The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Cover - Standard EbooksThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an 1886 gothic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who is most famous for having written both this work and Treasure Island. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tells the story of a London lawyer, Mr Utterson, who investigates the strange events that surround his friend Dr Jekyll and the mysterious and foreboding man Mr Hyde.

That plot blurb might have surprised you; it certainly would have surprised me had I encountered it before I had read the novella. The fame of this novella is so great that it has grown a life of its own, with most people knowing the plot twist that occurs at the end of the novel without knowing who the main character of the story is.

The important question then is: is the story worth reading if you already know the ending? I think the answer to that is yes, it’s a great book that deserves its fame. That said, if you don’t yet know the ending, do yourself a favour and read the novella before it can be spoiled, as not knowing will add to your enjoyment of it. I certainly wish I hadn’t known the ending before I read it.

One of the reasons why the novella is so good is the writing style. Despite its age, the writing style is very accessible to modern readers (unlike many novels from the time with their long-winded sentences). This is something I also noticed when I first read Treasure Island (which I also heartily recommend, if you are interested in non-fantastic adventure stories). The writing is admirably clear, and wonderfully evocative, making it a pleasure to read.

Stevenson is also a master of building suspension. At its heart, the novella is a mystery story with strong elements of horror, and the suspense at what is going to happen next, and what the solution to the mystery is, is built wonderfully well throughout the novel. Admittedly, the effect of this is somewhat diminished by you already knowing the ending, but the story is good enough at sweeping you away that it’s often easy to forget that you already know the ending as the suspense rises.

I also really admire the narrative structure of the story. Most of the story is told from Mr Utterson’s point of view, but the denouement of the story is told in the form of stories written by two other characters. Mr Utterson is the perfect vehicle for delivering the suspense of the story, but I admire Stevenson’s realisation that the explanation of the mystery works best when told from somebody else’s point of view. And it really works well.

Another strength of the novella is that, because the novella focuses on the mystery of what is going on instead of explicating the details of what is happening, the story can work as an allegory for a number of wildly different things (which I won’t mention just in case somebody doesn’t yet know the ending). This makes the novella a worthwhile read, as it satisfyingly leaves you thinking about the various ways in which it can be read.

Another way in which the novella is satisfying to think about is its genre placement. Gothic applies to it very well, but in addition to that it seems to me to exist at the exact centre point between fantasy and science fiction, with many readers ardently arguing that it belongs in just one or the other of them. As such, it is a fascinating case study for anyone interested in definitions of fantasy and science fiction.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an expertly crafted, satisfying little story that I would recommend to anyone interested in mysteries with a hint of horror, even if they already know the ending.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway CoverGateway is a 1977 science fiction novel by Frederik Pohl that tells the story of Robinette Broadhead, who is both extremely wealthy and in therapy because of the traumas that he faced while on Gateway: an alien spaceship hub with spaceships capable of interstellar travel. This novel was an instant classic when it was first published, winning the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Rightly so, I think.

For one, what struck me from the beginning is how much of a page-turner it is. The set-up for the novel (a traumatised man in therapy because of the mysterious horrours in his past) works beautifully to make the reader feel like the pages don’t turn fast enough. You simply have to race to the end to find out what happened. This is also because the set-up is combined with absolutely marvellous science fiction concept: there are alien spaceships that are capable of travelling anywhere in the galaxy, but you have no idea where you’ll end up, meaning you’ll come back empty handed, fabulously rich, or dead from a most gruesome death. I loved this concept, making me want to read all the faster.

Continue reading Gateway by Frederik Pohl”

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Man in the High Castle CoverThe Man in the High Castle is a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. It is an alternate history novel, set in the 1960s in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War. This novel won the Hugo award when it was released, and is the novel that first made Dick famous, and is considered by many to be his finest work.

This is the first book that I have read from Philip K. Dick, an author whom I have been intending to read for quite some time. He is simply too famous a science fiction autuhor for me to not at least try one of his novels, and I am glad that I finally did. Had the choice been up to me, I might have opted to start with his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, having happened to come across that novel’s title more frequently than this one’s, but as this was the one set on my uni course, this is the one that I read now.

Continue reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick”

The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

The Body Snatchers CoverThe Body Snatchers is a 1955 science fiction novel by Jack Finney, that tells the tale of the quiet invasion of a small town in California by an alien race that perfectly mimics and replaces any human that they come in contact with. The novel follows the attempts of four characters, Miles, Becky, Jack, and Theodora, to find out what’s going on in order to resist it.

I hadn’t actually heard about this novel before it was put on the reading list of my university science fiction course. Under a minute into looking at its Wikipedia page let me know that I really should have heard of it: The Body Snatchers seems to have been an instant classic when it was released, it has been adapted successfully to the screen four times, and the author won a World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1987.

Continue reading The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney”

Behind the Lines by Chris Fox (Ganog Wars Book 1)

Behind the Lines CoverBehind the Lines is the first book in a sequel trilogy to indie military science fiction author Chris Fox’s Void Wraith trilogy. In this book, the new Coalition of the three races featured in the Void Wraith trilogy attempt to find the rest of the Gorthians (the main enemy of the previous trilogy). In doing so, Nolan and his crew stumble upon a new hostile race, and become stranded on one of their planets. The book details their attempt to survive and escape.

I was hesitant to pick this book up, because I had greatly enjoyed the first book of Chris Fox’s previous trilogy (review here), but hadn’t enjoyed the other two books (review here). It was impossible to know where this book would fall between those extremes, so I hesitated; in the end, it was the curiosity to know where this book lay between those two extremes that made me pick this book up.

Continue reading Behind the Lines by Chris Fox (Ganog Wars Book 1)”

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine, written by H.G. Wells in 1895, is one of the biggest classics in science fiction. Indeed, the term ‘time machine’ itself was coined originally by Wells, and Wells is often considered to be one of the grandfathers of science fiction. This novella tells the story of an inventor who invents a time machine and travels to the distant future.

Being such a huge classic within the genre, it is hard to read The Time Machine without being actively aware of its classic status. Indeed, my decision to read it now was due to my interest in becoming more familiar with the biggest names in the science fiction canon. I think this intense awareness of its status is both because of how notable the story is for the genre, but also because many elements of the novella are distinctly and strongly of its time.

Continue reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells”

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

WordWorldForest CoverUrsula K. Le Guin is, of course, an absolute legend within science fiction, and I have yet to find a book of hers that wasn’t at least great. That includes The Word for World is Forest (WWF), which tells the story of Terran’s attempt to run a lumber colony on the world of the Athsheans. This novella, first published in 1976 during the Vietnam War, forms a part of Le Guin’s Hainish novels.

Le Guin’s success in her art rests primarily on her mastery over three areas: world-building, writing, and ideological/thematic exploration. I will thus investigate each of those elements as they relate to WWF.

Continue reading The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin”