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Tigana (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 01 April 2012 15:27

The poor Palm. The Palm is a splayed formation of land under a two-mooned sky, overrun twenty years ago by TWO empires, the Ygrath from the west, the Barbarior from the east. Since that invasion, the land huddles like Czechoslovakia beneath Germany and Russia. Worse, so bitter was the fighting in the west and so angered was the Ygrathian ruler with his son's death in that campaign that he destroyed the two cities of the primary state which had stood against him, toppling its towers, grinding the survivors under heavy taxation, and even magically striking the original name of the capital from the memories of the world. And that name, of course, was Tigana.

And in this world, we meet all manner of people. Displaced princes working their rebellions, young singers, crafty merchants, sexually-supercharged noblewomen, even concubines who have plotted their whole lives to get within dagger-thrust of a hated ruler. So many characters, in fact, that like the very word Tigana, the reader worries they will forget who each person is. I had a couple of "and you are?" moments but pretty much made it through.

But even as we skirt the edge of character-amnesia, the book rolls us along in a gradually unfolding year when everything in this land will be decided. In the course of that, the author springs a number of gotchas, nifty twists that rock the reader back in his chair, neat little shockers that change all those relationships about. I didn't see any of them coming and delighted when they came. And in the end, when I wasn't sure who should win the gigantic land battle taking place, its outcome teetering from side to side, the final gotcha hits like a hammerblow, firming my resolve and bringing down that final curtain.

Yes, I really liked the book. It's not without minor blemishes, of course (the sort lesser authors such as myself delight in pointing out) - the dialog can be a bit windy at time and the scene description a might slow. Vignettes take a number of pages to resolve. Not that I wanted to rush past anything - I was just surprised at how many pages some settings burned through.

My real complaint came from a strange side-story that seemed almost tacked on after the fact, an alternate reality battle between "night walkers" and something else. It came out of left field with no explanation - one of the characters wanders off to clear his head at night and suddenly finds himself in another dimension, dropping into a critical pitched battle. I actually feared that this would be the end of this wonderful novel, that everything would be goofy and inexplicably contrived after this. Thankfully, no, we kept one character out of the batch as a souvenir and returned to the Palm, where events were rapidly heating.

Don't get me wrong with my comments, here. This was a fantastic read, a great visit into a unique world so often monopolized by the same-ol' fantasy-franchises. If you can find it, buy it. And if can't, borrow it (thanks, Karen!). But read it. Great fun!


Last Updated on Sunday, 01 April 2012 16:08
Leiningen versus the Ants (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 25 March 2012 09:32

Short story this time - the magnificent tale of a planter who refuses, against man and nature and the very gods, to abandon his scientifically-run plantation to a sweeping wave of ants.

Written by Carl Stephenson for Esquire in 1938, it carries all sorts of themes across its short length. We have the white man's burden (that is, the blunt Leiningen boosting, rallying, even threatening his squealing fearful natives to hold the line against this formicidaen army). We have the application of science to solve all problems, from the initial success of the the orderly, modern plantation to its defense (with moats and pumps and gasoline sprayers). And all this is wrapped around the granddaddy classification: man vs. nature. And this time, nature is represented by a column of voracious thumb-sized ants ten miles long and two wide.

It's fun to read these old stories, where science solves all problems and introduces none, where social inequity is simply a matter of course and not a plot point, and where the marketing drive of modern publishing is absent (i.e. no single ant limps away from the flaming destruction, vowing in its tiny antish brain that it will return with a vengeance). No, this is just raw storytelling from a more determined age, harking back to King Solomon's Mines and other two-fisted fare.

It's worth looking this gem up and giving it a read - me, I've a copy of it in my old Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. It's worth it, if only for the moment when the last defense is failing, the ants are massing, the plantation seems doomed, and then Leiningen knows what he'll have to do - it involves a protective suit coated with gasoline, a hand-sprayer for each hand, and a very long run. Through the ants...



Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2012 16:41
History of the Persian Empire (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 18 March 2012 09:29

History of the Persian Empire, by A.T. Olsmtead, came out in 1948. It's quite a monster - 524 pages - and must have been the epic of that time. Anything you wanted to know (at least in 1948) is in this book.

My point in picking this up was to reacquaint myself with the Persians before having to speak about them at book functions. After all, its been twelve years since I did my heavy-lifting research for Early ReTyrement and, no, I don't remember everything I'd read or known or discovered, not that long ago.

It's interesting though - he really covers a lot of ground. In fact, there are sinkholes of tedium in his research on the Zoroastrian religion, the astrological advances, and some of the other details. Missing are more of the interesting slice-of-life moments, how people lived, what they did, the problems they faced. It's more at the empirical level, the sweep and thrust of the Persians and their subject races.

Interesting are the references that are "assumed", names of people, places, and legends that Olsmtead figures our world-class education (again, 1948) have provided us in the classics. For example, I know about Croesus and the muddled oracle he received, but I'm certain not one in a hundred do now. That he passes lightly over this speaks to our focuses as a society in ways I don't find comforting.

And time has advanced our knowledge of these histories. For example, at the Battle of Gaugamela, he knows the order of battle but not what occurred. Evidently, new research has revealed the sweep of the battle, of Alexander's cavalry feint, of his drive up the middle and the risk to his baggage train that checked him in that critical moment. All this we know and he didn't. But that's history, always changing (or being tampered with).

It was interesting for me, after reading much of the earlier empire that I vaguely remembered, to suddenly find myself with Philip, Alexander and Darius again (in the final pages of the book). It was suddenly like coming through a dimly-remembered city to a street you once lived on and remembered vividly. And there we were, with Alexander pushing past the blood-soaked coast at Issus, of Darius issuing his pleading notes to cease and desist, of the Phoenician city-states beginning to position themselves for his arrival. Somewhere in all that, maybe Mason was there.

Anyway, good read for the historians out there, but maybe not for John Q.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 15:18
The Helmsman (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 11 March 2012 15:50

Every now and then, while wading through a stiff read (in this case, Olmstead's 524 page History of the Persian Empire), I have to take a break. In this case, I fell into something I got out of a used bookstore, Bill Baldwn's The Helmsman from 1985.

So the universe apparently is a very class-conscious place, with the nobles on the top, and Carescrian ore-miners (such as our hero, Wilf Brim) on the bottom. Evidently recent legislation has opened up the academy to guttertrash such as Wilf and he's made it through with a sub-Luitenancy, ready to report to his first ship, the destroyer Truculent. And, of course, nobody likes him, which is to be expected. And he'll go on to prove himself, which is also expected.

Still, I really liked the novel. When Brim is given the helm of the ship to move out (at restricted speed, in a blinding snowstorm, and a noble-helmed ship pressing close), it's quite a nail-biter, especially since his career is on the line should he scuff one fleck of paint. The action is fun and furious, with Brim falling from one desperate situation to the next (the land battle, where he is stuffed in an alien tank with no training and forced to make do, was a little bit of a stretch, but still fun).

Of course, in an infinite universe, one can only expect to find a nemesis that you are always tripping over and our hero is no exception, repeatedly foiling (and insulting) Overprefict Valetin. And of course, in their showdown ship-to-ship slugfest, just before the baddie's ship explodes, something (clutter, wreckage, an escape pod, perhaps?) flies clear.

And it's a good thing, since Baldwin went on to write more of these yarns. If interested, you can find links on this site HERE to purchase the set.

Nothing Earth-shattering or new here, just a good space opera. I'd give it a guarded approval.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 March 2012 16:30

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