Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bourgeois Book Club

The Afrika Reich by Guy Saville

Sometimes it seems there are only two plots in the alternate history genre: the South winning the Civil War, and the Nazis winning WWII.  Afrika Reich is one of the latter ilk.  It would be easy, then, to dismiss it as just another tired example of a hoary premise. But if one is willing to hold off the dismissal, or is just down for the concept no matter how many times it is trotted out, one will be in for a wild, thrilling ride.

Defeat at Dunkirk.  American isolationism.  "Peace for empire."  A Nazi-occupied Africa ruled by slavery, genocide, and brutality.  This is 1952 and German Afrika is about to explode.

When a group of mercenaries, led by a man seeking vengeance and another seeking redemption, are dispatched to German Kongo to kill the mad governor-general, nothing is what it seems, and nothing goes according to plan, leaving them alone and adrift in a continent full of enemies.  In the remnants of Portuguese Angola, the heart of an African woman burns hot for revenge against the Nazis who killed her family and threaten her country, people, and very race.  And in the backdrop, the uncaring politics of empire demands its blood-price for power, no matter who must suffer.  

Tense escapes, action-movie fireworks, plot twists, double-crosses, and villains with near horror-slasher-monster-level resilience collide in a runaway train (literally!) and a Grand Guignol ending that is breathtaking in its utter annihilation.

I'm not generally one for thrillers, but Afrika Reich grabbed me and clung on no matter my protests, most prominent of which was a skeptical brow-raising at a book where the Nazis are the villains.  It's so very easy to make the bad guys Nazis.  It's practically short-hand in Hollywood: want a bad guy?  Put a swastika on him!  It's certainly become a cheap rhetorical device, where Godwin's Law is embarrassingly frequent and the very definition of Nazism is cheapened into "I don't like/agree with that person, therefore they must be as bad as Hitler!" or "Obama is a Communist Nazi!"  It's almost a cop-out.  But... the Nazis were evil.  And as brutal and macabre as Saville makes them, little seems like an implausible extrapolation of what they might have done if they hadn't been defeated in the 1940s. And that thought is very, very chilling.

This is not a "pleasant" read.  It is, however, a gripping one, a disturbing one, and a powerful one.  I look forward to the planned sequel.

The Hermetic Millennia by Jon C. Wright

Sequel to the problematic, yet compelling, Count To A Trillion.

As Menelaus awaits the return of his wife, on a relativistic voyage out of the galaxy, he is forced into suspended animation, awakening only occasionally to counter the designs of his former crewmates and archrivals who are striving to create a pliant, useful human race as slaves to an invading alien armada.

In the thousands of years since Menelaus began his slumber, several iterations of humanity, such as the hedonistic Nymphs to the Nietzschean Hormgaunts, each molded in the specific vision of one Hermetic, have risen and fallen.  Only the handful who choose to accompany Menelaus through the ages in suspended animation survive.  But now the Tomb in which Menelaus and his companions sleep away Time has been opened, and the alien armada draws nigh.  Menelaus must unite the now-captive sleepers through the fog of ages and ancient enmity to decide the fate of all humanity once and for all.   

I enjoyed this sequel much more than its predecessor.  Who knew women could be actual characters!  It also has interesting aspects of 1001 Nights, too, as the history of the various human races is recounting by the tales of the sleepers themselves.  Looking forward to the finale of the trilogy. 

Gideon's Angel by Clifford Beal

I'm not noting Gideon's Angel because it is a great book.  It's a perfectly fine, entertaining read, adequately crafted, with a very nice, fast clip to it, but it's not extraordinary in terms of execution or character or even plot.  But that it is a book combining the English Civil War, The Three Musketeers, conversos, Freemasonry, medieval demonology, gypsy women, and several radical Protestant sects is worthy of note, I feel.

Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons

Sing, O Muse, of the future, with its posthumans playing at Greek gods on Mars, of their resurrected servants studying a Trojan War, of the indolent human remnants of Earth, and the semi-organic artificial lifeforms of Jupiter's moons!  Sing, O Muse, of the wrath of god-killing Achilles, and the space adventures of wily Odysseus!  Sing of Proust and Shakespeare!  Sing of wormholes and quantum teleportation!   

This is actually a reread of the duology, which I first read when it came out and had had sitting on the shelf since.  What I remember enjoying then (a pleasingly intricate plot; skillful doling out of background; elaborate worldbuilding; strong characterization), I enjoyed again.  And what I remember finding problematic then, I probably found even more so now.

Right off the bat, something I don't recall noticing first read through: the dedication to Harold Bloom in Olympos, which explains a few things. In my experience, dedicated Bloom-ites tend to be overeducated, overread curmudgeons with conservative politics.  And, yep, I think Simmons qualifies.  The various literary allusions, analysis, and quotations are fine.  But, though generally the science is plausible, Simmons takes one huge detour in English major Crazytown: artistic genius creates literal universes.  "Singularities of genius" bring into being their own artistic creations. Yeah.

But while that's loopy, it's not really offensive.  There are much more problematic things afoot.  For instance, some viciously anti-Muslim stuff straight out of post-9/11 (which, of course, is when they were written, but still).  Simmons is clear that he is Not Having It with this "free love" and "single motherhood" balderdash.  There shall be monogamy, damnit!  Older men and younger women are the best pairings!  Pearls shall be clutched otherwise!  Humans shouldn't live idle lives of partying and having consequence-free sex; they should be bold and manly and live like ancient Greeks, for honor and excellence and your father's name!  And while I'd be lying if I said there weren't competent, strong female characters, I just can't help shake the notion that there is a little bit of misogyny and anti-feminism lurking about, a pinch of "Women and their wiles are not to be trusted!" and a whole hell of a lot of Male Gaze.  There's definitely a bit of homophobia going on, too.

The ending is a bit... anticlimactic?  It's a very nice ending, but a lot kinda comes out of nowhere, mostly coming from characters we never got into the heads of at all, making it one big mystery.  There are huge problems, and then the problems just go away.  Odd. 

Still and all, these two books are fun reads.  Perfect for the sci-fi nerd who also drones on about madeleines. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Skimpy Sunday

(Via Bill in Exile [NSFW]; Mr. S Leather [NSFW])

Bonus: Gingers!  (NSFW)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Wild Men