Walking through time, prophesying war and putting in order: books read

IVAR, TIMEWALKER: Making History by Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry and Robert Gill is a disappointing sibling series to Archer and Armstrong. Armstrong’s brother Ivar informs physicist Neela Sethi she’s on the brink of discovering time travel, then takes her on a jaunt to see why she cannot change history, not even to save her beloved, accidentally deceased father. The collection doesn’t stand alone, it’s just set up for everything that’s coming in later volumes (which I don’t anticipate reading). And that aside, as several people have observed it feels like a knockoff of the Doctor breaking in a new companion.

CHICAGOLAND: A Joe Mack Shadow Council Novel by Gail Z. Martin and Larry Martin is part of a historical urban fantasy series (tied in to various other series by the same authors) which reimagines the Pittsburgh tall tale Joe Magarac (a man of living metal sometimes described as the Paul Bunyan of the steel mills) as an avatar for a Slavic storm good, making him immortal and when necessary letting him turn into the X-Men’s Colossus. In previous volumes he and his friends helped Elliott Ness bust Capone, who’s a self-taught magician as well as a mob boss; unfortunately with Scarface Al in the lockup, much of his magic is getting loose and running wild … The historical setting makes this much more enjoyable than I find most contemporary urban fantasies.

As H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds has roots in the 19th century’s “future war” genre, I reread the genre history  VOICES PROPHESYING WAR: Future Wars 1763 — 3749 by IF Clarke as part of my research for Alien Visitors. As Clarke details, future-war stories had been around since the 18th century but only became big when George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking came out in 1871. The mix of military detail (a lot of analysis about where England’s military strategy was weak) with a strong story — Germany conquers France, then England  — was a smash hit, and multiple novels followed. Wells’ novel follows in the same mode as Dorking: a narrator looking back at the future war, and serving as an eyewitness rather than an active participant.

This was the 1992 edition so it ran longer than the volume I read before, with more discussion of space war and post-holocaust stories, which Clarke concludes have replaced most of the interest in WW III stories. This wasn’t quite as interesting as the older sections, but it’s still an excellent, though specialized read.

I was unimpressed with Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder, but I really enjoyed her A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order. Flanders starts by pointing out that alphabetical order is completely arbitrary — AJQBCM makes just as much sense as ABCDEF — but also fixed in our minds (we all know A list is better than D list). Then she shows that while listing or indexing things in alphabetical order seems intuitively obvious, it’s a relatively novel invention inhuman history. For much of our existence people favored geographical or hierarchical listings (in a monastic library catalog, books of the Bible and works by great Christian figures come first and second) as well as methods tied to a particular manuscript or individual collection (perfectly practical until someone else inherited it).. While this gets into the bibliographic weeds at times, an interesting look at history and possibly the future; Flanders points out that with Google and similar systems, alphabetical searching is often unnecessary.

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One response to “Walking through time, prophesying war and putting in order: books read

  1. Pingback: Ant-Man and other not-a-classic graphic novels | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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