Clash of Eagles

I almost missed this one in the Amazon Vine list of review copies. I don’t do straight historical fiction and almost missed that this is alternate history.Clash of Eagles

I also don’t have a lot of interest in North American Indians pre-European contact – except the so-called Mound Builders aka the Cahokians.

But Romans and Cahokians?  Well, I’m glad I couldn’t resist.

I will even smugly note that I’ve read some of the books in Smale’s bibliography though nowhere near the hundreds Smale did. I see there have been a whole lot of books on the Mound Builders published since I read the reprint of Robert Silverberg’s non-fiction The Mound Builders.

Review: Clash of Eagles by Alan Smales, 2014.

Smale’s debut novel falls short of practicing the true alternate history faith yet has enough imagination and realism to recommend it. Continue reading

The Fall of the Republic and Other Political Satires

Fall of the Republic and Other Political Satires

Mission Creep

It started innocently enough.

I read a few stories in September, so I could get more out of a one hour convention panel celebrating Bierce the (probable) 100th anniversary of this death.

I couldn’t just read the stories, though. Those Civil War stories and memoirs in between the covers of Ambrose Bierce: The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs looked interesting. And I had plenty of time left before returning to the library.

And then it was interesting enough to buy my own copy. And then I find out that Mr. Joshi co-edited a whole bunch of Bierce satires in the vein of his “Ashes of the Beacon” and “For the Ahkoond”.

So I bought that. And read it cover to cover.

Review: The Fall of the Republic and Other Political Satires, eds. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, 2001.

As I said when last speaking of Bierce, death is Bierce’s usual punch line.

And the joke was starting to wear thin for me with this book. Continue reading

Is Death His Only Character?: Edmund Wilson and Ambrose Bierce

In any case, it is certainly true, not only that, as has been said by Clifton Fadiman, Death itself is Bierce’s favorite character, but that, except in The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter, a rewriting of a story by someone else, Death may perhaps be said to be Ambrose Bierce’s only real character.

That’s from American literary critic Edmund Wilson’s “Ambrose Bierce on the Owl Creek Bridge” from his Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. After hearing Wilson’s remark repeated so often, I decided to actually read the essay.

“Death may perhaps be said” is a weaselly phrase because “perhaps” is a weasel-word. “Death may perhaps be said to not be” is equally true if no weight of probability is assigned to that “perhaps”.

But I will agree that death is an obsession with Bierce.  Continue reading

Writing, Manual Labor, and Immigration

Am I privileging high culture above Joe’s or Javier’s ability to feed his child? Absolutely. And from any view that sees humans as more than breeding-and-eating earthworms, try to prove me wrong.

— Ann Sterzinger

I’m becoming increasingly fond of Sterzinger’s cranky, stylish pieces on writing and publishing at Taki’s Magazine. Her latest is “More People, More Nonsense”.

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “Far Below”

Far Below”, Robert Barbour Johnson, 1939.

One of the most popular stories ever published in Weird Tales

My suspicion is that this story lies fairly far upstream in the tributary that became the X Files and the Hellboy and MIB series: secret government guardians protecting us from a weird menace.

Here the scope of operation is one subway line beneath New York City. The agency is the Special Subway Detail.

Skillfully told almost entirely in dialogue between a man visiting his friend at work — where his friend leads the Special Subway Detail, the organization he started 25 years ago, the menace and its past and future are revealed. There is a nice section with adumbrations of the menace’s history. H. P. Lovecraft even gets a mention as a character. So does Washington Irving, and I’m not sure, in that case, exactly what Johnson is alluding to.

The story’s only real fault is that bits of Lovecraftian prose, phrases and adjectives, seem a bit out of character for the diction of the main speaker.

The World War One content is brief. At the beginning of the story, the leader of the Special Subway Detail talks about how the menace came to the city’s attention:

“To his time — man, Walker hadn’t served his first term as mayor when this thing started! It goes back to World War days — and even before that. The wreck of the train, I recall, passed as a German spy plot to keep us from going in with the Allies. The newspapers howled bloody murder about alleged ‘confessions’ and evidence they claimed they had. We let ’em howl, or course. Why not? America was as good as in the war anyhow, by then. And if we’d told the people of New York City what really wrecked that subway train — well, the horrors of Chateau-Thierry and Verdun and all the rest of them put together wouldn’t have equaled the shambles that rioting mobs would have made of this place!”

The references to Chateau-Thierry and Verdun are pretty standard uses of the Great War (hence the “and all the rest of them”) as ready metaphor.

The “German spy plot” makes reference to the German sabotage efforts against American industry and horse raising which were supplying the Allies. America may have been technically neutral, but the British blockade made that neutrality a dead letter.

I talked about this sabotage effort in my review of Howard Blum’s Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell In America.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: Yes.
  • On-Stage War: No.
  • Belligerent Area: No.
  • Home Front: No.
  • Veteran: No.

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.