Friday, December 18, 2015


British writer H.G. Wells, one of the grandfathers of literary science fiction, published THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU in 1896. I'm ashamed to admit, I've never read the book but I do have a copy on a shelf in my man cave and I hope to get around to finally reading it in 2016. Keep watching to see if I make good on that goal.

The book has served as the source material for three different film versions over the years. The first (and best) version was THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933), an atmospheric shocker starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977) with Burt Lancaster and Michael York, is a serviceable enough film that has it's moments. And then there's 1996's utterly outre ISLAND OF LOST SOULS with Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. This mess, directed by veteran filmmaker John Frankenheimer, has to be seen to be believed. And contrary to popular belief, the morbidly obese Brando does not play Moreau, he plays the island. I've seen all three films and own a copy of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS on the Criterion Collection label.

All of which brings me to AN ISLAND CALLED MOREAU, a 1981 novel by British science fiction writer Brian W. Aldiss which I recently read and enjoyed. The year is 1996. A world war is brewing. A shuttle craft returning from a diplomatic meeting on the moon crashes into the Pacific Ocean. The only survivor of the wreck is United States Undersecretary of State Calvert Roberts, who drifts in a makeshift raft for several days before finally being rescued.

His rescuers are an odd pair. One is a gruff bearded man. The other appears more animal than man. They take Roberts to a small island with a gigantic M carved into a cliff face. There Roberts finds more man (and woman)-animals and the mysterious Mortimer Dart, a crippled and deformed wheelchair ridden man who uses a multi-armed suit of high tech armor to walk about the island.

It turns out that everything Wells wrote about was true. There really was a Dr. Moreau (real name, McMoreau) and he really did experiment on men and animals to create hybrid beasts. Dart is following in that tradition, a horrifying revelation that Roberts must try to stop. But as things progress, more and more secrets about the island and the work taking place there are revealed. These revelations turn everything Roberts thinks he knows about his government upside down.

AN ISLAND CALLED MOREAU is a  good, fast paced, science fiction adventure story. It mixes excitement and narrative pace with thought provoking ideas and concepts. There is action, plenty of bizarre characters (human and otherwise), and a real sense of science put to an extreme use in war time.


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