An often engaging sci-fi yarn about a journey to save the Earth that will continue in a planned sequel.

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THE STRANGER AND THE TIME MACHINE

VOLUME 1

A man known only as the Stranger embarks on an adventure through time and space to save the Earth in Scrima’s (From All Sides, 2011, etc.) sci-fi novel.

The Stranger inherited his uncle’s vast fortune with the condition that he complete several assigned time-travel missions. The first, a trip back to 1881 in which the Stranger must stop his uncle’s great-grandfather from being gunned down in the Old West, gets him hooked, and soon, he’s aiding extraterrestrial beings called the Creators and rescuing a woman doomed to die. The planet Earth needs his help the most, however, as it’s threatened by both its own people and a murderous race called “the evil ones.” The book offers five interlocking short stories, each with its own mission. Fans of time-travel stories, however, might be a bit disappointed, as the Stranger spends more time in spaceships than he does trekking through time. After he helps the Creators by reactivating their planet’s shield, he starts traveling by using an otherworldly medallion and officially retires his uncle’s time machine. The protagonist’s development over the course of the stories is fascinating, as he literally evolves into something more alien than human—he even becomes part android. His traveling companion, and ultimate love interest, is a human woman named Laura, but unfortunately, she doesn’t get much to do. Although she trains with the Stranger as they prepare for missions, she’s more often relegated to a damsel-in-distress role in which she faints at the sight of violence. The story is also prone to repetition; for example, as the Stranger and Laura progress through the stories, they eventually no longer need to eat or sleep—a fact the novel notes many times. But Scrima keeps things fresh by avoiding overdone time-travel elements; for example, a journey of billions of years isn’t instantaneous but takes a year to complete and requires weeks of recovery. The overall message—that a disunited humankind risks losing or destroying their planet—may be a little too transparent, but it’s one that never hurts to hear.

An often engaging sci-fi yarn about a journey to save the Earth that will continue in a planned sequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490984230

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2014

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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