Monday, November 24, 2008

could you help me place this call?

Connections. Some of my friends love to play the Kevin Bacon game. Not me. I just tend to live it.

Michael Dickson tells us that he is reading All Quiet on the Western Front, a classic anti-war novel about the horrors of World War One and the ensuing disintegration of German civilian life.

Ironically, I have been reading a novel about World War One, as well. But it could hardly be described as a classic. It is not even literature.

American Front is the first novel in Harry Turtledove's trilogy of the First World War. But it is an alternate history. He starts with the presumption that the Confederates won the Civil War. As a result, when World War One begins, the United States is allied with Germany and Austria; The Confederates are allied with the Mexican Empire, Canada, Britain, and France. You can see that odd configuration in the map at the top of this post.

I just finished the book. And I have ordered the other two books in the trilogy. However, I would not recommend them to others -- for several reasons. The first -- and most important -- is that they are not very good.

The writing suffers the same problem as the John Jakes historical novels, the Left Behind series, or anything written by Tom Clancy. The characters are merely tools to keep the story going. Whether the author kills them off or lets them live simply does not matter. There is no more emotional attachment to them than there would be to random cock roaches.

I will admit the story is well-developed. And the pages keep turning. Turtledove has an interesting unstated philosophy that even if circumstances change, history pretty much takes the course that is familiar to us.

So, how did I end up with this book on my reading table? Here are the connections.

Cruise ships have started visiting the port of Guaymas.
Brenda and Roy have been keeping us posted on the new visitors. In my never-ending desire to stock up on more Trivial Pursuits ammunition, I researched points of interest for Guaymas. And I ran across this doozy: "In the alternate history novel How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove, the Confederate States of America acquire Guaymas together with the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, from an impoverished Mexican Empire. This is a causus belli that sparks the Second Mexican War between the United States and the CSA."

Whether or not I could win a trivia game with the answer, I knew I needed to read the book -- the very idea of the Mexican Empire surviving the first Maximilian fascinated me. My used book store did not have a copy of How Few Remain, but I found the first novel in the subsequent series, left $4 and a bit of my literary dignity behind, and became the proud owner of American Front.

Why do I relay all that -- if I have no intention of recommending the book? Easy. This post is not about the book. It is about the effect we have on one another -- especially through our blogs.

If I had not read Brenda and Roy's interesting post, I would not have read American Front, and I would not have started my hot tub discussion with Michael Dickson.

You know, I think this is just about the way World War One began.


Theresa in Mèrida said...

I love Harry Turtledove, but not his civil war series. I like the ones about Rome and the Byzantine Empire.Actually the problem with most alternative history is that the authors should write one or two books and stop or write other books about different people because eventually it gets too ponderous.

Islaholic Trixie said...

So World War One started in a Hot Tub? LOL!!!

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- Dick Estelle, the radio reader, introduced me to Harry Turtledove during the winter of 92-93. Guns of the South was the book. It started off as a very interesting historical novel -- and quickly shifted to South African time travelers with AK-47s "fixing" the Civil War. I had little interest in picking up one of his books until the Guaymas connection arose. You are correct that extended series are simply not good reads. Even Herman Wouk was seduced by the promise of the never-ending story.

Brenda -- Many a battle has been fought in that tub. I suspect some may have lasted as long as Verdun -- and were as costly.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

Your post made me think of the "Who is on 1st?" routine which I beleive was the intended effect (or affect - I think it is effect ...)

Islagringo said...

Literary dignity? Let's not teach that phrase to our children. People should be encouraged to read, no matter what their age or choice of reading material. It's all good.

(how's that for starting Blogger War One! LOL!)

Steve Cotton said...

AMM -- Interesting connection.

Wayne -- I agree with your point, but I am not as certain about the conclusion. Last year, while distributing Christmas gifts for the Salvation Army, I was surprised to find the books were not moving. I asked a teenage helper. She was shocked that I would even consider a book as a gift. I wanted to sob.

Islagringo said...

Steve, as good as the internet can be, I fear it is to blame for the decrease in our young wanting to enjoy a good book. As a child, the best gift I could get was a book.

Anonymous said...

It's all six degrees of intellectual separation these days. Everything is now linked in interesting, and formerly impossible ways.

And it's to the good. Reading blogs is ever so much more entertaining than watching TV.

Especially yours.


Kim G
Boston, MA

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- Wise words all.