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Book Review: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

Book Name: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
First Published: 1966
Hugo Award for Best Novel 1967
Prometheus Award Hall of Fame Award recipient 1983

Robert A. Heinlein was born in 1907 and was known as one of the “big three” masters of classic science fiction along with Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. He was one of the most influential and controversial authors of science fiction. People to this day argue about the ideas that Heinlein presented and this would have undoubtedly delighted the man.

Heinlein invented many of the tropes we now take for granted in the genre of science fiction. His stories addressed the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation that individuals owe to their culture, the influence of organized religion on society and government and the tendency of people to repress nonconformist thought.

“Revolution is an art that I pursue rather than a goal I expect to achieve. Nor is this a source of dismay; a lost cause can be as spiritually satisfying as a victory.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress begins during the year 2075 in the underground colonies of the Moon. These three million inhabitants are criminals, political exiles and their descendants from all over the Earth, with men outnumbering women 2:1. This makes polyandry the norm in “Loonie” culture. The Lunar Authority’s master computer, HOLMES IV (High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV) has almost total control of Luna’s systems. When computer technician Manuel Garcia “Mannie” O’Kelly-Davis discovers that the AI computer has secretly become self aware, he names it “Mike” after Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Sherlock Holmes, and the two become friends.

Mike is curious about the inhabitants of the Moon and asks his friend Mannie to place a recorder in an anti-Authority meeting. When the cops come to raid the gathering, Mannie escapes with a blond agitator named Wyoming “Wyoh” Knott. Together, they join an elderly political activist, Professor Bernardo de la Paz who informs them that if Luna does not stop exporting hydroponic wheat to Earth, the imbalance caused by constant loss of bio-mass will result in food riots within seven years and cannibalism in nine. With nothing to replace what is loss, their ecosystem will collapse. Wyoh and the Professor want to start a revolution to solve this pressing problem and Mannie is persuaded to join them at Mike’s request.

The AI takes on a new persona named “Adam Selene” and becomes the leader of the revolution movement. Adam can only connect with humans via a phone, after all, he does not have a body, but by working with Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor, he is able to be involved. At first, the covert cells, protected by the AI make little progress, but when Mannie saves the life of a rich, well-connected tourist, public opinion on Earth begins to look more favorably on the lunar colonists and their cause.

Earth does not release the Moon without a fight. Troops are sent to the Moon to quell the rebellion, but riots among the people erupt when a soldier rapes a female colonist. It is the last straw that provokes the Loonies to overthrow the Lunar Authority’s Protector and to create a defense system to protect the colonies from Earth. They modify an electromagnetic catapult that was once used to export wheat into a rock throwing weapon capable of much destruction on the planet.

The AI continues to control the communications and impersonates the “Warden” in messages to the Earth. This gives the revolutionists time to organize. The Professor sets up an “Ad-Hoc Congress” to distract any dissenters. Finally, Luna declares its independence on July 4, 2076, the 300th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence.

Mannie and the Professor travel to Earth and are received by the Federated Nations. They begin a world tour to tout the benefits of a free Luna while urging the governments of Earth to build a catapult of their own to transfer bio supplies to Luna in exchange for grain. Their efforts are rejected and the two become imprisoned. Later, they are freed by the man they rescued at the beginning of the revolution and they travel with him back to the Moon. When they return, an election is held and Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor are elected as leaders of Luna.

The Federated Nations of Earth once again send troops to destroy the Loonies, but the revolutionaries fight back against great odds and large loss of life. A rumor is heard that Adam Selene was among those killed, which frees the AI from having to appear in person. The AI uses the catapult to launch rocks at sparsely-populated locations on Earth, warning the inhabitants that the lunar “missiles” are coming, but the people of Earth don’t heed the warnings and many die. This causes the people of Earth to turn against the new lunar nation.

A second attack destroy’s the original catapult, but the ingenious Loonies build a secondary one in a secret location operated by Mannie. The former computer tech turned commander continues the attack on Earth until the planet concedes Luna’s independence.

Mannie takes control of the new government after their victory, but he and Wyoh gradually withdraw from Lunar politics as they discover that the new government falls short of their expectations. When Mannie attempts to speak to Mike, the AI’s replies indicate that the computer has lost its self-awareness and human-like qualities as a result of either the damage suffered in the war or of shock.

Probably one of the greatest influences I had as a science fiction writer is Robert A. Heinlein. I have read just about everything that he has written and a few of his novels rank among some of my favorites. Many of the tropes that are commonplace in science fiction today were invented by this man. There is an old adage that states: “Heinlein was there first.” For the most part, it is true! If you want to write science fiction or are interested in becoming more versed in the genre as a reader, this is one of the authors that you should read.

Heinlein remains a controversial figure to this day. If you are a feminist, you will have difficulty with Heinlein. Our views on culture, marriage and the roles of women have changed in the 50 years since this novel was written. In The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, there are women that marry at 14, women that endure whistles and catcalls because of their physical looks, and while there is racial diversity among the Loonies, many racist ideas of the time period still come through in the writing. Yet, during the time that Heinlein wrote his stories, he was considered ground-breaking for his forward thinking. The novel features Heinlein’s ideas about individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love.

One of the aspects that I enjoy most about this book was the development of the AI computer. Remember, at the time the novel was written, a computer that filled a room could barely do what a one dollar throw away calculator does today. AI Mike doesn’t go crazy and attempt to destroy humanity as many tropes might have him do now, instead he wants to learn what is funny and what it is to be human. With more robots being built and AI becoming a reality, this is an idea that we as a people are going to need to explore.

The idea of life on the moon and the weaponization of space is a concept who’s time has come with the advent of privatized space programs popping up all over the world. There will be many people in space able to “throw rocks” at the Earth as nations and corporations begin to develop the resources in the asteroids, and the Moon.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress Book CoverHeinlein wrote in the voice of his era. He is imaginative and smart, but he still retains many of the ideas and limitations of the world that he lived in. How many writers can overcome this overwhelming thing called “their lives”? Even so, he manages to see into the future and his best guesses were not all that far off the mark. Give The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress a read with an open mind. Yes, it is a little dated, but you will find many of the ideas that have shaped science fiction as we know it today inside its pages.

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)

Author Interview: Leslie Ann Moore

I’ve know Leslie for many years and I’ve been a big fan of her previous fantasy trilogy. When I learned she had a new steampunk series coming out, I asked her to come here and share more about it with us here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Leslie Ann MooreWhen my mother was pregnant with me, one of her favorite singers at the time was Leslie Uggams, which is why I’m Leslie Ann Moore. I’m a doctor of veterinary medicine by profession, but I’m a writer by passion.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been blessed since childhood with a vivid imagination, and a penchant for inventing stories out of the ferment of creativity which resulted from that. At age twelve, the very first thing I ever committed to paper, and yes, back then, it had to be paper, was a poem about a horse. I showed it to my mother, who, of course, told me it was the most wonderful poem she’d ever read. Really, what else was she going to say? So, I took her at her word and submitted it to a national horse enthusiast magazine, and lo and behold, it got published!! I haven’t written much poetry since.

I didn’t do much writing at all throughout my late childhood and teen years. I was at the stage in my life where I needed to read, voraciously, in order to study and absorb how great writers did what they did. I devoured all the classics of sci-fi and fantasy, essentially training my own artistic mind in the techniques of story structure and style, against the day when I was finally ready to produce something of my own.

In high school, I created my own newspaper for a history class assignment. Rather than write a standard report on the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Elizabeth I of England and her scrappy little navy, I wrote it as a series of articles from imaginary reporters on the scene, and laid it out in newspaper format, complete with drawings I did myself in place of photos. I got an A+ on it! My mom still has that project, lovingly preserved.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In 2001, when I began work on my first novel, Griffin’s Daughter. Until then, I really didn’t think of myself as a serious writer–I was more of a dabbler. I’d written some short stories for a creative writing class during my undergrad days, but that was it.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

A Tangle of Fates is the first installment of a new trilogy, the overall title of which is Vox Machina. Genre-wise, it’s soft sci-fi, with steampunk flavorings, a lot of politics, adventure, some mysticism, and a dash of romance. For those familiar with screenwriting terms, the log-line would be ‘Snow White as revolutionary.’ Another log-line could be ‘Snow White meets The Terminator’. Both of those should give you a good idea about the general plot. This series is very different from my Griffin’s Daughter trilogy, which was a romantic fantasy.

The book has already gotten glowing reviews from, among others, Howard Hendrix, a Hugo and Nebula Award nominee, and Emma Bull, one of the inventors of the urban fantasy genre back in the ’80’s.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write a story based on a traditional fairy tale, but turn it on its head. In so many fairy tales, the female is passive. She’s there only as a prop for the male hero to rescue. Or, if she is the center of the tale, she’s the victim of manipulative, malign forces, and still ends up needing a male savior. The Vox Machina Trilogy, of which ATOF is the first book, takes the story of Snow White and transforms it from a tale of a helpless girl needing rescue by not one, but eight (the seven dwarves, plus the Prince) men, to one of a girl rising up from the ashes of her former life to become the savior of not one, but two nations.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’ve modeled my style after two wonderful fantasy writers–Janny Wurts, and Kate Elliot. I like to think of it as Neo Victorian. It’s a lush, complex style, full of beautiful similes and uncommon word choices. Some would call it ‘purple’ or ‘flowery’. It’s definitely not in fashion these days, particularly with American editors, critics, and other ‘gatekeepers’ of the literary world. The common wisdom is that modern readers lack the patience for long, complex sentences and lush imagery. Everything is supposed to be short and unembellished. I don’t buy that. Both Janny and Kate have vast fan bases, and continue to sell lots of books.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

My fianceé and I were having dinner at Marie Callendar’s, and we were brainstorming ideas. He pointed out how all of the character’s fates were intertwined. I imagined a big ball of string, all tangled up, thus, the title was born.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

All my books have overt political themes. The Vox Machina Trilogy deals with political repression and racial injustice, and how a small group of committed individuals can overthrow an entrenched regime. The main message is that it’s not impossible to effect radical change in a society. It just needs brave people to stand up and fight for what’s right.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Only insofar as I’m alive in these times, and angry about the many injustices I see in our society and others around the world.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

James Herriott, who wrote All Creatures Great And Small, about his life as a country vet in England during the 1920‘s and 30‘s. He made the veterinary profession come alive for me and inspired me to become a vet myself. Strange, though, I didn’t read those books, thinking, hey, I can also be a writer as well as a vet. I never connected the two. I think I was too young.

Much later, in 2001, I went to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and attended a panel about writing fantasy fiction. Terry Brooks, the author of the best-selling Sword of Shannara series was one of the panelists. I’ve read a lot of his work. He talked about how he’d been a lawyer, and it had taken him many years to transition from full-time lawyer to full-time writer. He’d had years in between where he wrote books and practiced law. When I heard how he’d persevered until he achieved his goal of quitting law to support himself on his writings, I knew I could do the same. I’m not there yet, but soon.

There are other authors who’ve influenced my writing life. I’ve already mentioned Janny Wurts and Kate Elliott, both of whom helped me to develop my voice.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

There isn’t anyone I know personally that I can say has been a mentor, but of the many writers I admire, Janny Wurts is the closest. I study how she puts together sentences, and her breathtaking imagery, as if I’m in a master class and she’s the teacher.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write every day, if possible, even if it’s only a few paragraphs. Study writers you admire, learn how they do things, then emulate them. Know proper grammar, in whatever language(s) you write in. Then, when you break the rules, you’re doing it as a stylistic choice and not out of ignorance. Learn how to critically analyze other people’s criticism of your work. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone who reads your stuff will have the necessary insight and abilities to offer useful advice. It’s OK to reject suggestions as crap, even if it’s from someone you trust. In the end, you are the boss. Write what you want to write.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thanks for coming along on this wonderful journey with me. There are many more stories I want to share, and I hope I can bring the best of them to all of you.

MHTangleCoverLeslie Ann Moore
Los Angeles, CA

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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.