August 25th, 2008


DWCon and disrupted night

A very nice day at Discworld yesterday, mainly for catching up with lj folks, some of them (kelvix, sierra_le_oli, ailbhe and especially uitlander) for the first time in the flesh; good to also see watervole, natural20, bellinghman, bellinghwoman, clanwilliam, gmh, rmc28, fanf and Charles, and anyone else I've failed to mention. Also I actually attended two panels, Jacqueline Simpson talking about the folklore of Discworld and Jack Cohen on sex and reproduction in Discworld. I was interested to note that both panels had a single speaker, in contrast to most sf con panels I have attended. (Also beckyl put me right about the early history of the game of Thud!

Anyway, good stuff, and I may try and attend for longer at some future event.

Last night was very disrupted by little U deciding that 3 am was the right time to wake up. She has been entertaining us all in her own special way for the last five hours or so. We are returning to Belgium today, but will be starting very slowly.
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August Books 31) 1690: Battle of the Boyne

31) 1690: Battle of the Boyne, by Pádraig Lenihan

Another in the Tempus series of monographs (like Maria Kelly's Black Death) on Irish history. Lenihan takes the 1 July battle and examines it in depth from military, political and above all psychological perspectives. His unpacking of what James II, William III and Louis XIV were really up to is most enlightening - he doesn't believe James had aimed at much more than the restoration of Catholic rights before 1688, which chimes with my instinct, but then goes on to say that in 1690 William's hold on Britain was still far from complete, and the Irish campaign was necessary as much as anything to satisfy the Westminster Parliament.

Lenihan's analysis of the military styles of the kings on each side of the Boyne and their commanders is even more impressive: William and Schomberg were second-rate (and he gives examples from William's other battles to support this), but James and Lauzun were third-rate - the best evidence of this being that the battle took place at the Boyne at all, rather than the much more strategic Moyry Pass, abandoned by the Jacobites without a fight.

The description of the Boyne battle itself is a forensic dissection, with Lenihan slightly (and unnecessarily) apologetic for the amount of detail, honest about the gaps and inconsistencies in his sources, and also honest about the fact that the most decisive moment in the battle was something which didn't happen on the previous evening, when William was grazed on the shoulder by a cannon-ball; had he been killed at that stage, his forces would probably still have won the battle (if it went ahead) but certainly lost the war, or at least concluded it on much less favourable terms. But the fact that William, though wounded, carried the field, while James fled despite a surprisingly low number of casualties, was enough to set the mythology of the battle and the reputation of both men.

Having said up front that I really enjoyed the text, I am sorry to say that there are several aspects of its presentation which fall below the standards I would expect from a responsible publisher. The maps are too few, and are confusingly placed and labelled, which is something you really don't want in a book on military history. As with Kelly's book on the Black Death, the index has serious deficiencies. And James II's own memoirs - a key source!! - are confusingly cited; it is implied that they are reproduced in Clarke's 1816 biography, but it would have been nice to be clear. Despite all this I'd recommend the book unreservedly to anyone who already has a decent idea of the historical and geographical terrain.

August Books 32) The Carhullan Army

32) The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall

I got this because it won this year's Tiptree Award, which seems to me to put forward some reasonable challenges to the Hugo/Nebula establishment. I thought it was a very good book. The setting is a near-future Britain, underpopulated and oppressed due to climate change and war; the narrator, a woman known only as "Sister", flees her native town to join a community of women in the Lake District, and they spend the rest of the book preparing for their struggle with Authority (ie the government). This is the kind of story that is often done embarrassingly badly (see, for instance, Sherri S Tepper on occasion, or The Rising of the Moon) but Hall does it well; Carhullan is emphatically not a utopia, nor is it destined to be a permanent answer to an unjust society, and the leader Jackie and her colleagues are memorable figures. Some readers will be reminded of The Dispossessed, or The Handmaid's Tale, and I guess it's fair to say that if you didn't like either of those books The Carhullan Army will leave you cold. But actually I felt it was also perhaps a response to John Christopher's The Death of Grass, where the protagonists are engaged in essentially a selfish struggle to get through their post-apocalyptic landscape to (if I remember rightly) the Lake District; the Carhullan Army have a more altruistic and redeeming purpose.

Not surprisingly, a rather easy pass for the Bechdel test. Also in response to peake's query, the text in my edition starts on page 5 and ends on page 207, with several blank pages in between, so I reckon under 200 pages of actual story.