Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Travel Tuesday: Old Family Crests in Salamanca, Spain

As I mentioned in my last Travel Tuesday post, I recently visited Salamanca, Spain. This historic university town is filled with old buildings from the Renaissance. Many noble families lived here and you can still see their crests on the sides of some of their palaces.

In Spanish, the term for the historical town center is casco viejo, which translates to "old helmet." There are a lot of old helmets in Salmanca!

Jump the cut for more.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Book Review: The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

The IncorruptiblesThe Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up for free from Gollancz at the 2014 Eastercon. Like Barricade, another freebie from the same publisher that I reviewed here earlier, I found it to be a well-written novel that ended up disappointing me.

The setting is an alternative Wild West colonized by the Rumans, an alternative Roman Empire that gets its strength from Hellfire--captured imps and demons that are made to power steamboats, weapons, and other devices. So yeah, you have fantasy, steampunk, and Weird West all wrapped into one. Variants on the Chinese and Spanish are also mentioned.

The action centers around Shoe and Fisk, two scouts employed by a Ruman senator to clear the way for his steamboat as it carries a very important cargo--a captured Spanish princess. Shoe is half dvergar, a dwarf-like race native to the continent. Shoe narrates the plot but does very little, the story mostly being about Fisk, a typical Western hero, a Lone Ranger to Shoe's Tonto.

And this is the first major stumbling block to my enjoyment of the book. The only other dvergar in the book is also in a servile role. The other native race are the vaettir, elf-like savages that scalp, kill babies, carry off women, and burn settlements. Instead of developing some interesting cultures based on, say, the Navajo or Iroquois, Jacobs cops out and reverts to the simplistic Good, Servile Indian vs. Savage, Hostile Indian trope.

This is the 21st century. Do better.

The senatorial family that Shoe and Fisk are guarding are similarly cartoonish. They are so backbiting and clueless as to be unbelievable, and their stupidity extends to putting their captive, upon whom the future of the Ruman Empire rests, into unnecessary danger. This furthers the plot but could have been handled in a more convincing manner. Add a few clichés (black fire, Infernal Combustion Engines) and I was left struggling to finish it.

And that's a real shame. Jacobs is an excellent writer, his prose always flowing well and presenting some beautiful descriptions. His creativity and obvious talent should have resulted in a better novel. I will probably try out one of Jacobs' other works, but I will not be reading the sequel to The Incorruptibles.

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Military History Photo Friday: Hitler Youth Prisoners of War

Near the end of the Second World War, seventy years ago, the Third Reich had a serious manpower shortage. Most of the men of fighting age had been killed, wounded, or captured. Older men were conscripted to fill the ranks, and the boys of the Hitler Youth were also called to fight the Allies.

Some of these kids weren't even in their teens. Allied soldiers felt terrible shooting at them, but also had to admit that the young troops often fought very well, having been brainwashed by their upbringing and being too young to fear death. The Allies tried to capture these kids when they could, and there are numerous photographs showing just how young some of them were.

One of the worst things the Third Reich did was to corrupt children with the Nazi ideology. For the Black Gate blog, I recently reviewed a German film from the era titled Hitlerjunge Quex, about a famous member of the Hitler Youth. Originally intended as fascist propaganda, it has strangely morphed in its meaning for modern viewers to have an anti-fascist message.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Travel Tuesday: The Medieval University of Salamanca, Spain

The Escuelas Mayores building, Salamanca.

Last weekend my wife and I headed off to Salamanca, Spain. It's a wonderful old historic city best known for its university founded in the 13th century. Here is the facade of the university's most famous building.

Like Oxford, most of the university buildings are built around a courtyard. Jump the cut to step inside.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Military History Photo Friday: The Last Nazi Government Surrenders

Happy VE Day! On this day in 1945, the last organized Nazi forces surrendered to the Allies.

The process actually began on May 4, when the Flensburg government, the successor government appointed by Hitler in his last will and testament shortly before shooting himself on April 30, surrendered to the British. They had controlled Denmark, Netherlands, and northwestern Germany.

This photo shows British officers leading away three of its leaders. President Karl Dönitz (center, in long, dark coat) is followed by Albert Speer (bareheaded) and Alfred Jodl. They prolonged surrender negotiations as long as they could to help surviving German forces flee west so they could surrender to the Allies instead of the Soviets. After what the Nazis had done to Russia in the past few years, they didn't want to end up at the mercy of the Russians.

Soon the Allies told them to stop stalling, and in the early hours of May 7, Dönitz made the announcement, "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 23:01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945."

Dönitz spent ten years in prison for war crimes and then lived a quiet life in Germany until his death in 1980.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Book Review: Trucksong by Andrew Macrae

TrucksongTrucksong by Andrew Macrae
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most original science fiction novels I've read in a long time.
The action takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia, where the tattered remnants of humanity are preyed upon by intelligent trucks. A lucky few humans, including our hero, learn to link into the trucks and make a symbiotic relationship with them, but that by no means guarantees their safety. Think Neuromancer meets Cars. Being the father of a small child and having seen Pixar's Cars movie about 20 billion times, it was hard to get that imagery out of my head!
The Outback slang and invented words took some time to get used to but I didn't find it distracting. In fact, it added to Macrae's masterful building up of atmosphere. In addition to the dialect, he uses bleak imagery, weird cults, and fleeting glimpses of the world left behind to create an almost visionary experience for the reader. He really can write and kept me gripped right until the end. I'll be sure to pick up his next book.

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Monday, 27 April 2015

Book Review: Barricade by Jon Wallace

BarricadeBarricade by Jon Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The publisher had a heap of these on the free table at the 2015 Eastercon and so I grabbed one. I was attracted by the blurb and the fact that it was post-apocalyptic, a genre I love.
The book, however, was only OK. The protagonist is a Ficial, an artificial life form who along with his fellow Ficials is trying to destroy the human race in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Ficials have no emotions and a set task they have trouble thinking beyond, and while this could make for a boring character, John Wallace's engaging writing style kept me interested. There's an action-packed road trip across a blighted landscape that was full of thrills, but after a while became a bit wearing. In a few spots the author lost my suspension of disbelief. There wasn't much purpose to a lot of the action and the ending was poorly done. It simply ended. I don't know if a sequel is planned, but the final page felt more like a chapter ending than the conclusion of a novel.
Barricade was a fun, fast read that didn't quite satisfy. Wallace has lots of potential, however. Here's hoping he does better with his next book.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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