far as I know, the text is the same in all of them.

The Basics: For those who somehow missed it, the Time Machine is H.G. Wells’s classic story of a man who invents a time machine, and uses it to travel far into the future. He discovers a world that is completely alien two him, populated by two strange races that are descendents of humanity: the beautiful, child-like Eloi, who live a life of comfort and ignorance on the surface of the world, and the ugly, malevolent Morlocks, who live in underground tunnels and prey upon the Eloi for sustenance. The Time Traveler’s plans are complicated when they Morlocks steal his Time Machine, trapping him the future with no way home.

This was not my first reading of this book by any means. I started rereading it for a variety of reasons I won’t bore anyone with here (the short version: it was portable), and loved it just as much as I loved it the last time. The Time Machine is possibly one of my all time favorite novels, and might even pass the “stranded on a desert island” test (if I was stuck on a desert island with a limited supply of books, I would take this one with me).

The Good: Damn near everything. The writing is spectacular, and Wells does a marvelous job of painting a picture of the future that feels odd and alien, yet completely believable. His characterization of the Time Traveler is likewise well-done.

The plot itself is pretty straightforward, but it moves along at a reasonable speed. There’s enough time to savor mysteries when they need to be savored, but the story doesn’t ever come close to dragging. Once the Time Traveler gets to the future, it’s non-stop events all the way. I hesitate to use the word “action”, because it’s not just fighting and harrowing escapes, though there certainly are plenty of those.

The Bad: This was written in the late 1800’s, and it shows. To me, that’s not a bad thing, but people offended by Victorian sensibilities and views of the world might find some of Wells’s attitudes insensitive. Personally, it doesn’t both me one bit; I like older novels, and I’m perfectly willing to overlook alterations in views over time. That said, if it bothers you, this might too.

The Ugly: The scariest part of this book is not the Morlocks; it’s after the Morlocks, when the Time Traveler goes even further into the future, where the world is overrun by nothing but strange crab-like creatures, and the sun is turning into a red giant. Creeped the hell out of me as a kid, and it still creeps me out now.