This book may be when this series jumped the shark. Harry Dresden, wizard-cum-PI, ends up in a war between the forces of Faerie, while attempting to sThis book may be when this series jumped the shark. Harry Dresden, wizard-cum-PI, ends up in a war between the forces of Faerie, while attempting to stop the White Council of Wizards from doing him in as a rogue sorcerer.
Things I didn't like about this book are fairly numerous: - Several characters get essentially cameo roles, as Butcher expands the grounding context for Harry Dresden and his decidedly different version of Chicago. As a result, the entire series begins to resemble a soap opera more than a coherent story in each volume. Some people may like this, but it's not my cup of tea. - The power escalation continues. When a member of the Sidhe royalty notes that Dresden has more magical power than anyone seen before, it makes it that much harder for Dresden to maintain his already tenuous connection to ordinary life and the people in it. This is paralleled in the book by references to events and problems much further away than in previous volumes. (And this problem is not exclusive to Butcher and the Dresden Files; Laurel K. Hamilton and the Anita Blake series positively wallow in this kind of thing, to the detriment of feeling much connection as a reader to what is going on.) - Some newly introduced characters are less than fully realized, most notably Elaine, a person from Harry's past. More so than in previous books, I found myself having to go back and figure out who people were, and their relative relationships to one another, and whether or not I should care. - While it's understandable that Harry's troubles deepen, the problem this creates is that Things Out To Kill Harry have to be tougher and more dangerous, but Mundane Chicago has to remain unaware. The result of this is that Harry looks and acts more like a superhero than a wizard, as ogres, chlorofiends, and various Sidhe do their level best to kill him and he has to not only survive but recover quickly enough to keep on the trail of his current job.
It's as if Butcher is trying to throw more and more trouble at Harry as the main character, hoping that this will distract readers from the sag and spread in the meta-plot of the stories. It's unfortunate, because Butcher's a good enough writer to actually keep the dramatic tension nice and taut - when he's willing to work at it. ...more
Accounts of contemporary and recent events tend to go stale fairly quickly. Who is going to be that interested in some of the books that came out abouAccounts of contemporary and recent events tend to go stale fairly quickly. Who is going to be that interested in some of the books that came out about the "Swiftboating" of John Kerry, or the drinking habits and nightlife of Sen. John Tower? Not that many people. So my recent enjoyment of "Charlie Wilson's War" even as a kind of docudrama must have been foreshadowing for this book.
Lockhart was a consular official of the Great Britain in Moscow, during the Russian Revolution. He was familiar with Lenin, Trotsky, and many other Russian leaders (both Red and White). Released from jail by the Cheka, he was posted to Prague by the Foreign Office after the "Great War" and then became a banker, working everywhere from Germany to Montenegro. A bon vivant, he was acquainted with Masaryk and Benes of Czechoslovakia, lunched with von Seeckt of the German General Staff, played golf with the Prince of Wales, and knew gipsies and chorus girls from London to Belgrade. And, oh yes, he was a spy.
Retreat from Glory is something of a window onto the autumn days of the post-World War I world in Europe, before the winter chill of fascism emerging in Germany, Italy and Spain. Lockhart recounts his many adventures in a casual yet engaging style, assuming the reader is familiar with current events, people, and references of the 1920's. He describes the emergence of the Successor States in Central Europe, and the failure of the Allies to recognize the seeds of resentment they themselves had planted in the defeated Central Powers - part of the basis for Lockhart's book title. We also find that Lockhart was something of a spendthrift, racking up debt after debt, while using his linguistic talents and vast range of acquaintanceships to build his career - though he never seemed completely happy in any position he held. Despite his larger-than-life public figure, Lockhart's personal life is revealed only indirectly - his love of trout-fishing leads to lyrical descriptions of out of the way remote fastnesses in Central Europe, most of them now long gone. We're half-way through the book before he admits to having an unhappy relationship with his wife, even though he writes longingly about his Russian mistress much earlier in the tale.
Some of what Lockhart writes about is simply too difficult for a 21st Century reader to really grasp, such as the intricate political relationships between Austria, Hungary, the Successor States, and the Great Powers. Some of his descriptions, while appropriate for the time, seem odd to modern sensibilities, such as his somewhat casual stereotyping of Jews. Another example would be his mention of the "formidable" character of the Yugoslav Army (the success of the German Blitzkrieg in 1941 belies this description, but 15 years earlier...? Possibly true then - but not for long).
At the end of the book, Lockhart contrasts two seemingly unconnected events - a personal audience with Kaiser Wilhelm in exile in Doorn in the Netherlands, and a reunion with a Russian actress in Berlin over lunch, only to encounter brownshirted S.A. men marching down the street - "nobody takes them seriously" says an old lady nearby. The first event, Lockhart suggests, is an echo of an earlier age now fading in an uncertain present. The second is a taste of things yet to occur, with only a few people really understanding the maelstrom building in the shadows of Europe - even Lockhart, writing in the mid-30's, does not completely understand what is yet to come.
All in all, an enjoyable book, one that makes me want to go out and find the rest of Lockhart's writing; Retreat from Glory has aged much better than similar "I was there" accounts published far more recently. Definitely recommended. ...more
I've commented already on The Trouble Twisters, so much of this will follow that same critique. Basically this is a collection of stories by Poul AndeI've commented already on The Trouble Twisters, so much of this will follow that same critique. Basically this is a collection of stories by Poul Anderson about one of his iconic characters, Nicholas van Rijn, CEO of Solar Spice and Liquors. van Rijn is a heavy-set, charismatic adventurer who is a major factor in the Polesotechnic League - the "Gilded Age" of Anderson's future history - and van Rijn is very much a robber baron who sometimes has a heart of gold. Never without various comforts of home, van Rijn spends most of his time decrying the unfairness of the universe, chasing after beautiful young women, and driving a very hard bargain. When I was a teenager, I though Nicky van Rijn was cool (but Anderson's 007, Dominic Flandry was even more cool or so I thought).
But times have changed and my critical faculties have improved. Now, van Rijn seems like a lecher and a cut-throat capitalist, using free market economics as a thin justification for his practices. Given that these stories were written during the Cold War, they are clearly a response to the leaden, often uninteresting "victory of socialism" themes seen elsewhere in literature (but rarely in American SF). Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that socialism is somehow automatically better than capitalism, but it's rather convenient in Anderson's stories that everything turns out for the best in the end, after Nicky van Rijn gets his cut of the profits.
The one redeeming point of these stories is Anderson's attention to scientific detail and his use of that to drive the stories along and keep the reader's interest. Sure, some of what he describes has been corrected since the story was written, but he very rarely descends into "as we all know" info-dumping.
Again, if you can look past some of the social anachronisms as well as some of the deeper issues embedded in these stories, they can be fun bathtub reads....more
You should be careful of re-reading books you really liked as a teenager, because you might find that they do not hold up when you are older. You mighYou should be careful of re-reading books you really liked as a teenager, because you might find that they do not hold up when you are older. You might even be embarrassed by what you used to think of as “good.” One volume in the docket, guilty as charged: The Trouble Twisters, by Poul Anderson. This is a collection of stories he wrote about his Polesotechnic League, and specifically about Nicholas van Rijn and his protégé David Falkayn. It comes after Trader to the Stars, where we first meet Nicholas van Rijn.
Please understand, I really like(d) Poul Anderson’s writing. Generally, I’ve found that he had a (relatively) deft touch with cultural detail, and a firm grasp on story-telling. But this set of stories did not age well at all. Whether it was the constant smoking on the part of the main characters, or the rather blatant sexism and aliens-as-racial-stand-ins, or simply the cheerfully cutthroat capitalism – I ended up having a hard time working my way through books that I thought were just grand adventure yarns as a teenager.
While some people might say I'm overreacting, I want to forestall this by pointing out that past "great works" may be flawed and those flaws might not become apparent until much later. Judged by the standards of the time it was published, The Trouble Twisters is remarkable in some ways: the character of Chee Lan, a member of a cat-like alien species where the females seem to be dominant, or the recognition that aliens have good reasons to not always trust humans, or simply the attention to detail in Anderson's stories. But it is precisely those virtues that make the flaws stand out even more strongly.
If you are looking for a decent older SF adventure yarn, and are not looking at the sub-text too closely, then The Trouble Twisters is a decent read. But don't go peeking too deeply into the book - you might end up being disappointed. ...more
Cunliffe’s book is an exploration of the voyage of Pytheas, originally of Massilia - now Marseilles - to the British Isles and beyond. While later wriCunliffe’s book is an exploration of the voyage of Pytheas, originally of Massilia - now Marseilles - to the British Isles and beyond. While later writers in the Ancient era doubted the veracity of Pytheas’s tale, Cunliffe carefully lays out how that narrative (now lost to us in its original form) is supported by archaeological evidence.
Pytheas apparently went north through the Loire valley to Armorica (now Brittany), and from there went to Britain, Ireland, and may have traveled as far north as Iceland – publishing his account as On the Oceans in 320 BC. Long before Julius Caesar came north, and at a time when the world beyond the Pillars of Hercules was unknown, Pytheas’ careful attention to detail forms the basis of Cunliffe's exploration of ancient European life and geographic knowledge, and provides a fascinating look at the life and culture of the early Celts.
The only downside is the lack of footnotes, which was a conscious choice on Cunliffe's part - he makes up for it mostly by having an extensive bibliography. All in all, an enjoyable and fascinating read. ...more