Saturday, July 19, 2008

Books Read - 7/08

Here's three books I read in the last few weeks.

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books for the second time. There’s a certain charm to them. It is an indefinable something that exists outside of the regular categories of character, plot, scene, etc. I find myself turning the pages, caught up in the HP universe despite the glaring problems with the plot.

Dumbledore, McGonagle, and the other grownups in these stories have to be the most stupid people! All of these things happening in their school and they seem to be clueless. Why would they leave these children to face these dangers while they sit back? There are excuses in some instances - Harry gets information that is unavailable to the grownups – but for the most part, the professors are in a far better position, at the start, to address the problems then the children are. And even in those cases where the kids possess info that the grownups don’t, then why don’t they share information? The grownups certainly have not acted in such a way as to invite the kids to enlist their aid in their various scrapes. And I’m looking at you, Dumbledore!

The author has to move the grownups to the background in order to have the kids do the action and so the reader overlooks the glaring problems with the plotting in order to enjoy the story. One thing is always happening after another; there’s always some immediate problem that the children must solve; so the pages keep turning.

The other two books represent two different genres of historical novels.

The historical novel has been around since the beginning. One convention of this genre has been for the main characters to be fictional while real historical people were bit players.

The Shaara novels deliberately violate this rule. In fact, it smashes it to pieces. In his novels, historical people are not only main characters, they are the subject of the novels. For example, his Mexican War novel pictured in above is about Robert E. Lee and General Scott. If one could have done a reality show treatment of these two during that war, then this book is what it would look like.

The treatment is history plus. The history of the campaign plus their unrecorded - hence more detailed - actions, words, and thoughts. Since the unrecorded part is the author’s extrapolations from the historical record, this must be necessarily classed as fiction. Hence, it is a novel.

The last book is the latest in the 1632 series. Imagine some catastrophic event that takes a small part of today’s America and transports it back in time. - Not just one person goes back in time but an entire community. This is the concept behind this series.

This is an example of another innovation in modern literature: the marriage of history and science fiction. We call it “alternative history”. There are a number of books in this genre. It is about 20 years old now.

These books all seem to have one style of writing. I call it the soap opera style. If you’ve seen shows on TV like “All My Children” then you know what I’m speaking of. There’s always several different stories going on at the same time. The scene splits from one story to another. The different stories and the different characters in them all may relate to one another at different distances. Some characters stay in their own story; some move into other’s stories. They all exist in the same story arc.

This format works for this genre because in these books the author has so many balls to juggle. To keep them all up in the air, he just cuts from one scene to the other.

Back to the book. The year the Americans go back to is 1632. As you can see from the book, two years have gone by. The Baltic Wars takes the main story forward. There are spinoffs. 1634: The Galileo Affair is the better book primarily since it doesn’t have the burden of carrying the series that The Baltic Wars has.

I like all three of these books.

Disclaimer: The slide show gives you pictures of the books and an idea of what they cost. The fact that I will be compensated if you click on the link and buy a book turns this post into a semi-advertisement. I only will link to for books I actually liked.