Victoria

The idea of a Second American Civil War interests me in terms of fiction. (It really doesn’t matter if it interests me in person. As Leon Trotsky said, “You might not be interested in war, but it’s very interested in you.”)

What was once an idea only discussed on the fringes of American politics and society gets increasingly mentioned by both sides of the political spectrum. State secession is openly discussed. Amazon gives me 75 pages of books with the search words “second American civil war”. No doubt many are Amazon’s often irrelevant listings. Others are history books or books on contemporary politics or alternate histories. But others aren’t. The phrase “cold civil war” is sometimes used for American politics today. If such creatures as historians are willing and able to exist in the future, they may say the opening shots of an American Civil War have already been fired at Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I am not starting another series on the fiction depicting such a war. I already have too many unfinished series in progress on this blog. However, this is not the first book on the theme I’ve reviewed. Adam Connell’s Total Secession doesn’t have a Second American Civil War as its backdrop and only a limited discussion of why the nation broke up, but it is set against the backdrop of S-Day, the Day of Total Secession from the Union. The Operation Enduring Unity trilogy by R. A. Peters has the war breaking out and escalating more as a result of political farce and bad luck than anything else. It’s a satire on the bad uses politicians put the military to, but it is not concerned with partisan politics. However, it does seem realistic in its depictions of how such a war might be fought militarily and economically. It is not, however, a work of Fourth Generation Warfare.

Essay: Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War, Thomas Hobbes, 2014. 

Cover by Ørjan Svendsen

That’s military theorist William S. Lind, co-author of our last book, lurking behind that pseudonym. The genesis of this novel was an April 30, 1995 op-ed piece he wrote for The Washington Post.

It’s a long, mostly well-written novel that seriously looks at how implementing 4th Generation Warfare concepts enables the state of Maine to ultimately secede from the United States of America and become an independent nation. Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s worth reading for a depiction of how Fourth Generation Warfare could be fought in a breakup of the USA. I suspect, in fact, that the leaders of the Year Zero mobs are already familiar with many of the concepts of Fourth Generation Warfare. However, I will warn anyone who regards themselves as feminists that they will probably want to sedate themselves before reading it or get some dental appliances lest their molars shatter under the pressure of clenched jaws.

Notice I said “political persuasion” not ideology. This book is decidedly anti-ideological. Lind regards ideologies as thought killers because ideologies distort reality for those who hold them. That makes effective action harder to say nothing of setting questionable goals. Lind follows political philosopher (and weird fiction author) Russell Kirk in this. (Kirk was also a mentor to Jerry Pournelle.)

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4th Generation Warfare Handbook

Regular readers of this blog may wonder why I’m reviewing this book. After all, didn’t I say I wasn’t going to review non-fiction books anymore unless they were on certain topics? So, why am I writing a review of a what is a handbook intended for professional military officers?

All will become clear with the post after this one.

Review: 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, William S. Lind and Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, USMC, 2015.

In one sense, Fourth Generation Warfare is not something new. It’s a return to how warfare used to be fought before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It is not war between nation states but between “clans, tribes, ethnic groups, cultures, religions and gangs”. But it is fought in a modern context with electronic distribution of propaganda being important.

First Generation Warfare existed from the Peace of Westphalia through the American Civil War. The armies that fight it salute, have uniforms, drill, and have clear distinctions of rank. It’s organized war between nations.

Second Generation Wafare came out of World War One. Battles are planned methodically and coordinated from a central command. It believes there is a solution to every military problem. Artillery is emphasized, and it is a war of attrition and firepower. It was developed by the French. The authors don’t specifically say this, but I suspect they were thinking of the French counteroffensive at Verdun or the war’s Last Hundred Days.

Third Generation Warfare came out of the same war and was developed by Germany in its stormtrooper tactics, particularly as used in the Kaiserschlacht of 1918. It is maneuver warfare with soldiers being aware of strategic objectives and being able to practice on the spot initiative to achieve them. This means they can cycle through the famed OODA (observe-orient-decide-act) decision loop faster than opponents who have to relay observations to a central command and wait for orders before reacting. The German Blitzkrieg of the Second World War was simply the same principle mechanized. (In both wars, I’d argue, from my state of relative ignorance vis a vis the authors, logistical concerns doomed German offensives as well as political interference in the case of Germany’s invasion of the USSR.)

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The Dreamer in Fire and Other Stories

And we’re back to matters weird and Lovecraftian with the late Sam Gafford’s one and, unfortunately, only collection.

Low Res Scan: The Dreamer in Fire and Other Stories, Sam Gafford, 2017.

Cover by Jared Boggess

It’s a Low Res Scan because I’ve already reviewed three of this book’s stories, “Passing Spirits”, “Weltschmerz” and “The Land of Lonesomeness”.

There’s a lot of Lovecraftian fiction here, mostly using the Cthulhu Mythos paraphernalia of gods, places, and blasphemous books. Not all of it falls in that category though.

Sweetening the deal for your purchase of this book, even if you’ve encountered Gafford’s fiction before, several stories are original to this collection.

One is “The Adventure of the Prometheus Calculation”. As you would expect from the title, it involves Sherlock Holmes. Well, a Sherlock Holmes with a Babbage Engine for a brain and the world’s only “living, functional robot”. It proceeds roughly along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes tale “The Final Problem”, but Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty have different roles. There are also elements of Frankenstein in the story. Ultimately, though, it’s nothing special as either a Holmes story or steampunk.

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“The King That Was Not”

Well, the work of weird fiction we’re discussing over at LibraryThing this week is a short one. You can use the link to read it, and it will probably take you all of five minutes.

Review: “The King That Was Not”, Lord Dunsany, 1906. 

As I said it’s short, and, for me, that’s a plus when it comes to Dunsany, an author I don’t like as well as many. I’m not sure why that is. The King James Bible cadence and phraseology don’t bother me. I think I’m annoyed by the quality others like in Dunsany, his tendency to put snags in his story which stop you and cause you to reconsider or reread what went before.

Anyway, I did enjoy this wry Dunsany tale explaining why there is no king in the land of Runazar. 

Once upon a time, King Althazar decided to honor the gods with statues to them.

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The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Review: The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton, 1904.

This was Chesterton’s first novel, published when he was 25. 

It’s a strange book. I’m not sorry I read it, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend it either. It faded from my memory rather quickly after reading it only a few months ago though it is full of the wit and pithiness that makes Chesterton such a quoted author.

Technically, it’s science fiction (or, in the British context, a scientific romance), but only by virtue of its futuristic setting and not any scientific or technological extrapolations.

Set in a London around 1984, it takes place in a world where there aren’t really any nations anymore.

In fact, we meet, at the beginning, the last leader of Nicaragua. There is still a king in London though chosen by lot. In fact, the hero of the book is Auberon Quin, and he becomes king early in the story.

As others have noted, Chesterton loved paradox. 

That is certainly true here. 

Quin starts out as a romantic figure. His whole scheme of creating kingdoms – complete with walls, banners, and coats-of-arms, out of London neighborhoods is sort of an attempt to bring back the Middle Ages, but it’s also an absurd gesture by a man who takes nothing seriously except maybe art. Chesterton defends the medieval outlook in one passage. It talks of how men lived in the Middle Ages expecting signs and miracles. It wasn’t because they were ignorant. It was because they were too wise to live their humdrum lives expecting no wondrous relief.  (The bogus etymologies supplied for some names of London neighborhoods are amusing too.)

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Why Rome Fell

I hadn’t heard of Harper’s book before it was covered on The KMG Show on YouTube. Disease epidemics and the Roman Empire! I didn’t need any more convincing to buy it. First, though, I pulled Goldsworthy’s book off the shelf.

Review: How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower, Adrian Goldsworthy, 2009 and The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, Kyle Harper, 2017.

There’s no shortage of theories of why the Roman Empire, or, to be more exact, the western Roman Empire, fell. Goldsworthy and Kyle present two from completely different spheres, the political and biological, and they argue their cases well and clearly.

Goldsworthy blames the fall on the fact that more Roman soldiers died at the hands of other Roman soldiers than from barbarians and Persians. Harper says the Roman Empire reached its peak in freakishly good times in the Mediterranean. When the climate cooled, famine and disease epidemics, enabled by the empire’s trade networks, wrought havoc.

Goldworthy’s book is slightly longer than Harper’s, 531 to 417 pages, but his scope is narrower. He focuses on the years from 194, with the death of Emperor Commodus and his rival Pertinax, to 476. He definitely doesn’t agree that there was some gradual transition from the late Roman Empire in the west and Medieval Europe. The break was sharp and felt by the populace at large. From 217 on, very few adult Romans would not have seen at least a couple of civil wars in their lifetime.

Roman civil wars were not unknown during earlier days of the empire as per the famous Year of the Four Emperors in 69. The struggles for the imperial throne were life and death for both parties. They almost always ended in the death of one of the rivals, their families, and, because of the Roman client-patronage system, lots of their clients too. Usurpers needed military muscle, so the Roman military system became more bureaucratized. Provinces no longer had governors who commanded both the civil administration and military in their area. This split command made response to barbarian invasions less flexible. Emperors were wary of giving potential rivals in the provinces large military forces to command. Often they wanted to go the site of incursions to command in person with resulting tardiness in response.

Emperors began to be surrounded by massive households – servants, bureaucrats, and, of course, bodyguards. The strategic concern of the emperors shifted from protecting the empire to protecting themselves. Those with access to the emperor were chosen more for loyalty than competence.

The imperial bureaucracy swelled in the third and fourth century which put strain on the empire’s finances. But Goldsworthy argues it still managed to be marginally competent.

The crucial change from the days of 69 to 217 and afterwards is that the empire no longer relied on the elite senatorial class. In the days of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, senators and their families would have been personal acquaintances of the emperor. They could be trusted to lead large armies, even govern, at times, more than one province. The reason why the empire didn’t go into a constant cycle of civil war after 69 is that Republican ideals still held. Most senators still had few political ambitions to go for the ultimate prize, the imperial throne. In turn, the emperors trusted them and dignified them by giving them real responsibilities. They were also a smaller group than the many army commanders who vied for the throne after 217. Thus they were more easily controlled.

Barbarians were not a threat Roman resources couldn’t quell. Even the more formidable Persian Empire only took small areas on their borders with the Roman Empire. Rather, the Roman Empire wasted resources and lives in civil wars.

Goldsworthy also helped me put in context Ramsey MacMullen’s Corruption and the Decline of Rome which I read decades ago. MacMullen argued that the Roman Empire fell because of rampant corruption, armies only existing on paper, imperial resources diverted for private ends. The question I had with that book is why the Roman client-patron system, embedded in Roman culture for centuries, suddenly became very dysfunctional in the later Roman Empire. Goldsworthy would seem to suggest that the increased bureaucracy created by imperial suspicion and paranoia about what the army was up to in the provinces led to greater opportunities for corruption. That was coupled with client-patron networks that no longer held either the legitimacy or permanency of the emperor as a given.

Goldsworthy acknowledges the many theories that blame the fall of the Western Empire on oppressive taxation or land falling out of cultivation or decreasing trade and that they are plausible, but more data is needed. “The same is true of claims about climate and other wider problems.”

And that’s where Harper’s book comes in. He tries to provide some data, derived from archaeology and the physical sciences, on those claims. His book is a fascinating look at the biological underpinnings of the Empire, and he looks at the years 200 BC to 700 AD when the expansion of Islam would, basically, lock the Byzantine Empire into a rump of its former self.

The Roman Empire reached its glory years during the Roman Climate Optimum which existed from 200 BC to about 150 AD. Even Pliny the Elder noted that some trees which once used to grow only in the lowlands could now be found in the mountains. Grape vines and olive cultivation moved north. Glaciers were retreating. Volcanic activity on Earth was quiet. Of the 20 largest volcanic eruptions in the last 2,500 years, none occurred between the death of Caesar and 169 AD.

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The World Jones Made

After re-reading The Man in the High Castle a few months back, I realized there was an early Dick science fiction novel I hadn’t read. (I have not girded my loins enough to read the VALIS books yet.)

The only excuse I can give you for giving you a spoiler filled Raw Feed post on this novel instead of a proper review is that I’m tired and busy.

Raw Feed: The World Jones Made, Philip K. Dick, 1956. 

This is Dick’s third fantastic novel following The Cosmic Puppets, a fantasy, and the science fiction novel Solar Lottery.

It’s about many things, and I liked it more than expected. 

It also turns out to be one of Dick’s police stories with protagonist Cussick and his political instructor, Kaminski, in the SeePol being the policemen as well as the head of the organization, Pearson. (Besides SeePol –secret police, another of Dick’s odd portmanteau neologisms, we also have the “weapons-police”, presumably uniformed.) Their allegiance to the world government established after a nuclear war and its governing philosophy, Relativism, varies after the disruptions of Jones, a precognitive.

Until the end, Cussick is dedicated to Relativism. Kaminski wishes it were more authoritarian though. It shouldn’t allow things like the sex and drugs club he, Tyler Fleming — his short-term girlfriend and a research worker at SeePol, Cussick, and Cussick’s wife Nina visit. (This, incidentally, is the first Dick novel to have drugs.)

Eventually Kaminski defects to the rebels lead by Jones. Pearson is a true believer until the very end. 

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“The Signal-Man”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is from Charles Dickens.

Review: “The Signal-Man”, Charles Dickens, 1866.

Our story opens with the narrator at the top of a deep and steep railroad cutting, a place of almost eternal shadow.

He sees a signal-man below and calls to him. After gaining his attention and asking if there’s a path down to the railroad bed, the signal-man gestures to one about three hundred yards down the line.

At one end of the cutting is a tunnel. Dickens describes it as “barbarous, depressing, and forbidding” with the air about having an “earthy, deadly smell”. So we’ve left the world above for a different place.

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Skullduggery

Coincidentally, this is the third recent book I’ve covered that involves piracy after. The other two were The Cthulhu Encryption and Ninety Percent of Everything.

The review copy for this one came from LibraryThing.

Review: Skullduggery, Robert Frusolone, 2016.

When you awake up on a deserted island with twelve headless bodies around you, you’re in trouble.

And when you have amnesia it only gets worse. And, when you find out after being picked up by a passing ship, that you’re known as the pirate Grayson Fallon, you’re really in trouble.

It’s January 1717, the Golden Age of Piracy off the shores of the American colonies. Fallon learns that Alexander Spotswood, Governor of Virginia, thinks he’s gone rogue. Hired to take the Sea Raven out and fight pirates, it seems Fallon has become one.

Except, of course, Fallon isn’t in command of the Sea Raven. One Captain Renn is. His villainous allies are Henry Gifford, a man who blames Spotswood for the death of his family, and the fierce, vicious Kraal – kept around by Renn for the sheer terror his actions spread. Interestingly, Renn is sort of a proto-American revolutionary who sees the potential of the Virginia colony if it were become independent. He comes off as the book’s most memorable character.

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“Some Words with a Mummy”

It’s a welcome return to Poe this week over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones.

Review: “Some Words with a Mummy”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.

The plot on this one is pretty straightforward, and it’s less weird fiction than sort of American proto-science fiction as well as being a satire. A mummy is revived and discusses Ancient Egypt and nineteenth century America with the narrator and three other men.

So, with some help from Stephen Peithman’s annotations, let’s look at this one.

Poe’s humor doesn’t always work here. Jokes tend not to age well in literature. After all, many modern Shakespeare productions omit some of his humor which, if you’re reading it, often has to be footnoted to get the joke. A joke explained is no longer a joke. Still, the story does have its funny moments.

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