Saturday 25 June 2022

Book review: War and Peace

PXL_20220625_185723160 Another classic. Indeed it even says it is one up there at the top; see my picture. Wiki sez It is regarded as one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements and remains an internationally praised classic of world literature. I think that is overblown; my touchstone is Heart of Darkness. We've owned it forever; I finally read it because it was about time and the Ukraine war provides context.

As history, the book of course chronicles from the aristocratic Russian side Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Somewhat along the lines of Proust, part of the interest is the view we get of the aristocracy. And that view is of a bunch of idle useless pointless shallow folk. We occaisionally get to see the underside, of the serfs, but I think this is airbrushed, with the horrors removed out of sight. If you're interested in how the military campaign went, then read something else, because part of Tolstoy's art is to describe battles from a very detailed close-up viewpoint that  emphasises how confusing they were.

And here we run inevitably into his theory of history. Oh yes, he has a theory. And he isn't subtle about it. I can't tell if he just lacks confidence, and so won't let the ideas speak for themselves as the book unfolds; or if he is perfectly well aware that what he describes doesn't demonstrate his ideas; but either way, there are chapters of theory, and even an entire epilogue of it. His brilliant theory, if you don't know it, is that the "Big Man" theory of history is wrong, and instead, that... well, his alternative is rather less clear. Either that history is made up of lots of little things, or that great movements of peoples from East to West <something>. I wasn't desperately interested, so find it somewhere else from someone who cares. For what it is worth. I think his theory fits the Russian side rather well: the Russians had no-one competent and their response - to keep losing until the French were exhausted - was what happened. But it doesn't fit the French side at all well.

As to the story apart from the campaign, well, it is the lives of various Russian aristocrats, and as a story it is all reasonably well told and moderately interesting. But I think he needed an editor.

I get the feeling that the book does represent something of how Russians view themselves and their people. Perhaps they think more now of the Great Patriotic War but either way it is living on past glories of times that weren't really glorious anyway.

Friday 24 June 2022

Book review: Poseidon's Wake

1656098789179-76c6caa9-35dd-4649-a52a-973440ac12b2 TL;DR: indeed. It was, and I didn't get to the end. I starting skipping some stuff, then more, after about half way; and when I gave up about fifty pages from the end I was just flicking through. And am pleased that I was able to tell myself just not to bother finishing it. I knew there would be nothing interesting at the end. 

Just like On the Steel Breeze I really knew I shouldn't have started this. It is a continuation: the same uninteresting characters go off and do implausible things for unconvincing reasons. As is traditional for books about space, the orbital mechanics is hopelessly wrong (Oh noes, we're heading towards a planet! We must deccelerate really hard! But <x> cannot cope with the decelleration and will die! In that case, why not thrust less hard, but sideways? Shhhh, you'll spoil the plot). And don't get me started on the we-can-prove-the-universe-will-end drivel. Our Author is clearly fascinated by elephant cognition or the possibilities thereof, but is unable to imagine such beasts doing anything interesting, so that bit is dull too.

Monday 6 June 2022

Book review: Ender's game

1654286637826-c556e053-9f13-4aea-99f3-cfbeb7418f46_By Orson Scott Card. I regret re-reading this. Goodreads will tell you some of the bad points,as well as having lots of people enthuse over it.

The implausibly young children achieving implausible things is not especially plausible; one could perhaps try making them older, to little effect. Despite the violence, the book is somewhat bland and unsatisfying, though still quite page-turney.

Do we believe (warning: spoilers) that the adults would have failed to realise that the buggers were not fighting back once the queen died? I think not. Indeed, given the storyline, is an alien "fleet" even believeable?

The finale is based on video games, and makes a nice plot twist. But, why would within-a-solar-system orbital mechanics lead to a game taking about an hour? Days would seem more likely... although the drive systems are never mentioned. And if your aim is to get to the planet, why deccelerate at all?