Friday 15 February 2013

The Island of Doctor Moreau

H.G. Wells, 1896
(January 2013)

I could probably compose this post almost entirely from fragments of stuff I’ve already written about other books. Let’s see, what exactly do we have here?

Chapter One
              Brought low by circumstance, I was set upon by ne’er-do-wells and cast adrift in a strange and wondrous land.

Chapter Two

A truly Darwinian vision that accurately and devastatingly puts humankind’s pretentions as a species in their proper, insignificant places. A commentary on the thin, easily cracked veneer of ‘civilization’ separating us from our bestial natures, with a gaping moral abhorrence at its core.

That’ll probably do for now. I feel like I should say something like ‘despite inspiring several generations of writers to explore the themes within, Dr. Moreau stills feels fresh and important,’ but only one of those things would be true. It’s pretty stale, to be honest.

That’s a grossly unfair accusation, of course. It’d take something pretty special to still feel freshly pressed after almost 120 years; I can hardly accuse it of being derivative when so much has so clearly been derived from it. But its obvious importance means that it’s been picked to death by many, many hands in that time. It’s a testament to its quality that there’s enough in it to do so for that long, but it’s hard to get too excited by something when you’ve seen it all before, deconstructed and re-interpreted countless times. The images that would once have seemed so fresh and startling now seem almost commonplace and twee.

This isn’t about me being jaded. Or at least, it’s not just about me being jaded. Culture eats itself. Pop-culture especially is frantically cannibalistic, and at an ever increasing rate. How many Spiderman reboots are we up to now? The fact that there’s still clearly mileage to be had in the whole man-as-beast/beast-as-man conceit demonstrates a certain timelessness for the story and concepts, but as we all know, with great influence comes great responsibility (or something) and the most responsible people all know when to step back and let the next generation take the reins. Or whips/revolvers/scalpels/whatever.

Don’t mind me. I’m just bitter because, while this isn’t new, nothing I could say about it could be new either. Interesting. Worth a look. 3½ stars. Blah blah blah.


  1. Oh, I read this book!! 1st one you reviewed that I have read unless I missed posts about Machiavelli, Pursig or Sun Tzu.

    This book is like looking in the mirror and then wishing you hadn't.

    We suck so bad and we pretend we don't.

    Every blessed piece of empirical data points to us being parasites.

    "Agent Smith: I'd like to share a revelation during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague"

    Truth hurts.

    1. Wait, what? You said you hadn't read any! YOU LIED TO ME.

      Still, plus points for quoting Agent Smith, so we're good ;)

      I'm guessing you mean The Art of War and The Prince? I crossed those off the list a long time ago, but largely thanks to your recommendation Pirsig's sitting right behind me on the 'to read' pile (literally, the only reason I have any idea how to spell his name is because I'm looking at it now). I'll let you know as and when.

  2. Would have been amazing to be around when this book was first published for mass consumption; I don't think any of us will feel as awed by such groundbreaking science fiction as people of the day were...

    1. Yeah. I remember being in a pretty pissy mood when I wrote this, so it's probably massively unfair.

      Space based SF isn't new any more and all the technology is about getting smaller and more personal, so the fiction follows and gets more personal and closer, instead of pushing out into the great unknown. That's fine as far as it goes but does lack for a certain grandeur.

  3. I understand you might not be the kind of blogger who does requests, but since seeing as you are keen on science fiction and all... you wouldn't happen to be planning on reviewing B4ttl3fi3ld 34rth, would you?

    1. Dunno about requests, but recommendations are always nice. That'd be the scientology thing, would it? I have to confess I've never really been keen on the idea of reading something that I expect to dislike, but I'm open to being sold on the concept. Might have to wait till I can get a second-hand copy though.

  4. Kamo, when does your science fiction jaunt finish?

    1. "Are we nearly there yet, Dad?"

      Just around the next corner. The lag on these book posts is running at about three weeks now so in real life I was done with the SF a while back, for reasons I shall explain fairly soon.

      Without wishing to spoil it, I feel (felt) your pain.

    2. Thank you. Now I don't feel so bad now for nagging.

      You pinned it in one with the first line. Basically my Game Gear batteries ran out about an hour ago in the middle of playing Streets of Rage and I can't read because my mother is humming along to Whitney Houston and The Doors.

      I am just not a sci-fi fan at all. I don't know why though, I used to read them as a child and also liked the fantasy style medieval books.

    3. A Game Gear for car trips?

      Why, back in my day.... don't know they're born... etc etc...

  5. I didn't feel as disgusted with humanity after reading this book as I did with Animal Farm. I wonder what the whole chimera aspect was about. The guy just wanting to further advances in medical technology or an analogy to what beasts people were at the time. I think books about society like this still hold up even in today's world.

    1. Oh, it absolutely holds up. I was, as I said, very cranky and unfair when I wrote this.

      I read Animal Farm in school and, like a lot of the books I read at school, the fact that we had to read it robbed it of a lot of it's kick. I certainly didn't feel disgusted with humanity. Though I may have more of that if I reread it now.

  6. I think the only big issue I had with this book was that I couldn't relate to or sympathise with the main character in the slightest. That's a personal issue, since some people seem to love books written in that matter of fact style. Heck, even I do, sometimes. I enjoyed Lucky more than Lovely Bones (boo to this one) just because of that reason. That said, I still find that I need some understanding of the character before I can give a goddamn about what happens to him.

    I can understand your point though. These days almost everything is just a recycled pulpy mess of something that sold well before. It's gotten to an extent where even the original work seems to feel jaded. Pity, really.

    Also, probably a silly question, but are you on GoodReads? Your reviews are honest and interesting, so it'd be good to browse your reading shelf if you have one. :)

    1. I think a lack of character is something a lot of early SF suffers from, Frankenstein maybe being the exception that proves the rules. The authors were so focussed on exploring these new worlds and ideas they forgot some of the more basic elements of storytelling. It's a problem that still affects the genre now, to be honest.

      "Your reviews are honest and interesting"

      Thank you, glad you like them :) My usual disclaimer is that they're not 'reviews', just ideas I had while I was reading. And that's one of the reasons I'm not on GoodReads (as well as the fact that it's enough hassle maintaining just this one site).

      I'm doing it just for my own fun and to explain nothing but my own experience of a book as I read it. That's not such a good fit for a 'marks out of five' 'objective' review site. That obviously works for a lot of people and that's great, but it's not really what I want to do here. Click on the 'books' tab at the top there and it'll take you to all my book posts.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    2. Agreed. That said, however, the sheer torrent of horrendous 'writing' we're exposed to these days makes me want to be kinder to these kinds of books. I mean, compare this to Stephenie Meyer's 'The Host'. I'd rather eat my own eyeballs like Easter eggs than read that book. At least Wells can create proper sentences and build a character that doesn't make you want to perform Chinese water torture on the person nearest to you at the time.

      Plus, it's way better than Victor Hugo. Because, dude, ain't nobody got time to read about the French sewer system. Fuck that.

      Well, fair enough! I find myself becoming less and less active on GoodReads as well, but that may be 'cause I'm working 2 jobs and it's hard to find time to be online a lot. So really I treat this reviewing thing as a job only to force myself to be consistent about it. That said, it's nice to have GR just to read other people's status updates on a book you hate. It's like having an online support system! XD

    3. "At least Wells can create proper sentences and build a character"

      It's come to something that the bar's that low now, and I say that in sympathy, not disagreement.

      I know what you mean about forcing yourself to be consistent. I've only got the one job, but also two young kids and part-time study. If I didn't make myself post three times a week here it'd all just collapse. A bit of routine is good sometimes, no matter how arbitrary it is.