One of the first things that struck me about this book is how apropos its title is: running through the entire novel is an all-consuming sense of dread brought out by what is best described as magical fog. It’s not hard to visualize the characters wrapped in clouds, appearing only in fading silhouettes as they walk through this darkened recreation of Victorian London.
Out of the London Mist, by Lyssa Medana, succeeds in its atmosphere, a steampunk London of the more fantastic variety. It’s a world where all things are permeated by an omnipresent aether, which powers airships. The aether can also be used to power other things, and it is one of those other things that drives the plot of the novel. The characters are an interesting assemblage of people from different parts of this version of London, including nobles and thieves, adventurers and mechanics.
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They don’t make movies like Otto Preminger’s Exodus anymore. It’s one of those epic historical dramas with bombastic soundtracks that make me regret being born in a time when only Star Wars has such scores. (Listen here.)
It runs in the ballpark of three and a half hours, so it’s by no means an easy watch. Making it even less easy is the controversial subject matter: the founding of the modern state of Israel.
As a story, the film works magnificently. It earns its behemoth runtime. No scene is wasted, and the story naturally takes that time. It feels properly epic; about a people who have survived the unspeakable and their odyssey to find a new home.
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In certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles there is a term “accelerationism”, referring to a belief that the problems of society should not be ameliorated but rather exacerbated in order to cause the collapse of a preexisting social order so that something else may be built on its ashes. The justification for this is simple: anarchy is a blank slate upon which any enterprising political elite can realize their dreams should they put the proper work into it and persuade the right people.
One such form of accelerationism comes forth in the writings of the Argentine Marxist writer J. Posadas, who advocated for nuclear war, which would destroy the capitalist order and, among the ruins, provide a way to build Marx’ classless utopia.
Posadas also believed in the necessity of contacting aliens who, by virtue of their technological advancement, must be more advanced according to Marx’ dialectical theory, a notion which has him painted as a loon by certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles on the internet.
However, he was not the first writer to put forth a similar idea.
Continue reading “The World Set Free”
If I had to describe ’71 in a single sentence, I’d say “Black Hawk Down in Northern Ireland”. It has the same inciting incident: a soldier is cut off from his unit in a foreign land and has to survive surrounded by enemies. But that is where the similarities end.
For one, it is made clear to our protagonist (Jack O’Connell), after he goes through boot camp, that he is not leaving the country. This soldier is British, and he is being sent to Belfast, a city engaged in low-scale civil war between Catholics and Protestants. In an attempt to placate a riot, he is lost in the chaos and has to navigate a complex world of sectarian tensions and conflicting paramilitaries.
Almost immediately, the movie slams you with the reality of the saying, as Orwell did, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” One generally thinks of the United Kingdom after World War II as a peaceful country; indeed, one book I’ve read about the subject is entitled The People’s Peace, by Kenneth O. Morgan (1990). But even on that windswept island, there was war: pubs in Guildford and Birmingham were bombed by the IRA, to give but two examples.
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I chose to watch Netflix’s Drifting Dragons practically on a whim. It had airships, and it would allow me to partially fulfill my desire to get more into anime, given how much it has influenced my social circles. I watched the whole thing in a single night, about four hours or so.
In terms of the ‘punk aspect, it is on the boundary between steam and diesel. The series is set in a fantasy world separate from our own, but the technology is familiar: you have the helium zeppelin and the small helicopter that it dispatches to fight dragons.
Given that it’s in the very title of the show, I feel I must comment on the dragons. These are not the dragons of European fairytales, nor are they the dragons of Chinese myth; these are more Lovecraftian monsters than anything else, with a sort of otherworldly horror to their design that made my skin crawl. They’re not just inhuman; they almost feel as if they were not designed by humans.
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Airships. The very word conjures images of luxurious views of the ocean or the mountains. They make us think of the romanticized interwar years and are the symbol of a future that never came to pass; one that was cremated in the ashes of the Hindenburg. And yet they endure in the imaginations of people whose parents were not alive to see the fiery death of that future.
That brings us to the subject of this review: a duology from Sea Lion Press about a crew of a cargo airship by Tabac Iberez, composed of A Century Turns and Night Over the Bosporus.
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Old war movies are frequently smeared as jingoistic and morally simplistic. There is also the reckoning with François Truffaut, who argued no movie can ever truly be antiwar.
But the history enthusiast in me always finds something to enjoy in these movies, where heroic Americans, Britons and Allies (almost always from the Anglosphere) in awe-inspiring tanks and sleek propeller planes fight the good fight against cruel Nazis and Imperial Japanese.
Nor are these films as uncritical as they are sometimes made out to be. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Bridge at Remagen (1969) and even bits of The Guns of Navarone (1961) show the sheer cruel madness of war.
It is in this context that we must consider Red Tails, the 2012 movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American fighter pilots who battled both American racism and German military might in Italy.
It does much the same things as The Great Escape (1963) or The Guns of Navarone, where Americans are heroes and Germans are villains, with the twist of race relations woven into the plot as any movie about the Tuskegee Airmen must. In this, it is far more nuanced morality-wise than the stereotypical old war movie, moving it more into the territory of The Bridge of Remagen and showing that American racism deeply affected the war effort, both in Europe and at home.
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I must admit that when I heard Martin Scorsese had made a kid-friendly film, I was taken aback, given his pedigree of Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990) and most recently The Irishman (2019). It seemed like something out of character for the man, and so it was in the spirit of curiosity, more than anything else, that I watched Hugo on Netflix.
I was enthralled the entire time. My doubts were entirely misplaced.
First and foremost, this feels like a Scorsese movie even without the grit and mobsters. It has his trademark tracking shots, one through Gare Montparnasse in Paris, and it’s gorgeous. It has his way of using music that I can’t quite put my finger on, but is undoubtedly filled with a certain je ne sais quoi that shows how much the man loves the medium. More generally, it has the craftsmanship that Scorsese excels at.
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One of the most compelling things about any Axis victory alternate history, when done well, is the all-consuming sense of dread that pervades the entire enterprise. How could it not be? The very conceit is the triumph of one of the most bloodthirsty, sadistic regimes this world has ever known. There is something that sends a chill down my spine when reading the details of Generalplan Ost, the plan that made the bloodshed of the war look like small pickings in comparison.
That’s the hurdle all Axis victory works need to reckon with: the sheer, unrelenting, nauseating horror that is inherent to the very premise.
Many alternate histories have done this well. I consider Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992) some of the best dystopian fiction ever written, even beyond their allohistorical content. C.J. Sansom’s Dominion (2012) is a more subdued portrayal, but no less haunting for it. Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) has a silent terror lurking in the background as a German color revolution seems to take root.
So it has been proven, quite conclusively, that this genre can be done well. Which brings us to Paul Leone’s In and Out of the Reich.
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