Showing 51 - 60 of 82 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science Fiction"

The Nose

Gogol, Nikolai

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov wakes up one morning and discovers that his nose is missing. At the same time in another part of St. Petersburg, Kovalyov's barber finds the nose in his breakfast roll. However, the barber, desiring to disassociate himself from the strange incident, proceeds to toss the nose into the Neva River. A little later, Kovalyov happens to see his nose riding in an elegant carriage and wearing the uniform of a State Councillor (a higher rank than Collegiate Assessor). He demands that the nose give itself up, but is rudely rebuffed.

At first neither the police nor the newspaper offer any help, but later a police officer, who happened to observe the barber throwing an object into the river, returns the lost nose to Kovalyov. However, a new problem arises. How will he re-attach the nose to his face? For this he consults a doctor, who recommends letting nature take its course, "it's best to stay as you are, otherwise you'll only make it worse." Poor nose-less Kovalyov! He becomes the laughing stock of St. Petersburg, until one morning he wakes up and finds his nose re-attached firmly to his face.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Paula Henning (Franka Potente) is a brilliant medical student from Munich, who comes second in the Robert Koch competition winning a place at the prestigious Heidelberg medical school. Medicine is a family tradition, but Paula has little respect for her father's boring suburban practice. Instead, she takes inspiration from her dying grandfather, an academic doctor, who celebrates her decision.

En route to Heidelberg she meets the stunningly beautiful and highly sexed Gretchen (who stood first in the competition) and David, a 22 year-old lad with cardiomyopathy and multiple piercings. Gretchen is interested in partying; Paula is serious, studies all the time, and ignores fellow student Caspar (Sebastian Blumberg) who strives for her attention. When David appears on the dissecting table with no obvious cause of death and "rubbery blood," Paula begins investigating. She determines his death is due to Promidal--a drug developed by The Anti-Hippocratic Society (or "AAA!").

This clandestine group engages in unethical anatomical research on living subjects to "better" the human race. Her classmates scorn her conspiracy theory, but she is drawn deeper into the mystery when Gretchen disappears only to reappear as a perfectly dissected, plasticized cadaver. Paula nearly succumbs to the same fate with her lover, Caspar (who turns out to be an incognito history student writing his thesis on the AAA! ). The ending is happy, although Paula must reckon with the discovery that her venerated grandfather was a member of the "AAA!".

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The Fixed Period

Trollope, Anthony

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the late 20th century, Britannula, an island near New Zealand, has achieved its independence from Great Britain. Settled by a group of young men some 30 years before the action of this novel, Britannula has developed into a prosperous land governed by a President and a single-house legislative body, the Assembly. They have adopted a great social experiment called the "Fixed Period," by which the society and its citizens will avoid the suffering, decrepitude, and expense of old age. At age 67 each person will be "deposited" into a lovely, carefree "college" (Necropolis) where he or she will spend one delightful year before being euthanized.

The story takes place just as the time approaches for Gabriel Crasweller, a wealthy landowner and good friend of President Neverbend, to be deposited. Crasweller is the first citizen to have lived out his Fixed Period, and the President, whose brainchild the Fixed Period is, experiences a conflict between his love for Crasweller--who inexplicably does not want to die--and his determination to carry out the law. Mounting resistance to the Fixed Period among the older citizens (including his wife) also surprises Neverbend, although the Assembly, composed mostly of young people, reaffirms the law. Just as Crasweller is led off to Necropolis, a British gunship arrives in port to relieve Neverbend of his duties as President and re-establish direct control of Britannula.

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Frankenstein

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft

Last Updated: May-07-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the familiar story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with his desire to penetrate the secret of life and create a "perfect" creature. The novel is actually a series of stories within stories. The outermost is the tale of Walton, a young captain who sails toward the North Pole in hopes of discovering a northern passage to the New World; he is obsessed with penetrating the "dangerous mysteries" of the north. His ship comes upon the mortally ill Dr. Frankenstein, adrift on an ice floe. Most of the novel recounts the strange tale Frankenstein tells Walton as he lies dying on the ship.

In the book's center is the monster's own story, as told to Frankenstein. At the moment he gives his creature the spark of life, Frankenstein is overwhelmed with the ugliness and unnaturalness of his creation. He abandons the creature, who then begins to pursue him to seek acceptance, and when that is not forthcoming, to seek revenge, eventually killing all those who Frankenstein loves.

The creature yearns for love and acceptance, but all are horrified by him. At first Frankenstein agrees to create a mate for him -- "I am malicious," the creature explains, "because I am miserable." But at the last minute he reconsiders, horrified at the implications of possibly creating a superhuman race. After the creature kills Frankenstein's friend Clerval and his beloved Elizabeth, the doctor begins to pursue him throughout Europe and eventually to the Arctic, where Walton encounters them. After the creature is satisfied that Frankenstein is dead, he takes his leave forever, "soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance."

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Leap into the world imagined by Kurt Vonnegut, WNYC's reporter on the afterlife, and land with him at the Pearly Gates, or more precisely, "the hundred yards or so of vacant lot between the far end of the blue tunnel and the Pearly Gates" (8). There, Vonnegut, forever the humanist, has his interviewees talk about that which is of ultimate importance--how they lived (or should have lived) their lives.

Vonnegut begins his journeys from the state-of-the-art lethal injection facility in Huntsville, Texas, and reaches his destination though the able assistance of Jack Kevorkian. Who does he meet at the mid-point of his round trip journeys? Dead folks--many famous ones, some not so famous--21 in all (including his fictional creation, Kilgore Trout). Also on the list of interviewees are John Brown, Clarence Darrow, William Shakespeare, Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley, Karla Faye Tucker (actually put to death in the Huntsville facility), and Isaac Asimov.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story takes place in the distant future on a world called New Sparta, shortly after the Irredentist rebellion has been put down. Edward Maret, a wealthy and likeable young man, is about to get married, but doesn't realize until too late that he has enemies close at hand. As a result of their betrayal, Edward disappears into the bowels of the police establishment, only to emerge as a zombie-like cyborg (AX-17). After surviving several years as a cyborg-soldier who has no memory of his human life, AX-17 is captured by the alien Kliya, who initiate a process that leads the cyborg to regain his human identity.

Edward Maret re-emerges--a man betrayed, a man who suffers incalculable pain, a man who has lost everything, including the love of his life. The brutalized man journeys across the galaxy to the Confederation, where physical existence has become a burden to humans, who spend most of their "real" lives in a virtual world of wish fulfillment.

Eventually, he returns to New Sparta with a new identity and a plan to obtain his revenge. Piece by piece the elaborate plan falls into place. Yet at the climax, Edward is forced to look deeply into his character and motivation, while coming to terms with his past.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife (Rene Russo) are both working for a federal infectious disease laboratory, but their marriage is on the rocks. A mysterious lethal illness, remarkably like Ebola fever, breaks out at various sites in America, all eventually connected to a pet shop that received a monkey from an illegal smuggling operation. Most cases are immediately isolated and contained, but a town in California develops an epidemic of the new disease.

The lab is called in and the military enforces a strict quarantine that divides families and prevents anyone from leaving the area. One worker dies quickly and Sam's wife falls ill. The crass General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) is convinced that the nation can be saved only by the annihilation of the town by a gigantic bomb.

A plane sets out on the gruesome mission. Meanwhile, Hoffman leaps from a helicopter onto the cargo ship where the sailor-smuggler has just died leaving a photo of the monkey carrier. Sam makes a televised appeal for help locating the cute but dangerous, little monkey; a terrified mother responds and the creature is snatched from the arms of her child.

With military snipers in hot pursuit, Sam returns to the town, radioing the baffled bomber pilots with a barrage of reasons why they should ditch their mission of destruction. He puts the tiny monkey to work producing anti-sera and vaccines, which--in only a matter of minutes!--rescue the town, his wife, and his marriage. The pilots disobey orders and dump their bomb in the sea.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in a planned series of seven (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Unlike previous books, this one opens with the murder of a Muggle, Frank Bryce, the elderly gardener for the Riddle estate--a home where Tom Riddle Sr. and his elderly parents had been found dead many years before. Voldemort, although still weak and requiring much assistance from his simpering servant Wormtail and his snake Nagini, is positioning himself for a return to full power.

Harry's distinctive scar is burning with pain as he awakes from a dream of the previous scene. This scar had hurt once before, in book one, when Voldemort was on Hogwarts property. Harry alerts his godfather via owl post and joins the Dursleys for breakfast. Breakfast is meager because Dudley, always obese and obnoxious, has now grown to outrageous proportions and is on the diet ordered by his school nurse. His mother, to make him feel better, puts everyone on the same diet. Harry is once again saved from the Dursleys by the Weasley family, although Dudley and his appetite are the objects of a prank by the Weasley twins.

Arthur Weasley (the father) who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office has secured top notch tickets for all to attend the World Quidditch Cup. This fantastic event is marred by the appearance of signs of support for Voldemort by his followers, the Death Eaters, and Arthur hurries home with his charges in tow via Portkey transit.

Harry, now fourteen, enters Hogwarts for his fourth year. This year is different for all of the students due to the resurrection of the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous international competition for a selected champion from each of three schools, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Hogwarts. Although underage, Harry is selected by the Goblet as an extra competitor from Hogwarts. Everyone is concerned for the competitors' safety (the famous Viktor Krum, the enticing Fleur Delacour, and the decent Cedric Diggory). In particular, Harry's life is in danger from suspected foul play.

Adolescent love, the nastiness of poison-pen reporter Rita Skeeter, the ever-vigilant nature of Mad-Eye Moody (an Auror who caught Death Eaters in the past and who now teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), spells that cause loss of control, excruciating pain or death, enslavement of house-elves, money, and variable degrees of professionalism by members of the Ministry of Magic, such as Cornelius Fudge, Bartemius Crouch, officious Percy Weasley, and Ludo Bagman are some of the themes and subplots in the novel. The traumatic end to the competition and follow-up lead Harry to witness and participate in some horrific events. Dumbledore, however, refuses to allow Harry to bottle-up the experience--Dumbledore understands that talk, openness, support, and rest are the first steps towards healing.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first in a planned series of seven books. Harry's wizard and witch parents, James and Lily, have just been killed by Voldemort, an evil wizard who was thwarted and severely weakened when he tried to kill one-year-old Harry. The murder attempt leaves Harry with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry is whisked off to live with his Muggle (non-magical) suburban middle-class aunt and uncle (Petunia and Vernon Dursley) and their bullying overweight son, Dudley.

Fast-forward nearly ten years and chapter two begins when Harry is almost eleven and suffering a Dickensian childhood, forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive, the home of the Dursleys. Harry has not been told of his heritage, and is unaware of his own fame in the wizard world. He is punished when any hint of the out-of-ordinary appears, such as when he communicates with a snake at the zoo.

The narrative then follows our bespectacled young protagonist as Hagrid, the huge groundskeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, informs Harry that he is invited to attend the school, takes him shopping for the necessary school equipment such as cauldron and wand, and offers the first sign of affection that Harry can remember. Uncle Vernon rants and tries to prevent Harry from attending the school.

But when Vernon ridicules the name of Albus Dumbledore, the wise and beloved headmaster of Hogwarts, Hagrid hexes Dudley who sprouts a pig's tail, necessitating a visit to a private hospital. The train for Hogwarts leaves from London's King's Cross station, where Harry befriends the wizard Weasley family, who show him how to enter the magical Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

Hogwarts has four houses, and the new first year students are placed into the appropriate house (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and the sinister Slytherin) by a Sorting hat. Harry's life takes a definite upturn as he finds he is a natural broomstick flyer and is chosen for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. This high flying game with three kinds of balls and seven players per team does lead to injuries. Madam Pomfrey is the school nurse and runs the hospital wing. She cures with special spells and the magic of rest.

The year at Hogwarts is filled with adventure, friendship, and danger. There are characters who seem to detest Harry, such as Potions teacher Severus Snape and a Slytherin first year, Draco Malfoy, mysterious characters such as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Quirrell, as well as a colorful assortment of ghosts and magical creatures. Harry and his Gryffindor friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger enter a quest: to prevent the sorcerer's stone from falling into the hands of Voldemort and his allies. The stone offers eternal life and hence would be key to Voldemort's plans to return to power.

During part of the adventure, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised, and mourns the loss of his parents anew as he sees them in the reflection. As the astute headmaster Dumbledore teaches Harry, however, love is more powerful than evil and death may not be the worst outcome: "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." (p. 297)

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second in a planned series of seven books (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry's summer with the Dursley family is initially more pleasant because the Dursleys are afraid of Harry's wizard powers and do not realize that he is forbidden to use magic outside of school. However, after a magic spell is performed by a visiting, self-flagellating house-elf, Dobby, Uncle Vernon is informed of this school rule and imprisons Harry in his bedroom.

With this maneuver and others, Dobby tries to not only warn Harry that his life is in danger but also prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts. Barred and sealed in his room, Harry is forced to live off meager portions of soup, which he shares with his owl, Hedwig, until he is rescued by several of the Weasley boys.

Though Harry (now age 12) and Ron miss the train to Hogwarts, they manage to arrive, meet the Whomping Willow (a violent magical tree that beats anything near it), and are nearly expelled by the strict but kind-hearted Transfiguration Professor Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House. Many of the students, teachers, assorted creatures and magical items (e.g., the invisibility cloak) return in this book, and again a dangerous adventure features Harry, Ron, and their brainy friend, Hermione.

Ron's younger sister, Ginny, is now an impressionable Gryffindor first year student. The adventure leads Harry to the past, a young but evil Voldemort, and more encounters with snakes, Snape, spiders, the Malfoys, and Moaning Myrtle, the ghost of the girls' bathroom.

Illness, particularly an altered, petrified state, plays a prominent role in this book, requiring the healing powers of Madame Pomfrey and the maturing of mandrakes nurtured by Herbology Professor Sprout. Famed author and narcissist Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, muffs the healing of Harry's broken arm, a Quidditch injury, and Harry must go to Madame Pomfrey in the hospital wing for the proper, though painful treatment. Madame Pomfrey is also helpful with a Polyjuice potion gone awry--the potion is supposed to transform the drinker into another person for an hour.

Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, whose flaming death and rebirth is witnessed by Harry, helps in numerous ways, including the healing powers of its tears. But perhaps, as in the first book, Dumbledore's concern and wisdom are most soothing for Harry. Harry, worried about his strange capabilities that link him with Voldemort, such as their shared ability to talk with snakes (Parseltongue), and that the Sorting hat considered placing Harry in Slytherin House and only put him in Gryffindor due to Harry's request, is reassured by Dumbledore that Gryffindor was the right choice: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (p 333)

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