Book Review #7

The Author – Eric Flint

The Book – 1636  The Saxon Uprising

The author, Eric Flint, is a history buff, who enjoys spending hundreds of hours researching various areas and time periods, and then writing alternate-history books about them. His favorite time and place is Europe, during the Thirty Years War.  He started a series of books back in 2001, named Ring of Fire.

He studied the major players till he knew them like family, the Swedes invading the Germanies, Emperor Gustavus Adolphus, Baner, Oxenstierna – the Germans, John Georg and Wilhelm Wettin – Cardinal Richelieu and the French king’s wily brother, “Monsieur Gaston.”  Then he wondered what would happen if an impish group of intergalactic aliens moved a Virginia coal-mining town back in time and space to Thuringia in 1632  What changes would be wrought by fore-knowledge, education, critical thinking and technology?

They popped out in the middle of a campaign, and 700 Croat cavalry, attempting an attack to the Swedes’ rear, suddenly came upon the defenceless town. Fortunately, two young men, driving near the event horizon, got back soon enough to warn the residents.  A Percheron can’t keep up with a Mustang.

Coming out of the forest, the cavalry formed up in a meadow at the edge of town, with lance and sabre, to find themselves facing 40 or 50 bloody-minded Appalachian hillbilly miners.  Used to mercenaries armed with inaccurate single-shot muskets, they expected to ride over a grease-spot, or a hole where their opponents broke and ran.  But these were mountain-men, protecting their wives and daughters and their homes.

Armed with very accurate pump shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, and quickly-reloaded pistols, they taught the Croats the first new rule of warfare – Rate Of Fire – click-click, boom, click-click, boom.  This was their home!  They did not break, they did not run!  They put out a sleet-storm of high-power projectiles, quickly piling up a wall of bodies, both horse and men.  In all, they only killed 40 or 50 cavalry, barely their own number, but the horsemen had never experienced this, and it was they who broke and ran.

Next it was a favor for their new ally, the Swedish emperor, an impregnable fortress which would cost him thousands of lives to take.  They gave the job to an 18 year-old cheerleader with an eagle-eye and a sniper rifle with a telescope.  See that guy on the parapet with the plume in his hat?  Yes sir, BANG.  The guy who was beside him with the fur collar on his fancy cape?  Yes sir, BANG!  Shoot out the eyes and brains, and soon the rest want to leave town.

Not all changes were wrought through violence.  The de facto leader of the town is soon the young, miners’-union president.  Most of the aristocracy is off, playing at war, and the administrators who are left are soon faced with militia and activist groups organised on union lines.

What can five thousand uptimers do to change five million Germans, much less Swedes, French, Spanish, Italians, Dutch and English?  Like a drop of oil on a puddle, the result is quickly wide-spread and colorful.  The Thirty-Years War was fought largely because it was time for change, and the ruling classes tried to hold on to their power and privilege.  In these books, the Americans precipitate changes intentionally, and simply by existing.

As the commoners gain more strength, and the likelihood of lethal consequences for nobles in battles increases, war as a sport and an ego salve greatly reduces.  The ruling class enjoy some of the changes, but definitely not others.  Soon democratic elections are being held, medical treatment and hygiene cut deaths from plague, iron rails are cast, and VW Buses become engines for narrow-gauge railways.

Torture is officially frowned upon, Jews are set free from ghettos, and become more accepted in society, and witchcraft trials and burning at the stake fade into the past.  In a Steam-Punk way, many high-tech things are redesigned for the lower-tech capabilities.  Crude gasoline engines are assembled, Wright Brothers-level planes are built, and hot-air blimps begin transportation.

With their history books, and greater knowledge of psychology, the Americans often outthink their belligerent opponents, providing disinformation to spy networks, and doing things in unusual, non-customary ways.  Ah, so easy in books!  If only it were this easy to bring peace and harmony to the real world.

In this book, when the emperor is injured, and out of action for a couple of months, his number-two decides to take a big chunk of Germany for his personal fief.  Our union boss has been made a general in the army, so Mister Ambition assigns him and his loyal troops to subduing Poland.  He imprisons the newly-elected Prime Minister, threatens the Emperor’s daughter, and besieges the German city she’s in, thinking that there will be huge civil unrest, which he can “put down” to seize control.

The Citizens Committees keep the population angry, but under control.  The tyro general uses American organization and supply systems to provide warm clothing, boots, food and sleighs for an unheard-of winter march.  Then, to compensate for a smaller army and less battle experience, he uses walkie-talkies to direct his forces during a battle in a blinding snowstorm.  While the Swedes are away from the siege-lines, the city militia sallies forth, and takes away their fall-back position.

And they all lived happily ever after – except for the occasional beheading.  Definitely not the history expert that Flint is, I know just enough about this period to be entranced at the possible influences modern American sensibilities could exert on real live (well, actually dead) historical figures and occurrences.  Not really “science-fiction”, these books are more like historical romance/action tales, and well worth a good read.

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They Paved Paradise

So said Joni Mitchell, some years ago.  The same thought was echoed by Chrissie Hynde, when she wrote, My pretty countryside had been paved down the middle, by a government that had no pride.  The farms of Ohio had been replaced by shopping malls.

Travel/transportation is another technology which has advanced greatly over the last couple of centuries, and especially the last 50 or 60 years.  Some will say that’s a good thing.  Some will claim it’s necessary.  It has definitely opened up North America, and Americans’ social eyes, but old guys like me still miss the old days a bit, even if they weren’t “good.”

Travel used to be difficult and time-consuming.  BrainRants can rant about taking 36 hours to get from Afghanistan to Kansas, but it’s not too long ago that it would have taken 36 days, and before that, 36 weeks.  I’m reading a series of books about a Virginia town, transported back to 1632 Germany.  In those days not many people travelled more than 20 miles from where they were born.  The Americans found travel particularly difficult, because of what they had been used to.

Twenty miles was about as far as you could go in one day.  The word journey comes from the French word, journée, a day’s work or travel.  Most people had to walk.  A lucky few had riding horses, somewhat faster and less tiring, but not terribly comfortable.  Merchants and the like had wagons, but roads were rutted, pot-holed, and often muddy, and wagons had no shock absorbers.  It was rough on the butt and back.

The Romans built a bunch of good roads which lasted, but were still hard on the feet and spines of travellers.  It was not until the 1880s that the idea of mixing tar or asphalt with sand and small stones allowed the construction of “permanent”, smooth roads, and speeds and personal comfort to increase.

Even a hundred years ago, most freight and passengers moved around the country on trains.  The U.S. has maintained a lot of track, but sadly, much of Canada’s has been torn up.  Both countries now rely heavily on motorised vehicles.   To serve them, roads and parking areas have burgeoned.  The big, multi-lane highways are fenced off, preventing both humans and animals from crossing.  You can’t get on, and you can’t get off.  They’re finally getting smart, and building animal overpasses on the Trans-Canada Highway in a couple of the big National parks

In the areas of Michigan where I’ve driven, instead of blacktop, they’ve built their roads from poured concrete.  Concrete expands and contracts differently from asphalt.  It is laid down in 50-foot sections, with rubberized joints between them.  This creates a most annoying tick, tick, tick, as you drive over them, almost like the steel wheels of the old trains.  The concrete lasts longer than asphalt, but when it does need repair, pouring concrete into a pothole is more difficult, it takes longer to set, and the repair falls apart faster than blacktop.

The American Interstates, and Ontario’s 400-series highways didn’t come into existence until the mid-60s.  As a child, about 1950, I hadn’t even visited the little neighboring town, 5 miles away, and my Father took us to Niagara Falls on vacation.  Nowadays, it’s a four-hour, 200 mile trip.  Back then it took most of a day; even paved roads were only 2-lanes, they ran into and out of every little town, signage was poor, or non-existent.   I don’t know how Dad managed to find the place.

We rented a little cabin for an overnight stay.  Dad was paranoid enough, that he put his wallet under his pillow.  The next day we crossed the border to visit some relatives in upstate New York.  It wasn’t until Dad tried to buy some gas for the trip back, that he realized his wallet was missing.  Two adults, and two little kids got into the States without a shred of I.D., almost no money, and not a bit of fuss raised.  Imagine trying that at the border today.  The owner of the cabins was holding the wallet when we got back.  An honest cleaning lady had turned it in.

If only roads went only where very little grows.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Here in Southern Ontario, and many other places, 10 and 12 lane super-roads are eating up hundreds of square miles of the best farmland in the world.  Recharge areas for underground aquifers which supply drinking water to our cities are being paved over for roads and parking lots.  All that black paving sucks up the heat of the sun, making cities up to five degrees C. hotter than the surrounding countryside.

As a small-town boy, I appreciate the ability to get to interesting places quickly and easily.  I like having all the conveniences that a city can provide, but there are an increasing number of times I wish we could go back to a simpler, more pastoral time.  Do any of you feel the same way?  Residents of Newfoundland need not reply.  Void where society is already 50 years behind the times.

“The Boss”

When the body was first made, all the parts wanted to be….”The Boss”!

The Brain said: “Since I control everything and do all the thinking, I should be the boss.”

The Feet said: “Since I carry man where he wants, to get him in position to do what the brain wants, I should be the boss.”

The Hands said: “Since I do all the work and earn all the money to keep the rest of you going, I should be the boss.”

The Eyes said: “Since I must look out for all of you, and tell you where danger lurks, I should be the boss.”

And so it went with the Heart, Ears, Lungs and the rest of the body parts.  Finally the Asshole spoke up, and demanded that he be made boss.

All the other parts laughed at the idea of an asshole being made boss.

The Asshole was so angered that he blocked himself off, and refused to function.

Soon, the Brain was feverish, the Eyes crossed, the Feet were too weak to walk, the Hands hung limply at the sides, the Heart and Lungs struggled to keep going.

All the body parts pleaded with the Brain to relent, and let the Asshole be Boss.  And so it happened!  All the other parts did all the work, and the Asshole just bossed them around and passed out a lot of shit.

 

The Moral:   YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A BRAIN TO BE A BOSS….JUST AN ASSHOLE!!    😦

 

Archon’s psychotherapy booth is now open.  Feel free to tell me ALL about it.    😉

Segway

I’ve recently read no less than three articles where the word segue was incorrectly used/spelled, because a writer, trying to appear erudite, had no idea what he was writing.  The word, pronounced, Seg – Way, reminded me of the Segway scooter, the two-wheeled person mover, which balances on its tiptoes, by means of gyroscopes.  The company is located near H. E. Ellis’ pile of tires in New Hampster.

On their website, the company brags about being green because Segways produce no emissions, and shows a picture of a wind turbine, but most people plug it in to recharge from an electrical outlet supplied by a sulphur-laced coal-burning power plant.  They also list Segway racing.  I wondered how you hop up a Segway, until I found that they were sponsoring BMX motorcycle races.

When these things first appeared, almost 11 years ago, there were people who touted them as a game changer.  They were to completely revolutionise the personal transportation scene.  These cheerleader types were what I like to refer to as seriously demented.  These things cost almost $4,000.  For that kind of money, you can get a decent-sized second-hand automobile which will carry four people at sixty MPH, enclosed and protected from the weather.

The only places where they are bought and used, is at companies with large, sprawling buildings, and malls.  If you’ve seen Kevin James, in Paul Blart – Mall Cop, you have my sympathy and pity.  If you send me a stamped, self-addressed postcard, I will send you, absolutely free, your choice of either two tickets to his new movie, Zookeeper, or enough IQ points to get you up to being able to watch Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour movies.

The automotive Big Three try to bully their suppliers into using single-floor plants.  It obviates many potential problems of moving parts from floor to floor in case of power failure, or other emergencies.  My company’s Plant II, which they sold, was one floor.  Despite the Jeep plant in Toledo being five stories high, Chrysler urged our management to move to a single-floor facility.

Plants like that often use golf carts for management to get around.  They cost about as much as a Segway, but again, will carry up to four people and/or freight, move faster, and you ride sitting down.  Some buildings are so crowded with machinery or stored goods that golf carts are not useful.

I did two weeks of Monday to Friday, midnight security in a building where furniture for Electrohome was made, stereo and TV cabinets, as well as easy chairs and footstools.  They had a boiler in the plant which required a 24/7 rotation of Stationary Engineers, but for the two-week summer shut-down period, the place was empty, therefore, security guards.

To make the hourly security patrol around the vast, winding pedestrian walkway on foot would have taken almost an hour, and then it would be time to do it again, with no-one to answer the phone or watch the doors.  For the supervisors, they provided three or four pony-bikes.  Remember them?  Small bikes, banana seats, back wheel larger than the front, protruding, chopper-style steering!  I suppose it would have been possible to roll Segways around the twisty, narrow walkways, if they’d been available back then.  I did it with the pony bike.

My then teen-age son accompanied me for a couple of midnight shifts.  Like the big kids we both were, we brought along water pistols, and rode around trying to hit different targets on the fly.  We each earned a compliment from the other.  I have taken almost 350 hours of gun handling/safety training.  Despite playing with “only water-pistols” I controlled the muzzle, and never pointed it at anything I didn’t intend to shoot.  The son lauded me for that, and I returned the praise for having noticed, and learning to do the same.

The furniture moved from department to department on roller conveyors, 30 inches off the floor, some of them powered.  In the shipping department there was a roller ramp, where the pallets/boxes rolled down to the floor.  The second night the son came with me, I rolled into the shipping department on my little pony bike, with him right behind me.  I saw that roller ramp, and silliness ensued.  I rode my bike right up the ramp, and onto the conveyor system, and he followed me.

Soon, we were making the security rounds by riding on the rollers.  The bikes were short enough that any balance problems could be immediately solved, just by putting feet on the conveyor side rails, but that never happened.  You had to maintain modest, steady acceleration.  A sudden powerful push on the pedals produced a short stretch of wildly spinning rollers. I bet you can’t do that with a Segway.

You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.  A big part of security work is boredom, and how to combat it.  The employer hopes that as much energy and attention as possible is directed toward actual security of the facility, but, ya gotta have a little fun sometimes.  My son also accompanied me on a Friday night shift in a small-town, where they had an arena full of expensive boats for a weekend boat-show, and a broken lock on the back door.

For obvious reasons they didn’t give us the key to the refreshment stand area, but there were chairs inside, as well as paper cups and ice we wished to use for soft drinks we brought along.  Two curious monkeys investigated the stand.  I found one way in at the same time the son found a different way.  When two of the organizers staggered walked in around 2 AM, after closing a bar, we immediately waved to them.

After being asked, we pointed out the soft spots.  One could be fixed by having personnel reminded to lock the steel roll-down.  The other was a hole in a concrete wall, where they had inserted an easily moved popcorn machine.  Not so easily remedied.  Fix the damned lock on the back door!