Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: To Kill A Mocking Bird

Book Name: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
First Published: 1960

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She studied at Monroe County High School, where she became interested in English literature. She then enrolled in Huntingdon College in Montgomery.

She is best known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Similar to the book’s character Scout, the young Harper Lee was a tomboy who observed racism in her small town in Alabama. Her father was a lawyer who once defended two black men accused of killing a white man but the two black men were later executed. Dill was based on Lee’s friend Truman Capote.

She began her writing career with several long stories. With the help of the editor Tay Hohoff, she spent two and a half years rewriting the draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was published on July 11, 1960 and quickly became a critically-acclaimed bestseller. In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1999 was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in Library Journal’s poll.

Lee has done few interviews or public appearances since publishing To Kill a Mockingbird. She has not published another novel. She worked on a second novel, titled The Long Goodbye, but did not finish it. In the mid-1980s, she began writing a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial murderer but also filed it away unfinished. She was, however, satisfied with her book’s Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation by Horton Foote. During the filming, she became good friends with Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for portraying Atticus Finch.

On November 5, 2007, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. This is the highest award in the United States for civilians, awarded to people with outstanding contribution to culture, world peace, security, and national interests.

In a 2011 interview, Lee’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, shared what Lee told him as the reason why she never wrote again, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. – Harper Lee

Atticus Finch is a middle-aged lawyer and a widower who lives in Depression-era Maycomb, Alabama. He has two children, six-year-old Scout and her older brother Jem. The two children are terrified of their reclusive neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley, yet they are also intrigued by him. Together with Dill, a boy who stays with his aunt in Maycomb during the summer, they obsess about Boo’s appearance and how they can lure him outside, despite Atticus’ warning to leave the man alone. The children sometimes find gifts in a tree near Boo’s house but never see him.

One day, Atticus takes on the case of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping and beating up a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Most of the people of Maycomb believe that Tom is guilty and are beginning to resent the attorney for defending him. Scout and Jem are harassed at school because of their father’s actions. Their father tells them not to fight with the other children but it becomes hard for tomboy Scout and even the more levelheaded Jem to not lose their tempers.

Atticus stands up to a lynch mob out to kill Tom and the mob disperses after the children shame them. The lawyer does not want his children to attend the trial but they are able to, sitting in the area designated for black people. In the trial, Atticus is able to prove that Tom could not have beaten up and raped Mayella because of his crippled hand. It becomes clear that the lonely Mayella made advances toward Tom. Nevertheless, Tom is convicted, making Atticus’ two kids realize their town’s prejudice against people of color, even in a court where truth is supposed to win over bias. Soon after the trial, Tom gets shot and killed for attempting to escape while in prison. Tom’s conviction and his death shake the Finch family’s confidence in justice.

To Kill A Mockingbird Book CoverMy first exposure to this novel was via required reading in secondary school. I was taken by the book, not only due to the literary themes, but because the story was told by a little girl that was not much younger than myself at the time. I was a tomboy like Scout and I could feel what she felt as events happened in the story. I also felt a great deal of admiration for Atticus Finch. In many ways, this character has become my role model for courage and justice. I have enjoyed seeing the Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck and highly recommend seeing it if you have not done so.

Ms. Lee has been in the news as of late. She is an elderly woman that was in need of funds to pay for her medical care and was in a legal battle over the royalties from her single best-selling book in order to find the money to pay for her doctors. I understand she has had some success with her suit and I certainly wish her all the best and a peaceful life.

Book Review: The Many-Coloured Land

Book Name:The Many-Coloured Land
Author: Julian May
First Published: 1981

Julian Clare May was born on July 10, 1931 to Matthew M. May and Julia Feilen May. She grew up in Elmwood Park in Illinois and was known as Judy May when she was young. She was the oldest child and had three younger siblings.

When she was in her late teens, she became interested in science fiction fandom and published the fanzine Interim Newsletter. In 1950, she sold her first professional short story Dune Roller to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. It was published along with her illustrations in 1951 and credited to “J. C. May”. Later that year, she met Ted Dikty at a science fiction convention in Ohio. They fell in love and got married in January 1953. May stopped writing science fiction after selling another short story, Star of Wonder, to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1953.

May and her husband had three children, with the youngest one born in 1958. Beginning in 1954, she wrote thousands of science encyclopedia entries for Consolidated Book Publishers and two other encyclopedia publishers. In 1957, May and Dikty started Publication Associates, a production and editorial company catering to small publishers. From 1956 to 1981, May wrote at least 250 books for children and young adults, mostly non-fiction books about science, history, and short biographies of popular celebrities at the time. Her pen names for non-fiction work are Ian Thorne and Lee N. Falconer.

In 1972, May’s short story Dune Roller was adapted into film as The Cremators. Here, she was credited as “Judy Dikty”. She became interested again in fandom and in 1976 attended the science fiction convention, Westercon. She created a diamond-encrusted space suit costume for the event and got into thinking about the kind of character that would use that kind of suit. Soon, she began compiling ideas that would eventually be used for her Galactic Milieu Series. The Many-Coloured Land, the first book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile, was published in 1981.

“You have always been alone, always self-centered and fearful of opening yourself to other persons, for to do so is to risk rejection and pain. But it is a risk we are born to take, we humans.” -Julian May

Humans have been discovered by benevolent aliens and are now part of a seemingly utopian society called the Galactic Milieu. The different beings of the federation have different kinds of psychic powers and can do interstellar travel. The price to pay for being part of the Galactic Milieu is that humans have to follow strict rules and think within the thresholds. Humans who have not developed their powers yet are not happy and want a way out.

In France, a researcher has found a one-way portal to the Pliocene Era. Because it has no other use, the portal has become a way for misfits to escape the current society. So far there have been more than a hundred thousand people who have made the journey to the past.

Eight non-psychic humans prepare to go through the portal and they spend time getting to know each other before being sent through the gate. They are given survival training and a kit that will last for several years. Each one of them has his own reason for wanting to go: Aiken is a convicted felon who chooses exile over execution, Felice is a temperamental athlete who has been banned from the games, Bryan is an anthropologist looking for his lost love, the Roman Catholic nun Amerie has lost her faith, Elizabeth once had metapsychic abilities but lost them after a traumatic accident, Richard the xenophobe is being sued by an alien space crew for all his properties, Claude is a paleontologist, and Stein dreams of being a Viking.

Once in the Pliocene Era, however, the group discovers that Earth at that time is not the wilderness they expect but is already inhabited by two warring alien groups: the Tanu and the Firvulag. The Tanu have strong psychic powers and have turned almost all humans into slaves. The male humans are separated from the female and the women are used for breeding. The humans are then ranked according to their metapsychic abilities. The Tanu use collars called torcs in order to control the humans. The gold torcs that the Tanu wear control the silver and gray torcs worn by the slaves. Humans with strong latent powers are made to wear the silver torcs while those without latent powers but have other skills are given the gray ones. The first group, made up of Richard, Claude, Felice, and Amerie, devise a plan to escape.

When I first picked up this book at the bookstore, Julian May was unknown to me as an author. The book had been recommended to me by friends that loved science fiction and so I thought that I would give it a chance. It turned out to the be right choice. The Many-Coloured Land was the first novel by this author and it was the start to the Saga of Pliocene Exile series and of a fruitful writing career. A month or two after I picked up the book, I noticed that most of my friends were reading it as well. There was a buzz about it. Here we are 30 years later and the books still read well and is recognized by serious science fiction readers. Ms. May has gone to write several interesting series and is still publishing today. I feel that The Many-Coloured Land is a good introduction to her body of work, but it should not be the last novel of hers that you enjoy. I still own the first edition paperbacks to this series, a bit yellow with age, and continue give them a place in my library.

Many-Coloured-Land-book coverThe Saga of Pliocene Exile

The Many-Coloured Land (1981)
The Golden Torc (1982)
The Nonborn King (1983)
The Adversary (1984)

Book Review: Don Quixote

Book Name: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
First Published:1605 (part one) 1615 (part two)

Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. His father’s profession was that of a barbar-surgeon from Cordoba. He set bones, performed bloodlettings in addition to shaves and haircuts. Cervantes’ mother was the third child of a poor nobleman who sold his daughter into matrimony to pay his debts. Although their marriage was not a happy one, they still managed to produce seven children together. When Cervantes was a young man, he fell in love with a girl named Josefina, but because of his family’s poverty and Cervantes’ poor prospects, the girl’s father forbade her to see him.

Cervantes left Spain and enlisted with the Spanish Navy Marines in Naples in 1570. The following year, he sailed with the fleet of ships that defeated the Ottoman forces in the Battle of Lepanto. Cervantes had a fever during the battle but he chose to fight for his King and his God instead of hiding below decks. He was shot three times, which left his left arm immobile, but he considered his combat as a badge of honor.

In 1575, Cervantes sailed to Barcelona. His ship was attacked by Algerian pirates near the Catalan coast. It was a terrible battle in which the Captain and many of the crew were killed. The survivors were captured and taken to Algiers. Cervantes was enslaved for five years as a prisoner of war. He was returned to Madrid only after his parents paid his ransom. It was this period in his life that inspired much of the subject matter for several of his later literary works, The Captive’s Tale in Don Quixote and two plays that were set in Algiers, El Trato de Argel and Los Banos de Argel.

Cervantes life settled into middle-class normality after his return to Spain. Like many authors of his time, he was not able to support himself via his writings. Instead, he worked as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Navy. He also took the position of a tax collector, moving from town to town demanding the back taxes due the crown. Many of the characters and situations in Don Quixote were inspired by these “day jobs”. In his senior years, he managed to gain a sponsor and was able to turn to writing full-time.

In 1584, he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whose uncle was accounted the basis for the character of Don Quixote. He remained poor until 1605, when his novel Don Quixote was released. The book was written as a satire of chivalric romance and the general public enjoyed Cervantes’ use of everyday speech in his writing. The book did not make him rich but it made him a popular writer internationally.

Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, a year after the second part of Don Quixote was published, of type II Diabetes. He was buried the next day in a convent in Madrid. Later his remains were lost due to construction work at the convent.

Coincidently, William Shakespeare also died on April 23, 1616. To honor the date when two of the greatest authors of all time died, UNESCO established this date at the International Day of the Book. What is not often acknowledged is that Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but England was still using the Julian calendar. There is actually a eleven day difference in the date of these two author’s deaths. But why ruin a good holiday concept over a few dates?

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” -Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote the novel begins with Alonso Quixano, almost 50, lives in La Mancha with his niece and their housekeeper. He is rational for the most part but his obsession with books about chivalry has distorted his perception into believing that those books were real. Inspired by the stories, he decides to be a wandering knight and look for adventure. He wears an old suit of armor and renames himself “Don Quixote”, refers to his thin horse as Rocinante and recruits his illiterate neighbor Sancho Panza to be his squire.

He goes out and arrives at an inn, believing that it is a castle, and asks the innkeeper to make him a knight. The annoyed innkeeper agrees just to make him go away. It is at this inn where Don Quixote spies the barmaid Aldonza Lorenzo and re-imagines her as his lady love, Dulcinea del Toboso. Next, Don Quixote discovers a man who is beating a boy and the mad knight forces this man to swear that he will treat the boy well. The man, however, continues with the beating once Don Quixote is away. When an encounter with traders ends in a fight, after the men insult Dulcinea, Don Quixote is beaten. It is then that Sancho and a peasant return him to his home and worried family. While he is unconscious, his housekeeper and his niece, with help from other local residents, burn the man’s chivalric books and close his library. They hope this will halt the old man’s dreams of adventure and keep him sane.

When he recovers, Don Quixote and Sancho continue with their journey and meet different characters, with Don Quixote’s imagination turning these meetings into quests. The man’s tendency to intrude in other people’s affairs and to skip paying his debts results in injuries and embarrassments. He tilts at windmills with his lance, believing them to be vicious giants and he ambushes a group of friars traveling with a lady.

In the second part of Don Quixote, published 10 years after the first, the people that Don Quixote and Sancho meet already know about the duo. Some of these characters trick Don Quixote to entertain themselves, sending the pair to adventures that end in practical jokes. This tests the knight’s sense of chivalry and his professed love for Dulcinea. Even Sancho tricks him one time, bringing back three peasant girls and claiming that they are Dulcinea and her two ladies-in-waiting. Near the end of the story, an encounter forces Don Quixote to reluctantly go home and possibly cease his chivalrous acts.

Don Quixote Book CoverMy first exposure to this classic tale of madness, fantasy, and ideas of what is important as citizens of the world, was a live performance on Broadway of Man of La Mancha. It was my first time in New York City as a young woman and my cousin suggested that I pick this play because it was classic theater, and it was a little less expensive being a revival. I was traveling on the cheap, so it seemed a good idea to me at the time. As I sat in the darkened theater, I was carried away by the scenes of Cervantes in the Algerian prison, pleading for his life by playing the tales of Don Quixote to his fellow prisoners, amusing them enough to spare his life. The songs from this play haunt me still. Later, I read the book Don Quixote and was transported into a world very different from modern America, a story that would be considered the first modern European novel and is regarded among the greatest works of fiction ever written. Cervantes’ himself was dubbed El Principe de los Ingenious, ”The Prince of Wits”.

If you have not read Don Quixote, I urge you to place it in your to-read list. You can find a free download of this classic novel at Project Gutenberg. There is also a movie version of Man of La Mancha (1972), starring Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote, Sofia Loren as Dulcinea, and James Coco as Sancho Panza. If you would experience the beautiful music of the Broadway play, I can recommend the film as well.

Book Review: Solaris

Book Name: Solaris
Author: Stanislaw Lem
First Published: 1961

Stanislaw Lem was born on September 12, 1921 in Lwow, Poland. He was Jewish, but he and his parents were able to survive the Nazi occupation during World War II by using falsified documents. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, but later would turn from this faith and declare himself to be agnostic. Lem was quoted as saying, “for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally.” He worked as a science research assistant during his college years and it was during this time that he began writing his stories. Later, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, he worked as a mechanic and welder, becoming active in the resistance. When the Polish territory Kresy became part of Soviet Ukraine, he and his family moved to Krakow. His father, a doctor, wanted him to study medicine at Jagiellonian University and Lem enrolled but he intentionally failed his finals to avoid being forced to become a military physician.

Lem began writing poetry, stories, and essays while working as a research assistant. The Man from Mars, his first science fiction novel, was released as a series in a Ukraine magazine called New World of Adventures. During the Stalin regime, when works had to be approved by the government before publication, he had to include in his books content that put socialism and communism in a good light. When the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet Union started the “Polish October”, Poland celebrated a rise in political free speech. Free of the shackles of having to bow to the promotion of communism in his writing by the Soviets, Lem wrote 17 books from 1956 to 1968. It was during this time that he met and married Barbara Leśniak, a radiologist, in 1953. Their son, Tomasz, was born in 1968.

One of the novels during this busy writing period was his highly popular novel Solaris. In the book, Lem presents the recurring theme of how futile it is for humans to understand things that are extremely alien. Solaris has had three screen adaptations: a two-part Russian TV film in 1968, a full-length Russian film in 1972, and a 2002 Hollywood film.

In 1973, despite being ineligible due to his non-american status, The SFWA awarded Stanislaw Lem an honorary membership. Lem accepted the membership at that time, but thought of American science fiction as ill thought-out and poorly written, being created to make money instead of the formation of ideas or new literary forms. After Lem’s work was published in America, and he became eligible for a regular membership, his honorary one was rescinded. It was thought that this was intended to be a rebuke toward Lem and his contempt for American science fiction writers, certainly Lem seemed to think that it was. Many SFWA members protested Lem’s treatment, including Ursula K. Le Guin, but Lem declined the regular membership, even though the membership fees were offered to be paid by a fellow member.

Starting the 1980s, he focused more on philosophical essays and over the years became critical of science fiction and pessimistic about modern technology. He also had a falling out with his previous agent Franz Rottensteiner, who contributed in introducing him to Western readers. In 1996, Lem was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest decoration of merit for civilians and military personnel.

Lem died on March 27, 2006 of heart disease. The urn containing his ashes was laid at Salwatorski Cemetery. Although he declared himself an agnostic, Lem’s funeral was conducted in accordance with Roman Catholic rites at his family’s request.

Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed. – Stanislaw Lem

The planet Solaris is covered by a vast ocean that is possibly a giant, sentient organism. Scientists, referred to as Solarists, have been studying the planet and its ocean for decades. They have been recording and elaborately classifying the complex phenomena that happen on the ocean’s surface but they do not really understand what those activities mean. The psychologist Kris Kelvin travels from Earth to the Solaris Station, a research station hovering near the planet’s surface, and meets Snow and Sartorius, two of the scientists there. He finds the station in chaos and the scientists near madness. Another scientist, Kelvin’s acquaintance named Gibarian, has killed himself just hours before.

The crew has aggressively bombarded the ocean with high-energy X-ray as part of an unauthorized experiment shortly before Kelvin’s arrival. The ocean has responded by creating exact copies of people from the scientists’ most painful memories. These mysterious human-like beings with superhuman abilities are in the ship and are psychologically tormenting the researchers. The visitors and the real humans differ from each other sub-atomically – the visitors’ bodies are made of stabilized neutrinos that give the visitors great strength and regeneration capabilities.

The visitors of Snow and Sartorius are anonymous but Kelvin encounters Gibarian’s visitor, a “giant Negress”. Kelvin also meets his own visitor: a duplicate of Rheya, his lover who has injected herself with poison when he left her. Rheya does not know that she is just a copy. Kelvin feels conflicting emotions upon seeing her but decides to lure her into a shuttle then eject her into space to get rid of her. A second Rheya appears with no memory of the shuttle and this time, Kelvin decides to stay with her because he is still in love with the original Rheya. The second duplicate, however, hears a recording made by Gibarian and learns that she is just a copy and is not really human. She drinks liquid oxygen to end her life but her body heals itself. The other Solarists work to discover a way to destroy the visitors but Kelvin decides that he will protect Rheya no matter what happens. Later, the researchers decide to record Kelvin’s electrical brain impulses and beam them into the ocean. Nothing happens at first, then Kelvin begins having weird dreams. Several weeks later, a strange ocean storm occurs and Snow sees a possible way for humans to communicate with the giant alien organism.

Solaris-bookcoverMy interest in the author began when I saw the 2002 movie Solaris, staring George Clooney. It intrigued me and I went on to read the novel and look at other works by Stanislaw Lem. He has a literary style to his writing that conveys deeper ideas than many science fiction novels do today. If you haven’t checked out work by this classic science fiction author before, Solaris would be a good one to sample first.

Book Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Book Name: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Author: Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
First Published: 1889

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Missouri, two weeks after Halley’s Comet appeared in 1835. After his father died of pneumonia, young Clemens apprenticed at the age of 12 as a typesetter for his brother’s newspaper, the Hannibal Journal. It is there that he gained his first writing experiences by creating articles and funny sketches for the newspaper. Instead of attending school, he learned by reading at the public libraries. He claimed that he found more information at the library than he ever would at a traditional school.

When he was 18, he left Hannibal and went to work as a printer in New York City among other places. He joined the newly formed International Typographical Union. He moved around a great deal, traveling on the packet Keokuk in 1854 and lived in Muscatine during 1855. The Muscatine newspaper published eight of his travelogues.

During a journey to New Orleans down the Mississippi river, steamboat pilot Horace E. Bixby talked Clemens into becoming a pilot himself. Clemens studied for two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. A steamboat pilot eclipsed the prestige and authority of the captain of the vessel due to the extensive knowledge that was needed to guide the boat down the ever-changing river and knowing the hundreds of ports to access. A pilot also earned a rewarding salary for his efforts. It was during this time when Clemens developed the pen name of Mark Twain, taken from the cry “mark twain” for a measured river depth of two fathoms. He might have remained a riverboat pilot but for the start of the American Civil War. When war broke out in 1861, all traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.

At the start of the war, Clemens enlisted briefly in the Confederate military, but soon left for Nevada to work for his brother Orion, the Secretary to James W. Nye, the Governor of Nevada Territory. Eventually, Clemens settled in Nevada as a miner on the Comstock Lode. He did not make a good living as a miner and soon returned to writing. He wrote under his new pen name, Mark Twain, for the first time at a Virginia City newspaper called The Territorial Enterprise. Later, his experiences on the American frontier would inspire his famous short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County which was published in The Saturday Press, a New York weekly. Twain continued to write and travel all across American and even to the Hawaiian Islands, as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. His travelogues were popular and would become the basis for his future lecture series.

During a trip to the Holy Land, Clemens met Charles Langdon and the man happened to show Clemens the picture of his sister. Later, Clemens would admit that he had fallen in love with Olivia Langdon that day solely on viewing her image. He later met and pursued Olivia until she agreed to be his wife. They moved to Hartfort, Connecticut and lived there for almost two decades. It is at the home in Hartford where Clemens wrote most of his popular novels including: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, features a time traveler from his contemporary American, using the knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England. This type of storyline would later become a common feature of the science fiction sub-genre, alternate history. It also reads as a good fantasy novel.

Clemens grew wealthy from his writing, but due to several poor investments, such as the Paige typesetting machine and by buying into a publishing house that picked poor performers, his gains all but disappeared. In 1895, Clemens organized a world tour with the help of his friend, Henry Rogers, where he gave lectures about his travels and of his famous stories. It was a five year journey, but would prove to be a hit. He was able to repay his debts and to continue to support his family.

Disaster struck the Clemens’ household in 1910, a decade after his successful world tour. One by one, his wife, two of their daughters and his friend Rogers all died within a short time span. This put the author into a spiral of depression that he never quite recovered from. All his life he had told of having visions of the future. Clemens predicted that he would die on the return of Halley’s Comet and he was right – he died on April 21, 1910, a day after the comet reappeared.

My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. – Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court begins with Hank Morgan, a 19th century gunsmith from Connecticut, gets hit on the head during a fight and wakes up in Camelot. He thinks that he should run things since he is the most advanced man in the world, but instead he is ridiculed for his odd appearance and is sentenced to be burned at the stake. Hank knows from his study of history that his execution date coincides with a famous solar eclipse. He threatens the king that he will make the sun disappear if he executes him. When the eclipse occurs, the people are convinced of Hank’s power and the King appoints him as chief minister.

Hank observes the medieval ways of the people and sees the rampant ignorance and suffering of the poor. He clashes with Merlin, the king’s previous chief adviser and top sorcerer in the land. In a fit of jealousy, Merlin spreads rumors that Hank is a fraud. To combat this, Hank rigs Merlin’s tower with explosives and a lightning rod, causing a fire that Merlin fails to prevent with his magic. In another incident, Merlin declares that a fountain has dried up and will never work again because of a demon haunting it. Hank fixes the leak and gets the fountain flowing again.

Hank also uses his knowledge and his authority as the king’s minister to modernize the country and contradict medieval teachings. Assisted by a young boy named Clarence, he sets up secret schools and factories of tools. Hank only allows his hand-picked open-minded people to enter. He goes on to construct modern infrastructure and goes on an adventure with a girl named Sandy. One day, Hank and King Arthur disguise themselves as peasants in order to see how the poor people really live. They get arrested and sold to slavery, and are about to be hanged. Sir Lancelot and the other knights rescue them but the king, horrified by his experience, promises to abolish slavery, which delights Hank.

Sir Sagramore, challenges Hank to a duel to the death upon his return from his Holy Grail quest. Hank wins the day by enlisting the help of a dozen other knights, a lasso, and a revolver. He then reveals the modern infrastructure he has created. He later marries Sandy and they have a child together.

Strangely enough, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the first Mark Twain novel that I ever read. I was inspired to pick up the book after seeing the movie by the same name starring Bing Crosby. Later, due to prodding from English teachers, I would go on to read his more famous works, but this novel has always stuck with me. The satire about the politics of his day reminded me of other classic authors such as Lewis Carrol, Charles Dickens and others of that time period. It is an early novel of alternate history and a true child of the speculative fiction genre. I fully believe that by reading the classics in a genre, you learn the conventions and gain a stronger understanding of it as a writer. That is why I would recommend this novel to be on a must-read list, in addition to his other more well known titles.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Book CoverMark Twain was more than an author, he was an inventor, an adventurer, a steamboat pilot and more. His writing and wit inspires me as an author, but his life inspires me as well. Samuel Clemens did not succeed at everything he attempted, but he never gave up and continued to search for what worked for him. Now he is remembered for being one of the best American authors in history.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is available for free download at Project Gutenberg.