nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Tuppy:   Guess what! I'm going to the opera tonight.
Bertie:   Opera, Tuppy?
Tuppy:   Cora's singing in the, um, Barber of Figaro.
Bertie:   Is that the one about the pyramids?
Barmy:   Sounds like it is, from the name.

Love it!

14 June 2014 05:55 pm
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (amused)
Working on the yellow muslin 1810s dress (getting ready to cut out) and watching/listening to Jeeves & Wooster.  From "Bertie Sets Sail," while steaming into New York Harbor:


Bertie: Now Jeeves, why do you think they built all these tall buildings?

Jeeves: Well, sir, it was partly because of the restricted size of Manhattan Island, and partly because the island is solid granite and therefore capable of supporting such structures.

Bertie: Nothing to do with having got the plan sideways, then?

Jeeves: ... No, sir.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (oops)
I've posted it before, too, but it was *checks* FOUR years ago. So enjoy anyway!

This is an excerpt from a spy story by Alistair MacLean (When Eight Bells Toll). It's the middle of the night, and the protagonist is on a short grass landing strip, near the enemy base (a private castle on a Scottish island).

The strip was smooth and flat and I made good time without having to use the big rubber torch I had with me. I didn't dare use it anyway, not so close to the castle. There was no light to be seen from there but that was no guarantee that the ungodly weren't maintaining a sleepless watch on the battlements. If I were the ungodly, I'd have been maintaining a sleepless watch on the battlements. I stumbled over something warm and soft and alive and hit the ground hard.

My nerves weren't what they had been forty-eight hours ago and my reactions were comparatively fast. I had the knife in my hand and was on him before he could get to his feet. To his four feet. He had about him the pungent aroma of a refugee from Tim Hutchinson's flensing shed. Well might they say why stinks the goat on yonder hill who seems to dote on chlorophyll. I said a few conciliatory words to our four-footed friend and it seemed to work for he kept his horns to himself. I went on my way.

This humiliating sort of encounter, I'd noticed, never happened to the Errol Flynns of this world. Moreover, if Errol Flynn had been carrying a torch a little fall like that would not have smashed it. Had he been carrying only a candle it would still have kept burning brightly in the darkness. But not my torch. Not my rubber encased, rubber mounted bulb, plexiglass guaranteed unbreakable torch. It was kaput. I fished out the little pencil torch and tried it inside my jacket. I could have spared myself the caution, a glowworm would have sneered at it. I stuck it back in my pocket and kept going.

I didn't know how far I was from the precipitous end of the cliff and I'd no intention of finding out the hard way. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled forward, the glowworm leading the way. I reached the cliff edge in five minutes and found what I was looking for almost at once...

I heard a slight noise behind me. A moderately fit five-year-old grabbing me by the ankles could have had me over the edge with nothing I could do to prevent it. Or maybe it was Billy the Kid back to wreak vengeance for the rude interruption of his night's sleep. I swung around with torch and gun at the ready. It was Billy the Kid, his yellow eyes staring balefully out of the night. But his eyes belied him, he was just curious or friendly or both. I moved back slowly till I was out of butting range, patted him weakly on the head and left. At this rate I'd die of heart failure before the night was out.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (thoughtful)

"Haven't you ever been disappointed yourself? Wanting to go to a party, and not being allowed to at the last minute, and all that?"

"Oh, yes," agreed Philip. "Not parties, but other things. But I didn't know grown-up people could be disappointed about anything. I thought they could do anything they liked."

Hitherto Philip, simple soul, had regarded disappointment and hope deferred as part of the necessary hardships of youth, bound to melt away in due course, in company with toothache, measles, tears, treats, early bedtimes, and compulsory education, beneath the splendid summer sun of incipient manhood. Most of us cherish the same illusion; and the day upon which we first realise that quarrels and reconciliations, wild romps and reactionary dumps, big generous impulses and little acts of petty selfishness, secret ambitions and passionate longings, are not mere characteristics of childhood, to be abandoned at some still distant milestone, but will go on with us right through life, is the day upon which we become grown up.


From A Knight on Wheels, by Ian Hay (1914), via Project Gutenberg
(The "children" in question are not so small - Philip is fourteen, and the other is probably much the same.)


I just started reading this book and I have no idea how much I'll like the whole thing, but so far I've rather enjoyed it. There's a lot of humor so far. But this little tidbit stood out to me for a different reason. For all that being grown-up is not so fun at times, it's really true that "quarrels and reconciliations, wild romps and reactionary dumps, big generous impulses and little acts of petty selfishness, secret ambitions and passionate longings" aren't childish. They're human!

And that is an encouraging thought.

;)
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (thoughtful)

"Haven't you ever been disappointed yourself? Wanting to go to a party, and not being allowed to at the last minute, and all that?"

"Oh, yes," agreed Philip. "Not parties, but other things. But I didn't know grown-up people could be disappointed about anything. I thought they could do anything they liked."

Hitherto Philip, simple soul, had regarded disappointment and hope deferred as part of the necessary hardships of youth, bound to melt away in due course, in company with toothache, measles, tears, treats, early bedtimes, and compulsory education, beneath the splendid summer sun of incipient manhood. Most of us cherish the same illusion; and the day upon which we first realise that quarrels and reconciliations, wild romps and reactionary dumps, big generous impulses and little acts of petty selfishness, secret ambitions and passionate longings, are not mere characteristics of childhood, to be abandoned at some still distant milestone, but will go on with us right through life, is the day upon which we become grown up.


From A Knight on Wheels, by Ian Hay (1914), via Project Gutenberg
(The "children" in question are not so small - Philip is fourteen, and the other is probably much the same.)


I just started reading this book and I have no idea how much I'll like the whole thing, but so far I've rather enjoyed it. There's a lot of humor so far. But this little tidbit stood out to me for a different reason. For all that being grown-up is not so fun at times, it's really true that "quarrels and reconciliations, wild romps and reactionary dumps, big generous impulses and little acts of petty selfishness, secret ambitions and passionate longings" aren't childish. They're human! And that is a comforting thought.

:)
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (monster hunter international)
Franks is a government agent, of a sort.

The G-Ride speedometer pegged at a hundred and forty miles an hour but we were going much faster as we entered Montgomery and headed west on the 85.  The black-armored Suburban had been delivered to Franks sometime in the last few days by some of his minions and I was glad of it.  Although MHI had a lot of vehicles, none of them apparently had a... quarter-million-horsepower engine forged in the fires of Mordor like this thing apparently did.  It normally took me forty-five minutes to hit the outskirts of town from Cazador, but Franks had done it in less than twenty, and I wasn't exactly averse to speeding.  The demonic roar of the engine was almost as loud as the banshee siren that warned everyone else to get out of the way or be flattened beneath our armored steel bumpers.  Our tax dollars had equippred Agent Franks with the SUV from Hell.- Monster Hunter Vendetta, by Larry Correia, Ch. 6.

*giggles*



In annoying news, Goodreads has not yet implemented a "reread" option.  I will have to remember, manually add rereads to my total reading count, and manually calculate goal percentages.  Which pretty much negates my major motivation for joining Goodreads in the first place.  To paraphrase Dr. Jones (Sr.), "I wrote it down so I wouldn't have to remember!"

Yes, I haven't done July's roundup. It's pathetic, I'm warning you.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Monster Hunter International)
Franks is a government agent, of a sort.

The G-Ride speedometer pegged at a hundred and forty miles an hour but we were going much faster as we entered Montgomery and headed west on the 85.  The black-armored Suburban had been delivered to Franks sometime in the last few days by some of his minions and I was glad of it.  Although MHI had a lot of vehicles, none of them apparently had a... quarter-million-horsepower engine forged in the fires of Mordor like this thing apparently did.  It normally took me forty-five minutes to hit the outskirts of town from Cazador, but Franks had done it in less than twenty, and I wasn't exactly averse to speeding.  The demonic roar of the engine was almost as loud as the banshee siren that warned everyone else to get out of the way or be flattened beneath our armored steel bumpers.  Our tax dollars had equipped Agent Franks with the SUV from Hell.- Monster Hunter Vendetta, by Larry Correia, Ch. 6.

*giggles*



In annoying news, Goodreads has not implemented a "reread."  I will have to remember, manually add rereads to my total reading count, and manually calculate goal percentages.  Which pretty much negates my major motivation for joining Goodreads in the first place.  To paraphrase Dr. Jones (Sr.), "I wrote it down so I wouldn't have to remember!"

Yes, I haven't done July's roundup. It's pathetic, I'm warning you.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
This time I'm quick with another Alistair MacLean review!  In the past year I've pretty much exhausted his pre-1970 books.  Now I'm working my way through the later ones. (Complete list and links here.)  I'm not bothering to read them in order, since by most accounts their quality, although uniformly poor in comparison to his previous excellence, varies.  I'd rather go in with poor expectations and be surprised.

To be entirely frank, I'm getting this review out of the way because I'm wanting to ramble. As I've read more and more MacLeans, I'm really beginning to grasp the depth and variety and consistencies of his work.  In addition, there are certain allegations on the Wikipedia MacLean article that I want to address.

Athabasca )
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
This time I'm quick with another Alistair MacLean review!  In the past year I've pretty much exhausted his pre-1970 books.  Now I'm working my way through the later ones. (Complete list and links here.)  I'm not bothering to read them in order, since by most accounts their quality, although uniformly poor in comparison to his previous excellence, varies.  I'd rather go in with poor expectations and be surprised.

To be entirely frank, I'm getting this review out of the way because I'm wanting to ramble. As I've read more and more MacLeans, I'm really beginning to grasp the depth and variety and consistencies of his work.  In addition, there are certain allegations on the Wikipedia MacLean article that I want to address.

Athabasca )
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
I've had a few friends-list additions (Yay!) since I last wrote about Alistair MacLean, one of my Favorite Authors Evah. To sum up, since explaining would take too long, he wrote action/adventure/spy novels from the 1950s to the 1980s. They particularly appeal to me because they (1) are really exciting, (2) are complexly and carefully plotted, (3) have really good characters, (4) are written with exquisite and delightful language and wording, (5) have no more profanity than would be found in a typical 1930's mystery, and (6) have the perfect touch of romance while lacking any sexual language, double entendres, or escapades whatsoever.

The primary drawback to MacLean's writing is that reasons (1)-(4) are not consistent throughout his books. He became an alcoholic, and I understand that's the primary reason why his writing declined so strikingly. I am a compulsive, extremely fast reader of fiction, but my experiences with his work range from I'm-staying-up-til-4-to-finish to I'm-finally-finished-and-I-can't-remember-what-happened. It's really sad. Thankfully, the good stuff outweighs the bad, and even his "bad" is bad only in comparison.

Below I freely adapt text and lists from Wikipedia, where I learned just why my reader experiences varied so widely when I was first trying to find his stuff. (I don't think it's in print - go for used paperbacks and the library.) The breakdown into periods and styles are generalizations, but reasonably accurate and fairly useful.  The links are to my reviews.  I have read all the ones in bold.



Now that I've set the stage, here are two more reviews. Bro. No. 1 gave me a gift certificate to the used book store for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago I went on a spree and got about a dozen books. Among them were When Eight Bells Toll and Puppet on a Chain.





nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
I've had a few friends-list additions (Yay!) since I last wrote about Alistair MacLean, one of my Favorite Authors Evah. To sum up, since explaining would take too long, he wrote action/adventure/spy novels from the 1950s to the 1980s. They particularly appeal to me because they (1) are really exciting, (2) are complexly and carefully plotted, (3) have really good characters, (4) are written with exquisite and delightful language and wording, (5) have no more profanity than would be found in a typical 1930's mystery, and (6) have the perfect touch of romance while lacking any sexual language, double entendres, or escapades whatsoever.

The primary drawback to MacLean's writing is that reasons (1)-(4) are not consistent throughout his books. He became an alcoholic, and I understand that's the primary reason why his writing declined so strikingly. I am a compulsive, extremely fast reader of fiction, but my experiences with his work range from I'm-staying-up-til-4-to-finish to I'm-finally-finished-and-I-can't-remember-what-happened. It's really sad. Thankfully, the good stuff outweighs the bad, and even his "bad" is bad only in comparison.

Below I freely adapt text and lists from Wikipedia, where I learned just why my reader experiences varied so widely when I was first trying to find his stuff. (I don't think it's in print - go for used paperbacks and the library.) The breakdown into periods and styles are generalizations, but reasonably accurate and fairly useful.  The links are to my reviews.  I have read all the ones in bold.



Now that I've set the stage, here are two more reviews. Bro. No. 1 gave me a gift certificate to the used book store for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago I went on a spree and got about a dozen books. Among them were When Eight Bells Toll and Puppet on a Chain.





Circus

26 July 2007 09:08 pm
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I found this book waiting for me in a PaperBackSwap package when I got home one day last week.  By lunch the next day, I'd finished it.

Alistair MacLean's Circus

Published in 1975, Circus is one of MacLean's last, and poorest, set of novels.  I'm glad to report, however, that it was a very enjoyable read.  It's not up to the technical standards of his earliest novels, but I liked it better than The Way to Dusty Death.

Bruno Wildermann and his two younger brothers are known as the Blind Eagles, a group of extremely skillful trapeze and high-wire experts who perform blindfolded.  Bruno is the linchpin of the act, being in addition borderline clairvoyant and having a literally photographic memory.  The Wildermanns were refugees from Eastern Europe, an unspecified country that seems to be either East Germany or Poland. His combination of skills and his background bring him to the attention of the CIA.  Bruno agrees to break into a high-security prison and research center in the city of "Crau" and memorize/destroy certain plans.

The major criticisms of MacLean's latest period are excessive dialogue, "sagging" prose, poor characterization, and lazy description.  These are the technical standards in which Circus does not measure up; however, it is a long way from being the worst example.  The dialogue is not excessive; I found none of it boring, and some quite amusing.  The quality of the prose did not bother me or lose me, although it could have been sharper.  My biggest criticism is that the antagonists do not quite live up to their menace and their knowledge.  There is a definite reason to account partially for this, albeit is one I cannot reveal.  Nonetheless, they do not even approach the terrifying efficiency and genuine brilliance of their counterparts in The Secret Ways.

MacLean handles the circus setup with quite a bit of skill; I found his descriptions fascinating in and of themselves.  His characters are a little more nebulous than I like, yet they're interesting and I cared about them.  Especially when they... never mind.  Several of Bruno's fellow circus men are quite good creations. Their banter is reminiscent of Hansen, Zabrinkski, and Rawlings in Ice Station Zebra.

Circus might be held up as an example of the old "male writers write helpless females" trope.  I won't go into a discussion of this, since it would be long and rife with spoilers.  Let me just say once again that MacLean uses layers of deception in his work.  In Circus, there are excellent reasons for what he does with his characters (and I'm saying this generally, too), no matter how long it takes to see or how clichéd it seems in the meantime.  In the specific instance, it's unfortunately not shown nor explained as skillfully as it was in the earlier novel that used the same idea.  But it makes very, very good sense.  MacLean is not an author to judge quickly.  Even in 1975 he could be a master of subtlety.

After the initial exposition, things get menacing fast with two murders.  I'll warn you - one is quite grisly, not for the descriptions but for the imagination.  *shudder*  Nonetheless, after Fear Is the Key and The Satan Bug, the relative lack of grimness in Circus is a relief.  It gets worse, trust me, but it's not a numbing grief or paralyzing fear that permeate the entire book.  He hasn't lost the humorous touch by any means.

A very minor aside: I'm amused that the highest-up CIA man shown is an admiral.  In The Hunt for Red October, James Greer of the CIA (played by James Earl Jones) is also an admiral.  Note: It's a departure for MacLean to use the CIA, although he used quite a few Americans in Ice Station Zebra and did them well.  I think the whole premise necessitated it.

I think I'd like to start including excerpts in my reviews.  It's always great to get an idea of an author's style, even at its less-than-brilliant moments.  In this excerpt (not necessarily the best, just the one that came to mind), a certain Colonel Sergius is having to deal with Alex, a less-than-successful... employee.

Sergius sighed.  "Alas, it was ever thus.  I am left to fight on virtually alone.  All the decisions have to be made, all the thinking has to be done by a senior officer, which is no doubt why I am a senior officer."  A false modesty was not one of Sergius's besetting sins.  "Our Bruno Wildermann is clever, he may also be dangerous.  He suspected, only he knows how, that he was under surveillance and put his suspicions to the test.  He had this man Roebuck standing by to follow whoever might follow him.  This would make Roebuck--and, by implication, the other two--something just a little bit more than friends.  Roebuck followed Alex.  He didn't go to borrow money, he went to inform Bruno that he, Bruno, had been followed by a man with a black coat, black moustache, very stupid."  He bestowed a pitying glance on the crest-fallen shadower.  "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you, Alex, to look over your shoulder?  Just once?"

"I'm sorry, Colonel."

Sergius gave him a look more commonly associated with a starving crocodile which has just spotted lunch.

Circus

26 July 2007 09:08 pm
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I found this book waiting for me in a PaperBackSwap package when I got home one day last week.  By lunch the next day, I'd finished it.

Alistair MacLean's Circus

Published in 1975, Circus is one of MacLean's last, and poorest, set of novels.  I'm glad to report, however, that it was a very enjoyable read.  It's not up to the technical standards of his earliest novels, but I liked it better than The Way to Dusty Death.

Bruno Wildermann and his two younger brothers are known as the Blind Eagles, a group of extremely skillful trapeze and high-wire experts who perform blindfolded.  Bruno is the linchpin of the act, being in addition borderline clairvoyant and having a literally photographic memory.  The Wildermanns were refugees from Eastern Europe, an unspecified country that seems to be either East Germany or Poland. His combination of skills and his background bring him to the attention of the CIA.  Bruno agrees to break into a high-security prison and research center in the city of "Crau" and memorize/destroy certain plans.

The major criticisms of MacLean's latest period are excessive dialogue, "sagging" prose, poor characterization, and lazy description.  These are the technical standards in which Circus does not measure up; however, it is a long way from being the worst example.  The dialogue is not excessive; I found none of it boring, and some quite amusing.  The quality of the prose did not bother me or lose me, although it could have been sharper.  My biggest criticism is that the antagonists do not quite live up to their menace and their knowledge.  There is a definite reason to account partially for this, albeit is one I cannot reveal.  Nonetheless, they do not even approach the terrifying efficiency and genuine brilliance of their counterparts in The Secret Ways.

MacLean handles the circus setup with quite a bit of skill; I found his descriptions fascinating in and of themselves.  His characters are a little more nebulous than I like, yet they're interesting and I cared about them.  Especially when they... never mind.  Several of Bruno's fellow circus men are quite good creations. Their banter is reminiscent of Hansen, Zabrinkski, and Rawlings in Ice Station Zebra.

Circus might be held up as an example of the old "male writers write helpless females" trope.  I won't go into a discussion of this, since it would be long and rife with spoilers.  Let me just say once again that MacLean uses layers of deception in his work.  In Circus, there are excellent reasons for what he does with his characters (and I'm saying this generally, too), no matter how long it takes to see or how clichéd it seems in the meantime.  In the specific instance, it's unfortunately not shown nor explained as skillfully as it was in the earlier novel that used the same idea.  But it makes very, very good sense.  MacLean is not an author to judge quickly.  Even in 1975 he could be a master of subtlety.

After the initial exposition, things get menacing fast with two murders.  I'll warn you - one is quite grisly, not for the descriptions but for the imagination.  *shudder*  Nonetheless, after Fear Is the Key and The Satan Bug, the relative lack of grimness in Circus is a relief.  It gets worse, trust me, but it's not a numbing grief or paralyzing fear that permeate the entire book.  He hasn't lost the humorous touch by any means.

A very minor aside: I'm amused that the highest-up CIA man shown is an admiral.  In The Hunt for Red October, James Greer of the CIA (played by James Earl Jones) is also an admiral.  Note: It's a departure for MacLean to use the CIA, although he used quite a few Americans in Ice Station Zebra and did them well.  I think the whole premise necessitated it.

I think I'd like to start including excerpts in my reviews.  It's always great to get an idea of an author's style, even at its less-than-brilliant moments.  In this excerpt (not necessarily the best, just the one that came to mind), a certain Colonel Sergius is having to deal with Alex, a less-than-successful... employee.

Sergius sighed.  "Alas, it was ever thus.  I am left to fight on virtually alone.  All the decisions have to be made, all the thinking has to be done by a senior officer, which is no doubt why I am a senior officer."  A false modesty was not one of Sergius's besetting sins.  "Our Bruno Wildermann is clever, he may also be dangerous.  He suspected, only he knows how, that he was under surveillance and put his suspicions to the test.  He had this man Roebuck standing by to follow whoever might follow him.  This would make Roebuck--and, by implication, the other two--something just a little bit more than friends.  Roebuck followed Alex.  He didn't go to borrow money, he went to inform Bruno that he, Bruno, had been followed by a man with a black coat, black moustache, very stupid."  He bestowed a pitying glance on the crest-fallen shadower.  "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you, Alex, to look over your shoulder?  Just once?"

"I'm sorry, Colonel."

Sergius gave him a look more commonly associated with a starving crocodile which has just spotted lunch.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Apparently I have an audience that enjoys the so-called reviews I thought I was inflicting on my friends list.  This does flatter me, I admit. *g*  Sometimes I get really lazy and don't want to do them; writing IS an effort, particularly when I want to do a good job.  But I really need to get this one taken care of before the details and my impressions fade.  The plot in this one isn't so impossible to discuss as it was for Fear Is the Key (see my so-subtle review here), so I can elaborate a bit.

Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug

This books is centered about the possibility of biological warfare, or as they put it in 1962, "germ warfare".  It's the only one of MacLean's stories I've yet read that is set wholly in England itself. The extremely high-security facility for developing germ warfare has been broken into - or broken out of - and two dangerous diseases have been taken.  One is the Satan Bug of the title.  Who has them, and what will they use them for?  (Trust me, you won't guess.)

The action of the story develops with surprising slowness, at least initially.  First-person narrator Pierre Cavell assists with the investigation, which is structured like a typical mystery with crime scene investigation, following up clues, and questioning witnesses and suspects.  Of course it picks up, and when a crisis is reached, things develop rapidly.

Cavell himself is somewhat shady; trust me, MacLean's layers of deception are not absent.  He is in a subtle way one of MacLean's more unusual characters; for starters, he has two physical handicaps - a crippled leg that had been crushed by a tank, and a nearly-blind eye from a shell explosion, both earned in the war.  He is also married; his wife Mary is another of MacLean's minor but wholly admirable females.  I love how MacLean balances the extraordinary with the ordinary; if his protagonist is unusual in one aspect, he is terribly ordinary in another.  This balance of the fantastic with extreme realism is part of why MacLean's stories are so compelling.

I'm very good at suspending disbelief to enjoy a story; I'm also very rarely emotionally caught up in a story.  (Unless it's anger at stupid characters or writing, which is scarcely what the author intended.)  But the descriptions of the power of these germs actually scared me.  I remember being so very glad that I am separated by 45 years and thousands of miles from the hypothetical scene of action - that's how intensely it affected me.  And yet... the Satan Bug in question is the granddaddy of all plagues.  Forget about the Black Death.  Imagine the worst case scenario for any epidemic - I mean it, literally the worst possible case - and you'll have what the Satan Bug would do.  As simple as that.

With the skill I've come to expect, MacLean doesn't dwell on the horror, even in the first-person narration.  He makes the situation horrifyingly clear, and moves on.  The tone is overall very grim, but it's not the personal, back-of-the-mind grief of Fear Is the Key.  And the humor is still there.  I figure I've talked about it in enough reviews; here's a paragraph from near to the end.

Cavell is trying to cross a deserted London railyard without being detected.  It is in complete blackout.

The reference book compilers who assert that Clapham Junction has more sets of parallel tracks than any place in Britain wouldn't go around making silly statements like that if they'd try this lot on a pitch black October night with the sleety rain falling about their ears.  There wasn't a single piece of ironware in the whole interminable width of those tracks that I didn't find that night, usually with my ankles and shins.  Railway lines, wires, signalling gear, switch gear, hydrants, platforms where there shouldn't have been platforms--I found them all.  To add to my discomfort the burnt cork that had been so heavily rubbed into my face and hands was beginning to run, and burnt cork tastes exactly as you would expect it to taste: and when it gets in your eyes it hurts.  The only hazard I didn't have to contend with was live rails--the power had been switched off.

As you can see, if MacLean's writing has any fault it's his tendency to very long sentences.  It's something I can easily forgive, since it's simply an old-fashioned style (see Dickens!) and  I'm prone to it myself.

So overall, another winner for Mr. MacLean.  *applause*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Apparently I have an audience that enjoys the so-called reviews I thought I was inflicting on my friends list.  This does flatter me, I admit. *g*  Sometimes I get really lazy and don't want to do them; writing IS an effort, particularly when I want to do a good job.  But I really need to get this one taken care of before the details and my impressions fade.  The plot in this one isn't so impossible to discuss as it was for Fear Is the Key (see my so-subtle review here), so I can elaborate a bit.

Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug

This books is centered about the possibility of biological warfare, or as they put it in 1962, "germ warfare".  It's the only one of MacLean's stories I've yet read that is set wholly in England itself. The extremely high-security facility for developing germ warfare has been broken into - or broken out of - and two dangerous diseases have been taken.  One is the Satan Bug of the title.  Who has them, and what will they use them for?  (Trust me, you won't guess.)

The action of the story develops with surprising slowness, at least initially.  First-person narrator Pierre Cavell assists with the investigation, which is structured like a typical mystery with crime scene investigation, following up clues, and questioning witnesses and suspects.  Of course it picks up, and when a crisis is reached, things develop rapidly.

Cavell himself is somewhat shady; trust me, MacLean's layers of deception are not absent.  He is in a subtle way one of MacLean's more unusual characters; for starters, he has two physical handicaps - a crippled leg that had been crushed by a tank, and a nearly-blind eye from a shell explosion, both earned in the war.  He is also married; his wife Mary is another of MacLean's minor but wholly admirable females.  I love how MacLean balances the extraordinary with the ordinary; if his protagonist is unusual in one aspect, he is terribly ordinary in another.  This balance of the fantastic with extreme realism is part of why MacLean's stories are so compelling.

I'm very good at suspending disbelief to enjoy a story; I'm also very rarely emotionally caught up in a story.  (Unless it's anger at stupid characters or writing, which is scarcely what the author intended.)  But the descriptions of the power of these germs actually scared me.  I remember being so very glad that I am separated by 45 years and thousands of miles from the hypothetical scene of action - that's how intensely it affected me.  And yet... the Satan Bug in question is the granddaddy of all plagues.  Forget about the Black Death.  Imagine the worst case scenario for any epidemic - I mean it, literally the worst possible case - and you'll have what the Satan Bug would do.  As simple as that.

With the skill I've come to expect, MacLean doesn't dwell on the horror, even in the first-person narration.  He makes the situation horrifyingly clear, and moves on.  The tone is overall very grim, but it's not the personal, back-of-the-mind grief of Fear Is the Key.  And the humor is still there.  I figure I've talked about it in enough reviews; here's a paragraph from near to the end.

Cavell is trying to cross a deserted London railyard without being detected.  It is in complete blackout.

The reference book compilers who assert that Clapham Junction has more sets of parallel tracks than any place in Britain wouldn't go around making silly statements like that if they'd try this lot on a pitch black October night with the sleety rain falling about their ears.  There wasn't a single piece of ironware in the whole interminable width of those tracks that I didn't find that night, usually with my ankles and shins.  Railway lines, wires, signalling gear, switch gear, hydrants, platforms where there shouldn't have been platforms--I found them all.  To add to my discomfort the burnt cork that had been so heavily rubbed into my face and hands was beginning to run, and burnt cork tastes exactly as you would expect it to taste: and when it gets in your eyes it hurts.  The only hazard I didn't have to contend with was live rails--the power had been switched off.

As you can see, if MacLean's writing has any fault it's his tendency to very long sentences.  It's something I can easily forgive, since it's simply an old-fashioned style (see Dickens!) and  I'm prone to it myself.

So overall, another winner for Mr. MacLean.  *applause*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Swiped from Everybody and his dog:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next three sentences in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.


I'm glad I didn't do this when I had 50+ sci fi books spread in ever-widening circles around me. That would've been an exercise in geometry.

From The Skylark of Space, by E. E. 'Doc' Smith:

" 'Modesty gets a man praise, but I prefer cash.' "  *g*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Swiped from Everybody and his dog:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next three sentences in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.


I'm glad I didn't do this when I had 50+ sci fi books spread in ever-widening circles around me. That would've been an exercise in geometry.

From The Skylark of Space, by E. E. 'Doc' Smith:

" 'Modesty gets a man praise, but I prefer cash.' "  *g*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
The test was hard.  Very hard.  I've never had a professor want so much extrapolation during the test.  I know it's legitimate for a professor to test on anything in the text; but usually they stick to the problems and examples that were assigned instead of pulling out new stuff.  It's nice when they see tests as a measure of how much they taught the students, not as a measure of how fanatical about studying  the students are.

I don't want to go through it, but please pray that God's leading will be clear for me in this whole school thing.  I'm working on the grad degree, in accounting.  I do not like going to school.  I've been doing this for a year and a half and it's still a struggle.  Is God telling me to drop everything but work and school?  Take only one instead of two classes?  Go in another direction entirely?  I really, really don't know.  Please pray that my parents' counsel will be wise, too.  Pray that I'll listen to Him.

In other news:  I am thoroughly motivated to get stuff done.  Unlike the end of most semesters, when all I want to do is let my brain turn to mush for a few weeks, I'm really energized to attack all the other stuff that's been building up.  I'm currently taking a break from preparing certain people's surprises.  Muahaha!

Aspen, your package was waiting for me when I got home last night at 11:15!  I'm so excited!  I cannot open this book until I get stuff done, though.  But now it's pleasurable anticipation instead of sullen fine-I'll-study-instead-ness. *g*

And now, the quote of the day.  I do so love adventure fiction - especially when there's humor in it.  Cracking good movies made from cracking good adventure yarns really, er, light my fire as well.

Smith and Schaeffer have just torched a German train station, sort of accidentally on purpose.

Schaffer said:  "They're not going to be very pleased."

"I shouldn't think so."

"They're really going to go after us now.  They've Doberman pinschers up at the castle and I've no doubt they have them at the camp too.  They've only to bring them to the station, sniff our packs, have them circle the station, pick up our scent and that's it.  Smith and Schaffer torn to shreds.  I'll take on the Alpenkorps one-by-one but I draw the line at Doberman pinschers, boss."

"I thought it was horses you were scared of?" Smith said mildly.

"Horses, Doberman pinschers, you name it, I'm scared of it.  All it's got to have is four feet."  He looked gloomily at the burning station.  "I'd make a rotten vet."

Alistair MacLean, Where Eagles Dare

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
The test was hard.  Very hard.  I've never had a professor want so much extrapolation during the test.  I know it's legitimate for a professor to test on anything in the text; but usually they stick to the problems and examples that were assigned instead of pulling out new stuff.  It's nice when they see tests as a measure of how much they taught the students, not as a measure of how fanatical about studying  the students are.

I don't want to go through it, but please pray that God's leading will be clear for me in this whole school thing.  I'm working on the grad degree, in accounting.  I do not like going to school.  I've been doing this for a year and a half and it's still a struggle.  Is God telling me to drop everything but work and school?  Take only one instead of two classes?  Go in another direction entirely?  I really, really don't know.  Please pray that my parents' counsel will be wise, too.  Pray that I'll listen to Him.

In other news:  I am thoroughly motivated to get stuff done.  Unlike the end of most semesters, when all I want to do is let my brain turn to mush for a few weeks, I'm really energized to attack all the other stuff that's been building up.  I'm currently taking a break from preparing certain people's surprises.  Muahaha!

Aspen, your package was waiting for me when I got home last night at 11:15!  I'm so excited!  I cannot open this book until I get stuff done, though.  But now it's pleasurable anticipation instead of sullen fine-I'll-study-instead-ness. *g*

And now, the quote of the day.  I do so love adventure fiction - especially when there's humor in it.  Cracking good movies made from cracking good adventure yarns really, er, light my fire as well.

Smith and Schaeffer have just torched a German train station, sort of accidentally on purpose.

Schaffer said:  "They're not going to be very pleased."

"I shouldn't think so."

"They're really going to go after us now.  They've Doberman pinschers up at the castle and I've no doubt they have them at the camp too.  They've only to bring them to the station, sniff our packs, have them circle the station, pick up our scent and that's it.  Smith and Schaffer torn to shreds.  I'll take on the Alpenkorps one-by-one but I draw the line at Doberman pinschers, boss."

"I thought it was horses you were scared of?" Smith said mildly.

"Horses, Doberman pinschers, you name it, I'm scared of it.  All it's got to have is four feet."  He looked gloomily at the burning station.  "I'd make a rotten vet."

Alistair MacLean, Where Eagles Dare

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