Sansom, C. J. Dark Fire.

NY: Viking, 2004.

It’s 1540 and three years have passed since London lawyer Matthew Shardlake got swept up in the investigation of a series of murders at a Sussex monastery, solved the mystery but mostly lost his faith in the process, and retreated into his previous quiet career in property law. His old boss, Thomas Cromwell, the king’s vicar general, is now First Minister and Earl of Essex, but he’s made a blunder in trying to set up King Henry with a German marriage.


Bebbington, Gillian. Street Names of London.

London: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1989.

Anyone who has spend much time in London — including most of its residents who venture from their own neighborhoods — owns a well-thumbed A-to-Z. The city’s streets, most of which developed organically over centuries, seldom run very far in a straight line and there’s no overarching numbering or naming system, so it’s easy for even a New Yorker to get lost. But this marvelous book will take you a step or two farther.


Published in: on 27 August 2011 at 2:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Kress, Nancy. Beggars and Choosers.

NY: Tor, 1994.

Nancy Kress writes science fiction of the best sort, in which the story not only focuses on science but on the ethical and moral issues that scientific change forces us to confront. (Notice I don’t say “progress” because so many people don’t consider change and progress to be equivalent.) Beggars in Spain (1993), to which the present volume is a direct sequel, dealt with human genetic manipulation and modification, the culmination of which was the creation of people who never have to sleep — which amounted to a new human sub-species because it was inheritable.


Sansom, C. J. Dissolution.

NY: Viking, 2003.

Writing a murder mystery in an historical setting and doing it well is twice as difficult as writing either a mystery or an historical novel alone. The author has not only to contrive a complicated but reasonable and logical plot with a sympathetic detective, he must also get all the surrounding details of society right.


Powers, Tim. The Drawing of the Dark.

NY: Ballantine, 1979.

This was Tim’s third novel but his first of the type that made his reputation, and which he has been ringing the changes on ever since: The “secret history” in which things are happening below the surface of the history we know (or think we know) that explain the true course of events.


Powers, Tim. The Anubis Gates.

NY: Ace, 1983.

I suspect every serious, heavy reader has a few favorite, trusted authors whose new books he buys without reading reviews or even bothering to discover their subject matter. One of mine is Tim Powers, the Master of the Secret History. This one is the first of his “historical fantasies” I read, back when it was first released, and I’ve been an addict ever since.


Panshin, Alexei. Rite of Passage.

NY: Ace, 1968.

Panshin has never made it to the first rank of SF authors, really, though this novel — his first, though it took him a decade or two to get it published — was recognized almost immediately as a “classic,” whatever that might mean. It’s a couple of centuries in the future and mankind is now divided between those who live on a dozen asteroid-size Ships and those who descend from the colonists dropped by the Ships on a hundred or so planets (the “mudeaters” as they often are unkindly referred to on the Ships). Earth itself is gone, having committed suicide-by-overpopulation.


Heyer, Georgette. A Civil Contract.

NY: Putnam, 1961.

In addition to The Grand Sophy, I think this one is one of the best “Regency romances” by the author who invented that genre. Actually, it’s sort of an anti-romance, coming down in favor of deep friendship and levelheaded practicality rather than dramatic passion. It’s 1814 and young Capt. Adam Deveril, recently recovered from a painful leg wound, has been yanked away from his regiment in Spain on the death of his father, Viscount Lynton, a close friend of the Regent and a hopeless speculator.


Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman and the Redskins.

NY: Knopf, 1982.

This volume is the second half of what you can think of as “Flashman’s American Adventure,” beginning as it does a few minutes after the end of Flash for Freedom! Harry Flashman is stuck in New Orleans and wants badly to get home to England, and he thinks at first that he can prevail on the bawdy house madam who cottoned to him in the previous book to let him hide out at her establishment and then book him passage. But this is the beginning of 1849, gold has just been discovered in California, and Susie is convinced she can make an even greater fortune by transporting her girls and her furniture to the Far West.


Published in: on 8 August 2011 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman in the Great Game.

NY: Knopf, 1975.

The “Great Game” was the struggle between Britain and Russia for supremacy in southwest Asia which began shortly after the defeat of Napoleon and which lasted until the Bolshevik Revolution. The playing field was Persia, India, and Afghanistan, mostly, and the playbook included frequently heavy-handed diplomacy, economic pressure, and outright espionage. We saw some of that in Flashman at the Charge, when Col. Harry Flashman, devoted coward and roué — and consistently very, very lucky — was captured by Count Ignatief following his escape from the Crimea.