An Audio-Book Review: Yo Ho Ho and a Half-Pound of Yams!

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander

Published by Penguin Audio

Read by Michael York

 

The Book:

Not sure why I picked up this book. I did read the classic Nordhoff and Hall The Bounty Trilogy back when I was in junior high school and watched at least one of the films. Until encountering this book I had not realized what a distortion of the facts those versions were. Oh I expected that Fletcher Christian was romanticized to some extent and that Bligh was vilified, possibly if only to heighten the drama, but I honestly had not realized just how badly the facts had been twisted until black was white and right was wrong until I read Caroline Alexander’s book.

I did know that William Bligh had served a long and distinguished career before and after the infamous Bounty incident, including his stint as the Governor of New South Wales and was eventually promoted to Rear Admiral, and I knew he had earlier served with Captain James Cook on his third and fatal voyage into the Pacific, but I had not known that he had commanded a ship at the Battle of Copenhagen from which one could see both Admiral Nelson’s signal to fight and Admiral Parker’s signal to retreat. This is the famous battle in which Nelson held a spyglass to his blind eye and declared he saw no signal. Bligh was the captain in a position in his battle group to see both signals and chose to follow Nelson. Had he echoed the retreat signal, the battle may likely have been a disaster for England.

The author expended an extraordinary effort of academic research to find contemporary documents, such as Bligh’s log of the Bounty voyage and the descriptions by various crewmen, both loyalists and mutineers as well as similar documents from the time and it painted a far different picture of Bligh and conditions on the Bounty. Most versions of the Bounty story paint William Bligh as a cruel taskmaster who put his crew on starvation rations and flogged them frequently. The truth may well be that Bligh was actually less harsh than most men in command of British ships of that day. We must keep in mind that Sailors in the 18th Century expected corporal punishment for certain crimes and wrong doings while on board their ships. Bligh’s log and some testimony clearly shows that he was averse to corporal punishment and on several occasions lectured guilty men rather than putting them to the lash. However, he does seem to have had a temper and a very sharp tongue.  I suppose it’s possible those tough men of the sea of old were more easily bruised by a tongue lashing than at the hand of a cat o’ nine tails.

As for starving them, Bligh, having learned from Cook, prided himself on being able to feed his crew by foraging from or trading with various islands along the way. He felt that scurvy was a sign of his own neglect of the crew and had a shipboard doctor to see to the health of the men on board, and to treat them for venereal disease, which apparently quite a few picked up while on Tahiti. There were on short rations on leaving Tahiti, that much is true, which was why they had acquired a large pile of coconuts on one of the islands.  The coconut pile stood as high as the rail of the ship when stacked up, but when, the next morning, the pile was much lower, Bligh became angry and accused Christian for their loss, since he was the officer-on-deck at the time.

I seriously doubt the matter of the coconuts were anything but an excuse for the mutiny. It seems more likely that after six months of light work collecting breadfruits on Tahiti and living a by-and-large hedonistic life, many of the men were unwilling to go back to the rigors of life at sea. Christian’s claim that he was “in Hell” due to the way Bligh treated him begins to sound more like the complaints of an overly-entitled twit who could not stand to be berated inform of the crew and, earlier, the islanders of Tahiti. Indeed, he comes off as rather childish, so why is he the great romantic hero of most versions of the Bounty story?

This as Ms. Alexander shows us was due to the actions of the well-connected families of two of the mutineers. These were the distantly related families of Peter Heywood and Fletcher Christian. Heywood, it should be noted was found guilty of mutiny, but was pardoned, supposedly due to his young age (he was 17 at the time) but it should be noted he had been serving since he was 14. He sounds all the more treacherous when you learn that Bligh took him on as a special favor and even served as his host while waiting for the ship to be readied. Christian was another veteran of the sea by the time Bounty had sailed, and had served on three of the same ships Bligh had. Following the mutiny trials to exonerate Heywood (who was eventually allowed to serve in the navy again and even rose to command) and to attempt to remove the stain from the Christian name, the stories began to change.

Charles Christian, brother of Fletcher, put together his own inquiry into the mutiny, leading a committee composed mostly of abolitionists who would not look kindly on Bligh who had sailed in the sugar trade and whose Breadfruit mission was conceived to bring cheap, nutritious food to the West Indies to further the keeping of slaves. (I’d like to note here that even after Bligh brought breadfruit to the Indies in his second attempt, it turns out that the slaves refused to eat it although today it is a popular ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine). Men who had testified on Bligh’s behalf in the courts martial regarding the Bounty suddenly started telling darker tales, ones that more closely fit what you see in the movies. Even so it becomes clear that in order to salvage their own reputations, the Christians turned Fletcher into the first “Romantic Hero,” an image that remains today.

This twisting of the facts haunted Bligh for the rest of his career, for even while he received multiple promotions, there was always the cloud over him and his reputation for cruel words and a bad temper.

The story of what really happened was further obscured, by the inconsistent stories told on Pitcairn Island by the last remaining mutineer, John Adams (who it turns out had sailed under the alias, Alexander Smith, while on Bounty. Why? I don’t know, but maybe he was hiding something too? In any case his accounts of what happened tended to vary from telling to telling so it is uncertain how accurate his accounts might be. By the time one gets to the end of the book, however the reader will have been exposed to many different versions of Bligh and the Bounty mutiny

All told, Alexander’s book was a fascinating and edifying account of what was, probably, the most well-known mutiny of all time.

 

The Audiobook:

I would not expect Michael York to read at any level below excellent and he does not disappoint this time. If someone had told me he managed to read this book dramatically I would either have shuddered in horror at the notion of a dramatic reading of what is a history book, or else have simply not believed them. However, he is never over the top and the bits of dramatic reading are actually nice accents that kept me interested throughout.

There was something wrong with my copy of the audiobook and the tracks were badly out of order. Strangely enough, after listening to some autobiographies lately that bounced back and forth between times and places, this was not as annoying as I might have expected and even out of order it was easy to follow the historical narration and the time line it represented. The fact that there was a fair amount of repetition as each different version of the story was presented might actually have helped there.

So, this is a really interesting telling of the Bounty Mutiny and the events that followed and presented in a manner that will hold the reader from beginning to end and if you like listening to books, Michael York is a great reader to listen to.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Witch Who Is NOT the Witches’ Leader

The Shepherd’s Crown

By Terry Pratchett

Published by Harper Audio

Read by Stephen Briggs

 

The Book:

This was Terry Pratchett’s final published novel. Even more sadly it is the last of the Discworld stories. The Discworld truly is a flat world that is perched on the top of four giant elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of an even greater space-going turtle. He left behind notes on more stories, but at his request they were destroyed, which might be just as well. I doubt anyone could have written them as well as he could have, and if they could, they would also have the creativity and expertise to write their own without needing his notes. I know I have tried writing in a style approximating his; I could only keep it up for a chapter or two and I was never quite satisfied with it, so learned the lesson that each writer must find his or her own style.

Other authors might be compare to Pratchett, but only he had his specific talent of being able to twist words around in a most amusing manner to throw clichés and common sayings back in the face of the reader. He did not do so in an aggressive manner. I always felt he was letting me (and his many other readers) in on the joke. His humor was inclusive, not exclusive. The fact that he could write a darned good story regardless of the humor made the corpus of his work a life-long masterpiece.

The Shepherd’s Crown is also the final novel featuring Tiffany Aching, witch, who we first met as a young, potentially talented girl in The Wee Free Men. Throughout the series we saw her as a witch-in-training, facing increasingly greater challenges all along the way. I think I would have been satisfied had the fourth book of the series, I Shall Wear Midnight been the last of the series. In it, Tiffany truly comes into her own, but I think I would have been wrong for this story was a far better culmination even if it was not finished to Pratchett’s own satisfaction. Yes it was rough in places, written but not fully polished, but the a story is a strong one and, in my opinion, makes up for the spots where it might have been improved had Sit Terry had the time to edit it as he normally would have.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT:

 

It is apparent that the author realized this would be his final book because the story really begins with the death of one of the Discworld’s longest running characters, Granny Weatherwax. Witches do not have leaders and Granny Weatherwax was the leader they did not have. Granny, however, as the Nac Mac Feegles called her, was the Hag of Hags and one got the feeling that even Death himself was honored to finally have escorted her to her final destination. It was a poignant and heart-breaking scene – one I never expected to read – but it represents the passing of an age and also the continuity of community as Granny Weatherwax has chosen to appoint her own successor by leaving everything to Tiffany by the cat, “You.” As it happens You has chosen Tiffany as well and there begins the adventure as Tiffany must once more turn back an invasion of elves from “Fairy Land” this time not as the newest apprentice witch, but as the leader that witches do not have.

 

So, thank you, Terry Pratchett, for all the wonderful stories you have shared with us over the course of your life. I am saddened there will be no more, but… I can always read them again!

 

The Audiobook:

Like the other Tiffany Aching books, this one was read by Stephen Briggs who has also read many (and written some) of the other Discworld books, including the supplemental volumes such as “The Streets of Ankh Morpork” and “Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion… So Far” and so forth. He is a multi-talented gentleman and one of the best readers of Pratchett’s works and this time is no exception. I have reviewed his readings before and what I have said before still holds; he reads well and engages the listener from start to finish.

So, the book is a bittersweet conclusion to the tale of Tiffany Aching and also serves passing well to wrap up the Discworld mega-series of which it is part, for while we might not have had cameo appearances from all our favorite characters, there were enough who showed up here and there to have a chance to bid them all a fond farewell in the knowledge that whatever might happen on the Discworld from here on in, everything might change, but it would still be a wonderful place to visit even if we could no longer do so ourselves. Having Stephen Briggs usher out this final chapter was fitting as well.

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An Audio-Book Review: Live Long and Prosper, but Not Monetarily

Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek

By Manu Saadia

Published by Audible Studios

Read by Oliver Wyman

 

The Book:

 

Before I start, I want to say that this book has received a lot of positive reviews and by and large I tend to agree with them, but I did have some problems as I listened to it. So, let’s start with the positive.

Manu Saadia put one heck of a lot of thought and work into this book and he came out with a lot of well-reasoned arguments about how the economics of the Star Trek universe in which the Federation no longer uses money in any way would work although at times I was confused as to whether he was arguing it was possible or not. For the most part, he makes statements of how it all works and makes it sound fairly reasonable, but then we get a throw-away line that made me doubt he believed it.

Okay, I get it, we are dealing with theoretical economics here. The zone in which you really cannot separate economics from philosophy because it really is philosophy, just philosophy with a veneer of mathematics. I’ll admit that sort of theory usually leaves me yawning (although not this time and I did find the book interesting) but I have read and listened to enough of it to know that many of the statements made as facts to back up the proofs of concepts in this book are argued vociferously by economists all the time. Is it theory – an idea with proof behind it? Yes, absolutely. Are there other theories that do not agree? Yeah, that too, but we don’t hear about the other side of the arguments, which I might have expected in order prove that the theory Manu Saadia holds to is more right than the others. No, the book barely crosses that ground at all.  All statements are made as though incontrovertible. That’s not unusual, however. A lot of writers do this, but to me it always feel like ignoring the data that does not fit your model. However, Saadia’s theories are all well accepted within  the field of economics, even if they are debated on various points.

Of course, I did not pick up this book in order to listen to dry economics theory. I really was more interested in what the author had to say about economics in the Star Trek universe and in that I was mostly satisfied. Where I was left at a loss was any explanation of how the other sentient races in that future history based their economies on, except for the Ferengi, who, in spite of looking like gremlins from the edges of artwork by Hieronymus Bosch, are really thinly disguised Twentieth and Twenty-first Century humans. What about the economics of the Klingons? The Romulans? The Cardassians? And all the rest? I felt there was some implication they would all eventually be absorbed into the Federation’s non-monetary economic empire, much like the Borg, which Saadia states rally is just like the Federation – economically, he may be correct.

Resistance is futile? I don’t know. I can see and accept how the Federation might have progressed to the state it is shown to us in, but nothing actually follows that others would join in. In fact, I believe one could argue that the differences in economic bases between the Federation and the Romulan Empire (for example) might well be the root cause for the antagonism between them. Similar arguments could be made for the Klingons, Cardassians and even the shape-shifting Founders. Without a economic basis for trade, is there any need for peaceful coexistence? Well, for the Federation, there is, but what’s in it for the rest of the Galaxy. Well, except for the Borg, except that they don’t trade. They merely assimilate – the view through a mirror darkly for Captain Picard and his colleagues.

And how does trade with the Ferengi even work? They have a fully monetary system built up based on a fictional substance known as Gold-pressed Latinum. Latinum, we learn eventually is a liquid of some sort that cannot be reproduced in the miraculous replicators of the Federation and therefore has value to the Ferengi since they cannot just make more of it. The liquid is kept in slips, strips, bricks and maybe some other units of gold so that it is easier to count and keep track of, I guess, although one character turned out to be keeping his hoard of latinum in his stomach… TMI. Anyway, the Ferengi trade is based on the transfer of gold-pressed latinum. With no money, how do Federation citizens acquire any of that in order to deal with the Ferengi? This is only dealt with in a most superficial manner.

That brings me to the replicators. Manu Saadia hails the “Replicator” as the ultimate machine that can replicate absolutely anything (well… except latinum), but he glosses over the fact that it cannot, or rather does not produce variety. The replicator has to be programmed and can only produce stuff that it has been programmed to produce. Saadia even brings up a case in which when discussing a dish of chicken curry (I think) one character says something along the lines of “This might be chicken, but all I taste is replicated animal protein.” I remember that episode. My take on that comment was not that all replicated animal protein was alike, but that any dish of chicken curry was going to taste like every other dish of chicken curry. The programmers had not programmed in thousands of variants so that each dish was a little different. They probably just scanned in one plate of Tikka Marsala (or Vindaloo or Korma, or whatever) and that is the same plate that comes out every time. I would not be surprised if food varied from one ship to the next where clever engineers would bring or create their own varieties, but even so, how many different plates of curry does the computer have room to store the programing for when some crew members might be more in the mood for fish and chips or “Tea, Earl Grey, hot?” I am sure only the very best foods were programmed into the replicators (why bother for anything less?) but after a while even the best starts to become ordinary.

In any case, Saadia makes the argument that with the replicator, there is no scarcity of anything (except latinum, which apparently makes you go bald if you keep it in a second stomach for decades) and in such a post-scarcity society, naturally there would be no money. Yeah, okay. One problem, however which Saadia glossed over although he presented the evidence. There were no replicators during the Original Series (the one with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the Millionaire, the Movie Star and the rest). They had a galley deck where the food was still prepared more or less the way we do today (less, I think, but still not replicated). The replicators were invented some time during the seventy-five years between TOS and The Next Generation. However, according to the 4th Trek Movie (The Voyage Home) there is no money in Kirk’s time. So, it becomes obvious that the replicator is a symptom or a result, not the cause of the money-less society. Something else besides a lack of scarcity drove the Federation into the non-monetary economy it enjoys. The replicators merely reinforced it. Too bad, because the invention of something like the replicator really could have produced a non-monetary economy after a while.

He does go one at times about real-world economics and theory, which at times had only a tenuous connection to the main subject of the book, but I came to the conclusion that like most theoretical studies, economic theory has 20-20 hindsight on the past but is less than perfect on predictions. We see that in most sciences and scientific disciplines since the more we learn the better the chance we will find cases that, even if they do not disprove a theory, will make it clear that the theory was not general enough to include everything within its intended scope.

Even Saadia admits, however, that the Star Trek Universe did not spring fully grown from the head of Gene Roddenberry. It grew and developed and a lot of the facets of that universe that exist were cut through retroactive continuity (aka “Retcon” in SF parlance) that coalesced as the years went by. So naturally there are going to be exceptions, errors, confusions and discrepancies. That’s what happens when you set a dozen chefs to creating one pot of soup between them.

However, in spite of my arguments (and antipathy to the art of economic theory as philosophy mixed with poetry – uh, no, Saadia does not quote poetry. I’m being sarcastic.) This is a pretty good book so if you are into both Star Trek and economics, you probably will have a fun time with it.

Late Update: I just caught up with the latest episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (I have a ton of nits to pick with this the series, but overall it is a good and powerful story so far) and have noted that instead of the galley deck from TOS, the crew eats food created by synthesizers. Since that food includes fresh blueberries and breakfast burritos with the option of regular and roasted tomato salsa, I really do not see the difference between that and the replicators from TNG, some 85 years later save that, perhaps, I could not order  a bucket of irradiated cadmium nuts and bolts from lunch, but then again, why would I want too? It throws some wrenches into Saadia’s theorizing and pushes the economic and social timeline he proposes, but then as a friend pointed out, each new prequel series and reboot of Star Trek is a study in botched retcons.

 

The Audiobook:

I have one major complaint with Oliver Wyman’s reading – He really should have watched the various Star Trek shows at one point or other so that he would not mispronounce the names of characters. Or perhaps someone in the recording studio should have so they could have corrected him and had him do another take. This is pop culture, folks and while not everyone is a fan, it really might have been nice if someone on the project was conversant enough to catch pronunciation errors. I was particularly jarred by the way he mangled Garak’s name. Garak was the former(?) Cardassian spy who worked as a tailor in Deep Space Nine since he was likely to be killed almost anywhere else in the universe. He was a fairly interesting character who was pushed to the forefront in several pivotal episodes of Deep Space Nine. He stared out as a flat caricature of a person, but over the years of the series he got gradually deeper.  Well, if you have not watched the show, pleased take my word for it that his name is not accented on the second syllable nor is it spelled Gahrahhk.

That kind of ruined the reading for me, but to be fair, most of the time Garak does not intrude and Wyman’s reading is pretty good.

So, you need to be into Trek, you ought to have at least a passing interest in economic models and you have to excuse an occasional mispronounced name, but if that is you, I think you’ll love this book.

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An Audio-Book Review: She Knows What He Did Last Summer

What Happened

Written and read by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio

 

The Book

I think it is obvious that the acceptance or rejection of this book and its contents will pretty much split down the same lines as the last election although I would not be surprised if the book itself received more electoral votes than either of the two major candidates. For the most part, if you supported Hillary Clinton you will like this book and agree with what she says within it and if you were part of the forty-seven percent of a “landslide” that voted for the… >sigh!< other guy you will probably say that she is whining and blaming everyone but herself for how the election went. In the latter case, you probably have not read the book either, relying on the negative reviews to support your feelings.

I make no secret of the fact that when it comes to social issues I generally stand somewhere to the left of Beta Lyrae and when it comes to financial issues, I think the whole lot of Congressmen and Women and Senators ought to be forced to pay back all the money they have wasted over the years. I also have problems with anyone who perverts personal freedom into a justification for bias and bigotry against others, but I’m climbing up on to my high-horse a bit too readily (said high-horse all too obligingly stoops to give me easier access most of the time). However, I have some observations I would like to share about this book none the less.

I would like to take issue with the majority of reviewers who got to this book ahead of me. After having listened to it I can state with complete assurance that most of them did not read or listen to the whole thing. In fact, it is obvious the majority did not see any more than the snippets that were released to the news media ahead of the official publication date – most of which were from the authors’ foreword. And given some of the almost word-for-word repetition of what other reviewers said I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two just plagiarized each other’s commentary on the Foreword. Now that is truly pathetic.

I have promised that I would review no audiobook without listening to the whole thing. If I can’t finish it, it gets no review. That’s the only way to be fair, in my mind, but I cannot say that for some of the other reviewers especially the ones who had undisguised political axes to grind. Many of them probably could have written their reviews without having read a word. And as for “He who must not be named”… oh, the heck with it… Mister Trump (NB: readers experienced with my reviews may have noticed that I most often use the honorifics when I am struggling to be polite), well, he had a lot to say about this book in 140 character bites, but it is obvious he never even read the bits that were released in advance since all his commentary was directly in response to Hillary’s tour of the chat show circuit and not the content of the book itself. Then again, the only book we have a report of Mister Trump ever reading is the second memoire of Adolph Hitler and even then, only that he kept it on his bed stand – possibly he didn’t read that either and expected to absorb it by osmosis.

In any case, does Hillary Clinton really blame everyone but herself?  Emphatically not. She blames herself more frequently within the book that anyone else although James Comey does come in second and justifiably so. Jeff Session said Comey was fired for his mishandling of the Clinton emails insincerely in front of the Senate just yesterday. I seriously doubt that was why he was fired since I am sure Trump danced off two or three pounds when the investigation was publicly reopened just eleven days before Election Day, but the action on James Comey’s part was so reprehensible that Trump and his lackeys have attempted to use it as their reason (although careful observers will notice that these same people have floated other excuses that conflict). Mister Comey himself has said he feels “mildly nauseous” at the thought he might have influenced the election, but, really, he should be feeling a permanent and terminal case of indigestion. Any long-time political bureaucrat like Mister Comey has to have known exactly what he was doing and what the probable consequences would be. (Ooops, that darned high-horse again).

Who else does Hillary blame? Well she does blame Bernie Sanders once (maybe twice), but mostly for starting a movement that he not only had little control over but provided divisive arguments against Hillary’s platform to so that the chance of their every fully reconciling at or after the convention was slim. Bernie encouraged people to vote anti-establishment Democrat. By itself, I do not entirely disagree, but he ignited a fire he could not extinguish so that rather than be drawn in after the convention, so many of them looked toward third-party candidates. It is possible that they might have voted third party even had Bernie not run, but this time they were more activist about it Is that Bernie Sanders’ fault? Darned if I know. I’m not sure any normal Democrat could have brought those votes in, but the perception of Hillary as a long-time political insider prevented her from doing so.

Does she blame Trump? Doesn’t everybody??? Face it. Whether you like or loathe the guy, Hillary losing the election IS his fault. He’s the guy who won more electoral votes. Remember all his whining about how the election was rigged? Remember how he claimed millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary? Remember his claim that thousands of people were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote for Hillary? Actually, I’d like to briefly address that claim.

Thousands were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire? Seriously? And no one saw the hundreds of buses that suddenly crossed the border on that one day? I think it might have been noticed, assuming anyone could have rounded up that many Greyhounds for a one-day charter. Not sure how much that would have cost, but I’m sure there has to have been a monetary paper trail if it happened and one even a blind tracker could follow the smell of. And if you can’t find the record of hundreds of buses being chartered on election day, just subpoena the record of liquor sales in the highway-side stores in New Hampshire.

If you have never driven through New Hampshire you might not be aware of it, but the state has placed liquor stores in the rest areas closest to their borders. You can drive a few miles across the border, load up on wine and whiskey (because New Hampshire has not sales tax this can be a big savings) and then drive home – incidentally bootlegging hooch across state lines. But in fairness you will also be reminded in small, but polite signs as you leave the rest area to “Please do not drink while driving.”  My point being that if you cannot find a record of upticks in either bus charters to New Hampshire or upticks in their liquor sales, the chance of an extra few thousand day-trippers from Massachusetts is nil.

Hillary reads her own book which I enjoyed listening to., Then again, I had no problem listening to her speeches on the campaign trail either. I guess it’s a matter of whether you like listening to her talk.

In all I think the book opened a window on Hillary Clinton’s inner thoughts and feelings that may have come out a bit too late. More of that might (or might not) have made a difference. The only thing I can say for certain is that for the first time in my life I find myself waking up most mornings thinking I have somehow fallen into an improbable alternate reality because even a year ago (just before Mister Comey reopened his investigation for a few days) the possibility of Trump as president seemed unlikely. For that matter even now, the idea of a president who routinely alienates all his allies, picks fights with all his enemies in the hope of nuclear war and yet kisses up to Russia for no obvious gain, the idea of a president who boasts of sexually assaulting women, who rushes storm relief to states that voted for him but has only done a half-assed job in territories that do not have the right to vote for a president, who dodged the draft on multiple student deferments and “temporary“ bone spurs in his feet, a person who refers to the KKK and assorted other NeoNazis and white nationalists as “fine people,” that a person like that can be elected president really seems unlikely in any rational universe. So, no wonder I occasionally look around for the portal back into the real world where Hillary Clinton has been president for several months and where, I have no doubt, I would be criticizing everything she has accomplished as well.

However, I promise that when the Trumpster writes his account (or farms it out to a ghostwriter, more likely) of how his victory was the biggest, most beautiful ever in all of history, I’ll review that one too. I want to be fair after all.

I will be fair with extreme prejudice…

Wait. What?

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An Audio-Book Review: 1066 Is Not All That?

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire

By H. W. Crocker III

Published by Blackstone Audio

Read by Ray Porter

 

The Book

Well, here’s a book that was not what I expected. With that title, I expected a humorous and irreverent discussion of British history. I’m not even sure I can call it a history although I suppose that’s the section of your local bookstore that it might be found in (assuming you still have a local bookstore. If not, try a library. What this feels most like is a Cliff Notes summary of a real history book. Most of the descriptions are a bit shallow and there is not a lot of detail, even in chapters that supposedly give more details on stuff in previous ones. The whole discussion is just so cursory, even though I will admit that some of it was new to me.

Basically, Crocker introduces us to the concept of the British Empire and then goes on to describe how it existed in various parts of the world and some of the personalities that made it was it was. But if any poor high school student stumbles across this and tries to use it as source material is likely to get sent back to the library to redo their term paper from scratch.

Is it scholarly? Well, Crocker appears to have read a lot of books o0nt he subject, apparently most of them were written in the 1990’s although a few came out of the 1970’s and 80’s. How do I know? Because every time he quoted an historic personality he attributed the book in which he found it. Strangely, what he does not bother to attribute those quotes to are the circumstances in which they were made; on the field? In an interview? In personal memoires? Who knows? What it all means is he could not be bothered to do and primary research but, instead has relied on what other authors, who may or may not have worked with primary materials themselves, have said about the subject. Now that’s lazy research!

I also know which books he bothered to read because every so often he lists “Books that anti-colonialists (or anti-imperialists) don’t want you to read. He’s very wrong on that, of course. Anti-colonialists (his code for “Liberals”) do want you to read them. It is only through reading through all possible material on a subject that you can make an informed decision for yourself.

“So why is this “Politically Incorrect?” Well, possibly because he has a series of titles that start with “The Politically Incorrect…” but more likely this is because in “Conservative” code and “Politically Incorrect” means “Something those stupid and ill-informed Liberals will not understand and will disagree with because they are always wrong but we are always right.” It’s a bit arrogant, but arrogance is not really a political trait; you can find it in Conservatives and Liberals in equal proportions.

So, in all, the book is an argument in favor of Imperialism. In fact, Crocker repeatedly tells us that the American founding fathers all though building an empire was a good thing and show how many American attitudes actually came from Great Britain. Then again, I think Crocker is American so he repeatedly forgets this is supposed to be a book about British Imperialism. Perhaps it would have been better had Crocker been British too because he is either seriously uninformed on his subject or else couldn’t care less about the facts and just cherry-picked out the parts that supported his own beliefs.

Now to try being fair, there were sections that I learned from. I certainly had not heard of all the personages Crocker shoes to give whole chapters to, but the book is not chronologically organized by a long shot and skips and jumps all up and down the time line. Instead he had attempted to discuss his subject based on geographic location but by doing so the text become repetitious at times (frequently word-for-word) as people who might have been influential in India turn up in Africa or the Middle East. Several times I found myself wondering if I had a bad copy because I would think, ‘Wait. Didn’t he say the same thing a chapter or two ago?”

So, if you’re a pro-imperialist conservative, you might like this book because it will affirm your beliefs. That is, unless you are also the sort of conservative who actually thinks and make decision for him or herself, in which case you will likely think, “Well, I agree with him, but, damn! I could have said that better.” He is right that liberals will not like it. Those who parrot the party line just won’t like it because they disagree with what is said and those, who like the thoughtful conservative, are capable of evaluating the facts for themselves will cringe at the poor scholarship and poorly thought out arguments.

This would have been much better had “Politically Incorrect” meant It’s a parody. Sadly, if this is a parody, it was not an intentional one.

 

The Audiobook:

 

For the most part Ray Porter reads the book well, but he had a really bad habit of slipping into a bad Hollywood version of a Victorian gentleman’s accent when reading the quotes… except for when he reads something Winston Churchill said. In that case it’s a bad impersonation of Churchill. It’s kind of a shame because, except for those annoying lapses, he really does not read badly at all. A history probably should not be read dramatically as this was, but then and I said at the start; this was not really a history. Read or listen to at your own peril.

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An Audio-Book Review: Next Step; Start Over At the Beginning

The Lost Command

Book Two of the Lost Starship Series

By Vaughn Heppner

Published by Audible

Read by Mark Boyett

 

A Word from the Blogger:

I first took up these Audiobook reviews as a sort of experiment, part of which was to see how long I could post a weekly review before being forced to skip a week or two due to running out of books I had listened to. My first Audiobook review was posted on May 23, 2012. Well, I did not quite run out of completed books although I think that would have happened next week had I not forgotten to post this review last week, so I guess the answer is five years and four months, give or take a week or two. I now return you to my usual blog.

 

The Book:

I don’t think I am all that hard to please when it comes to science fiction or fantasy. Tell me a good story (hopefully with good pacing and fun or at least interesting characters) and I’m satisfied. I have really enjoyed stories that might never have made it to the NY Times Best Seller list, for example. Heck, I have devoured nearly everything writing by A. Bertram Chandler who, admittedly, is a very popular Australian author who, so far as I am concerned, did not write enough. I can’t call him a literary giant, however. He basically wrote a twist on Horatio Hornblower in space, but following the adventures of John Grimes from a fresh-creased ensign to disgraced independent merchant to privateer to grizzled old commodore on the very Rim of the Galaxy is just plain fun. I story does not have to be great literature to please me, but… it should be a good story.

The first book of The Lost Starship series was somewhat flawed in my opinion, but I thought it showed enough promise to go on and listen to the second. The characters had developed and grown over the course of the first book and I was certain that the writing would improve as Mister Heppner continued the series.

Sadly, the characters almost all appeared to have backslid, the one exception was Medda, a strong female character from a high-gravity world, who seems to have been demoted to damsel in distress this time around. Captain Maddox has become even more arrogant in the interim and is only matched in arrogance by the ‘New Men” from whom, it turns out, he is partially descended. That last was a bit of data we had been teased with all during the first and second book, only being resolved at the end of this volume, but, frankly, the only surprise would have been if he was not partially New Man and just very good at what he did.

The book adds a few new characters who appear to have been cut from the same bolt of cloth that Maddox and the New Men came from. Basically, almost anyone who is a strong character is an arrogant bustard. No, that was not a typo. A bustard, for those who do not know, is defined as “a large, heavily built, swift-running bird, found in open country in the Old World.” So, yes, so far as I’m concerned, most of Heppner’s characters are arrogant bird-brains, in spite of the fact that he has written them as super-geniuses. They really do not seem all that bright. In fact the one New Man we actually encounter in both the first and second books sounds more like he is just claiming to know everything rather than really knowing. Instead he just says that whatever conclusion the others have come up with is all too obvious and that they are all beneath him. When someone calls him arrogant, he replied that he finds that insulting. Darn it, the comeback should have been that it was meant to be insulting, but true nonetheless as had just been proven.

 

Sadly, the book not only fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion, but comes to no conclusion at all. In the first volume the characters spent most of their time getting to their destination after which they have a protracted battle and then the book ends happily. This time it was worse with the characters taking the entire length of the book to come together and once they do we get treated to, “Tune in tomorrow! Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.”

Feh!

 

The Audiobook:

I was frequently annoyed at Mark Boyett’s reading of this story. In an attempt (I guess) to show off his vocal talents, he frequently resorted to relying on funny voices and somewhat over-done accents to point at which it felt like he was trying to upstage the story. Most of the time I thought he was reading fairly well, but then a grating voice or cliché’ accent came out and I was annoyed all over again.

So, all told, while I will admit that there were some interesting moments in the story, the literary flaws compounded by the reading did not make it an enjoyable experience for me. In the interest of fairness, I will probably listen to the third book in the series, just to see if the lack of plot development this time around is resolved with a good second half of the story. However, if I get another “To be continued,” after hours of listening, I think that will be all the time I devote to this series and probably this author.

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An Audio-Book Review: Church and Magic Don’t Mix

Deryni Checkmate

By Katherine Kurtz

Published by Audible Frontiers

Read by Jeff Woodman

 

The Book:

This is Book 2 of The Chronicles of the Deryni and it takes place not too long after the events of Book 1, Deryni Rising in which young Prince Kelson must ascend to the throne following the death of his father despite the scheming of his mother and various other aspirants to the crown of Gwynedd.

This time around it is not rogue Deryni (a human-like race of beings capable of using magic) who are the antagonists, but the Catholic Church in this alternative world based on the Middle Ages. The Bishops of Gwynedd, Led by Bishop Loris who openly hates all Deryni, are intent on destroying all Deryni (demanding they renounce their heritage and powers) and are aiming most specifically at Duke Alaric Morgan (senior advisor to the king) and his cousin Monsignor Duncan McLain, a Deryni who has been hiding his true identity while serving the Church. Humbling King Kelson and establishing the primacy of the Church in Gwynedd are another goal of the bishops supporting Loris.

It I a far more complex story than the first book of the series with several plots woven together as it goes along. In fact, I would say that in this second book Katherine Kurtz hit her stride as an author and tells a rich story (which does not conclude in this volume) with decent character development and a message against intolerance.

If I have any complaint, it is that at times the personalities of Kelson, Duncan and Morgan all seem interchangeable and that Loris is a bit too two dimensional as a major antagonist, however, in spite of that, the story is rich and held my interest throughout.

I look forward to reading the third volume of this trilogy which somehow I missed when it was newly published.

 

The Audiobook:

I was not entirely pleased by Jeff Woodman’s reading of this book. As I mentioned in my review of Deryni Rising two months ago, I think he tries too hard. He spends too much time trying to add drama to his reading and occasionally slips into rough, silly voices that I found very annoying. In general, his reading was good, but definitely no excellent.

If you are a fan of Katherine Kurtz and are looking for a good way to re-experiencing her early books, this might be a good way to do it, but if a first-timer, maybe you might want to read them for yourself.

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