Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Flight 103

Featuring a former Mossad agent turned antique dealer, Sam Green's second book (at least, I think it's his second book, give me one sec to check...  It's his second fiction book featuring Sam Woolfman, he's written non-fiction before) is a fast-paced, enjoyable read.  An interesting enough plot with an intriguing conspiracy theory about the Lockerbie bombing, it actually manages to weave together two investigations without either becoming drowned out.  There's a bit of a romance thrown in for good measure too--although it's not really much more than the standard romance thrown into a thriller.

It feels real, and it's rather unputdownable.  What more could you ask for in a thriller?  Woolfman is perhaps not the most well developed character I've found in a thriller, but having said that I thoroughly enjoy Matthew Reilly's work and someone's said of those books 'the characters don't live long enough to have personalities'...  The antiques business side is also convincingly written, as is the conspiracy involving a cover-up by the Catholic church.

In fact, my only worry with the series (I enjoyed Max, the first one too--although I don't seem to have reviewed it, sorry), is that by setting the story at a definite point Sam Green is going to struggle to cover more modern conspiracies etc.  Characters set in real time unfortunately age.  I hope that there're plenty more issues in the recent past to turn over and rewrite.  (The ageing problem is also present in James Barrington's excellent series, where the main character served in the Falklands war, and who knows how old Jack Higgins Sean Dillon is now, but that's not quite as much of an issue as they're set less at a definite time with definite events).

If you're looking for an interesting and unputdownable thriller, this is a great choice.

Nanowrimo 2010

Gosh, I really haven't posted in a while, have I?!  Well, apart from that last post I put in a few moments ago, but that's not what I meant.  I haven't told you that I had my fourth Nanowrimo attempt, and my fourth win in November.  Wonderful fun.

My novel was entitled Firejuggler, and I managed to write the entire thing in the month.  My official word count was 113,114, which I reckon was a pretty intriguing number to come up with with absolutely no way of being able to tell what would come out the official word count machine since Open Office is rather more generous in counting words (and don't ask me how a word count can be different depending on who counts it--it's a mystery that puzzles me as well).  It actually went surprisingly well.  I had one character which showed up, then I decided I didn't want it, then I figured that actually, I did need that character after all.  I did that last year as well actually, with a similar sort of character.  Hmm.  I also had a couple of other unexpected characters, and the grand scheme of the plot appeared when I was 60,000 words in, and then when I was 100,000 words in, and trying to actually follow a plan I realised that actually, the plan had it all wrong and the conclusion would be reached in an entirely different manner.  So that needs smoothing over, and there's one or two extra scenes I need to bob in, but it's remarkably intact, considering the whole thing showed up in a month and that I started with a scene and two main and one minor characters.  The rest of it just appeared as I wrote (and as I pondered it too, I guess).

Nanowrimo really does represent a remarkable creative event.  There'll be another one next year, and I strongly recommend you get involved if you've ever considered writing a novel.  Or even if you do write novels.  It forces you to write and not worry too much about those niggling little details and the words that you can't spell and the occasional clunky sentence, and instead to tell a story.  And let's face it, even if you've got the best writing in the world, if your plot is utter drivel no one's gonna enjoy it (the reverse is also true--although I'm more likely to persevere with an interesting plot and bad/mediocre writing than good writing and no/boring plot).

Should I tell you a little more about Firejuggler as it turned out to be?  Oh, actually, I had the title right from the start as well which is pretty unusual for me.  My story folders are full of things like 'Football Start.4' and 'Nutmeg's First Day' and 'Random Story'....

Sha is a firejuggler, but he wasn't always a wandering entertainer.  Once, he was a respected soldier in the Royal Army, but after the Protector took over England, things for Sha have gone from bad to worse.  Persecuted not only for his ties to the 'ancient regime' but also for his refusal--indeed, his physical inability--to give up practising the highly addictive fire magic, he's serving the resistance movement as a messenger as well as doing 'tricks' to earn coin.  Until he discovers that the princess, rightful heir to the Naablian throne, is not dead as everyone thought but is very much alive, even if she doesn't know who she is and is utterly oblivious to the magic bubbling up inside her, ready to explode from her when the protective curse laid upon her at birth to prevent her using it until she turns eighteen.  Princess Graci is forced to leave her home, embark on a rather perilous journey, and learn about the magic Sha insists she should have known about from birth, that she should have been taught about so that she can control the addictive impulses of the magic.  The trouble, as she rapidly realises, is that Sha himself is heavily addicted to the magic.  While it makes him a powerful practiser, it also leaves him with headaches and vulnerable to apparently random destructive whims.

And I think that'll do as a plot description.  There are soldiers, dragons, plots, arguments, and orphans involved too, but I don't want to make my summary too complicated now do I?

The Whig Interpretation of History

This was one of those 'historiography' books that people say you should read when you're studying history so that you understand the subject.  For those of you who aren't historians, historiography is effectively the study of history--and the history of history.  It can be quite interesting, it can be rather dull.  Most books that I've read so far (actually, make that: the two books excluding this one) are in the rather dull and slightly incomprehensible category.  This one was in the 'actually, that was rather interesting and well written' category.

Apparently, this book was rather influential, although the 'whigish' method of history which was criticised was beginning to fall out of favour even before its publication.  At any rate, some of what's said seems like common sense to me now, based on what we've been told about doing history in lectures etc, but I am beginning to wonder whether seeing what I know about history in this book is like (hopefully!) seeing what a preacher talks about in the Bible.

At any rate, it's a nice short book (fall on the floor stunned!) and apart from a criticism of Lord Acton in the final chapter of the book does a remarkably good job of attacking ideas and principles rather than specific historians.  In short, unlike Evans' 'In Defence of History' and one or two other things I've looked at, it doesn't feel like the historian has a personal grudge they want to settle with a fellow historian they fell out with at high school.  (Although Evans' 'In Defence of History' is still a pretty decent book, and for those of you who happen to be studying history might have noticed, a rather standard authority in terms of historical practice, even if it does confuse the issues of postmodernism rather more than it helps clarify them).  Sorry.  That was a rather long digression from what was meant to be a review of 'The Whig Interpretation of History'.  Wait, I should be using italics, not quotes...  One of the many things I have discovered about footnoting while at Cambridge is that I can never seem to manage to follow all of the little rules at once.  And so I have apparently yet to submit an essay which has the footnotes done completely right.  But anyway.  That's even more of a digression.

The Whig Interpretation of History is remarkably well written, and constantly tied down to a specific historical period--for most of the book, the Reformation and Luther, though other bits receive mention.  The basic argument is that abridged history becomes, almost by default, very 'whiggish' in its tone and outlook, showing the great 'march of progress' and smoothing over historical complications by relegating everyone to either pro or anti progress.  So, for example, the Catholics were reactionaries trying to preserve a corrupt old order and Luther was a revolutionary thinker who brought about religious liberty and created the modern rights to freedom of worship.  But Butterfield makes the point succinctly that in fact, history is rather more complex than that.  Luther wanted, ideally, an equally dominating religious autocracy on slightly different lines to the Catholic set up.  What really created religious toleration was the clash of ideologies.  An interesting point, and certainly one that seems viable.

History, Butterfield argues, is complication.  And from what I've seen of it since starting A-levels it certainly seems to be.  People defy neat categorisation.  For example, how would a historian in fifty years time slot me into their equations?  I'm studying at Cambridge--therefore I'm of an academic turn of mind.  I'm a young female who happens to have a thing for aircraft and builds Airfix models--usually the stereotypical preserve of older men.  I'm a Christian, but not a member of the 'established' church--both churches that I go to (up here in Preston and down in Cambridge) are 'free' churches with an emphasis on salvation by grace.  Spirit fill churches, would probably be the best way of describing them.  Aren't people who are 'intelligent' meant to be atheists too?  Whenever the library does a display of 'books for men' and 'books for women', I find half the books on the men's stand are ones I've read, and I've rarely read any on the women's stand.  Oh, and I live in a 'nuclear' family--mum, dad (been married for nearly 30 years) and younger brother.  Aren't we supposed to be in a society where most people don't live in that sort of family?  At any rate, you could classify me in any one of several dozen methods, and the same is true of any person.  Societies have multiple layers of meaning and interaction, and it's impossible to completely unravel the complexities of our own time, let alone in the past when we have to start relying on sources that by their very appearance and survival tend to be atypical.

So, I think what I'm trying to say is that this is a very interesting book that also happens to be well written and isn't excessively long.  In short, a wonderful historiography book to take a look at.  And perfectly comprehensible.