Ends and Beginnings: The Demolition of Alfred Bester and the Beginning of Jerry Pournelle

I’m not a subscriber or reader of Galaxy’s Edge (as opposed to all those magazines I subscribe to and don’t read timely).

However, I happened to look at Issue 13 on line, and saw that it had some non-fiction about two of my favorite authors.

I regard Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination as the greatest science fiction novel I’ve ever read, but the quality of Bester’s writing dropped off considerably after the 1950s. (And I’ve read all the science fiction he completed in his lifetime.) In this installment of his “From the Heart’s Basement” column, Barry Malzberg compares the post-1950s Bester to the post Citizen Kane Orson Welles: washed up raconteurs providing glimpses of their past glory.

In relation to this, I remember Joe Haldeman saying he met Bester once and not liking him — but still thinking The Stars My Destination was great.

Jerry Pournelle’s start as a writer and what he brings to his collaborations with Larry Niven is covered in an interview with Joy Ward. Pournelle is another of my favorite writers.

Both features are available free at the Galaxy’s Edge site. [Update: You now have to buy the issue to get them.]

Wayfaring Strangers

Wayfaring Strangers

Our Narrator Rambles On About That Which He Can Not Describe

Yes, I know. It’s not about Ambrose Bierce or World War One. It’s even a book less than a year old.

It’s about music. In fact, this is the first review I’ve ever written about a book on music. That’s ’cause I don’t read books on music. (The first and only other one was I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.) Continue reading “Wayfaring Strangers”

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “Through the Furnace”

“Through the Furnace”, R. Thurston Hopkins, 1916.

Like his “The De Gamelyn Traditions“, this story concludes with the presence of the Divine successfully rallying British troops on the battlefield.

The story begins with Hilaire O’Hagan, “an incorrigible rascal”, having a mystical vision of a monk who chides him for his immorality after stealing a woman’s briefcase. That night he dreams of the same monk and wakes to save his earlier victim from a house fire.

We next see O’Hagan in the trenches, where, after six months of fighting, he is starting to suffer battle fatigue.

He was no longer master of himself. He was afraid. Every man has the instinct that prompts fear, for upon that instinct the whole foundation of life-preservation is founded. But over and above this instinct, common to all of us, O’Hagan had imagination—the graphic, vivid imagination that always lurks in Irish blood. Is not the entire history of the Celt a rejection of the things of this world for the Shadow and the dream? Upon this basis of fear and imagination O’Hagan started to build, building and building until he had created a grand structure of blind terror which yielded a most exquisite torture to his mind.

Yet he goes over the top for yet another attack.

The stalled offensive, the artillery fire get to him. He runs away and takes refuge in a “little wrecked church”. There he encounters the monk of his vision who shows him a coffin where lies another Hilaire O’Hagan who died in 1696.

The monk is sympathetic, knows how tired O’Hagan is. But O’Hagan still has a remaining duty:

“Brother,” he said, in a moved voice. “You must go back and help your comrades. There is no peace for you yet. Yes, brother, I know it is written that we shall rest from our labours—but the beginning of our rest is not yet. We must go and help them in the firing line yonder——”

“No, no, holy man!” O’Hagan pleaded. “I have had enough…. There is hell over there.”

“They are calling us, don’t you hear them—the living and the dead——”

As with “The De Gamelyn Traditions”, Hopkins story cites duty to not only comrades but the past as a reason to continue the struggle.

The “deserter O’Hagan” shows up while the Germans are assaulting the British lines, seemingly at the Second Battle of Ypres.

A tall man in a priest’s cassock, wielding a flaming sword, appears on the battlefield. Beside him is O’Hagan “holding a massive brass altar cross above his head”. O’Hagan hacks and stabs with the cross, drives the Germans back. It is the Angel of Mons vision all over again:

Men who watched him said he ran amok. His great voice rose high above the chattering machine guns in a beautiful Franciscan chant and the voice of the priest joined in. What O’Hagan, bearing his mighty cross, must have looked like in the eerie dawn mist, Heaven knows. But seeing such an apparition and hearing the strange chant, it is possible the Huns thought the devil had joined in the fight. Then a man in the rear trench pointed to the west, where a great image of the cross was shining against a blood red sky, and a voice cried “Forward.” It passed from man to man, and the regiment advanced, howling, with O’Hagan. They drove the Germans before them like chaff before a fan, and fell back, in triumph, to their lost trenches.

The story ends with O’Hagan seemingly buried beside the coffin of his ancestor, the monk of the vision blessing his grave.

The story has the tone of sincere devout Christianity and not just the use of Christian imagery and ideas in its plot. It reminds us how much religious motivations shored up many of the Great War’s soldiers.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: Yes.
  • On-Stage War: Yes.
  • Belligerent Area: Yes.
  • Home Front: Yes.
  • Veteran: Yes — probably.

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Mills of God”

The Mills of God“, R. Thurston Hopkins, 1916.

This story takes place entirely on the Western Front after the trenches have been dug.

It is short tale of divine vengeance for the murder of a small French boy, Bodru. He is a favorite of some British troops. The village he lives in is in a contested area of the front, and the story opens with the British deciding to retreat from the area since it “was full of spies”.

A few weeks after the British retreat, a German soldier enters the home of Bodru and his mother. He is seemingly a deserter given “There was no sign of cap-badge or title on his shoulder straps, and he was horribly dirty.”

Soon he’s drunk on a bottle of confiscated Benedictine and has an argument with Bodru who mocks him. “I think you may be like the man in the English soldiers’ story, who turned into a pig—a baby killer perhaps.”

Bodru gets bayoneted and his body concealed in the attic.

As his mother frantically seeks Bodru and the German soldier is still in the house, the British soldiers return. They notice blood on the German’s sleeve.

At that moment, a shell strikes the roof, and Bodru’s body falls from its concealment in the attic. The German soldier flees and is shot.

The convenient results of artillery fire, shelling as a revelation of a miracle, calls to mind the alleged miracle of crucifixes surviving the destruction of churches that vicar Forbes Phillips talks about in his introduction to the work, War and the Weird, where this story first appeared.

What isn’t here is any real mention of organized German atrocities, the so-called “Rape of Belgium”, that helped sustain the war effort in Britain. Calling the German “baby killer” is about the closest the story gets, but he isn’t acting in concert with other Germans.

German atrocities in Belgium were real as discussed in a recent BBC broadcast, “The Great War of Words, Episode 1”. It became fashionable in the late 1920s, particularly with Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That, to argue that they never happened. But German records document thousands of Belgiums, including children, being executed by the forces of Imperial Germany. Some may have been justifiable as being conducted against partisans not in uniform and beyond the Geneva Convention’s protection, but there is no doubt Germany’s behavior in Belgium, apart from the very act of invading a neutral country and unrestricted submarine warfare, did it no favors.

The Kaiser didn’t help either when, during the Boxer Rebellion, he was the one who dubbed the German Army “Huns”

So, it is a bit surprising in a tale where divine intervention avenges a German atrocity, that Hopkins gives us a small scale story that only very slightly touches on what was such an emotional motive for Britain to fight the Great War.

World War One Content

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

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The De Gamelyn Traditions”

The De Gamelyn Traditions“, R. Thurston Hopkins, 1916.

Those who eagerly read fiction when young sometimes have to learn that life does not imitate art.

That is the problem of this story’s protagonist, Tim Gamelyn.

The Viktor of the “old book” Viktor the Valiant is Tim’s hero. Unlike Viktor, Tim has an unheroic nickname, “Carrots”, on account of his red hair. His efforts to imitate Viktor fail. His soccer debut is unremarkable. His attempt to stop another boy from abusing a dog is not only unsuccessful but uncalled for.

Tim begins to think Viktor is “a bit of a prig—also a fraud.” The book is traded in for two oranges and a slingshot.

Two years go by. Tim gets better in sports, runs afoul of the school’s headmaster, and, though never destined to become a great soldier or sailor, becomes a lively enough part of Thetford Grammar School that, when he leaves, the place seems “flat and spiritless”.

But there is another tradition, another set of stories, another code of conduct he does not abandon.

Tim is the son of Old Sergeant Gamelyn of whom it is said, “what old Gamelyn didn’t know about soldiering weren’t worth knowin'”. The Gamelyns have been soldiers for centuries.

Tim has read the “forgotten drill and manual exercises, the uncomfortable and graceless manœuvres of the rigid but redoubtable men who fought at Waterloo”. He’s seen the “pictures in colour of warriors in three-cornered hats, high stocks and powdered wigs” He knows “by heart the quaint words of command in which Wellington’s men were told to charge a musket with powder and ball”.

So, it’s not surprising that in August 1914, Tim answers the call to duty.

And it is there, when the reality of the Great War meets the memories and practices of history, that the story gets interesting and shows the reality that the armies of Europe had to adjust to.

The modern rifle would not allow men to march into battle with colours flying and bands playing: the old brave way was impossible in the face of machine guns. The pomp and pageantry of battle had departed and there was nothing left but for the attacking party to crawl in a most inelegant fashion upon the ground.

“Down!” cried the sergeant-instructor to poor Tim, who started his lessons in field training with some vague idea about marching on the foe with “head and eyes erect” and with “pace unfaltering and slow.” “When you get out to Flanders you will have to get right down on your belly if you want to live a little longer than ten minutes. Extend to five-six-ten paces and get as close to old mother earth as possible and hide your bloomin’ selves!”

“Hide yourselves!” thought Tim. “Not thus is it written in my father’s book of drill! It plainly said therein that the duty of a soldier was to learn how to die, not to hide from death.”

Eventually Tim and his company make it to the “long dull plains of Northern Europe” and see battle.

Oddly, trenches are not mentioned when Tim makes his acquaintance with 20th century warfare.

From the right came a curious gasping choke, and looking, he saw the man next to him throw up his arms and pitch forward on his face. Suddenly he became aware of a peculiar wailing above him, as if the air itself was in torture. Again a long line of fire flashed out ahead of him and again came the wailing sound. A Boche machine-gun loosed a few belts of cartridges in the spasmodic style of her kind. There was no mistake about it this time—massed infantry were sweeping the plain with rifle fire, and the quick-firers were feeling for an opening.

Another man was hit—close to Tim. He squealed like a girl; and a fellow near turned a dirty white, stumbled, with a clatter fell in a fainting fit. Tardily the men advanced, and any acute observer would have seen they had little heart in the business. Some hung behind almost unconsciously, and had to be hurried up by the sergeants. The bullets became more thick. A man started to blubber behind. “Gawd ‘ave mercy! I … I can’t stand it! I won’t go on!” he whined. It turned out to be a sergeant, who had broken down too. He’d had little rest, poor chap, through shepherding his company … and now he had knocked under. The company swayed and hesitated. Some of them faced round. It was touch and go. “Steady there! Steady! Come on, men;” said Stansfield, the little company lieutenant, as the men wavered on the grey edge of collapse. “Steady that company; what in hell’s the matter with ’em. Keep your men up and going, Sir!” shouted a captain rushing over. But the company had gone all to pieces. The fire of battle had departed from them, and it flung itself on the ground. And soon the whole battalion was taking cover in the same way. A captain called on Tim’s company to advance. Two men obeyed and one of them was Tim. But the enemy’s fire redoubled and the other man was shot, and so Tim at once took cover again. The saying of his sergeant-instructor in England came to his mind, that a man must lie down and hide if he wished to live, and he felt quite justified in hugging the earth.

It is then that Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen” enters the picture or at least its central image.

Tim sees a man appear before him, his expression “lofty and noble”. The man chides him, mocks him for not upholding the De Gamelyn traditions. The figure taps his “shoulder with a barbed shaft trimmed with grey goose feather”. He also hands Tim the Sword of Life and Death.

Wielding the fiery sword, Tim rallies the company. The shade of Nigel De Gamelyn summons “the armies of the unconquered dead”.

The company is triumphant, but Tim dies from a bayonet wound possibly that “barbed shaft” Nigel taps him with. (I don’t think we are to think Nigel kills Tim, just that he is present at Tim’s death.)

The Sword of Life and Death is revealed to be just a rusty old sword hundreds of years old. But the flaming sword is a real miracle and observed by many. It is Hopkins continuing the tradition of Machen’s story and fictionalizing the miraculous stories Forbes Phillips mentions in the introduction to the volume this story first appeared in, War and the Weird.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: Yes.
  • On-Stage War: Yes.
  • Belligerent Area: Yes.
  • Home Front: Yes.
  • Veteran: Yes — probably.

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “Ombos”

Ombos“, R. Thurston Hopkins, 1916.

When this story was written, the Great War was just part of the contemporary background. It is a fairly standard occult tale about a man infusing his soul into a bronze statue of medieval occult scholar Albert Magnus. Murder and mystery ensue. The Great War just happens to be the setting for part of it.

The war shows up mostly in the middle of the story when Captain Crabbe relates how, in June 1915 near Ypres, he meets the titular Ombos, the man with the statue, for the first time. Ombos runs an antique shop, and Crabbe learns of his plans and briefly meets Ombos’ niece Margot.

He visits the shop one more time before Ombos dies and once afterward. He suddenly becomes romantically interested in Margot (the story ends with their marriage) and makes arrangements to have her placed in his home along with the statue after Ombos’ death.

Crabbe is wounded, returned to his home, where the presence of the statue disturbs him. A couple of murders take place and the wonder of Ombos’ success is revealed.

The day after Crabbe leaves the antique shop the second time, German artillery, with its “Coal Boxes” and “Jack Johnsons”, turns the town into “a heap of senseless wreckage”.  (“Coal boxes” are supposedly shell bursts producing black smoke as are “Jack Johnsons.”)

Crabbe says he’s gone for a month before returning to Ypres which confuses the story’s chronology. He says he’s been in France since the beginning of the war, August 1914, and clearly states he arrived in the town around June. The Second Battle of Ypres officially ended May 25, 1915. The book was published in 1916 before the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) which started July 31, 1917. Crabbe may be referring to some small action not large enough to constitute an official battle.

Crabbe vividly describes the ruined Ypres he sees on his return:

“Men, children and horses were lying dead in every gutter.

“In due course I arrived at the shop. A large hole had been ripped in the pavé road before the door, and I had to step over a dead and twisted soldier to gain an entrance. … Silence—only the faint boom of a gun far away in the French trenches—awful, ghastly silence. Then a deafening roar and a falling of masonry as Krupp’s marked down another house in the town of sorrow. The horror of it!

“I turned dismally away, out into the Rue Bar-le-Duc, and along the square. A few scattered lights shone feebly through the evening mist, and over towards the Norman bridge the yellow flames from a burning house lit up the sky with a lurid glow. At nearly every street corner little groups of civilians had collected and were talking and gesticulating in a terrified manner. When a big shell came with a hoarse, rattling noise through the air, like a racing motor cycle on the track at Brooklands, they would rush into their homes, panic-smitten. If death winked, and passed them over, out they would creep again. And so they lived in an inferno of shells for weeks on end.

“An ambulance wagon overturned in the middle of the road attracted my attention. I could not repress a shudder as I looked on the shell-shattered wreck…. It was the old type of four-horse ambulance used by the army in South Africa; possibly it had jolted into the shell-swept death-trap of Spion Kop, or carried men into the reeking enteric camps of Ladysmith. Well, it had made its last journey this time! The four dead horses had not been cut away from the traces, and from underneath the huddled and twisted heap stuck out an arm, and in the hand was clutched one of those short, stumpy whips which are used by the lead driver of a gun.”

Crabbe, with the help of a British military policeman, a so-called Red Cap, saves Margot from a “rough”, and he arranges, with the help of the British Ambulance Service Corps (tellingly only identified as “A.S.C.”).

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: Yes.
  • On-Stage War: Yes.
  • Belligerent Area: Yes.
  • Home Front: Yes.
  • Veteran: Yes — probably.

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

War and the Weird

War and the Weird

Above is the cover for the $1,100 version. I just have the free public domain version downloaded from Amazon.

I had never even heard of this book until I saw it mentioned, with a lot of books I had heard of, at the end of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia’s “World War One” entry.

I haven’t found out much about the authors on the Web of a Million Lies.

Forbes Phillips seems to have been an Anglican vicar who wrote other books on Christian matters. R. Thurston Hopkins wrote several biographies of authors including ones on Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling, both humorously alluded to in passing in the stories.

Review: War and the Weird by Forbes Phillips and R. Thurston Hopkins, 1916. 

On its own merits as philosophy or entertainment, this combination of weird fiction and theological theorizing doesn’t have much to offer a modern audience. Continue reading “War and the Weird”

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Foundation”

The Foundation”, Andrew Leon Hudson, 2014.

The paradox of this story is that World War One, the war that has been blamed for shattering the self-confidence of Western Civilization and weakening the political and literal immunological systems of millions and exposing them to totalitarian plagues and the Spanish Flu, is not even a memory.

The Great War here exists only in mystical visions and in the memory of a political elite.

The plot is simple enough. At some point in some alternate timeline, the narrator, Karl, and the construction crew he heads up, get on a steam train and travel to the Westerly Fields.

The land is beautiful. As different from my home as a land could be, but still beautiful. No high mountains, no deep forests, no undulating valleys; it stretches to the horizon as smooth and level as an ocean, high lush grass its waves. From time to time islands break the endless green; there, a great, lone tree, heavy branches sweeping the ground like a cloud of leaves; hours later another, surrounded by saplings like a mother with her children; and, as night falls, a cluster of low stone walls, last small remnants of ancient buildings, and we all crowd to one side of the carriage to point and wonder who might have once lived in this vast garden, long forgotten.

At a construction site, Karl meets an old friend, a fellow engineer named Gerhardt. Gerhardt reveals that Karl’s crew is there to build the foundation for a massive statue hundreds of feet high:

… a strident figure, noble in form, classic in style: an archetypal warrior, naked but for crested helmet, pleated skirts and sandalled feet, one hand resting on the pommel of the sword sheathed on its hip.

And the mysterious monument is to have a viewing area where, on a particular date, an assembled group from the Empire’s elite will watch the sun rise along the trailing leg of the statue, behind the torso and up the upstretched arm and balance itself on its palm.

The date? “Eleven, eleven, eleven.”

Neither Karl or Gerhardt have any idea of the significance of the date which in our world is, of course, associated with the armistice that ended the Great War.

As Karl digs on the site with his men (evidently this world doesn’t have backhoes or other mechanical digging equipment), he begins to have dreams and visions. His shovel begins to dig not in dirt but “bodies, corpses with familiar faces, parting with softness of flesh and the splintering of ribcages beneath our blunt, heavy blades.”

He begins to have visions in the day that other men, men of sunken eyes and grey flesh, men not of his crew, are digging with him.

Why, Karl asks Gerhardt, are they on a secret project in a deserted land, land preserved by emperors for who knows how long?

Gerhardt replies:

“Maybe … there is something historical here, of powerful interest to the imperial family, which he now wishes to acknowledge in this grand way. Whatever it is, our duty is to obey, and make his wishes actual.”

“What do we seek to memorialize in ignorance?” asks Karl.

As he continues to dig, in an unwitting, unphysical archaeology, Karl sees a dying soldier. And that soldier blends into a mystical, waking vision of vast and forgotten and mechanical forces at work in a past war. It is a vision of two warring giants, machines composed of smaller parts .

Karl’s final meditation and question, as he continues work on the Foundation, is how so many dead men were not only lost to war but memory.

Hudson story is enigmatic. Why are the Westerly Fields vacant? Did the German Empire win the war in this timeline? Did they depopulate the land they conquered? And why wipe the memory of victory out?

Hudson has done something rather remarkable in this story. Yes, he, like so many authors, has used World War One as a metaphor. But it is an unusual, startling metaphor that brings to mind the fumbling and forbidden attempt by those in totalitarian regimes to capture memories of history. And it is audacious to imagine a history where the Great War is the Forgotten War.

World War One Content

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

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “One Man’s War”

One Man’s War“, G. L. Lathian, 2014.

It doesn’t take long, in this story, to find out it takes place in a secret history or alternate history.

We hear, as a woman interviews one Lutz Bergmann, that the “real Adolf Hitler” died in an asylum years ago. It wasn’t the death Bergmann planned when he shot Hitler in the back of the head all those years ago.

Off the record, Bergmann reveals his final secret, the one regret of his life.

His story goes back to October 1914. Bergmann meets Hitler in the enlistment line, seemingly for Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 which is where he served in our timeline. The two become fast friends. They even look alike. And Hitler is easy to like.

In battle, a “bond forged in blood” forms between the two. Both are aggressive and ambitious. But Hitler is more – observant, on the make, constantly observing and theorizing about human behavior. Hitler even runs an experiment on his theory of the “big lie” and convinces a private his perfectly normal dentition is off-center.

Hitler, says Bergmann, was a genius, his casual remarks set Bergmann thinking about them for hours. Both are German nationalists though neither are German. Bergmann was born in South Africa. Hitler is, of course, Austrian. Both think “We’re run by rich politicians that claim we all live equally, yet are they down here on the frontlines, shovels in hand, digging in for the night with the rest of us?”

There, the similarity ends. Bergmann identifies Jews as those rich politicians. Hitler does not.

The two are separated when Hitler is reassigned to the regimental staff. Years later, though, they are reunited when both are wounded and sent to the hospital.

Hitler doubts the cause they fight for: “We fight for nothing and for that reason we’ll lose this war. … Will duty be enough to win this war?”

In the days of their recovery, they play chess, discuss the great men of history – Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Frederick the Great, “men that would be remembered by ink and memory long after their bones turned to dust”.

One day, unable to resist the allure of Hitler’s most private thoughts, Bergmann sneaks a look at Hitler’s diary.

Hitler, he finds out, thinks his constant ranting about Jews makes him uneasy about his relationship with Bergmann.

The two separate again and, when on leave with some other soldiers in Munich, Bergmann decides to do what Hitler will not: put his theories into practice. He leads some other soldiers in beating a Jew.

In his first unequivocal evasion, Bergmann claims the beating only broke some ribs, blackened an eye. Actually, the Jew died.

Bergmann and Hitler are reunited one last time “in Cormines” (I haven’t been able to find out if that’s a real place). Hitler, a corporal, takes charge of a unit as the highest ranking officer. Before the two make one last charge, they have an uneasy exchange.

Talking about their plans after the war, Hitler frankly disagrees when Bergmann says he sees Hitler ruling men after the war,

“My ideas aren’t right for this time.”

… “I believe they are. Perhaps you’re just not the right man for the moment.”

… “Lutz, war has changed you … Or maybe I have.”

As Hitler goes over the top, Bergmann stays behind, shoots Hitler, and leaves him for dead.

It’s at this point that the tension and curiosity of the story evaporate when the authors (G. L. Lathian is actually Garret Streater and Luke Jessop) release the conceptual bonds. What could have become an interesting alternate or secret history fizzes.

We learn no consequential details about Bergmann’s reign — only that he seems to have been a leader, “a man whose legacy can be seen by the millions of crosses and unmarked graves scattered across the world.” And then we get a predictable revelation — Bergmann hates Jews out of a loathing of his own Jewishness.

Certainly the chaos hinted at by Bergmann’s killing a Jew in Munich around the end of the war is congruent with the social unrest, the riots and mutinies, that were convulsing the last days of the German Empire. The main attraction though is not World War One but Hitler the man.

The socialist ideas he hints at were part of Hitler’s thoughts. Are the authors implying, or at least making us consider, that things might have been better for Germany if Hitler’s style socialism minus the anti-Semitism would have replaced the German Empire?

And who is Bergmann’s interrogator? This timeline’s version of a Nuremburg prosecutor? A psychologist?

More of a starting point for a longer work than a satisfying story.

World War One Content

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

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.


World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “On the Cheap”

On the Cheap“, Dan Bieger, 2014.

It is Oct. 25th, 1920 at a Dublin pub.

A crowd sits and listens to Jimmy Choice spin his tale of wartime service. He is modeled on James Joyce and that pun is by no means the last in this humorous tale. (The real James Joyce, incidentally, spent most of the Great War living in Zurich.)

Choice served in the “mostly unpublicized, Not-Royal-At-All Dublin Fey Detachment.” Or, as he explains, “We Fey, we happy Fey, we wee band of Others.” One V. A. Yates urges him on. (Don’t worry, you’ll decode the man behind the pun when he opens his mouth.)

We then get a tale of how Sergeant Cork, a fey, shapeshifter, penetrates German lines and impersonates a German lieutenant. He thwarts the defense to a British assault on the line and captures many prisoners singlehandedly. The author’s afterward cites the wartime exploits of American Alvin C. York.

To my mind, the only bits of note involve poetry. There is a humorous fey version of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Irish Guards“. And Bieger raises a pint to just how much the poet has trumped the historian in modern “memories” of the war. Jimmy Choice says, upon coming to the Western Front,:

The scene awaitin’ me eyes was not much different than the trench in which I stood an’ very much as reported in all the better poetry of our time . The trash, the wire , the bits of uniform, the stench, the mud, the blood, an’ the fear. Not unexpected, you know, but a bit off-putting jist the same.

World War One Content

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

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.