A good yarn, about an excellently demented, and extremely brutal corner of 20th century history. The Baron is a weird enough character and Palmer makeA good yarn, about an excellently demented, and extremely brutal corner of 20th century history. The Baron is a weird enough character and Palmer makes a seemingly honest attempt to get to the bottom of his personality and ideology, but this strikes me as the less interesting aspect of the book (as well as being a hopeless cause.) The history of the events themselves is more striking. From the dramatically named baroque killer train of the Russian civil war, which roamed Siberia, complete with banqueting halls, torture chambers and ransacked naval artillery. The Tibetan brigade that wandered around Mongolia trying to find the Mongolian army. The political wrangling between the Chinese and Russians in Mongolia...it's all just a nice reminder that history is a lot odder, less sensible, less linearly reasonable than it seems from a distance....more
Thoroughly enjoyed this one, after the slightly mechanical, no pun intended, eighths book. The cast of characters is enormous, but they each get enougThoroughly enjoyed this one, after the slightly mechanical, no pun intended, eighths book. The cast of characters is enormous, but they each get enough careful attention to create distinct personalities and motivations, and Tchaikovsky has a knack of taking those characterizations and crafting arresting, dramatic, brutal moments out of them. The series probably most interesting aspect, the questions of magic and technology, also comes full circle and i'm dying to know how it's going to play out in the next book now. It's also astonishing how far all the characters have come, in a way that even series with much higher pretensions of scope usually fail to achieve. In short, read this, fantasy fans....more
Not quite what I was hoping for, in that it's mostly focused on the current (well, as of a year ago) conflict rather than the background. Very much aNot quite what I was hoping for, in that it's mostly focused on the current (well, as of a year ago) conflict rather than the background. Very much a first draft of history. Still, the early chapters help give an overview of who-against-who and the basic beats of 20th century Syrian history and geopolitics.
Kind of weirdly, to my mind, Ajami often dips into a sort of melodramatic speaking-to-posterity tone (complete with poetically mixed up tenses - "history moved with velocity nowadays. This dynastic inheritance in Syria was not destined to survive the second generation.*") like he's narrating a goddamned play. This wore out its welcome pretty fast.
Do I need a tag for Satanism, or can I just file that safely under Christianity? *Ponders.*
So, ok, this didn't really work for me. It really should haDo I need a tag for Satanism, or can I just file that safely under Christianity? *Ponders.*
So, ok, this didn't really work for me. It really should have, it's got so much of the stuff I like - bizarre, multi layered frame story, twisty plot, farce, history, politics and an incredibly unreliable, doomed, obsessed narrator. And yet I was basically bored throughout. I don't know if it was the writing, or the need to keep track of the characters who I honestly couldn't tell apart or the way it takes on history I don't know enough about (Italian unification, for example) to see what he's trying to say there, but I struggled to finish it. The ending too was a particular letdown, since I did want to know the resolution to one central mystery and turned out as a bit of a cop-out, to my tastes. Theres was also a sudden flip into an expectation that we slightly pity the incredibly odious narrator - which i'm fine with, really, only why did it come at the very end? I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if the preceeding four hundred pages had been written with the same eye, instead of him just being repetitively slimy.
And, oh, yeah - everything is about the holocaust again. ...more
I rather admire this as an exercise but i'm not quite sure what the point of the exercise was, as such. The book doesn't quite stick to it's conceitsI rather admire this as an exercise but i'm not quite sure what the point of the exercise was, as such. The book doesn't quite stick to it's conceits firmly enough to be a creation of pure style. It's gimmick is telling a handful of tightly focused murder mysteries (pleasingly clever ones, for me anyway) that are seemingly only small parts of a much larger galactic-rebellion, search for FTL, etc Space Opera type story.
The mysteries are basically incidental - the effect achieved only by looking at the 'history' through a tube. This is the neatest thing about the book, and I feel a bit let down that it rather sprawls towards the end, actually telling the space opera rather than just implying it. Then again, perhaps the odd sort of ghost-vision effect, of staring at something random until it starts to get a shape, wouldn't have been so strong. So I disagree that the ending was too abrupt - to the contrary: it wasn't abrupt enough. But what we were supposed to see in this juxtaposition of the two still remains, well, a mystery. ...more
Theres a revolution in this book, but it turns out you need to care about the past for it's shattering to have any emotional or narrative impact. WhenTheres a revolution in this book, but it turns out you need to care about the past for it's shattering to have any emotional or narrative impact. When one character accuses the protagonosts of trying to destroy her world, it means nothing, as we never got to have any real sense of her world and why it would matter to her. This is odd, given the slow, slow start and generally langurous pace, but this is all concerned with the rather tedious childhood of the protagonist and manages to never get across much real worldbuilding.
Its possible that it merely aims not to glamorize the past, but the book is explicitely about the act of the revolution itself, not the doctrinal differences between the fantasy capitalism and (failed) fantasy syndicalism of before and after. As such, it's vauge, dreamy atmospheric vibe holds up well the confused, frustrated loneliness of the arcs of it's heroes. The protagonist tries to substitute unrequited longing for a relashionship and politics for wonder, and the revolution merely goes round again. It fails to fulfill desire and the personal remains the personal. The revolution becomes a hollow shell over the skeleton of the magical, that the characters turn to again and again to provide that which reality cannot.
It's ultimately a powerful notion, that our own flawed needs and weaknesses, our need to be someone we are not, underpin the structures of oppression. Its just too long by half and could have used more of a plot.
Recommended for those more interested in reflection that action. ...more
Resolutely silly. Already slightly dated and will be nigh incomprehensible in about 5 years due to profusion of super timely pop and politics referencResolutely silly. Already slightly dated and will be nigh incomprehensible in about 5 years due to profusion of super timely pop and politics references. (80's flashbacks - and currently set scenes - seemingly rife with nostalgia for Labour Party already incomprehensible.) Plenty of fun though. ...more