Book Review


This Way To The End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse

Editor: Robert Siverberg

Pages: 368

Release Date: October 31, 2016 – Three Rooms Press

ISBN: 978-1941110478

end-times-2This Way To The End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse, contains twenty-one stories about, as the title implies, the apocalypse. The book is true to the word classic in its title, unlike most such collections, this one literally goes back to the beginning of science fiction with a story by Jules Verne. It follows with a number of not particularly well known stories by some classic SF authors (Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, and Brian Aldiss); only five of the stories included were written in the last thirty years. A mixture of some less well-known, relative newcomers wrote the remaining five. The stories, as in most such collections are a mixed bag, really good ones mixed with some that were just okay, but all were entertaining and there wasn’t one that I would consider bad. Each story also gets an introduction by Robert Silverberg as an added bonus. If you’re a fan of the apocalypse (and who wouldn’t be) you should read this collection. I’ve read a good number of such collections over the years and I have only read one of the stories in this volume before, so while most of them are not new, they’ll probably be new to you.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, which in no way impacted on the contents of this review.

Virtues of War

Author: Bennett R. Coles

Pages: 416

Release Date: June 2015 – Titan Books

ISBN: 978-1783294206

Virtues of WarIn the far future of Bennett R. Coles’s Virtues of War, Earth’s colonies are in rebellion. The politics of the rebellion are a little fuzzy, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter are space battles and futuristic ground combat. Not that the story and characters take a back seat to the action, but there is plenty of action. The story follows several up and coming officers of the Astral Force as they combat insurgents, rebellious colonies, and sometimes one another. This is Military SF done right. Coles’s experience in the Canadian Navy is obvious throughout and while tomorrow’s space combat bears a resemblance to the naval combat of today, it is more than naval warfare translated into space.

The 400+ pages of Virtues of War went by in a flash and if real life had not interfered, I would have finished it in one sitting. Virtues of War is the first volume of the Astral Saga, with the second volume, Ghosts of War due out in March 2016. If Coles can maintain the quality of storytelling and writing he displayed in the first volume, I imagine we will be hearing much more from him in the future. I hope there is more solid Military SF from Coles yet to come.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher.

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth and other Pop Culture Correspondences

Author: John Moe

Pages: 304

Release Date: June 2014 – Three Rivers Press

ISBN: 978-0385349109

LukeDear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth and other Pop Culture Correspondences by John Moe is a collection of letters, diary entries, memos, notes, etc. from or to a collection of popular culture icons, many of whom are fictional characters. The book’s title is from letters taken from Darth Vader’s trash can in which he was attempt to explain to Luke Skywalker about his parentage. One can only assume that this was overtaken by events on Bespin. The book contains entries from the cast of Popeye, Gilligan, the Fonz, and the Man in the Yellow Hat (of Curious George fame), amongst many others. In addition to these fictional correspondences, Moe has included a number of letters written as if song lyrics were true, including a memo from the local sheriff regarding Jon Bon Jovi, who is wanted, wanted dead or alive. As well as a memo from the management of the Hotel California mandating some policy changes after complaints received from Don Henley. A number of entries concern the Super Bowl half-time show. Each one lists one or more suggested and rejected ideas for the show. Most of them would probably have been better than what we actually got.

The idea behind the book is pretty original; I particularly enjoyed the song lyric letters. Some of these letters were taken from Moe’s column, “Pop Song Correspondences” on McSweeneys.net. While the book is humorous, I only laughed out loud one time while reading it. That being said, it’s relatively short and an easy read and not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Check out Moe’s internet column and if you like what you read there, you will probably like the book as well.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

World War One: A Layman’s Guide

Author: Scott  Addington

Publication date: Nov 26, 2012 – Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (E-book)
April 25, 2014 – CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Paperback)

Pages: 679 KB, approximately 152 pages

WWIAs I read Scott Addington’s World War One: A Layman’s Guide I could not help but write this review in my head.  I highlighted relevant statements and sentences and became more and more annoyed at the flippant manner in which the book was written.  Of course the lack of footnotes annoyed me even more.  I would read sentences like “German casualties are not known, but are thought to be similar in numbers” and I would ask, why are they not known?  Were the records destroyed, were none kept; I think that is part of the story.   Then I discovered one of the mysteries of the Kindle.  When you start a Kindle book, it takes you to the beginning of the main text skipping over the cover, the table of contents, and anything else that may be there.  In the case of this book, that everything else included an introduction.  So I went and read the introduction after I had finished the book and found that most of my complaints were not bugs, but features.  Addington specifically addressed all of my major complaints, the book was “written in a more conversational style” and “It doesn’t pretend to be academic in nature.”  This explained sentences like, “the Austro-Hungarians were jumping up and down with rage.”  The book was also “Unashamedly bias[ed] towards the Western Front,” thereby explaining the short shrift given to the Eastern front and the total neglect of Africa and the Middle East.  Lastly, I agree with Addington that “people who hold a decent knowledge of the subject should perhaps walk away and read something else as you are not the intended audience.”  So if you know little or nothing about the First World War and can handle entire nationalities “jumping up and down with rage” and the like, this book might be for you.  If you can get past the writing style it does provide a decent overview of the war on the Western Front. 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World without World War I

 Author: Richard Ned Lebow

Pages: 256

Publication Date: 2014 – Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN : 978-1-137-27853

Ferdinand Lives coverRichard Lebow writes of a world in which, as the title indicates, Archduke Franz Ferdinand lives. and the First World War is averted.  Lebow then presents two different possible outcomes for this world.  In both cases avoiding the First World War also avoids the second along with its associated horrors; the world also misses out on the Soviet Union and the rise of communism.  Lebow makes well-reasoned cases for both outcomes, a happy one where war is no more and the United States is a somewhat racist, intolerant backwater; and a less happy one in which a great European war still occurs, only much later in the 20th century and with the use of nuclear weapons.  Lebow, a professor of International Political Theory, argues that there was a brief window (1914-17) when a general European war was possible, if the world made it through that period without a spark, war would be avoided for the near future.  Obviously, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand provided the spark in the historical world.  In both of the worlds imagined by Lebow, there is no spark and peace is maintained.  The future of Europe in the world without a world war hinges on the development of democracy or lack thereof in Germany.  As Germany goes, so goes Europe and the world. 

I don’t have the expertise regarding the causes of the First World War or the developments in Europe directly following the war to argue against any of Lebow’s points and based on what I do know, they seem reasonable.  Those more knowledgeable may scoff at my naïveté.  The book is primarily written in a non-fiction style, Lebow continually acknowledges that he is discussing things that did not happen and compares them to the historical world.  There is no mistaking this for an alternate history novel; however, on occasion he changes tactics and writes as if this is a novel, outlining the lives of particular individuals, and providing details and dates for events that happened in the alternate worlds.  The cross over between non-fiction and novel did not work for me.  I also found the long descriptions of the differing lives of musicians, artists, and scientists to be unnecessary and dull.  I eventually began skimming over paragraphs at a time.  I would not really recommend this cross between alternate history novel and non-fiction narrative.  This was not a bad book, but once I had finished it I did not feel like I had gained anything.

I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher, courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Make the Break (If You Can)

 

Author: Reginald Exton

Pages: 64

Publication Date: 2013 – Humanist Press

ISBN: 978-0931779268

make the breakIn Make the Break (If you can), Dr. Reginald J. Exton, a NASA physicist, attempts “to share, clearly and succinctly, the evidence that points to the human origin of religions.” He then goes on to very briefly describe the history of the universe, early man, and the rise of civilization and religion.  He follows with a description of the formation of the major religions, a discussion of how people develop religious faith, more about the history of the universe, and finally a statement the humanism is better than religion.    His argument seems to be that since religions have been shown to have been created by man and science can explain most of what people created religion to understand, religion is no longer needed so everyone should give it up.  Unfortunately, Exton doesn’t really provide much of an argument for this.  Part of the problem with this book is its length and format.  Rather than a traditional book, Exton has written, in relatively large font, a 64-page glossy magazine, filled with large pictures, graphs, and tables. The chapter on the history of the universe, early man, and the rise of civilization, is only ten pages long.  As entire books have been written about each of these topics, clearly covering them in ten pages is seemingly an impossible task.  Perhaps Exton’s arguments suffer from a lack of space.

 I’m not sure who the target audience for Make the Break (If you can) is, I assume it is targeted at either religious believers, in an attempt to convince them of the wrong-headedness of their beliefs, or at atheists in need of further support for their non-beliefs.  Its weak arguments against the validity of religion makes it unlikely to cause religious believers to change their minds about their faiths and its format and writing style make it unlikely they would read it anyway.  Atheists looking for support would be better of looking to Dawkins, Dennett, or Hitchens, who have all made similar arguments to Exton’s, but better done.

Make the Break (If you can) seems more like a book proposal than an actual book.  Perhaps Der. Exton will go back expand this into an actual book; the additional space might allow him to better explain his points and arguments.

I received this book as a part of the Library Thing Early Reviewer program and I would especially like to thank Brian Magee of the Humanist Press for making sure I received it.

Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

Author: John Ferling

Pages: 704

Release Date: March 2009 – Oxford University Press

ISBN: 978-0195382921

Almost a MiracleJohn Ferling’s book, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence, is a military history of the war and serves as a companion to Ferling’s earlier A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic, which is a political history of the same period.  Ferling, who has written several books on this period, has written a popular history aimed at the general reader, and while he provides a workable account of events, he does not present any new information or interpretation.  This is to not surprising in a book written for a general audience.  Ferling’s work is based on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, exploring the length of the war in chronological order. Ferling’s story focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the commanders and leaders on both sides.  Contrary to current trends in historical writing, common people and enlisted soldiers take a back seat to their social and military superiors.

Ferling focuses on how closely contested the war was, stressing the significance of the decisions made by generals on both sides. Ultimately, “the war came much closer to ending short of a great American victory than many now realize.” (xii)  Ferling argues that George Washington’s Fabian strategy was in large part responsible for the eventual Patriot victory.

Approximately a third of the book covers the important time from the beginning of the conflict until the end of 1776.  The remainder of the book addresses the less familiar years that followed and examines how the Patriots handled the major military challenges facing them. While Ferling describes each of the major campaigns and battles, he also puts them into the larger military framework, explaining the evolution of the Continental Army, the significance of naval power, the move to the southern theater, the Franco-American alliance, and the peace negotiations.

Ferling does a good job covering two topics that are often neglected in popular accounts of the war.  The first is the importance of the war’s move south.  Ferling explains the importance of the Southern Campaign and the steady colonial successes in the Carolinas that were essential to the final Patriot victory.

The second oft-overlooked subject is the place of the war in North America within the overall global conflict. I think an understanding of the global situation is essential for understanding how the Patriots were able to defeat the British who possessed what was possibly the best professional army in the world.  Ferling points out that British actions in North America were not conducted in a vacuum, but within a worldwide context.

Ferling also works to rehabilitate the reputation of the colonial militia, which has “often been belittled, but without it the war could not have been won. It secured the home front in nearly every state by suppressing and disarming the Loyalists in the crucial early stage of the war.” He also points out that despite some serious failings, the militia on occasion, such as Bunker Hill, Princeton, and Saratoga “fought extremely well.” (575)

I was not surprised by Ferling’s depiction of Washington as “Madly ambitious and obsessed with recognition and renown,” who was a genius at shifting the blame for defeat on to others and engaging in self-promotion. Ferling covered similar ground in The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon.  (368)  It is good to see Washington returned to the level of mere human from his mythological heights.

Ferling does have an unfortunate habit of repeating phrases and terminology throughout the book, which perhaps is less his fault then the fault of his editor.  One particular issue was his use of the length of a football field as a reference.  He did so on at least four occasions, not only does this leave non-football fans in the dark, it also becomes repetitive.

As mentioned above, Ferling utilized a wealth of sources, both primary and secondary.  His work is well cited with endnotes, I appreciate that his endnotes were primarily utilized for citations and not to provide additional information.  Often authors include another books worth of information in the endnotes, the reading of which tends to break up the narrative flow of the book leaving the reading with the choice of flipping back and forth for each endnote, reading all of the endnotes after reading the text, or skipping them altogether.

Overall, I believe Ferling has written a military history of the American War of Independence that is accessible, comprehensive, and useful for both the general reader and the student.  While Ferling does not provide scholars with any new information or interpretations, he has synthesized the most recent scholarship on the era into a highly readable account.  He has also provided a reminder that nothing in history is guaranteed or foreordained.

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