Warriors 3

Warriors 3 – edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

This is the final part (3/3) of a series of short story anthologies edited by two of the best known names in the business. (See the review of 1/3 here, and 2/3 here.) The absence of genre restriction means the contributing writers could have delivered a good mix, though in this volume there is much more of a common theme and setting. Inside the book are six short stories, and Diana Gabaldon’s 90 page novella.

Robin Hobb‘s The Triumph is a dark, sharply observed tale of honor and loyalty, set in the times of the Punic War between Rome and Carthage. The story fits the format perfectly, and the end result is a satisfyingly good taste of the author’s prodigious talents.

Joe R. Lansdale‘s Soldierin’ is a bittersweet war story set in the Cavalry v Indian backdrop of the good old USA. With African Americans playing the leading roles, the author cannot quite deliver enough variety to match the freshness of that idea, and the writing – while colorful and entertaining – is not enough compensation. This one was too familiar, and made little impact on me.

Lawrence Block‘s Clean Slate is the story with the best kick in its tale. It’s about a young lady, revisiting her past loves, and encountering some new ones. But not in the traditional, normal fashion. Scary, smart, and slick. Best of the bunch.

Carrie Vaughn‘s The Girls from Avenger brought me back, far too quickly, to Soldierin’ with a similarly disappointing after taste. The story, such as it is, features American women pilots contributing to the WW2 war effort. So, again, a break away from the mold. But after that, lifeless characters, and a bit of a flop. No tension, no believable drama; just a decent initial idea, let out on its own, and doomed to end with a whimper. Worst of the bunch.

James Rollins‘ The Pit is a story that volume contributors Lansdale and Vaughn should study, for it takes an interesting idea, and backs it up with solid characterization, good writing, and a better sense of timing and polish. At the core, it’s a story about a dog. But the author manages to raise questions of loyalty, humanity, and compassion into the rather steely center piece. This was an experiment that worked.

David Morrell‘s My Name is Legion gets the prize for the best ripped off title, though I doubt Roger Zelazny ever did a piece on the French Foreign Legion; that’s what you get here. It’s a story of WW2, featuring soldiers of the Legion on each side, and the inevitable bloody clash. It’s quite atmospheric, does a good job of building up the tension, and delivers a reasonable conclusion. Probably the runner up in the volume, in terms of quality.

Diana Gabaldon‘s The Custom of the Army features one of the author’s minor characters from her other fiction – John Grey – and gives him a leading role in this 18th century military adventure. It starts well, though quietly, with a strange electric eel ritual, and then goes off in several directions. As much as a couple of the stories here were perfect matches for their format, this novella tries to do too much and cannot manage the feat. I did not enjoy the journey, finding Mr Grey to be less than interesting. Admittedly the French Indian Wars are not my favorite historical setting, so that didn’t help. But overall it was the author’s writing style which just did not connect. Not for me.

Conclusion: not quite up to the same level of overall quality as the other two volumes – maybe that is why it was the last part? – but, on the whole, reasonable enough. If I had read this first, however, I would not have read the other two parts. This one is a 6/10.

A Song for Drowned Souls – Bernard Minier

This is the second in the ‘Commandant Servaz’ series by Bernard Minier, featuring the same leading light, and many of his supporting staff. The starting point is the discovery in Marsac (a hitherto quiet little place in the Pyrenees) of a murdered teacher. In the garden, beside a swimming pool populated with floating dolls, the police find a somewhat dazed and drugged boy, who claims to remember nothing. Inevitably, he becomes the chief suspect. Unfortunately for Servaz, the boy is the son of one of his first loves – for whom he still holds affection – and she pressurizes him into trying to clear her son. From that point on, things spiral out of control somewhat.

First, and foremost, to get the best out of this book, you should read the first in the series before tackling this one. (My review is here.)

Second, this book does reveal much more of Servaz’s past, adding some weight to the character. Servaz is a fine invention, and his continuing development is a joy to follow. Thankfully, the author does spend some good and productive time with other characters as well, with Zeigler, Samira, and Van Acker being those who most intrigued me. I can see the importance of the Julian Hirtman character (aka Hannibal Lecter in French) but Mr Minier is going to have to go some to outdo the Thomas Harris creation. And Hirtman is too similar to stand out. He is not a bad characterization, but ironically is the most in danger of looking like a cliche.

Third, and partly as a consequence of the number of characters, er, floating about, the plot takes some time to come together. However, I found the build up to be well done, maintaining my interest. The trail is partly responsible for us finding out more about Servaz’s past, as well as the hidden secrets of the accused, the victim, and many of the other characters. There were a couple of occasions where I thought the book was in danger of easing up the tension too much, but the author got back on track just in time.

Fourth, the book and the characters have a somewhat different feel. This is definitely not a case of just another crime book; it stands out, is fresh, and remains very accessible. The author is neither trying to dazzle us with his vocabulary, nor impress us with how far he can stretch suspension of disbelief. He just concentrates on fine writing, good observation, and quirky characters.

Fifth, the plot is well constructed, and is skillfully revealed, with enough false leads and twists to keep up the tension.

Incidentally, Alison Anderson’s translation is invisible; a good sign.

Finally, the acid test delivered the ultimate confirmation that this was a good one: when I got to the last page, I was oh so disappointed.



Five for Friday

Here we are again. Can you believe it? It only seems like yesterday that we were at the weekend. Now, here we are again. Oh well. Time for the regular selection of links. I hope you get something out of them:

Shabbat Shalom!

Chess tournament in Israel

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

From Chessbase, good news for Israeli chess fans:

The strongest invitational tournament ever to be held in Israel will be hosted by the city of Ashdod, in collaboration with the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) on December 7-10 during the Chanukah holiday. Twelve players will fight three stages of rapid games, in what promises to be a thrilling and intriguing event.

More information, here.

Looks good, I must say. I may try and get down to see some of the action, though watching remotely is probably a more likely event!

Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbo

I always look forward to reading the latest Jo Nesbo book, and Midnight Sun was certainly an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, at just over 200 pages (using a large font) it has to be said that there was also, initially, a certain sense of disappointment at how short the book was. I will come back to that. First, the plot.

Jon has run foul of the Fisherman, Oslo’s crime boss. So, he flees to the far reaches of Norway, where the sun never sets, and awaits the inevitable pursuit. While there, he encounters the Sami culture, the Laestadian religion, and some friendly, and not so friendly locals. Lea offers him shelter in an old hunting cabin, and Jon and her son become close. From there, the action heats up toward the inevitable, bloody, finale.

The author does a wonderful job of economically portraying the setting and the oppressive threat permanently in the background. And he is no slouch when the atmosphere is superseded by the action.

One of the reasons the book is short is that there is virtually no fluff; it’s escape and pursuit and showdown. Nesbo has resisted temptation to add bells and whistles to a simple tale (though there are surprises) and that makes it that much more effective.

So, in summary: short and sweet. Very sweet, indeed.

Heard about the Tweet-Milah?

Only in Israel, as they say, are you likely to see a story like this:

Rabbi sits down on train to Jerusalem, lays out newspaper, opens up box, lifts out parakeet, places on table. Reads calmly.

Authorities recommend: Do not approach. Parakeet considered winged and dangerous.

Situation ongoing.

Check it out, here. I presume it’s a spoof, but it is funny. Brought to you by the ‘It’s important not to lose your sense of humor’ party!

[A tip of the hat to Sarah-Lee for the spot.]

A smart starting place for smart glasses?

Globes has a story (looking suspiciously like a re-post of a press release) about Israeli startup Everysight, and its launch announcement for smartglasses for cyclists.

It’s a cool idea. However, I’m not sure how many people will pick up on the irony that military technology is being adapted for use by cyclists. Why? Well, if you cycle in Israel – especially if you dare to cycle on the roads – you are, indeed, at war. It is damn dangerous.

One to watch.

Oh, and yes, I want a pair!

High level gaming

On the table is MMP‘s Battle Above the Clouds, the 8th game of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series. This one, designed by Ed Beach and Mike Belles, covers the Chickamauga campaign (August-September 1863) and the Chattanooga campaign (October-November 1863).

I have some experience with the system, having played the first three or four fairly extensively, but at some point I stopped playing – but kept buying…

On previous forays into my game collection to select something to play, I have been put off this series by the new standard rulebook. More accurately, the ridiculously tiny font used, is a real barrier. Fortunately, somebody at Consimworld made a Word version, so I can read the rules much more easily. That alone has encouraged me to get the game on the table.


However, that is only part of the story. The other driving force was this:


I also have Mr Powell”s The Maps of Chickamauga. Both are wonderful resources. I plan on buying his other Chickamauga books.

So, meanwhile I am taking my time here; reading the rules, pushing some counters around, reading the history, trying to get familiar with the territory – the maps are gorgeous – and the situation, and generally enjoying myself. I love this hobby!

The Frozen Dead – Bernard Minier

A French bestseller, wonderfully translated by Alison Anderson, this is the author’s debut novel, being a thoroughly decent crime tale, featuring several interesting characters – one of them a Hannibal Lecter type – set in the small Pyrenean town of Saint-Martin-de-Comminges, and the surrounding area. There happens to be a cable car, and a high security lunatic asylum (he Charles Wargnier Institute for Forensic Psychiatry) in the vicinity. Both are central to the story, but more central is Commandant Servaz, the policeman from Toulouse called in to investigate the brutal, troubling, killing of a horse. Yes, you read that right. It starts off with a horse killing.

From that unlikely beginning, the author spins a complex tale that slowly builds up a head of steam. Servaz and his crew are well drawn characters, sharing the limelight with the backdrop setting.

At the asylum, Dr Wargnier has been replaced by the  slimy Dr Xavier. Dr Diane Berg, a newly recruited psychiatrist there, is given a rather cold, unfriendly, and troubling welcome by him at her new place of work. And then there are the batch of highly dangerous criminals incarcerated in the place. The other points of interest include the mega rich man of business, Eric Lombard, owner of the locally situated riding school (from where the horse was taken) and chateau.

It’s a sort of cocktail mix of haunted castle, Silence of the Lambs, and defective detective. And, in the main, it works quite well.

Of course, the horse is not the first to die, and Servaz – ever under pressure from his bosses, given Lombard’s connections – is in a race against time to solve the baffling clues, and track down the killer.

There are some moments of true spine chilling horror, and quite enough plot twists, red herrings, and surprises.

I enjoyed the book, though some may complain it was unnecessarily long. I didn’t see it that way, because the pacing seemed appropriate, and the combined effect of what the author has produced worked well for me. Also, it came across as somewhat different in its tone and its perspective, and it stood out from the crowd. I would recommend it. And I will be following the author to see what he does with the characters.



They just don’t get it

David Horovitz has an excellent op-ed at the Times of Israel here. It’s a must read. If you are too lazy to do that, at least note the following extract, starting with the situation of the Second Intifada:

As bombers and gunmen targeted our buses and our shopping malls and our hotels and our colleges and our restaurants, we did two things that France, the US and the rest of the free world will have to do if they want to defeat this latest, particularly despicable Islamist terror iteration: We learned how to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism, and we tackled the killers in their centers of operation. Short-sightedly, hypocritically, and abidingly, the international community, including most of the Western world, barely understood the need for the former strategy, and castigated us for the latter.

Note, in particular, the last point. I would express this as a continuation of the theme They didn’t understand then.

He continues:

We made it harder for terrorists to kill us by doing what those CNN experts are saying is impossible: yes, protecting all our cafes, and restaurants, and shopping malls, and hotel entrances, and buses, and every other public place where our citizens gather, with barriers and metal detectors and security guards; all these years later, suicide bombers still can’t just walk into our theaters and concert halls. We bolstered our intelligence-gathering in the viciously hostile Palestinian territories, notably including the West Bank cities from which we had withdrawn years before in the vain quest for peaceful coexistence. And to the ongoing fury of misguided critics everywhere, we built a security barrier — a mix of fences and sections of wall — so that Palestinian suicide bombers could not just drive into Israel and blow us up. We became a nation of domestic security analysts, gauging where to shop and whether or not to take the bus as we sought to minimize our exposure to the killers. And we toughed it out.

Who remembers the wall? The life saving wall. Every person opposed to it, was in effect against the protection of Israeli citizens. Unforgivable.

He also says this:

At the very least, however, I do recommend that the leaders and security chiefs of France and the rest of Europe and North America reach out to those Israeli counterparts they’ve so often judged and critiqued, to benefit from our bitterly accumulated experience in fighting Islamist terrorism.

And his piece is entitled with a question:

Will the West now adopt Israel’s anti-terror strategies?

I’m guessing they won’t. Why? It’s that theme, brought up to date: They didn’t understand then, and they don’t understand now. They just don’t get it.