14 August 2008


I finished reading 'The Martian General's Daughter' by Theodore Judson yesterday.

The basic premise of this science fantasy novel is one of a decaying and decadent empire in the future and the plot is essentially that of a parallel of the reigns of wise Marcus Aurelius, his murderous son, Commodus and the subsequent amoral pretenders to the throne. The wanton murders, the emperor's gladiatorial fights and the resultant succession war afterwards, culminating in the deaths and misery of millions are disturbing and have made for a read that is slightly reminiscent of misery depicted in the fatalistic caste-based culture in Paul Park's masterly trilogy 'The Starbridge Chronicles'.*

I have read Judson's previous work 'Fitzpatrick's War' and I have been impressed by the world-building, the quality of the narrative and the plot which has echoed Alexander the Great's reign.

With regards to the plot of both works, it will not be surprising if one views 'The Martian General's Daughter' and 'Fritzpatrick's War' as cautionary tales of empire-building and also an indictment of Pax Americana but my impressions are that these are more of a straight re-telling of facets of Greek and Roman history that have been transposed to a futuristic setting.

On another point, what I have liked about this work is that it is a nice 230+ pages in length which is a relief given the bloat that one finds in today's science fiction and fantasy works. 800-page tomes like each volume of that dreadful, neverending George R. R. Martin fantasy series 'A Song of Ice and Fire' anyone? The brevity and writing of Judson's work have effectively conveyed the drama and ideas without the overwriting one commonly sees in the two genres of SF and fantasy. Perhaps, Judson has a good editor, I don't know. A final note on 'The Martian General's Daughter', strangely enough, the novel is marred by a few lines of unnecessary Christian propaganda near the end. I wonder why.**

I am also reading 'The Last Colony' by John Scalzi. I guess this is the 'completist' side of me taking over. I should really avoid doing that. This will definitely be my last Scalzi novel.*** The last two which I read 'Ghosts Brigade' and 'The Android's Dream' were, I feel, already veering on the side of the writer's self-indulgence. My impression is that the 'Old Man's War' series appear to have degenerated into a jokey, self-referential family drama, not unlike those continuing fantasy novels by Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, with descendents of the original protagonists going on adventures and so forth. This is my final Scalzi novel as continuing family dramas, not unlike that of soap operas, are tiresome. Yes, it's a space opera without the rayguns.

I read Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' last year which has a tone that harkens back to the gee-whiz attitudes in the old Heinlein classic 'Starship Troopers' and also his SF novels written for kids. That was refreshing in a sense.

I am also continuing with the humourous 'The Man Who Ate Everything' by food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. I started this some months back after reading 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' but was distracted.

I have read bits and pieces of 'Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age' by Peter Paret, Gordon A. Craig, and Felix Gilbert over the years. Wei Yi had recommended the compilation over a decade ago but I haven't the time and energy then. I have decided to finally finish this volume before embarking on others which I will expand on in a future date.

On a curious note, Condoleezza Rice contributed an essay, 'The Making of Soviet Strategy' in this 1986 volume.

Lastly, I am in the midst of 'God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist' by Victor J. Stenger after finishing that well-written and well-argued Hitchens' volume 'God is not great: How religion poisons Everything'.

What are you reading at present?

* The Starbridge Chronicles consists of 'Soldiers of Paradise', 'Sugar Rain' and 'The Cult of Loving Madness'.
** Two other writers that I have read have shoehorned Christianity into their fantasy works. David Gemmell and Simon Green had made mention of Christianity in their fictional fantasy worlds that had appeared to have almost no connection with our timeline. Odd means of sermonising.
*** There is yet another one, 'Zoe's Tale' in that series. 'The Sagan Diary' is also another perspective. No, I will not be reading them. Enough.


Wilfrid said...

Wow ... so many book summary at one go! Interesting genre you read. I think it is kind of beyond me ... ha ha ha.

What am I reading at present? I am taking a break. I've been reading non-stop for a good few months. A bit tiring ... lol.

Have a good weekend, friend.

Andy said...

I've gotten up through der Alte Fritz and the American War of Independence in the Weigley book. There's a chapter on the reasons for French decline from Louis XIV to the late 18th century, then it's on to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

It deals a lot more with naval history than I would have expected, but its hard to discuss the Anglo-French wars without it.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Wilfrid, well, 'The Makers of Modern Strategy' is sometimes used in first year classes in universities as the text for degree programmes for military history, political science or international relations I think. It's not difficult to understand. Not esoteric at all. The Scalzi novel is mass market science fiction, populist not too cerebral and forgettable, the few other mentioned SF novels have probably smaller print runs. For the book about food, I think it is engaging and accessible. Great writing, a pleasure to read. The Stenger volume, from what I have glimpsed over a period of time, is also well-written, thought out and argued.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Andy, what is your view on Weigley's central theme so far? Has he supported his arguments well? I am not sure if his postulations can be applied to the limited war aims of the seventeenth century, perhaps the eighteenth?

Naval? I have the book by my bedside after you mentioned it in a previous post. I will give it a look.