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The Point of Honor (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 01 July 2012 08:44

We've all been through high school. And we've all experienced the bully who will just not leave us alone, who makes our lives living hells for no reason we can discern. Nothing will stop them it seems. Not avoiding them, not standing up to them, nothing. Being in a Navy family had its advantages - I just had to endure until we moved away.

And so Lieutenant Armand D'Hubert, a staff officer assigned to the 7th Hussars in Strasbourg finds his nemesis, a fellow Lieutenant, Gabriel Feraud. Feraud has just gutted a native in a duel only this morning, an event that has caused his superiors great headaches (they have Napoleon's growing empire to administer). So D'Hubert is sent to order Feraud to quarters. Feraud flies off the handle, feels oppressed and determines that D'Hubert, a staffer, represents this oppression. Nothing will satisfy him, he forces his fellow officer to duel him with swords (with the maid and the deaf gardener as seconds) and gets a nasty cut for his troubles. Honor should now be satisfied.

But Feraud is not satisfied.

As long as D'Hubert is of higher rank, or the Empire is at war, or he's elsewhere, Feraud cannot touch him. But every so often the stars align, Feraud claws another promotion, and the two are forced to fight. D'Hubert gets run through at one point but Feraud is still not happy. Nothing will suffice save D'Hubert's death.

Written by Joseph Conrad in 1908, the story sprawls across 15 years of Napoleon's power, the protagonists rising to the rank of General. And over and over they fight, never landing that decisive blow. D'Hubert has faced death with Feraud, back to back against cossacks. He's saved his life from the post-Napoleon purges. He's done everything he can to get Feraud to leave him alone. But like any bully, Feraud is back, always back, his seconds seeking D'Hubert out for yet another resolution.

And finally D'Hubert comes up with a means to find his peace, a unique twist to free him of his eternal nemesis.

For those who would like to read this, its available on Project Gutenberg HERE, in all eformats. For those hotheaded Ferauds out there to whom reading is too slow, you can see a wonderful movie adaptation directed by Ridley Scott, The Duelists. Beautifully shot and somewhat well acted - worth a watch at any rate.

So have a look. Prime stuff, if only to see that we're not the only ones who have to deal with unreasonable bullies.


Last Updated on Sunday, 01 July 2012 09:26
Troy (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 24 June 2012 18:39

I like the story of Troy. I liked the Iliad. I liked the recent movie (everything but the last 10 minutes - can't Hollywood keep a you-go-girl moment out of a movie where it doesn't belong?). I like Agamemnon's political manipulations. I like Menelaus and Paris squaring off, with the latter's failings. I like the sulking Achilles. I enjoy his opt-out strike, where the Greek king is nearly chopped off at the knees when his hubris gets the better of him. It's a story with so many things to like.

And Richard's Matturro does a fine job with his Troy, telling the story in its full richness while casting it with elements we might have not considered. How Helen views her own beauty as something like a curse, how Agamemnon feels unease at the wooden horse gambit (for, if it works, the ploy might overshadow his own fame). And, especially, I was shocked with the author nailed something I'd known yet never recognized: of what the death of Hector is really about. How it stands for the death of honor before pride, of duty before vengeance. How he was gentle yet great, and yet the angry, driven, brutish archetype-hero Achilles not only kills him but defiles his body.

The toll goes on as characters you know are slain, driven mad, or (worse) go on to do duties that left an ache in my heart (I'm thinking of Odysseus, and the horrible task he is given, to be handed the child son of Hector with the knowledge that Troy doesn't need a king anymore).

If I had one complaint (I always do), I'd have wished for the story to deal a little more with the equipment of the time, of the incredible phalanxes and the thirty pound hoplon shields, of what it would be like to stand in the ranks and fight for hours on that sandy, sun-bleached plain. Sometimes it felt as sparse of details as the original Iliad.

But overall, a very complete and thoughtful read. Well done!



Last Updated on Sunday, 24 June 2012 19:09
Casca, the Outlaw (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 17 June 2012 02:42

Let me just say that this review has all sorts of tangles to it.

I've reviewed the Casca series in total recently (HERE). I really liked them, not for their literary sake, but just for the blunt idea of the thing (an eternal mercenary that fights in every battle across history). I'd read up to #22 where I'd finally stopped, but mentioned they were up to #37.

So at Oasis 25 (a scifi convention I attended as a dealer), my booth was right next to Michael Goodwin's, who's written two of these himself. It was one of those bookish-small-world moments, when you realized you have a link with someone else. Told him I'd read a bunch of these and enjoyed them, and he was gracious enough to hand me a signed copy of one of his contributions to the franchise, Casca the Outlaw, #33.

Which means I'm reviewing a book of a guy I really like. Which complicates things. Like, I'm not going to be nearly as snarky as I usually am, because Goodwin could probably kick my ass.

Actually, I did like this addition to the series. In this episode, we find out what Casca's been doing in the American west, namely going after that Confederate gold (which comes a close second to Nazi gold). It''s over in Mexico, don't you know, and all Casca needs to do is to put together a team and cross the border and get it.But there are powerful Mexican nobles to deal with, as well as a tribe of renegade Indians. And let's not forget the domestic threat of a blunt US army commander, peeved at the loss of one of his Gatling guns. And his untrustworthy backers, Thick and Thin (or whatever they are called), and their backup plan, a huge African mercenary.

But Casca's some pretty good cards himself. He's hooked up with a wandering Japanese samurai (who I liked). And an aging Mexican knife-fighter. And there's that Gatling gun we mentioned. And even Billy the Kid (who want's to kill Casca for some unfinished business from Appomattox Court House, so maybe he's on the debit side of this sheet, too). So, lots of competing interests, and Casca is right in the middle.

There was a lot I liked, in that flat, practical sense of a meat-n-potatoes novel. The Samurai character was as likable and deadly as you would expect (has anyone ever written about a below-average samurai?). And I really liked the critical woman lead in this, the ever-bathing redhead. She had been involved with that mission gold shipment, and captive of those Indians mentioned two paragraphs up, so that's how we know about it in the first place. After escaping from them, she ended up working in a San Francisco knocking shop (where one of the two investors, Thick or Thin (though there is some confusion in the novel specifically as to which) meets her (not quite a pun here). But I really liked this character because she's always bathing. Casca first encounters her under the funnel of a railroad water tank. And she's got a tub in her hotel room, which she is always in. And there is that stop at every stream to bathe. Just as Casca is the eternal mercenary, she's the eternal bather. And I like that - its a nice comment of a woman who as has been so abused by men that she simply can't quite get the scent of them off her. It's a very good character device and I kept hoping that Goodwin wouldn't spoil the fun by coming out and explaining it. But no, he showed, didn't tell, so points to him.

So I enjoyed it. It's just good clean (smirk) fun.

A couple of things I'd wished - Casca's special powers (that of his massive experience and his healing abilities (heck, he can't be killed, not for long)) didn't factor in. This was really a western about a guy who wanted gold and was carefully watching over his shoulder, and, oh, minor point - was cursed by Christ for stabbing him on the cross. It really didn't factor in. And that's a bit of the old Casca I missed.

But the big eye-strainer was the formatting - the tab stops were nothing short of amazing; they wandered like a drunk on a wobbly board sidewalk. You'd see two-space tabs, four-space tabs, and six-space tabs, all in adjacent paragraphs, all down the length of a page. I'm not sure if this was a going-to-press thing, but it really pulled at my eyeball nerves.

But I like Michael, and I like Casca, and so I liked this book. No, really, it's a fun little read.


Last Updated on Sunday, 17 June 2012 17:39
The World Set Free (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 10 June 2012 07:52

According the Wells, all it will take for world socialism and sunlit-fields-upon-high utopia are radioactive volcanoes.

The World Set Free was written in 1913 (under the looming war). In its format, it's very similar to In the Days of the Comet, another Wells' book. We have a "Dickens" view of the world, bleak and unfair and evil (I agree with him on this). The middle act is the disaster, the events so amazing that it would take Hollywood in all its CGI to do them justice. And after that, the level world reexamines itself, sorts itself out, corrects itself (and becomes, of course, socialist). I love HG on this - so much romantic hopelessness (which sounds 2012-gloomy, I suppose).

Of course, the world sucks. We get a nice POV take on this by a rich man who's father bankrupts their family, and he goes from holiday to the streets in one quick plummet. As noted here...

Indeed, in his book, he thanks fortune for them. "I might have lived and died," he says, "in that neat fool's paradise of secure lavishness above there. I might never have realized the gathering wraith and sorrow of the ousted and exasperated masses. In the days of my own prosperity things had seemed to me to be very well arranged." Now from his new point of view he was to find they were not arranged at all; that government was a compromise of aggressions and powers and lassitudes, and law a convention between interests, and that the poor and the weak, though they had many negligent masters, had few friends.

"I had thought things were looked after," he wrote. "It was with a kind of amazement that I tramped the roads and starved - and found that no one in particular cared."

The book works towards its main concept, that atomic energy is understood, and that things are getting better and better as cheap and limitless power comes to us. But such powers have a unseen prices. For example, cheap power means automated factories and the streeting of labor (a concern in our own time). But it also results in more dangerous and direct uses...

He had in his hands the black complement to all those other gifts science was urging upon unregenerate mankind, the gift of destruction, and he was an adventurous rather than a sympathetic type...

The atomic bombs Wells envisions are as horrible as ours but in a different way. His don't just go BANG and leave a lot of people dead. His produce an explosion that explodes and explodes for two weeks or so, a long continuous detonation. And when dropped (220 times or so on capitals and other places of militaristic interests), their explosions burn through the crust of the earth, releasing a volcano that absolutely destroys the area.

I felt that Wells didn't quite capture what this would really be like, with 220 plumes of volcanic ash thrown into the air, of the perpetual gloom, of the world-changing events. He doesn't even mention the columns of death that should be visible in every sky. In our days under climate change, these seems like an odd ommision. But he does capture the horror of such detonations, of a woman with her hearing blown out and her leg mangled, of a man whose hand is shot away in trench warfare.

And in the end, of course, the world is forced, by the doom it toys with, to become better. The rulers come together, casting down the tyrants and madmen, joining up as a world council. Too often, world socialism just happens (that's what the Hyde Park socialists believe). But here, Wells makes a good point, that a world of refugees, of starvation and desperation, might be ready for such a thing...

They found far less friction than might have been expected in turning the loose population on their hands to these things. People were extraordinarily tamed by that year of suffering and death; they were disillusioned of their traditions, bereft of once obstinate prejudices; they felt foreign in a strange world, and ready to follow any confident leadership.

As are we all in 2012.

The book does have its windy moments, its slow Randian grindings. But I'll forgive Wells for those; I love him too much as a life-time fan to let it sway me. And, of course, there are the interesting takes of this brave new world, of women's rights imagined by a 1913 eye (I'm actually happy to see that, for once, we shoot higher than his ideal). Overall, it's not his best work, but it's still Wells, so it's going to be better than anything on the shelves today.

You can get it for free thanks to Project Gutenberg HERE.


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 June 2012 08:46

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