The Anarchist

The Anarchist

Anarchists can be scary. Their philosophy abjures any form of hierarchy. As such, they are seen as bomb throwers and little else.

Today, the anarchist movement is relatively harmless, as few have rallied behind the philosophy to affect social change. That was not always the case. In the late nineteenth century, anarchists were terrorists. Alexander II of Russia was assassinated by a group slandered as anarchist, as was Umberto I of Italy. The assassination of the Italian king was an inspiration to Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated William McKinley, the twenty-fifth president of the United States.

John Smolens dramatizes that fateful assassination in his 2009 novel The Anarchist. It is a book that brings the city of Buffalo, New York — McKinley was felled — to vivid Gilded Age life. You are swept into cramped barges and squalid whorehouses, the sort of place where the lumpenproletariat of America suffered and radicalized. As you experience their agony, you begin to understand how one of them could decide shooting the president was a good idea.

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Rising Sun Victorious

Rising Sun Victorious: The Alternate History of How the Japanese Won the Pacific War

When it comes to alternate histories of the Second World War, there seems to be a strong focus on Nazi Germany. Something which comes out of the focus on it both in nonfiction writings and in popular culture. After all, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones fought them rather than their counterparts in the Pacific, the Imperial Japanese.

Yet the Pacific Front is not without its potential points of divergence, as both editor Peter G. Tsouras and his essayists wrote about in the 2001 collection Rising Sun Victorious. Published as part of what Goodreads users have termed the Greenhill Alternate History Anthologies Series, the ten essays remind readers that battles, like history itself, often turn on the most innocuous pieces of luck.

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Beneath Hill 60

Beneath Hill 60

The memory of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I is all too often focused around a single battle, one ignominious defeat. I refer to the Battle of Gallipoli, a botched attempt to capture Istanbul.

But men from those countries were involved in other fronts, such as Iraq and Palestine. In 2010, Jeremy Sims made a movie about Australians serving in Belgium, at the Battle of Ypres: Beneath Hill 60.

One word describes this film superbly: claustrophobic. Many scenes are set underground, deep within the sprawling trenches that pockmarked the countryside of Belgium and France during the First World War. It is a dark movie, both in content and visuals. What little light there is serves to show you mere glimpses of the people and things that drive the war; you see them only as the trenches have cast them. The effect is dehumanizing. The Australians in Beneath Hill 60 might as well have been ants.

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The Witch-Crafting Handbook

The Witch-Crafting Handbook

Helena Garcia, known for her extraordinary creations on that fabled British baking show (almost) everybody watches, has published a new book. The Witch-Crafting Handbook is a compilation of beautiful illustrations, crafts and recipes. The latter are rather varied, as they range from skincare to haircare to beverages (most alcoholic) to baking.

Not only is this book varied; it has a distinctive witchy supernatural vintage flair to it, a little like we have come to know from Christine McConnell, for reference.

Although I will admit that I’m not much of a baker, I do feel that, reading through the recipes, most are not for novices in the kitchen. Indeed, many are quite material- or ingredient-heavy. If all goes well, you will get something fabulous out of it, but don’t expect anything quick and easy.

Even if you don’t end up baking anything, it is still a wonderful coffee-table book, or a fine inspirational addition to your personal library, if you’re into this kind of thing.

See for yourself if it’s your proverbial jam. We have a whole flip-through for you, so you can easily figure out if you want to spend money on a copy.

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The Moscow Option

The Moscow Option

While it can be fun to read alternate-history fiction, from time to time I do like to dip my toe into the more academic side of the genre and read through some of the more detailed counterfactual scenarios devised by those writing in that area, especially those titles that are structured more like historical texts. Some excellent examples that I’ve reviewed for the Sea Lion Press blog include Napoleon Victorious, by Peter G. Tsouras, and The Hitler Options, a collection of essays focused around differing scenarios that might have occurred in the Second World War.

For this review I’ve been reading another book in that style, courtesy of redoubtable publishers Frontline Books, who have once again favored us readers by heavily-discounting another tranche of their counterfactual titles. The first of that set is The Moscow Option, from none other than David Downing, legendary author of John Russel espionage series (Zoo Station, Stettin Station, etc.), set before and during the Second World War. This appears to be a title that he first had published in the mid-1970s and which was rereleased by Frontline Books in the distant past of 2001, and now converted to ebook format.

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The Bridge at Andau

The Bridge at Andau

If James Michener is remembered for anything these days, it is for his epic historical novels that regularly pass the thousand-page mark. He was an historical writer in a grand tradition, one that has suffered from the declining attention spans of the digital age.

But he was also capable of writing leaner books that were just as gripping as his generational sagas. Caravans, his novel about Afghanistan, is one. Another is The Bridge at Andau, which is somewhat hard to categorize.

I found this book in the nonfiction history section of my local library, but the interior note with the publication information says it is a work of historical fiction. It is, puzzlingly, both.

Michener was a journalist covering the events around which the book is based; he was standing there at the titular bridge at one point. He interviewed a great many survivors of the events he covers, and the book is in large part based on their testimonies. Many of his sequences involve anonymized versions of real people, or composites thereof.

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Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop

Animated classics are usually best left alone. Live-action versions seldom live up to the original.

In rare cases, though, one does manage to reach that same level of brilliance. One of these is the Netflix live-action adaptation of that classic animated multi-genre space Western, Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop only loosely follows the anime. Many characters are similar and some plot lines are repeated, but overall it can and does stand on its own. I have watched the anime (several times) and can assure you that you can go into this not having a clue as to what it’s about.

The series does not, as the name might suggest, revolve around a cowboy named Bebop. It refers to the fact that interstellar bounty hunters are nicknamed cowboys and the ship of this particular crew is called the Bebop. The initial two-man crew — Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Spike Spiegel (John Cho) — are as clichĂ© as it sounds: men on the run from their past and making a living apprehending bad guys for the fare. With limited succes. Add in Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), a con-girl with a spotty past and a corgi, and you get a bunch of misfits that roam human-inhabited planets fighting evil, trying to find love and often literally themselves.

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The Iron Dream

The Iron Dream

Within published alternate-history fiction of decades gone by, there seemed to be only a few genres that would make use of an alternate-history setting. The most common being the thrillers like SS-GB (Len Deighton, 1978) and Fatherland (Robert Harris, 1992) as well as epic like the multi-volume Worldwar and Southern Victory series by Harry Turtledove. These were pretty well-defined by the 1990s, but before this there was a lot more experimentation with the format like we see again today.

One such experimentation was Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail (1973), which presented itself as a history textbook from another world and is a format that we are all the more familiar with nowadays than readers were when it was first released.

Another such fictional document narrative is The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad — but here the document is not a history textbook, but rather a science-fantasy novel and an accompanying scholarly analysis. The metafictional science fantasy adventure within The Iron Dream is Lords of the Swatstika, by Adolf Hitler.

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Not all wars are as quick and decisive as the Six Day War. Some drag on and on and on. Such was the Lebanese Civil War, which ran from 1975 to 1990. In 1982, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin ordered his army, under General — and future prime minister — Ariel Sharon to enter Lebanon to retaliate against rocket strikes launched by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. As Israeli tanks and infantry rolled into that powder keg, they embarked on a long, pitiless savage war of peace.

This is the backdrop to the 2009 film Lebanon: an Israeli example of a war movie told from the perspective of the invaders, who are sent to die in a foreign land where life seems cheap. Americans like to make these films about Vietnam: Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket are classic examples. More recently, American Sniper brought this type of film into the twenty-first century. The Spanish-made 1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines (review here) and Britain’s The Bridge over the River Kwai arguably count as well.

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Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise

What do you get when you mix a classic Disney theme-park ride with Indiana Jones and throw in some elements of The Mummy for good measure?

Right: Jungle Cruise.

If you missed it when it was playing in the cinemas, now you have another chance: Disney+ has lifted the movie’s paywall.

The creators took the best of the aforementioned films (and some of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), stuck them in a blender, glued on the basic concept of the ride and went with it.

And it works.

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