Tag Archives: fiction

Book Review – Aztec Autumn, Gary Jennings

When I came across this tome in a thrift store for a quarter it reminded me I’d read and enjoyed Aztec, by Jennings sometime in the 1990s and enjoyed.  So I snagged it for a quarter and got a read I’d be hard pressed to sell for less than a couple of bucks .

Jennings does a workman-like job of creating strong characters and a seductive plot involving a personal grudge leading to the Mixton War between the tribes of Mexico and the Spaniards.  While Coronado was battling his way around New Mexico searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola, an Aztlan nobleman leading a consortium of tribes and slaves with the intention of driving all whites out of Mexico briefly spilled a lot of Spanish blood.

The primary character, Tenamaxtli, encounters Cabeza de Vaca, Estevan, and Frey Marcos de Niza in various wanderings through the plot, and visits villages throughout northern Mexico for a probably realistic-enough look at conditions and cultures.  There’s also an underlying flow of attitudes and behavior portrayed in the interactions of the tribes among themselves, the Spanish treatment of slaves, both native and imported, and the policies of the Church toward the indigents.

All in all a good read.  If I had it to do over, though, I think I’d have searched out Aztec and given it a re-read before pursuing this one.

Old Jules

Greg Bear – The Forge of God – Book Review

Greg Bear gave himself a hefty job of work for this 473 page tome.  The subject is the arrival of aliens on the surface of the earth, the gradual discovery of their motive to ‘eat’ the planet, and the reactions of science and politicos as the realization becomes certainty.

In some ways the internal plotting resembles Heinlein’s, The Puppet Masters, in others, Larry Niven’s, Lucifer’s Hammer.  However, if you’re a reader who finds himself studying the characterization as the author develops it, the tool used in furthering the plot, you might find this one a bit annoying.

Although Greg Bear’s handling of the plot requires the introduction of a lot of characters for the reader to attempt to keep track of, he does a fairly craftsman-like job.  He’s obviously aware of the problem and uses a lot of internal plotting to provide the reader with anchors of segment  for each of them to assist.  If he hadn’t been a workmanlike writer he’d never have succeeded as well as he did, which isn’t to say he succeeded completely.  Greg Bear’s skill at characterization kept the work from becoming a complete disaster.

The plot develops rather slowly, and to keep the interest of the reader the author introduces a number of not-often-used event features as crucial pieces of his plot.  This served in my instance to keep me determined to finish the book. 

The concepts Greg Bear introduces are compelling enough to cause me to pause in the reading about 2/3 of the way through to allow some digestion of it all before continuing.  There was no temptation to leave it alone after a day, but I found when I returned I found I already had to reorient myself, reacquaint myself with the individuals connected to names among his multitude of characters, briefly re-study which sub-plot I’d absented myself from when I stopped to contemplate what he was doing.

I believe authors could gain a lot of benefit by carefully studying Bear’s handling of a complex plot broken constantly by updating internal, brief sub-plots, and constant shuffling a population of characters within.  Before reading the book I might have thought it was an impossible task.  After reading it I’d conclude it was merely improbable in a Tolstoyesque sort of way.

I’ve pondered how he might have done it better, considering the task he set for himself, and haven’t thought of any way it could have been done without removing some of the sub-plots, which he’d made essential to the overall plot development.  A trap he’s too competent an author to have caught himself in unaware.

Too busy might be how I’d describe the book, but still compelling enough to cause the reader to work hard to struggle through.  At least some patient readers.

Old Jules

Long Day Journey Into an Ant Bed

I should have known this was coming yesterday when I took a nap and kept noticing a few things crawling on me occasionally.  But I was preoccupied with musing about other goings on. 

Then last night I went in there to rest a few minutes and conked out, only to be awakened around midnight-thirty with a lot of things crawling on me.  Pretty much all at once, doing a little stinging here and there.

That half of the bed is taken up by upwards of a hundred books, some read already, some partway through the experience of being read, some waiting to be read, some held for re-reading.    They’re usually not enough of a problem to outweigh the advantage of having a book near at hand when I need something to read.  But when I turned the light on, here’s what I saw last night:

It’s not the first time that’s happened and I could have prevented further invasion if I’d been paying closer attention.  I keep a container of boric acid powder nearby and usually try to do a pre-emptive strike on them on a fairly regular basis.  But it requires taking the layers upon layers of books off and squirting the boric acid powder all over the underlying bed surface.

This, I’m reluctant to do, because everything gets disorganized and I lose track of which things have already been read, which are waiting to be read, which are occupied holding something else up, and generally where things are.

So they sneaked up on me.  I had to do it in the middle of the night with no pre-planning, no organization at all.

Sheeze.  Now it’s chaos in there.

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9:30 AM edit:

Heck, I might as well add this since I’ve got them there together now.  Here are a couple of authors I’ve come across lately I’ve enjoyed a lot.

They’re thrift store books, so I’m not certain you could find them easily, but both authors have an interesting approach, plotting is tight, characterization’s good, and they hold the attention well. 

Upfield writes about an aboriginal who’s an Australian police homicide detective and his mystery solvings, along with his ethnic difficulties trying to do his job in that setting, along with his internal struggles demanding he go back to being a bushman.  Good reads.

Alexander’s a completely different bag of tricks.  He’s created a blind brother to Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, who’s a magistrate-cum-detective in London.  His characters include Dr. Johnson, whores, a pirate, poets, actors, and all manner of peasantry.  The narrator is actually a ‘Boswell’ sort relating the activities and events, a young teenager taken off the streets.

I don’t have enough distance from the Alexander books yet to decide whether it’s his unique and innovative setting, plotting and characterization intrigues me so much about him, or whether he’s also a damned good author.

Old Jules

11:20 AM edit:

Heck, I might as well add these since everything’s screwed up in there anyway:

Mari Sandoz – Crazy Horse, and Old Jules.  Mari’s my daughter in a previous lifetime.  Her biography of Crazy Horse is better than a lot of others about him.  Her biography of me during that lifetime is as good as you’d expect from a daughter.

Doug Stanton, In Harm’s Way is the hair-raising account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during the last days of WWII, and the ordeals of the survivors in shark infested waters off the coast of Japan.

Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign is nothing to write home about. Of the thousand-or-so books following the steps, events, tactics and strategies of the Pacific War this one ranks in the bottom third,in my estimation.

Lauro Martines, Fire in the City, is a narrative of the strange and
surprising emergence of Friar Girolamo Savonarola in Rennaisance Florence.  So little attention has been paid this fascinating man and time it’s worth the read even if you aren’t crazy about Martines’s particular style of writing and his method of organizing his material.

Fifteen Flags – Ric Hardman

A Chief-Executive War Half-Century Before Vietnam

[They didn’t come back even when it was over, over there]

Sometimes we get lucky and a fiction work sets us off on a journey of discovery.  For me, this was such a work.  Fifteen Flags was a launchpad.

One of the defining events of the 20th Century was the Russian Revolution.  The International response, both in diplomacy and military intervention set the tone for the next seven decades of Soviet interactions with Europe and the US, and to a lesser degree, Japan.

I’d done a lot of reading years ago about the US troop involvement at the time of the Russo-Japanese War and  had a vague background of reading about the International forces guarding the railroads while the White Russians fought the Trotsky forces.  I even knew US forces were involved.

But what Ric Hardman managed to do with this tome was to broaden the scope of what happened there in my own perception enough to cause me to want to know more.  Hardman’s characters, whether they’re US troops, Japanese cooperating in the International venture to guard the railways, Chinese, Czech, or German POWs trying to survive being prisoners awaiting release in a time of military chaos and famine:  “Life is cheap.”

If I had to make a one sentence summary of this book, this set of events, this episode in world history I suppose no better words exist.

WWI — Russia

http://www.marxists.org/glossary/events/w/ww1/russia.htm

Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_intervention_in_the_Russian_Civil_War

Polar Bear Expedition

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_Bear_Expedition

American Expeditionary Force Siberia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Expeditionary_Force_Siberia

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Book Reviews:
Do you enjoy reading reviews of books as a part of planning what you’d like to read?  Jeanne, the lady who administers this blog, is a library employee  in KS, and tells me about books, sometimes calls me when she’s picking through boxes of books in an auction parking lot waiting to be hauled to the dump after an auction, to find out if I’d like to own them.

But Jeanne also put me on to this newsletter library people evidently read:

Shelf Awareness
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html

Full of reviews of books soon to be published.

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How to sell your war to the cannon fodder:

Cagney/Cohan, “Over There”, from Yankee Doodle Dandy [WWI] (1942)
http://youtu.be/d-z98aBCe8E