October 1st, 2002

The Tuesday Morning "Feeling A Little Chipper" Review: Flashman

Coincidences abound in the world of blogs: Charlie was posting in his blog about General Elphinstone, just as I was finishing reading the first of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels, in which our anti-hero finds himself caught up in the military disaster that was the retreat from Kabul. It's a story that our current political leaders would probably do well to read...

MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels can be read in two ways: firstly as the continuing tale of the life of the consummate rogue and rake first met in Thomas Hughes' 1857 novel of school life Tom Brown's School Days, and secondly, as deeply researched historical novels that deal with elements of Victorian history we avoid learning about... Either way, they're great fun, and make enjoyable reads.

The first, Flashman is the story of Harry Flashman's expulsion from Rugby, and his early military career in London, Scotland, India and Afghanistan. He lies, cheats, and whores his way through early Victorian society, meeting up with sundry historical figures (Genre SF readers could assuage their guilt by treating this as a secret history). And yet, despite his catalogue of sins, we feel that this confessional memoir is such that Flashman is a reliable narrator, even if he was an unreliable man. As Flashman runs from the Afghan blunders of General Elphinstone we see more of the measure of the man, and realise that, (perhaps) despite his cowardly, venal nature, here is a man who is more than he knows.

MacDonald Fraser has obviously spent time immersed in his source materials, reading contemporary accounts, piecing together the contradictions in official documents, and attempting to see both sides of a story distorted through the fractured lenses of history and the needs of patriotism. And yet, he manages to transcend this, inserting his research neatly into a story that mixes skullduggery, revenge and military blunders - as well as wenching, cheating and bluster.

All in all, Flashman is "light fiction plus", a quick, fun read, that leaves the reader realising that they've just received an education in disguise.

You'll be seeing more of these books here in future.

What are they on?

Pointed out by codepope, this delightful piece of english on the Belkin website:

"Destine for peril you search for it, but it eludes you as an epiphany to the weak-minded. Perhaps the rumor of a trolley with detachable laptop case is only a myth. Yet at that moment it reveals itself, only to be picked up for purchase before you can scramble over to it.
The Broadway uniquely patented detachable feature invites the user to load the laptop computer in the front case, while saving the rear case for clothing and travel accessories."

I'm still not sure what I'd be buying. A laptop case, or a device from the labs of Q?
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The Tuesday "Late Lunch Review": The Last Hero

A few books back I felt Terry Pratchett had jumped the shark. Sure, the books were still funny, but they were missing something - some vital spark that needed to be there to turn them into vital, living things. It took me a while to realise what it was: a sense of righteous anger. I have this vision of a Victorian Terry at a pulpit in a tin hut chapel preaching "The're ain't no butter in hell!".

But it looks like he's angry again. The Truth was a cracking story, dealing with the role of the press in society in a new and refreshing way. And now, the paperback of The Last Hero is out, in a lavishly illustrated format. Don't go expecting a long read though, as this is a novella - though the glorious full page Paul Kidby pieces expand the book to healthy size.

This is a story about story, and the rules of story. An aged barbarian is ready to return the proceeds of the first theft ever to the gods. Though perhaps in not quite the form it was originally stolen. Accompanied by the remnants of his Silver Horde, Cohen the Barbarian is climbing the mountain at the heart of the discworld, ready to fulfil his destiny as the last hero. But when the wizards of the Unseen University discover what's happening, they realise that this will mean the end of the world. Carrot, Rincewind and Leonard of Quirm must journey around the Discworld in a wooden spacecraft to save the day...

Pratchett tells a neat, well constructed story. It's not laugh out loud, more the subtle humour of his latest works, where satire and cynicism take the place of jokes and slapstick. This is a mature work, which has a much to say about the nature and the role of story (along with science and curiosity) as Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman.

A short, but sweet read.
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