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Old 09 July 2018, 04:41 AM
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Cure the Blues Cure the Blues is offline
Join Date: 31 July 2000
Location: Columbus, OH
Posts: 2,041

I finished Tim Powers’ Declare over the weekend. Powers always does a lot of research into the time periods and folklore he incorporates into his books, and it’s on full display here. I only found one error where he still has Pope Pius XII alive in 1963. The book timeskips a lot between the “present” of ‘63 and earlier events, and I think maybe Powers had moved the off-scene Vatican visit around, because it would have made perfect sense if it had occurred in 1948 prior to the Ararat expedition. Other than that one misstep, everything else is well documented. I never would have guessed that Powers could have gotten so much mileage out of the repeated occurrence of foxes in St. John Philby and Kim Philby’s lives. Declare is in the Secret History genre rather than alternate history since Powers does not allow himself to change known events, people, or dates. It's impressive how he seamlessly inserts the supernatural into the Great Game and later Cold War/Le Carré style espionage and geopolitics. I finally realized what Operation Declare’s long game was, but not much before it was revealed during the Beirut debrief about three quarters of the way through the book. Honestly, I probably should have picked up on it sooner, since I had a clear memory of those events on the news. Although the supernatural elements have been compared to Lovecraftian horrors, they really are derived more from The Thousand and One Nights and Gilgamesh. References to both of these works are everywhere, especially “The Fisherman and the Genie” and the depressing Sumerian afterlife of clayed meat and dust. I’m disappointed in myself that I repeatedly failed to pick up on the William Ashbless reference even though it was right in front of my nose. FYI Ashbless is a Regency era poet invented by Powers and steampunk author James Blaylock while they were in college. Powers reliably mentions Ashbless in all of his books, usually as quotes from his poems or, in the case of The Anubis Gates, as one of the characters. I spent all of Declare looking for a quote or a name-drop, and it was right there in Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga’s name all along. I cannot do enough facepalms, although maybe would be more apt. "Oh fish, are you constant to the old covenant?" All those years of Spanish, and it’s not like this was particularly obscure.

I’m about halfway through Adam Hochschild’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. I know a little bit about the war, but I’ve never covered it in any depth, so most of the information is new. As the title indicates, it mostly focuses on the International Brigades. IIRC at one point, Hochschild mentioned that the Nationalist forces, while better supplied by the Nazis and Fascists, were still not that competent a military. Based on what I now know of the undersupplied and undertrained Republican forces, that has to be true, because the Republican troops were at one point being supplied by the Stalinists with outdated weapons, sometimes without appropriate bullets. And yet somehow the Nationalists were not able to take Madrid, despite being given the latest German and Italian weapons and supplied with oil by Texaco. I’m currently midway through 1937, and while it’s an interesting and informative read, I’m not sure “enjoyable” is the right word for it. It’s certainly not going to end well.

So, once I finished Declare, I was undecided as to what fiction book to start next. I was leaning toward N. K. Jemisin’s Stone Sky, since then I’d complete the trilogy and I find the world and characters fascinating. However, based on the end of book 2, I think I know what the most likely end for the protagonist is, and if I’m right, it’s pretty grim. The Spanish Civil War is dark enough, so I decided to push Stone Sky back a bit, and go with something cheerful and frothy. Specifically, A. Lee Martinez’s Chasing the Moon, a book about the eldritch apocalypse. No, it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, but it is that weird. Pro-tip: when someone offers you a super-low rent on a furnished apartment with paid utilities and doesn’t require you to sign a lease, be careful. You might find yourself locked in with the transdimensional horror amd voracious omnivore Vom the Hungering.

Last edited by Cure the Blues; 09 July 2018 at 04:53 AM.
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