Sunday, April 29, 2018

Schlieffen vs Élan and the long dig

Digging into Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August is a bit like getting cross examined. She's constantly bringing up everyone's strengths and failings and presenting them to you as both witness and jury.

Starting with the 1910 funeral of Edward VII, we see how interbred early 20th century European royalty actually is, and how cut off Germany feels from its European contemporaries. ( I mean, the war that ended up uniting the Germans into Germany was roughly 30 years earlier and had ended in a march on Paris that rather annoyed the French.)  From there, we see the Triple Alliance form, with German, Austria-Hungary, and Italy form a mutual defense pact, while the Triple Entente sort of united Russia, Britain, and France. (When war actually breaks out, Italy refuses to join what become the Central Powers because Austria-Hungary started things with aggression. Russia mobilizes, but really doesn't do much beyond failing to properly do much of anything other than fail in invading Germany. They did rather well in other fronts, before signing a separate peace after the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar in 1917...)

Anyway, Tuchman is mostly concerned with Germany, France, and Britain, with a bit about the invasions of Luxembourg and Belgium discussed as the various war machines gear up in August 1914, following whatever plan their military had mapped out in the period between wars. In Germany's case, that would be the Schlieffen Plan, which concentrated mostly on sweeping through Belgium and enveloping France from the North. For France, that would be Plan 17, which wasn't so much a plan as much as it was "We will take back Alsace-Lorraine and head to Berlin with élan et outré with a side of cran!"

Britain, on the other hand, really didn't want to get involved. Indeed, they spend most of August complaining, and it takes a heck of a lot of complaining to get their two Armies into the Battle of the Marne.

Anyway, since most of this is available in a more concise format elsewhere, Germany gets within 40 miles of Paris before a few factors end up allowing the Allies to make a stand that ends in 4 years of wet trenches, mustard gas, and nothing happening on the Western Front. (Indeed. if you have insomnia, allow me to suggest All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which by the time the narrator dies, you'll swear you already did 100 pages ago.) 

What makes Tuchman a more fascinating read than the surveys of The Great War is her ability to dig in to the personalities commanding all the belligerents in the conflict, from the Kaiser, to Sir John French (who wants France to leave him a path to the channel to escape), to Papa Joffre who ends up doing what ends up being the right thing by firing the one general who actually sees the conflict as it is, rather than through Nationalistic ideals that got the whole thing started. 

Heck, we even get a chapter on Woodrow Wilson and why the Americans didn't enter until 1917, which, unlike the isolationism and adherence to the Monroe Doctrine that delayed entry into the sequel, instead involved Wilson's desire to play peacemaker, British blockades of the continent creating similar issues to the ones that set off the War of 1812 (which we tend to gloss over the fact Britain was a bit busy with Napoleon at the time), and a much less integrated German ethnicity in the States that rallied against joining the allies at the outset. (This was a bit odd for me, since the late 20th century seems to have fulfilled the Melting Pot to the degree that we judge based on skin color more than where our families immigrated from.) 

Was it worth reading? Yes. It's a must read for anyone looking for information on the bigger belligerents in World War I. If you're wanting to know about the entire war, though, there are better resources out there that go more in depth into everything else going on and the other fronts of the conflict.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Southern Murder

I don't know that I've read any of Charlaine Harris's Aurora Teagarden series prior to picking up Sleep Like a Baby, but if it's any indication, I might have to start searching for the rest of the series.

We open with Aurora Teagarden trying to comfort her new baby while coming down with the flu and her husband Robin getting ready to leave for a convention. The illness means calling in some extra help in Virginia, a babysitter they'd used previously after Sophie was born. Her half brother Philip is also around to help, although since he's much younger and in high school, his ability to help is somewhat limited.

This arrangement works well enough until the night Virginia vanishes and while searching for her, Philip and Roe find a dead body in the back yard. A dead body who used to be one of Robin's stalkers, who also previously tried to kill Roe.

Which quickly makes Robin a suspect, even though he's been in Tennessee.

Anyway, as the book progresses and we hear about several auxiliary characters, we do eventually find out what happened to Virginia and who killed the stalker.

It's a well written read. While it may not be Dame Agatha levels, Miss Christie also was much more interested in the mechanics than the emotions. Given this is series mystery, the emotional bonds help give this some oomph.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Stone Fruit Blues

I recently checked out André Aciman's Call Me By Your Name after seeing the movie. Mainly because I enjoyed the movie, and was curious as to how the source material functioned.

The book is narrated by Elio, a young man living in Italy with his expat parents. His father is a professor of of some kind, who always has summer residents come in to work on things related to Italian projects. When the book starts, th enew residency has started with Oliver, who teaches at Columbia as a grad student moving in while he works on his books about philosophy and getting it translated into Italian.

We learn more about Elio than we ever do about Oliver, which again makes sense, since it's all told from Elio's narration. Which also means we have to deal with Elio's adolescent angst and random fantasy throughout. We observe the games Elio plays trying to draw affection from Oliver, and we see Elio as he flirts with Marzia.

Quite frankly, Elio seems to be very fluid in his expression of sexuality and awakening, although it would appear most of his attraction is for Oliver, given how often he sneaks in to Oliver's room and plays with his wardrobe.

When the two finally consummate their relationship, it appears to be very near the end of Oliver's 6 week residency and after a lot of apprehension on the older Oliver's part. They wind up going to Rome together before Oliver flies back to the states, which leads to new situations and more awakenings from Elio.

In the end, we find out that Oliver is marrying a woman in the states, although Elio tracks him down twice later in life to reconnect.

It's an engaging read, even if parts of it are quite difficult to get through, due to reawakening old angsts long forgotten in the mists of past regrets. Or for that matter, some of Elio's experiments, none of which I will go into in this space. However, if you saw the movie, there are two scenes that stick out and are indeed in the novel with a bunch of extra emotion in them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

This is the end, my only friend the end

A day late on this one (had some dental work yesterday and wasn't up to much of anything), but I did finally finish Scourged, the final book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. 

Again, we're following three major characters,  Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen as Ragnarok begins. Well, actually, before Hel and Loki emerge, we first have to clean up a few dangling plot threads, like Granuaile finishing taking out the vampires of Poland before being shipped off to Taiwan to fight the Yama Kings along side Sun Wukong, and Owen putting out fires (literally) as different events as the elementals call to him.

Atticus himself first takes care of the World Serpent off Ireland's coast, the heads to Sweden where Loki and Hel are supposed to emerge. And they do. And we get a fairly decent fight between all the Western pantheons vs the armies of Niflheim.

I'll say again, while he captures the spirit of most of the Norse pantheon, his big bad, Loki falls flat. Also, by spending most of Ragnarok focused on plots to take out Hel, one gets the impression that we're missing something bigger and grander in scale.

On the other hand, it didn't end as I thought it would, which was a nice surprise.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Stormy Weather...

So, as promised, I finished Mercedes Lackey's Storm Breaking, the final book in her Mage Storms trilogy.

Most of the book centers on a few places of power, from Elsbeth and Darkwind with Tremane in Shonar, to Braon Melles and Emperor Charlis in Jokona, as well as the group stuck in the basement of Urtho's Tower in the Dhorsia Plains.

Basically, the group in Shonar gets Tremane to accept the Earth Binding, a "primitive" magic that binds him to his current kingdom. Which is good, since it allows him to sense the Mage Storms as the come, locate Nodes that could go bad during the storm, as well as having the added effect of getting Iftel to drop its shield wall and send Envoys to Hardorn, which winds up being the one really big reveal in the book. Indeed, Solaris's reaction to the envoys is priceless.

In Jokona, Tremane former rival Melles is appointed Heir, and starts making moves to control what parts of the Empire aren't already in revolt after the complete failure of magic during the storms. Melles is mainly using the rather horrible philosophy that people value safety over freedom. In the process, Melles also finds out that Emperor Charlis really did stab Tremane in the back after sending him to Hardorn, which Melles uses as part of a campaign to get the Army under his control.

In the tower, pretty much every not quite deity (Avatars of the Goddess, representatives of Vkandis, Companions, Vanyel, Stefan, and Yfandes' ghosts, the Mage sword Need) shows up for the finale, Most of which requires Altra the firecat to use his Jumping ability to go fetch a few of them.

In the end, a Second Cataclysm  is prevented, but not without cost on everyone's parts.

Out of all of her Valdemar series, this is likely the best of the "Modern" setting she wrote. Not that the rest are inferior products, but more that she had a better grasp on the world she created and how to narrat eit by this point.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The answer is blowin' in the wind

In an effort to finish the series before moving on to new fare, I finished Mercedes Lackey's Storm Rising yesterday on lunch and started into the last book in the trilogy.

Rising is exceptionally angsty, as Karal is dealing with being an exceptionally young envoy whom nobody really respects and Firesong is busy being overly dramatic as he begins to figure out he and An'desha aren't lifebonded mates.

In Karal's case, he actually manages to almost get a Shin'a'in blood feud declared on him after coming down on the opposite side of Jarim, the current Shin'a'in envoy. While this does eventually work itself out, it's really ugly, sending Karal to the Ekele of Firesong and An'desha to recover.

Firesong, on the other hand, once he realizes how badly he and An'desha are splintering, decides to make a soul holder the way Ma'ar did back in prehistory. (Indeed, this is how Ma'ar ended up possessing An'desha.)

Then there's Termane in Hardorn, cut off from the Eastern Empire. He slowly begins to integrate the town of Shonar with the Imperial garrison, becoming a better leader in the process.

Indeed, during Solaris's state visit, some scrying between Karal, An'desha, and Natoli reval him to be the one the Allies need to talk to about alliance, since the next solution will likely involve Hardorn. Which means both Karal and Solaris finding ways to get past Tremane's execution of their friend and mentor.

Ultimately, we end up in the Dhorsia Plains, at the melted tower of Urtho, in hopes of finding a weaopn that can counteract at least one set of ripples in the reverse cataclysm. And it is here that more than a few differences get worked out before book two ends.

By far the one things that sticks out in this book is Firesong's reactions to a relationship ending. One gets the distinct impression Firesong is used to being in control of his relationships, and not used to the gradual drift that separates him from An'desha. Something that many people understand all to well.

On to the next.