Thomsen, Brian M. & Martin H. Greenberg (eds). A Date Which Will Live in Infamy: An Anthology of Pearl Harbor Stories That Might Have Been.

Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2001.

As a working archivist & historian for fifty years, and a science fiction junkie for rather longer than that, I’ve always been a sucker for the alternate history yarn. Change one tiny, believable thing and what are the consequences? (And the tinier and more mundane the change, the better.) The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has long been a popular “point of departure,” if only because what actually happened seems like such a confluence of coincidence and serendipity in retrospect. The Japanese basically caught every good break it was possible to catch.



Spufford, Francis. Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York.

NY: Scribner, 2017.

It’s the fall of 1746 and Richard Smith has just arrived in the colony of New York from London, bearing with him a note of exchange for £1,000 which he intends to convert into cash at the London mercantile firm’s New York associate, Lovell & Co. That’s a lot of money — there isn’t that much in specie in the whole of the town of New York — and Lovell insists on waiting until the confirming letters arrive, so he can be sure he isn’t being scammed.


Le Carré, John. A Legacy of Spies.

NY: Viking, 2017.

Le Carré is still the best of the great Cold War spy novelists, though he had to change his game rather a lot after the Iron Curtain collapsed. Here, he returns to his roots with a story set mostly in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Many years ago, when he was young, Peter Guillam was the personal assistant, factotum, and gatekeeper to George Smiley, the dumpy, rather gray, middle-aged master spy of the Circus, and he was thereby privy to all the great (and usually secret) events of the long, strong struggle against the Soviet Union. Now Peter is becoming elderly himself, living in retirement on the farm in Brittany where he grew up.


Rothfuss, Patrick. The Wise Man’s Fear.

NY: DAW, 2011.

The first volume of this engrossing fantasy trilogy-to-be ran close to 700 pages and it took me longer than usual to read because I took my time and thought about what I was reading. Rothfuss’s multilayered style has that effect. This second volume is 1,000 pages even and, again, I took my time. The Chronicler has come to Kvothe’s small-town inn in search of his story, which the legend-covered man known as “King-Killer” decides it’s time to tell, in all its many facets.


Published in: on 24 December 2017 at 8:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1951.

I first read this marvelous sort-of historical novel in high school around 1960, and it cemented my determination to become an historian of some kind. I’ve reread it several times in the years since and it never fails to absorb me. “Josephine Tey” was one of the pen names used by Elizabeth MacKintosh, a mystery writer greatly appreciated by her professional peers but who is largely forgotten today — except for this book, which was always her most popular.


Corey, James S. A. Gods of Risk. / The Churn.

NY: Orbit, 2012. / NY: Orbit, 2014.

It seems to have become a thing, when you’re producing a long science fiction or fantasy novel series, to take a break now and then and write a piece of short fiction in the same setting, but off at a tangent from the main plot line. Usually, the author takes the opportunity to explore in more detail some background topic or, as is the case with these two novellas, events from a character’s early life. The author always knows more than he tells the reader, but here the writing team of the excellent and immensely popular “Expanse” space opera series will let you on some of what came before.


Harris, Robert. Conclave.

NY: Knopf, 2016.

I’m not Catholic — I’m not really a believer of any kind, in fact — but I am interested in the anthropology of power, and I know from experience that Harris always tells a good story, so I was willing to give this one a try and I’m glad I did. Set just a couple of years from now, it’s about the struggle for succession following the death of a pope who is obviously meant to be Francis.


Published in: on 11 September 2017 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cherrryh, C. J. Convergence.

NY: DAW, 2017.

Cherryh is, beyond dispute, one of the best purveyors of space opera EVER and this is the eighteenth volume of her magnum opus. It’s the story of a human colony ship that lost its way and was forced to land on a previously unknown world that already hosted a relatively advanced humanoid race. That was several centuries ago and the newcomers and the atevi have since learned not only to share the planet (though on different continents, and after some quantity of blood was spilled), they are now cooperating for their mutual benefit.


Saunders, Nicholas J. Alexander’s Tomb.

NY: Basic Books, 2006.

Subtitled “The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror,” this is a semi-academic (lots of footnotes, lengthy bibliography) but also very readable account of what we know happened — and what else we think may have happened — to the mummy of Alexander after he died in Babylon at the age of thirty-two. By Macedonian tradition, a deceased king was buried by his successor, so whoever controlled that particular very famous corpse had an excellent claim to taking over his empire. (more…)

Published in: on 14 August 2017 at 7:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.