Last Update 11/19/08 

Winds of Chance by Jeffery Farnol, 1934

I think this historical adventure story is also known as Winds of Fortune.  I read it because I'm a big fan of Rafael Sabatini's swashbuckling novels and Farnol was suggested to me as someone who wrote similar stories.  Maybe similar stories, but not very similar.  Oh, they're swashbucklers, all right.  This one is about a strong minded young woman who defies her uncle and refuses an arranged marriage, only to find herself carried off by a mysterious and forceful man for a series of adventures at sea and elsewhere.  Some of the episodes are quite good and I liked the characters, but the dialogue was relentlessly flowery and the plot seems almost an afterthought, not the tight, well developed story lines that Sabatini employed.  I'd read another if it happened my way, but I wouldn't go to any extra effort to find one.  11/19/08

Virgin of the Apocalypse by Corinne de Winter, Samisdot, 2008, $11, ISBN 978-0-9816365-9-7

As Iíve said many times before, although I occasionally enjoy reading poetry I have never felt that I have the proper mindset to analyze it constructively, a failing which was evident when I was studying Dryden and Byron and Matthew Arnold in college.  I do, however, recognize it when a particular piece of verse creates a vivid image, or is written in such a way that the words seem particularly eloquent.  Some of the poems collected here resonated with me in terms of imagery Ė e.g. ďVespaioĒ and ďOpium EaterĒ Ė while virtually all of them struck me as impressive in terms of composition.  While some of the imagery is quite dark, and some elements of the fantastic are present Ė angels, the dancing dead Ė I wouldnít characterize this as horror or even fantasy.  Itís just poetry and, as far as Iím concerned, quite good poetry. 11/11/08

The Lost Temple by Tom Harper, Thomas Dunne, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-312-38060-1 

Shortly after World War II, a disgraced British soldier and a Greek partisan woman are caught up in the search for a mysterious artifact from the Minoan age, apparently a piece of a meteorite containing an element unknown on Earth.  Sigh!  This is the second thriller based on this nonsense Iíve read in recent months.  Anyway, they get teamed up with a British agent and a scholar to track down the elusive item, while a group of thugs from Russia try to muscle in on the search.  The nice action in the early chapters comes to a temporary but prolonged screeching halt during a very long explication of ancient civilizations, Linear B, quasi-science about elements that donít exist, religious customs, and so forth.  Eventually the action picks up again and we are told that the missing mystery metal was probably used to make Achillesí shield, which was given to Odysseus and then lost.  All they have to do is find it, but theyíve had so much incredibly good luck looking for things already that itís no more of a reach to assume theyíll succeed again.  Quibbles aside, this is a pretty good adventure story, if not particularly surprising, and the bits and pieces of Greek myth and culture are frequently entertaining as well.  Ignore the bogus science and just enjoy the ride. 8/18/08

Saying Uncle by Greg F. Gifune, Delirium, 2008, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-929653-99-7

I guess this is being published as horror or a thriller, but I'm putting it here because even though there are a couple of murders, it's never any secret who is responsible, and although the crimes are integral to the plot, it is not so much because they are crimes as it is because they are traumatic.  Simply stated - which does the story an injustice - this novella alternates between the experiences of a young boy whose uncle is a criminal and who kills the boy who raped the protagonist's sister - and the boy as an adult, returning to his home town after his uncle is himself murdered.  The tensions among the family are the real conflict, and the tensions within each of them.  The story is tightly told, emotional without being sentimental, convincing and absorbing from beginning to end.  I don't know what category readers might apply to this one, but it's a marvelous story, reminded me somewhat of Stephen King at his best, and it is by far the most impressive thing I've read by Gifune, who is now numbered among my favorites.  7/2/08

The Chronicles of Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, 1929

The Fortunes of Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, 1929

Both of these are collections of short stories about Captain Peter Blood, hero of Sabatini's classic novel Captain BloodBlood is a disenchanted Irishman who escapes slavery and becomes a pirate captain, but always battling evil pirates and the rapacious Spanish.  In these short adventures, drawn from various points in his career, he keeps his crew in line, protects a British colony, outwits various Spaniards and even finds a couple he can respect, battles against the evil pirate Captain Easterling, conducts an extended overland march, and rescues his friends from imprisonment and doomed love affairs.  The stories are not nearly as good as the novel, but they're all entertaining except for one or two.  The first title is slightly better on average.  It took me years to track down these two volumes in British paperback editions, which pretty much completes my Sabatini collection.  Great for fans of swashbuckling adventure. 6/17/08

The Fall by Albert Camus, 1956 

I discovered Camus in college and read all of his work during the course of a single week.  This was the book I remembered the least about, essentially a prolonged monologue by a French lawyer whose fall in society is meant to be symbolic of manís fall from grace, a point emphasized by references to the Bible.  The speaker starts with a criticism of modern society, characterizing it as a means of slowly killing a man as opposed to the relative kindness of a bullet or a knife.  Our first hint of his sin is the gleeful joy he takes in helping others.  His charities and kindness are done specifically and entirely for the pleasure they bring him, not the relief they bring to others.  This leads to a discussion of the desire of people to dominate everyone else, an attribute the speaker considers universal.  ďI discovered in myself sweet dreams of oppression.Ē  He displays fascinating ways of circumventing moral scruples.  Since he believes it wrong to covet the wife of a friend, he simply discovers that he no longer feels friendship toward the husbands of women he wishes to pursue.  He is callous toward women as well and confesses that he values people only insofar as they can bring him pleasure.  Although the writing flows smoothly, there's not much narrative and it probably goes on a bit too long.  His least notable work, though still worthwhile. 5/28/08

In Milton Lumky Territory by Philip K. Dick, Tor, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1695-1

I first read this non-sf novel by Philip K. Dick about twenty years ago when it first appeared, one of several posthumous mainstream novels.  At the time, I liked it the best of the several that I read and it holds up well upon re-reading.  The story is about a businessman who is struggling to keep alive both his commercial interests and his interpersonal ones.  Milton Lumky is another salesman whom he meets just as he is becoming romantically involved with an older woman who was once his grade school teacher.  Fans of his SF may be a bit puzzled by both its realism and its low key plot, which is more about the way the characters interact than anything else.  The book is also a subtle indictment of certain aspects of capitalism, a familiar theme in Dick's work.  In another lifetime, Dick might have emerged as a peer of John Updike or Arthur Miller, and it's a shame that this and other examples of his work were only published after his death.  5/14/08

The Stranger by Albert Camus, 1942

Although I remember that this made a very great impression on me when I read it back during the 1960s, I couldn't remember anything about it except that it dealt with an individual alienated from society.  Revisiting it now, I am probably more aware of its subtleties.  The protagonist  is introduced to us as he attends his mother's funeral, an event about which he feels little emotion.  In fact, there is nothing in his life that generates much heat.  He does not love the girl he has promised to marry, is indifferent to his job, has no real friends, and lacks ambition or even much interest in what takes place around him.  He becomes acquainted with a neighbor of questionable background who has alienated a family of Arabs.  Following a series of confrontations, our hero finds himself armed and alone with one of the latter.  When the Arab draws a knife, he responds with a gun, shooting the man five times in all.  He is then arrested and brought to trial where he is convicted not because of the facts of the case but because of his attitude at the funeral and his professed atheism.    Paradoxically, he is doomed by his own inability to tell a lie, or adequately explain his situation.  Some readers may grow impatient with his passivity, but he is in fact a slightly exaggerated variation of traits most of us display.  5/6/08

The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1891  

I had heard this title but didnít know much about the book, and I havenít had any strong reason to read it until recently.  As much as I enjoy Sherlock Holmes, particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles, Iíve never thought much of Doyle as a writer, particularly at novel length.  Even The Lost World proved more nostalgic than entertaining when I recently re-read it.  This is an historical set during the Hundred Years War, to which Doyle later wrote a less memorable prequel.  Itís written in excruciatingly awkward dialect, but the plot itself is better than most of Doyleís book length efforts.  A young man leaves the monastery where he was raised, discovered his brother is a cad, joins a party going to fight on the continent, and proves himself worthy to return and seek the hand of a noble maid.  Some nice adventures along the way, but I was a bit skeptical after this cloistered clerk bested another man in a sword fight with almost no training.  3/6/08

The Virginian by Owen Wister, 1902  

Although this is often cited as the first western novel, that ignores the existence of previous Dime Novels.  Itís the story of a nameless cowpoke who gets caught up in the ranch wars of 1892 in Wyoming, when the large ranchers combined to deprive smaller ranchers of public land, when some of the smaller ranches retaliated and rustled, and lynchings became the order of the day.  Much of the story involves a rather awkward love story in which the Virginian courts an annoying young woman.  The dialogue is a bit thick at times and the story is quite episodic.  Parts were quite good, other parts tedious.  Wister believed that there was a minority of men who were the true nobility, regardless of birth, and who would naturally come to dominate the rest.  Interesting to read, but Iím not sure Iíd call it entertaining.  3/6/08

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven, 1927 

The edition I have of this says that the mysterious ďB. TravenĒ was positively identified as being Berick Traven Torswan, an American expatriate living in Mexico, despite the fact that most of his fiction was originally published in German.  Wikipedia says that his identity has never been established and lists a long list of possibilities, including Jack London and Ambrose Bierce, but doesnít list Berick Torswan, so I have no idea which is the truth.  Not that it matters any more than who Homer really was.  Traven was clearly Ė if not a Marxist Ė strongly sympathetic to them and critical of capitalism.  The opening chapters of this novel establish the honorable but downtrodden working class, the shortsighted wastefulness of capitalism, and the inequities between the two.  Dobbs is a destitute expatriate who seeks work in the oilfields of Mexico.  After a series of failed attempts to find employment, he and two other men set off to mine gold.  They find a lode, but the work necessary to extract it is grueling and they frequently doubt that it is worth the effort they are expending.  They also begin to distrust one another.  After a near fatal brush with bandits, they decide to leave with what they have, but internal tensions on the journey back lead to attempted murder and disaster for all three.  An excellent story, a bit roughly told in parts, but with several scenes that remain vivid even after the book is done. 3/2/08

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883

Stevensonís first novel is certainly his most famous, although not nearly as polished as his later work.  Young Jim Hawkins gets involved in a search for pirate gold, unaware that Long John Silver and the majority of the shipís crew are actually ex-pirates planning to mutiny and kill him and the expeditionís organizers.  He overhears the plot just as they arrive at the island, and there are gunfights, chases, captures, and escapes as the two contingents battle with one another, contend with a man marooned on the island for three years, find the treasure, and eventually escape.  One minor flaw is that the entire novel is narrated by Jim Hawkins, except for a jarring short section told from the point of view of Doctor Livesey.  There is also considerable use of coincidence, and Jimís adventures always turn out well even though he gets into them generally through poor judgment or by making a rash decision.  It was a lot of fun though, and Stevenson has proven to be one of the authors I read as a child that I can still enjoy fifty years later. 2/29/08

The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes, 1954 

With the exception of Eric Ambler, Innes was my favorite contemporary thriller writer, although I suppose events happening in the 1950s might also be called historical today.  Feels strange living past an age.  Anyway, this one has a very exciting opening third in which two men aboard a derelict freighter manage to keep it from sinking or running onto the rocks during a storm.  There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that the ship was deliberately sabotaged in order to collect the insurance on a very expensive cargo that had already been removed for sale elsewhere.  The acting captain was not in on the plot and was left for dead, but he survives with the help of a passing yachtsman and the ship, which should have sunk, is safely Ė if temporarily Ė beached on an off shore reef.  Only the two men know that, and obviously an inspection of the wreck could prove what really happened.  I thought the plot was a bit contrived at times Ė why donít they just notify the authorities of its location and let the insurance company investigate?  The contrivance doesnít really lessen its powerful impact though.  And the final chapters include an exciting boat race and confrontation. 2/28/08

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, 1876

Although I have always been a very big fan of Huckleberry Finn, my recollection of Tom Sawyer was that I had not enjoyed it nearly as much.  The famous incident of the whitewashed fence is so famous it felt as though I was reading it for the umpteenth time.  Tom and Huck witness a murder in a graveyard, a scene I only vaguely remembered, and Tom feels guilty when an innocent man is sent to jail thanks to the machinations of Injun Joe, but he and Huck are afraid to tell what really happened for fear of his retribution.  The novel proceeds from there, weaving back and forth around the established tension.  I had no recollection at all of the scenes in the cave system when Tom and Becky get lost, and it was the best part of the novel for me.  I ended up liking it a lot better than I had expected, though it still falls far short of Huck Finn.  Twain also resorts to a great deal of happy coincidence to make the plot move along, some of which was very unconvincing.  2/25/08

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859 

With the exception of Great Expectations, this was my favorite Dickens novel.  Itís the third Iíve read recently involving the French Revolution, with Rafael Sabatini siding with the revolutionaries, mostly, Baroness Orczy siding with the aristocrats, mostly, and Dickens saying a pox on both your houses.  The story, for those who havenít read it, concerns a three way love affair.  Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton both love Lucy Manette.  Darnay is the nephew of one of the most hated aristos, and despite the fact that he has renounced his family and his inheritance, he is on the list, lured back to Paris so that he can be condemned by the sinister Madame Defarge, who is a kind of symbol of the Fates, weaving the destinies of people into her coded knitting.  The emotional scenes are a bit thick at times, but the story is a great one.  It is also an interesting contrast to Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini and The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, both of which I've recently re-read.  And I don't think I'd ever noticed before that Madame Defarge is designed to reflect the three Fates. 2/21/08

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, 1844 

The best of Dumasí novels, and one of my childhood favorites.  The story is so familiar that it hardly needs recapping.  DíArtagnan comes to Paris, meets Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, gains their friendship by helping defeat a party loyal to Cardinal Richelieu, as opposed to the weak King Louis XIII.  He falls in love with his landlordís wife, who is herself a servant of Anna of Austria, Queen of France.  They get involved in covering up her love affair with an English aristocrat whom becomes prime minister of England as war rages between the two countries.  Richelieuís spy, Madame de Winter, is one of the better fictional villains.  She seduces DíArtagnan, attempts to expose the queenís affair, arranges the assassination of her lover, fails to kill DíArtagnan but poisons the woman he loves, is revealed to be the wife of Athos, guilty of various crimes in years past, and is eventually beheaded.  Richelieu admits a grudging respect for DíArtagnan, who remains in the kingís service, although the other three choose to leave.  The two sequels arenít nearly as good.  I was also surprised at how loyal to the book the 1940 film version was. My only disappointment is that the swordfights are more alluded to than described.  Guess Iíll just have to watch Gene Kelly again.  An interesting side note.  I went looking for a copy of this and other "children's classics" like Robert Louis Stevenson in Borders and was surprised to find that they are not shelved in the young readers sections any more but in literature.  In some ways, I suppose this is a recognition that they are important literature, but it also makes me wonder if an entire generation is missing out on these great adventure stories because they don't know that they exist. 2/16/08

They Came to Cordura by Glendon Swarthout, 1958 

I donít believe I have read this before but the story is so familiar that I think I must have seen the movie.  During General Pershingís failed attempt to capture Pancho Villa, an officer who displayed cowardice under fire is assigned to take five potential Congressional Medal of Honor winners plus a dubiously captive woman to a remote town across a barren desert.  In addition to their self generated troubles Ė the men are an unsavory lot, most of whom donít want the recognition for one reason or another Ė they are attacked by bandits, trapped in a box canyon, deprived of their horses, and forced to trek the last forty miles on foot.  This was the novel that made Swarthoutís career and itís an excellent one.  The protagonist makes an interesting though failed attempt to understand just what it is that makes people courageous, or otherwise, an obsession he has dealt with since his own first experience under fire, during which he cowered in a ditch.  None of the major characters in this are particularly likable and some are downright awful, but the story is gripping even so.  I wish Swarthout had written more in this vein but, alas, he did not.  2/6/08

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, 1907 

In 1894, anarchists attempted to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, but the bomber was killed himself with no damage done to the building.  This incident inspired Joseph Conrad to write this atypical novel in which a group of anarchists flounder about with impractical plans while one of their number, actually a foreign spy, is forced by circumstances to do something.  He enlists the aid of his wifeís mentally challenged brother who is in fact the one killed when the bomb goes off prematurely.  The wife eventually discovers the truth and stabs the husband to death, then commits suicide when her escape attempt is thwarted by the theft of her money.  The novel is quite advanced for its time, with jumps back and forth through the chronology, and a cast of universally unsympathetic characters.  Conrad clearly meant this as an indictment of the rigidity of Victorian society as well as a description of the impotence of fringe political groups.   I enjoyed it, but itís definitely not an uplifting, cheerful book. 2/3/08

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, 1812

 I hadnít read this since grade school and I only finished it this time because I needed to for a project.  It is, Iím sorry to say, pretty boring, and not particularly well written.  The story was originally a series of separate pieces that Wyss wrote to read to his kids, each of which was designed to teach a lesson in Christian morality or natural history.  The unnamed family Ė they are NOT named Robinson Ė are marooned on an island which is home to every conceivable form of animal from kangaroos to penguins to boa constrictors to lions.  They salvage virtually everything they need to survive from the wrecked ship, and improvise everything else.  Their adventures are trivial and no one is ever in any danger.  The dialogue is very bad, and the didactic lectures destroy any momentum the plot may have developed.  I did some research and discovered that the edition I read has many additions which crept into the book over the years, not by Wyss, including the entire sequence when they are discovered by an English ship and re-establish contact with the outside world.  Iím not surprised that this is no longer very popular. 2/1/08

The Sea Wolf by Jack London, 1904

 This is without question one of the most repulsive books Iíve ever read.  The story is told by a young man who is pressed into involuntary service aboard a ship bound to hunt seals in the Pacific.  The captain is Wolf Larsen, an intelligent but absolutely brutal man representing the superman of Nietzsche whom London apparently admired, although I donít understand how this jibes with his espousal of socialism.  Anyway, conditions aboard the ship deteriorate steadily with murder, attempted murder, brutal beatings, gunfights, and various other forms of mayhem.  I find it difficult to believe that a captain so thoroughly hated would not have been removed from authority, or thrown overboard, particularly given the presence of firearms aboard the ship.  This is the second novel Iíve read recently by London, and his cynicism about the human race and his image of what a superior human might be are appalling and discourage me from reading anything further. The blurbs on my copy say that we canít help liking Larsen.  Crap!  I despise him and everything he is supposed to stand for. 1/31/08

The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini, 1915

 Iíve read several of Sabatiniís adventure stories multiple times, including this one, an early book that lacks the wittiness of his more mature work but which is still filled with exciting adventure.  Sir Oliver is a noble but short tempered man who covers up his brotherís involvement in the death of a neighbor and is generally believed to be responsible himself.  The brother, rather than being grateful, contrives to have Oliver kidnapped to be sold as a slave to the Barbary pirates, but the ship is taken by Spaniards, who are in turn captured by the Algerian pirates, though only after Oliver has converted, sort of, to Islam.  He becomes a pirate himself, rises through the ranks to become second in command, which puts him in competition with the top manís son and ambitious wife.  Meanwhile, he manages to kidnap the woman he loves and his brother, eventually bringing the truth to light, although only after a series of adventures and narrow escapes.  My copy has photo stills from the silent movie, which are quite nice.  The 1940 movie, incidentally, used the title but nothing at all from the plot of the book. 1/28/08

The Searchers by Alan Lemay, 1954

 Although this is always packaged as a western, itís more of an historical novel than a cookie cutter story, and Lemay was an authority on frontier history, so it he gets that part of it right as well.  I have fond memories of this because during my senior year of high school, I had a relatively good natured feud with my English teacher who despised SF.  She did, however, like our book reports to be something out of the ordinary, like written in rhyme, or as a newspaper article about real events.  I retold the story as if it had happened on Mars so, even though Iíd never heard the term at the time, I guess you could say I was instinctively recreating the link between horse opera and space opera.  Anyway, the story is about a Comanche raid that results in the kidnapping of a young girl, followed by the prolonged efforts by two men to rescue her.  They spend six years and only after they have finally decided to give up the effort do they receive concrete evidence, which leads to a pitched battle and the rescue of a not entirely willing captive.  One of the best stories about the Old West Iíve ever read. 1/26/08

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, 1905

 I hadnít realized that this was only one of a series of novels about the Pimpernel and his family.  Itís another one I read before I discovered SF, so I remembered very little about it, although I did watch the three BBC movies a while back.  Sir Percy Blakeney is an Englishman helping smuggle innocent French aristocrats out of France during the Reign of Terror.  It was an interesting contrast to Scaramouche, which I also just read and which makes the aristos look much worse, but of course since she was a baroness, from Hungary not France, she had a slightly different viewpoint.  Anyway, the French spies want to stop him and his wife inadvertently gives away his secret identity.  He was, I believe, the first fictional character to have a secret identity, and Johnston McCulleyís Zorro is clearly modeled after him.  The story was pretty good, although a lot more of it consists of ballroom conversations than actual adventure.  I am mildly interested in Sir Percyís further adventures and will keep an eye out for them, although they appear to be quite rare. 1/24/08

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, 1922 

Although I was drawn to Sabatini by his pirate stories, this adventure set during the French Revolution is almost certainly his best book, and definitely my favorite, at least at the moment.  Andre Moreau is the bastard son of an unknown French nobleman who doesnít have any interest in politics until his best friend is trapped into a one sided duel by the aristocrat, díAfyr.  The two men engage in an on and off battle from that point on, each serving as the otherís nemesis.  Moreau is forced to go into hiding and becomes part of a traveling troupe of actors, assuming the identity of Scaramouche the clown, eventually becomes the dominant force in the group until díAfyr inadvertently changes his destiny again.  He next becomes a fencing instructor and soon becomes the greatest swordsman in France, and is then convinced to defend the commoners in the Assembly, who are being systematically challenged and killed by their aristocratic foes.  The dialogue is superb throughout with lots of quotable lines, a good sense of humor, and a very memorable character.  One of the best historical novels of all time. 1/21/08

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, 1719 

This is generally considered the first actual novel written in English.  It is, obviously, the story of the title characterís life after being shipwrecked on a large island in the South Atlantic.  I hadnít read it since I was a kid, and Iíd completely forgotten his adventures before the shipwreck, as well as the fact that his purpose on that fated voyage was to purchase slaves for resale in the Americas.  The account of his early efforts at finding food and shelter are painstakingly detailed, but this was written in the form of an actual account, including diary entries, so thatís not surprising.  I was less tolerant of the frequent repetition and the occasional contradictions.  Early on, Crusoe wonders why God is punishing him, but later he asserts that he had never once thought that his misfortunes were sent as a punishment.  I was surprised to discover that Friday doesnít appear until two thirds of the way through the novel.  His presence, and the efforts to convert him to Christianity, provided Defoe with an opportunity to criticize a number of religious institutions and practices, particularly the Roman Catholic Church (he was a Presbyterian).  I hadnít remembered how he was rescued Ė by becoming captain of a ship wracked by mutiny Ė or his subsequent brief adventures off the island.  Although a lot of the book was tedious Ė particularly the seemingly endless theological discussions Ė it was generally gripping and surprisingly modern in flavor. 1/18/08

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey, 1912

 Although I read a very large number of westerns when I was a kid Ė I brought an Ernest Haycox novel with me on my very first day of school! Ė I donít believe I ever read anything by Zane Grey then or since, until now.  This was one of his earlier novels, but is probably his best known.  Itís set in 1871, in a portion of Utah where the Mormon settlers were becoming uneasy about the influx of non-Mormons into the area.  Grey was pretty rancorous about Mormon polygamy even though it was officially abandoned by the time he got around to writing fiction.  His descriptive passages are generally very good and paint a great picture of the landscape.  His dialogue and narration are not so hot, sometimes terrible, frequently merely awkward. Jane Withersteen is a single woman under pressure to marry a prominent Mormon, Tull, but who is defended by gunslinging Lassiter.  One of her friends is Venters, a young man who rescues Bess, a young girl, from a gang of rustlers.  Lassiter, the gun man, is pretty much a caricature, as is Tull, the chief villain.  Venters is a bit too good to be true, as is Withersteen.   It was interesting but I donít feel tempted to try any of his other books.  1/14/08

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, 1897 

Another re-read after a fifty plus year gap, part of my campaign to re-read most of the classic stories of adventure over the course of the last few momths.  Very much as I remembered it, the account of a young man who goes to fight in the Civil War with dreams of glory, and finds instead blood, hardship, death, and a total lack of appreciation.  He runs from the first battle and gets clobbered by one of his own men, although he claims it was a glancing blow from a bullet.  He does fight in two subsequent battles, but the outcome is dubious and as with many serious war novels, the conclusion is that itís all just a waste of lives and energy.  Very nicely written, of course, and a very insightful look into the minds of soldiers by a man who had never served.  I found out that Crane had written a short sequel, ďThe VeteranĒ, which I had never read before so I tracked it down, but itís minor.  The adult version of the character dies in a fire trying to save a horse. 1/11/08

Prester John by John Buchan, 1910 

This is one of those classic adventure stories that I never got around to reading until now.  It has the usual Buchan faults Ė excessive coincidences, protagonists making leaps of logic that arenít justified by the facts available, secret codes Ė but if you can ignore his clumsiness, this is a pretty good story.  A young man goes to South Africa to work at a trading post, catches wind of a native uprising that is led by a man claiming to be the direct descendant of Prester John, a legendary Christian ruler, becomes involved in spying on its leader, and is present to witness the crushing of the rebellion.  Like most British adventure writers from this period, Buchan has a condescending attitude toward Africans although he does find some of them admirable and even the chief villain is described as noble despite his dreams of bloodshed.  Light adventure fare in the classic style, a bit like a low key H. Rider Haggard. 1/1/09

2007 GENERAL FICTION REVIEWS