The Radicalism of the American Revolution

65ed4844f0bfb0f59354a375341434d414f4141In the associational way I tend to approach reading, I decided, after reading Robert Conroy’s Liberty: 1784, to dive into my library of unread books and read something non-fictional and related.

Review: The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood, 1991

The American Revolution was a failure.

That is not the opinion of Wood. It was the opinion of the Revolutionaries. Looking back on what they had wrought, they were despondent over the gap between their ambition and their achievement. Continue reading

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Writers: Need Some Inspiration?

At Book Cover Nouveau, you e-book authors can find some ready made artwork for your covers.

At least that’s the advertising pitch.

I suggest it could be used as a revival of an old pulp magazine tradition: writing a story to match a cover.  Robert Silverberg used to do that. In his pre-Scientology days, L. Ron Hubbard used to be a fast enough writer where editors would send a messenger over to Hubbard with a cover and wait while he banged out a matching story.

They are some handsome covers.

Memorable First Lines in Science Fiction and Fantasy

I thought it might be interesting to start a list of memorable first lines in science fiction and, yes, fantasy novels.  By “memorable”, I mean memorable to me. And having the first line of a work stuck in your brain doesn’t automatically make the novel good. Conversely and obviously, not having a memorable first line doesn’t make a novel bad.

  • “Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.” The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So, if he’d ever killed a man, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman.
  • It was in that year when the fashion in cruelty demanded not only the crucifixion of peasant children, but a similar fate for their household animals, that I first met Lucifer and was transported into Hell; for the Prince of Darkness wished to strike a bargain with me. The War Hound and the World’s Pain, Michael Moorcock.
  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien.
  • This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying … but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice  … but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks … but nobody loved it. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester.
  • The sky above the port was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel. Neuromancer, William Gibson.
  • They set a slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. Count Zero, William Gibson.

Various speculative fiction authors chime in with their favorites at I09.

Liberty: 1784

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Review: Liberty: 1784, Robert Conroy, 2014.

Washington’s birthday was coming up. Baen was giving away copies of this book for review. I had been curious about Conroy’s work which I had seen around. However, most of what I had seen was in the very popular vein of alternate World War Twos and American Civil Wars. It was also, to top it off, seemingly from publishers whose product I wasn’t familiar with. (Actually, most of Conroy’s work seems to have been published through Baen. Somehow I conflated him with the much more prolific Peter G. Tsouras.) But, being more interested in alternate America Revolutions than alternate World War Twos, I thought this was a good time to sample Conroy. Continue reading

Reconsidering Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco

Not only am I rather compulsive about writing reviews, I also like to read all the reviews I can find of a work of fiction after I finish it.

Most of the time, the reviews are just plot recapitulations, vague statements of the work’s worth, restatements of opinions I had.

Every once in awhile, I get want I want: something that makes me reconsider what I read or ponder that I missed something.

Tychy’s review of Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco collection is just such a review. I’m not sure I agree with all his points, but, the next time I read Ligotti, I’ll keep them in mind.

My review, one of my most popular and controversial Amazon ones, reached different conclusions.

Compare and contrast as they say.

Yog-Sothothery

I finished Graham McNeill’s Dark Waters trilogy today.

I enjoyed it, but I won’t be reviewing it. It’s linked to a game, Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror to be exact. I don’t review gaming novels or art books or graphic novels. Part of that is I lack the needed contextual knowledge or vocabulary. Mostly it’s because I read them as a break, books I don’t feel the compulsion to review.

As obvious from the title, Arkham Horror is a game based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. It’s part of the vast collection of efforts — games, comics, movies, fiction, music, and art — playing off that part of Lovecraft’s fiction usually called the Cthulhu Mythos though Lovecraft himself referred to the literary games he and his friends played with his fiction — fanfic in a way — as Yog-Sothothery after one of the “gods” of his stories.

I don’t know the exact date I discovered Lovecraft. I know the book. It was Sam Moskowitz’s Masterpieces of Science Fiction which included Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”. It still remains my favorite Lovecraft story, and it was also the work that he thought the best. At some time in high school, I found The Lurking Fear collection with the odd John Holmes cover shown here.

It was a glancing Lovecraft blow, no more an impression on my mind than many of the new authors I discovered than. Continue reading

Justinian’s Plague Is Not Your Plague

Now in the case of all other scourges sent from Heaven some explanation of a cause might be given by daring men, such as the many theories propounded by those who are clever in these matters; for they love to conjure up causes which are absolutely incomprehensible to man, and to fabricate outlandish theories of natural philosophy, knowing well that they are saying nothing sound, but considering it sufficient for them …

So grouched Procopius, as quoted in Robert Gottfried’s The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe. He was a Byzantine court historian who claimed, at its height, what we know as Justinian’s Plague killed 10,000 people a day in Constantinople.

However, those who are clever in these matters really have managed to establish several things.

Three great pandemics swept through humanity starting around 541 AD and then 1344 and then in the 1860s. The First Pandemic may have put a stop to the Byzantine Empire bringing the Western Roman Empire back into the fold.  The Second Pandemic (aka the Black Death, the Black Plague, the Great Mortality) probably hastened the end of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The Third Pandemic actually swept the world and introduced reservoirs of plague in America.

I’m a Black Death man myself, but virtually every book I’ve read on the Black Death mentions Justinian’s plague, so I was very interested to see that, while we know that the bacteria yersina pestis caused all three pandemics, the First Pandemic seems to have been caused by a mutant strain, a “a novel branch on the Y pestis phylogeny” in the words of the researchers, that accounted for the First Pandemic’s unusually high mortality. That strain is unknown today as a disease agent or, at least, “unsampled” in the wild. Our plague is from the strain that caused the Second and Third Pandemics.

Melissa Snell at About.com’s Medieval history has the details including the researchers’ Lancet article and links to various news stories.

Of course, controversies remain. Like any scientific study, it’s not really the first test that counts. It’s the second and later confirming observations that will really matter — providing researchers can find some more good 6th century teeth to drill into to get the DNA they need.

DNA sampling seems to have swung the argument toward the y. pestis side as the disease agent that caused what we call the Black Death. For a while, people put forth other candidates — anthrax and hemorrhagic fever, but that seems to have died down. John Kelly’s The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time concludes with a refutation of those positions. Of course, it is possible the biological and social havoc the medieval plague caused could have led to higher mortality from other infectious diseases during a plague epidemic.

I have read a fair number of books on the Black Death but by no means everything in English even from an historical perspective to say nothing of works centering on the plague from ecological and microbiological perspectives.

Besides Gottfried and Kelly, I’d recommend, for an account of England in the time of the Black Death, Philip Ziegler’s The Black Death. And, of course, there is the still the seminal work on the effect of infectious diseases on history: Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill.

As far as fiction goes, there are a fair number of stories involving the plague in the past and present. Of those, I would recommend three. Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book has a time traveler trapped in the England of the Second Pandemic. Medical doctor Alan E. Nourse gives us a modern plague epidemic in The Fourth Horseman. For something a bit different, there is Karen Joy Fowler’s short story “The Dark” which mixes the tunnel war of Vietnam with the plague. (Vietnam really did have outbreaks of the plague during the Vietnam War.) It can be found at many locations.

Finally, for a lurid story set in the plague, there is Paul Finch’s King Death which I reviewed for Innsmouth Free Press.

The Arctic Grail

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Subzero Reading

When the temperature dips below 0 degrees F and I happen to be between books, it’s time for an Ice Age book.

There are only a limited amount of science fiction novels that fit that requirement — especially in an age where global warming is feared. Continue reading

After the End

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The well-done post-apocalypse story is a literary post-mortem on civilization. At its best, it looks at the wreckage of society to examine not only the workings of its physical infrastructure but the architecture of the human mind and soul.

Once upon a time, I read a fair number of these, but I sort of drifted away from it. In the last couple of years, by accident, I’ve read more than usual in the sub-genre.

Oh there’s still a lot of these stories published. But zombies have taken over the genre. Many self-published works seem to be survivalist manuals — not that anything is wrong with that.  Some of Dean Ing’s works fit in that category as does, to some extant, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. However, who knows how many of these are badly written political screeds or how to manuals?

And I have little interest in YA novels. Even when I was the target age, I usually didn’t care for teenaged protagonists.

So, hoping to see what had been going on with the theme recently, I requested Paula Guran’s After the End: Recent Apocalypses. Continue reading