Leading a team specialized in putting magical objects — often cursed, always troublesome — back where they belong, Arwen Arnoult is tasked with taking back a particularly troublesome mask from a vaguely defined ancient civilization in Rise of the Catalyst.
This may sound like a dime-in-a-dozen adventure story, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Victorianesque world Honor Raconteur’s characters inhabit might not be well defined, but it is full of magical and mystical wonders and a wide cast of characters you get to know better as the book progresses.
It’s the kind of adventure you want to keep reading. You can’t help but wonder what mishap lays around the next bend, and you can’t help but root for the team as they travel through all sorts of terrains and encounters to accomplish their goal. I especially liked how the powers of the mages weren’t completely revealed from the get-go, but that you discover bit by bit just what they can do.
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We at Never Was join many others in the alternate-history community in mourning the passing of Eric Flint.
Flint was the mastermind behind the sprawling 1632 series of time-travel alternate-history novels, in which the small town of Grantville, West Virginia is taken from the year 2000 and dropped into the middle of Thuringia, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. This series grew to involve a great many writers in its novels and anthologies, as well as opening up contributions to the public via the Grantville Gazette.
Flint pioneered a collaborative model of science-fiction writing, helped make Baen Books what it is today, helped create the Baen Free Library, and wrote many other books in various genres with a number of co-authors.
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I have, with the exception of my four years at the College of William & Mary, been a lifelong resident of northern Virginia, which is a fancy way of referring to the suburban sprawl of Washington DC on the southern banks of the Potomac. We joke that this region is “occupied Virginia,” and Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor in 2017, called us “not real Virginians.”
As such, my interaction with the rest of the state can be slight. I was interested, then, to see that Charles Bateman had written an alternate-history novel, The Republic of Virginia: Brothers and Battlelines of 1861, focusing on the state.
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War is a force that gives us meaning, and its allure can be intoxicating even as the slugfest devolves into slaughter. It usually kills plenty of men, but women are swept up in it too. In China there is the story of Hua Mulan, in England that of Sweet Polly Oliver, in France Joan of Arc, and in America Mollie Bean.
Here we shall discuss the story of Tatiana Dubinskaya, a woman who dressed as a man to fight in the tsar’s army in World War I. She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel In the Trenches, recently translated into English by Julia Lemberskiy.
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Now that conventions are slowly making a return, we also have a returning (to the convention scene and this blog) staple with Brussels Manga, previously known as Japan Con. As far as Japan-centered conventions in Belgium go, this is one of the smallest. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its location and atmosphere.
The beautiful, industrial Tour et Taxis building offers a lot of space and natural light, as well as excellent spots for diesel- and steampunk photos. Although the event is not ‘punk-specific, it is definitely a space where you can wear the style and blend in. You can even find some steampunk wares among the merchandise on offer.
On top of that, if you enjoy Japanese culture, what is better than having both?
If you love seeing cosplay, this is also a great event, and due to its small size you can actually properly stop and admire people’s costumes, many of which had distinctive ‘punk influences.
Onto the pictures!
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In the English-speaking world, there is a consensus about how to depict the First World War in film. It is grotty. It is dark. It is miserable. It is madness. It is absolutely, positively pointless, a tragic waste of human life from which the modern world emerged. This magazine has reviewed several films like that. None of them tried to be funny about it.
The 1976 French-Ivorian coproduction Black and White in Color (originally titled La Victoire en chantant, for a famous French war song) is different. Perhaps only the country most victimized by the war could satirize it so savagely; Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s antiwar film, wasn’t shown in France due to backlash from veterans.
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When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, it gave various nations a taste of freedom they hadn’t enjoyed in decades or even centuries.
One such nation was the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which existed only a few years before the Red Army came to reinstate Russian rule, this time under the hammer and sickle. It is in this brief interlude that the 2018 film Kruty 1918, directed by Aleksey Shaparev, takes place.
The film is clearly a metaphor for the Russian invasion of Ukraine in our own century. It begins and ends with a veteran of the ongoing war at a monument to the dead at the Battle of Kruty. It is a film that is in its own way deeply nationalistic, for good and for ill.
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It’s not exactly insightful to say that historical fiction, alternate history included, is obsessed with war, and there are good reasons for that. War is both common, being able to live through a lifetime without ever directly experiencing combat is a privilege that most of humanity didn’t have, and incredibly dramatic, nations and ideals can fall and rise based on a single gunshot.
But every genre needs variety. If all alternate-history stories are war stories, then the genre can appear, as Arturo Serrano put it, as of only interest to war gamers. All about tanks and bullets with little interest in the cultures and societies that wars defended, formed and destroyed.
This article, while originally written before our panel discussion on “Guns or Butter,” will go out sandwiched on either side by that discussion which was about the question, “What has alternate history lost by focusing on military fiction instead?”
Continue reading “Can You Write An Historical Story Ignoring War?”
As an American, I remember being surprised to learn how impactful Westerns have been outside my homeland. It’s a genre that is quintessentially based on American history, but one that has gained currency abroad, particularly in Italy. Quasi-Westerns have also been made in Australia, China and South Africa.
Here I’d like to discuss a “Red Western”: Vladimir Motyl’s 1970 White Sun in the Desert. It’s a film much like American Westerns, but set in what is now Turkmenistan during the Russian Civil War.
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Our image of the First World War is dominated by Europeans and their descendants. Trench warfare, as portrayed in books like All Quiet on the Western Front, is shown as fought by Americans, British, French and Germans.
Those European countries, however, were also imperial powers, with many subject peoples made to contribute thousands of men to the war effort. One recent novel does not overlook them: David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black, translated into English by Anna Moschovakis.
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