It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
• What are you currently reading?
I understand the urge to strike back in order to survive, and I know well the flash of anger that drives the impulse to hurt. But the mental space that permits someone to go into battle, and stay there, is something I’ve been researching off and on for years.
Rick Atkinson, in his An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-3, demonstrates a knack of capturing the complexity of tunnel vision and disconnect that makes up so many commanders. Based on my biographical readings, it seems to me that he’s got the gift of capturing in a few words salient characteristics of famous names like Patton, MacArthur, Eisenhower, etc. But he doesn’t neglect the guys who had to do the actual work–far from it.
Depending solidly on letters, diaries, interviews, memos, and etc, Atkinson employs an interesting narrative style, sometimes delving very close to fictionalizing events. I don’t know how much of the dialogue he reports happened–though most of it seems to have been recorded, at least, by someone else–but he paints a cinematic picture of the events, zooming from the dispassionate gods-eye view right down to the grunt struggling to stay alive, amid stinks, sweat, and chaos. There is plenty of war horror to go around, but he doesn’t leave out the funny moments.
In Eastern Europe, Matthew Brezezinski’s vivid account of Isacc’s Army: A Story of Courage and Surivival in Nazi-Occupied Poland continues to grip and unnerve me by turns.
Over in the fictional world, I’ve been reading the first three books of Elizabeth Moon’s new Paladin’s Legacy series, as preparation for Limits of Power, which comes out in early June.
Way back in the 80s many writers of my generation were so inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that they engaged with it by subcreating their own world designed on the Tolkienian model: magic, castles, kings, elves, dwarves, and orcs, quests. But Moon’s series always stood out because she explored the familiar tropes from the grunt’s eye view. Paksenarrion was a sheepherder’s daughter who joined up to fight, and we follow her through a series from her first drill to the powerful ending.
Then, a couple decades later, Moon began to revisit that world, beginning with Oath of Fealty, which opens right after the last Paks book ended. The cast becomes even bigger, the storylines ranging over a complicated map, but central to this new series are three characters, each of whom overcame appallingly horrific youths: Kieri, the mercenary captain, who finds out he’s a king; Dorrin Verrakai, whose military background helps her navigate in the deadly atmosphere of bloodmagery, and Arvid Semminson, a sinister and mysterious thief-enforcer.
With each successive book, Moon moves further away from the Tolkienian template into her own history and mythology. We learn about gnomes, and their fascinating, complex culture, about gods and time and the flow of events when magic is present. We meet a dragon, quite different from other dragons. There can be a sense that the story is sprawling a bit, but I believe that is due to Moon’s tendency to have characters report (repeatedly) the details of action we’ve already seen. Still, the action sequences are gripping, the detail of military campaign realistic, making this a series for those who prefer a bit of hope and light amid all the dark doings.
• What did you recently finish reading?
Daniel Shealy’s formidably complete annotation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Not only do you get explanations running down the side, but the proper Victorian slang is restored to the characters’ dialogue, some editor having turned it into ‘proper’ prose during the 1880s. So, for instance, Meg’s gown is ‘ripping’ (actual Victorian-era slang) instead of the correct but bland ‘very beautiful.’ Shealy thus restores the characters’ voices.
He also furnishes applicable diary entries, demonstrating how much Alcott borrowed from her own life, and where she diverged for artistic reasons. There is also a treasure trove of explanations, plus some of May (“Amy”)’s drawings reproduced.
Online, I found Admiral Nelson’s dispatches and letters from the 1700s to his death at Trafalgar. Reading his own words gives such a clear picture of a rather complicated individual. Hard to believe that the posturing bigot of Naples could be the hero of Trafalgar, but his victories (as does a certain tone in his public and private letters) appear to demonstrate his thirst for fame.
So I had to reread Roy Adkins’ Nelson’s Trafalgar, which delves heavily into dispatches and letters and memoirs and anecdotes from immediately after the battle. It was fun seeing Captain Fremantle’s account placed into context, it being familiar from the Fremantle Letters collection.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
Next up on the stack is the last volume of Janni Lee Simner’s dystopian fantasy for young readers, Faerie After, Linda Nagata’s military sf thriller The Red: First Light, Deborah Ross’s new epic fantasy series (all seven volumes already written!), The Seven-Petaled Shield, and Madeleine Robins’ historical fantasy, Sold for Endless Rue.
What about you? What have you been reading lately? Put the link to your WWW Wednesday entry in comments, or just tell us!