On the nightstand

Book Blog

April 22, 2012

Casca (Review)

In my science fiction stories (both the published Early ReTyrement and several others I spooled out over the years), the hero did the direct jump, either backwards or forwards. Blink and he’s there. In the Casca series, the hero does it the long way, by living each year. See, Casca Rufio Longinus is the hapless Roman soldier put on execution duty. He’s on the detail putting Christ up on the cross. And in that, he takes pity on the guy and jams his spear into him if only to shorten his suffering. Christ, for all his blessings, misinterprets this action […]
April 15, 2012

Why the Allies won (Review)

Like my historical friends, I had this view of World War Two, the string of battles that constituted the path towards Allied victory (unlike those non-historical boobs in the mainstream, who don’t know when it was fought and between who). But after reading Richard Overy’s Why the Allies Won, the entire thing takes on a whole new meaning. Inevitable turns into improbably in a number of aspects. When you look at the map and forces in 1941, it looked like it was time to mix cyanide into your scotch. The Germans had swept aside everyone, and controlled the continent from […]
April 8, 2012

In the days of the comet (Review)

Ever had one of those things you’ve done in your life where you think back about it and shudder? Like a moment where you were so petty, so selfish, so cruel that you keep it locked down and try not to remember it. What if the world had thoughts like that, where it would look back and all its bloodshed and religious strife and economic crimes and colonization and collectively wince at itself? It seems amazing, when you think about it, that some people sleep in innocence in mansions while homeless children live in cars. That’s pretty much the course […]
April 1, 2012

Tigana (Review)

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 […]
March 25, 2012

Leiningen versus the Ants (Review)

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 […]
March 18, 2012

History of the Persian Empire (Review)

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 […]
March 11, 2012

The Helmsman (Review)

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 […]
March 4, 2012

Piece of Cake (Review)

So why do I like Piece of Cake, outside of the fact that it’s a World War Two flying story? Well, as a writer, I love the book because it does two things I respect any book in doing. These are… 1) It takes a perception of our world (here, the nobility of “the few”) and skews it. 2) Characters get killed. It turns out that Hornet Squadron is made up of infallible, bungling, selfish, vain, and stupid humans. The squadron CO taxis into a slit trench the first day of the war and breaks his neck while trying to […]
February 19, 2012

Flashman (Review)

It was back in sixty-nine. I was a youngling then, eleven years old, not even shaving. We were stationed in Cubi Point, the Philippines, beastly hot, nothing to do (especially if one hadn’t hit puberty yet). And in the base library, I found this book, d’ya see? Flashman. Odd, but it had a strapping big bloke with a sword on the cover – not swinging it, rot the luck, but just standing all satisfied before a seated Indian girl. I was at the age where not much made sense – I’d read Ensign Flandery the year before and while I […]
February 12, 2012

Watership Down (Review)

The sad thing is, this epic tale of a group of rabbits driven into epic flight towards the high, dry hill (“Watership Down”) could probably not make it in today’s market. It’s too naturalistic, too paced in its telling, for modern audiences (trust me, how many times have I seen people pick up Early ReTyrement, flick-thumb its 357 pages and frown (“I gotta read all this?)). So a journey that lasts a lot longer, filled with descriptions of lazy English nature, would have a far harder sell these days. Animal Farm was once rejected because “Americans don’t like animal stories”. […]