The Bounty Trilogy – A Book Review – Part 2 – “Men Against the Sea” & “Pitcairn’s Island”

In this second part of this book review of the Bounty Trilogy I’ll include both of the remaining stories.  I think this is reasonable because neither of these later “books” has the same narrative clout as “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  Although each story has remarkable human interest and involves harrowing danger and human suffering neither is as dynamic as the tale in Mutiny.  And for this reason, I think I can do justice to both in this single review.

 

Men Against the Sea

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Men Against the Sea is the narrative of Captain Bligh’s Sea voyage.  I’ll let the narrator Thomas Ledward, the Bounty’s Acting Surgeon summarize the voyage, “Never, perhaps, in the history of the sea has a captain performed a feat more remarkable than Mr. Bligh’s, in navigating a small, open, and unarmed boat–but twenty-three feet long, and so heavily laden that she was in constant danger of foundering–from the Friendly Islands to Timor, a distance of three thousand, six hundred miles, through groups of islands inhabited by ferocious savages, and across a vast uncharted ocean. Eighteen of us were huddled on the thwarts as we ran for forty-one days before strong easterly gales, bailing almost continually to keep afloat, and exposed to torrential rains by day and by night.

And that description gives us the gist of the book.  But as remarkable as that voyage was what’s it like as a story?  I would say that the story is passably interesting and we do get a flavor of each of the passengers and especially Bligh but the circumstances of the story are on the whole too static to make the adventure come fully to life.  For this I don’t fully fault the authors.  I’m not sure anyone could figure out a way to fully document the voyage and still give the story a dynamic feel.  Instead, the book faithfully portrays the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that eighteen men trapped on a twenty-three-foot boat for forty-one days must have been like.

Pitcairn’s Island

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Pitcairn’s Island is the story of the Bounty mutineers along with some women and men from Tahiti establishing a colony on a small, secluded and almost unknown island in the South Pacific in order to escape from the British Navy that would be searching for them over the mutiny.  This is a very strange story of how these Englishmen took what was potentially a tropical paradise and turned it into a private hell.  All of the human foibles are on display.  Greed, sloth, lust, intolerance, drunkenness and wrath play a role in destroying the colony.  By the end of the story only the women and children remain except for one mutineer who assumed the role of father figure for the children.

The story is an exciting one full of conflict and human tragedy.  And the pace of the story is much more engaging than Men Against the Sea.  But at points the dialog does seem to be a little stilted.  But this book is much more readable than the previous story.

 

Final Comments

“Men Against the Sea” and “Pitcairn’s Island” aren’t as engaging or have plots that are as well rounded as “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  But I would guess that nine out of ten readers of Mutiny will at least try to read these later stories.  Personally, neither of these later stories was as satisfying as Mutiny but I recommend that anyone who read Mutiny on the Bounty should at least give them a try.

The Bounty Trilogy – A Book Review – Part 1 – Mutiny on the Bounty

I’ve just finished the first part of the trilogy, Mutiny on the Bounty, and I’m so enthused about that book that I decided not to wait until I have finished all three books to start writing the review.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

I have seen a couple of the film adaptations of Mutiny on the Bounty previously and always enjoyed the story.  So I was impelled recently to hunt out the book to see what I thought of the more detailed treatment in the book and to discover just how closely the movies kept to the original text.

The story of the Bounty is the collision of a melancholy and headstrong Englishman, Fletcher Christian, with a brilliant naval officer, William Bligh, who was at the same time a venal, cruel and boorish man who inflicted brutal floggings on his crew for situations that he himself caused.  He starved his men for the sake of pocketing the savings he made on provisioning the ship and he belittled and accused his officers of petty offenses that he dwelt upon because of his obsessive nature.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the midshipmen, Roger Byam, a young gentleman whom Bligh convinced to join the journey in order to create a dictionary and grammar of the Tahitian language for a mutual friend of theirs Sir Joseph Banks who was the President of the Royal Society.  The mission of the Bounty was to sail to Tahiti and collect hundreds of saplings of the breadfruit tree and then transport the plants to the British West Indies where they might become a cheap food source for the slaves on the sugar plantations there.

The story chronicles the outward voyage to Tahiti and the mission on the island.  We meet all of the more notable members of the crew and several of the Tahitians who are important to the personal stories of the main characters.  Christian, Byam and several other characters become intimately involved with women on the island and this adds to the unhappiness when the return voyage begins.

Bligh and his minions in the crew confiscate the food and other material souvenirs from the men and officers, ostensibly for equal sharing but in reality, for Bligh’s benefit.  And when some of this plunder, a few cocoanuts, are stolen one night by one of the younger crewmen, Bligh accuses Christian of the theft.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  At daybreak Christian enlists some of the seamen who had been most afflicted by Bligh’s punishments and they seized muskets from the weapons locker, took Bligh prisoner and took possession of the ship.

Christian and his mutineers formulated a plan.  Bligh and the officers and anyone who wanted to remain loyal to him would be set adrift in the ship’s launch.  The Bounty would be commandeered to take the mutineers to an island where they hoped to avoid discovery by the British Navy.  But in the event, it turned out that there were too many loyalists to fit in the launch.  The excess loyalists, including Byam had to remain with the Bounty and Christian finally decided to make a trip to Tahiti to drop off the loyalists, purchase provisions and convince some Tahitian women and men to join the mutineers in their new home.

Once the Bounty leaves Tahiti the story revolves around the fate of the Byam and his comrades both on Tahiti and later on when a British Navy vessel comes looking for the Bounty.  Contrary to all expectations, Bligh was able to navigate his tiny craft 4,200 miles to Timor in the East Indies.  On finally reaching England he alerted the authorities of the mutiny and a man of war, the Pandora, was sent to the South Sea to find and recover the Bounty and bring the mutineers back for trial.  The loyalists left on Tahiti and some mutineers who decided to stay on Tahiti were all rounded up by the captain of the Pandora and the ship searched among the islands of the south Seas looking, unsuccessfully for the Bounty.  But when the Pandora struck a reef in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the surviving crew and prisoners were in a similar situation to what Bligh suffered in travelling thousands of miles in lifeboats to reach port.

Finally, the story reaches its climax in the court martial trial of Byam and his companions.  And here we see circumstances conspiring to paint Byam as a mutineer.  Bligh misunderstood an innocent conversation between Byam and Christian the night before the mutiny and reported it as proof that Byam was part of the mutiny.  But the only one who had heard the whole conversation had disappeared in a ship wreck before the trial.  And so Byam is convicted and sentenced to hang.  By a miraculous coincidence the missing crewman is rescued and gives testimony of Byam’s innocence just a few days before his execution would have occurred.  After the trial Byam returns to naval duty and has a long and illustrious career.  But an epilogue has him return to Tahiti where the paradise that he had experienced there had been destroyed by exposure to the conflicting pressures that European lifestyle put on the natives.  Almost all of his friends were dead of disease or war and the population was reduced to a miserable and sparse remnant of what he remembered.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a fictionalized version of the actual Bounty story.  Although the characters are all based on actual people, I’m sure the authors have injected their own details and personality traits to give the story the desired tone.  It is not a history.  And for that reason, I will rate it as a work of fiction.  I consider it an excellent adventure story.  Being based on actual events the authors strove to convey the extraordinary hardships that the characters suffered while trying to survive the almost impossible conditions of their grueling sea voyages.  And the description of the idyllic world of the Tahitians in this early stage of their introduction to Europeans is remarkably effective in conveying a sense of sheer happiness.  It literally sounds like heaven on earth.  I haven’t read the other two installments of the Bounty Trilogy but I highly recommend the Mutiny on the Bounty story to anyone who enjoys adventure stories.

Galaxy’s Edge – Dark Victory – A Science Fiction Book Review

I’ve got to hand it to Anspach and Cole.  The world building they are doing in the Galaxy’s Edge franchise doesn’t seem like it will ever slow down.  They’re at least fifteen books into this universe and I keep running into newer and weirder twists and turns in the history of their galaxy.  And they’re always throwing in new characters and cross-connecting old characters and advancing new plot lines.  These boys are on their game.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In this latest installment Aeson Ford (/Captain Keel/Wraith/Tyrus Rechs (imposter)) is working undercover for his old Legionnaire friend Chhun.  He gets mixed up with an investigation into Nether Ops interference into the chaotic political situation that has existed since the Legion put an end to the House of Reason.  Working with the Nether Ops agent “Honey” he infiltrates several bases of the nefarious spy agency leading up to the capture of vital intel.  Meanwhile Ford is also in search of information on his own forgotten origins in the Kill Team Ice that stretches back to the Savage Wars by means of cryosleep.

Meanwhile we discover that his crewmate Leenah was not killed when the Indelible VI was attacked by bounty hunters in the last book.  We learn how her ship was all but destroyed just as she made the jump to light speed.  The jump saved her life but left her stranded in the middle of nowhere with almost no air and no way to get help.  Through her mechanical ingenuity she rigs a signal and waits with time running out.  Meanwhile Ford’s other crewmate Garret is Lenah working with Nilo’s Black Leaf mercenaries and because he hasn’t given up on Leenah’s life, he locates her signal and convinces Nilo to go on a rescue mission.

When they get to the beacon Leenah and the ship is gone and Nilo figures out that Leenah has been captured by Gomarii slavers and they go on a mission to save her and take down the Gomarii.  During the rescue Nilo and Garret discover that the Gomarii vessel is actually a Savage hulk that contains information in its memory banks crucial to the upcoming resumption of the Savage threat to the galaxy.

Aeson Ford fabricates a plot to capture a rogue Naval Commander who has been doing the Nether Ops dirty work.  During the action Honey betrays him with her former colleagues in Nether Ops and she is killed along with the rest of the agents that Ford defeats.  When he returns to the Legion base, he learns that his old comrade Masters is in dire straits.  Instead of returning to Garret and Nilo he heads off with the legionnaires to save Masters.  But at the end of the book, we find that Nilo also has business on that same dangerous planet.

Dark Victory winds two plots together and both are done well.  The rescue of Leenah from the salvers is the more dynamic and satisfying of the subplots but taking Ford out of the action allows the secondary characters like Leenah and Garret to get their moments in the sun.  Plus, it allows Nilo and Garret to advance the information on the Savage Wars back story which will tie in with other characters that don’t figure in this book but will return soon.  Let’s face it, once you’re into the series this deep all you want to know is whether it’s still a good read.  It is.

Galaxy’s Edge – Legacies – A Science Fiction Book Review

Before I proceed to the review a quick note.  It’s been over a year since the last review in this series.  The explanation is a puzzling fact.  I buy the paperback version of books and for some reason Legacies never came out in paperback.  I’ve checked and the subsequent books in the series are now available in paperback but Legacies never was.  So recently I gave up and bought the hardcover version.  What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.  Anyway, welcome back.

Legacies rejoins the story with Aeson Ford, aka Aeson Keel, aka Wraith and now aka Tyrus Rechs in search of Prisma, the young woman who has found herself embedded in the conflict between a confusing array of sides.  From the previous volumes in the series, she has seen Goth Sullus destroy her family in his quest to convert the Galactic Republic into a personal weapon against lurking threats and she has been swept along by Tyrus Rechs and Aeson Keel and discovered that she has mysterious powers that somehow make her important in the conflicts still to come.

In this book we will follow separate stories involving Prisma and Keel as they struggle to survive in a galaxy filled with confusing threats.  Prisma is aboard a war machine left over from the Savage Wars, a device that replays historic battles to evaluate alternate strategies to some mysterious end.  Keel goes under cover as Tyrus Rechs to find out who has put a price on his head and why.  And these two seemingly unrelated threads are slowly woven into one fabric.  Truths are revealed about Aeson Ford’s father and Tyrus Rechs and Goth Sullus that go back to the beginning of the Savage Wars and maybe beyond.

The book shifts back and forth between the two main narratives and then adds another plot line from the past.  This leads to some whiplash for the reader from time to time but the writing is quite well done and it kept my interest throughout.  Anspach and Cole have a very complex world-building project going on in this series.  In this volume, they provide origin information on the Cybar, Aeson Ford and links with the Savage Wars plot lines that expand a great deal on what I knew about the story previously.  And any hope of finishing this series in less than a million volumes has flown out the window.  But I’m happily resigned to my fate.

Highly recommended for all fans of the series.  Year two of the series is barreling along on hyperdrive.

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

 

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 2

Robert Louis Stevenson – A Book Review – Part 1 – Treasure Island

 

 

 

Even aside from his skills as a story-teller Robert Louis Stevenson is an interesting personality .and lived in interesting times.  But I think I’ll save the biographical comments for one of the later chapters of this series.  I’ll just say that if he had never written another line, Treasure Island would still be enough to ensure his place in the literary pantheon.  I’ll say right at the beginning that I consider it the finest boy’s adventure story ever written.  I guess I’ve given away my conclusion but that’s too bad.

The story is simple enough.  Jim Hawkins is an English boy living in the 1700’s whose parents’ small seaside inn is visited by a mysterious old sailor whose bad character and eccentricities disturb the serenity of the place.  And when his associates arrive to threaten him Jim and his mother are in fear of their lives.  After a desperate struggle Jim is stunned to find that he has stumbled on a treasure map from the dread pirate Flint and with the help and backing of the local squire, John Trelawney and  his friend Dr. Livesey Jim finds himself on a treasure hunt on the good ship Hispaniola.

But Trelawney unwisely picks his own crew and unknowingly allows a one-legged former pirate named Long John Silver to man the Hispaniola with himself and the rest of Captain Flint’s old crew.  And the story chronicles the struggle between Jim, his friends and the intrepid Captain Smollett against this gang of cutthroats.  But surprisingly, John Silver is by far the most interesting character and Stevenson somehow manages to make him an attractive villain.  Without a doubt he is just as evil and murderous as the rest of the buccaneers but at the same time he is intelligent and even affable in his villainy.

Throughout the story Jim becomes the means by which the good characters manage to survive the long odds stacked against them.  And it is these lucky breaks and courageous decisions that provide the pivot points to move the story along.  Stevenson has managed to keep the plot taut and the story moves along nice and briskly.  And all the characters, even the pirates are filled in very skillfully and moments of humor and pathos are well written.  This book has been made into motion pictures several times and the 1934 version with Wallace Beery as Silver is extremely faithful to the book and quite enjoyable but I would recommend letting boys read or have read to them this book.  It’s a fantastic story and will fire the imagination of any boy who hears it.

Very highly recommended matey!  Certain it is!

Side Jobs and Brief Cases – Two Short Story Collections from The Dresden Files – by Jim Butcher – An SF&F Book Review

These two books are each a group of short stories that Jim Butcher has collected.  Side Jobs was published in 2010 and Brief Cases was published in 2018.  In each case Butcher collected the stories that had been published in anthologies then added a new novella at the end.  And obviously the differences in subject matter and tone in the collections match up with the where they fit in the chronology of the Dresden Files at the time they were written.  But just as with the overall series the “feel” of the stories and especially the character of Harry himself is surprisingly consistent.  He is as always, a wise-cracking, annoying defender of the human world against the forces of the various supernatural creatures he opposes.  He battles White, Red and Black Court vampires, ghosts, sorcerers, werewolves, faeries and other folklore creatures.  Harry is always a little too lefty and feminist for my complete stamp of approval but Butcher writes a very good story and I have been reading these books for a very long time and even when some lefty cultural stance annoys me, I still read and enjoy the story.  And these stories are no exception.  Some character or some comment from Harry will annoy me but I’ll still read and enjoy each story.

The stories are self-sufficient and can be read alone without the need to jump into the next one.  And because the stories were written for various anthologies some of them have oddball plots that were picked to fit in to some overarching theme.  Like in Brief Cases there is a western story called “A Fistful of Warlocks” that was written for an anthology called “Straight Outta Tombstone.”  And likewise for other stories that had themes relating to weddings or relationships or even beer or baseball.  But even the stories that you would think would be just a throwaway Butcher puts in the work and makes the story hang together.  And in these short stories sometimes Harry isn’t even the narrator.  Thomas Raith, John Marcone, Karrin Murphy and even Molly Carpenter each narrate a story.   And especially in the case of Thomas and Marcone I think these add a lot of interest to the story because of the very different point of view of these characters from Harry.

Just as with the rest of the Dresden Files these books cannot be enjoyed unless you already have read the first few books about Harry.  But it is good to know that Jim Butcher takes the time to make even his short stories worth reading.

The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard by Tyler James Cook – A Book Review

Full disclosure, Tyler Cook is the proprietor of the website The Portly Politico, a fellow conservative and in my opinion a fine fellow.  He and I have shared many an interesting conversation on-line about a number of different topics, political and non-political.  He’s a multi-talented fellow and a good guy.  So, I wasn’t surprised to find that he has also self-published a book and asked me to review it.  And always on the look out for something good to review, I immediately agreed and he was kind enough to send me a review copy.

“The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard” is a short book and is made up of a number of “cases.”  The eponymous Inspector is a Sherlock Holmes-like savant who usually solves the case simultaneous with the initial narration of the crime.  But the final solution always involves logic that is a complete non sequitur to the clues.  That is the joke.

The thing that I noted was that the content of the stories reflect the various ages at which Tyler wrote them.  So, the earliest tales are very, very short and have solutions that defy any conventional logic.  They are what a teenage kid would find funny.  And as the series of stories progresses, they become more complex and the writing adds touches of noir-like characterization and other dramatic effect.

And finally, as the author enters adulthood his writing becomes mature and his story telling powers become developed.  The culmination is a story called, “Inspector Gerard and the Dead-End Job Caper.”  It is a comical piece that dramatizes Gerard’s ennui and determination to abandon crime-solving and take up a life as a fish-monger.  This story has everything.  Dramatic tension, character development, local color and timing.  Well, maybe not, but it is funny.

So here is the verdict.  Tyler Cook is a smart talented writer.  I can see that in the output of his blog.  “The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard” is a showcase of his earliest fiction writing output.  It reflects his sense of humor applied to the mystery genre.  It is amusing but very short.  I think the takeaway from this selection is that Tyler is going to write a longer and more commercial work in the future.

Tyler has the story on Amazon and I see it’s on kindle unlimited for free I believe.  Because of its short length and the ironic nature of much of the work I wouldn’t know if many folks would be happy to pay a lot for the collection.  But I encourage readers of the Portly Politico to try it out and then lobby Tyler to spread his wings and write the comic novel that he obviously has in him.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance – A Book Review

Several places where I read on-line had praised Vance’s book so I decided to read it.  I already knew basically what it was about but I guess I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

J. D. Vance’s family came originally from Appalachia, specifically Jackson Kentucky. His maternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Middletown Ohio after WW II to let him get work in the steel factory there and his family became part of the boom economy in the industrial Mid-West that followed the war. But as that economic expansion slowly collapsed into the Rust Belt reality of the 1970s and beyond, his family more and more shared in the dislocation and finally the hopelessness of life in that blighted region.

Through the personal history of his family he presents evidence and draws conclusions about what internal and external factors led to the train wreck that is the Rust Belt.  And he tries to back up this evidence by including general information on the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the white working class and specifically Appalachian people in question.

The personal story of his family and the details of their lives is poignant and honest and draws sympathy from anyone who came from a family that is full of complicated people who struggle and succeed and fail and generally make a messy story to tell.  It’s about the love and hate and anger and fear and confusion that consumed the first decade and a half of his life.  It’s got colorful characters like his grandparents who swear and spit and brandish guns and break down doors if strangers seem to threaten their family.  It’s his mother who tried to find a middle-class identity for her small family but was too damaged to even save herself from drugs and broken marriages.

In the final analysis I think that the point the book tries to make is that the people who left Appalachia were so ill-suited to live in the modern world of nuclear families and suburban society that only the post-war boom allowed even the illusion that they had assimilated into the Mid-Western lifestyle.  Their people were shorn of the support that multi-generational family units provided to them back in the hills and were surrounded by people who had been raised in and could take of advantage of the community resources that exist in middle America.  Vance’s family was always suspicious and angry at the school system and the police and the other government entities that could provide assistance to people in need.  Their independence when stripped of the extended family support structure meant isolation and poverty and an endless string of failures that reinforced the sense of hopelessness that eventually led to drug addiction and despair.

I think it’s a pretty interesting story.  And I recognize the components that he brings up as existing in the real world.  But he does let the powers that be off the hook to a degree that I think is unrealistic.  The post-war boom was a result of government policy that encouraged the harnessing of the human capital that had been freed up by the end of World War II.  Tens of millions of enlisted men were brought back to this country and it had been so thoroughly transformed that only massive top-down control allowed for the re-integration.  Thirty years later there was no similar top-down planning to continue that existence once the earlier generation disappeared from the work place.  The corporations were allowed to shift into a globalist mindset and because those Rust Belt workers were inconvenient because they made too much money or weren’t desperate enough to work like Japanese or Chinese workers they were dismissed from the plans of industry.

Vance may slightly touch on this but his thesis is that personal responsibility and family support systems are what saved him.  When his mother’s chaotic lifestyle came close to destroying his chance at building a healthy life his grandmother stepped up and provided a stable and supportive home in which he was able to re-apply himself at school and finally prove to himself that it was possible for him escape from the cycle of failure and break through to the normal world.

Okay.  His emphasis makes sense based on his experience and world view.  I think there is another side to the present crisis and he somewhat touches on this too.  Some say he is blaming the victims.  I think that overstates it.  I think it’s an interesting book.  I know it made me reconsider some things in my past.  And the anecdotes about his grandparents and that generation of his family are fun to read.  His family is somewhat in volved in the Hatfield and McCoy feud interestingly enough.  I’m not sure that this book is for everyone but if you are interested in the dynamic that has laid waste to the Rust Belt it might be something for you to read.

Battle Ground – A Novel of The Dresden Files – by Jim Butcher – An SF&F Book Review

Spoiler Alert.  All my reviews are spoilers.  If you wan to avoid them go down to the end and just read my recommendation.

For anyone coming to this review without any background to the Dresden Files, Battle Ground is I believe the seventeenth book of that series.  Jim Butcher has created quite a complicated and very entertaining world that centers on a Chicago that is embedded in a reality that has several kinds of vampires, two faery realms, werewolves, sasquatches, Norse mythological characters, Knights of the Cross, Fallen Angels and wizards.  And in particular Harry Dresden is the extremely conflicted and always wise-cracking Wizard of Chicago.  If you want to delve into the series, I guess it would be much more sensible and fun to start at book one but to each his own.

Battle Ground is the conclusion of the story arc begun in the previous book, Peace Talks.  And for all intents and purposes this book is taken up by the Battle of Chicago.  A really angry Titan named Ethniu has decided to destroy Chicago as a way to turn the human world against the supernatural groups that were parties to the “Unseelie Accords” that acted as a council to ensure that humans do not discover the hidden creatures all around them.

Along with her amphibious allies the Fomor who have a settlement under Lake Michigan they attack the city and with the power of the “Eye,” that Ethniu wields, they begin destroying the city and killing the population.  Standing against this systematic destruction and murder of Chicago is Harry and his allies.  I won’t say friends because many of them fear and/or hate him.  He has an Italian American mobster turned supernatural power broker named Marcone providing significant infrastructure, manpower and significant strategic support.  He has his current boss the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab the Winter Queen, providing her troops and her own very considerable magical powers.  There are Harry’s nominal brothers in arms, the White Council of Wizards that are always right at the edge of expelling him for all the unorthodox and insubordinate actions he takes.  This includes his grandfather Ebenezar McCoy who is more or less the head of the Council and who always seem on the edge of either throttling Harry or apologizing to him.  There are the Knights of the Cross who are Harry’s friends and possess power that can stand against the evil that the enemy represent but even with these allies Harry and his friends are hopelessly overmatched.

But Harry has one ace in the hole.  He has a magical resource that if he can lure the Titan to a certain spot would allow him to capture her permanently.  But in order to do that Ethniu would have to be lured in by targets that she wanted to destroy and the destruction that she would accomplish would be ruinous.  And that is what the book is about.  As Harry and his allies go block by block saving civilians and battling monsters the Titan levels the city skyscrapers on her way to confronting Mab and the other powerful leaders.  And it’s a long book, over four hundred pages and the overwhelming majority of the book is this battle.

If you’re a fan of the series, and obviously if you’re still reading at book seventeen then you are, you will like this book a lot.  Sure, there are parts of the battle that seem kind of repetitive or at least maybe overkill.  And I have never been a big fan of Harry’s romantic attachment to Karren Murphy.  For whatever reason it never seems to keep my interest.  And there are a few scenes where some of the characters sound a little too touchy feely with too much “I’m here for you,” and all that.  But there is plenty on the battle side and on the personal side of this story to satisfy fans of the books.  Some questions from Peace Talks get answered and some things that were left hanging remain that way.  Some old friends and enemies die.  Others change their relation to Harry and further complicate his life.  And some characters that do not have a major part in the action still provide a needed presence.  I always enjoy the character of Michael Carpenter.  He’s the retired Knight of the Cross who is probably the most grounded character in the series and also provides sanctuary for Harry’s young daughter when horrible things come looking for Harry.  And Harry reaches a kind of crossroads with respect to his stature in the supernatural world.  He is now a heavy hitter and has gained respect and even some wisdom.

What can I say?  You’re going to like most of this book. And there will be few things that you won’t care for.  But if you’re a Dresden fan you will have to read it.