Thursday, April 20, 2006

James Herriot's Dog Stories, James Herriot

Title: James Herriot's Dog Stories
Author: James Herriot
Rating: Great!

James Herriot's Dog Stories is a reread, but one that I honestly didn't remember I'd read before I started in on it. I got this copy via from Ren, another member of Doug's forum. Thanks much Ren!

I needed a break from H. G. Wells, and grabbed this book from the shelf without looking at the cover. (My TBR pile is stacked rather haphazardly at the moment, and I could only see the bottom of the top book on the pile as I picked it up.) I was pleased when I realized I'd grabbed a book of short stories because it allowed me to read a bit and then go do other things. Alas, I quickly got sucked in and devoured it despite many other commitments I should have been handling.

I'm a soft hearted person - particularly about dogs - and these stories are wonderful. Some are sad, others happy, but all show the author's love of dogs, a love that clearly matches my own. I had to wipe the tears away many times as I read.

For the curious, you can learn more about James Herriot (which is actually the pen name of James Alfred Wright) from the Wikipedia entry or from this tribute site, among others.

The stories in this book are all very close to home of late. For those who haven't heard, we had to have one of our dogs put down about a month ago. Nikki had started on the age related downhill slide some time back, but it had accelerated over several recent months. In the end we did what we had to do, but it was very, very tough. The following month with only one dog was hard on us, but necessary given our schedule. Integrating a new dog into the house had to wait until after a few things happened.

We finally got it all to come together a week ago, when we went to the pound and brought home a new Siberian Husky we've named Danno. He's a 2 year old boy with lots of personality and a need for some training. He has that classic wolf appearance; a very pretty boy. He's good with people, kids, and other dogs too, as far as we can tell. All in all, he's a great addition to the household after his first week here.

He and Leah seem to be getting along well so far. I'd say they were getting along perfectly except that Danno wants to play a bit more roughly than Leah is willing to handle just yet. They'll work it out given time, I am sure.

Reading this book while going through the tumult of adding a new dog to our pack only made it that much more poignant and pleasant.

If you're not familiar with James Herriot's work, you should be. Go get All Creatures Great And Small and prepare to read something uplifting. From there, other works await. Enjoy them all. I can tell from rereading this book that I have to go out and get the whole set again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells

Title: The War Of The Worlds
Author: H. G. Wells
Rating: Good

The War Of The Worlds is the next book in my H. G. Wells SF collection. As you are no doubt aware, this story has penetrated modern culture to a degree that is hard to fathom. The Wikipedia entry on this story book lists at least 4 movie adaptations, and other related works.

The book, however, hasn't held up as well as I thought. I am coming to the conclusion that Wells didn't really know how to write about people, and that his understanding of science - at least in some areas - was pretty weak.

About people, Wells seems to have an aversion to letting us know who his characters actually are. Most have no names at all as far as we are told, and what passes for character development is not particularly believable. His characters are flat and their motivations are weak or missing entirely. My own expectations of behavior are different, of course, after over 100 years of cultural change. However, it should be possible to make me suspend my disbelief in what they are doing, and he has a tough time achieving that result.

On science, Wells does get some interesting things right. Yes, it is possible to send vehicles between the planets. But to do it with a huge gun is simply ludicrous. The acceleration needed to get a craft from Mars to Earth would turn any creatures inside the projectile into a very thin film instantly. And he describes in some detail how the "cylinders" crash into the countryside near London, which means, of course, that if the Martians weren't turned to jelly when they departed, they would be when they "landed". What really bothers me about this is that nothing in that was outside of his (possible) knowledge when he wrote the volume in 1898. The calculations for acceleration - needed to shoot artillery shells from cannons - hand been known for a long time. Even if Wells himself couldn't do the math, he could have found someone who could, and who could have told him that his Martians would be dead before their spacecraft exited the barrel of the muzzle of their gun.

Ah well. If you set aside the more spectacular scientific blunders - some of which Wells cannot be held responsible for anyway - and ignore the sometimes improbable behavior of the main character, the story is still a good adventure tale. It reads reasonably well on that level even now, 108 years after it was originally published. In that light it is a classic, and recommended reading.