Under the Bright Saharan Sky

Under the Bright Saharan Sky

Under the Bright Saharan Sky is Lyssa Medana’s sequel to her fantastic debut novel, Out of the London Mist. We return to the characters of that novel as they go on a new adventure. I finished my review of Out of the London Mist with a wish that these characters would make the Saharan expedition mentioned in the book. To my great pleasure, they do just that in Under the Bright Saharan Sky.

Think of this book as a cross between Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with a dash of steampunk fantasy. A third or so of the book is traveling through Europe en route to the Sahara (with a good bit set in Cairo), and you get a feel of all these different cities. It resembles something of a fantastic Baedeker.

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Empires of Sand

Empires of Sand

I have often talked of the strange places where I have discovered strange things to partake in, be they YouTube recommendations or Netflix algorithms or /r/FreeEbooks. Here I shall sing of yet another such way: anthologies.

I discovered the work of David Ball through Rogue, an anthology dedicated to the titular archetype edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

(Side note: any anthology edited by those two is bound to be fantastic. Martin, not only a good judge of stories, is also a great writer of anthology introductions.)

What made this anthology so interesting is that it deliberately spans multiple genres. There are fantasy stories and science-fiction stories and historical stories and various permutations thereof. It boasts such great names as Gillian Flynn and Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss, but the one that stood out to me was David Ball and his short story Provenance, involving art theft in the ruins of post-World War II Germany. I devoured it, and then everything else he has written (three novels and another short story in another Martin and Dozois anthology).

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The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Raider of the Copper Hill

Raider of the Copper Hill

By 1884, the heydays of the cattle trails were coming to an end. As accurately depicted by Ken Don Rosa in the fourth of the original twelve chapters of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, the American West was becoming less wild. Fenced-off farms were taking the place of the great open-range ranches of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

In this volume, Scrooge quits the employ of cattle baron Murdo MacKenzie, who would go on to become mayor of Trinidad, Colorado in 1891 and later a member of President Theodore Roosevelt’s National Conservation Commission, to try his luck at silver mining.

There is little silver to be found in Montana, but the ground is rich in copper — just as demand for copper, to make electric wire, skyrockets.

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What If Germany Had Returned to War in 1919?

Germany’s World War I-era government collapsed on November 10, 1918. The armistice ending World War I quickly followed. From November 1918 through May 1919, Germany’s new civilian government fought a series of small-scale civil wars against German Communists.

Meanwhile, the victorious Allies were hammering out the terms of German surrender. They were harsh. The Allies presented those terms to German negotiators on April 29, 1919. The terms were published in Berlin on May 7, 1919. The Germans were furious, but by that time they didn’t feel that they had much choice but to sign. They signed the treaty a few hours before the deadline on June 24, 1919.

As Allied terms for Germany’s eastern borders became more apparent, some circles in Germany seriously considered going back to war, at least in the east. Cooler heads prevailed, and Germany’s border with Poland was temporarily settled through a mixture of plebiscites in some areas and small-scale wars between unofficial forces supported by the two countries in others. Germany actually didn’t do too badly in the border disputes. Some mixed areas went to Poland, but others went to Germany. Interwar Germany had quite a few Poles. 

What might have happened if Germany had gone back to war?

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Sometimes, you watch or read something that seems to be the apotheosis of a movement or genre. In my case, that movement is steampunk and that something is Steamboy, the 2004 animated film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (of Akira fame). Take any screenshot of this film and it oozes steampunk. It feels, in its own strange way, almost pure steampunk, if there is such a thing.

Despite being a Japanese production, the film is set in Britain, the country that, more than any other, is the lynchpin of the steampunk genre. The smoke-filled skylines and dirty cities come straight out of a Dickens novel.

Steampunk exists to reimagine the Industrial Revolution, and that is what Otomo does. Specifically, the plot takes place in Manchester, that great city of textile work that was one dubbed “Cottonopolis”, and one of the birthplaces of modern industrial society. It is only fitting that such a quintessential steampunk story should take place in such a quintessential location.

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Black ’47

Black '47

When I think of Irish history and the travails of the Irish people, I can’t help but want to repurpose what Porfirio Díaz allegedly said about Mexico: “So far from God, so close to Britain.”

The history of English, and later British, rule in that green isle is suffused with cruelty. Ireland has been described as Britain’s “laboratory of empire”. Ben Kiernan, author of Blood and Soil: a Global History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (2007), and the chair of the Genocide Studies Department at Yale, argues that there was a certain genocidal logic in Ireland that preceded what the British, and later Americans, did to the indigenous peoples of North America and Australasia.

The most infamous British atrocity is the Great Irish Famine, sometimes called the Irish Potato Famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852. Black ’47 takes place in what is said to be the worst year of this catastrophe.

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