Watch City Readers, August, 2021

What do submarines, galaxies, rogue scientists, dinosaurs, and time travel have in common? They can all appear in science fiction!

For August's Watch City Readers, we investigated five very different science fiction books and compared and contrasted them. Some leaned more towards fantasy, another more towards horror.  

Watch City Readers is a literacy program geared to tweens, teens, and families. Produced by Jessica Lucci through a grant from the Waltham Cultural Council and the Mass Cultural Council, its goal is to introduce the vibrancy of various literary genres in an exciting and inclusive way. The Watch City Readers production is held on the second Sundays of the month at 6PM on Jessica Lucci's FB page. After the live event, it is archived for future viewers or those who choose to watch again.

We began with the classic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," by Jules Verne. 

Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" is the epic tale credited with birthing the steampunk genre of science fiction. The first line sets the tone: "The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten."When Dr. Aronnax, a naturalist scientist, encounters a mysterious sea beast, he is dedicated to capturing it. He is obsessed with solving the mystery of its impenetrable flesh, its ability to outrace the hunters, and the uncanny way it can submerge quickly into deeper waters, disappearing without a trace.Tragically, Aronnax's ship sinks. Arronnax and a few shipmates are the only ones to survive. As they fight for their lives in shark infested waters, they are miraculously rescued by Captain Nemo and his monstrous submarine, the Nautilus. Aronnax is shocked at the discovery that the whale-like sea monster he had been seeking is a giant submarine.The adventures which the strange crew experience together are more fantastical than action packed. Travelling around the world via sea provides stunning research opportunities for Aronnax. The creatures and geological wonders that Nemo points out delights the naturalist.Breathtaking sights and joyful discoveries trail off as Aronnax uncovers Nemo's true mission for this voyage, and the vengeful plot that he lives for.

Next we read from the local sci-fi poet, Peter Payack, and his latest collection of poems, "The Migration of Darkness."

"The Migration of Darkness: New and Selected Science Fiction Poems, 1975-2020" by Peter Payack is officially my favourite poetry book of all time. It is a one of a kind collection of out of this world poetry. One need not be a poetry devotee to appreciate the hilarity and mind-bending stories within each narrative.

The title poem, "The Migration of Darkness," is about just that: roving specks of night traipsing and traveling together. It begins: 

"Each evening, shortly after sunset,
darkness covers the land.
Having mystified thinkers for millennia,
the mechanism for this occurrence
has now been identified as migration."

Science fiction themes range from matter to anti-matter, galaxies, quasars, and dust, the concepts of time and timelessness, and worlds beyond the obvious. Through Payack's words, the reader witnesses then Big Bang while dusting around the house. Next time, he quips, he'll use a vacuum.

Most of the poems twist like plot lines in a novel. Others read simply and stunningly/ Each on earners a reaction. Some are intrinsically beautiful.

"Surfing at Night"

"I had a dream,
in which I'm floating
in the ocean
on a bed of blue-green algae.

There was algae as far as I could see,
and I heard a voice say,

"The difference 
between living and dying,
being and non-being,
is just where you catch the wave."

I covered my head
with my blanket
and rode the wave back to sleep."

Humour strikes the funny bone throughout. In "The Fabric of Space," the poet discovers that the tears in an old nightshirt are stars forming constellations, which are eventually sucked into a black hole until the garment disappears completely. The poem ends:
"I'm a little hesitant
about picking out another shirt."

In "Now the Bon Vivant," Genghis Kahn bewails the pleasures of modern society as he retakes his previous territory.
"The only drawback now
is that Genghis has to shell out
for the departure tax
at each European airport. 
"Things weren't like that,"
he confided to me, rather demonically,
"when I ruled the world."

"The Migration of Darkness" is not an ordinary collection of poetry. It is a whirlwind of must-read individual works. I wildly recommend this book to EVERYONE.

"Addiction and Pestilence," by local author Edmund Kelly, was fun because of the references to Waltham and Boston.

Like "The Walking Dead" with deep undertones of sinister beings, unlikely friendships, and page racing action, Edmund Kelly's "Addiction & Pestilence" fulfills its promise of taking the reader on a journey through hell.If you like post-apocalyptic worlds, are intrigued by inter-personal dynamics, or just love characters you can relate to, this is your book.I personally enjoyed the touches of Massachusetts in the plot. Mark Wahlberg could easily play the main character. I can't wait to find out what happens next in book two: "Demons & War."

I read from a signed copy of James Gurney's "Dinotopia" and showed off the elaborate illustrations.

"Dinotopia" by James Gurney is an illustrated tale told in journal form. A father and son are shipwrecked on an other-worldly island populated by people from all around the world, and dinosaurs from all eras. The humans and dinosaurs live together, Fred Flinstone style. The beasts perform a variety of duties such as providing transportation, and are cared for as a loving farmer would tend the farm animals. Some dinosaurs are able to communicate through their own language which human interpreters have come to understand. Together, humans and beasts make their peaceful world possible.

The illustrations are what truly make this book special. Large full colour pages are interspersed with sketches and other illustrations. The vibrancy of each scene sets this book apart from any other.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author at the Watch City Steampunk Festival where he was conducting a lecture on his world of Dinotopia. He graciously signed my daughter's copy of "Dinotopia" and posed for a photo. It is wonderful when superstar authors take the time to interact with their fans. 

We wrapped up the readings with a segment from my upcoming novella, "Salem Switch." In it, Victorian time travelers must escape the 1693 Salem Witch Trials before they burn at the stake.

Next month, we will delve into mystery and crime fiction, and be honored with an interview by local crime fiction writer, Joanna Schauffhausen.