2014. május 6., kedd

You can't cage an eagle - Napoleon In America

The Napoleonic is one of my favourite eras. It’s fascinating how a man with an average stature and lowly social background shook the crumbling world of the privileges and ancient orders.  Was Napoleon a ruthless tyrant who stomped on the achievements of the revolution or the victim of the European reaction, the father of civil code? Was his reign a catastrophe for the Frenchmen or the age of gloire when nothing was impossible? My review about the 2014 alternate history novel Napoleon In America by Shannon Selin.


As I pointed out, alternate history writers should have a good hunting ground in the Napoleonic era; the history-turning events caused by the Corsican are plenty.
 
History would have been much different if a single stray bullet had had its mark on the Bridge of Arcole in Italy, eight years before Napoleon’s enthronement.

It surprised me a bit that the point of deviation in Napoleon In America happened in the aftermath of Bonaparte's career, and even later than I expected. In this storyline, the banished emperor escaped St. Helena’s Island in 1821, in the year of his real life death. Judging from the title only, I supposed Napoleon managed to avoid the British ship of the line Bellerophon and reached his original destination, the United States yet in 1815. Frankly, it’s hard to believe any serious escape attempt by the stomach cancer-stricken cadaver of 1821. 

The emperor of France by merit has a mixed reputation. Indeed, few men in history rose so high and lost so much as Napoleon Bonaparte.

There wouldn’t have been much of a story if the once emperor hadn’t regained his health in the New World in Napoleon In America. Napoleon arrives at a young country and meets a not yet nation where the principles of revolution are the facts of life, the lands are plenty, everybody is his own master, and military is scarce. May the fifty-year old Bonaparte become the greatest of newcomers in the country of immigrants or will he choose the tranquility of farmer life and assimilation like his elder brother Joseph did? I think we all know the answer for that, the rolling stone will seek out glory and new achievements, and the World will tremble again under his boots.



The high watermark of the French empire. The charge of the Old Guard in Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo

I give a fair warning that Shannon Selin’s Napoleon In America is not an easy reading. If let’say Robert Conroy’s alternate history novels are the fast food, this is a rare and original delicacy. Normally, I can finish off a book with average length within two days, but I was sitting on this one for a week. Shannon Selin had recreated the world of the 19th century with punctual accuracy, but there is a danger that the slow-moving of events and the strange dialog may alienate today’s readers, especially if they are not native English-speakers like myself. In this novel, everybody with an education speaks in a periodic style with lots of classic references. Good luck with understanding all of them, but I think I managed to follow the dialog most of the time.

By the half of the book, nothing happens if we don’t count Napoleon’s recovery itself. We have to reconstruct most events from fictitious diplomatic and family posts, weekly newspaper writings, the same way the people of this age did. We get nothing on a plate, messages travel for weeks in this world, unlike the mass media of today which tries to get our attention desperately in every hour. Napoleon in America won’t press you for faster consuming, you have to focus for the understanding, and some knowledge about the historical background won’t hurt either. 

Shannon Selin, the author of Napoleon In America
Napoleon In America is just the beginning of a new fictional universe where the little corporal reshapes the history of both worlds, the Old and the New. We haven’t seen the peak of his carrier yet. I’m wondering where Shannon Selin will take us in the next part.

2014. április 18., péntek

The unworthy offspring - War of the Worlds: Goliath

We are getting back to the War of the Worlds franchise a bit. I have to make up for an old debt of mine. I try to focus  on relatively fresh alternate history/historical fiction material and reviews more and more on these pages, and the War of the Worlds: Goliath of 2012 borderline qualifies that criterion. This is an anime made by Americans, actually. Admittedly, I made only brief trips into the anime world yet. According to my limited cinematic experience, the message and the story of Japanese animes with a Japanese topic are a little hard to grasp onto. It doesn’t work for me either when they try to touch Western history. This happened to me when I was watching the Steamboy anime.

War of the Worlds
. Yes, we have been here before. Tripods surrounded with clouds of poison gas, vaporizing death ray, bloodsucking aliens from Mars, red weed, and the glorious Earth bacteria, you name it. The War of the Worlds: Goliath is an interesting anime adaptation of the original H.G. Wells novel. A historical fiction work with steampunk elements, or more like a pseudo-sequel of the original. 


The plot takes place fifteen years later after the original Martian invasion of 1899 and tells a story about a second attack. The anime refers back to the first invasion with beautiful pictures in the intro. Not a single word is told, but none is needed, they are telltale and plastic, completely functional from a dramaturgical point of view. I’m afraid we have just touched the most valuable parts of the movie already.

Fifteen years ago, faceless invaders from the hell of deep space commited genocide against humanity. Now it's time for a rematch.

World War One has been just postponed



It’s not like the story writers didn’t have some good ideas. Placing an international elite military squad into the age of ultra-nationalism was a daring and promising attempt to get my attention. The respective national consciousnesses of the age were absolute and look incredibly competitive nowadays. I mean, grade school children were taught to verse warmonger poems about exterminating each other, not to mention the racial theories. The Martian invasion changed the Earth of this alternate universe forever, of course. Still, a multi-racial strike force against the aliens promised a lot of interesting interaction between the team members. 

The Goliaths of the human battleline. A lot of effort went into the promotion of the anime.

Somebody said explosions…?


There are some, but I wasn’t satisfied. The main reason for this that the storywriters had settled for a Michael Bay-ish visual orgy with pasteboard characters and action movie cliches. I consider Bay as the apostle of the cinematic equivalent of sleep-denying torture.  He doesn’t use the story to keep your attention but every tricks of visual compulsion. Release me- you are screaming internally. I broke halfway on Transformers 2 and wept.

It's not like the Martians didn't make some improvements.

The War of the Worlds: Goliath is not that bad, but it’s not far off either. Japanese stories are maybe a bit hard to digest, or I’m just lacking the required sensitivity and cultural background to grasp them. Maybe it’s just the different strokes, but the real trainwreck is when Western creators utilize a fashionable template (in this case, the anime-style) to produce a cliched animated action movie. I’m afraid that the War of the Worlds: Goliath is not really more than that. 

Again, much effort into the design and visuals of Goliath. No argument there.
Don’t get me wrong, our nine year old kids will be charmed. But for me, The Great Martian War 1913-1917 had more entertainment value, despite it’s nowhere close to the visuals of the Goliath with its cheap manipulated historical footage and fake interviews. Too much effort into the visuals, too less into the story, that’s why I consider War of the Worlds: Goliath as a failure. H.G. Wells deserves more.



2014. március 24., hétfő

The Royals: Masters of War

When superheroes and the world wars get into the same context somehow, most buffs will associate to the Golden Age of Comic Books. Pictures like Batman hunting for nazi saboteurs in America or Superman wrestling enemy submarines come to my mind. These ancient popular entertainment pieces may strike us as naive and caricature-like, but they just reflected to the spirit of their age. Who knew that very late descendants of these patriotic comic books still appear in our days. The Royals: Masters of War is a six-part historical fiction comics adventure, which takes us back in the time of the biggest crisis of England in the 20th century. 

On these pages, the Battle of Britain is joined by the members of the British Royal Family, and superhero-abilities flow in the blue blood. This post is a review of the first two published episodes.

Hitler and Tojo are in trouble. Mr. pants on the outside of the 40s is teaching them a lesson (and doesn’t forget to encourage you to buy war bonds).

What is in the blue blood?

 

In this alternate universe, flowing royal blood in your veins means having superhuman abilities, those were the source of the power of your ancestors. This power became title and was inherited generation after generation. The superhuman ruling class guarded the purity of its noble bloodline carefully for a reason and kept the newcomers out. This marriage practice lead to interbreeding and the unavoidable mental and physical degeneration. The exhausting and costly Great War had shattered the people’s confidence in the traditional ruling classes and social order. Several ancient royal dynasties like the Romanovs or Habsburgs fell victim to this turmoil.


The East End in Flames. The Blitz, London, 1940.

The British Royal Family: The House of Windsor had chosen to lay low and withdrew from public life. The heirs were declared as powerless for the public, and the king forbid them to use their powers ever again. The Windsors would have kept living their decadent lifes on taxpayers’ money and would have filled the pages of tabloids all right if the Second World War hadn’t happened.


The king returns and seizes the skies (SPOILER)

 

The young and naive blond prince Henry cannot stand the carnage outside and  the suffering of the common people anymore. Instead of distributing tea and some blankets in a bomb shelter, he enters the raging battle above his own home, like his ancestors did in the  times of peril. In a very early part of the storyline, we will meet a serious character flaw of his, but it only makes the prince and the plot more interesting. By the way, the story itself doesn’t follow the historical family tree of the Windsors; the names and characters are different.

When I’m writing these words, yet only two parts of the six were published, but I can tell that the major theme is the superhuman escalation of World War Two. The pictures are beautiful, not Jim Lee- or The Red Star-beautiful but they are pleasant to look at. The Royals: Masters of War comics come with the promise of being extraordinary. Superheroes and the old royal dynasties are a daring but ingenious combination (bloody hell, after the magic-enchanted Soviet empire, I’m laissez faire on the subject…), and I’m really looking forward to the next episodes.

The pictures were taken from the resptective pages of The Royals: Master of War #1-2. Written by: Rob Williams. Artist: Simon Coleby. Publisher: Vertigo Comics

2014. március 14., péntek

Tripods on No Man’s Land – The Great Martian War 1913-1917

Are you familiar with The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells? If not, that is something you have missed. This novel from 1897 is one of the first modern science fiction works and the Holy Grail of the alien invasion genera. H.G Wells, the author, was the Michael Crichton of his day, a real visionary, who fused the invasion literature with the alien element and introduced the total war, a too familiar characteristic of the 20th century conflicts. In time, this forever classic had inspired many followers, and the War of the Worlds became a franchise of popular culture. New adaptations, homages, incarnations continue to appear in our days. In this post, we will take a look at one of the latest examples: The Great Martian War 1913-1917 documentary.

War and remembrance


The Great Martian War 1913-1917 is a 90 minutes long, made-for-television pseudo-documentary, a historical fiction which recalls the events of an alternate First World War like it did happen in our own reality hundred years earlier. To create this pseudo-reality, The Great Martian War uses manipulated and mashed-up historical footage, fake retrospections of surviving witnesses, and so on. 

A deadly and dreaded weapon once, now a museum piece

This time, the scriptwriters did not really more than they transposed the story from the Victorian era and adapted it in a World War One environment. The arrival of the aliens is a shocking event, and the European nations must set aside their growing differences to avoid complete extermination in this struggle. The trenches in North-West Europe are filled with millions of dreading men. These people desperately try to check the alien war machine with their rifles, horse drawn artillery and early biplanes. 


Going over the top


Numerous historical events like the Christmas of 1914, the Somme offensive, chemical warfare, America’s isolatism, the tank attack at Cambrai, the Spanish flu, etc., were reused in the plot. As a matter of fact, we can just replace the alien term with the Germans from World War One. The script doesn’t really help to understand how the conventional armies of humanity manage to hold the line against the seemingly unstoppable, faceless conquerors with heat-rays and energy shields for three years, and we won’t know anything about the fate of Austro-Hungary and Imperial Russia – another major military powers of that age.


What the writers did really catch a hold of is how the contemporary people percept the aliens, for example, how they struggle with the concept of artificial intelligence. Other big bonus point for this work are the visuals. The alien machines roaming on No Man’s Land on day and night are a creepy sight, and their attack drones doing disturbing things with the soldiers with their tentacle-like manipulators raise our innermost fears. 


At the beginning of the understanding


The plot contains several really good ideas, and some turn of events staggered even a seen-a-lot on screen guy like me. The endgame and the development of the conflict hold thought-provoking surprises, and instead of a catharsis, we will face another horizon of war and conflict, and we won’t even know who the real enemy is.


These were the positive points for the story. But I can’t get over the feeling that the war story part could have been a lot better if the scriptwriters had just worked on it a bit longer. The already mentioned West-centered storyline is another heartache of mine. The Great Martian War 1913-1917 is a faithful adaptation of The War of the Worlds, but it’s good for one view only, not more and not less.


2014. március 2., vasárnap

Pickelhaube against the Union blue - 1901

This time, we visit a different era. The turn of the 19th-20th century was the golden age of what we have called imperialism today. Also, the same period was the middle of a diplomacy rampage with which the German Kaiser II. Wilhelm pissed off or alienated almost all major powers and possible Allies. The measure of success in this global pissing contest was the possessing of overseas colonies, the grabbing of land and market on the few still white spots or from each other. In other words, everybody wanted to build an empire and did that in the name of a civilisation mission, which was often the globalized projection of respective national agendas and the big money behind them. Robert Conroy's alternate history novel, 1901 describes a mindblowing what if scenario from this age.

 
The modern history of the United States and the German Empire met at many spots. They both had had to establish a national unity before they entered the aforementioned global playground. It took four years of bloody civil war to preserve the Union, and the decades of reconstruction work absorbed the conquering energies of the USA. For the German unification, the Prussians had to fight their way through the armies of France and the Habsburg Empire. Both fresh predators took their first steps outside their natural hunting grounds at about the same time.  The USA declared Central- and South America offlimits for European colonialism in her Monroe Doctrine, which interfered with the Pan-Germanism and the economic interests of Imperial Germany in the aforementioned areas. 

"George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika.    I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front"


With the defeating of Spain in 1898 and acquiring of the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the USA became a major player outside the continent. This was something the German Empire was thirst for, but never really accomplished. The USA could control the major shipping routes to both American continents from her freshly acquired bases. II. Vilhem tried to purchase at least some of the US spoils, but the Americans were no sellers. One reason of the German failure was the lack of modern ocean-going warships and refueling bases in the Pacific. The land-grabbing efforts of German warships by the Philippines were frustrated by the more formidable American fleet. If latecomers like Imperial Germany wanted to be somebody in this gallery of colonialist bullies, he had to beat up one of the smaller kids in the sandbox and take his lunch money first.

Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the German navy
The German and American fleet building program started at about the same time. By 1901, the opposing battlefleets had comparable strengths, there was clear point of conflict. The USA became one of the potential war opponents of the German Empire, even war plans were made just for case. The attack on the US soil or one of her interests was the brainchild of the Kriegsmarine. The intended target was Puerto Rico, where the German Navy wanted to lure out and destroy the American battlefleet, then force a peace treaty upon the Americans with obvious territorial demands and „compensation” of war expenses. 

The plans went as far as the proposed invasion of New England, the economic and financial center of the USA, but the Army refused to be part of such risky amphibious operation on the other side of the Atlantic. The „Winterarbeiten” papers had sunk silently in the depth of the archives and didn’t reappear until 1971, when curious researchers stumbled upon them.

"The vile Hun and his villainous empire-building"


This is the point of deviation where history takes a different turn in Robert Conroy’s 1901. This time, the Germans decide  go for it, actually, and capture Manhattan and Long Island with a daring amphibious operation. 1901 is the very first alternate history novel of Robert Conroy, which explores how a fictional war between Imperial Germany and the USA would have happened. The German invasion of New England takes the Americans by surprise. The regular army is still busy at pacifying the Philippines, and the Navy is likewise scattered around the globe.


The goal of II. Wilhelm is to win a decisive battle against the American battlefleet, defeat land counterattacks, and force a peace treaty upon the US wherein Washington surrenders his oversesa possessions to Germany, pays an enormous indemnity, and does not rebuild its Navy.  This was the civilized way of war; some big battles until somebody says uncle, and the chaffering restarts at the peace conference table. The problem is that the USA did fight a total war 40 years earlier, and doesn’t seem to follow the European playbook.

The Kaiser Wilhelm II, one of the nine then modern ocean-going battleships of the Kriegsmarine in 1901. Wikipedia.
The opposing forces in this scenario are fairly asymetrical. On sea, the two battlefleets are close to each other in strength. We are talking about the pre-Dreadnought era here; the battleships facing each other became second or third rate vessels by World War One, and the respective ship classes missed Jutland or any major naval action. But in 1901, they are state of art, and instead fading into obscurity, they engage in the biggest naval battle since Trafalgar on these very pages. At first, I found the number of German ocean-going vessels excessive, but if the Russians could sail their coast defence barges from the Baltic to the Tsushima Strait four years later, then why the hell not?

The rival from the other side, the battleship USS Alabama

Last shell? Last man? Last foot of ground? Last Germ?


On land, the Americans have the numbers, but National Guard and State Militia units are nowhere comparable to the Prussian war machine. The soldiers in the piked helmets carry the newest bolt-action Mauser rifles, whereas the boys in blue start this war with the Civil War breech-loading muskets. In real life, the German military staff had a very low opinion about the military virtues of the Americans; they described the Civil War as two armed mobs chasing each other for four years, whereas the Prussian army soundly defeated his continental opponents in weeks. Well, it doesn’t turn out like that in the book otherwise it would be a short entertainment. The situation of the German expeditionary force kinda reminded me the Crusades, where the Western knights were doomed to sink into the ocean of Arabs. 


Robert Conroy describes siege and partisan warfare, propaganda, the case of German-speaking immigrants, token naval actions in 1901. Some turns of events are upright hilarious but very entertaining. Reactivated military leaders of the US will come from surprising places and with a colourful past. These antediluvian generals have just one more war before they will meet their past comrades and answer them how could they change the grey with blue after the cause had been lost. They might refer to the enemy as Yankees sometimes, but that is entirely forgiveable. The other hilarious plot element is how the author likes to kill off historical, famous and infamous big shots in a very early stage of their careers.


Robert Conroy’s 1901 lost no entertaining value since its first appearance in 1991. Most things I have told about Red Inferno by the same author can be applied here. The only major flaw I found that the novel is short. It’s not a hardcore alternate history work, but for casuals like me it was very enjoyable. In fact, I found it so good and easy to read that I will definitely come back with a review about Robert Conroy’s more recent works because the good man is still in business.

And about those two "armed mobs"...



2014. február 20., csütörtök

Ensign of freedom - The Red Star

Spirituality and the history of the modern Russia are an odd combination. In retrospective, the event that really shook the globe in the 20th century was bolshevist coup or the Great October Socialist Revolution by its flashier name. Whatever we call it, this new order renounced the old faith, it banished gods and started to build its own heaven on Earth at any cost. On the ruins of its feudal and denied predecessor a man-eating empire emerged. One thing didn’t change, the Party carefully guarded the beliefs of its subjects. The new ruling class preserved the siege-mentality, which had come into being after many foreign invasions in the previous centuries. The historical fiction universe of The Red Star starts the liberation.

 

What is behind an empire?


The Red Star comics cast magic and spirituality, advanced technology, the grandiosity of the now deceased communist empire into an unique blend. It’s not some weird Post-Soviet romanticism, which is still hungry for the glory of the past. The storyline is full of historical symbols. The Red Star revisits the essence of Russian history; the relation of people and the power through a magic-enchanted mirror. It does this through incredibly powerful poetic and real pictures.

 

Warfare in the fourth dimension

 

Just like its real world counterpart, The Red Star’s empire broke in a long and desperate war on a land, where the inhabitants - driven by different and incomprehensible beliefs - just didn’t know the meaning of giving up. This battlefield expands into the spiritual world: the soul energies of the deceased fuel warfare, the ghosts tempered into weapons engage the still living and each other as well. The legacy of the  sorcerer dictator Imbohl - a burning-hearted revolutionarist once - still holds the fate of the people in iron hands. The less the people knew about the ways of others life the less they questioned the methods of their masters and their own place in the „worker’s paradise”. Because corrupt power stands on the little man and his ignorance.

Skyfurnace Konstantinov

 

The unbreakable resistance of these muslim mortals and their guardians in the spirit world shattered the confidence of the armed pioneers of their universal truth, and some of the surviving warriors under the red banner starts to doubt the doctrines they were raised into. They rebel and start a voyage to find the real enemy and the final truth about the regime that still sticks to the control of the homeland; their people in life and even after their death. This is another historical reference: rebellious warships carry the message of freedom for the oppressed.

Another important historical reference The Red Star touches how power corrupts the champions of the people, and how even the most powerful and ancient guardians of Mother Russia can be deceived. Power and control are complex to understand and master. They change people, but the source of this power is shockingly simple and it is deniable. The crew of the skyfurnace Konstantinov passes previously unknown barriers to liberate the past and the present. They fight cold steel-hearted agents of the power those insist on upkeeping the facade for the sake of glory and imperial greatness.
 
 On the dark side, the often changing fonts and their sizes make The Red Star comics are a bit hard to read and follow. The story flows slowly through the volumes, and the monotonous patriotic sentiments can get tiresome after a time. On the other hand, the pictures are just beautiful, you can decorate your room with copies of them. The main characters are ingenious enough, and they offer quite a variety. The main antagonist looks just like a cybernetized Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings. Now isn't that cool?


But the main values of these comics are the historical sensitivity and the flawlessly molded alloy of distant generas like historical fiction, magic and science-fiction. Another fascinating aspect of The Red Star comics is how they rehabilitate the historically loaded symbol of the Red Star itself. The Red Star is a real gem. And guess what, it could make it to livescreen in our lifetime!

All pictures are the respective details of The Red Star Comics Volume 1-2


2014. február 1., szombat

Ersatz Firefly - Defiance

More then ten years passed since the unrivalled Firefly had started its march into the Valhalla of science-fiction classics. The cancellation of the show left a big hole in the life of the fans or the browncoats as they call themselves. The marriage of the post-Civil War America and the space was a stroke of genius. The stars became the new prairies. The message of the struggling nobodies doesn’t feel less relevant in our times: Deny the authority of the central power, get out of its reach, be on your own way, go always forward, make a home and keep your family together. If that means you have to live under the rules of the jungle where life is cheap, then so be it. This review is about the science-fiction TV-show and franchise Defiance.

You cannot take the Arch from me


After a decade of withdrawal, a new star is knocking the same doors. The spots are shifted this time (minor SPOILERS). Defiance is a real science-fiction show if I may use this oxymoron. Although it’s unusual for one; the plot is confined to Earth. There is no space travel, at least not anymore. First contact with aliens had been made, but the results were disastrous on every level, and cataclysmic events reshaped the face of our home planet in a very short time. What we have here is a junk-civilisation based on human and extraterrestrial technology alike, and the long healing process  has just started after this apocalypse

Valleys are symbols of fresh starts and asylums. The small town of Defiance.

The viewers are dropped into this fresh start; the independent town of Defiance, where humans and several sentient alien species try to overcome not only the hate and ignorance of the past but to avoid the grasps of the reemerging central power, which strives to control and plays the power play on the old corrupt ways. 

Another valley where a man's fate took a turn; the Battle of Serenity Valley.

Where do sins end and where does forgiveness start?


If Firefly was about being your own master and taking care of those who matters for you, then Defiance is about second chances. In my opinion, this show was made for a mature audience with honed sensitivity and learned openness. The main protagonists are past of their biological prime. They have plenty of regrets, dark secrets those are judged easily by people with a stricter moral code. Still, they live, they strife, they hope that something different than before awaits them.

Second chances are metaphors for Defiance in many ways. For example: the first look at it doesn’t tell the tale. After I had seen the pilot, I was sitting on it for two weeks, and I didn’t feel much incentive to go on with. For one thing, I didn’t like the reheated concept of the make-up aliens. But I gave the show a second chance, and now I’m hooked. As the episodes run you get to like Defiance. Like in real life, some people don’t look much at first. But the more you know about them the more intrigued and forgiving you are, the more you care. The characters defy fast understanding, another trait of Firefly. The most important thing is that the fictional world of the show feels living.

The new America in Defiance. The frontier is back.

Now, before the browncoats stone me


Defiance is not Firefly but the closest thing to it  I met on TV
in the past ten years. Defiance is not the most original, but it’s cleverly put together, and you can feel the enthusiasm behind it. Even the make-up aliens are starting to be interesting. The episodes can stand as their own, and as they flow they show some pretty decent special effects. Maybe the makers counted on the aforementioned sci-fi nostalgia because you can hear familiar tunes from Firefly and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (no wonder, it's the same composer) time and again.

The male protagonist Nolan with his adopted alien daughter (left) and the major of Defiance; Amanda (right)

To sum it up, the first season of Defiance (twelve episodes with the pilot) is promising, and the show holds great potential. I didn’t feel like rewatching the episodes since Firefly and Rome. It has an impressive background story and timeline to present the show on these very pages. The alien races are colourful (literally) and plenty. One of them feels like a medieval Shakespearean society from the old continent, another reminds me of North American indians, a third looks like they just arrived from Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and so on. Grant Bowler plays his seen-a-lot character with boyish charm, Julie Benz is gorgeous and charismatic in dignity as ever. Defiance-fans, you are not alone! I totally ship Joshua Nolan and Amanda Rosewater (Nolanda?)! Let’s hope for the best and wait for the second season of Defiance starting in Juny.



Attila

2014. január 23., csütörtök

Primordial jaws - Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror

I haven’t planned this post. My original intention had been to write a review about the Steamboy anime, but watching it didn’t provoke enough thought. Then it struck me that I’m fond of prehistoric beasts, cryptids, mythical creatures and the fictional toying with them in a modern environment. Steve Alten’s Meg-series do exactly this, and place a long extinct marine predator; the giant shark Megalodon in the recent times. The Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror is the first novel of this „shark-guy”. This book pretty much redefines our fear from the long left natural element; the saltwater.
 

A Lost World in the deep sea


Steve Alten’s Meg-books are not new. The first novel; Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror had appeared in 1997, and it spawned four published and one planned sequels (one is actually a prequel), so the show keeps going. It doesn’t belong exactly to the historical fiction or alternate history category. We have to overlook that the pseudo-scientific approach  to explain the return of the supershark stands on marble feet. By this book, a relic population of Megalodon sharks survived in the depth and under the enormous pressure of the Mariana Trench. 

I would like to know his dentist

Now (SPOILER), it’s known from the sequels that the still existence of the Megalodon is just the start. A whole primeval ecosystem; a sort of ancient refuge for the biggest and baddest exists in the deep water sea. Whereas there is no scientific proof that such depth, complete darkness and pressure can support more life than palm-sized amoebas, sea cucumbers and some shrimps. No vertebrates this far, let alone energy-guzzling super predators. They haven’t got more merit than let’s say Nazis on the dark side of the Moon.

 

We are gonna need a gunboat


But the heck with it, even if the Meg doesn’t feel real it’s very entertaining. The reappearance of something that doesn’t belong makes our underused natural survival senses tingling. We can feel the excitement, the challenge, the gut-gripping fear even in the armchair in a heated room. The enormous, hyper-competitive shark that hunted whales – thanks to a human deep sea research project – cuts loose in the shallower, oxygen- and nutrient-richer waters. The trench-diet in the dark is over, now it’s feeding-frenzy time for the surviving Megalodon and a whole nautical empire to regain.


 Jaws! Now with even more revenge!


Before somebody expects a Jaws-like storyline with Chief Brody-like character trying to protect a global Amity from the monster, I have to tell it borrows from Moby Dick as well, a classic and respectable origin. We have a wounded human protagonist – a widely known crackpot for giant deep-sea sharks -, who returns to face and overcome his personal Leviathan and life-ruiner with shaking knees, a bunch of lovable and hateable supporting characters, a body count of a good slasher movie, a self-reflecting sense of humour, a badass endgame. What do we need more?


This time, the fish is not out of the water. It’s in it, and we are out!

 

No kidding, read Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, and you will never look at the sea the same way again. It won’t be the ever calling back birthplace of life anymore but a depth of mind burning horrors, where our inland evolutionary triumph, our proud consciousness matters little in the face of gigantic jaws. And us, the lumbering tourists in the reign of Megalodon are nothing more than low fat-ratio delicacies for the most effective killing machine mother nature ever created. It’s a nasty end, I don’t wish to anyone. You don’t see it coming, you don’t have a sporting chance to fight it, and it scares you shitless in the last frozen seconds. You cannot even look into to eye of fit before it grinds you into minced meat.
Frankly, I would see rather Steve Alten’s story in a well-made movie than Asylum’s mass-produced junk. You don’t need battleship-sized and stratosphere-jumping megasharks to make a badass monster, the past is scary enough. Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror is a natural horror-story, and it delivers the thrill pretty well. The only thing bothers me that why do such large predators keep going after the skinny humans, when there isn’t really much fat and meat on our skeletons to much on. The plot requires it, of course. Any road, if you liked the first go for the rest. Many other creepy monsters are lurking in the darkness.

Attila

2014. január 8., szerda

Redcoats of the Twentieth Century – The Foresight War



Happy new year! What could trigger the most cataclysmic changes in world history in historical fiction? The most dangerous gamechanger is not a single piece of equipment or a lone ship but a single human mind from the future. Unexplained time travel occurs, and the dream scenario of military history buffs comes true, they can aid their favourite side with their tremendous knowledge. One Englishman can reshape the way his nation will fight this war. Who knows, maybe  the British Empire endures after the Foresight War. Military history expert Anthony G. Williams presents:


 The foresight superpowers (minor SPOILERS)


This is what this book, The Foresight War is about. A British military history professor (who else) makes an unexpected and unexplained time travel from 2003 to 1933. Maybe it's an odd alien sociological experiment, but the fellow actually has the chance to change the course of history and trigger something better than the pyrrhic victory awaits the British twelve years later. Now, to make the story more interesting, someone from future prompts the other side, the Axis as well! I don't think I reveal a big secret if I tell you that the British got the brighter one.

 
The novel is good enough to inspire fans. British  "Churchill" main battle tanks of The Foresight War. Picture from http://paintfan08.deviantart.com/gallery/7826067

The existence of these two messengers results in that the two World War Two combatants, Britain and the Nazi Germany will be far ahead in military doctrine and technology than the rest. What more, this reality's real contenders will strive for not repeating the mistakes of the „future”. The outcome of this altered war will lay on the struggle of these two foresight superpowers.

 

And the counterpart: the German Panzerkampfwagen IV "Panther"

A cleaner war for a better outcome


The battlefield technology in The Foresight War is more and more Cold War-like. This alternate World War Two is about the arms race between the two foresight powers, a cleaner war with more button-pushing and less of the human element. It's almost a clean war instead of the all out struggle, at least on the Western Front it is. 

The flow of events and the reshaped balance of power reminds me the Napoleonic Wars, where the only real opponent in the open was the British Army for the French, and the Old Guard is now the elite of the German army. This time, not a peace-minded nation tries to endure an unwanted war. These British redcoats of the 20th Century are an even match for the German war machine, and are prepared to set things right on the continent, before the commies take it all.

One single scout plane  in the right place and at the right time can change the outcome of the most dramatic battle over the Pacific

Everything before this big showdown are foreplay, and the book builds up this suspension well. What I did miss are more battle details from France, and the Eastern Front is very obscure as well. The flow of events are not really worked out well sometimes. The endgame is hasty and for me it was unbelievable. The historical characters, big shots are made from cardboard.


The green Americans enter the fray with the new Pershing tank in Europe in The Foresight War

A honourable effort


The way I see it, Anthony G. William's The Foresight War isn't much of a serious work about historical fiction, rather an interesting peak about the fictional use of shelved or afterthought technology that didn't make it to the front in time. It has its moments. If people outside the military history buff circles will appreciate it is an open question. Despite my grieving I enjoyed it, but the Foresight War wasn't something that made my mind moving. It's a tribute for the forum dwelling military-minded ilk and the odd British, God bless them!

Attila