The Camp of the Saints

Essay: The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, trans. Norman Shapiro, 1973, 2018.

Would you kill to preserve civilization? Specifically, would you kill defenseless children, women, and men to preserve civilization?

That is the question posed by Raspail’s novel, surely the most significant science fiction novel written in 1973 and certainly still the most talked about.

The novel’s theme is encapsulated by a remark of the French president in a radio address as Easter Sunday becomes Easter Monday:

cowardice towards the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly.

We’ll return to that radio address later.

Reading this book, to say nothing of liking it and agreeing with its message, is enough to get you denounced and used as a weapon against you if you are a politician. In the month since I read this, that indeed happened to one American politician. You can do the experiment yourself. Do a Google search using “The Camp of the Saints” and “Raspail” and look at the first 12 pages. Three quarters of the entries will use words like “hateful”, “lurid”, “despicable”, and, of course, “racist” to describe the book.

Originally, I was going to do a three-part series on this book: the story, reactions to it, and the validity of its projections. Frankly, I didn’t think most people would want to read that nor would I change any minds in the related moral and political arguments.

So, I’ll mostly describe the book and conclude with some brief thoughts on its relevancy and place in science fiction.

You’ll get a better sense of the book here that any other place online I think.

Continue reading “The Camp of the Saints”

Advertisements

“The Hoard of the Gibbelins”

This week’s weird fiction is from Lord Dunsany, a writer who I haven’t warmed to yet, but this story made some progress in that direction.

Review: “The Hoard of the Gibbelins”, Lord Dunsany, 1911.

Like most of the Lord Dunsany I’ve read, there is a sardonic edge here. Dunsany seems to be putting his own witty spin on fables that seem like fairy tales and, possibly, mocking the modern world.

The Gibbelins are never described physically, but they like to eat people. Their “evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita” by a bridge. Their castle is stocked with gold and jewels to lure thieves there to be eaten.

Alderic, “a Knight of the Order of the City and the Assault, hereditary Guard of the King’s Peace of Mind” – a subtly mocking title, decides to go for the treasure because, like those more common thieves, he also suffers from avarice. He decides he is not going through the Gibbelins’ castle door but is going to tunnel through its walls, flood the castle by letting a river in it, and then dive for the emeralds in a store room.

He wittily forces a dragon to aid him by going to the dragon and asking

’Hath foul dragon ever slain true knight?’ And well the dragon knew that this had never been, and he hung his head and was silent, for he was glutted with blood.

The dragon agrees to help him fly to the castle.

There’s an amusing bit where Alderic rains his gold down on the crowds beneath him as he sets off. He figures that, if he succeeds in getting the Gibbelin treasure, he won’t need it. If he dies trying, he also won’t need it. There is a brief aside about everyone – almost – excited about the possibility of Alderic getting the Gibbelin treasure and the riches it will bring the kingdom. The moneylenders are less happy about having debts repaid.

However, while Alderic gets into the castle as planned, the Gibbelins are waiting for him. The story concludes:

And, without saying a word, or even smiling, they neatly hanged him on the outer wall—and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation Syria

And, with this one, I’m now current with the adventures of William Meikle’s S Squad.

Review: Operation Syria, William Meikle, 2019.operationsyria

Rebels have grabbed some archaeologists working in Syria. Others managed to wall themselves up in a room after radioing for help.

The S Squad arrives, now up to full strength after replacing some members killed in previous adventures, to bring them home.

But it’s not rebels that are the problem. It’s spiders, lots of spiders, some very big spiders that are the danger. They behave a bit like pack animals and tap out signals to start swarm attacks. And, of course, there are webs, lots of spiderwebs big enough to hold men.

Not every squad member is going to be going home, and one of the archaeologist heroically helps the squad complete their mission.

What I liked best was Meikle’s use of the historic past of Dura-Europos, where the story takes place, and the real archaeological finds from there.

I also appreciated that, finally, the S Squad gets to use something besides just rifles and pistols against a monster.

If you’ve liked the series so far, this one won’t disappoint.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Loch Ness

Review: Operation: Loch Ness, William Meikle, 2018.operationlochness

Meikle continues to wring a surprisingly amount of variety from the simple concept of a Scottish Special Forces squad encountering weirdness on their military mission.

This time operations are in the Scottish Highlands around Loch Ness. The S-Squad, because they’re close and are the nearest things to experts on the weird their CO has, is sent to investigate a massive killing and mutilation of animals at a local zoo.

It appears some kind of large animal is loose and has possibly taken a child off. The next thing you know, the squad is on another monster hunt.

The pacing is slower on this adventure; there’s a lot of walking the Highlands. (Which is fine, descriptions of Scotland is one reason I read the book.) The monster reveal takes longer.

Don’t worry, once things get going, the bodies will pile up.

But this installment of the series has its own special charms and ties into other Meikle works. I’ll just mention three names: Alexander Seton, Boleskine House, and Aleister Crowley.

And I liked the way Meikle treats the conflict between preserving Nessie and it becoming a lethal menace. Meikle’s interest in cryptozoology and studies in biology lends a nice of credibility to the whole thing.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Amazon

Since I read, Operation: Siberia, I decided I might as well catch up on the rest of the S-Squad books.

This is, incidentally, the first posting of this blog’s fifth year.

Thanks for everyone continuing to stop by and the new comers.

The strange name will remain for the fifth year. So will the erratic choices for reviews.

What will probably change is fewer reviews of what I’ve read. For instance, you will probably not be getting a review of the book of Epictetus’ philosophy I’m reading since I have no reason to believe, based on past experience, anyone would care what I have to say on it.

The blog’s focus, such as it is, will probably tighten a bit. I may not even review every science fiction book I read though, especially by modern authors well covered elsewhere.

The review format, with its need to avoid spoilers, is a bit confining, so I’ll probably do more essays on future books, especially when covering certain authors.

With the time freed up, I hope to actually read more of other people’s blogs and pursue some other writing projects besides the blog.

Review: Operation: Amazon, William Meikle, 2018.operationamazon

No adventures in the cold here. The Squad is sent to the Amazon to find out what’s happened to the son of an English nobleman. Said son, Buller, disappeared from a gold dredging operation on the Amazon.

But then his phone is found, floating in a plastic bag. Is that really some kind of giant snake in a video on the phone? A local guide, Giraldo, thinks so.

So the Squad goes to look for Buller with Giraldo and Buller’s friend Wilkes. The trail ends at a stone temple on the river. There they are captured by the hidden tribe of Boitata, associated with strange stories about people turning into serpents.

This is the first time in the series that outright magic is unapologetically put in the story. Operation Antarctica’s strange menace was rationalized as a sort of science.

It’s also the installment with, beyond a doubt, the most unlikeable civilian ever met by the Squad: Buller. Continue reading “Operation: Amazon”

Operation: Siberia

I hadn’t planned on returning to the S-Squad series quite yet, but I’m waiting to get my hands on William Hope Hodgson’s Captain Gault series before reading any more Carnacki pastiches by Meikle.

And, since the thermometer was significantly below zero, it was time to read something set in a chilly place. Surprisingly, I seemed to not have any unread books like that in the library except for Dan Simmons’ The Abominable which, since I have the doorstopper hardcover edition and was going to be traveling, was not an option.

So, I started the S-Squad series again. However, the story ended up being set in Siberian summer.

Review: Operation: Siberia, William Meikle, 2018.Operation Siberia

It’s not a spy mission but an escort mission that brings the S-Squad to Siberia. Three scientists have been sent by the UN to see if Russian oligarch Volkov has complied with all international conventions in creating what’s basically a Pleistocene Park.

He probably hasn’t, but he certainly has brought back a lot of megafauna: mammoths, dire wolves, big lions, big birds, and some kind of hominid.

Volkov’s has been as lax about his security as his legal compliance, and, the next thing you know, the animals have escaped from their glass dome cages and start killing people.

The strengths of the novel is Meikle’s obvious love for his megafauna. Even at the end, we sense their grandeur or beauty as opposed to the ugly menaces of the proceeding installments in the series, Infestation and Operation Antarctica. Continue reading “Operation: Siberia”

The Black Room Manuscripts, Volume Two

This one I picked up solely because it had a William Meikle Sigils and Totems story in it.

I can’t claim I’ve never reviewed any horror anthologies here before, but I don’t review a lot of them.

I was originally going to impatiently pound out a quick review and call this a low res scan. But, since it ended up at about 1,600 words, I’m going to call it a review.

Review: The Black Room Manuscripts, Volume Two, ed. JR Park, 2016.

blackroommanuscripts2cv2
Cover by Vincent Hunt

This is a charity anthology with writers donating stories and the book’s proceeds going to Alzheimer’s research. It seems to be exclusively UK or formerly UK writers. The only names I recognized in the table of contents besides William Meikle were Sam Stone and Graham Masterton.

The reaction to reading a lot of these stories was just a shrug or muttering “And . . . ?”.

They are about what I expect from short horror fiction.

There is the serial killer story. I’m not fond of serial killer stories. The only significant variations seemingly worked on them is method of killing, motive for killing, and type of victim.

At least the killer in Tim Clayton’s “The Drawers” has to wonder if all those dead kids he has in freezers are somehow getting loose. The fate of a brain damaged young man, shot by the eponymous “Red Mask”, is at stake in Lindsey Goddard’s story. He works at a funeral home where his hugging of young children’s corpses seems way too inappropriate to one of the brother owners. However, the other sees it as the trauma of not the man not saving a niece and nephew from the killer. Then, of course, the killer returns. The narrator of Stuart Park’s “Oranges Are Orange” isn’t the usual serial killer, but we still get a look into the disturbed head of a troubled youth between the world wars, troubled enough that his dead gives him a home lobotomy to stop him talking about all his imaginary friends. Well-done voice, but, again, familiar territory, just serial killer plot crossed with monstrous child narrator.

And, of course, there are the inhuman predators. Continue reading “The Black Room Manuscripts, Volume Two”