I thoroughly enjoyed Time’s Eye - it's got action, science, and solidly developed characters. It's also got an ancient history battle royale between A...moreI thoroughly enjoyed Time’s Eye - it's got action, science, and solidly developed characters. It's also got an ancient history battle royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian hoard.
Time's Eye is the first in Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke's Time Odyssey series which takes place in the same universe as Clarke's 2001 stories. Inexplicably (at least initially), Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed "Mir" by the remnant individuals from the 21st century). The story is broad in scope, with multiple story lines intersecting, connecting and culminating in a satisfying conclusion. While the ending isn’t quite a cliff-hanger, it certainly sets up book 2 nicely.
Time's Eye has the requisite amount of hard science and pseudo-scientific - and sometimes atheistic - philosophical musings. These are the elements that Baxter and Clarke fans anticipate in their works. The philosophical vignettes are tightly written, and rarely feel forced or out of context with the rest of the story. I was thankful that there wasn’t too much rumination on the structure and specifics of time-travel.
The characters are solidly drawn and the authors were able to make the “real” characters like Alexander the Great, some of Alexander’s cohorts, and Rudyard Kipling (who gets caught in the time shifts), believable and relatively cliché-free.
In addition to the science fiction standbys of time travel and “those-that-watch-us-from-above”, the book contains solid historical fiction elements, specifically when dealing with Alexander and the Mongols. The authors take time to detail their histories, battle strategy and tactics of each set of warriors. There are also shades of Baxter’s Evolution while writing on the early hominids that get caught up in the time shifts.
Overall, I strongly recommend this sci-fi / alternative historical fiction from two of the best in the business. (less)
This was the book that really ignited my passion and interest in New World exploration. Woods combines contemporary quotes and descriptions with his o...moreThis was the book that really ignited my passion and interest in New World exploration. Woods combines contemporary quotes and descriptions with his own modern-day journeys in detailing the adventures of four seminal Spanish explorers - Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizzaro, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and Francisco Orellana.
This book was written as a companion piece to Woods' PBS documentary, but it stands alone fine without the video. While recounting the adventurers and their adventures, Woods (and his crew) follow parts of their routes and finds connections with each journey.
While this device isn't all that unique, it provides a very modern connection with these distant stories. It's a reminder that these events didn't actually occur very far away in either time or place. He blends the historical with the modern and all of the stories read very smoothly. Accompanying each tale are a series of color images - historical artwork, as well as photos from the trips that followed in the footsteps of these conquerers.
The book isn't intended to dive deeply into each adventure. But the detail is more than adequate and certainly whetted my desire to learn more.
Fire in the East is a strong newcomer in the category of Roman Military Historical Fiction. The book is smart, finely detailed, violent and exciting....moreFire in the East is a strong newcomer in the category of Roman Military Historical Fiction. The book is smart, finely detailed, violent and exciting.
Author Harry Sidebottom is a published professor of ancient history and he draws very detailed accounts of all aspects of Roman military life in the mid 3rd Century. This is the true victory of what's intended to be a 3-book series titled "Warriors of Rome". Few historical fictions contain the detailed notes, glossary and bibliography that Sidebottom presents in "Fire". He's clearly done his research, and worked his academics into his richly built story.
The core of the story is quite simple. A barbarian from the north, Ballista, climbs the ranks of the Roman Military (quite common during the second and third centuries in the Roman Empire), and is assigned to lead the defenses of a key city on the far eastern outskirts of the Empire. He's strong, smart, witty, emotionally tortured, loyal, and blonde. The fictional city is called Arete, nestled on two sides by deep ravines, on another side by the might Euphrates river, and on the fourth by a desert. Roman intellegence reports that the Sassinid Empire is planning a springtime attack on the city. It's Ballista's job to prepare for a siege and lead the defense of this important outpost at the crossroads of the Eastern World.
While the details are painted with colorful details and make the story unique, Sidebottom has turned a specific kind of military event into as strong of a character as any of the Roman or Persian good and bad guys alike. The true star of "Fire" is the siege - the machinations of defense and attack. Sidebottom tells of ballistae, hidden pits, spies and city-taking siege towers. etc. The story hums along as Ballista prepares for the siege, many items discussed in great detail, but some held back for a literary surprise.
There's no lack of violence. As detailed as Sidebottom is with his descriptions of military life, he's equally as vivid in his depiction of military death. Huge stones take off a man's head while his body still stands. Arrows hit soldiers and Sassanids alike...killing and maiming in any number of ways. It wasn't too gory and added to the effect and realism of the story.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Sidebottom incorporates a theme of betrayal and espionage throughout the story that's uneven and ultimately disjointed and disappointing. This branch of his story is the strongest reason I rate the book with 3 stars instead of 4. I may revise the relative weight of this negative once I'm able to get my hands on the rest of the series, but as a stand alone, the plot gaps leading up to the flat conclusion were awkward enough to knock it down a notch in my mind.
A strong historical novel should hit on at least two key qualities - an ability to transport the reader to a foreign place and time; and a strong story that legitimizes (at least in the reader's mind) that history. I think Sidebottom does a nice job in both categories...he's at his best, though, with the history.(less)