Book Review – The Time Machine (audio)

  • Title: The Time Machine
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: HG Wells (original novel); Marc Platt (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Cast: Ben Miles, Nicholas Rowe, Anjella Mackintosh, Nicholas Asbury, James Joyce, Hywel Morgan, Christopher Naylor

I have read HG Wells famous novel, The Time Machine, so I was looking forward to this adaptation by Big Finish. However, although it is a full-cast audio, the majority of the play consists of the Time Traveller telling his story to his friend, “Bertie”, identified in the credits as HG Wells. The play begins with a boys’ club dinner, with the Time Traveller presenting his idea of a machine that can travel in time though not in space, as well as a model to his friends. When his friends mock his idea, his next appearance is a traveler much the worse for wear that tells his friend his tale.

The Time Traveler does just that and travels to the far future. On a warmer Earth, he meets the Eloi, small child-like creatures who eat only fruit, speak in a “baby talk” and seem joyful but unmotivated. They are also terrified of the dark, and murmur in fear of “Morlocks”. The Time Traveler moves from frustration at this overly simple life to gradual acceptance. One day he saves a young Eloi girl from drowning when she gets a cramp, and the two become close. Uweena follows her savior around, and the Time Traveler attempts to teach her his language. Eventually, he convinces her to journey with him to find out more about their world, though the Time Traveler also wants to find his missing time machine so he can go home. They journey to a far city, finding a green marble museum, where the Time Traveler picks up a few weapons and matches. But he and Uweena are also attacked by the Morlocks – pale, simian, animal-like creatures who hate the Eloi, and even take them as food. The Time Traveler beats them back and he and Uweena retreat into the forest. They make fires at night and plan to return to a Spinx statute which the Time Traveler thinks hides his machine. But one night they are attacked by a pack of Morlocks. The Morlocks overwhelm the Time Traveler and Uweena. The next day, the Time Traveler is all right, but Uweena is missing. He makes it back to his machine, and even finds the doors in the Spinx’ pedestal are open. He thinks it’s a trap but enters anyway. It is. Still, he escapes going forward in time.

The Time Traveler moves forward millions of years to when the sun is a red giant, and the air thin. The only life is crawling creatures that live by slurping up the lichen and moss on the rocks at the edge of the sea, and red crabs that eat said creatures. Continuing on to the future, the Time Traveler nearly reaches the end of Earth’s time before he finally heads back to his own time. Appearing a week after he left, he tells his tale to his friend, Bertie.

His friends from the men’s club arrive — and they express their displeasure at the Time Traveler’s trick, insisting that he couldn’t have invented a time machine. When they which the lab/study the Time Traveler has disappeared – and according to Bertie, he is never seen again.

This is a faithful adaption of the story, The Time Machine, and that is part of the issue. The Time Traveler and Bertie discuss the Eloi and Morlocks clinically – as the result of evolution. Both believe that industrial workers would spend so much time in dark mines and darker factories and dark houses in dark slums – they’d grow pale with big eyes, unable to tolerate sunlight. Whereas the Eloi are “sunkissed” but “dumb” and innocent – like children because they have no work to give them purpose. It’s a classic ethnocentric and patronizing Victorian/Edwardian attitude that “those people” must be given work to keep them out of trouble. It’s also an over-simplification of genetic evolution. No sense of pity or responsibility or even empathy is given towards either the Morlocks or the Eloi. The Time Traveler claims to care for Uweena – but he manipulates her for his own purposes, taking her from her people, and on his own dangerous quest that she cannot possibly understand.

On the other hand, the descriptions of Earth’s far future under a red sun are well-realized and the descriptions are awesome. It becomes moody, depressing, but accurate. The word-pictures were vivid and an excellent use of the radio format. I liked that.

To sum up: on the negative side, The Time Machine shows it’s Victorian roots with a rather long debate on the future of mankind, to wit: evolution creating two sub-species. But on the positive side, the use of language in this story is evocative and moving. Overall, recommended, but there is a certain amount of ethnocentricism, patronizing attitude, and sexism that comes from the time the novel was originally written.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to Order The Time Machine on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – The First Men in the Moon (Audio)

  • Title: The First Men in the Moon
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Authors: HG Wells (original novel); Jonathan Barnes (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Cast: Nigel Planer (Professor Cavor), Gethin Anthony (Bedford), Chloe Pirrie (Maria Bell), Alan Cox (Shapps/Bartoli/Selinites), David Horovitch (The Grand Lunar)

This is the third adaptation of HG Wells’ classic novels by Big Finish that I have listened to. It’s an excellent adaption, but I’m beginning to find Wells extremely depressing. This novel begins with Bedford in Italy where he runs into a woman who introduces herself as the younger sister of a friend. They get along well – having coffee and then dinner together. But she also seems to be pumping him for information.

Bedford tells Maria that he was an accomplished and successful businessman but one of his investments had failed, so he had gone to a small village to relax, escape his creditors, and “write a play in ten days” to recoup his losses. In this small village, he meets a professor, with whom he strikes up an unusual friendship. The professor, Cavor, is obsessed with the question of overcoming gravity. But not with thrust, but rather by “repelling” gravity. Just as oil repels water, or two magnets repel each other, Cavor hopes to discover or create a substance that repels gravity.

Bedford sees immediately that a great deal of money could be made from such a substance, so he supports Cavor – both encouraging him, and helping him financially. Cavor is able to manufacture such a substance and he builds a sphere out of the stuff and announces his plan to go to the moon on a mission of exploration. Bedford, at first, intends to go with him – but suffers an anxiety attack in the sphere. He leaves but runs into one of his creditors in the local pub. Bedford sets the locals on his creditor and runs back to the sphere where he and Cavor set off.

The sphere rises into the air, and soon they land on the moon – and simply walk onto the surface of the moon, without spacesuits or even diving suits. At first, Bedford complains about the lifeless and boring surface of the moon, but as the sun rises above the surface – plant life erupts quickly, enveloping the surface. Cavor and Bedford run off. They also see what’s described as “moon cows”, which Cavor stares at in amazement. Bedford first considers them as a point for making money – by rigging big game hunting of the animals or even killing them for meat to sell on Earth.

They are then set upon by the moon natives. The insect-like natives, whom Cavor calls “Selinites”, after the goddess of the moon, take Cavor and Bedford underground. The insects communicate in a chittering voice which the two Englishmen cannot understand. Slowly Bedford becomes more and more panicked. He calls the Selinites, “monsters”, and when they are led through what appears to be a slaughterhouse for the moon cows, he grabs a stalagmite and starts swinging. Much to his surprise, the merest hit on a Selinites cause them to explode. Bedford kills the lot and he and Cavor escape. Once back on the lunar surface, Cavor says he should look at the stalagmite in his hand. Bedford does and discovers it’s gold. He and Cavor decide to split up and find the sphere. Bedford finds it, returns to the spot where he left Cavor, and finds evidence of foul play but no body. Bedford returns to the sphere and to Earth, where he uses the gold to pay off his debts and pay for his Italian vacation.

Meanwhile, he and Maria are getting along famously, and she encourages everything he says. This constant agreement, however, makes Bedford suspicious, so he questions Maria. He finds out she’s a British spy, sent to find him and get information about the professor. She takes him to Bedlam to meet a man who, due to an accident that saw him fitted with an iron plate in his head, is picking up messages from the moon. It’s Cavor – warning of an invasion.

Although there is a definite adventure story in, The First Men in the Moon, the story really feels like a debate. And it’s a debate between Business (Bedford) and Science (Cavor). Professor Cavor, is kind, optimistic, sees the best in people (and other beings), and wishes to use his intellect to help others and for the betterment of all humankind. Bedford is greedy, harsh, selfish, and mean. He wants to make money and doesn’t care who or what he has to exploit to do it. Upon landing on the moon, his first reaction is that it’s ugly, desolate, and boring. Cavor nails it when he points out, “You mean there’s nothing you can sell.” Bedford is also deeply suspicious (when Cavor, who is very much alive, not dead like Bedford thought, works out a method of communication with the Selinites, and ends up talking to their leader, the Grand Lunar, Bedford insists to Maria that Cavor, “doesn’t realise he’s being interrogated”.) Bedford also is claustrophobic – he panics in the sphere and no doubt being far below the surface of the moon adds to his reaction against the Selinites as much his own prejudice against a species he finds ugly.

Bedford and Maria are very suspicious, they worry the Selinites will attack. Unfortunately, Cavor had emphasized British military advances and conquests, especially of indigenous species in his discussions with the Grand Lunar. This does not go well and appears to lead to the invasion that Bedford warns of and Maria is preparing for.

However, if you look at it from the Selinite point of view – Bedford and Cavor appear from nowhere, doing considerable damage to their crops. Taken captive, the native “agricultural caste” cannot understand these strange, dangerous creatures. The farmers were probably bringing them to some sort of authority, though we never find out for sure – because Bedford goes on a killing spree. Once Cavor works out a communication method, and Selinites learn English, the leader interviews Cavor and finds to his horror he’s dealing with an extremely war-like species who exploit or even kill every other native group they come across. The first strike seems almost justified. – Just from a devil’s advocate point of view.

So, the story, itself is a bit depressing – Bedford, as the lead character, has his own point of view, which is presented as the “right way” even though it is flawed. For example, Cavor brings the Complete Works of William Shakespeare along on the trip for reading material. Bedford dismisses it as “worthless junk” with nothing to apply to modern times. Bedford, likewise, also thought he could whip-up a play in ten days and make tons of money – ignoring how much work writing is, or how unlikely it is that a first play would be a bestseller (so to speak). Cavor may be a bit naive at times, but he isn’t entirely at fault for the conflict, considering it was Bedford who attacked and killed a bunch of Selinites, to begin with. We also only see Cavor through Bedford’s eyes, and to a certain extent, Maria’s, as she reads off the messages they are receiving from the man with a plate in his head.

Also, as Victorian/Edwardian SF – The First Men in the Moon, has a few issues just from the modern viewpoint and knowledge of the moon. The one that threw me the most was Cavor and Bedford stepping out of the sphere – without spacesuits, or even diving suits or a diving bell. It reminded me of the bit in Galaxy Quest, “Is there air out there? Do you know?” We know there isn’t air on the moon, and the pressure is very great. If they’d only used a Victorian diving suit I would have been OK with it, but being completely unprotected, on the moon, threw me out of the story for a few minutes. The rest of the fantasy elements: the quickly blooming plants, the moon cows, the underground city, and the Selinites should have been just as impossibly fantastic, but the presentation was so good I found I could enjoy it anyway. Basically, if it had been a different planet with an atmosphere I would have found the whole story acceptable. I don’t need a lot of science in my SF or Science Fantasy after all – but people breathing somewhere without atmosphere is tough to swallow.

Still, it’s a good story, overall, which I can recommend. It’s a bit depressing at times, but the cast is brilliant. This is a full-cast audio play with music, special effects, acting, and performances – not a reading of the original novel (as in an audiobook). Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click this link to order HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – The Invisible Man (Audio)

  • Title: The Invisible Man
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Jonathan Barnes
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Griffin (the Invisible Man), Dr. Kemp, Teddy Henfrey, Mrs. Hall, Thomas Marvel
  • Cast: John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Dan Starkey, Annette Badland, Peter Noble

Spoilers

Big Finish’s audio play adaptation of HG Wells’ classic The Invisible Man is a full audio play and not simply a single person reading the book, or even a two-hander adaptation. The play has a full cast, music, and special effects. The CD version even includes audio-only tracks and interviews as extras.

The story is framed by on the first disc, Kemp interviewing Thomas Marvel to learn the story of the Invisible Man, though it soon picks-up with Griffin turning up, out of the snow, at an Inn, and paying lots of money to not be disturbed. At first, the innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is glad of the money and willing to leave the man alone as he requests. But eventually, she becomes suspicious, especially the way Griffin treats her maid, waitress, and cleaning girl. When the money runs out, Griffin quickly gives her more – but Mrs. Hall remarks that the amount he gives her was the exact amount taken from a local vicarage in a recent robbery. Being suspicious already, she calls in the police. They, however, are unable to catch the Invisible Man, and he escapes.

Griffin encounters a drunken tramp on the road, and talks/bribes/threatens him to become his partner. This is Thomas Marvel, who is able to fill in Kemp on his own direct experiences. However, although he at first benefits from the partnership, eventually Marvel learns to fear Griffin (with good reason) and even turns himself over to the police for a series of robberies and thefts since he believes he will be safer in jail.

Griffin talks Marvel into returning to the Inn so he can claim his books and clothes. The books are especially important as they apparently contain the secret to permanent invisibility but are written in code. Marvel makes off with the books, and they both fail to get Griffin’s clothes – though Griffin does escape.

Once he escapes, Griffin shows up at the house of Dr. Kemp. Kemp slips a letter to his maid but tells her to wait three hours before delivering it by hand to Colonel Adye at the local army base. Kemp interviews Griffin, who tells his story in his own words, from his fascination with light, to his career as a student, then a professor, who studies light. Though Griffin doesn’t reveal his formula, he does reveal his general process and theories.

The army colonel arrives, but yet again they are unable to catch Griffin. Kemp suggests they put glass on the roads, order that all doors be locked, lock-up all food, and monitor all exits from the city by road, ship, and rail. Although the Invisible Man eludes capture for awhile, after he kills a man, the Invisible Man is eventually captured, attacked, and beaten by a mob. It is Kemp who prevents the mob from killing him. He is captured and dies in jail.

However, Kemp, who is interviewing Marvel, demands from him the Red Books that contain the Invisible Man’s secrets. Griffin had said that he and Kemp were the same, and although at first Kemp seems stable and sane and even happy with his life – in the end, Kemp also becomes obsessed with light and concealment.

I have actually read HG Wells classic The Invisible Man although it was years ago. I remember it as being more political – more about isolation and being marginalized than the mere terror of someone becoming invisible. Yet this adaptation is still excellent. Hurt plays Griffin with a whispering menace, and it quickly becomes clear why everyone fears him – he’s a scary dude, invisibility or no. Many of the other characters in this tale are also lower class (Marvel, Teddy, Mrs. Hall, the two servant girls and even the female university student) who ultimately place survival above helping Griffin. Still, it is a good story, told in a creepy way. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Invisible Man on Download or CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – The Shape of Things to Come (Audio)

  • Title: The Shape of Things to Come
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Guy Adams
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dr. Philip Raven, Jane
  • Cast: Sam Troughton, Nicola Walker

Spoilers

I was first introduced to Big Finish back in 2001, when I discovered their full-cast original Doctor Who audio plays. I liked the audios, and even subscribed to the main monthly line for a while. I continue to purchase Big Finish audios, when I can, to this day. H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come is a full-cast audio drama of Wells’ famous novel. Although I have read some of Wells books (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man) I have not previously read The Shape of Things to Come so I had no previous expectations for this story, other than a few general assumptions about Wells.

The audio is really good. It’s extremely well-produced. The acting is extremely good. It draws you into its’ world completely, even though I listened to it while driving back and forth to work during an extremely trying week. Even though it is a full-cast audio drama, in many ways it feels like a two-hander (e.g. a play starring only two actors) – yes there are other parts besides the two main characters, and they are performed by others (this is not a dry oral reading of Wells’ novel), but the majority of the novel is about Dr. Philip Raven and Jane. Philip is a diplomat, who, when the story starts is on a plane heading for the UN in the US on a diplomatic mission. Jane is a historian and archivist from the future – from an alternative future.

Jane meets Philip on the plane and takes him on a journey. A journey through events in his future and her past. As these vignettes covering a future history are told and experienced by Jane and Philip, Jane explains her mission. She shows him horrible events: a world war where toxic gas is dropped on civilian populations; the complete disintegration of any sort of political or social order; disease and plague (including bubonic plague); a world where society has fractured to not even towns or villages but neighborhoods where everyone is armed to the teeth and shoots to kill any “strangers” without even finding out who they are, why they are there, or if they need help; a world where zookeepers are forced to kill their charges. It is bleak and unrelentingly depressing. And, at the end of Disc 1, Jane tells Philip that she doesn’t want him to prevent this horrific alternative timeline – she wants him to ensure that it happens.

Disc 2 explains why. Jane shows him how, once the old world had been completely destroyed – with no government, no order, no law, and even no social order – it began to come back. The transportation unions banded together and took control, controlling first all air transport of goods (with no government, no law, and no rules – goods were no longer moved from place to place, neither necessary goods like food or luxury goods. And with no markets, the factories producing those goods collapsed), then all shipping, and finally all roads. The transport unions had their own private police, they developed and imposed the first law and order for decades. Eventually, what developed was a single world state. Initially ruled by the Transport Union, it eventually just became Control. There wasn’t even a single leader, though a man named Essington becomes a figurehead of a sort. But Jane is quick to point out, laws are not issued by a person, nor a dictator, nor even a ruling council – they come unsigned and are merely “Control”. Jane shows Philip the rise, and fall, of Essington. Then she takes him to her home and her wife – the Utopia that Jane is desperate to preserve. This future world is the one that she wants Philip to create – because he will be in the right place at the right time. For Jane, all the pain, all the destruction, all the death of the past, is worth it to create her perfect world.

In the end, Philip is returned to his timeline, to his diplomatic meeting. He is met by Jane one final time, and given a case. And the story ends on a question – Will Philip open the case and use its contents on the world leaders gathered for his conference? It’s implied the case contains a deadly gas – it’s Philip’s job to kill the diplomats. Or won’t he? Will he think that the cost is too high? That may be the world could reach a world like Jane’s Utopia without such drastic action and without the pain and death that would result before the new world could be born. By leaving it open-ended as to what Philip would do – the entire play becomes a moral exercise for the listener. As with much of Wells’ work, it asks, What would you do?

Also, as an adaptation, though it deals with alternate timelines and history – the play addresses the here and now in a very real way. And it addresses the long view of history. The character of Jane, as a historian and archivist, has a view of her history, based on what she’s been taught in her world’s schools. It’s based on the histories she’s read, even the documents of the path to her world. But history is written by the winners – when Philip questions her (such as about her world’s banishment of religion and the, albeit, she say non-lethal attack on the world’s last large religious gathering – and the establishment of the secular state) she dismisses his arguments of human rights to religious freedom with the “religion causes wars” argument and claims in her future no one fears religious persecution, prejudice or bigotry. When she shows him Essington’s Fall – it’s telling that the person accusing Essington, his wife, attacks him has a traitor, as an individualist. While too much individualism leads to the exploitation of the weak – too much emphasis on the opposite suppresses the spark of creativity, diversity, and the very notion of being different. One wonders what happens to the poets, writers, and artists of Jane’s perfect world? One wonders about people who are different? Does her world even have people of different races and cultures? She goes to great lengths to explain the World State is One – so there are no countries, but what does that really mean? Is everyone in the World State white and British? (no offense meant). Yet at the same time, the story parallels real history, especially the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, because it is a story of the fall and rise of civilizations.

Again, this dramatic presentation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The Shape of Things to Come is excellent. Yes, disc 1 is overwhelmingly depressing at times, but disc 2 is much more hopeful. The entire play ends on a question, a moral quandary, something that is often left out of dramatic entertainment today, but that was an essential part of H.G. Wells work. The CD version includes a trailer for another title in this range, The Island of Dr Moreau, and a panel interview with Sam Troughton, Nicola Walker, and Guy Adams. The Shape of Things to Come was originally published in 1933, and Wells lived from 9/21/1866 to 8/13/1946. Big Finish’s audio play is highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!