The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Thanksgiving Book Post

Posted on | November 26, 2015 | Comments Off on The Thanksgiving Book Post

— by Wombat-socho

What with all the pre-season tax training, an excursion to Portland, and what have you, it’s been way too long since my last book post, so let’s do this thing. First on the docket is Jean Larteguy’s The Centurions, the famous novel that bridges the First Indochina War and the Algerian War. Out of print for about half a century (and commanding huge prices in the used book markets), the book has nonetheless been recommended reading for American military officers because of its examination of a military at war with not just the ideologically-driven guerrillas in front of them, but the politicians and society behind them. The parallels to our own wars in Vietnam and Southwest Asia are obvious even to a blind man, but Larteguy isn’t just writing a polemic here – all the characters, French paras, Vietnamese nurses, and Algerian terrorists alike have their own fully-rounded backstories and personalities, concisely described and brutally honest. I suspect even the seemingly one-dimensional spear carriers would seem better rounded to me if I were as familiar with French society in the 1950s as I am with American society in the post-Vietnam and GWOT eras. I have been waiting for Penguin to republish this book for over fifty years, and it is an absolute steal at $10 for the Kindle. Its sequel, The Praetorians, is available for pre-order and is scheduled to come out next June. It’s going to be a hard wait.

C.J. Cherryh has been one of the more prolific SF authors of my generation, and I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of her novels that aren’t in the mainstream of her Alliance/Union or Chanur series tend to get overlooked. Serpent’s Reach, though…I don’t really understand why this has been relegated to obscurity. Set in the quarantined Beta Hydri cluster, where a colony of humans has settled into peaceful coexistence with the alien, insectile majat, Serpent’s Reach is primarily a tale of revenge set against a backdrop of (literally) murderous political infighting, the effects of indefinitely prolonged human life, and the peculiar stratified society of born-men and azi we’ve seen in other Alliance/Union novels but with the terribly long-lived aristocratic Kontrin families atop the social and economic pyramid. Perhaps what threw people off is that the fast-paced action of the beginning and penultimate chapters is separated by a lengthy, seemingly purposeless account of our heroine’s progress toward the one planet where Alliance merchants are allowed to dock and trade – where she finds the lever she needs to shift not just that world, but all the worlds in the cluster. Perhaps not the best of Cherryh’s novels, but still a very good one.

Those of you who have been following my posts here are well aware that one of my favorite non-SF writers is Bill James, particularly when it comes to baseball. Before I left for Portland, I spent about a week and a half browsing through The Politics of Glory, which combines a history of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown (and there’s some bizarre history behind it, as James explains) with an examination of the players elected and selected to the Hall, a dissection of the arguments – good, bad, and frankly awful- in support of various players, brief biographies of players who made it, players who probably should have but didn’t, and an analysis of some of the great controversies surrounding the Hall’s choices. The book was republished a year later as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, which I think isn’t as good a title, but it’s not like they care what I think. Either way, if you’re interested in the history of baseball and/or the Hall of Fame, you really owe it to yourself to get this book. It’ll give you something to do besides stare out the window and wait for spring.

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