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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Vintage Halloween Graphics

Halloween Vintage Holiday Graphics

Happy Halloween everyone!

Going by our annual Halloween tradition, here’s a review of Vintage Halloween Graphics! It’s a compact, A5-sized little pictorial full of midcentury Halloween imagery. And contrary to last year’s Bogie Book (review here), absolutely one to add to your collection if you’re looking to add a vintage flair to your Halloween celebrations.

This book is especially fun because it has a bit of everything: costumes, decorations, advertisements, postcard designs… it’s all there.

If you’re searching for a profound history of Halloween, this is not what you need. But if you just want to look at pictures of the Halloween revelry of days past, I can definitely recommend this.

Don’t take my word for it, though! See for yourself, for I have put together a full flip-through of the book.

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Lost Empire of Tartaria

The lost empire of Tartaria is the most delightful conspiracy theory. It posits that a technologically advanced civilization spanned Eurasia and perhaps parts of North America until as recently as a century ago, when it was erased from history. What’s left of Tartaria are ornate and seemingly out-of-place structures, from opulent churches in Russia to the Shanghai Bund.

The theory stems from disappointment in modern architecture. We once had fabulous Art Deco skyscrapers, Beaux-Arts train stations and Second Empire post offices. Now everything is a glass-and-concrete box. What happened?

The theory is that Americans and Europeans didn’t build those monuments. They are the legacy of a Tartarian Empire that emanated out of Northeast Asia.

Are we supposed to believe that eighteenth-century mapmakers drew a vast “Tartaria” in that region out of ignorance? Surely not! Tartaria was real, and it was the most powerful empire of its time. The Great Wall of China was built not by the Chinese to keep the barbarians out, but by the Tartarians to keep out the Chinese.

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Nightfall

Nightfall

For decades, science fiction has dreamed of stepping through portals and entering new worlds. It were these sort of fantasies that birthed the modern alternate-history genre. To this day, stories are told with this device, such as Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series and Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World.

Here, I will discuss a modern example of this subgenre: Nightfall, the first book in Andrew J. Harvey’s Clemhorn series.

The book follows various members of the Clemhorn family in high places of the Cross-Temporal Empire, a polity which rules multiple alternate incarnations of Earth. Each of these worlds is run by a bureaucratic hierarchy, which meet in the central imperial government. The Clemhorns are aristocrats, related to leaders of this empire. Through their eyes, they experience a massive upheaval in the empire, with threats from within and without.

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Napoleon Victorious

Napoleon Victorious

In my time spent exploring alternate-history fiction , I’ve come to the (no doubt entirely unoriginal) conclusion that there are two different types of publications in the genre; two broad “spheres” that nestle comfortably at either end of the genre and only occasionally overlap.

The first can perhaps be best described as “traditional” fiction, i.e. those novels and anthologies that are focused on plot and atmosphere and character development — whether they be an alternate-history crime thriller (In the Case Where Your Saviors Hide), legal thriller (Defying Conventions), naval-focused military history anthology (Those in Peril) or even espionage and politics (the classic Agent Lavender).

The second sphere consists of what its authors, editors and often readers seem to prefer labelling as “counterfactual” titles, far more formal and rigid essay-style counterfactual publications that focus exclusively on cause-and-effect explorations of a change or changes in a historical scenario. Almost inevitably these are military history-focused, with titles either following the what-if format or “X Victorious”, where X can stand for, variously, the Third Reich, Dixie, the Rising Sun and other nations or entities in history.

Both spheres have their pros and cons, and until very recently I had limited myself to reviewing titles in the traditional fiction sphere, as there were so many that I had discovered while wading my way through Kindle listings and social media posts. However, in my teenage years I had been an avid reader of counterfactual military history collections, and I still have a certain fondness for them. So when I discovered that Greenhill Books and Frontline books — the main publishers of many counterfactual collections — had significantly reduced the prices of many of their titles in ebook format, it seemed like the ideal time to dive back into that sphere.

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Trench 11

Trench 11

An Internet friend of mine likes to say that the best war movies are essentially horror movies. They thrust you into a living nightmare, one where worms and locusts feast on the shredded cadavers of former comrades. As General Sherman said, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.”

It is no wonder then that horror movies will use the setting of such mass slaughters for their supernatural thrills. Recent examples include Overlord and Ghosts of War, both of which I have reviewed here. Leo Scherman’s 2017 film Trench 11 is another entry in the military horror subgenre.

Unlike the World War II setting of the two aforementioned films, Trench 11 takes place during World War I, that allegedly “great” war. It reminded me of a comment I saw on a video of Sabaton’s song Attack of the Dead Men, about the namesake event that defies belief but is true. It was about how strange the innovations of that miserable war must have seemed to the young men who were slaughtered in it; men flying, killing other men with bullets fired at speeds that render them invisible, riding in metallic machines, digging tunnels under the earth, and suffocating of toxic air. In that context, men rising from the dead does not seem that implausible.

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1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines

1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines

Many of us in the Western world might think of Southeast Asia as a dense jungle where white people go to die. The French and the Americans died in Vietnam. The Dutch died in Indonesia. The British died in Malaya.

The Philippines are often overlooked. Americans may remember the islands played a role in World War II. They will speak of Corregidor (properly with a rolled “r” and a “g” pronounced like an “h” — it’s a Spanish word) and Bataan (a three-syllable word) and Leyte Gulf. What they may not remember is the war that gained Americans the Philippines, and the empire that ruled it before them.

That empire was Spain. Spaniards arrived in the archipelago four centuries before the Americans threw them out by concocting an espionage scandal out of a boiler accident. 1898, Los últimos de Filipinas, released in the English-speaking world as 1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines, is about the end of that war.

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Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones

Much has been written about how much of the American South was complicit in the institution of slavery. Historian Ira Berlin wrote in Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in America (1998) that the South wasn’t just a “society with slaves”; it was a “slave society”. Chattel slavery was the institution around which life in those states revolved.

Slaves tried to break the chains that bound them. Many former slaves, and descents of slaves, fought in the Grand Army of the Republic for that reason.

There were also white Southerners who resisted. West Virginia broke from Virginia. Eastern Tennessee was in full revolt. Free State of Jones gives a third example of freed slaves and deserting white soldiers fighting together against the tyranny of Confederate rule.

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The Fall of Rorke’s Drift

The Fall of Rorke's Drift

Ideas are cheap. Most people can come up with a thousand concepts for books. The skill is in the execution. In bringing that vision into life, putting the idea into words. And yet there is still a value in a good concept. There are hundreds of well-written, well-executed books that hold no interest to me because the concept is one I don’t care for. The world’s best-written story about the innate eroticism of painting walls is still unlikely to become a bestseller.

Alternate history is no different in this than other genres. For alternate-history books, often the selling point is the concept rather than the writer. Thus a question to be asked when considering writing alternate-history fiction is often less, “Is this a plausible alternate world?” and more, “Is this an interesting alternate world? Can I say something interesting about our society with this setting?” An eye-popping setting or point of departure can immediately attract the eye.

A useful weapon for that, of course, is novelty. There are a lot of alternate-history books working with World War II or the American Civil war, but other areas are less explored. There have not been many alternate-history stories written about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and so, as someone who has written an article about that war, the concept of this book immediately appealed.

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1917

1917

More than a century removed from Versailles, where that armistice for twenty years was signed, we in the English-speaking Atlantic world tend to think of World War I as a static conflict. This is because we are mostly presented with the Western Front in fiction, where endless rows of trenches are bombarded with tear gas and brave men and foolhardy officers who go over the top are flayed by machine guns and corroded by poison gas. (Australians and New Zealanders had different experiences.) When the men are not charging and dying, they are languishing in squalor in the mud.

Not so 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, of Skyfall and Spectre fame, and released in 2019. This is a film of rapid movement and brutal battle. It is a film that will never let you forget that these men were not eating plum and apple jam, and the sergeant does not deliver the men breakfast in bed. They were the currency used to match the price of a mile.

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