Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings

    This is an epic, high fantasy series by J.R.R. Tolkien. The series takes place in the fictional world of Middle Earth, a land filled with magic, dragons, and other fantasy creatures which Tolkien helped define and develop.

    The series was inspired by old myths and fairytales of England and Scandinavia, especially Beowulf.

    Mythical creatures include elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, and hobbits - little people who live a life in peace, mostly by farming.

    The Hobbit is considered more of a children's adventure book, whereas The Lord of the Rings is much more serious in tone.

    Besides these two works, Tolkien also wrote many others based in Middle Earth, which he didn't live to see published. These include The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle Earth Series, and The Children of Hurin, all of which were edited by Ronald Tolkien's son Christopher.

    The Lord of the Rings was originally meant as one volume, to be paired with the Silmarillion, but publishers decided to sell it as three, partly to do with paper shortages during WWII, each consisting of two books - six total. It's a bit confusing, but The Lord of the Rings is considered one novel with six books in three volumes - and yet it's not a trilogy.

The Hobbit:

In this book, a young hobbit named Bilbo agrees to join an adventure with a group of dwarves, to kill a dragon and reclaim their mountain home. They are led by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey, and Thorin Oakenshield, who would be king under the mountain. Along the way, Bilbo finds a strange gold ring that turns him invisible. Little does he know just what he's found and how dangerous it is.

The Lord of the Rings:

In this novel, Bilbo's nephew Frodo must take this ring of evil to Mount Doom, a volcano where it can be destroyed. This will in turn destroy Sauron, the dark lord who created the ring, and wanted to rule all of Middle Earth. The pinnacle of evil, his power was broken when he first lost the ring in battle, thousands of years ago. But, until it's destroyed, his will lives on, compelling orcs, ogres, and trolls to gather for war. Meanwhile, a fellowship of good races form to help Frodo, consisting of the ranger Aragorn, the elf prince Legolas, Gimli the Dwarf, and Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, as well as three of Frodo's hobbit friends: Samwise, Merry, and Pippin.


Many scholars have debated over hidden meanings and symbolism in The Lord of the Rings. Many note similarities between events in the novel with that of WWII. For example, in a land where a dark force prepares for war, the good nations of the earth remain weak and divided. The powerful elves (Americans) feel safely isolated across a great sea, and would not sacrifice their loved ones for a war in the old world. The forces of darkness, forming to the south and east are united, with Sauron (Hitler) manipulating a puppet to do his bidding - Saruman (Mussolini). The result is a world war that reaches every corner of Middle Earth, and ending with the total defeat of an evil empire.

While these similarities can't be denied, Tolkien came up with his ideas decades before WWII, and vehemently denied the connection or use of his stories as an allegory for real world political events. He thought it would be an insult both to real world tragedies, and the creativity of his works and the substantial mythology he had created.

Tolkien did see Hitler as an evil force, not unlike Sauron. Specifically, he took issue with Hitler's racist theories regarding northern, white, Aryan races being superior to smaller, browner people living elsewhere in the world. The Lord of the Rings was a kind of celebration of Nordic, Scandinavian culture and tradition, and the last thing Tolkien wanted was his life's work being compared to Nazi propaganda.

Tolkien didn't see German people as the enemy, but merely victims of the same propaganda and industry that killed so many others, which was also a main theme in the book - how industry can ruin the landscape, dull men's hearts, and create terrible weapons. He reacted to the bombing of Dresden and other German targets saying:

"We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well,—you and I can do nothing about it. And that [should] be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter—leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines"

Tolkien did agree that his book contained some Christian references, such as a parallel between the scenes of Mount Doom and The Lord's Prayer. But Tolkien objected to openly connecting fantasy with The Bible, and strongly objected to C.S. Lewis doing so in his Chronicles of Narnia.

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."

The strongest parallels between The Lord of the Rings and Christianity come from its concept of evil and the temptation of sin, as symbolized by the ring. It appears to grant freedom, letting the wearer do as he pleases, but ultimately turns you into the servant of the fallen angel. As in the Bible, Sauron was once a good and wise wizard (something like an angel), before being tempted himself to evil.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fantasy Fiction

    Fantasy is a confusing word because it can mean so many things. Fantasies are about wish fulfillment--it starts with someone thinking, "wouldn't it be great if..." Fantasies can be realistic, adventurous, erotic, vindictive, etc. The fantasy genre as we know it today typically consists of magic, monsters, warriors, and fictional worlds.

    There are many precursors in the fantasy genre, such as epic poetry from Greece and Rome, Beowulf, The Legend of King Arthur, Arabian Nights, and various medieval romances.

    What separates the modern genre from these older works is that we know exactly who wrote them, and we know they're merely fiction. Older stories mixed historical fact with fiction, claiming the stories were true.

    This fantasy genre became popular in the 20th century, thanks to writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, and also thanks to new magazines like Weird Tales.

    Other famous fantasy works include:

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a series of books including The Black Cauldron.

The Island of the Mighty by Evangeline Walton.

The Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks, the first to reach no. 1 on the New York Time's Bestseller's List.

The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

    Fantasy writers often build fictional worlds, complete with continents, oceans, nations, and fantastic monsters and creatures. The first writer to engage in world building was William Morris, with The Wood Beyond the World, in 1894.

    Language is also important in fantasy stories. Characters often use archaic dialects to give the story a sense of time and place, different from our own.

    There are several ways to categorize fantasy fiction. Prof. Farah Mendlesohn sees four main types:

1. portal quests - characters find a doorway into a new, fantastic world, like in Narnia.

2. intrusive - fantastic characters find a doorway into the "real" world, for example Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Dracula, and Harry Potter.

3. liminal - the magical elements are suggested, but out of sight, creating a sense of mystery.

4. immersive - from start to finish, the story takes place in a fictional, fantasy world, like The Lord of the Rings.

    You can also list sub-genres of fantasy, like high & low, dark, hard, epic etc. You can even consider horror and lost world stories to be works of fantasy. There's a lot of overlap.

High fantasy is set in an alternative world.
Low fantasy is set in the "real" world.
Dark fantasy combines fantasy and horror, like The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice.
Hard or Epic fantasy, like hard sci-fi combines magic and myth with rigorous logic to make it more believable. Examples include LoTR and Game of Thrones.

Common Creatures:


Elves: Come from medieval pagan folklore. Known as 'ælf' in Old English, earliest references come from Christian texts that described elves as either demonic or pagan, meaning unchristian. Elves were immortal, human-like, and dangerous. Elves could reward or punish people, and sometimes seduce them.


Fairies: Fairies have many different names in traditional folklore: fair folk, good folk, wee folk, and people of peace. They were synonymous with elves, and some looked just like real people, while some were short, old, and trollish. Today they're thought of as tiny people with wings––this came about in Victorian times.


Orcs: Orcus was the Etruscan name for Pluto, god of the underworld, who ate people. The term was also mentioned in Beowulf as an evil spirit, at war with God. When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they were also called orcs. The modern conception of orcs was established by Tolkein, as a race of violent humanoids, who were once elves, but corrupted by dark magic long ago, and who typically only come out at night.


Goblins: Originally spelled gobelin, these creatures were described as demons and devils in medieval folklore. Tolkein used 'goblin' and 'orc' interchangeably for the same creatures in his series.


Ogres: The origin of this word is unclear. Some say it also comes from Orcus, god of the underworld. Others say Og, the last of the giants, in the Bible. Another theory is it stems from the word Hongrois, meaning Hungarian - apparently the French didn't always like Hungarians. Or it could come from the Greek river god Oiagros, who was father of Orpheus. The first writer to use the word 'ogre' was Charles Perrault in 1696.


Trolls: Coming from Scandinavian folklore, trolls vary a great deal from story to story. In some, they're hideous, monstrous, and evil. In other stories they look and act just like regular people.


Bugbears: Originally an evil bear or bear-like spirit that stalked children in medieval folklore. Bug originally meant 'frightening' similar to bogey, as in the Bogeyman, a monster who hides in children's closets and under beds.

J.R.R. Tolkien - Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

    Tolkien was an English writer, poet, and professor in Oxford, and is considered the father of fantasy.

    He's most famous for his books set in Middle Earth - The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Lost Tales, which have been copied endlessly in other stories and games.

    He was good friends with C.S. Lewis, and the two formed a group of writers called The Inklings.

    One of Tolkien's many students was the poet W.H. Auden. When Tolkien recited the first lines of Beowulf for his students, Auden remembered it as, "the voice of Gandalf."

    In WWII, Tolkien was recruited to break German codes, and was eager to help, but was then rejected. No one knows why. Possibly his German name?

    In 1972 Queen Elizabeth II appointed Tolkien the commander of The Order of the British Empire, a chivalric order--people were appointed to these orders as a way of showing respect and appreciation, it's an honour.

    Also in 1972, Oxford University gave him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.

    In 1999 Amazon.com polled readers who chose The Lord of the Rings as the best book of the millenium.

    In 2003, the BBC conducted a survey, finding The Lord of the Rings to be the UK's best loved novels. Australians voted the same in 2004.

    In 2008, The Times ranked him 6th on the list of 50 greatest writers since 1945.

Personal Life:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, called Ronald, was born in South Africa to English parents. His father worked for the British Bank there. He had a brother named Hilary Arthur Reuel. As a child he was once bitten by a large baboon spider, which may have influenced some of his writing. When he was three, his mother took him and Hilary to visit England, and while he was there, his father died of a fever.

Without money, his mother, Mabel, moved in with her parents' in Birmingham. Young Tolkien explored the lands and villages around Birmingham, which would inspire his writing, including his aunt's farm, Bag End. Mabel taught her two children to read, as well as botany, foreign languages, and drawing. In 1900 Mabel converted to Catholicism, angering her family who refused to give any more assistance. Four years later, she died of diabetes, age 34 (this was twenty years before insulin was developed). Young Tolkien was only twelve.

Mabel gave guardianship of her children to Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a good priest who Tolkien later said taught him forgiveness and charity. While a teen, his cousins sparked his interest in constructed language - the art of inventing new languages. In 1911 He took a hiking trip in Switzerland, inspiring his Misty Mountains in The Hobbit.

Tolkien went to school at King Edward's in Birmingham, and joined the Officer's Training Corps, becoming a cadet, and even standing at attention outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. He then studied English lit at Exeter College, Oxford, graduating with honours.

During this time, young Ronald fell in love with a girl named Edith, the love of his life, who was three years older. The girl was a protestant, and Ronald began neglecting his studies, so Fr. Francis was irrate, forbidding the boy to ever see her again, or he'd pull Tolkien out of school. Tolkien agreed to stop seeing her, but the second he finished school, he rushed back to her, convinced her to break off an engagement to another man (and friend of Tolkien) and marry him. He even convinced her to convert to Catholocism. They married in 1916, with no job and little money, and Tolkien went off to WWI three months later (at the insistance of his family). He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."

Tolkien fought in France as an officer, in the Battle of the Somme, a job he hated. "The most improper job of any man... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." He sent letters to her regularly, and they developed a secret code of dots so she could know where he was. Tolkien was eventually sent home sick, from "trench fever" a disease carried by lice. The rest of his unit were soon wiped out.

In 1917, while recovering, Tolkien began writing the first of his stories in Middle Earth, The Book of Lost Tales. It took a long time to recover, but in a year or so Tolkien got his first job, working for The Oxford English Dictionary. He then became a professor and translated some of medieval poems into modern English, as well as Beowulf.

Meanwhile, Tolkien was a devoted father. He and Edith had four children, and Tolkien wrote Christmas stories for them, in which Santa Claus had to battle goblins, riding on giant bats.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1936, and was asked for a sequel. The Lord of the Rings series from 1938-48, all through WWII. As the books grew in success, Tolkien was able to retire, and he and his wife moved to Bournemouth, a seaside resort. They lived to their early eighties. When Edith died, Ronald returned to Oxford where he stayed in a little flat, near his family, until his death.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jane Austen - Biography

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

v     Jane Austen was a novelist of the English romantic movement, and is one of the most popular writers in English literature today.

v     Despite being labelled a romantic, her stories are praised for their realism, as well as for their sharp irony, and social commentary.

v     Jane Austen wrote about the landed gentry in England, a wealthy class of people who didn't have to work, merely collecting rent from farmers and others.

v     She wrote six novels in her life time and started a seventh before she died. Her most famous works are Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

v     While her books were popular in her lifetime, they were published anonymously, so she wasn't famous. She only began to become famous in 1869 when her nephew wrote a memoir about her, and her popularity has grown ever since.

Personal Life:

Little is known about Jane Austen. She wrote extensively to her family, but they burned most of her letters, to keep her private life private. Her parents were of the landed gentry class. Her father was the rector (director) for several parishes (farnosť, kongregácia) of the English church. He also farmed and tutored children privately in his home. She had six brothers and one sister, Cassandra, her closest friend throughout her life. Neither sister ever married, which is a little strange because marriage was such an important part of her stories. It was how a woman could secure her future and finances.

Jane and Cassandra attended boarding school for a short time, but had to leave when their parents could no longer afford it. Then they studied at home, reading in the family library. Their father encouraged them in writing and drawing (Cassandra's specialty), and the family often put together small plays for their friends. Jane put together three notebooks of her childhood poems and stories, titled Juvenilia, illustrated by her sister. It included a humorous history of England.

As Jane grew up, she continued living at home, writing, playing the piano, sewing clothes, socializing, dancing, and attending church. When she was twenty, she met a nice young man at a party, but his parents didn't approve and kept him from ever seeing her again. At 27, Jane was proposed to, by a younger, wealthy man. At first she accepted, knowing it would help her family. But, the next morning, she realized she couldn't go through with it, as he was very unattractive, in every possible way. Meanwhile, her father tried to get her stories published, without success.

Three years later Jane's father died. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother had little money and no where to live. In 1809, The three were finally given a cottage by their brother Edward, in Chawton village. This is when Jane finally got a publisher to agree to sell her novels.

Jane died young from a mysterious illness. No one knows what it was, and there are many theories. She left two novels unfinished, and another two were published posthumously, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

White Fang - Notes

v     This is the story of how a wolf-dog in Canada learns to be domesticated, from the wolf's point of view, showing how he views the world and people. The story explores ideas about survival and ethics, and the struggle between the two.

v     The story is considered realistic because the animal characters are not personified, the way you normally see in a Disney film, for example. They don't talk, there's no dialogue. They simply view the world and react to it the way a real animal does.

v     The story is also a kind of autobiographical allegory, with White Fang representing the author Jack London, and how he also tamed himself, from a poor, and dangerous tramp into a wealthy, landowning writer.

v     White Fang has been made into a film many times, most recently in 1991.

v     Critics, including President Theodore Roosevelt called Jack London a "nature faker" for this story and Call of the Wild, saying they present certain situations in the animal kingdom that could never happen in real life.


White Fang - a wolf-dog and the main character of the book.

Kiche - White Fang's mother.

One Eye - White Fang's father.

Lip-lip - another pup who lives with the Indians. He bullies White Fang like crazy, until White Fang eventually kills him.

Grey Beaver - White Fang's first master. He's a bad master, but White Fang is loyal to him anyway.

Beauty Smith - White Fang's second master. He's much worse, he trains dogs to fight each other for gambling. He doesn't care that they kill each other.

Weedon Scott - a good man from the south who feels sorry for White Fang. He's the one who manages to tame the beast.

Judge Scott - Weedon's father.

The Plot:

1.      This story starts with a wolf pack stalking two men in the woods and their dog sled team. The wolves kill all but one man before he's rescued. The pack then kills a moose and splits up.

2.      One pair of wolves goes off and has a litter of pups. All but one die of starvation. The father, One Eye, is killed by a lynx. the she-wolf then kills this lynx and its kittens.

3.      The she-wolf and pup come across some Indians in the woods. They recognize the mother as Kiche, a wolf-dog that used to be a pet before a famine forced the tribe's dogs to desert them. He takes care of Kiche and names her pup White Fang.

4.      Unfortunately for White Fang, the other Indian dogs don't like him, he's too much a wolf for them. He learns to be a vicious, deadly fighter.

5.      White Fang grows up and is eventually sold to a dog fighter, for several bottles of whiskey. White Fang kills several dogs, wolves, and even a lynx before meeting his match with a nasty bull dog. At the last minute, one man stops the fight to buy him, feeling sorry for this champion.

6.      The man is Weedon Scott, a rich young gold hunter. He tames White Fang.

7.      When Scott decides to return home to California, he plans to go alone, but White Fang tracks him, and Scott then decides to take the dog with him.
8.   White Fang gets to live on a nice big estate in California, and even saves Scott's father from a murderous criminal. He lives happily ever after with a pretty collie mate, and has lots of puppies.

Jack London Biography

Jack London (1876-1916)

v     Jack London was a writer and journalist, one of the first big names in the new industry of commercial literary magazines.

v     He's most famous for his stories about the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska, with the novels White Fang, and Call of the Wild, and the short story "To Build a Fire".

v     As a journalist he witnessed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, where he was frequently arrested by the Japanese, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

v     He was also an ardent socialist, writing the exposé The People of the Abyss, The War of the Classes, and the dystopian novel, The Iron Heel.

v     Jack London was controversial, not only for his political views, but also for being an atheist, and accusations of plagiarism. Jack often used news stories as inspiration for his writing.

v     The bar in San Francisco where young Jack often went to study, is now called Jack London's Rendezvous in his honor.

Personal Life:

John Griffith London was born in San Francisco, and much of his life was shaped by the difficulties he faced as a child. His mother, Flora Wellman, was a music teacher and spiritualist, who claimed to be able to channel spirits of the dead. Jack never knew who his father was, partly because of an earthquake that destroyed thousands of documents in San Francisco in 1906 (including his birth certificate), but mostly because his mother was... a bit strange.

At the time of his birth, his mother was married to an astrologer named William Chaney. They split immediately following her conception (počatie), and Jack didn't learn the details of this divorce until he went to university, and searched through newspaper stories in the library. Jack discovered that he was the reason for the breakup. According to the newspapers, Chaney had demanded that Flora have an abortion, and she refused. When he left her, she shot herself, but miraculously both she and the unborn Jack survived.

When Jack was born he was given over to the care of an ex-slave, named Virginia Prentiss, until later that year when Flora remarried to a disabled Civil War veteran named John London. The family settled in Oakland, CA, where Jack went to school. He dropped out at age thirteen to...

1. Work in a cannery, over twelve hours a day.
2. Buy a boat to be an "oyster pirate".
3. Sail to Japan and back.
4. Work in a jute mill (a factory that makes burlap cloth (vrecovina)).
5. Live as a tramp (parník? tulák?), being arrested in New York for "vagrancy" (túlanie).

Finally, Jack returned to high school and graduated. He got a small loan, and attended the University of California, Berkeley... where he went to the school library.

Discovering his family history, Jack decided to write to his "biological" father, asking for money to finish university. Chaney wrote back that he couldn't possibly be Jack's father because he had been impotent (neplodný) at the time, and besides, his mother had been sleeping around with many other men - anyone could be his father. He also said that he had never talked about abortion, that Flora was a liar and deranged, and that he didn't want anything to do with either of them.

Devastated (zničený), Jack had to quit school. Jack's sister had married a ship captain, so Jack sailed north with him to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush. Jack never got rich from gold, instead becoming very sick and losing his four front teeth.

Jack came back to California in 1898, determined to be a writer. He had a difficult start, but soon started earning good money, selling short stories to literary magazines, which had just begun in America and became immensely popular. Jack also married a childhood friend, Bessie Maddern, and had two children, although the marriage quickly fell apart. Jack was used to going out at night and returning the next day, which Bessie, obviously didn't like. They divorced in 1904, and Jack remarried a year later to Charmian Kittredge, the love of his life. This second marriage lasted to the end of his life.
Despite Jack's success as a writer and the money it brought him, he still suffered from bad luck. He bought a ranch, which was a financial failure. He built a huge mansion that burned down two weeks before it was to be finished. And he died young from kidney failure, related to a string of illnesses he suffered in the Klondike and various tropical locales, plus alcoholism. There is some debate whether or not Jack killed himself with morphine at the end of his life to stop the pain. No one knows.

American Realism, Naturalism, and Regionalism

Realism in America was a response to Romanticism, favoring a more realistic and cynical view of the world. Politically, realism came at a time between the Civil War and WWI, when America expanded to California, became an industrial superpower, and accepted a new flood of immigrants that changed its demographics. It was a time of change and upheaval. Realist authors kept many of the same goals as Romantics, exposing injustices such as poverty and abuse. It's important to note that Romantic writers such as Irving and Dickens continued to become more and more popular during this time. The main difference was in the realist approach to forming a story. Realist fiction, like in Victorian England, was set in modern day America, not in the distant past, and, rather than rely on intuition and emotion, realists preferred to tell their story in a journalistic, factual manner, idealizing nothing. Their characters weren't always heroic, even when they did good things. Realists saw idealization as immoral and false - the greatest failing of the romantic movement. They also removed any spiritual and supernatural elements from their stories - no more ghosts or magic.

Naturalists, like Stephen Crane and Jack London, felt that free will was an illusion. In reality, we're all controlled by the world we live in, by nature, society, and heredity. Nature has the biggest influence, dictating illnesses, our biological instincts and emotions, and even the weather when traveling across seas and wilderness. The most we can hope for is to survive as long as possible. Naturalist writers often wrote of the darker side of society, for example, Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, which talked of the brutal lives of immigrant workers in Chicago meat packaging factories. It led to the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. And Stephen Crane wrote about life in slums, about crime, homelessness, and prostitution.
Regionalism was a movement led by the curiosity of readers to know what was happening in different parts of America, and to learn what different places looked like, how people acted, their manners, and what regional dialect they used. Writers focused on places like Maine, Massachusetts, Georgia, Louisiana, Indiana, and California. Regionalist authors focused on slang and accents, changing the spelling of many words in dialogue.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Science Fiction

q       Everyone knows what science fiction looks like, but it's hard to define as a category. Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein wrote, "A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method."

q       Some people see Sci-Fi as a kind of fantasy genre, but there is a difference. Sci-fi tries to explain everything according to laws of physics, and usually focuses on some strange new phenomenon in the natural world, even if in an alternate reality - with different physical laws than our own.

q       Fantasy stories, on the other hand, may simply focus on adventure, or may include magic. When a sci-fi story fails to raise any scientific questions, for example Star Wars, some people dismiss it, saying it's not Sci-Fi, it's science fantasy.

q       Sci-Fi stories typically deal with the future. They may take place in space, or on alien planets. The level of technology is usually higher than our own. They often include aliens and robots.

q       Some common examples of Sci-Fi technology include: mind control, telepathy, time travel, teleportation, faster-than-light travel, and travel through worm-holes, which are holes in space time that allow people to jump from one side of the universe to another, or even to alternate universes and dimensions.

q       Sci-Fi stories often focus on alternate forms of government, related to technology and personal freedoms, and the possibility of social collapse.

q       Sub-genres of Sci-Fi include:

- Hard Sci-Fi (related to hard science, such as math and physics)
- Soft Sci-Fi (related to social sciences like psychology)
- Time Travel
- Alternate History
- Post-Apocalyptic
- Military Sci-Fi
- Space Westerns
- Kaiju (humans fighting giant monsters, like Godzilla. This is Japanese.)
- Steampunk (extending past technology, based on the abilities of Victorian era England)
- Cyperpunk (the combination of man and machine, while rebelling against governments and corporations)

q       Sci-Fi is incredibly popular with many famous books, films, and TV shows. Fans meet at conventions every year, forming clubs, dressing up, even learning alien languages.

q       The most prestigious awards in Sci-Fi are the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award.

History of Science Fiction

q       The first science-fiction story was Somnium, written by Johannes Kepler in 1608. It described a journey to the moon and viewing Earth from there.

q       Other famous examples of early Sci-Fi include Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

q       In the 20th century, Sci-Fi became popular through new magazines, such as Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, and Galaxy. These created an audience for a new generation of writers, like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Heinlein. Even though these magazines no longer exist, the names of these writers are legendary.
q       Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein are called the "Big Three" names in Sci-Fi.

Douglas Adams - Biography

Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

q       Douglas Adams was a writer of sci-fi, humour, and philosophy, which he often combined.

q       He's most famous for his series of five books, a "trilogy in five parts", starting with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG). It started as a radio series for the BBC, and has been turned into a TV series, feature film, and several plays, comics, and computer games.

q       Working in television, Douglas wrote and performed a few skits for Monty Python's Flying Circus.

q       He also wrote three episodes for the TV series, Dr. Who, in 1979. Since then, little jokes of his have been included throughout the Dr. Who series, loosely tying the story together with the HHGG universe.

q       Adams was also an outspoken activist on a number of political issues. He advocated new technology, environmental protection and conservation, and atheism.

q       Douglas Adams has an asteroid named after him, and another named after Arthur Dent, the main character in his HHGG series.

q       Fans of HHGG started Towel Day two weeks after his death, as a tribute to him. On this day, fans carry a towel with them everywhere.

Personal Life:

Adams was born in Cambridge, and his family soon moved to East London. His childhood was difficult because his parents divorced when he was five, and his mother had little money. He was an excellent student, especially at creative writing, and was much taller than his classmates. At thirteen, he had a short story published in The Eagle, a boy's comic. In college, he joined a comedy troupe called the Footlights.

His early career in comedy and television was hard. He had to do a variety of odd jobs, working in hospitals, construction, and even as a bodyguard for a Qatari family of oil sheiks. Adams often suffered from lack of confidence, admitting, "I have terrible periods of lack of confidence [..] I briefly did therapy, but after a while I realised it was like a farmer complaining about the weather. You can't fix the weather – you just have to get on with it".

Success came around 1977 when his HHGG radio series began on BBC. According to Adams, the idea for the title occurred to him while he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, gazing at the stars. He was carrying a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and it occurred to him that "somebody ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Despite the success, Adams had a hard time writing, and had to be forced to finish his books. He was even locked in a hotel room for three weeks to finish his book So Long and Thanks For All The Fish.

Adams married in 1991 to Jane Belson, a barrister, and they had one daughter, Polly. In 1999, they moved to Santa Barbara, California. He died of a heart attack at 49. Soon after the funeral, his family returned to London. A memorial service was held for Adams in Trafalgar Square London, and it was the first church service broadcast live, online by the BBC.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Spoiler Alert!):

This tells the story of Arthur Dent, an incredibly lucky human being on a very unlucky Earth. In the story, Arthur befriends a man by the name of Ford Prefect, who isn't really a man at all, but an alien, and a writer for... The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a kind of guidebook for space tourism. Ford saves Arthur's life in the first chapter, when the Earth is blown up by Vogons - space beauracrats who need to clear the solar system for some kind of galactic highway. Ford and Arthur survive by hiding in the Vogon's space ship, and then go on to have a number of fantastic adventures, travelling to different dimensions and learning that the Earth was actually made as an experiment to discover the meaning of life. It was destroyed before this experiment could be completed, making Arthur an extremely wanted man, with, unfortunately, no answers to give. I'd say more, but you really should read the books, they're fantastic. The film's well acted too.
The importance of towels is explained thusly:
"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)"