Friday, 23 April 2010

The "Far Side of The Earth" by Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian's intrepid Captain Aubrey and his sidekick Dr. Stephen Maturin sail to the Pacific (the far side of the Earth) in pursuit of a dastardly American Frigate which is terrorising English whalers. Like all of O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin novels this is a great read and simply oozes with terrific historical detail of life in the British Navy during Napoleonic times.

I read a bunch of these type of books during my teens and this has enamoured me of the period all over again.

I do have one gripe about this particular book though:
[Big Spoiler ahead,  Highlight to read]
The whole book sets the reader up for an epic naval battle between Aubrey and the the American frigate but the longed for battle never actually happens. In fact not a single canon ball is fired in anger in the whole book!.
[End Spoiler]

Monday, 12 April 2010

Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg paints an alternate history in which the Roman Empire survives to this day. He sketches the last 2000 years of alternate history with a series of episodes each set in a critical time for the Empire.

I enjoyed this a lot, each of the mini-stories is stories is worth reading in its own right and they are well stitched together. If you read this looking for Roman themed entertainment with a twist you will not be disappointed. You will however be disappointed if you expect a serious attempt at alternate history. There are no great insights or intuitive leaps here. Instead of seriously trying to imagine what could have happened Silverberg has simply taken actual historical events as we know them and patched them into a Roman story. Events like the renaissance and the industrial revolution happen pretty much on schedule which is a bit unimaginative. If Europe had not collapsed in to the Dark ages after the fall of Rome would it really have taken that long  to discover the printing press?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

I was 11 years old when this first Inspector Morse novel came out and I remember the follow TV series being very good and very popular. It came as a surprise to me then to discover how dated the novel seems today in particular in its attitudes to women and sexuality. The most jarring aspect to a modern reader is a pub conversation where a number of male academics express the belief that it is very unlikely a woman could be raped "against her will". This view is even re-iterated by Morse himself in deducing that the murder victim probably wasn't raped. Less offensive but equally anachronistic is the presence in the novel of a "sex maniac" character who makes weekly trips to an illicit  pornography dealer and papers his bedroom in dirty postcards. Once you accept that this is a novel from a different age the plot itself is clever enough - a young lady of dubious virtue is found murdered in the grounds of a pub and all of the key witnesses have their own reasons for not telling the truth. There are enough red herrings to hinder you from guessing the true identity of the murderer until the end. Just as in the TV series Morse's sidekick Lewis is a far more sympathetic character than the heavy drinking  Morse himself. You already begin to see how the interplay between the two men would become the bedrock of the successful book and TV spin offs.