Random book notes

Huggums asks about other novels with military action:

I really enjoyed all the short stories leading to A Throne of Bones and
I’m halfway through the novel now. The battles are what really pull me
in. Are there any other novels with that level of tactical detail that
you’d recommend?

That’s a good question.  There really aren’t many in the fantasy genre that spring immediately to mind, and even the historical Roman fiction out there tends to concentrate on the personalities rather than the tactics.  The Malazan Books of the Fallen contain some, although it’s more akin to the Bataan Death March than anything out of Jomini or Vegetius and reading the 10-volume Malazan series feels a bit like a literary death march at times.

I haven’t read Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles, but based on his Sharpe books, which I have read, I suspect they will have a fair amount of military tactics.  In the latter, he provides some of the most detailed description of Napoleonic tactics I’ve seen in fiction. Unfortunately, I imagine the former will probably also have a character who always gets – and loses – the girl ala James Bond, even on battlefields where one would not imagine there could possibly be a girl for miles around.

Harry Turtledove’s Misplaced Legion, which I belatedly discovered was more or less ripped straight out of Procopius, is probably his best work and also contains an interesting take on tactics as a conventional Roman legion is forced to adapt to fighting foes akin to the historical enemies of the Byzantine empire.

In general, there are a lot more novels that utilize naval tactics, and ersatz naval tactics in space, than infantry tactics.  But if anyone has any additional recommendations for Huggums, please feel free to throw them out there.  As a few sharp-eyed Selenoth fans have noted, the tactical elements within the Selenoth series will remain strong; the question is who will be utilizing the Tactics of Asclepiodotus.

In other news, I was surprised and delighted to discover how unexpectedly good A Presumption of Death turned out to be.  Dorothy Sayers is my third favorite mystery writer, after Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie, (so much for the theories of my literary misogyny), and so my expectations from a book that was cobbled together from the Wimsey Papers were pretty low.  But Jill Paton Walsh did an astonishing job of capturing the essence of Sayers’s characters; she wisely chose to make Harriet Vane the center of the novel.  While the wit does not sparkle and the erudition is more plodding, both are there and the plot is considerably superior to any of the proper Wimsey novels.

Walsh doesn’t give in to the temptation to modernize either the characters or the setting; the Christianity of the English people of the World War II setting is deep and reminds the reader of the civilized world we have lost.  The nobility, the dignity, and the humanity of even the most common people is striking in comparison with the parade of vulgar fools, cowards and moral degenerates who fancy themselves a progressive advancement from their predecessors.  It’s easily the best novel I’ve read for the first time this year.

The author adds in a note:

From November 1939 to January 1940 Dorothy L. Sayers made a series of contributions to the Spectator magazine, consisting of mock letters to and from various members of the Wimsey family, about war-time conditions like blackout, evacuation, rationing, and the need for the public to take personal responsibility: ‘They must not continually ask for leadership – they must lead themselves.’

These contributions, usually now referred to as ‘The Wimsey Papers’ in effect lay out the characters in the crime novels like pieces on a chess board during the opening moves of a game. They tell us where everyone was. Lord Peter was somewhere abroad, on a secret mission under the direction of the Foreign Office; Bunter was with him; Harriet had taken her own children and those of her sister-in-law to the country, the loathed Helen, Duchess of Denver had joined the Ministry of Instruction and Morale, etc. etc.

The Wimsey Papers are almost, but not quite, the latest information that Dorothy L Sayers provided about her characters. There is also a short story called ‘Talboys’, contained in the volume ‘Striding Folly’ which shows Peter and Harriet and their children living in their country farmhouse peacefully together, and which must refer to 1942.

The Wimsey Papers are not fiction, and were not intended to be read in a continuous chunk. Some of them are about details of war-time history that would now require extensive footnotes in explication. But they do afford an authoritative foothold for an account of the Wimsey family in 1940. I have opened this novel with a selection from them, and incorporated insights and information from them in the narrative where I could.

I should be very pleased indeed if anyone playing in the Selenoth sandbox, now or in the future, manages to do so as effectively as Ms Walsh.  It has definitely interested me in her own novels.  If this is fan fiction, as a few puritans have described it, it must come very near to the Form of that despised form.

Tom Simon’s Lord Talon’s Revenge is quite good, although it is the sort of novel that is most likely to be appreciated by a writer or a student of the traditional fantasy genre.  One imagines Matthew David Surridge would have a field day with it.  I’ve also been re-reading Stephen Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels and while they remain fairly entertaining, it’s a little disconcerting to discover how socio-sexually juvenile and logically nonsensical they are.  I hope to put a few more substantive reviews together in the next week or two, but in the event that I do not, I thought I would at least mention them here.