Monthly Archives: June 2012

Book Ten: The Old Man and the Sea

The tenth book might be the shortest one I’ve read yet, but it didn’t lack in power or depth. Of course I’m talking about Ernest Hemingway’s short novel The Old Man and the Sea. This story of an old man Santiago and his battle with a 1,500 pound marlin has annoyed high school readers and sparked a continued interest in Hemingway works all at the same time. It’s a bit ironic that a story of a man’s great loss would lead to its author’s greatest personal accolade but in 1954 The Old Man and the Sea was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, only the fifth American to have won it.

The story’s origins can be traced back to a 1936 issue of Esquire magazine which contained an article titled: “On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter,” written by the magazine’s featured contributer Ernest Hemmingway. This Hemmingway piece in Esquire rambles on about big game fishing and off shore hunting, but one story he told was his most cherished. It was a story told to him by his Cuban friend Carlos about a giant marlin which was hooked on a hand line but a Cuban fisherman. It took two fill days and nights to get the fish close to the boat and all the while the fish was dragging the little skiff further out to sea, but in the end the fisherman pulled the fish close to the boat. After harpooning the giant fish and lashing him to the boat he began to sail the Gulf Stream back to Cuba, but along the way his prize was hit by sharks which he beat back with clubs and his knife. After the second day a fishing vessel found the fisherman and pulled him aboard with his prize fish half eaten by sharks but still weighing over 800 pounds. This was Hemingway’s inspiration for the classic tale we know today.

Three years later in 1939 Hemmingway was asked by his editor to write a book of short stories, one of which he planned to be the story of the fisherman and the marlin, however he began to write a story of the Civil War fist, a more popular subject at the time. Fifteen thousand words later the book of short stories was abandoned and we were given a work that would later bear the title For Whom the Bell Tolls. It wasn’t until 1951 that Hemingway finally began to write “The Santiago Story” as he first called it. He originally intended to publish the work as a short story but was given a unique offer to have it published in its entirety in Life Magazine which he accepted. The book was published soon afterwards. As mentioned before the story won the 1954 Nobel Prize and is credited with a resurgence of Hemingway’s works that is still felt today.

The story begins with an old Cuban man and a local boy. The boy used to fish with the man but his father required him to change boats because the old man was having poor luck fishing. Despite the boat change the boy looked up to the old man, and looked after him when he could, and the old man obviously loved him for it. It has been 84 days since the old man’s last catch, but the old man harnesses the spirit of his hero: American baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and is persistent. He is so encouraged that he tells the boy, Manolin that he will sail out further than any boat the next morning and will have good luck.

The next morning the old man, Santiago does as he promised and sailed out further than he has ever into the Gulf Stream and drops his lines at various depths. At noon that day he hooks a very large fish that he suspects is a marlin but he cannot pull it in with his hand line. Instead the fish begins to run taking the slack line that Santiago has set up in hopes the fish will tire out. Santiago is fearful to tie the line off to the boat because if the fish decides to run it could snap the taut line and get away. So instead the old man bears the line on his weathered shoulders, back and hands feeling the burn of the rope and strain of the fish. Santiago often calls the fish his brother and empathizes with it, but has an iron resolve that he will fight the fish to the end, just hopeful it is the fish’s end and not his own. The old man often compares himself to DiMaggio, and his injuries to a bone spur DiMaggio had in his heel he read about recently, but he always told himself that DiMaggio would keep fishing so he did just that. Many times the old man wishes he had the boy there to help him, but chastises himself because he knows the boy is back home.

After two full days of running this magnificent fish finally tires and Santiago is able to pull him close to the boat. While along side the boat Santiago sees he is the biggest fish he has ever seen let alone caught, then thrusts a harpoon through his heart and lashes him to the side of his skiff. The old man raises his sail half delirious from the battle and begins his sail home in the Gulf Stream. The marlin being dragged on the side of the little boat leaves a trail of blood that is soon picked up by a large mako shark who attempts to eat Santiago’s catch. The old man is able to ward off the shark with a harpoon but as the dead shark sinks to the bottom of the ocean he take’s the old man’s harpoon with him.

The old man lament’s “coming out too far” and wishes that this prized fish was never caught and subjected to such an unfortunate death. As the day progresses more sharks come and Santiago fights them off first with a crude spear made with his knife lashed to the butt of an oar, and when that broke the arm to his tiller. All through the day and into the night the old man fought off the scavengers until there was nothing left but the white backbone, head and tail of the fish. Santiago further laments that he went out too far and cannot feed anybody with his catch, making it a waste of such a formidable foe. When he arrives back to his town he leaves the fish lashed to his boat and wearily stumbles to his house where he falls into a deep sleep.

The next morning, while Santiago slept a crowd of fisherman gathered around the marlin carcass amazed at its size. Tourists mistaken it for a great shark, but the fisherman know better. Manolin is moved to tears when he sees the old man back at home because he was so worried when he didn’t return the first night. He gathers the old man some coffee and the newspapers from the days he was out at sea so he can read the baseball scores. The two agree that the should fish again, that the boy could learn a great deal from the old man who wasn’t unlucky any more and the old man drifts back to sleep. He dreamt his usual dream of lions on an African beach playing and was very happy despite the loss of his great fish.

Many believe that the old man represents Hemingway himself as he approached the end of a masterful career as an author and the bloodthirsty and graceless sharks represented the literary critics that sought to bring him down or the effects of nature that would ultimately win out in his struggle for life. However there is one enigma that stands out, the lions at play on the beach. This is one piece to the story that just doesn’t fit to one image. Hemingway mentions them three separate times in the novella without tethering them to a single idea except that they are a source of comfort to Santiago. It’s curious to me how there is clear imagery for all other parts of the story except this one that is mentioned so often.

I also enjoyed how Hemingway turned the old man’s greatest weakness into his greatest strength. Like all heros the old man is tragically flawed, he is prideful. So much so that after 84 days of futility he sails further than anybody has ever and lands a fish larger than ever. Santiago realizes that he let his pride get the better of him while battling the fish saying “I went out too far.” But rather than making Santiago’s pride a fatal flaw, Hemmingway turns it to be one of his greatest strengths as well. Hemmingway demonstrates that pride can motivate men to do great things, because if it weren’t for pride the old man would not have gone out too far, would not have hooked a 1,500 pound marlin and would not have won the battle that ensued because he would have cut the line and his losses before succeeding. The old man meets every challenge, be it catching the marlin, fighting off the sharks, or getting back to Cuba safely with the resilient determination he will bring this fish home or die in the process. Even though he only returned with a carcass the old man is content with himself because he knew that he had seen the struggle to the end, and that the the true achievement of glory.

I never got a chance in high school to read The Old Man and the Sea and I can understand why it frustrated some readers then. The sentence structure is very different and at times it rambles which would annoy a high school me, but now I can really appreciate the story being told. I really enjoyed the old man’s love for baseball especially because I’m a Yankee fan and Santiago’s idol is the great Joe DiMaggio. I could really appreciate the imagery in the book and I liked the really simple story line. It was nice to just read and appreciate the story and the message that Hemingway was trying to get across. I think if I were younger I would have enjoyed this book much less but now that I’m older it was a great read. This is definitely a must read for everybody at some point in their lives.

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Book Nine: Jurassic Park

The ninth book on my list takes me to one of the greatest movies of the 90’s: Jurassic Park. When you think classic literature you don’t always go to a Michael Crichton technothriller but this is Chrichton’s magnum opus and that’s saying something. But in this book compared to his others the science is more scientific, the monsters are more badass, and everything is just cooler. I couldn’t believe it’s taken me until now to read the book that inspired a movie that I have seen hundreds of times and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the movie held up to the book, but we all know books are always better than movies. The version of Jurassic Park I got was different than most of the books I’ve read previously, before this I’ve read books from the Easton Press collection of books, but this was a Barns and Noble leather-bound classic and it came with The Lost World as well so it was a two for one deal.

Jurassic Park the book starts off with a part that unfortunately hit the cutting room floor until The Lost World movie was made with a family on vacation in Costa Rica. They are on a beach when their daughter who was playing next to some mangrove trees noticed a small green lizard come out of the bushes. She wants to observe the unfamiliar animal so she stays as still as she could until the lizard walked right up to her so she put her hand out for it to climb up. The lizard then scrambled for her face biting her. Her parents rushed her to the hospital where a reptilian expert was able to cure her from the infection from the bite but had no idea what it was from. The expert went back to the attack site and found a piece of the lizard in a monkey’s mouth. He tranquilized the monkey and was able to get a sample which made its way to our hero Dr. Allen Grant who identified it as a Procompsognathus, or Compy… a dinosaur.

Another part that was in the book that was left out of the movie displays Crichton’s skill of dramatic irony and foreshadowing. Crichton will never be known as a great stylistic writer, his prose is often choppy and his chapters are brief (sometimes less than a page) but he is very skilled in suspense. The scene begins with a doctor who has to treat an InGen worker coming from a strange island off the coast that was injured by a bulldozer, however you begin to think she’s not getting the real reason her patient is injured. While treating him she notices some key factors that lead her to believe he was mauled by an animal and not in a construction accident. Before he dies the worker mentions a raptor then convulses and is gone. All the Costa Rican workers think he is talking about a Hupia, a demon who steals children in the night. Crichton expertly uses many points of view in different locations to make the reader think something is up with InGen, this island and all these attacks. Crichton also alludes to dinosaurs being related to birds, the proliferation of bioengineering and chaos theory which he goes into great detail throughout the book.

Before Grant and his research assistant Ellie Sattler can further examine the lizard specimen from Costa Rica, one of their major financial supporters John Hammond president of InGen a bioengineering firm requested the pair to give a consult for a park he had in Costa Rica. So the next day Grant and Sattler find themselves on a helicopter flying to a private island called Isla Nublar with John Hammond, his concerned lawyer Donald Gennero, mathematician/Chaos Theory expert Ian Malcolm, and Dennis Nedry the overweight computer programmer who has been paid off  by InGen’s chief competitor: the Biosyn Corporation. The helicopter lands on the misty island and Jeeps begin taking the group to their living quarters. This is where we glimpse the first dinosaurs on the island, like in the movie Grant and company spot brontosaurs and are amazed by them. Gennero is excited at the thought of getting rich off the island, and Hammond is pleased by everybody’s responses except Malcolm who predicts that everything is going to go to hell. Crichton continues his bird/dinosaur comparisons throughout this section of the book; Grant compares the Compys to chickens, the velociraptors are as “fine tuned as a bird,” and the myth that brontosaurs were too large and lumbering to exist on land and thus needed to stay submerged was debunked when the group saw a herd of them deftly moving on land.

The next section begins with Hammond’s grandchildren, 11 year old Timmy and 8 year old Lex arrive on the island which infuriates Gennero and Malcolm believes this adds another wrinkle to his belief that chaos on this island is inevitable. The movie for some reason reverses the ages of the grandchildren making Lex older, and in fact throughout the book Lex proves to be more of a nuisance and an annoying character whereas in the movie she (and not Timmy) is the computer whiz. Nevertheless Hammond is convinced everything is going to be fine and sends the six of them (Gennero, Malcolm, Grant, Satter, Timmy and Lex) on the tour of the facilities done by Ed Regis.Here we learn the science behind Hammond’s clones, and if you’ve seen the movie you probably remember the cool video that explained it. InGen used mosquitoes trapped in amber to exract dinosaur DNA, then spliced their genes with amphibian DNA to create full strands. They then used plastic eggs from a company they bought out to harbor the embryos until they hatched. Malcolm asked Dr. Wu, the chief researcher if he’s bread Compys (the dinosaur suspected to have bitten the girl on vacation) hoping to prove dinosaurs got off the island. Wu explains the dinosaurs are lysine deficient and would die in a day unless they were fed a regulated diet, and all the animals are female. Unassured Malcolm delivers a solid speech ending with “Life will find a way,” one of Crichton’s underlying themes throughout the book.

In one of my favorite parts of the book Dr. Wu confronts Hammond about creating a new version of the dinosaurs, Version 4.4 to make them a little slower. Wu points out that the animals are so fast it is difficult to take care and control them plus visitors would like to see slower animals. Hammond scoffs at the idea and shows his extremely flawed sense of reasoning that gets missed in the movie. Hammond says if they breed them to be slower they won’t be the real animals and people want to see the real thing. Despite Wu pointing out these are engineered animals with a lysine dependancy and all female and thus not the real thing to begin with Hammond has his way. Crichton begins to build the villain Hammond who is so wrapped up in his park and what he thinks people want he fails to see any problems with his creation. In the control room Malcolm is talking with John Arnold who shows how the dinos are tracked by video that can view 92% of the park. He also shows a chart of the Compy’s height which alarms Malcolm. The chart is a standard bell curve, normal for a natural biological ecology, but since this is anything but normal Malcolm states that height should be more uniform.

Finally the group makes their way to the electric powered Range Rovers for the tour of the island. Their first stop proves to be uneventful as the group is unable to see any dinosaurs through the foliage. When the tour reaches the tyrannosaur paddock Robert Maldoon, the game warden begins to worry about the dangers of the park, and expresses extreme concern about the velociraptors who have the ability to learn and are extremely adept escape artists and have killed two construction workers. This answers the question back at the beginning that it was a velociraptor and not a bulldozer that killed that worker. When the tour reaches a sick stegosaur Dr. Sattler finds they are eating a poisonous berry and while searching for more evidence Dr. Grant stumbles on some egg shells he believes are raptor eggs. Armed with this new information Malcolm advises Arnold to run a count of all the animals on the island, when the computer finishes there are more of a number of species including the raptors meaning the animals are breeding. Life is finding a way.

When the group, minus Dr. Sattler who stays behind to examine the sick stegosaur, returns to the Range Rovers Timmy finds some night vision goggles. While playing with them he notices some dinosaurs on a ship leaving the island, and with a closer look he identified them as velociraptors. When he tells Dr. Grant they try to radio the control room there’s no answer. Back in the control room, Dennis jammed the system cutting off all electricity so he can steal the dinosaur embryos for Byosin. Arnold realizes with the system down the Range Rovers are stuck, and when Maldoon goes to take a gas powered Jeep to get the group he notices one is missing. Meanwhile in the stuck Range Rovers Timmy uses his night vision goggles to look into the T-Rex paddock and sees the beast’s tiny forelimb clutching the electric fence. In a horror the group realizes the fences are down. Regis runs for cover leaving the children behind and the T-Rex attacks the car he left throwing it. Malcolm the flees the second car only to be caught by the rex and grievously wounded in the leg. The T-Rex then turns its sights on the second car destroying it and knocking it off the ledge sending Dr. Grant flying. At the same time this is happening Nedry gets lost, crashes his Jeep and while is trying to figure out where he is gets gruesomely killed by a dilophosaur.

Crichton continues to build Hammond’s villainous character when Hammond and Wu have dinner in Hammond’s bungalow. Over ginger ice cream Hammond discusses the opening of the park as if nothing was going wrong. Hammond tells Wu that no one can stop him from making as much money as he possibly can and refuses to acknowledge any need for change on the island. Hammond shows his true ambitions, when we first meet him he expresses a similar interest as in the movie, a park for all children to see dinosaurs, but in reality Hammond is only interested in targeting the richest kids in the world while completely ignoring ll the dangers. Meanwhile Maldoon and Gennaro take the second Jeep out to find the tour group. They find what’s left of Regis (his leg) and human footprints leading deeper into the island. The also find Malcolm badly injured and in order to save him they bring him back to Control.

After a nap Grant, Timmy and Lex awake in the shed they took shelter in and find a tranquilizer gun and an inflatable raft. When they take the raft to the lake they see the adult T-Rex sleeping next to a sauropod it killed. Grant inflates the raft but when they get to the middle of the lake Lex sneezes waking the T-Rex who chases after them. Swimming like a crocodile it appears to be certain doom for our hero and the kids but the juvenile T-Rex saved them when he tried to steal the sauropod carcass. The adult T-Rex abandoned the chase to protect his kill and Grant rowed the raft towards a building up ahead. The Building is the aviary and while Grant was looking for a motion detector a giant cearadactyl attacks forcing the group to flee to the raft and out of the aviary.

While Grant was in the aviary Maldoon recovered the rocket launcher from the Jeep Nedry took and took sights on the adult T-Rex. Maldoon fired two rocket propelled tranquilizer darts at the beast but they appeared to miss infuriating the dinosaur. Maldoon fled before he and Gennero were eaten. Grant and the kids, after escaping the aviary come across a waterfall and at the bottom is the adult T-Rex waiting for them. They go over the fall and narrowly miss the jaws of the T-Rex. Grant and Timmy make for the shore, Lex struggled a bit but eventually made it herself. While the T-Rex is distracted with the raft the three run behind the waterfall and hide. Grant finds a maintenance door and entered it. When it closed he realized it locked him in so Grant explored finding a flashlight, and electric golf cart and a baby male velociraptor. Meanwhile the T-Rex finds the kids behind the waterfall and starts dragging Timmy out with his tongue until he keels over, the tranquilizers finally took effect just in time.

Back in the Control Room Wu reads a printout that states the fences have been out for the last five hours and need to be booted up manually at the generator. Arnold is the first to attempt but a raptor gets to him and eats him. Maldoon and Gennero narrowly escape the raptor pack but Gennero is attacked when he tries to reach the generator. While this is going on Grant and the kids get back to the Control only to find Maldoon, Sattler, Malcolm, Hammond and Harding under siege by a pack of raptors. Timmy tries to start the electric fences but two raptors infiltrate the building forcing them to flee. They run into the nursery where Grant then injects eggs with poison and rolls them to the raptors who eat them and keel over poisoned. They head back to the Control Room where Timmy gets the electric fences back on line which will keep the remaining raptors out of the building and then phones the ship that had the two stowaway raptors and instructs them to turn away from the mainland. Relieved Hammond leaves to go to his bungalow, after Malcolm calls him an egomaniacal idiot, but he falls down a ditch breaks his leg and is eaten by Compys which os not seen in the movie because Hollywood decided Hammond should survive so he can be in the sequel.

While the group waits for the Coast Guard helicopter Grant takes a Ellie and Gennero to count the eggs in the raptor nest to make sure every one is accounted for. While there they notice strange behavior, the raptors line up single file and run from the cave their nest is in. The group follows them to the beach where they stand all facing southwest. Grant deducts that they want to migrate which further proves his theory that dinosaurs are bird-like. An approaching helicopter scares the raptors off and soldiers whisk the group into the aircraft where Maldoon and the kids are waiting. Maldoon informs them that Hammond and Malcolm are dead as they fly back to mainland Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government detains everybody and Grant is informed of strange animals eating a lysine rich diet making a straight line course from the coast into the jungle. The animals haven’t been seen in a while and haven’t been identified.

One of my favorite things about science fiction is the authors provide predictions about what the future will look like. Crichton in Jurassic Park, through extensive research with professionals has made some assumptions about dinosaur behavior especially in his emphasis in the theory that dinosaurs are directly related to birds. Crichton goes to great lengths to show the dangers of machination in industry. This is not an uncommon theme in science fiction (Asimov’s I-Robot comes to mind) but Crichton hammers this theme over and over again. Hammond insisted that the island be run with as few people as possible relying on an automated system that was designed by Nedry and run by Arnold which ultimately was the demise of the park . Malcolm’s chaos theory is not in the book to polish it scientifically but serves as a warning asking the reader what if every piece of machinery suddenly stopped working? The book was written in 1990 before the Y2K scare which asked the same question. Chaos Theory states that all complex systems cannot be predicted over a long period of time and Isla Nublar proves that theory.

In The Lost World, Crichton’s follow up to Jurassic Park (and a book I thoroughly enjoyed as well) Crichton made some more interesting observations. Malcolm, yes he actually survived Isla Nublar, compares complex ecological systems to crystals. When a crystal is formed it begins as a random group of molecules but forces over time arrange them into a geometrically perfect solid. Malcolm states that there are so many complex actions going on in the world that life just crystalize, things fall into place through evolution. But Malcolm warns that humans are changing the planet so rapidly and drastically that it could unbalance things. Evolution takes place as we saw in Darwin, in specialized small niches. Small groups in isolation evolve the fastest, but humans are beginning to make the world a less specialized and less isolated. Cyberspace is connecting people who otherwise wouldn’t be connected making the group larger and in theory slowing the evolution of people in terms of behavior. Malcolm predicts that “this means the end of innovation.” While I think this is a drastic and extreme prediction it is an interesting one, Crichton is telling us because of the internet connecting everybody together (and this was written pre Facebook, Twitter, etc.) there will be a freeze on intellectual diversity which is our most distinctive resource in the animal world.

In regards to classic literature science fiction is a very underrated genre. Most people would not classify Jurassic Park or many other science fiction works as “classic.” I believe that Crichton’s book is on the same level as Wells or Verne’s best works. I really believe Jurassic Park is a gem, it has a great story, great science, and villains that you really hate which kept me on the edge of my seat furiously reading to find out what will happen next. I don’t think there are any villains that are more terrifying than ones that are able to be successful in their endeavors and don’t realize they are villainous. Hammond believes he is creating a wonder for the world to see, but in reality he has played God and as Malcolm predicted, things went horribly wrong. The velociraptors are probably the scariest villains in the book. They’re six feet tall, can run as fast as a cheetah, hunt in stealthy packs, have a three inch razor sharp claw on each foot, can learn and target the children in the group; they’re the most efficient predator the world has seen. Because of these villains there are points in time when you don’t think Grant, Malcolm and the group will make it and that is the best part of these books.

My only wish for the book was that Lex be left out or eventually eaten by a dinosaur because she was an annoying character. She was more of a burden than anything, needing to be rescued and whining the whole time. The movie attempts to save her by making her the computer whiz and making her the older sibling but doesn’t completely abandon her book personality when she shines the flashlight at the T-Rex. The Lost world introduces new children to the readers but they are more capable and hold their own pretty well. Crichton just knew that putting children in these dangerous positions only ratcheted up the intensity. Beyond that I can’t say enough about these books, and I think anybody who still has some child-like wonder for dinosaurs and those who just enjoy science or a thriller would love them.

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