Saturday, 30 June 2012

Books I Read In June

As regular readers will be aware, with my work on a number of e-books and being unemployed and facing losing my house for the third time in four years, I have rather been neglecting this blog.  When I am unemployed I also read a lot less than when in work.  However, this time, in contrast to the past, the way I was treated in my last job has left me so mentally and physically ill that I am now sleeping very badly.  Waking in the early hours I have an opportunity to read a bit more than would be typical.  Despite having four job interviews, it has been made clear to me that I am not wanted increasingly in brusque and unpleasant ways that show an anger in that somehow I tricked the employer into interviewing me.  That is my own industry so my attempts to move into some other sector have proven even harder.  Anyway, it seems this situation is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

'The Perfect Murder' by H.R.F. Keating
This is the first Inspector Ghote story set in India in the 1960s, contemporary to when it was written.  I got it as part of a three-book anthology.  It is an interesting insight into Indian culture and as far as I know about that it appears genuine.  The book is incredibly frustrating because Ghote faces so many unpleasant people, not in the sense of being evil, but because of their arrogance and their wish to obstruct any investigation simply because of their own petty viewpoints and assumptions.  Ghote has to investigate the assault on a personal assistant, the Mr. Perfect of the title (when in the civil service in the UK I handled a case file of a Miss. Perfect and one of a Miss. Innocent).  He has to battle with the obstruction of the wealthy, the government and even his wife plus the ambivalent input of a visiting Swedish criminologist.  In many ways it reminded me of the work of two of my favourite crime authors Leonardo Sciscia and Josef Skvorecky, both of whom write detective stories in settings in which because of the society it is difficult to bring the miscreant to justice.  With Keating's book, I found my tolerance for obstruction was reached, but that may simply reflect me exhausting my reserves dealing with such pettiness and stupidity in my own workplace.  I will see how I feel when I come to the other stories in the anthology.  In terms of conjuring up a time and a place, plus believable if infuriating characters, Keating is a success.

'Alternate Generals II' ed. by Harry Turtledove
This is a better reasonable collection of 'what if?' stories with a more or less military focus. 'American Mandate' by James Fiscus, I have mentioned before.  It features a US mandate in Constantinople following a First World War in which the Ottoman Empire surrendered in September 1918 and the difficulties Pershing faces in dealing with Kemal Ataturk nationalist revolution.  It speaks to issues of American military involvement overseas especially in post-war situations and would be sufficient basis for a full-length novel.  'Southern Strategy' is pretty bizarre, being set in 1950s in southern USA which has been occupied by a peace-keeping force primarily made up of the victorious Central Powers of the First World War.  The force is to counter lynchings of black people and the guerrilla action in response by blacks.  The story is highly depressing especially the failure of Adlai Stevenson to sort out an American solution to the situation and hilariously it appears Richard Nixon is guerilla leader.  'Uncle Alf' by Turtledove himself sees Adolf Hitler in his genuine role as a counter-espionage agent for the German Army but operating in a Belgium which has been occupied by the Germans after they won the First World War.  It is shown in a series of letters to his niece who he was attracted to in our world leading to her suicide.

'Horizon' by Noreen Doyle is about different outcomes in the conflicts between the Ancient Egyptians and the Hittites, but unfortunately I know insufficient about what actually happened to see how different the outcomes in this story were.  'Devil's Bargain' by Judith Tarr is probably the first counter-factual story I have read about the Crusades.  It features King Richard I of England making a deal with the Assassins to win Jerusalem and again could easily bear being made into a full-length novel.  I enjoyed this one.  'George Patton Slept Here' sees a more effective Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 leading to the capture of more German forces followed by the occupation of Sardinia and Corsica making the war in Italy shorter.  'Tarnished Glory' by Chris Bunch is more extremely counter-factual seeing General Armstrong Custer alive at the time of the Second World War in place of Patton leading to a different outcome to the Battle of the Bulge.  In 'Compadres' by S.M. Stirling and Richard Foss, the border of the USA has been set about 100 miles farther South so that the Mexican provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua have become part of the USA, presumably following the Mexican-American War of 1846-8 and as a consequence, Pancho Villa has fought alongside Theodore Roosevelt and is shown becoming his Vice-President in 1901.  It is an interesting what if? and I would have liked to see more about the outcomes beyond the very personal focus on Roosevelt and then Villa.

'And the Glory of Them' by Susan Shwartz sees a minor change in the capture of the citadel of Antioch in 1098 during the Crusades.  The change seems to be so small as to have minimal impact and the future changes are not really apparent, though it is the second to feature a change during the Crusades.  'Twelve Legions of Angels' by R.M. Meluch features Hugh Dowding deciding to retire and focus on raising a family rather than remaining in the RAF.  Consequently the British adopted a far more aggressive approach leading to defeat in the Battle of Britain and conquest by Nazi Germany.  It is interesting to see how a choice not to sacrifice a particular path to happiness can have vast consequences.  'In the Prison of His Days' by Joel Richards sees W.B. Yeats taking part in the Easter Uprising by Irish Nationalists in 1916 making minimal difference to anyone's life except his own.  'Labor Relations' by Esther M. Friesner is an utterly bizarre counter-factual about an elderly Korean woman ending the phantom pregnancy of Japanese Empress Jingu who was supposed to have lived to 100 years old and invaded Korea in the 3rd century CE; seems a pretty pointless story.  'Empire' by William Sanders, sees Napoleon having emigrated to America in his youth and rising to become Emperor of Lousiania which has expanded to absorb some of the southern states of our world's USA, facing an invasion by the British, presumably in 1815, following a failed attempt by Louisiana to recapture Canada from the British.

'The Wasp Factory' by Iain Banks
This novel which is told from the viewpoint of a murderous 16-year old boy living on a Scottish island, is far better than I had expected.  Whilst it sees the world from the disturbed perspective of the boy, it is not fragmented in the way 'The Tesseract' that I read last month was and shows that you can do weird without being incoherent.  Alex Garland could learn a lot from Banks.  While I could not say I enjoyed this book, it certainly is an engaging novel, which conjures up a place, time and characters though unpleasant are credible.

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