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Author Topic: Miscellaneous Reading
Timothy-
Lane
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Post Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 14, 2019, 10:04
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Sometimes we want to comment on a book or story without expecting an extensive discussion. This would be very suitable. In this case, I'm making a few points about Keith Laumer's political parody "Ballots and Bandits", one of his stories about future diplomat Jame Retief of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, which were inspired by Laumer's own experience as a diplomat. The story first appeared in the collection Retief of the CDT.

In this case, Earth diplomats are trying to organize an election on an alien planet. Unfortunately, they have a few problems. One is that no one seems to agree politically with anyone else enough to form real parties. So they're thinking they may need a rule restricting the number of parties to less than the voting population so that one of them might get a plurality of votes. Observation of the growing Demagogue field for the presidency is what reminded me of this story, in fact.

Another interesting problem is that the aliens also seem to have discovered that the "one man, one vote" principle has a deadly corollary: "One less man, one less vote." Modern leftist political dirty pool, as exemplified by (e.g.) Antifa, also illustrates this tactic, unfortunately. The "one less man" can come from death, or from intimidation, or from legal shenanigans. The Demagogues excel at all of these.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 14, 2019, 11:26
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This is a good idea. Thanks for introducing it. I love more free-form discussions than getting too anal about “a place for everything and everything in its place.” I will remember this thread and make use of it.

If some book turns out to be truly stellar, I can later put it on the Bookshelf (which is only ever meant to be the best of the best, not a list of what one has happened to read). Or do a full and formal review.

I’m still making my mind up on the Bellevue book by David Oshinsky. Given the somewhat narrow subject matter, it’s very well written. It may indeed make the cut.

Are they doing the whole purple-finger thing on that off-planet election?

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 14, 2019, 12:08
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One of the books I’m reading (as a break from the medical history, “Bellevue”) is H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook.

I feel that even 11% into this that I’m just getting through the setup. The writing style will be familiar to readers of Haggard’s Allan Quatermain stories. There are gems of interesting philosophy scattered about, such as this bit of introspection from the main character:

Here I had better set out some of my shortcomings which in their sum have made a failure of me. Yes, a failure in the highest sense, though I trust what Stevenson calls “a faithful failure.” These have their root in fastidiousness and that lack of perseverance, which really means a lack of faith, again using the word in its higher and wider sense. For if one had real faith one would always persevere, knowing that in every work undertaken with high aim, there is an element of nobility, however humble and unrecognised that work may seem to be. God after all is the God of Work, it is written large upon the face of the Universe.”

In this story, the main character has two friends — Bastin and Bickley — of completely opposite viewpoints. You can think of Bastin as a George Bernard Shaw or Richard Dawkins. He’s a doctor, a “man of reason,” who has no time for anything even remotely mystical. If you can’t see it or touch it, it’s not real.

Bickley, on the other hand, is a rather intelligent, but dull, theologian. Humphrey Arbuthnot is the middle friend who binds them all together. He’s done several things in his life, none of which were his life’s work. But he did get himself rich precisely for the reason to leave him the time to do what he wants, which may be writing books.

Anyway, somewhat on a lark (and each of the three parties needing some time off and time away for one reason or another), they are chasing a lark to the South Seas. And that’s just about there I’ve left it. So far so good. This is pretty much 100% H. Rider Haggard so far.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 10:05
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I finished When the World Shook by H. Rider Haggard. Haggard fans will find familiar themes. In fact, it’s safe to say that Haggard has broken no ground. He’s’ just rearranged the pieces.

The conscience of Allan Quatermain can be found split between the main character and first-person narrator, Humphrey Arbuthnot, and Bickley. Bickley, a doctor, shares the sort of skepticism in the face of concrete experience that often marked Quatermain.

His other traveling companion, Bastin, is by no means Hans. There is no faithful servant Hans in this one. Bastin is a single-minded Bible-believing preacher. Bastin and Bickley are on opposite ends of every argument with Arbuthnot acting as a fulcrum. Somehow their disagreements draw them together rather than apart.

I won’t give away the plot. But you’ll see familiar themes: Love across time that does not die. Mysticism and supernatural powers. Dealing with superstitious and primitive natives. Bickley and Bastin may be the better fleshed-out characters. Even though the story is told from a first-person point of view by Arbuthnot, it can’t be said that you know all that much about him. The same was true to a large extent regarding Allan Quatermain.

This turns into somewhat a grand and sometimes boring contemplation about the purpose of man and what is his destiny or purpose, particularly in relationship to what he expects after death, if anything. Still, there are plenty of H. Rider Haggard passages that are bits of interesting philosophy interspersed, which is typical of him, such as the following, written in 1919:

Moreover, think not that you Westerners have done with wars. I tell you that they are but begun and that the sword shall eat you up, and what the sword spares class shall snatch from class in the struggle for supremacy and ease.

The very end of the book finishes well. But the plot point involved of Oro to set upon the earth another great flood is really kind of stupid. Yva, the love interest, is like most women in Haggard novels: wonderfully shallow and idealized. Her love is perfect. Her devotion perfect. And Arbuthnot, who otherwise does not show enough of himself to judge just what kind of a character he is, is the instantly-faithful worshipper of idealized love.

Still, you could spend $12.00 for any book with multiple 5-stars reviews on Amazon and do much, much worse. This one is available for free. And I think I got more than I paid for. It was a pleasant enough read.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 10:14
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Boy, that would make a great prediction if it actually had been one. A lot of predictions work out that way -- they get reported after they come true. Something like this happened with the Bell Witch.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 12:03
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I am a little surprised that "When the World Shook" was not that interesting. I believe every H. Rider Haggard book I have read has been both well written and entertaining.

Last night, I finished re-reading "Finished" by Haggard. This is the third and last of his novels dealing with the rise and destruction of the Zulu nation. I find the wizard Zikali to be a very interesting character and he is the motivating force in this book.

I wish there were some good films of Haggard's Quartermain books. The few films I have seen are very different from the books, particularly in their characterization of Quartermain. Richard Chamberlain or Stuart Grainger are nothing like the Quartermain of the books. Because of this, the movies miss a lot of the spirit of the books.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 12:20
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The only such movie I'm familiar with is the 1962 She with Ursula Andress as Ayesha. How does that compare with the original book?

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 12:26
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I have never seen "She." Once I started re-reading "Finished" I decided that I would try to find it for free. Once I do, I will have a look and let you know.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 12:34
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I am a little surprised that "When the World Shook" was not that interesting.

Hopefully my brief reviewed expressed a situation a little more complex than “interesting/not-interesting,” Mr. Kung. Parts of it were. However, the entire plot point regarding Oro is strained much of the time.

Most of the writing is “interesting” in general terms in regards to the basic shtick of H. Rider Haggard. Thus I did find it interesting enough to keep plodding along. But the overall story of a race of ancient beings didn’t quite fit as well with his normally very Englishman-about-the-countryside style.

This book was like you took Arthur C. Clarke and H. Rider Haggard, put them in a blender, and then out came “When the World Shook.” It’s thus somewhat mediocre in terms of a Haggard book and definitely mediocre in an attempt at grand sci-fi. Had we had less interaction with the natives and more back-story (and first-hand encounters with what was left of the civilization), it would have been better. If you’ve ever read “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke, you’ll know what I mean.

This is just a bit of a mish-mash of things and themes. Still, I did enjoy reading it. I had thoughts while reading this that a film could turn out better than the book. But you’d have to set a tone in the film that I think eludes Haggard in the book. This Oro character remains unnecessarily obscure. And when we do interact with him, it’s often when he’d doing something that appears to be supernatural. But we’re assured all the time (usually by his daughter, Yva), that it may look like magic, but it’s just a function of knowledge that they’ve picked up.

And it stays at that level. We’re never let into more details. And when it comes to the point where we go beneath the earth so that Oro can cause another Great Flood, it just doesn’t work for me. It’s too odd and unbelievable. Certainly there was a successful mystical quality that Haggard kept around “She” and other of his mystical personages in the Quatermain book. The general shtick was that this was white man in the heart of The Dark Continent and he had just scratched the surface on what he could know.

But this is set mostly on a South Sea island. Oro would appear to be some old white guy as rational as you or me (but used to being on top and ordering people around). I just thought that Haggard took his basic shtick and applied it to a situation where it didn’t work as well, or where he really should have branched out with his shtick and given us something a little different.

Still, I did just download his Montezuma's Daughter. I may give that a go.

Perhaps Sean Connery in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" captures a bit more of Haggard's true Quatermain.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Miscellaneous Reading
on: January 28, 2019, 12:59
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Hopefully my brief reviewed expressed a situation a little more complex than “interesting/not-interesting,”

Of course it did, but the overall message I took from it was that the book was not that good. Now that thought was moderated by your last couple of paragraphs and your generally high opinion of Haggard, which I share. I think a mediocre Haggard book, which I have yet to find, would be better than the majority of best-sellers around today.

Perhaps Sean Connery in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" captures a bit more of Haggard's true Quatermain.

The problem I have with Connery, and other like Chamberlain and Grainger, as Quartermain is that they are all too physically imposing. Quartarmain was a smallish (I have the feeling he was about 5'9" max. in his youth and shrank as he aged) and not particularly handsome. In "Finished" he was described as looking like an old buffalo skin which had sat out in the weather for years. And he was only about 50 years old at this time.

He got by on brains, bravery and earned reputation, not by looks. Thus, having tall good-looking-leading men in the role distracts from Quartermain's achievements and persona.

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