Aw, shoot. I have to abandon this at the end of WWII, about 16%/133pgs in. It's very, very dry.
This is an official history-- the author had unfettered...moreAw, shoot. I have to abandon this at the end of WWII, about 16%/133pgs in. It's very, very dry.
This is an official history-- the author had unfettered access to MI6's files from 1909 to 1949. Yet the history is remarkably hampered. The preface lets you know that: 1) the records are very spotty, 2) despite 60-100+ years, names and other details still cannot be released, and 3) MI6 during this time was only a gatherer of information- they did not perform analysis.
What this means is that the historian cannot make a compelling narrative out of the pieces. Instead we are left with just the pieces, the scraps of logistics and how the money flowed. The only time the story was even mildly interesting was when the author referred to other documents. Memoirs, diaries, and other sources where the names have already been revealed and motivations could be gleaned from the logistical pieces.
Sadly even these bits are not well blended into the overall story of War, major events and how Intelligence (with a capital I) affected their outcome.
I may come back to the WWII section for historical background if I go on a larger WWII kick, but I won't be reading this cover to cover on its own.(less)
In terms of the writing, this book is much better than the first. However, GRRM, do you REALLY think long lists of things can take the place of good d...moreIn terms of the writing, this book is much better than the first. However, GRRM, do you REALLY think long lists of things can take the place of good descriptive prose? Ugh.
Anyway, this whole book feels like a way-station to get you to another point in the story. But there are some surprises and exciting moments to help in the transition.(less)
I was bound and determined to give this book 3 stars. Parts were wonderful, parts just weren't resonating with me (a little too Woolf-esque for my tas...moreI was bound and determined to give this book 3 stars. Parts were wonderful, parts just weren't resonating with me (a little too Woolf-esque for my tastes). Then I hit the last chapter, and wow! Its lyrical, circuitous story telling starts to fall into place.
I read this as part of an overall Australia themed reading kick I'm on right now. Yet I have to recommend it for lovers of language- who appreciate authors who push the boundaries between prose and poetry and between magic and reality.
Whatever you do, read Hound of the Baskervilles. Holy cow, that's now one of my favorite books. The short stories are fun, but some are better than ot...moreWhatever you do, read Hound of the Baskervilles. Holy cow, that's now one of my favorite books. The short stories are fun, but some are better than others.
It feels like Holmes and Watson are really fleshed out as dynamic characters in Baskervilles. Is it the longer length? Is it because it was written so much later than the short stories?(less)
Hey, I'm a smug 21st century reader! The bends are bad; Antarctica is a continent; coal doesn't come from volcanoes; submarines are not silent.
The end...moreHey, I'm a smug 21st century reader! The bends are bad; Antarctica is a continent; coal doesn't come from volcanoes; submarines are not silent.
The ending (like a few other episodes) was fabulously entertaining. However, there is repetitious drudgery that the reader has to get through to find those gems. Lists and catalogs of submarine flora, fauna, and minutia. Yes, they lend credibility to the scientist-protagonist's story, but they are just boring.
Also in its favor, Captain Nemo is gloriously complex - crying over dead shipmen, but murdering others in revenge; forbidding the killing of one whale then massacring a whole pod of another type. Fantastic!
Sojourner Truth had to be one of the most charismatic people ever to walk the Earth.* Charisma is hard to convey in any mode that's not face-to-face....moreSojourner Truth had to be one of the most charismatic people ever to walk the Earth.* Charisma is hard to convey in any mode that's not face-to-face. This book might be as close to capturing raw charisma as I have ever seen. She stands out even in an era of incredibly charismatic people.
My edition had both The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and the Book of Life. The latter was Sojourner's scrapbook and autograph book she carried around as she traveled preaching and telling her story.
My reaction to her Narrative is that it is an absolute 5-star read. Holy guacamole, what this woman endured! Multiple things surprised me. First, it's not told in Sojourner Truth's voice. She remained unable to read or write her whole life, and relied on a friend to retell her story. That woman was Olive Gilbert. Gilbert injects quite a bit of her own commentary on both Truth and the abolitionist movement. This makes it quite difficult to ascertain what were Truth's own words, and what were manipulated by Gilbert. Second, Truth grew up in a Low Dutch farm in New York, and didn't learn to speak English until she was 10. She never had a formal education, and didn't even hear a preacher until she claimed her own emancipation in 1826.^ Despite all this, she wandered the eastern seaboard (and later beyond) preaching about God, Jesus and plight of enslaved peoples by relating her own story. Third, her story doesn't dwell on the physical hardships and punishments she endured while a slave. In fact, she only hints at most of them. Yet the slave part of her story is horrific.
On to the Book of Life - I would give it 3-stars for putting Truth's Narrative into context and continuing her story to the end of her life. This is mostly newspaper clippings telling about how Sojourner Truth came to speak at this church, or that meeting, and how she had everyone in rapture with her stories and songs. Those parts get extremely repetitious, but it's amazing to see how many places she traveled and how she was warmly welcomed. Perhaps even more amazing is the number (not all) that describe her in non-racial tones. They almost all mention her race, but only a few tack on "...for her race" when they mention that she is forceful, commanding, impressive, etc.. Considering the times, she transcended many racial lines. Truth's Book of Life also contains letters and signatures from famous people - including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony.
Perhaps most fascinating between the two - her Narrative and The Book of Life - is the discrepancies in her personal story. The story of her life partially evolved as she traveled around retelling the narrative. Most likely, though, is that it was variations in the retelling. The big stand-out is Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1863 article in the Atlantic Monthly, titled: "Libyan Sibyl". This article not only propelled Truth into nation-wide fame, but gave her a nickname that she she grew tired of. Stowe takes many liberties in the article, including quoting Truth in a Southern US slave dialect that Truth never had. (She had a slightly Dutch accent, and often described as a "peculiar" way of speech.) What's worse, Stowe claimed Truth was dead, when in fact she went on to live another 20 years. Perhaps all those changes developed the persona of Sojourner Truth and aided in her popularity? According to the editor of my edition, Truth herself might have been guilty of perpetuating un-truths, in order to present a persuasive argument and be the larger-than-life character of Sojourner Truth.
One of the funniest, most witty anecdotes about Truth goes something like this: Truth was speaking in front of a large meeting that contained friends and foes alike. There were grumblings in the audience that she wasn't who she claimed to be -- that in fact, she was a man. Truth was six feet tall, very muscular, wore her short hair under a Quaker cap, and was by all accounts an imposing presence with a booming voice. When she heard the accusations, she said (paraphrasing the paraphrasing): "You think I'm a man? Let me tell you something. I suckled many white babes at my breasts, often to the neglect of my own children. And those white children turned into finer men than you could ever be!" She then proceeded to whip our her bare breast and said: "Suck this!"
Sojourner Truth was awesome.
*(If there are humans hanging out somewhere else in the Universe, they are just boring sacks of carbon. Thanks a lot for not contacting us. Losers.)
^(Seriously, her emancipation is a story you need to read for yourself. It shows the kind of woman she was at heart.)(less)
"Get a bigger flute!" "Increase ur Size! 6" "Don’t walk with tail between your legs." "V|agr.a, C|a.li5, and Phen.term.|ne CHeep!!"
Was the Kama Sutra...more"Get a bigger flute!" "Increase ur Size! 6" "Don’t walk with tail between your legs." "V|agr.a, C|a.li5, and Phen.term.|ne CHeep!!"
Was the Kama Sutra the original idea for spam email?
"Take pomegranate and cucumber seeds, extract the juice of elabāluka (eluva, Gisekia pharmaceoides) and bhatakataiyā (Solanum indicum, eggplant). Cook in oil over a low heat. Use it to massage the penis. It will remain swollen for six months." ...It didn't sound so bad until I got to the last line...
"Ram's or he-goat's testicles boiled in sugared milk increase sexual prowess." ...Can I have some more Rocky Mountain Oyster Pudding, grandma?
"If a man anoints his penis with datura, black pepper [maricha], and long pepper [pippalī], crushed and mixed with honey, its use will allow him to bewitch and subjugate his partners." ...Or at least cause them to be doubled over in fiery pain.
Once you're done mucking about with spicy peppers, priapisms, and testes, why not try this ancient recipe:
"By rubbing one's hand with the excrements of a peacock, which has been made to take haritāla [yellow myrobalan] and manashilā [red arsenic], everything one touches becomes invisible." ...Infallable.
Okay, in an attempt to save you, Dear Reader, a ton of time may I present:
All You Will Ever Need To Know About the Kama Sutra* 1) There are no pictures in the original Kama Sutra, much to the chagrin of reviewers on Amazon. 2) For the naughtiest parts, go straight to Chapter Six 3) You aren't going to learn any new tricks unless you're a sweet, innocent teenager. 4) The Kama Sutra is extremely repetitive. (This explains my low-ish rating - I'd probably put it at a 2.5. And those stars are just there for the aforementioned chuckles at the insanity. Ancient people were batshitcrazy. It's a miracle we're still around.) There is a good reason for the repetitiveness - as a teaching text, a student is supposed to read the original with enlightened commentary. Unfortunately this translation includes 2 extra commentaries after every paragraph. The translator even apologizes in the intro for its "maladroitness." Even with good reason, doesn't make it fun to read. 5) A lot of the advice is violent - scratching, slapping, bleeding, etc. 6) The Kama Sutra wasn't exactly written by Vātsyāyana - he collected the "erotic science" sections of the Kama Shastra (which were becoming harder and harder to find). 7) The history of the Kama Sutra is interesting, as is the background of the three Shastras - go learn about them. Maybe I'm too dense, but I didn't learn much about history by reading the original text. 8) The Kama Sutra tries to explain all sexual practices, even those that are not recommended or are forbidden. Vātsyāyana felt it very important to be complete. Which I can get behind.
*(unless you are an ancient Indian scholar, of course.)(less)
This is set firmly an alternate-reality universe. One where Lord Byron and Anabella don't separate, and he eventually becomes Prime Minister. One where Ada lives and can see her first computer programs become reality. One where Wellington becomes a prime minister and is eventually hated, despite all his previous war heroics. One where scientists and thinkers are revered -- so much so, that they are referred to as "savants." All this hinges on Charles Babbage's Difference Engine #2 and his Analytical Engine being built, and working. In this alternate history, the computer age (or Engine age) develops in Victorian England.
It all sounds great, right? Wrong. It's just not written very well. It's a confusing mish-mash of stories that connect. And, oh gods, the sex scenes. They are atrocious. Sadly, they aren't even so-bad-they-are-funny-again. Just awful cringe-inducing horrors. The action scenes are confused and muddled. And sadly, we only briefly meet Ada Byron, the Queen of Engines. However, there were a few redeeming features.
One star was given because I read this right after reading Ada Byron Lovelace's biography, as mentioned above. Parts of the story were richer knowing the real history this was based on. Gibson and Sterling do an excellent job capturing the essence of Ada's personality. This way they could throw her into their alternative universe, have her only appear briefly, yet she is a strong presence felt through the whole book. As a cameo character she is delightfully complex, amusing, and mysterious.
Half-star to all the steampunk descriptions. This book was steampunk before there was such a thing as steam punk. The Engines sound like complex gears and pneumatic tubes gone out of control. And the weird people who run and control the engines fit right into the world. The ideas seem so plausible.
I read the 20th anniversary edition, which includes an interview with Gibson and Sterling. The last star I am awarding because of revelations that gave me new insight into the book. Both of which I had known before reading the story.
The first one you may consider to be a spoiler. Personally, I don't, but I'm going to hide it behind a spoiler tag for the strictest of spoiler-haters. (view spoiler)[The narrator of the whole book is an Engine itself. This is sort of revealed on the last page of the book. I might have realized it, if I had the energy to think about this mess of a book after finishing it. But I'm grateful Gibson and Sterling mention it in their commentary. It certainly explains a bit of the odd styling in the book. For example, every chapter is an "Iteration." They mention that the Afterword, called the "Modus" is supposed to be the Engine itself breaking down the narrative, so we are left with just clippings from obituaries, newspapers, songs, and letters. Does this explain away the horrendous sex scenes? Not for me. (hide spoiler)] I really wish I had known this before starting the book.
The second revelation in the Gibson and Sterling commentary relates to the the first one above, but isn't a spoiler. What I'm about to tell you is my favorite thing about the book. The whole book was an experiment in how a book is written can be a huge part of the story. It turns out that it took them 7 years to write this book. That means they started it in 1984 - long before the internet, and in the nascent days of personal computers. Gibson and Sterling knew that computers and the first word processors were blowing their electric typewriters out the water. Finally they could cut, paste, and rearrange text like never before. They could share files with a collaborator and they could easily alter the text. So, one author would write a chunk, Fed-Ex the other author the stack of floppy disks, and the collaboration would continue. They had one rule - you couldn't copy and paste text from an earlier version if your collaborator had deleted it. If you wanted it back in, you had to write it from memory. Interesting!
Their idea was that their computers become a Third Person in the collaboration. (And that's how it's related to the somewhat spoilery thing above. Don't you want to click on it now?? Go on, you know you do!) The game-changing nature of technology was new, and it's implementation in a collaboration gave the computer its own "presence" in the story. Like the giant Engines in their alternate world. Very curious idea. I can see how that would be an exciting idea, and true in the late-80s. But today? The concept falls flat.
But Kudos to them for experimenting!
Long live the Queen of the Engines!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)