Book Review: "In the Days of the Comet" by H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells is an extremely well known classic author. He has a household name thanks to such novels as "The Time Machine" and "War of the Worlds." In my opinion, these are among the best science fiction novels ever written. Then, there are the lesser-known H.G. Wells novels, such as the one I just finished reading -- "In the Days of the Comet." Written in 1906, this novel has themes of violence and enlightenment, all tied together with the skillful science fiction that weaves through most of this great's work.

All of "In the Days of the Comet" is told through the eyes of a narrator who has lived both before and after the arrival of the eponymous comet and often refers to life in such a way, hinting that the comet brought about great change, even before it is expressly stated. The narrator, William Leadford, leads an unhappy existence before the comet and describes it, along with the conditions of contemporary working class London, in Book I. You might find its descriptions a mite tedious, but from a social history perspective, it is quite informative.

Book I meanders back and forth between predicaments faced by William and predicaments faced by fellow members of the working class. All the time, a green comet in the sky features as a lesser character, something for passersby to observe. William has the attitude of a man in fevered pursuit of social reform, but what winds up driving him more than anything else is betrayal, an act that he plots to avenge with the utmost violence. The acme of this drama is the segue into Book II.

Books II and II focus more on the comet's effect on William and the world at large. It would be a spoiler to say much more about it. I will say that Wells' work is insightful and perhaps indicative of his personal feelings regarding humanity and its capabilities. Whatever the case, the result is a book that drags at times, but has a very clever premise to help it along.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "Sacre Bleu" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore at a book signing
Courtesy of Cody Harris
If you know who Christopher Moore is, you probably know that he is a bit of a zany author. He has done such things to characters as have them traumatized by the penis of a whale on open water, chastised by Jesus, beset by a demon with anger issues and assaulted by zombies accidentally raised from the dead by an angel sent to Earth to perform a miracle. So, you know that when I opened "Sacre Bleu," I knew what I had in store, but I still managed to be pleasantly surprised a bit.

I think the cast of characters in Sacre Bleu was the best surprise of the book. I didn't think I'd be reading a book populated by painters of Vincent van Gogh's era, including van Gogh himself, but only briefly. Nonetheless, that is what I got. Initially, I thought the book was just about blue and that the paint aspect of it was going to go away, but it turned out that "Sacre Bleu" is about a special blue powder that is, in this case, used to make paint. To say much more about it would be to give it away.

In spite of the title, it is not the blue that intrigues the readers but rather the characters, more of them syphilitic than I had ever imagined. You may learn a few things about period artists that you did not know, but, of course, this is a fictional work, so if something strikes you as interesting, use a second source. You may find that the weirdest tidbits, such as van Gogh eating paint, are actually true.

As for the plot, tone, etc. of "Sacre Bleu," this is classic Christopher Moore. There is humor, sarcasm and debauchery. It isn't so much the solid or even entertaining nature of the plot that keeps you reading. (Hint: The plot isn't all that great standing apart from Moore's fantastic wit.) What keeps the pages turning are the little intrigues, dialogues, asides and jokes. Any other story about blue paint would likely be dull, but like an additional gospel for the Bible, Christopher Moore manages never to let a single dull moment into this novel.

Shelly Barclay