Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: Tides of War

My third novel by Steven Pressfield on this tour of Ancient Greece through Historical Fiction, Tides of War takes place well after the events of The Last Amazon and Gates of Fire, but as with those previous novels, gets deep into the world of Ancient Greece and gives the reader a rare taste of the values and thoughts in world.

Taking place during the Peloponnesian War, Tides of War follows Alcibiades, the nephew of Pericles and one of the greatest generals of the Ancient World. The story is told through two layers; our narrator is interviewing the man responsible for Alcibiades death, who in turn is narrating his life alongside the general over this many campaigns.

What I found most interesting about the story was how little I knew about the general going in; when I've read previous works about Theseus or Sappho or Leonidas, I was at least a little familiar with their lives (Minotaur, Poetress, Spartan King), so when I started reading about a general who switched sides from Athenian to Spartan and even to Persian, I was quite surprised by just how unfamiliar I was with the historical figure. It did lead me to more than a couple quick stops at wikipedia to get a better grasp on the character, but as these books often do, I found it was well worth the distraction.

An intriguing introduction to the Peloponnesian War, and one that leaves me looking forward to the next book off of the list, Isle of Stone by Nicholas Nicastro, with more than a little excitement.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Movie Review: Their Finest

Lone Scherfig's Their Finest, based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, focuses on a film production by the British Ministry of Propaganda during the Second World War about the evacuation of Dunkirk. In many ways however, the film is about stories; why we like them, how we use them, and what goes into them.

The film takes place in 1940 and follows Catrin Cole (played by Gemma Arterton), a young writer hired to work for the Ministry and her growth as a writer and teller of stories. The film looks at film production from the point of view of writers, editors, producers, actors and executives, and works as both a great war story, and a story about how to tell great war stories.

The concept for the film within a film, two sisters piloting a stolen boat to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation, shifts from the actual event to the varied ways in which the story must or might be modified to better work as a film to inspire Britain, and perhaps even America into joining the war effort.

A really great picture, filled with heart, hope, and a love of the medium of film.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review: Widdershins

One of my favourite things about reading Charles de Lint's Newford stories is how characters will pop up as main characters for a novel or a short story, and then step into the background for the next story; sure there are mainstays like the Riddell brothers or Jilly Coppercorn, but overall you get a different view of the city each time you go back sort of like Terry Pratchett did with Discworld.

Sometimes, however, you do really want to know what happens next, and in the latest of his books I've read, Widdershins, we follow up with Jilly a few years after the events of The Onion Girl and get to see what may be one of my favourite things in these types of stories, a collection of almost all my favourite characters over the twenty-years of stories working together to help a friend in need.

Like Louis L'Amour's The Sackett Brand (1965) or heck, even Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), this book is really for the fans. For the people like me who have been reading about Jilly and Geordie since the short story "Timeskip" back in 1989, this is a really fun reward.

Almost every new story de Lint sets in Newford works as a standalone, but I will say this one works best if you've read the short story collections, The Onion Girl and Spirit in the Wires.

Well worth reading, and as I'm nearing the point where I'm up to the books published ten years ago, I'm already starting to get nervous about when I'll have to wait like every other de Lint fan for his new books to come out.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Review: Unnatural Creatures

Neil Gaiman's 2013 short story collection Unnatural Creatures takes a number of stories written about mythical creatures over the course of a little more than a hundred years, introducing readers to some really great stories and authors.

As with most short story collections, not all are perfect hits, but there are some really great standouts, Samuel R Delany's Prismatica and Larry Niven's Get a Horse, were both a lot of fun, and the final story, Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle was simply wonderful.

A great starter collection for people unfamiliar with the fantasy genre, Unnatural Creatures does a great job of showing some of the heights to which the genre can reach.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: Foundation and Empire

Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire, his 1952 follow-up to Foundation, continues where the last story left off; about three hundred years into a (hopefully) 1000 year Dark Age after the fall of a Galactic empire and before the rise of the next Empire. The series focuses on a science called psychohistory, which suggests that with careful tending, this Dark Age can be a mere millennium, rather than the thirty-thousand years it would otherwise take for galactic civilization to rise again.

The second novel focuses on two key events in the rise of the foundation: first, in The General, the last attempt of the crumbling Empire's military arm attempts to destroy the young Foundation before it can gain more power, and; second, in The Mule, a mutant is born with the ability to control those around him, throwing the original psychohistoric plans entirely out the door.

As with the first novel, the stories are short, but the ideas are huge. This was a fast and fascinating read that had me waiting on tender hooks to read the final book in the original series, Second Foundation, as soon as I could.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book Review: The Blue Girl

Charles de Lint's 2004 YA novel The Blue Girl, follows two best friends Imogene and Maxine, through a year in Newford's Redding High. Throughout the novel the girls get involved in the world of Faerie (pretty much a requirement in a Newford-based story), and although there are a few familiar faces (Christy Riddell for one), this is mostly a new story with new characters in a familiar setting.

The book rotates between three narratives, Imogene, a new girl in school (and Newford), hoping to have a fresh start, Maxine, a quiet student looking for a friend, and Adrian, the ghost of a boy who died in the school years ago.

What I really liked in the story was just how small it was - there are no massive demi-gods or mystical creatures like in the Jack of Kinrowan books (which I also loved), just two friends trying to make it through the school year and getting caught up in something bigger than they expected. What surprised me the most in the novel was the depiction of Maxine's mother, who beings the novel as an almost cartoon-ish example of the controlling mom, but then changes throughout the story into a fully fleshed-out believable parent.

In the end the book was a lot of fun, and I hope I find these characters popping up in future works by de LInt.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Review: Antigone's Wake

Continuing on my journey through Ancient Greece via historical novels, I've now moved passed the Persian War into the beginning of The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). This is the whole Athens versus Sparta war that lead to the rise of the Athenian Empire.

This month's book was Nicholas Nicastro's 2007 novel Antigone's Wake, which focused on the character of Sophocles (playwright of Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Electra, etc.), and his career in his early fifties as a military general for Athens.

The novel is short, to the point, and does a great job of painting its protagonist as a man in transition. Sophocles friend Pericles suggests that as Sophocles already knows how to effectively mount a stage play, why couldn't he use his skills towards military victory, and honestly, it would be a largely ceremonial role in response to his recent success with the play Antigone.

The story works quite nicely in painting Sophocles as a man near the top of his game thrust into a position he never trained for or wanted, and how he deals with some terrifying challenges, including his own teenage son coming along for an "adventure".

Considering that history largely focuses on Sophocles role as playwright, an examination of him as military leader was a real treat for me, and one that has me looking to view some of his plays before moving onto my read for next month, which in the end, is the mark of any successful historical fiction novel.