Wednesday 19 October 2022

Book review: Toyman

1665842370985-ed6e9fa2-49ee-441b-ba87-f81d693fc103_ E. C. Tubb's classic Dumarest Saga, volume 3. See Goodreads.

It isn't too bad; Dumarest is on some planet and has to fight people intelligently for survival; I forget the details: this was more than a month ago.

Having read, intermittently as they've showed up in various second hand bookshops, various volumes in the series (#1, The Winds of Gath; #4, Kalin... and so on; perhaps I've read more than half) the action here is somewhat familiar-ish. But it's a bit unfair to read volume 3 in the light of succeeeding volumes.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Book review: The Narrow Land

1666124238709-a2c39902-8e7e-45c2-947c-65c2b4a52314_ The Narrow Land by Jack Vance is a 1980 collection of stories, which themselves date from much earlier: 1945 for the earliest, 1967 for the title story, and 1950 for Chateau D'If which is the only one of any real interest. Goodreads is rather keener on it than I am.

In none of them is there more than a trace of the "Vance Voice" in which, say, The Dying Earth is written.

Chateau D'If is the longest; it concerns people selling body-transfers and seems to me interesting in that it presages some of the twists that The Anubis Gates covers. It reminds me of another too that I cannot now recall.

Book review: Count Belisarius

1666124173697-c7325607-2099-4b92-9652-839fcc56b69b_ Count Belisarius, as wiki tells us, is a historical novel by Robert Graves sympathetically recounting the life of the Byzantine general Belisarius (AD 500–565). Apparently it is largely based on Procopius's History of Justinian's Wars and Secret History, and you can even find them online, but I discovered I couldn't be bothered to read them. I fondly imagine that the "wigs sermon" must have come from that, because I can't imagine any other reason for Graves putting that bit in, unless he is showing off his erudition to those more erudite than me; I just skipped that bit.

My best guess is that this is a sort-of potboiler for him: read the old sources and lightly novelise them. But it works: as a novel it is a good read; this was my second reading, the first was decades ago.

The story: Belisarius, a noble but somewhat obscure, err, nobleman of the Byzantine empire, rises by virtue of his sheer military quality to the highest command and achieves astonishing victories in Persia, Africa and Italy; but alas all his noble deeds are undone by a combination of evil at court, the tenor of the times, rivalrous equals and incompetent subordinates; nonetheless he remains stubbornly loyal.

As the book realises at the end - and I cannot tell if Graves suddenly noticed this, or it was the plan all along - although Big B is definitely the Hero, and definitely both Heroic and Noble and Good, his Noble Deeds achieve little more than the slaughter of countless people and the destruction of vast swathes of land. Because while he is a military genius he is a political cretin; and while his victories are - as portrayed - as bloodless and clean as possible, and ditto his capture of cities, regrettably the inevitable recaptures by the other side are not clean, and the poor inhabitants get the short end of the stick again and again.

So this is either a deliberate parable of "good intentions and good people don't always lead to good results"; or an accidental one. Take your pick.