Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


IMAGINED COMMUNITIES: REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF NATIONALISM by Benedict Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/16/2014]

IMAGINED COMMUNITIES: REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF NATIONALISM by Benedict Anderson (ISBN 978-0-86091-546-1) is a 1991 revision of an earlier edition. In the original 1983 introduction, he talks about the nationalization of Marxist movements, as reflected in conflicts between two nations, both of which are Marxist and hence would be presumed to be allies. "Who can be confident that Yugoslavia and Albania will not one day come to blows?" By 1991, most of the Marxist regimes he mentions are no longer Marxist, and Yugoslavia was in the process of destroying itself as a single nation. While in the preface to the new edition the author recognizes his lack of foresight in the collapse of the USSR, the revision was probably written too early to recognize that Yugoslavia was destined for the same result.

And as proof that hindsight is always better, Anderson wrote of the paradox of "the formal universality as a socio-cultural concept--in the modern world, everyone can, should, will 'have' a nationality, as he or she 'has' a gender." In 1983, or even perhaps 1991, the universality of gender as a descriptor was still thought by most to be a given. Today, it seems as outdated as the idea that someone has a specific race.

Anderson's premise seems to be that many (most?) nationalist movements are based around a vernacular language, or more specifically, a written vernacular language. But this seems less based on the language per se and more on the ability to use the written vernacular language to arouse a nationalist sentiment.

Anderson relates one incident that is one of those "what were they thinking?" incidents. In 1913, the Dutch decided to celebrate the centennial of the "national liberation" of the Netherlands from French imperialism. So the Dutch colonial government in Batavia (Netherlands East Indies) decreed that they too would celebrate it--not just the Dutch community, but also the native population. Not surprisingly, Indonesian nationalists jumped onto this, pointing out to the apparently clueless colonial government that 1) a people held in subjection to Dutch imperialism might not be that enthusiastic about Dutch independence from France, and 2) a people held in subjection to Dutch imperialism might take inspiration from the Dutch gaining independence from France, and decide to get their own independence.

To order Imagined Communities from amazon.com, click here.


WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES edited by Kevin J. Anderson (Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-10353-9, 1996, 288pp, hardback):

This certainly seems to be the year for pastiches. First there was the anthology Resurrected Holmes (edited by Marvin Kaye), which is a series of Sherlock Holmes adventures purporting to be written by various famous authors. And now there is War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, a series of accounts of the Martian invasion first described by H. G. Wells, mostly purporting to be written by various famous authors and other personages. (A few are satisfied merely to use famous people as their main characters.) Interestingly, while there is a story in Resurrected Holmes credited to Wells, there is no story here credited to Doyle. (Then again, there have been earlier Holmes "War of the Worlds" stories, notably Manly Wade Wellman's Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds.) The only overlapping "authors" between the two volumes are Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. P. Lovecraft, which may seem odd considering that Holmes and the invasion were contemporaneous, but while the invasion stories are written by or about the participants, the Holmes stories are described as having merely been composed by their authors on the basis of notes sent to them, so the authors there tend to be from a later period.

The first story in an anthology is normally the strongest, but here I suspect that it is more that Mike Resnick is the biggest draw. "The Roosevelt Dispatches" by Resnick, while amusing enough, is hardly a strong story, centering mostly around a rather obvious (if not predictable) ending. (It also seems to assume the Martians had landed only in Cuba. I don't object to the stories contradicting each other, but they shouldn't blatantly contradict Wells.)

Kevin J. Anderson's "Canals in the Sand" has Percival Lowell trying to signal the Martians in response to what he believed were canals on the Martian surface. It is more a "pre-invasion" story, and ends just when things start to get interesting, though readers familiar with the original story should have no difficulty filling in the rest.

The main character in Walter Jon Williams's "Foreign Devils" is the Dowager Empress of China and Williams manages to give us a glimpse into a very different world than the other, more Western-centered stories. Because of this, it is one of the best stories in the anthology, with Williams adding interesting and even somewhat alien characters and outlooks to the familiar invasion story. That this happened to be a very interesting period of Chinese history helped, of course, but Williams seems to have been the only one to think of it.

Daniel Marcus's "Blue Period" centers around Picasso but seemed rather flat. Someone who knew Picasso's life and work better than I might have gotten more out of it. This is the major drawback of this book--for many of the stories, a knowledge of the main character's life and work is necessary. The result is that the market of people who will enjoy or appreciate all or even most of the stories is smaller than one might think, and considerably smaller, I fear, than the number of people who will be attracted by the theme of the anthology.

"The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James" by Robert Silverberg is perhaps the best-written piece in the book--not surprising when you consider Silverberg's talent. It is also the least original, however, in that Silverberg follows mainly to the story as told in the original, but with Wells and James as participants. (This story should possibly have been placed first to give readers a good solid background for the other stories.)

Janet Berliner's "True Tale of the Final Battle of Umslopogaas the Zulu" has both Winston Churchill and an H. Rider Haggard character in a way that is not entirely convincing or satisfying. Perhaps it's that having three foci (with Wells's Martians being the third) makes the story just too elaborate.

Howard Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" was not, apparently, the inspiration for this book, though this 1987 tale of the Texas Rangers versus the Martians certainly predates everything else here and is in fact the only story not written specifically for this volume. (Several other stories have appeared in magazine form before the book came out, but were nonetheless written for the book.) In any case, Waldrop should get a few extra points for originality, even though that originality is not obvious here. (There have of course been other stories inspired by the Wells novel, but Waldrop's is probably the best-known.)

Doug Beeson's "Determinism and the Martian War, with Relativistic Corrections" has Albert Einstein thinking about inertial frames of reference while the Martians invade, and "Soldier of the Queen" by Barbara Hambly has Rudyard Kipling meeting the Martians in India.

George Alec Effinger's "Mars: The Home Front" takes a completely different approach than the other stories. Rather than being the story of the Martian invasion of Earth as told by yet another Earthly eyewitness, it is the story of what was happening back on Mars, as told by John Carter. Because Effinger is not describing the same events that everyone else is, this story is a welcome change from the similarity of all the others, and proves that even when given an apparently limiting set of constraints, a good writer can still break out and write something new and fresh.

"A Letter from St. Louis" by Allen Steele, featuring Joseph Pulitzer, is a return to the idea of a fairly standard retelling of the story.

Mark W. Tiedemann's "Resurrection" is primarily a letter purported to be written by Leo Tolstoy. There is more of alternate history feel to this than to most of the others (with the possible exception of the Williams), since the framing story is set in an alternate world from the one we live in.

"Paris Conquers All" by Gregory Benford and David Brin (Jules Verne) is an attempt to tie a Vernian technological solution into the story that did not work for me. "To Mars and Providence" by Don Webb is a reasonably decent attempt to combine the "Elder Gods" of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos with the Martian invasion. But while Daniel Keys Moran and Jodi Moran try to evoke Mark Twain in "Roughing It During the Martian Invasion," they don't quite succeed; you get a story with a riverboat and some snappy asides, but no real Twain spirit. (Maybe I'm just too familiar with Twain, having read just about everything of his in print, including Joan of Arc and Christian Science.)

"To See the World End" by M. Shayne Bell is purportedly by Joseph Conrad and is another story that, like Tiedemann's "Resurrection," has a much stronger alternate history feel than the rest of the stories. Most of the stories seem like stories set in the fictional world of Wells, while these two seem as though they are set in our world in the midst of a Martian invasion.

"After a Lean Winter" by Dave Wolverton is set in the far north and told from the point of view of Jack London. It seems to be a good copy of his style, but it's not a style I'm particularly taken by.

I usually like Connie Willis's work, but her pseudo-academic work, "The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson's Poems: A Wellsian Perspective" wears out its welcome rather quickly. With forty numbered and twelve unnumbered footnotes in its eight pages, it may be more appealing to academics. I found my eyes glassing over after about three pages. The again, that may be the intent.

An afterword by Benford and Brin again in the voice of Verne concludes with a plea that we go to Mars.

To order War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches from amazon.com, click here.


UNCHARTED: LEWIS AND CLARK IN ARCANE AMERICA by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/24/2018]

UNCHARTED: LEWIS AND CLARK IN ARCANE AMERICA by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt (ISBN 978-1-4814-9323-0) starts with the premise of "The Sundering". When I read this I was sure that the term "The Sundering" was used by Jeffrey E. Barlough in his "Western Lights" series. I was right, but it turns out that when one Googles "the sundering", the entire first page of results are for the "Forgotten Realms" series.

Anyway ... Anderson and Hoyt postulate a world in which the Americas have been mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world in 1759. However, for some reason Thomas Jefferson still financed the voyage for Lewis and Clark in 1803, though in this case it is as much to find out if there is a way back to the Old World via the Pacific Ocean. They start out with all the same people as in our world, though the survival rate is much lower, because in addition to the Sundering, magic has returned to the world, complete with revenants and dragons.

My problem is I prefer historical speculation over magic, but Anderson and Hoyt spend most of the book on the magic part. For what it's worth, it also seems to be more a young adult novel. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's probably worth noting. Oh, and Amazon says it is the first of a series, but it does stand on its own. It's good for what it is; it just wasn't what I was looking for.

To order Uncharted from amazon.com, click here.


THE BOLEYN KING by Laura Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/27/2013]

THE BOLEYN KING by Laura Andersen (ISBN 978-0-345-53409-5) just did not do it for me. I'll admit it--after reading sixty pages, I checked out the reviews on-line. I knew this was the first of a series, but it apparently ends on a cliff-hanger, which I am never thrilled with. The characters and attitudes seem way too modern, and apparently the "Minuette" character whom I found so annoying for sixty pages is the main character, and a Mary Sue at that. The story is evidently more a murder mystery than a serious alternate history, and the fact that there's a Reader's Guide tells me that the target audience is not the alternate history crowd. Not surprisingly, the reviews for the second novel (at least in amazon.com) are more positive, probably because people who did not like the first one would not even read the second.)

[As defined by Wikipedia, a "Mary Sue" is "an idealized character representing the author."]

To order The Boleyn King from amazon.com, click here.


"Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/29/2015]

The other novella for this month's discussion was "Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson, and as soon as I hit the word "esprojector" I knew this had been published in ANALOG when John W. Campbell, Jr., was the editor. And of course the whole story turns out to be about "psionics".

I found that Joe's development reminded me of Arkady Darell's in SECOND FOUNDATION: the problem of trying to direct an adult brain without having any problems or leaving any evidence is avoided by starting with the newborn brain instead.

Again, there is a certain quaintness at times. Putting Joe down on the surface of Jupiter was incredibly expensive--five million dollars! (I am reminded of Dr. Evil in AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME in 1999 thinking in 1969 terms and trying to blackmail the world for a million dollars.)


THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/06/2009]

The science fiction group chose THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson (ISBN-13 978-0-671-65339-2, ISBN-10 0-671-65339-3) for this month's book. This was not so much for any great fascination with the book as with chance. People had been saying they wanted to read a Poul Anderson book, but there was no one novel that the library system had more than one or two copies of. However, when we went to a half-price sale at a local used bookstore, we found a whole stack of THE ENEMY STARS. What's more, we found them on the back porch, where books are normally six for a dollar. But these were half-price, so we picked up a half-dozen copies for fifty cents total, and handed them out to the group members.

And it is certainly true that if we had to pick an Anderson to read, this would not have been it, in spite of the fact that this was nominated for a Hugo (under the title WE HAVE FED OUR SEA). First of all, there are certainly more well-regarded books by Anderson. For example, Anderson had six other Hugo-nominated books: THE HIGH CRUSADE, TAU ZERO, THERE WILL BE TIME, THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND, FIRE TIME, and THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS. Of these, THE HIGH CRUSADE and TAU ZERO are certainly better novels. But the sad fact is that even those are not widely available.

Anyway, while the basic plot of THE ENEMY STARS--starship breaks their faster-than-light matter transmitter and has to repair it--it seems to me that it is dragged out too much. (And one could quibble about the idea that four guys could rebuild a FTL transmitter practically from scratch, but that's the Campbellian tradition.) There's a subplot of one character's family problems, and a lot of not-very-subtle chacterization, which the group seemed to agree was more to let Anderson present various philosophies rather than do character studies. On the whole, I cannot really recommend it.

To order The Enemy Stars from amazon.com, click here.


"The Nest" by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/24/2010]

In "The Nest" (SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES, July 1953), Poul Anderson somehow managed to put one over on the editor. The story is set in a time in the Oligicene (I think) where people from all different times have been picked up and plopped down.. So you have Neanderthals, conquistadors, Romans, etc. And at one point one of the conquistadors cries out, "¡Chinga los herĂ©ticos!" For those of you who don't know Spanish, let's just say that "chingar" is not a verb one would see used in a 1950s magazine--or even most magazines today. But somehow the editor did not seem to know this. (Or maybe he did and just figured that no one who recognized the word back then would care.)


"Sam Hall" by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/16/2004]

Poul Anderson's "Sam Hall" was okay but seemed like typical conservative/libertarian preaching. (I know that "conservative" and "libertarian" seem like opposites, but in many ways they are not.) It wasn't helped, of course, by Anderson's introduction (in THE BEST OF POUL ANDERSON) in which he explains how the McCarthy era wasn't really that bad and the only people complaining were very vocal in their complaints that they couldn't complain and they were probably Commie liberals anyway.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/06/2004]

Someone asked for a more exact citation of the Anderson quote, and since I had to type it in anyway, I will include it here. Anderson talks about traveling around Europe on a bicycle and then returning to the United States:

"Returning, I found the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Now this wasn't quite the horror that academic folklore maintains. While no doubt a few innocent people did get harmed, the fact is that others had been the dangerous agents of an implacable enemy; and in any event, as a shrewd observer remarked, the period consisted mainly of intellectuals screaming from the rooftops that they were afraid to speak above a whisper. Actual suppression, when it occurred, was almost always the result of private unofficial hysteria. Still, it didn't take great imagination to see the trend continuing until we really got a dictatorship."

[Asterisks indicate italics in the original.]

(THE BEST OF POUL ANDERSON, Pocket Books, August 1976, ISBN 0-671-83140-2, pages 79-80. The ISFDB gives the ISBN for the first printing as 0-671-80671-8; mine is the second printing and has a higher price, so apparently they changed the ISBN for that.)


TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/12/2012]

I really liked TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson (ISBN 978-1-56865-278-8) back in 1971, because at the time it really seemed to convey a sense of wonder about deep space (and deep time). Now, alas, the characterizations seem dated and the science outdated. (There also seems to be more hand-waving than I remember about exactly how they are going to find a suitable planet without decelerating if they are traveling through entire galaxies in the blink of an eye (by their frame of reference).

To order Tau Zero from amazon.com, click here.


"Three Hearts and Three Lions" by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/02/2004]

"Three Hearts and Three Lions" by Poul Anderson is the original version of the novel of the same name. (This was expanded throughout, rather than forming intact a segment of the novel, so the only place to read this novella is in its original magazine publication. I suspect, however, that it will be voted on by a lot people who have read only the expanded version. However, my reaction applies to both.) The story of a twentieth-century man finding himself transported not only back in time, but into a magical version of our world, is a classic, and Anderson knows his stuff here. For example, you might think that the use of tobacco here was anachronistic. But I discovered that the first literary mention of tobacco was in Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queen" in the late 16th century, so I guess Anderson is allowed to include it on the basis of established usage. (And just as Sturgeon did, Anderson revisits his themes in other works as well, particularly A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST.)


TIME PATROL by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/24/2004]

The book chosen for our science fiction discussion group this month was Poul Anderson's TIME PATROL. There seem to have been a variety of collections of Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, called variously THE TIME PATROL, THE GUARDIANS OF TIME (released once with four stories and once with five, I think), TIME PATROLMEN, and ANNALS OF THE TIME PATROL. (There's also the novel THE SHIELD OF TIME.) However, we said that whatever people found, the stories to read were "Time Patrol", "Brave to Be a King", "Gibraltar Falls", "The Only Game in Town", and "Delenda Est". The premise seems classic, but may well have been invented by Anderson: a corps of "time patrolmen" makes sure that people don't tamper with history. Most of the stories involve agent Manse Everard traveling to fix history, sometimes with a brief section in the parallel timeline that would evolve if the change was allowed to remain. As an alternate history fan, I love these, though the earlier ones are somewhat dated in their attitudes. And while Anderson is not generally known for his imagery, his description from "Gibraltar Falls" is one that has stuck with me long after many other stories have passed from memory. Alas, I think these are currently out of print, though easily available used.

To order Time Patrol from amazon.com, click here.


"Un-Man" by Poul Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/02/2004]

"Un-Man" by Poul Anderson seemed a fairly basic story about a secret group of a special type of human (an "un-man", which is also a pun on "U.N.-man" [as in United Nations]) whose job is to enforce world peace. I suspect even in 1953 it wasn't particularly original, but I also think I find Anderson's overtly political works much less appealing and more strident than his non-political ones. And


LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: WAR, DECEIT, IMPERIAL FOLLY AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST by Scott Anderson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/11/2014]

LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: WAR, DECEIT, IMPERIAL FOLLY AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST by Scott Anderson (ISBN 978-0-385-53292-1)--the title says it all. This biography of T. E. Lawrence, not just in Arabia, but from birth to death, pretty much explains the mess the Middle East is in as the result of World War I, the deceit of all the statesmen and most of everyone else (including Lawrence), and the imperial urge that was the cause of all that deceit. The basic deceits were the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration. The former was a secret Anglo-French agreement to divide up the Middle East between them after the war; the deceit was that Britain and France kept promising the Arabs their freedom and self-determination if they rose up against the Ottoman Empire which ruled them, while never intending any such thing. The latter was the British statement that "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"; the deceit was that they gave a different interpretation of "national home" to everyone involved. If the listener wanted to hear that it would be an independent Jewish state, that is what the statesmen said. If that it would be a British protectorate allowing Jews to come and live there, that is what they said. And so on. It is no surprise that the result was a disaster.

It also seems to be the case that many of the stories told by Lawrence turn out to be exaggerations or outright falsehoods. (The fact that Lawrence often tells differing stories certainly supports this.) Lawrence's account(s) of what happened in Deraa, in particular, range from "merely" implausible to physically impossible.

Whether this is the book coming out in commemoration of the centenary of World War I that you should read, rather than the dozens of others, I cannot say. (One reason is that all of them seem to be between 500 and 1000 pages long, so it is impossible to read all of them unless one is doing it professionally.) Frankly, if I were to recommend only one book on World War I, it would be Barbara Tuchman's THE GUNS OF AUGUST, but that covers just the beginning and not the progress, or the end.

To order Lawrence in Arabia from amazon.com, click here.


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