Showing 61 - 70 of 84 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science Fiction"

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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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third of a planned series of seven books (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry, forced to suffer another summer with the Dursleys, has just turned thirteen. When Uncle Vernon's sister arrives and proceeds to abuse Harry, he rebels, runs away with his heavy school trunk and is picked up by the Knight Bus, a wizard transportation vehicle. Meanwhile, the nine-member Weasley family, usually short of money, have won a wizard lottery and are using the money to visit the eldest son, Bill, in Egypt.

Sirius Black, whose motorcycle was featured in the first chapter of the first book, has escaped Azkaban and the prison guards known as Dementors. Sirius was imprisoned just after the death of Harry's parents when he was caught at the scene of another horrendous crime. Special precautions for Harry's safety are arranged by Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge. When Harry meets a Dementor on the train to Hogwarts, he blacks out as he feels a rush of coldness, a complete lack of happiness or future, and relives his worst memories. Remus Lupin, the mysterious, gentle and periodically ill Defense of the Dark Arts Professor, provides the antidote: chocolate.

Thus begins Harry's third year at Hogwarts. Hermione signs up for an especially busy, seemingly impossible, schedule of classes. Ron's old pet rat, Scabbers, takes a turn for the worse, despite Ron's attention and care. The invisibility cloak again proves useful, as does a magical map. Hagrid, cleared of the cloud that had been hanging over him since his school days, is promoted to teacher: Care of Magical Creatures. However, an injury to Draco Malfoy by Buckbeak the hippogriff (a flying bird-horse) during the first class leads to another investigation.

Bizarre characters, such as the doom-predicting Divination teacher, Sibyll Trelawney, exciting Quidditch matches with a new broomstick for Harry, more run-ins with Snape, and a peek at Hogsmeade, an all magic village, round out the story. Ron, Hermione, and Harry's dangerous adventure leads to the exposure of Sirius Black, the truth of his connection to Harry's parents, and new discoveries for Harry about his father. Our heroes also discover who is the servant to Voldemort, the Dark Lord.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 371 E. C. (Efican Calendar) a woman named Felicity Smith gives birth to Tristan, a child with such severe congenital defects that the doctors advise her to let him die. Felicity is an actress and the head of a theater troupe in Chemin Rouge, the capital of a small fictional country called Efica. Instead of getting rid of her son, Felicity takes him to live in the tower of her theater.

The boy actually has three fathers (Bill, Wally, and Vincent), each of whom in his own way accepts responsibility for the horribly deformed child. The boy grows up with the ambition to become an actor, even though he is only three and a half feet tall, his speech is almost unintelligible, and he inspires revulsion in almost everyone that he meets for the first time. Nonetheless, he thrives in the close-knit theatrical community.

When Tristan is eleven, agents from Voorstand murder his mother, who has entered politics and become a "persona non grata" in Voorstand. Tristan also fears for his life, but nonetheless avenges his mother's death by writing subversive pamphlets. Many years later, at the ripe old age of 23, Tristan and Wally (one of his fathers) travel illegally to Voorstand where they encounter many adventures before the novel comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

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The Little Black Bag

Kornbluth, Cyril

Last Updated: Dec-21-1999
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A medical instrument kit from the year 2450 is transported back in time and falls into the possession of old Dr. Full, a retired physician and drunkard who had been expelled from the medical association for milking patients. The futuristic instruments are awe-inspiring and virtually operate themselves. The discovery of the black bag restores Dr. Full's self-worth and dedication to healing.

A street-wise woman, Angie, realizes the value of the medical instruments and their origin. She forces Dr. Full to accept her as a partner. The two of them soon establish a successful medical practice. When Dr. Full decides to donate the instrument kit to the College of Surgeons, Angie murders him.

While demonstrating the safety of the medical bag to a patient, Angie plunges the futuristic surgical scalpel into her own neck, confident it will do no harm. Meanwhile, authorities in the future learn that the medical bag is missing and deactivate it just prior to Angie's demonstration. She slits her own throat. By the time the police arrive, the contents of the black bag had already rusted and are decomposing.

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Vanishing Lung Syndrome

Holub, Miroslav

Last Updated: Oct-27-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Once in a while someone fights for breath. The crowd around him continues with its business, not realizing that inside the man there might be something drastic going on. There might be a sea monster growing, or a raven named Nevermore, or "a huge muteness of fairy tales," or "the wood-block baby that gobbles up everything." Medical tests show that the lung is vanishing and becoming "an abandoned room" in a queer world where "only surgeons / write poems." [34 lines]

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

To escape accusations of plagiarism, Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst Hugo Jaregard) has come to work at The Kingdom, a large Copenhagen hospital. He is a surgical butcher with lamentable bedside manners and utter contempt for Denmark, but he resembles his colleagues in his medical positivism and abhorrence of spiritualism. His inadequacies are easily perceived by the hospital staff and resident Dr. Hook (Soren Pilmark), but his fellow consultants celebrate his arrival and make him a member of their lodge.

The malingering spiritualist Mrs. Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), admitted for a variety of fictitious ailments, discovers The Kingdom is haunted by a little girl murdered there a century ago by her scientist stepfather. Drusse engages the help of her son, who is an orderly, to trace the child's secret.

Tangents to the main plot involve a pathologist, who is so obsessed with obtaining research tissue that he has a cancerous liver transplanted into himself, and the psychopathic medical student son of the hospital director, whose sick sense of humor leads him to mutilate corpses in the hospital morgue. The ending is pure horror.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.

The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"

Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.

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Flowers for Algernon

Keyes, Daniel

Last Updated: Jan-12-1999
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Charlie Gordon is a young man with an IQ of 68 who has a job at a box factory and attends night classes in an effort to improve himself. A (very fictional) experimental brain operation becomes available that promises to triple intelligence (it has already done so for a mouse named Algernon), and Charlie excitedly decides that he wants to give it a try. The story consists solely of Charlie's diary entries from the time he hears about the operation through the operation and his dramatic increase, and subsequent decrease, of IQ.

Charlie's increased intelligence opens up to him the understanding of everyday things that had been beyond his grasp, and at his peak he soars to the level of genius, ironically identifying the flaw in the scientific work of the two scientists who developed the operation he has undergone, and thus destroying their careers as their shallow research destroys the life that had been his.

Among the everyday things Charlie understands for the first time is the fact that two of his male co-workers have regularly taken advantage of his retarded state to make fun of him, sometimes roughly. Charlie also becomes self-conscious more generally, which makes it impossible for him to stay in the place where he has been so degraded, even after his formerly misbehaving pals become sympathetic.

At the end of the story he has fallen back to his original level of intelligence--and may continue to decline, if we take the suggestion from the fate of his fellow subject, Algernon, who rises, falls, and then dies. Charlie has only a dim memory of having done something important. His self-esteem is strong, however, and he decides to leave his familiar world and find a place where people won't know about his embarrassment.

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The Children of Men

James, P. D.

Last Updated: Jan-11-1999
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

It is the year 2021. The last birth recorded on earth occurred in 1995 (Year Omega). In England, Xan Lyppiatt is Warden; he promises security, comfort, and pleasure to his people. Xan's cousin, Theo Faron, Ph.D., retired professor of history at Merton College, Oxford, becomes involved with 5 people who oppose Xan's worst policies: the Quietus ("voluntary" mass suicides of the elderly), the sending of all criminals to the Man Penal Colony where there is no one to control cruelty, the rules forbidding Brits from traveling abroad and allowing only Sojourners (slave/workers) to emigrate, the compulsory testing of sperm and routine examinations of healthy women, and state-run porn shops. Theo and the 5, one of whom is pregnant, flee to avoid capture by Xan's men.

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