Soldiers live – The Black Company (re)read part 10

 

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! It has been a while since we have met here. And as I perceive the things I´m a bit late with this post. Till now I managed to be more or less timely with the publishing the posts pertaining the adventures of the Black Company, but this last volume, the Soldiers Live has been dragging on a bit longer than I expected, and also my personal and professional life did also throw challenges toward me that made it harder for me to keep to the self imposed timetable. But no need to worry, there is almost still a month to the end of the year, so effectively there is still plenty of time to correct this omission, and actually there is no need to wait more. But lets get down to business, and let me include the usual disclamer for one last time.

This is a (re)read  of the series that encompassed the better part of the year as I was reading one book per month. I  explored the world of (what for long time believed is ) Khatovar, and as this was at least partly a reread there still might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

So we, but at least I arrived to an end of a series. It is kind of a relief. Thiss last book was kinda hard to read, many small chapters, the narrative being broken up by the many different points of view and the aforementioned hurdles of personal life. But bear with me for this last post, I will try not to drag this on for too long.

Tor Fantasy (2000)

Tor Fantasy (2000)

Four years have passed since the events in the Water Sleeps, another book that could have been yet another “good” ending for the series as it became evident that Khatovar is and will stay out of the Black Company´s, or to be more specific Croaker´s reach. The Black Company Walks out of the known world and walks off the Plain of the Glittering Stones, with Goblin presumed dead, One-Eye having survived multiple strokes, with one foot and hand in the grave already; this is not the Black Company we got to know and love, it has changed.

And the Black Company continues to change – not that it is bad – it is inevitable. The first surprise – for me at least was the return of Croaker as the annalist and the main narrator of the events. And he kicks off right away with the notion of change and passing of the “old glory” as Otto and Hagop died soon after the Black Company-s arrival to their new home. And it is not the only death of the “old guard”, there will be – or rather were – many others that left before the book reached a conclusion, which kind of emphasizes the feeling that a new era is coming, or has already begun for the Black Company. Some of these departures came as no surprise, but some of them did, but of that a bit later – if I remember to return to this matter.

The Black Company has prospered under the captaincy of Sleepy: the sleeping/captured brothers have been all retrieved, new recruits have  pumped up the ranks of the company and they are ready to return to their world to finish what they have started in the previous book.

In the first few chapters all the majors actors of the last act of the series are (re)introduced: Croaker, Sleepy, Tobo ( of the Black Company ), Narayan and The Daugter of Night – or Booboo as they prefer to call her in the Black Company – ( of the Deceivers ), Soulcatcher, Mogaba, Aridatha and Ghopal Singh ( of Taglios ). And then the things start to roll, and there is a strong sense of Cook hastily trying to wrap up the things in this book. First we have an (un)expected return of a vengeful Lisa Bowalk that ends in the death of One-Eye, just days after the passing of his companion Mother Gota. This just strengthens the underlying message of change and passing. And I suppose this message is the reason Cook chose to bring back Croaker as the annalist.

After this the remaining old members of the Black Company embark on hunt much resembling that of the one in the first chapter of the first book: Black Company against a forvalaka. A tribute ? Or just a last wink of the ones who feel that their time is up ? Let me borrow Croaker´s words here:

I remembered everyone who had gone before me. I remembered the places and times swollen with unhappiness, pain and fear. Some died. Some did not. It makes no sense when you try to figure it out. Soldiers live. And wonder why.

Oh, it´s a soldiers life for me. Oh, the adventure and glory !

And while Croaker and Co. hunt Lisa Bovalk and meet the new rulers of the world that was the origin of the Black Company – which will have some major impact on the future events, and future of the Black Company itself – the core of the Black Company returns home to finish what has been left unfinished: “Water sleeps”, “Brother unforgiven”.

Tobo has grown up to be great wizard of his own, enlisting the services of the mysterious “shadow folks” of their new home. And with their help the Black Company doesn´t encounter major challenges for quite a while: they pretty march unopposed in the direction of Taglios.

The middle part of the book deals mainly with the personal matters of our heroes and anti heroes. Croaker and Lady try to prepare themselves for meating their daughter in person for first time; Mogaba finally confronts the ghosts of his past; Soulcatcher is still the same, searching for some fun. And so the events are filing up and passing us. A skirmish is followed by a skirmish, some new characters are introduced – the Voroshk of the former Khatovar. And ultimately the Black Company achieves it´s goal: Soulcatcher is deposed of, the Deceivers plot to bring on the Year of the Skull and revive Kina is thwarted, but the cost is big: the last of the old guard, Loftus and Cleetus, Murgen die, Sahra goes missing. And what struck me as a surprise, even Sleepy dies a “stupid” death; but as it resounds through all the book: “Soldiers live. And wonder why.

Croaker´s and Lady´s reunion with their daughter does not end on a good note – Croaker almost looses the woman he liked, but ends up loosing a child he never knew, but seems to have loved. And despite this sorrow he finds a piece of happiness as he provisionally adopts two girls who became their prisoners when they went to Khatovar to kill Lisa Bovalk. And not only that, but in the end he got what he ultimately long for allways. In the last chapter he trades with Shivetya: he becoming the immortal guardian of the Plain of Glittering Stones – and as such gains acces to the wast knowledge of Shivetya, and the countless worlds that are connected to the plain – finally getting the answers to the questions he allways wanted to ask, and also gaining the means to gurad the loved ones that are still among the living. And as a last humorous wink, his adopted daughters take on the role of the Black Company´s annalists.

It is a solid ending of the series, but I wasn´t really satisfied. Maybe it was of the fact that Cook went to a great length to give evryone the time needed to wrap up their story. Too much detail, that at some points is rather encumbering, than helping the storytelling, but if done otherwise the story would be full of holes. And I had a feeling that Cook´s style, storytelling matured since the start of the series, but the feeling that he was kind of rushed to wrap up everything in this book was stronger – probably as he didn´t know that he will get a chance to write a book or two more in the series, as we are aware now, years after the first publication of this last book.

I must say that i enjoyed the series, more so the first half of it, than the later parts, but there was enough good elements in the later volumes too, so that I won´t have bitter memories of them. Sleepy is my favorite annalist, and as for the favourite book of the series there is a tie at the moment between the first two books of the series, but due to the fresher memories of the later volumes, and appealing storytelling  and the impressive characterisaton of Sleepy, the Water Sleeps is easily my favourite of the second half of the series.

Well thats it for the Black Company series for now and a long time coming. Thank you everyone, who kept coming back, and to those who chose to comment and share their own experiences and oppinions. Hopefully I will see you around in some other journeys I make. The captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

                                                               

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

Dreams of Steel – The Black Company reread part 5

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

Bleak Seasons – The Black Company reread part 7

She is the Darkness – The Black company reread part 8

Water Sleeps – The Black Company reread part 10

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Mercy of Kalr

If there was anything any Radchai considered essential for civilised life, it was tea.

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword

I am compelled to agree with this thought, especially as I am right now drinking a green tea from a South-Korean island of Juju, something named Seogwang – and eating Satsumas, but thats beside the point. But where are my manners ? Good evening, and welcome on board of the I.S.S. Rover. It´s time for an excursion that is long overdue. and I´m sorry I made you wait.

Tonight we will take a trip into the Radch empire of Ann Leckie, a universe quite unique in it´s flavour to the usual space – opera settings.  Not that she is doing anything radicaly new as I pointed it out in january, when I was writing about Ancillary Justice, but her approach is fresh, not to mention her style; and these were some of the key points when I chose to include her work in the early stages of this then new blog. It was a fresh, gripping work of a first time published writer, doing something new, and this book got published aroung the time I started this blog, where I was searching for a fresh start, going in a new direction, much symbolism there, so the Imperial Radch series of Ann Leckie has become essential to this blog, if not the flagship, as I would say that the flagship of this blog for the 2014 is the Black Company series of Glen Cook. But well we will see how things play out in the long run.

Orbit (2014)

Orbit (2014)

And this October the time has come for the second installment of the series – Ancillary Sword – to be published. And this time I was prepared for it, I didn´t wait till January to read it. I preordered the book, and got it about a week after it´s publishing, and about a week before my birthday: an early  present for myself. And not only ordered the book in timely fashion, but I also read the short story Night´s slow poison -you can read it here –   as a warm up. And boy was I excited. You can see why, if you read the post I wrote on the prequel. I was more than delighted I found this new exciting Voice so early. I jumped on the bandwagon that expected much from Ann in the future. These expectations seemed to be confirmed, or at least more heavily expressed and acknowledged as the novel went and won five awards: Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Arthru C. Clarke and Locus. That is a heavy legacy to be established right in the first run. Not that it intimidated Ann Leckie.

The Ancillary Sword picks up right where the Ancillary Juctice finished: the conflict between the fractions/factions of the multybodied emperor/empress of the Radch is escalating, and Breq is unwittingly caught in the middle of it, albeit (s)he just wanted a revenge for him-/herself and someone whom (s)he loved. And although (s)he got what (s)he wanted – or at least partly – the story doesn´t end there. Breq doesn´t get to withdraw, (s)he is forced to take responsibility for the situation that (s)he helped to bring into the public. And as Breq survived the suicide mission of a revenge (s)he planned, that partly succeded and partly botched, what is left for her to do ? Well Breq went for the path of atonement and compenstaion for her own “sins”.

So after Breq got a command of a ship, and the right to command other captains of other ships, practically becoming an admiral without a fleet, she goes off on a search for the sister of the “someone (s)he loved“. And that´s pretty much the starting point. From here the story develops into something very different from what we have seen in the first book. It´s not a bad thing, but not quite what I was expecting from a book in a series that has more than “tight” connection to it´s prequel.

In Justice we had a sweeping, action packed revenge story against a somewhat sketchy, but nonetheless epic background combined with a sophisticated narrative jumping back and forth in time, not forgetting the interesting characters and their portrayal. Now, in Sword for the purposes of the further development of the plot the background needs to be coloured  and expanded, and that puts the plot on hold. This also gives the chance to explore some themes and questions not touched upon in the first book, but that might be essential for what is in store for us and the major players of this story.

So we have much more world building here than in the previous book, and that is executed lavishly, but due to this beside the plot the characters suffer too. I was not missing really the jumpint forth and back in time, and what insight that was bringing to us readers as that element vanished somewher halfway through the first book, but the angry, frustrated Breq, who was bent on destroying someone whom he had served suddenly becoming – or reverting – to a “proper and civilised” citizen is somewhat irritating; being allknowing, and having the perfect solutions for all the social problems and tensions that she faces for the first time is a bit unbelievable. Yes, I know … Breq who was Justice of Toren has two thousand years of experience in colonising: administrating and pacifing those newly “acquired” planets. And as the ancillaries are a human component to the AI of the ship – and far from being mindless corpses, as they are not at all corpses as it is explained finally in this book – it helps probably understanding the human behaviour. But still Breq is not anymore Justice of Toren, not even part of it, or any other AI, so I would expect that (s)he acts a “notch” more reserved.

That is a small negative point for this book, but I actually suffered more from the fact that the plot was put on hold, I simply feel that it hurts the consistency of the overall story. Not that I didn´t enjoy the book. I enjoyed reading it, at least as much as I enjoyed the first one, but due to the aforementioned handicaps the memories of that enjoyment are weaker, and that will influence me recommending this book to others in future.

So this time we have colonialism, slavery and other social issues in main view, and the other themes like individuality, identity suffer. And besides Breq the other characters are pushed into the background, although it would be interesting to know more about how Seivarden is faring with the challenging situation he previously ran away from; or how is liutenant Tisarwat affected by the fact (s)he was briefly turned into an ancillary. I feel that there was enough room for them, their development too, but Ann Leckie decided to focus solely on the background that need to be developed. And I think that this decesion hurts the story more than the fact that the plot has been put on hold. But can´t everything be perfect. And despite feeling slight dissapointment over these “failures” I´m still eagerly awaiting the next, final installment of this story arc. If only we had more debutes of this quality I would have hard time choosing what to read next, and to even reread previously read books.

And thats it for tonight ! Soon I will be back with the final installlment of the Black Company (re)read project, and then turn to some different projects. Till then take care ! Captain out and over.

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Water Sleeps – The Black Company (re)read part 9

Ladies, gentleman ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! Good evening ! Bonsoir ! This is your captain speaking. Welcome on board I.S.S. Rover, whether you are here for the first time or a returning customer.. We have a clear sky with some 17 °C, totally unusal for this time of year. I mean it haven´t really rained for a whole month here. But that is of no significance for us tonight, as we are departing once again to a far away, and very possibly dark place in search for the Black Company, or what remained of it. So tonight, it´s time for Glen Cook´s Water Sleeps, the ninth and second to last book in the Black Company series, which also means that we are nearing the end of this whole (re)read project. But before we dive into the details, let me repeat the usual disclaimers.

This is a (re)read  of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will  be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of (what I till now believed is ) Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

Tor Fantasy (1999)

Tor Fantasy (1999)

This time there is nothing special about the cover. Actually there is, but I don´t know whether I want to write about it, after all it could be spoiler heavy. Oh why not, there is the disclaimer one paragraph earlier. So there we have a figure who seems to be crucified and turned upside down. First due to the events of previous books I thought that t might be a forvalaka ( shapeshifter vampire kinda being ), but after reading the previous book She is the Darkness and finishing this one I realised that it was a false idea. It´s actually the depiction of Shivetya, the guradian of the Plain of Glittering Stones, and of the tomb where the worst omnipotent Evil is slumbering. Yeah, that Evil, Kina, the Mother of Night or whatever name you want to call her, but we will get to it a bit later.

So lets start from page one. As you remember part of the company was captured at the caverns beneath the fortress they found in the middle of the Plain of Glittering Stones, among them Croaker, Murgen and Lady, the persons who had been the annalists, the storytellers of previous volumes. So it´s a valid question who is doing it this time. Is it One-Eye ? It would be a great surprise, but there was that chapter in Bleak Seasons where Murgen retells some events that were recorded in a manuscript by One-Eye. But no. Alas we have a new Annalist again, and it is none other than: … Oh, wait. Let her introduce herself (yes it´s a girl, and that narrows down the possibilities ):

They call me Sleepy.

I keep these Annals today. Somebody must and no one else can, though the Annalist title never devolved upon me formally.

There is precedent.

And as much as this is a Black Company novel, it is actually the story of Sleepy. Never before did we come this close to the actual annalist. Never did Glen Cook reveal so much about them. This annal, retelling of events is the most personal to date, and it just proves (again) that Cook is best when he zooms down to ground level, where personal struggles can be seen, and I can say that he has outdone himself. Till now Sleepy seemed to be a secondary figure. OK, Murgen chose her/him to be next standardbearer in line, like he was chosen before, so that he could take over fully the dutes of the annalist – but as we have seen that didn´t work out as planned. And till now we didn´t know practically anything about Sleepy, and now she is in the thick of it, and in charge of the company, but that is actually realistic. How many times have we seen in history lowly officers taking over command, after all the higher ups bit the dust …

For a bigger surprise: about fifteen years have passed. Yes, fifteen. Not six, not seven, not four, but fifteen, a whole generation later. The events following the departure of the Black Company for the Plain of Glittering Stones are accounted for only briefly, but that is of no importance. Or at least I didn´t feel anything missing, the most important facts get filled in through memories.

And once again the Black Company is back to doing what it does best ( yeah, I know this phrase might have been a bit overused by now, but I don´t care ): it fights a nasty campaign against nasty enemies, only this time it fights for itself, no employers, no sticks behind their backs. And there is no greater enemy than one that is driven by inner motives.

You might recall the operations peformed by the Black Company in the second book- Shadows Linger- infiltration of Juniper. There the company was at it´s pinnacle: full of veterans that were working together for years. And now we have remnants of the company, whose actual members however fresh at that time were not chosen to go to the Plain of Glittering Stones, which leaves the reader at a doubt if they trully are capable of being the Black Company. And yet these remnants surprise us. They perform actions that even the Old Crew would be proud of – and yes I´m remembering some bad ass motherfuckers like Raven here. Yes, there are Goblin´s partisans probably at the core of this “new” company, and the other members have seen some pretty vicious fighting during the Shadowlands campaigns, and yes some fifteen years have passed, they had time to gather experience, but still, one wouldn´t think them capable of doing much harm. And yet they manage to kidnap some high representatives of the taglian establishment, even the ruler, Radisha herself, and all this under the nose of the biggest ever pain in the ass of company history: the Soulcatcher. So much, that even Soulcatcher herself is seriously injured:

Willow Swan asked me, “What did you do now ?”

“Not me. Doj. He totally obliterated her means of transport. She is on her own two hooves now. She´s  a hundred miles from her only friend. And Goblin´s already fixed up one of her feet so she can´t run or dance.”

“What you´re telling me, then, is that you´ve created another Limper.”

And this reference is a hell of an inside joke, so it´s not only the Black Company that´s outdone itself, but also Cook. We have the most interesting annalist till now, and more dirty action, than ever before, and I haven´t even revealed all the cards that were hidden in the hand of the writer. And I would be totally satisfied if the things remained at this stage, as this was what I signed for in the books of the north, the first story arc of the series.

But in the last four books Cook has hinted at something much bigger, and there were some strong hints in the last book, but nothing got really explained, but that´s what the second half of this book holds for us. After deciding that they have pissed Soulcatcher enough, the Black Company Decides it´s time to return to the Plain of Glittering Stones and free, or at least retrieve their captured brothers.

It´s here that the presence of the Nyueng Bao starts making sense. Cook just like he did it before in the fifth book, Dreams of Steel finds and or creates a convenient device ( which I didn´t like then, and I don´t like now either ) and tells of a much wider universe than what he has shown till now. First Doj explains to Sleepy that the Nyueng Bao, like the Nar are descendants of a Free Company whose mission was  the resurrection of Kina, but that they come from a different place, not Khatovar. Next, when the Black Company is reunited at the Plain of Glittering Stones, the guardian of the fortress, and the plains in general offers help, and insight into the history of the Plains which reveals it to be a place in between of different worlds that are interconnected through the shadowgates. So we actually have science behind all the magic. And all the creatures: the shadows, the guardian himself, and the artifacts of the plain have been created for the purpose of waging war against intruders, conquerors from other worlds, or as defensive measures against those same intruders. Interesting development as it ties in to what we have seen on the Plain of Fears, and they might be connected somehow, but that remains to be revealed in the next book.

And of course we have some other new players beside Sleepy. Tobo for example. The fourteen year old son of our favourite standardbearer Murgen and his lovely wife Sahra. The youngster not stopping to surprise us throughout the book: he starts out as a fledgling rogue, just to become a talanted wizard apprentice as we near the end of the book. Is this a rise of a new “Raven” ? Well that remains to be seen in the next and ( for now ) last book in the series. But the tendencies are strong.

And we also have a game changing departure too to emphasize the message of the Company changing in form and substance. Goblin sacrifices himself in a direct clash with Kina – who is no god, but just another mad sorceress like the Dominator and the one burried under Father Tree – One-Eye suffers a stroke. And theabsence of Goblin, and diminishing of One-Eye is a strong message. They have been with us for nine books, them and their bickering being a constant and defining point for the whole of Black Company. But now there is no more Goblin, and no more shenanigans between the two wizards of the company. Almost like there is no more company, more so like when the company was reduced to seven members at the end of the fight against the Dominator in The White Rose. There was no such defining character death perhaps since the death of the old captain in Shadows Linger. I salute to you Mr. Cook.

And there is a minor mystery to be resolved at the end – also thanks to the guradian of the Plains. Do you remember Lisa Bowalk, first introduced in the second book of the series, mentioned above already couple of times. Her appearance, return in the fourth  book was one of the surprises I wasn´t counting on, just as wasn´t counting on many others yet at that time, but that were trending then. Well as a part of a cosmic joke this poor soul that is captured in the form of a bloodthirsty beast manages what Croaker didn´t: to get to Khatovar. Is this just bad Karma or Cook playing another joke on the Black Company. I´m not sure, and also I´m not sure I care. I kinda lost the interest in getting upset for such things after the “unexpected” returns of the fourth book.

In general I did enjoy this volume, more the first half of it, than the second, but it did expand into something bigger than expected, though it could have happen at an earlier stage perhaps. Then I might have enjoyed more this expanded aspect of it, and even the storyteling might have benefited if it have beeen revealed at an earlier time. But even so this volume is a strong contestant at becoming a favourite volume of the series, but the first volume: The Black Company is still running strong, as I can still quote almost word for word the first chapter. No matter how much more expanded this universe has become in this last volume, and how good a storytelling has done in the first half of the book. that worldbuilding coupled with that gripping storytelling of the first chapter in the first book is still unmatched.

And that is all for tonight and this month folks. All that remains is to wrap up this project nexth month, and to wait for the next two books in the series that have been announced earlier this year. Till then have fun and take care ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !

                                                                                            

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

Dreams of Steel – The Black Company reread part 5

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

Bleak Seasons – The Black Company reread part 7

She is the Darkness – The Black company reread part 8

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Justified ?

Welcome back on board of I. S. S. Rover Ladies and Gentlemen ! We have a rainy day here in Kempten Allgäu. A fine day to immerse ourselves in some short fiction again. But this time we are not going to far away places like in Isaac Asimov´s collection. At least not that far, not to the stars, and it´s not time for The Last Wish either, this time we stay here on Earth. This time around I´ve taken off my shelves Elmore Leonard´s Fire in the Hole.

William Morrow (2012)

William Morrow (2012)

Elmore Leonard the crowned (?) king of crime fiction, writer of more than fourty books, many of them made into movies, like: 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown, Get Shortie etc. And the cause of being interested in Elmore Leonard is also a cinematic experience I had. A few years back the channel FX started a TV show titled Justified. A show starring Timothy Olyfant of Deadwood fame, a show I liked. And here we have Timothy playing a “cowboy” again: sporting a stetson – “I´m wearing a stetson, stetsons are cool !” – and drawing his gun faster than he could ask a question, and often drawing before he would ask anything. And when I found out that the TV show was inspired by a work of literature I just had to check it out. So I found out that it was the short story Fire in the Hole that inspired the TV show, and so I hunted it down, and now finally came the time to read it.

But it´s not the first story in the collection. The first one is Sparks, a fine starting piece. It´s not too heavy, but it shows off the qualities of Elmore Leonard: a somewhat dry, witty dialogues, and characters you wouldn´t get interested in in your everyday life, but here they are interesting, and that is an achievement. So lets get on to the next story, lets see what it offers.

Hanging ot at Buena Vista is kind of a connecting piece. It´s a short breath catching story, a dialogue between two old, weary people trying to connect, trying to find something worth living for, both of them under treatment for cancer. Witty and funny, but nothing remarkable.

And so we come to the third story. Chickasaw Charlie Hoke. A story of a retired baseball player searching employment in a Casino. An old sportsman having nothing more than stories of his old days, and his own pride, and a bad temper. A story of two sports fans meeting and connecting, two game players, hustlers. Nice, packed full ofdetails, but not really interesting for someone like me. I like sports, but I never could get around baseball.

But the next story: When the Women Come Out to Dance is far more interesting. A tale of two women and their friendship. Or is it a friendship ? A tale of reserved feelings, desperation and hidden creeping Death. What do you wish for ? And what are you ready to give or sacrifice for it ?

And so we get to the piece that was my main reason to read this book: Fire in the Hole. Raylan Givens entes the scene, just as does Art Mullen, his chief, Boyd Crowder, his “old buddy “, Ava Crowder, Dewey Crowe. Sme of the most memorable characters of the TV show are here. And I must say that the portrayal by the actors is on the spot. As I read the story the scenes of the pilot episode were playing in front of my eyes. Apart from some minor differences, like Raylan having two sons, and being slightly older than in the show everything is the same: the feeling, the bad ass one liners, everything. Even the criminal is mentioned, who was given twenty four hours to disappear from Miami, or would be shot by Raylan, and he was. But here in the story, it´s not a punishment that Raylan got sent to Kentucky, but was invited by the leader of the operation there: Art Mullen. But yes, the show Justified is unmistakably carrying the marks of Elmore Leonard, and as I like that show, it means I will be reading more of him too in the future.

In the next story, Karen makes out returns yet another “old friend” from the movie screens: federal marshal Karen Sisco of Out of Sight fame. But she is no Jennifer Lopez this time, and it´s not George Clooney she is after, but rather a Christopher Walken lookalike. And it´s not that she is after him as a criminal at first, but as a man, but then comes the FBI and spoils her perfect get together ending this relationship in a tragicomic way. Yeah, so Karen Sisco. This is her karma for sure.

And so we arrive to the next story. Hurrah for capt. Early. A surprise for me as we change from twentieth century back to nineteenth, all with cowboys and wild west. It´s a story of two veterans of the Cuban war reuniting at home. But before this reunion one of them has a bit of misunderstanding with some of the locals, but well that is an everyday situation if you are of colour in the nineteenth century USA. A leisurely story of old war time memories, some instances of mythology, and some of humor.

And we continue with wild west stories. The next is The Tonto Woman. A chance meeting of an old rogue and a castaway woman. The story of two outsiders searching for something they don´t know what it is, and finding each other in the end. We got some cowboye tension and lot of frontier sourness and regret.

And as the last story we get back again to the twentieth century to have some late non-cowboye cowboy action in Tenkiller. Yet another story of reunion. Ben Webster visits his old home, to find some lowlifes living in the house of his granddad. And while he tries to evict them gets together with his old love interest. A bit of car chasing, brawling, shooting, arresting, and getting through all of it unharmed with a chance for some happiness in future. A story that reminded me of Fire in the Hole.

The collection was a pleasant read in overall. A bit on the lighter side of the spectrum I am used to, especially taking into account that I´m heavy on sci-fi reading. Most of the stories being rather brief records of a situation from a life of a person, with the scent of the real life, believeable. It was only When the Women Come out to Dance, Fire in the Hole and theTenkiller that left deeper impressions, and probably because they are the stories that are longer, packed with more detail, so the characters, and the whole story sticks better.

And at the end of the book there is an excerpt from the novel Raylan, starring our favourite deputy US marshal Raylan Givens promising more Elmore Leonard goodness the Raylan Givens way.

If you liked any of the abovementioned movies, and/or TV shows you will like this book too. And that´s it for today. Have fun and take care till we meet again ! Captain over and out !

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Turning. Point.

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Today is a special day. What is so special about october 3 ? Well, for one here in Germany it´s a national holiday: German Unity Day, or rather the day of (re)unification. It commemorates the reunification of Germany in 1990. But if that´s not enough for you I can give you another reason.

Welcome on board I.S.S. Rover !

A recurring phrase on this blog, what is so special about it ? It has been a year since I first uttered the above written phrase, and that marks the first anniversary of this blog. And what a year has that been … So, Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the anniversary post of the Keshik´s Excursions !

I hope you enjoyed the journeys we made, I certainly did. And I sincerely hope that you will continue enjoying them as I don´t intend to stop sharing my experiences and projects, be they planned or happen coincidentaly. Some of the projects announced in the “Itinerary” are still running ( The Black Company series (re)read project ), or being in preparation ( Dune “cross-media” coverage in the light of the anniversary of the 1984 David Lynch movie ), and there are some new plans and projects brewing, but about them a bit later. First let me take a look back at this past year.

It has been a year bearing many changes. First of them was this blog, for how and why I explained in the first ever post:

So let me try and explain. I already mentioned new experiences. When I decided to start this blog I was determined to do something new, where the “new” gets to a whole new level. I mean I am no stranger to seeking out new things, but I want to do it differently now.

If you want to get to know more about this, go and read the post here. As second it was the year marking the frst anniversary of my regained freedom. Thirdly: it is the year where I started to read my fiction more, and more in english, thanks to discovering Bookdepositpory.com. And not to forget the lifechanging event- that even stopped my blogging for a while: the Great Relocation Project – aka moving to live and work in Germany ( about that you can read: here ). And that are only the events I can recall not thinking too hard, as I don´t have too much time1.

And I am proud say that I managed to fulfill my promises/goals declared in those first posts ( or at least 95% of them – editor ). Not to mention the small joy of having fifty posts in these first twelve months, a small achievement I didn´t declare openly, but still strived for; it was a bit of a pressure I put on myself, so that I remember the initial declaration and goals of this blog, the most prominent of them being: SHARING2.

But that´s enough of glory and joys of the past. Lets look what holds the future. As it is said:

The only constant in this world is the change itself.

We are changing for the better or for the worst, but nonetheless: we are changing. And so is changing this blog – together with me. Don´t worry, these changes won´t be that dramatical, more like just geting in line with some new ideas, or rather impulses and promisses I made during the year. New projects are coming, lets look at them in no particular order.

Orbit (2008)

Orbit (2008)

As first I am starting a new weekly read project, something I wanted to do again since I finished The Human Division of John Scalzi. So what is it gonna be ? After some thinking the choice has fallen on The Last Wish of Andrzej Sapkowsi. A collection of short stories about Geralt of Rivia ( the witcher himself ) that precede the Witcher saga, and were earlier published in Fantastyka, a polish sci-fi and fantasy magazine. It is a book/series recommended to me by Kasia We, a reader and one of the main inspirators of this blog -and yes a friend, a fellow bookworm, and child of Embercombe.

And if I´m talking about weekly read projects, there will be another one starting somewhere in the early 2015:

TOR (2015)

TOR (2015)

John Scalzi´s The Human Division is returning for  a second season. On september 19 was revealed the new cover art bearing the actual title: The End of All Things. And this project bears a big “NEW” mark with itself, as around that same time I made another decision that will dramatically influence this project. It´s not only going to be the first serialised novel I will be reading “real time” for the first time in a long time, but will also be among the first “proper” e-book reading experiences, if it won´t be the first ever. What does “proper” e-book reading mean here ? It means that the time has come for me to purchase an e-book reader: partly to be able to haul big quantities of books without having to exert myself physically, secondly to not have regrets buying books that otherwise wouldn´t be worth putting on the shelf. So now that I have a stable job and income I can finally afford to buy books regularly, which means I will be able to buy e-books too, and that warrants an e-book reader.

And not to forget some other fields of Keshik´s Excursions I came up with what seemed a brilliant idea at that moment. Let me elaborate. As I´m now living in Germany I have access to large quantities and broad choice of quality beer. Such a broad choice that I will be trying out a new beverage every weekend for a long time. And so I thought why not turn it into a culinary project, and write about these beers. At the moment I´m not sure of the format, or anything else, how this will be realised, but I´m gonna try and see ifi t works out.

And to return to the reading front a bit, before I depart. I think I have found two contenders to fill in the place left by the late iain M. Banks. As I have been searching for other inspirational, and “fresh” voices in the genre of space – opera/sci-fi I did find two names that are mentioned by many to be  worthy of Banks´ legacy. And those names are: Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton, both of them “fellow” british writers.  I will be starting with Reynolds´ Revelation Space it´s already enroute – editor ). And for Hamilton, well I haven´t decided yet; his books tend to be bricks, and also parts of quite tightly knit series, so I will take a shot at him after I got my e-book reader.

Aaaaaand, cut ! Well that´s it for today´s anniversary post, ideas, news, new projects, random ranting etc But don´t be too surprised if surprises happen, like for example a Harlan Ellison christmas read project and the likes of it. Sorry for dragging on this long, or finishing so early, but I have stated my reasons already, so get over it. Now I wish you a good night, have fun, and stay safe till we meet again. Captain of I.S.S. Rover over, and out !

But before we part, we need to have some music, there is no anniversary without music. But this time it won´t be a single number, butrather a whole “album”, or rather mixtape. As I said: “I´m hooked on a feeling …” And it is a worthy tribute of an era and a device I have fond memories of.

                                                                    

1. Don´t have much time ? How come ? – Well … To be honest this national holiday of German Unity doesn´t appeal much to mee, so I was working overtime today, and so will I tomorrow, which means I don´t have all night to tinker with this post, but will have to get some sleep too. That´s it.

2. Ohh, I did forget to share something with you. Mea Culpa ! I just couldn´t find yet the time, and/or inspiration to write about it. At the beginning of september I inspected the local cinema, and watched the “Guardians of the Galaxy”. And I must say I´m hooked on a feeling, or rather the “Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1″ ( And if you ask: “Yes I still do own a Sony Walkman.” )

 

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She is The Darkness – The Black Company (re)read part 8

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome back on board of I. S. S. Rover. This is your captain speaking. It is some 15 – 17 °C out there, we have a clear sky, so strap in, as we are about to take off. As for the destination: it´s Khatovar. We are getting nearer and nearer to this “somewhat” legendary place. So, welcome back to the (re)read of the Black Company series as we continue with She is the Darkness. But before I go straight to discussing the matters let me repeat the usual disclaimer.

This is a (re)read  of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will  be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.

Tor Fantasy (1997)

Tor Fantasy (1997)

And now that we have cleared that out of our way lets see what we got here. I have to mention the cover art of the actual book again: does that figure on the cover look like Michael Jackson to you too. I can´t decide whether it´s awesome, or terrible, but I can´t unsee it, it might haunt me for a while, or maybe not. Who knows ?!

But lets return to Croaker and Co. When we last saw them they were preparing to leave for the Shadowlands to start Croaker´s winter campaign against Longshadow. And they finally get rolling. Murgen is still in charge of the Annals, so no changes here. And Goblin is leading a merry band of commandos behind the enemy lines.

After what seemed a somewhat static recollection of past events in Bleak Seasons now everything starts moving toward a conclusion. But not too fast. First we have a battle at Charandraprash pass against Mogaba´s and Blade´s united forces, but to a not big surprise of mine Blade pulls out his forces and surrenders to Croaker. What ? Croaker greats Blade as an old friend. Yeah, my dear readers the whole Blade changing sides thing was a ruse planned by Croaker and performed by Blade to his utter delight as he got to confront the religious fanatics he so much hates, and that helped also Croaker as he got rid of a large part of his taglian opposition and kept them busy elsewhere while he was getting ready for the final showdown with the enemy´s main camp. Ohh, so Croaker isn´t actually such a bad general after all. Hurrah for Croaker !

And Mogaba didn´t expect it, he couldn´t see it coming. He wouldn´t think Croaker capable of such  a plan, decision. So Mogaba shortened for one third of the total shadowland forces can hardly keep up against the pressure of taglian onslaught and collapses. The battle at Charandaprash is won, and the Black Company and the accompanying taglian forces start their long haul to Overlook, which is slowed down by Mogaba´s rearguard actions. The partisan warfare is being fought long after the main forces crossed the mountains of Danda Presh. Goblins motley crew is hunting Mogaba. And meanwhile Croaker, Lady and Co. start the long siege of Overlook.

It is everything you desire for in a military fiction. You get elaborate commando actions on both fighting sides, the soldiers are getting restless and bored as they are bogged down in one place for a long time. And this gives a chance to flash out some other details beside the siege. It gets revealed that Lady has somehow latched onto Kina and steals (?) her powers to restore her own magic powers, and abilities. The Nyueng Bao are behaving rather mysteriously, Father Doj exceptionally so. It is revealed that he is trying to find Soulcatcher – the favourite military advisor of our dear bad ass commander in chief, Croaker – as she has stolen a magical artifact belonging to the Nyueng Bao. And this artifact might have a part in the future events.

And as the siege drags on at one moment the things suddenly speed up. Soulcatcher wasn´t aiding just our favourite, Croaker, but was scheming with Radisha to turn against the Black Company: in Taglios the sympathizers of the Black Companny are arrested, in the camp at Overlook Prahbindrah tries to disarm Lady´s forces, but fails. In the end the Black Company ends up with Howler, Longshadow, Narayan Singh and Prahbindrah as their prisoners, and Soulcatcher escapes with the Daughter of the night.

And also our favourite cowardly wizard awakens after an extended “sleep”, not that it matters much as Murgen develops an ability to wander around the world in his dreams as a side effect due to “ghostwalking” with Smoke. And this development brings one of the brighter moments of the series: Murgen realizes that his wife Sarie is alive and pregnant; a light of hope.

But back to Company business. As the Black Company is now pressed from north by their former allies, Croaker decides to take the final step and lead the company to the Khatovar. A dream gets fulfilled finally. Or does it ?!

Soulcatcher sprangs her final trap, and half of the Company is trapped inside the halls of Khatovar, the other half on run back to Overlook. And the leadership of the Black Company: Croaker, Lady, Blade and some more are trapped in a stasis in the cave of the old man Murgen used to see in his dreams. Only Murgen escaped this treatment as he was dreamwalking at the time Soulcatcher trapped the rest of them.

Croaker, Lady and Co. trapped and helpless in an unknown place, with Soulcatcher roaming free, it seems an appropriate end to the series. Soulcatcher finally won, has had her revenge, seemingly taken everything from her sister. But we know that it´s not the end yet, as there are two more books in the series ( and another two coming in the following years – editor´s note ). But I do ask myself: did Cook intend to finish the series here ? Or was it just a joke on the readers ? I mean it is a perfect ending: the “good” guys trapped at the end of the world, and the seemingly “bad” guys free to do what they want. What happens next ? Use your imagination, everything is possible. At this point at least. And I would like for it to stay this way, but unfortunately I know that the story continues, and as much as it makes me happy, as I get to read more about some characters I came to like in the past year ; it also makes me sad as it ruins an otherwise nice ending.

But that is a different matter, for another time. Now it´s time for me to delve into the next book in the series. So I´m saying a short goodbye to you all, just to return shortly, as in couple of days I will be celebrating the first anniversary of this blog, and some changes (?), but at least surprises are coming. And also in about a months worth of time I will be returning with the next installment of the (re)read project: Water sleeps.

So take care, and see you soon ! Captain of I. S. S. Rover over, and out !

                                                                      

Introduction: the plan

Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1

Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2

The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3

Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4

Dreams of Steel – The Black Company reread part 5

Silver Spike – The Black Company reread part 6

Bleak Seasons – The Black Company reread part 7

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Treasures hiding in plain sight

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! I haven´t been around for couple of days. Last week I was down in Böblingen, visiting my sister and her family. We were celebrating the birthday of my nefew, and my skills and attention were needed, so I had no time to do my usual stuff. But this week there are no such interruptions, so it´s time for new adventures of I.S.S. Rover. And here we go !

Originally I planned to do a cooking post as my double deck cooking plate just arrived earlier this week. But things happened today. So let me start at the beginning.

The plan was to go down to town, and get all I need for today´s “christening” cooking event. So I frst got to the turkish store to get me some olives and some turkish coffe – not that I need them for today´s cooking, but I´m finally able to cook turkish coffe as I have a coking plate, so I got me some coffe too. And the olives are simply cheaper at the turkish store then at the other stores.

And till here everything went as planned, but then things started happening, and that is the actual topic of today´s post – not that I didn´t cook after, but that is a secondary thing now, although the chilli beans I made were good, and there is plenty left for tomorrow and the day after. But back to the morning event.

So as I left the turkish store I stopped at a gas station to pump up a bit the tires of my bycicle, and there I decided to take a small detour and take the way through the main square of the town. And what a choice it was. As I rolled into the square there was a sight I was not expecting. There were small trucks converted to stores and tables everywhere, with people behind them selling different products. A smile appeared on my face as I realised: “Finally, I found the weekly marketplace !” There were local farmers and different artisans sellng their homegrown vegetables, homemade foodproducts etc. And there were also stands selling “fast-food”, though much more delicious, than the usuall McDonalds and Co. stuff.

First I bought some eggs, as I ran out of them this week. Next I stumbled upon a stand selling cheese, and after talking with the cheese artisan, and trying some of the cheese, I bought some of it. Did I mention that I am a cheese monger ?! Yes ?! Whatever ! So after having me eggs and cheese I set out to look around a bit more, just to get the feeling, and to see and feel all the buzz around me. When the stand of a turkish baker ambushed me. I was pushing my bike when I saw something that was similar to the burek from the Balkans. Burek ( or börek in this case, as it is called  by the turkish ) is a family of filled baked pastries made of a thin, flaky dough. Traditionally filled with cheese or minced meat, but nowdays you have also burek with mushrooms, pizza filling etc.. My favourite is the cheese filled burek. And here I was standing against a börek filled with cheese, basilicum and some spinach. At first it´s a bit unusual, at least for me, as I´m not a fan of spinach – although I liked Popeye the Sailor cartoons – but whatever I had to have a bite of it. What bite ?! Give me a whole börek, right away !

And now that I had my börek I had to find a place where I can sit down and eat it in peace. It took me measly two minutes to find a free bank, so I settled and started eating. The outer crust was as crunchy as it needs to be, and as I got nearer and nearer to the middle part there was always more and more cheese in the subsequent chunks of bites, an exquisite feeling. And the taste of spinach wasnt as dominant as I feared at start. It was a harmonious and creamy experience. Something I hadn´t had for few years back.

To be more exact: something I didn´t expect to experience so far to the west from what I used to call home. But again, an experience I´m glad I made. And also one that I wouldn´t have made if I had stayed in Hungary. It feels kind of like a small wonder. Yet another since I arrived. So one more point for Kempten ! And thank you everyone who helped me to get here !

That would be all for tonight. Thanks for sticking with me ! Enjoy your night, or day, and have fun ! See you soon as the next installment of the Black Company series is coming, not to mention some surprises. Captain of I. S. S. Rover over, and out !

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History – Science Fiction

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome back on the board of the I.S.S. Rover once again as it´s getting ready to set out on another journey after quite a while. “So where do we venture tonight ?” – you ask. Oh well after so much Black Company, and a dash of history, after Barbara Tuchman´s Guns of August I would say it´s time for some science fiction and a bit of an anthology, right ?!

Orbit Book ( 1978 )

Orbit Book ( 1978 )

OK, so which one ? About a year ago I stumbled across an anthology put together by none other than Isaac Asimov – the renowned author of the robot and Foundation stories – that piqued my interest as it was titled “Before the Golden Age” (as Golden Age refers to the time after publisher or editor Campbell joined the industry ). So Asimov compiled some early science fiction stories that he grew up on, and ispired him. This is a rare chance to glimpse into the past, into the beginnings of the blooming of a genre that shaped much of my life too so much later, and being interested in history, and past of my interests, hobbies, well I thought appropriate to examine this record left behind by one of my favourite authors. So here we go.

The first story is Stanley G. Weinbaum: The parasite planet. It takes place on Venus and tells the story of hardships that befell a young explorer turned trader. The writer describes a lush life befitting those of earthly jungles, though a bit more dangerous to human life. It might be unfortunate, that the increasing knowledge of our Solar system makes this setting unbelievable, but the description of extraterrestrial life is still magnificent, and it makes for a nice frontier adventure story. And I don´t know if it was an expactation in that age, but there is a romantic side to the story too. At least it feels to me like if it was consensual at that time that an involving story needs to have it´s romantic part too.

And so we arrive to the next story: Proxyma Centauri from the pen of Murray Leinister ( yeah I first read it Lannister, God bless you G. R. R. Martin ! ). This is a story of a long term expedition to the nearest star system to us: the Proxyma Centauri. It is, or was a nice surprise to see that the trip to Proxyma didn´t take only hours, but several years – seven to be more precise. But the main part of the story is not that one of travel – the problems that come with such a long journey and the isolation of the group is being described only briefly – but the first contact with the sentient lifeform of Proxyma system. And what a first contact it is. It is a horrendous experience. the Centaurians are a carnivorous plant-like life form, and they massacre the whole crew except for three persons. Two, a man and a woman – lovers by the way – are isolated on a planet of Proxyma system that can sustain earth´s lifeforms, and the captain, who should teach the Centaurians how their ship´s systems work, to introduce them to human technology. In the end only the two on the isolated planet survive. I ask again: “Is it compulsory to have a romantic thread in the story of this age ?” – as till now in two out of two stories there were. Otherwise it is a captivating, and well written story even if the characters are somewhat sketchy, but damn me that I live an age where I can indulge in much more complex and involving storytelling. Thank you Murray Leinster ( and others not mentioned now ) for inspiring a whole generation of those writers, who have perfected the trade !

The third story in the book is The Accursed Galaxy by Edmondon Hamilton. And first I need to say that there ain´t an ounce of romance involved in this story, so my theory might be overthrown, but about that I will actually decide when I finish the book. Once again we have a story that starts out as a contact with alien species of third kind, but soon it develops into a wild speculation abaout how our universe became an expanding one and the galaxies became receding. And the explanation given here is the most dramatic, and quite compelling even though it might be outdated, or might even be labeled unscientific.

And so we have arrived to the end of the year of 1935 – apparently, as before the next story there is a page with the number 1936 on it, and also saying. “part seven”. But that is of little relevance here. The next story is He who shrank written by Henri Hasse. The beginning is something like straight from a H. P. Lovecraft story. Rambling about the incomprehensibility of the universe etc. And then the story turns into an adventure that is kind of a mix of Gulliver´s adventures and that of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A shrinking man shrinking as much as to perceive the molecules as galaxies and atoms as star systems, and then landing on them, and finding sentient life forms. And then continuing the shrinking and the cycle of hopping into the subatomic layers of that world, and so on, and so on. There is a notion of many ideas, among others that of sentient artificial intelligence waging war on it´s creators ( Terminator anybody ?). But the end of story arrives as the narrator “arrives” to Earth and in the end tells his story to a writer, who records it, and as a result we can read it right here. An interesting idea, of sequential universe structure I must say, and some sound storytelling, with that spicy nineteen thirties feel to it, a bit sensationalist, a bit too pulp, just like those old Superman cartoons.

I will remember the next story for it being one of the first in the genre written by a woman, Leslie Frances Stone, than for it´s qualities. The Human Pets of Mars is a story of abducted man and women escaping from their captors. It is quite unbelievable even that they managed to take over an alien vessel, and learn to handle it. But they outrace, outmaneuver and outgun the aliens. I mean, that ship is native to the aliens, they have experience which the humans don´t, but they get their asses kicked by the humans, who learned how to control the ship just hours earlier ?! Gimme a break ! And we also see the return of the obligatory romantic strand in a sci-fi story of the nineteen-thirties.

And so we arrive to the next story: The Brainstealers of Mars. Penned by a true giant of the science-fiction: John W. Campbell. To those who are avid fans of science-fiction and are somewhat knowledgable of the history of the genre, especially in the first half of the twentieth century in the USA I don´t need to introduce him. But to rest: John W. Campbell Jr. was the most influential editor of science-fiction magazines in the thirties all through the fifties. And he also happened to write some good stories too, among others the “Who goes there ?” which served as the base for the movies The thing from outer space and it´s 1982 remake –starring Kurt Russel – The Thing. But now here we have a different story. A space-opera like adventure of two “rogue” scientists. They being on the run from law enforcement forces of Earth are on a journey through the solar system. At the time we join them they are exploring Mars, where they run into mind reading shapechangers. And that brings up the problem of how do ypu know who is standing in front of you, or beside you. Yes it is a similar story to that of The Thing, but with a much happier ending.

And so we get to Devolution, the next story. Written by Edmond Hamilton. A story in which two biologists are in a search of strange creatures that have been sighted by a pilot when he flew over an unpopulated area. And they found more then they bargained for: telepathic “mutant” blobs, and discovering the truth behind the “human evolution”, namely being the descendants of the same kind of blobs, and the evolution being actually a devolution. A quite short story, resembling in much the feel of the H. P. Lovecraft´s stories as the protagonist looses his sanity after being confronted with the above described “truth”.

And here ties in a short story by Asimov himself, never published anywhere else: Big Game. It was written in 1941 and might have been inspired by Hamilton´s Devolution. It follows a similar idea, only the plot is not about the human evolution, but about the extinction of dinosaurs. And the answer to their extinction being that they have been hunted down by some intelligent biped saurians. Nice touch to the anthology.

And so we move to year 1937 with yet another writing by John W. Campbell Jr.: Other Eyes Watching. It´s a piece of non-fiction. A contemporary musing on Jupiter: it´s chemistry, physics etc. Ofcourse there are speculative parts like what kind of life is possible on the planet, and what kind of vehicles are they driving. Sounds laughable today, but the intention was to entertain and educate at the same time. And I must say that Campbell´s style is suitable for this purpose. And why is non-fiction amongst all the fiction here ? Well apparently this is the writing that inspired all the non-fictional work that Asimov produced in his lifetime, and this a book containing the works that inspired him, and in the end made him into a writer.

And then we return to fiction with John D. Clark´s Minus Planet. A story involving anti matter, actually a big clump of it on a collision path with Earth. Two scientists devise a plan to divert it, which includes hijacking the Moon and steering it into the antimatter´s way. Quite dramatic, yes. And to heighten the drama: we have worshippers waiting for the end of the world, God´s judgment. Those same worshippers turning terrorists, trying to sabotage the execution of the aforementioned plan. In the end our heroes save the day. I don´t know why but I found this story to be very annoying.

But I was very delighted by the next story: Past, Present, and Future penned by Nat Schachner. A story that starts out as a peculiar time travel adventure of a young officer of the armies of Alexander the Great and an Indiana Jones like adventurer of our times, who stumbled across the “resting chambers” of the aforementioned greek. And not a minutes sais by introducing the two protagonists, we change to a future resembling much the later novel of A. C. Clarke, namely the City and the Stars. There the protagonists awake in a city that is secluded from the outer world, not that many people know about it´s existence. And the order of the city rests on this ignorance, which the “old” newcomers are threatening. But it´s just a glimpse of a story that develops fully in Clarke´s novel, yet it is intriguing. Especially for someone like myself, who dabbles in RPG-s too, as it is a perfect starting point for a role playing adventure, and it sparks ideas. And so we arrive to the end of year 1937.

The end of 1937 means the beginning of 1938, but as I was shortly to discover, there is only one story included from that year: The Men and the Mirror by Ross Rocklynne. It starts off as an episode of Tom & Jerry cartoon: a cat chasing a mouse. But the cat is actually a policeman, and the mouse a notorious criminal, and the chase is happening all over our Solar system. But soon the story puts the two into a situation where they have to rely on, and trust each other if they want to survive. They happen to land on an artificial celestial body that contains a huge reflector mirror ( huge meaning the diameter of it is about 1000 miles, with an approximate depth of 300 miles ), actually a bowl with an almost frictionless surface. And to survive, and reach a happy ending they use some basic ideas from physics, to be more specific: kinetics. Though the solution is somewhat flowed I would include this story in teaching of the subject of physics. It might be a bit far fetched, but it is a good example for practical application of the knowledge otherwise deemed unnecessary. I mean I´m tired of hearing the line:”Why do they teach us this ? When in my life will I need this ?”.

And well that concludes our adventures here. I enjoyed the book, though sometimes it was hard to read it. It is interesting, and not only because I got to read science fiction from authors I never heard of before, but also because it includes many biographical references to the early life of Isaac Asimov, a writer whose work I came to love. And those are some details I wouldn´t find anywhere else I suppose, or at least I haven´t found them till now. And as this was the volume 3, I will try to find the preceding two volumes and read them too, for some more fascinating adventures in the mind of the young Asimov.

But till then I hope to have many other adventures too. So come back soon, and join me in the other excursions I make to th edifferent domains of enjoyment ! Captain of I. S. S. Rover over, and out.

 

 

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Guns of August

Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! A week has passed again, and here I am again to take you all to a journey that is long overdue – at least on my part. But before we depart let me elaborate a bit on my feelings about being, as I said: overdue.

As I am typing this I´m sitting in my room, under the roof window, with my back to my new trusty radiator, with a mug of an unidentified beverage on my side and earphones plugged in and listening to a radio station, so I could turn off any other interferances. As I stated in earlier posts: for a while I was unable to write and post regularly due to changes in my life. And now I´m trying to catch up on this unintended slack. Unfortunately due to the aforementioned changes in my life, the drive that I had earlier this year – and that peaked somewhere around may and june – did weaken, so my intent to pick up the pace was hampered by myself too. Due to the psychical impact of changing environment I did suffer something similar to depression – though it´s not as heavy and dangerous in effect – but it was enough to stop me in track for a while. And while it was not that hard to return to the routine posting of actual things, it´s not easy to return to things that I´ve left behind me, that´s why it took me more than a month to write up the next Black Company (re)read post.

And here I am now struggling with yet another slack of mine, though it didn´t bother me that much as it wasn´t an announced project for this year, so I wasn´t in hurry to write about it either, even though i ought to, as it was part of my declaration when I started this blog that I will share, and how can I stay true to my declaration if I decide to ommit something because I didn´t have the will to go back and revisit the event, the journey, my reason being that it took place a while ago and I don´t feel like doing it.

But here am I now. Maybe not fully restored yet, but on my way to pick up all the pieces. But what is the actual topic of today´s excursion ? Well, you see …

Sometime in january I was watching a documentary on BBC One on the topic of World War I. And it was at that moment that it dawned on me that I have almost forgotten that this game changing event of our “modern” history began hundred years ago. And as a history buff I couldn´t go past this event. I did a fast search to see what can I do about it, and I had to see that there is not much I can arrange at the time due to my financial possibilities. But I did acquire a copy of Barbara Tuchman´s Guns of August just at the end of the previous year, so it only seemed appropriate to read it, and subsequently write about it as a commemorative measure on my part. So here I am now doing the writing part, as the reading part I could end as I planned. before august 1.

Presidio Press (2004)

Presidio Press (2004)

I heard of this book couple of years back when I was researching the possibilities to wargame World War I scenarios, and on the different discussion forums Tuchman´s book was highly appraised as a must read on the topic. But as I was living at that time in Hungary and obtaining a book that was not yet translated into Hungarian was still not an easy task – I found out about Bookdepository.com only last year – till now I didn´t read it. But that is in the past. So lets see what does Tuchman, and her book offer to us.

Actually this book is kind of an introduction to the whole World War One. The main focus of the book is the opening month of the war: the August of 1914. Geographycally it covers almost solely the action that played out on the western front. There is a chapter on events connected to the german warship Goeben, and what, two chapters on the early events on the eastern front, but that´s all – it might be considered a flaw, but also as a feature. And much to my delight the book is not that much about numbers of guns, people in units etc., the statistics, but about the people itself. How did the military personell, but also the civilians see to their every day tasks in the changed environment, how did they accept what was happening.

In the first part of the book we get the outlines of the different pre-war plans: the german Schliffen plan, the French Plan 17, the british plans that are made to complement the French battle plans, and the Russian plan that is heavily influenced by the French need to divert german forces from the western front. And it was a strange pleasure to me to see that the French were at least as much aggressive in their intentions as the germans, and if they had thought a bit more about the tactics and use of appropriate weapons instead of charging blindly into the battle – as we will see in the later chapters of the book – we might today think of them as equally responsible for the war as the germans; but well that is a different story.

A second short part of the book describes the outbreak itself: from the trigger event of the assassination of theArchduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo on 28th of June to the diplomatic maneuvers the different countries took till the beginning of august when the armies began their movements.

And so we arrive to the third and longest part which describes the actual events taking place on the front lines. The arrogant german march directed by a reluctant von Moltke who is weighed down by the heritage of his heroic and succesfull uncle. Or the french blind charges into the german ambushes that could have been avoided had Joffre not been that rigid in insisting that the Plan 17 is bulletproof, and had believed the reports of the scouting parties, or in some instances used some scouting at all. The british forces hampered by a hesitant or even frightened commander, Sir John French. The heroic resistance of the Belgian army. Or the foolish and so futile Russian offensive in Prussia.

Wonderful and detailed descriptions that draw I suppose heavily on the different memoirs of the leaders of the time. Tuchman introduces all the key players in her book: Joseph Jophre ( Commander in Chief of the French forces ), Lord Kitchener ( british war minister ), Helmuth von Moltke ( Chief of the German General Staff ), Wilhelm II ( Kaiser of Germany ), Albert I ( King of Belgium, and the commander of it´s armed forces who grew up to his present task, even if he failed at the end ) and Alexander von Kluck ( the german general who was tasked with the command of the german far right wing, and so with the execution of the outflanking and enveloping the French and it´s allies forces. Of course we get to see some other notable, or at least somewhat remembered characters, like the French prime minister Raymond Poincaré, or the First Lord of Admiralty: Winston Churchill, who seems already at that time to have been one of the few british leaders having the guts to take action, to make war, if it has already come to it, like we have seen in a book I read earlier this year.

It is a book on history,l but it definitely reads like a novel. Barbara Tuchman succeded in gripping my attention and not letting it go all till the end. And some of her descriptions and character sketches are also more than memorable, and to pick just one, the best is the one on general Jophre:

He looked like Santa Claus and gave an impression of benevolence and naivety – two qualities not noticeably part of his character

It was a good read, not only on the historical topic, but as a book in general. Even though there are some exaggarations ( that are probably products of the perception of the age when it was written ) it holds up qute good till today. SO if you are interested in the war itself, or only in the era in general: go and read this book, you can´t miss with it.

And that would be all for today. I hope you enjoyed the ride. And now go a bt outside and enjoy the nice weather of this late summer day in September. Captain of I.S.S Rover over, and out !

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Experiments with food and a steamcooker

So, a week has passed in my “not so busy” life. But even though it´s not as busy as it used to be, things still happened. I managed to acquire a toaster and a water boiler, so now I can make me some “decent” tea, and toast my bread. So I´m not limited to the steamcooker I received from a relative. But as I am limited in tools for cooking I have to experiment. So it´s time again for some new culinary adventures.

As I have no stove right now, I can´t really cook, but I did manage to get around this problem somewhat thanks to the steam cooker. A bit of tweaking the things and I was able to cook sausages and ten minute eggs with it, beside steaming vegetables and rice. Today I even steamed some tuna fish and added it to the whole vegetable-rice thing, with some soy sauce dressing.

Vegetable-rice with some tuna

Vegetable-rice with some tuna

But this time it´s no meat time. Even prior to my moving to Germany I decided on a change in my lifestyle, which actually means more vegetables and less meat in future. No, I´m not gonna become a vegetarian, but I do feel that I want to eat less meat. Not to mention that after the meat heavy culinary excursions I made before, I promissed a friend that the next time I will prepare a vegetarian meal. So here we go Kassia. Brace yourself, as Keshik is making a meal with not a single gram of meat in it.

So what do we do if we only have a steam cooker at our disposal. Well I did hear that the steamed vegetables are healthier than the fully cooked ones: so we take some vegetables ( preferedly those you like), steam them and eat them. But this sounds so bland. But hey, we have a second tray that fits into the steamcooker beside the first one. And you can steam the rice too, instead of cooking. Hmm, steamed vegetables plus steamed rice. it sounds kinda like a risotto, so lets go for it.

Steamy, my dear steam cooker

Steamy, my dear steam cooker

the ingredients

the ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So off we go to purchase some vegetables. Unfortunatelly I didn´t find any brocoly or cauliflower, which made me sad, but lets see what did I manage to find: fresh carots, spring onion, green/yelow (?) pepper, garlic, and this I augmented with some canned mushrooms and peas. And though there is a can of corn too, in the end I didn´t use it. And of course I needed the rice too. This time around I used the fast cooking type.
So I put the rice in one tray and added a mug ( around 0.33 l ) of water to it, and I put the shredded veggies in the other tray. Put the trays into the steamcooker, and set the tmer to 20 minutes. And now we wait.

The rice in the lower tray

The rice in the lower tray 

The vegetables in the upper tray

The vegetables in the upper tray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty minutes are up, and the meal is ready. I put it on a plate, mix it together, season it with some black pepper. And I must admit: I´m good. The food is delicious. A bit unusual to have no meat in it, but good. The consistency is good, the rice ain´t overcooked, and I don´t even miss the salt. Easy to prepare, an it took me only 40 minutes. Not to mention that the batch is enough for two full meals for me, so I have some decent cooked meal for the next day too.

The final result. yummy !

The final result. yummy !

Have you become hungry ? Then don´t sit there, go and get on with it. Prepare yourself a tasty steam cooked risotto, and enjoy it. Have a glas of wine, or a bottle of beer, like I did. Goodbye !

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