Book Review #24

I just read the most sumptuous book.  It was as rich and satisfying as a slab of red velvet cake.

The book: The Boat of a Million Years

The author: Poul Anderson

The review: There are only seven story plots.  All of the millions of novels are just variations and combinations on those themes.  This one is a reworking of the movie Highlander, which was released 2 years before this was published in 1989.  I got a cheap 2004 Kindle re-release, while I was COVID-isolating.  The immortals can be killed.  It’s just that they heal quickly and totally.  They survive and recover from, wounds that would slay a normal person.

It’s ‘like’ a time-travel novel, but the travel is all from past, to the future.  Perhaps once per century, a person is born who does not age and die.  Unlike the Off With Her Head movie story, this book is about survival.  The author wants to show that, while these people are different from the rabble in one way, they are quite the same in others, and different from each other.

It is not at all like several other ‘ray-guns and space-ships’ books of this author’s that I have.  He treads lightly, but shows the historical foolishness of religions, when viewed over hundreds, or thousands of years

The most common, though not universal, drive is to find others of their kind.  A Turkish trader in post-Roman Britain spends parts of several decades finding an immortal Norse warrior.  When he finally locates him, he offers him partnership in a safe venture and way of life that will guarantee them both great wealth and political power.  The Viking turns him down, and walks away.  Several years later, he hears that the berserker died in an epic battle.

It takes over a century for a Mesopotamian ship-fleet owner to locate another male.  When he does, the outgoing extrovert is dismayed to find a reclusive milquetoast who is content to follow, and allow someone else to make decisions and take care of him.

Some of the men make the obvious search for females of their kind, for wives/companions, and to find if two immortals would produce immortal offspring.  They don’t.  After several more centuries, the pair locate an immortal woman in Rome.  Pointing out the gender inequality, she has advanced from prostitute, to madam, to courtesan, where she creates great wealth through pillow-talk investments.

Even before computers, birth certificates or accurate census forms, it was not a good idea to remain in one location with one name, for more than a couple of decades, lest the superstitious populace grow suspicious.  The trader suggests that they move back to Nineveh, or Tyre, and sells off his ships and cargoes, converting them to a more easily transported chest, full of gold and jewels.  Her history made her distrust all men, so she betrays them.  The two men escape with their lives, but lose the fortune which takes the one a century to recoup.

This is a psychological and sociological account.  With no ‘action’ to spur the plot, there is no urgency to rush this deep and lengthy book along.  The author has the time and opportunity to compose it like a story from the Golden Age of Literature, of a hundred or two-hundred years ago.  It is rich, luxurious, and full-bodied.

The construction was intriguing and complex, occasionally non-linear.  The history and geography were informative, well-researched, and wide-ranging.  The words were substantive, and often archaic.  There was hardly a page where I wasn’t poking the Kindle screen for a definition.  Words and phrases like, limned, bedizened courtesan, uxorious, an austere magus, lineaments, indolent insolence and caparisoned, peered from almost every page.  For a word-nerd like me, it was Nirvana.

Reading this book was like wearing a silk shirt and walking barefoot across a Persian carpet, while eating a filet mignon.  It was rewarding and satisfying on several simultaneous levels.  I was delighted with the social and personal insights that the mere-mortal author provided.

Flash Fiction #247

PHOTO PROMPT © Alicia Jamtaas

LEFT HANGING

Ah, the joys of being a writer.  At least I’ve identified my Flash Fiction.
Big deal!  We’ve got your number,

I downloaded Rochelle’s photo.
Ho Hum!  After only eight years of practice.

I have a title.
Life imitating art – again.

I have a theme.
Your therapist will be intrigued.

I have a bright, colorful story arc.
Which will not end in a pot of gold!

All I need now is a great finish, a fascinating denouement.  Think, Archon!
We’re sorry!  The inspiration that you are trying to reach is currently binge-watching The Expanse, on Amazon.  Please try again later.

***

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple site and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

A Love Of Reading

Even for a grumpy, retired old dude like me, with nothing much to do, COVID-infested infected 2020 provided me with a little extra time to read ‘em and reap.  I thought that I was doing well, but….  The son swore off TV some years ago, and spends all his spare time reading – something.  He still reads the occasional dead-tree book, but gets most of his from Kindle Unlimited.  Kindle keeps track of how many books he has read – and reread.  In 2019, he went through 152.  During Apocalypse 2020, his list numbered 213.  I recently went to bed.  By the time I arose, eight hours later, he’d (re)read 3 books.
I only got these 37.

Hawking dumbed down ‘A Brief History of Time’ enough that I understood a lot of it. Mlodinow further simplified the concepts, in this version.

Book number 6 of The Expanse series. I am currently watching my way through series number five, on Amazon Prime

Interstellar Sci-Fi, with magic. Thanx to the son for introducing me to this series.

A time-filling men’s adventure book

A little bit of spaceships and ray-guns Sci-Fi

Alternate-Earth, with magic. Second book, Red Magic will be in this year’s list.

More Action/Adventure

A Sci-Fi book about time travel. One of several read last year.

A stand-alone book from these author’s ‘Magic” series, explaining some plot focus changes, and allowing for the beginning of a new series.

A murder mystery from fellow blogger K J Ivany. A post about this book will soon follow.

The culmination of the ‘Magic’ series. Swords, vampires, shapeshifter were-animals, and various monsters. It’s been fun.

Book #2, mate to last year’s ‘Saints.’

Book number five of The Expanse Series – the one I’m currently streaming. Thanx BrainRants – great reading, and watching.

Bourne Identity type of men’s action/adventure

Another in The Innkeeper, ‘Sweep’ series. This husband/wife writing team are almost as prolific as Isaac Asimov, with four series and several singletons.

More mindless men’s adventure. I am highly qualified.

Another Jack Reacher book. Another in the series has just been released for this year’s reading. As Clive Cussler passed his series on to his son, so has Lee Child passed his on to his son.

Tom Clancy’s heirs just passed the writing of the Jack Ryan series on to a committee of commercial writers.

Same series – different author

An invading alien machine makes the gods of Greece, Egypt and Rome real for those trapped inside a reality bubble.

If one was fun – and more importantly – sold, let’s trap another group with the Norse gods.

One of several ‘Classic’ Sci-Fi books that I reread. A book review will soon follow.

I realized that I had not read this book in the 1960s, so I bought it from Kindle for $1.99.

For the same two bucks, Star Rangers (above), came attached to this book, which I had read in the mid-’60s, titled ‘The Last Planet.’ As a matched pair, this second novel now makes more sense.

Eight millennia-old immortals among us, and how they have dealt with change. Another upcoming book review will tell you how.

Historical/urban fiction to pass the time

More Sci-Fi rereading. I originally read this, titled as ‘The Junkyard Planet.’ How to pull a failed world up by its financial bootstraps.

More interesting men’s action/adventure to pass the time. The first of another series which I believe I have to thank River Girl for introducing me to. The rest will help keep me busy in 2021.

Another reread from the ’60s. Urban fiction which barely qualifies as Sci-Fi because a man finds a way to get rich through industrial espionage, by inventing a device which allows him to move about, unseen and unstopped, while time stands still for everyone else.

More historical/urban fiction. They contain a pleasant amount of fascinating trivia.

Not much blood and guts, but lots of brains and gunplay. Solid story arc and character development.

Were the ten plagues of Egypt actually real?? Is the entire biome of the Earth a semi-sentient, interlocked, Gaia-type entity? Dunno! But it makes good reading.

Another ghost-writer, for Clive Cussler, presents a period-piece action/adventure whose hero is an early 20th century detective, reminiscent of the real Alan Pinkerton.

Time travel without leaving home. Bits and pieces of geography and time periods are inexplicably swirled together. Can our hero figure out how to put it all back where/when it belongs?

Centuries of life through organ transplants for planetary monarchs, but not for the their subjects. A topic brought up in this ’60s novel. The author also wrote the 1776/1976 American Bicentennial Saga series. If I read this book soon after its release, I don’t remember it. It was a pleasant discovery in a storage box.

At least one book to reinforce my lack of belief in the supernatural/religion. A disappointing little 156-page novelette with several passages repeated in different chapters.  Trying to justify his position through  philosophy and logic – and failing miserably.  As dry and tasteless as Muffets.

COVID19 should have given most of you some extra time this past year to read.  Aside from my magnificent prose, did you encounter anything morally or intellectually uplifting?

WOW #63

Someone is always trying to control you.  It has been going on for millennia.  I recently came upon an even-rarer-than-usual word which proves it.

ATHANATICS

The use of the word is so uncommon, that it is almost impossible to find in a dictionary or search engine.  The concept has been around for as long as there have been alpha-males who want to inflict their views on others.  The term seems to have arisen about 400 AD, based on Athanasius of Alexandria.

As the Bishop of Alexandria, he used social, political, and religious power to eliminate heresy, and enforce his beliefs about Christian Orthodoxy.  The definitional value is to create an ideal world, although your definition of “ideal” probably greatly differs from whoever seizes the right to impose theirs.  Athanasius’ idea of ideal, was blind obedience, uniformity and conformity – no free thinking allowed.

In Poul Anderson’s World Without Stars, the antithantic prevents age and disease but memories must be artificially edited. In Anderson’s The Boat Of A Million Years, eight mutant immortals survive through history until the athanatics are developed.

In Larry Niven’s Known Space future history, ‘Boosterspice’ extends life indefinitely, and protectors, who have eaten “tree of life,” live until killed.

1970Nigel CalderTechnopolis: Social Control of the Uses of ScienceSimon and Schuster

If only a minority of the athanatic technologies summarized in this book comes to practical fruition in humans — and some of them are mutually contradictory — there will be plenty of moral, legal and political issues to perplex us.

England is perhaps the most athanatic country in the world.  “The Wild” has almost completely been eliminated.  There are still stands of (hardwood) forests, but they are open and welcoming, with paths, trails, tiny roads, and bridges over streams.  It is almost impossible to get lost, in any dangerous sense.

In the developed world, science and technology have done much to make life ideal, but the more we are protected from harm, the more freedom and control of our lives, we lose.  When motorized vehicles were new, they were cumbersome things that required training and knowledge, care and control, to safely operate.  Many attained all of these, but quick and handy transportation meant that far more did not.

In 1906, there were only 8 motor-cars in the entire city of Cincinnati, yet somehow, two of them managed to crash, head-on, into each other.  Soon came control – the requirement for driving licenses, speed limits, stop signs and traffic lights.

Early cars had manual transmissions.  Drivers had to understand gears and clutches.  I very much liked the feel of controlling a ‘standard’.  I did so until cars with gearshifts became so rare that buyers had to pay a premium for them.  All of my motorcycles had gearshifts.  Now, even many motorcycles are equipped with automatic transmissions.  It just takes away the fun, the thrill, of doing it yourself.  I was recently passed by a large motorcycle with its radio blaring, so that the rider could hear it over the wind noise.  I was almost surprised that the rider didn’t have Wi-Fi direct to built-in earphones in his helmet.

The flying cars that we have been promised for almost a century have failed to emerge, because technology has not advanced far enough.  We’ve seen what destruction and chaos inattentive fools can create in two dimensions.  I hate to imagine what they might accomplish in three dimensions.

AI, and self-driving cars are almost perfected.  When that is accomplished, we might move on to individual, self-flying cars.  They might satisfy the general population, who just want to get from place to place.  For archaic fools like me, who still want the feel of doing something, AI is a smothering pillow.  I want to control what my vehicle is doing.  With self-drivers, I can’t start, stop or steer.  I can’t drive 10 MPH over the speed limit if I’m foolishly late.  Even if I could override the controls, the manufacturer put in a black box that will tell Big Brother, and my insurance company, if I did.

The world continues to be safer, tamer, more ‘ideal,’ but, more and more, we end up swaddled in Amazon bubble wrap, protected, but divorced from reality and any chance of adventure.  This may be acceptable to a large percentage of the population, but we still need some who dare, who search, who triumph.  The New World was not discovered or conquered by a boatload of chartered accountants.