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What to Read Next (April 2012 edition)

It is a good problem to have. What to read next?? Indulge in some recent SF/Fantasy? Read an old classic? Venture into my other fetish, historical non-fiction? Like most, I have a stack of books (well over 100 siting in my study) that I have collected to read. Yet different  influences always intrude to bring different tomes to the top of the stack.

Currently in the running:[amazon_carousel widget_type="ASINList" width="500" height="200" title="" market_place="US" shuffle_products="False" show_border="False" asin="0915368617, 1616146117, 1590202929, 0394746236, B000IOB9IU" /]

The Judging Eye by R. Scott Baker

This is the first book in the second trilogy (The Aspect-Emperor) that follows The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, which saw Kellhus become the first true Aspect-Emperor of this fictitious land in a thousand years. Since the second book is not out yet (at least in paperback) I may hold off on this one; it has lots of political machinations and multiple characters that would make it easier to remember if I read the entire trilogy back-to-back-to-back.

The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy was one of the best at depicting a slow transition from a “normal” world into the chaos of a fantastical world (my review of World’s End at SFSignal). Jack Churchill is an enjoyable hero to observe, and Chadbourn sets up the battle between light and dark well, pulling in lots of different mythos to go along with the Pendragon spirit. Reading this one and the concluding one in the trilogy are high on the list. And, Chadbourn follows the memory rule: he puts a summary at the beginning, realizing that most of us don’t remember Jack of Ravens (the first in this trilogy, my notes here) since we read it long ago.

The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vol. 1 by Shelby Foote

At 840 pages, the first volume of Shelby Foote’s amazing Civil War narrative is the very definition of reader commitment. And I already did a preview of the first chapter, a narrative of Jefferson Davis resigning from Congress as secession nears. But I will wait until I have collected the last two in the trilogy, and read them all straight through.

At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange

Having recently completed Red Sun (an alternate history which assumes the Japanese invaded Oahu after Pearl Harbor, notes here) and Retribution by Max Hastings, which chronicles the end of World War II in the Pacific, I’d like to dive into Prange’s classic detailed history of Pearl (and follow that up with Miracle at Midway by Prange)

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith

Norstrilia is Paul Linebarger’s (writing as Cordwainer Smith) only science fiction novel. I ordered both the novel and the full collection of short stories (The Rediscovery of Man) in the excellent NESFA Press hardbacks. I’ve read Atomsk (my notes here), Linebarger’s (writing as Carmichael Smith) post-World War II thriller, and I enjoyed the psychological warfare perspectives he threw in. As it is standalone, this novel will most likely be next in line.


Red Sun: The Invasion of Hawai'i After Pearl Harbor. A Fictional History by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson

Red Sun: The Invasion of Hawai’i After Pearl Harbor. A Fictional History by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson

Red SunRed Sun is a fictional World War II history that assumes different outcomes of several events in the Pacific Theater of World War II:

  • The carrier USS Enterprise was in Pearl Harbor during the attack, and was destroyed (and, in fact, blocked the Harbor); in fact, the carrier was due in Pearl Harbor the morning on the attacks, but was delayed due to a storm and was several hundred miles away.
  • The Japanese did indeed launch the third air strike against Pearl Harbor; in fact, they did not, fearing counter-attacks from the carriers USS Enterprise and Lexington, whose whereabouts were unknown.
  • The Japanese subsequently invaded and overtook Hawaii.

The book was written in 2001 by Richard Ziegler and Patrick M. Patterson, two instructors from the Honolulu Community College, and uses the above assumptions, combined with knowledge of Japanese and U.S. actions in other theaters to tell a compelling story. Through three different types of dialog (called Vistas, Vignettes and Voices), the story unfolds through fictional history lessons, personal accounts and reflections.

After having recently read Retribution, Max Hasting’s excellent account of the end of World War II in the Pacific, the references to other battles, to the treatments by the Japanese of their prisoners and the attitudes of the Japanese themselves all ring true in Red Sun. It is a very plausible what-if alternate history, complete with a set of notes at the end about what events were altered or assumed altered for the story. (more…)

Texas and the Mexican War by Charles M. Robinson III

Texas and the Mexican War by Charles M. Robinson III

In between the Texas Revolution (1835-36)and the U.S. Civil War (1861-65),there was the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1847).

The United States fought a war with Mexico for several reasons: annexation of Texas to the United States, the American belief in Manifest Destiny, political instability in Mexico, and a desire for war in both countries.

Thus begins Charles M. Robinson III’s short (91 pages) overview, Texas and the Mexican War.Mr. Robinson reviews not only the actions of the armies of both sides, but the political activities, which echo those occurring in our own times. It focuses mainly on those events that affected or were affected by Texans. The majority of the book follows the path of General Zachary Taylor, from gathering troops in Louisiana to support Texas in anticipation of annexation through moving his troops from Corpus Christi up to the Nueces River boundary (where Mexico believed the border was) and down to the Rio Grande (where the United States wanted the border to be). (more…)

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Growing up in San Antonio in the 1980s, my brother and I fell firmly into the Rock and Roll camp, versus those country and western afficiandos whose pickup trucks frequently ended up in ditches (or worse, at the kicker bars!).

But our tastes diverged. Bob, Tom, Dan and I were at every heavy metal concert, in line for Judas Priest, April Wine, AC/DC, UFO…pretty much any band that had two or more guitars and could be played loud. My brother was listening to RnR, but venturing more into the Pink Floyd sound…which I considered “the dark side”; it wasn’t country, but it wasn’t heavy metal.

Then he brought home an album with the back ofa naked dude on the cover staring at a red star. I knew he’d lost it.

He then cranked up “Working Man” from All the World’s A Stage, and I was hooked. I even used some of the themes from their songs for my first fiction attempts in high school and college; the obsession had begun.

Thirty years later, the DVD release of Beyond the Lighted Stage not only goes through the band’s history and provides some excellent concert footage guaranteed to cause flashbacks, but it begs the question: why aren’t these guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Is it simply because they are Canadian? Their lyrics too complex? Their playing just too good? Waiting on their new album, Clockwork Angels, before you let them in?

The first DVD of the two DVD set walks through the history of the band, starting with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson’s school boy friendship as the kids who got beaten up through their latest endeavors. The documentary walks through their first contract, what drove them to replace their first drummer, John Rutsey, with Neil Peart and how Peart’s lyrics started them into the longer “saga” songs; how they went out on a limb with the concept album2112 (the album my brother started with) against their label’s wishes but to the raves of fans; and an excellent segment on Hemispheres, my favorite Rush album, how complex and virtuoso each of their playing was on that album and all of their albums. It also taunts their fashion sense (or lack there of) and Geddy’s voice.

The list of things that Geddy’s voice sounds like:

  • a rat caught in a wringer;
  • a hamster in overdrive;
  • the dead howling in Hades;
  • Mickey Mouse on helium (from Alex);
  • strangling a hamster;
  • a cat being chased out the door with a blow torch up its ass;

The story finishes with the band taking a break as Peart, working through the death of his child and wife, takes off on his motorcycle, and ultimately rejoins the group (Note: Peart has written several books about his ride, good reading). There are great concert scenes all the way through (I did not glimpse me or my brother), including excellent Farewell to Kings tour footage and one of Peart pounding out “Tom Sawyer”.

The second DVD starts off with some longer segments from the first side (not outtakes, perhaps director’s cuts of scenes, like Geddy and Alex searching the school for the room where they played their first gig). But the jewels of the second DVD are the concert footage, especially the “Canadian Bandstand” footage of a very young Geddy, Alex and initial drummer John Rutsey cranking out “Best I Can” and “Working Man” while teen school kids from Laura Secord SS sit on their hands in the auditorium (from 1974)…priceless. A full jam of my favorite Rush song, “La Villa Strangiato” is included, along with “Between the Sun and Moon”, “Far Cry”, “Entre Nous”, “Bravado” and “YYZ” (with Geddy Lee ripping the bass while some dude takes clothes out of a dryer on stage?).

Put them in the RnR HOF. After all, as the DVD cover proclaims, “….Ranked third in consecutive gold or platinum albums after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones…”, they are with pretty heady company.


The National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

For anyone with interest in history in general and World War II in particular, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas is a must see.front

There are three main buildings housing separate exhibits:
- the George H.W. Bush Gallery, which has a chronological exhibit of the war in the Pacific;
- the Pacific Combat Zone, which has the large pieces, including planes, PT boats and artillery;
- the Admiral Nimitz Museum, housing a history of the Nimitz Hotel and a short history of Admiral Nimitz.
There are also other areas, including the Plaza of the Presidents (featuring the ten Presidents who served in WWII), the Memorial Courtyard and the Japanese Garden of Peace. The staff recommends a day and a half to see everything; we (my son, my step-father who is a WWII Vet (and thus got in free!) and I) spent most of a full day. Details below and more photos below.


The World Crisis by Winston Churchill (Part 1: 1911 - 1914)

The World Crisis by Winston Churchill (Part 1: 1911 – 1914)

Winston Churchill was a prolific author, and received the Nobel prize in Literature in 1953. His more well know historical works are his six volume memoirs of the Second World War, and his four volume History of the English Speaking Peoples. Both of these sit upon my shelves, but I started with his lesser known history/memoir of World War I, The World Crisis.

Though I am reading the “Abridged and Revised Edition, With an Additional Chapter on The Battle of the Marne”, I’m making my notes in accordance with The World Crisis‘ original separated books (that, and the fact that the book is longer than my memory). The Abridgment contains the first four volumes:

  • Volume 1: 1911 – 1914
  • Volume 2: 1915
  • Volume 3: 1916-1918
  • Volume 4: The Eastern Front

Volume 5, The Aftermath, is not included in the Abridged version, and is difficult to find. If anyone has a spare copy, they are welcomed to speed it my way.

The first volume was published in 1923, with the last volume and the Abridgment in 1931. Initially it was to only cover the Admiralty and the naval war with Germany, but expanded to cover the full of the war, including Churchill’s defense of his own actions in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli (the genesis for these volumes, according to the intro from Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert) and Churchill’s disdain for the decisions in the trench warfare stage.

As opposed to an event by event history, this is more of an observer’s record, with the observer in this case having a front row seat to the Admiralty, the fall of Antwerp and other events. It falls short it detailing some of the non-naval happenings at the beginning, and it is certainly biased; but it is an excellent read, infused with Churchill’s passion. (more…)

A History of the French Legation in Texas by Kenneth Hafertepe

A History of the French Legation in Texas by Kenneth Hafertepe

Driving south on I-35 through Austin, Texas, I often wonder two things:

  • why didn’t I take the tollway so I wouldn’t be stuck in traffic?
  • what is The French Legation, pointed towards by sign tempting one in the direction opposite 6th Street?

A History of the French Legation in Texas by Kenneth Hafertepe answers at least the second question, describing “the oldest remaining structure in Austin”, starting with the building of the Legation in 1840 and 1841, when Austin was a year old. This is the 4th book in TSHA’s (Texas State Historical Association) Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series (list of the series here). Early in the book, he explains what a Legation is:

Today all nations send ambassadors to each other and set up embassies, but in the nineteenth century, only the great powers sent and received ambassadors. In dealing with lesser states a great power like France would send and receive a minister, who operate a legation. Fledgling states – like Texas – were entitled to a legation, but without a minister. Instead, an officer of lower rank was left in charge – a charge d’affaires. (more…)

The Battle of San Jacinto by James W. Pohl

The Battle of San Jacinto by James W. Pohl

Every kid who has gone through elementary school in or around Houston has been to the San Jacinto Monument on a field trip (and skinned a knee going down the stairs of the Battleship Texas, the WWI and II era ship which some kids mistakenly thought helped Sam Houston win the battle of San Jacinto). This book,the3rd book in TSHA’s (Texas State Historical Association) Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series (list of the series here), provides a concise description of the events leading to “one of the most decisive battles of the world” and the battle itself.

The book starts with colonists from America settling in Texas, content to be Mexican citizens. Changes in the Mexican government, brought about by Santa Anna as he came into power, swayed many of these settlers against Mexico, including the influential Stephen F, Austin; Austin was imprisoned under false pretenses for two years in Mexico, and upon his release, he used his influence for revolution and against Mexico.

Early victories heartened the revolutionaries, but the massacre at Goliad and defeat at the Alamo by Santa Anna’s massive army put general Sam Houston and his smaller, undisciplined force retreating towards East Texas. (more…)

The Battle of the Alamo by Ben H. Proctor

The Battle of the Alamo by Ben H. Proctor

This 2nd book in TSHA’s (Texas State Historical Association) Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series (list of the series here) starts on December 4, 1835, with Ben Milam challenging the Texas rag tag army to attack the Mexican army under General Cos that was entrenched in San Antonio. The Texans pushed the Mexican army across the San Antonio River, leading Cos to negotiate terms to leave Texas forever.

But obviously that is not the end of the story. Ben Proctor’s concise but thorough history describes the build up, the battle and the aftermath. As with the other books in this series, the included black and white images and references are superb.

The Texas revolutionaries, appealing to words and ideas that inspired Americans, spread the word of Mexican oppression, causing a flood of volunteers from all parts of the young country. Proctor gives a good background on this, including a brief bio of Jim Bowie, sent to destroy the Alamo but partnering with Col. James Neill in declaring “we would rather die in these ditches than give them to the enemy.”

The arrival of William Barret Travis on February 3 and Davy Crockett on February 8 completed the legendary triumvirate. Proctor describes each, including the rivalry between Travis and Bowie, resolved ultimately through Bowie’s ongoing illness. He then moves to describe Santa Anna, bent on making a statement after Cos’ defeat. The description of Santa Anna’s army, including Mayan conscripts who did not speak Spanish, and the harsh march from Mexico to San Antonio, is particularly well written.

The commanders of the Alamo were surprised at the size of Santa Anna’s force, and set several legendary requests for aid. But, after many days of siege, cannon fire and nightly bugle calls, on March 6 the fort was breached, it’s defenders killed.

The Battle of the Alamo has 9 excellent black and white images, and is 40 pages in the print edition. This review is of the Kindle edition.

Texas Popular History Series

We’ve been working with the good folks at the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), publishers of the Texas Almanac, to convert an excellent series of 19 popular history books. This series, the Fred Rider Cotten Popular History series, features books about different places and events in Texas’ rich history. Each book is well documented and footnoted, with great pictures. They range between 40 to 144 pages, and they are extremely affordable on the Kindle at $4.99 each. They are also available in bundles (cleverly named “Cotten Bales”, get it?) of like topics.

The series chronicles:

  • Six historical battles (Alamo, San Jacinto, Goliad, Texas/Mexican War and two books on Texas in the Civil War);
  • The history of five cities/places (Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Galveston and McKinney Falls);
  • Four historic houses and the people who occupied them;
  • Four Forts, and their impact on Texas History.

A more detailed list is in the table below. I’ll post reviews of each one (look for titles with underlines) and links to the Kindle versions via the covers (clickable) in the table below as they become available for Kindle.

COVERTitleAuthorYear PublishedPgs Print Edition
The Old Stone FortMcDonald, Archie197148
The Battle of the Alamo"Proctor, Ben H.198640
The Battle of San JacintoHarfertepe, Kenneth198964
A History of the French Legation in Texas",Pohl, James W.198956
A History of Aston VillaHarfertepe, Kenneth199168
The McFaddin-Ward HouseFoy, Jessica and Linsley, Judith Walker199272
The Samuel May Williams HomeHenson, Margaret Swett199252
Remember GoliadRoell, Craig H.1994100
Fort DavisWooster, Robert199458
Austin: A History of the Capital CityHumphrey, David C.199784

Dallas: A History of "Big D"Hazel, Michael V.199780
Fort LancasterFrancell, Lawrence J.199676
Civil War TexasWooster, Ralph A.199988
McKinney FallsHenson, Margaret Swett199964
Galveston: A History and GuideMcComb, David G.200068
", war-by-charles-m-robinson-iii/\"">Texas and the Mexican WarRobinson, Charles M. III2004117

Fort Worth: A Texas OriginalSelcer, Richard F2004144
Fort ConchoMatthews, James T.2005100

Sacred MemoriesMcMichael, Kelly2009128
Galveston History Seriescombines Galveston, Ashton Villa and Samuel May Williams Home eBooks2010
Austin History Seriescombines Austin, French Legation and McKinney Falls eBooks2010
Battles of the Texas Revolution Seriescombines The Battle of San Jacinto, Battle of the Alamo, and Remember Goliad eBooks2010
Texas Cities History Seriescombines Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Galveston eBooks2011

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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