Two one-paragraph book reviews

Since I’m only just now finishing work at 7:30 in the evening, I don’t want to eat into too much of my time tonight with typing an update, so I’m going to substitute this quick review of two things I recently read.

First up is John Withington’s Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters. It’s certainly a remarkably fun topic, but there are a few points against it. First, it spends a lot of time on battles from the ancient era to the Dark Ages, of which we actually know very little. The chapters covering battles before about 1500 are dry, padding out the essential half-page of facts to five or ten pages of informed guesses and wild speculation. After 1500, things pick up a little. The chapters on colonial wars in Africa have been my favorite so far, citing as they do letters and cables from such figures as Redvers Buller and other veterans of campaigns from the Dark Continent. The First World War chapters were the same sort of slog as the First World War itself; the casualty counts left me as numb as they usually do. Two chapters on the Second World War round out the book, and they’re quite good, if a little shallow (by nature, the whole book is). For me, it’s about a 5 or 6 out of 10. Worth a read, but if you can find it cheap from Half-Price Books or abebooks.com, that’s probably a better move.

Second is the first entry in R.1 M. Meluch’s Tour of the Merrimack series, The Myriad. The genre is science fiction, and the setting is pretty standard in some places, and amusingly and cleverly implausible in others2. The characters and plot are on the larger-than-life side, which fits the kind of story it is: a throwback to the old-fashioned days of science fiction when men were men, women were women, humanoid alien overlords were extremely similar in terms of anatomy to humans, and the semi-sentient bugs were, as always, the mortal enemy. The mid-book twist struck me as very clever, but the twist at the end left a sour taste in my mouth. Still, the ride was enjoyable enough, and I’d call it a 7/10.

Next on my reading list is Young Nelsons, a history piece about the youthful officers and midshipmen of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I’m looking forward to it.

There’s also a new recipe (if you can call something so easy a ‘recipe’) up at http://many-words.com/recipes.

1. Rebecca, if you care about that sort of thing, as opposed to whether it’s a good story.
2. Like the conspiracy theory underpinning the background of one of the major polities. You’ll know it when you read it.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 79

“Robber One, this is Yankee One,” Joe said into his microphone. “We’re going to give Charlie a hand real quick.”

His radio clicked, and he looked over his shoulder. Emma gave him a wing waggle. He leveled off and said, “You have lead on the first pass. Hit the fighters.”

“Roger.” Emma’s fighter pulled past him, and together, they gained on the British formation, now only a few miles from Inconstant. The bombers disappeared under the nose of Joe’s Falcon, and a moment later, Emma began her dive. Joe followed her, checking his six as he did. Two thousand feet below, the bombers’ defensive guns opened up as Charlie flight began its attack. The four British escorts, their eyes on Charlie flight, leveled off to attack.

Joe focused on keeping formation as Emma made minute adjustments to her controls. At twelve hundred yards, she fired a two-second burst, her plane jerking at the end as she lined up on a second fighter. Joe saw bright flashes, solid hits, as Emma’s first burst fell all around its target. Flames burst from its side, sprouting a line of oily smoke. Smoke wreathed the nose of Emma’s fighter as she fired a second burst. For an instant, a bomber appeared near Joe’s sights, and he pulled his triggers to little effect, then rolled away. He and Emma screamed through the formation of bombers, a tailfin passing near enough to his canopy that he could have reached out and touched it.

His altimeter unwound at an alarming rate. G-forces crashed down on his shoulders as he pulled out of the dive. The airframe groaned as the plane strained back to level flight, accompanied by Emma’s whoop over the radio. “I have lead,” he said, climbing back toward the fight.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 78

The g-forces pressed him deep into his seat, and the corners of his vision went black as he turned through one hundred eighty degrees. A pair of British fighters flashed by. Joe glimpsed a British pilot looking back at him from a canopy a mere twenty yards away, then rolled wings-level to make his turn a half-loop. He glanced over his shoulder—Emma still hung with him—then rolled right-side up. now in a diving turn toward one of the British fighters. The Tommy pilot jinked as Joe pulled into a leading turn and thumbed his triggers. his machine guns rattled, and tracers filled the sky before him. They fell all around the British plane, but Joe saw no hits, and his quarry rolled inverted and dove away. Joe hauled back on his stick to pull up into a steep climb. Two thousand feet below, his target regained its leader, and they circled away to reset the engagement.

In the space of a few seconds, Joe took stock of the situation. He was almost perfectly in between the zeps. Ten miles toward the setting sun, Inconstant fled. Ten miles the other way, Sparrow pursued, engines straining. A mile or two north, Robber flight fought in disciplined pairs, two of the pirate fighters baiting the Tommies into an attack, while the other pair waited to pounce in counterattack. That approach had paid off—one British fighter, leaving a long trail of smoke behind it, fell away, barely under control, toward the desert below.

A few miles toward Inconstant, the four British bombers drew nearer their target. Four British fighters circled above, waiting to attack as Charlie flight angled in toward the bombers.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 77

“Copy that,” Joe said. “Hit her engines, she drops like a rock.”

“That’s right,” Cannon said. “Simple.”

Joe eyed the British planes, still circling Sparrow. He counted sixteen, four bombers and twelve fighters, against Inconstant‘s fourteen fighters. The Long Nines’ six bombers waited on the hooks in the hangar. “Sure. Simple.”

Before his eyes, the British planes wheeled, settling into loose formations. Four of the fighters stayed low, near the bombers. Four continued climbing to meet Takahashi’s flight, while two broke off to join the remaining pair. “Here we go, boss,” Joe said. “Over and out.” He switched his radio to the mission frequency. “X-Ray flight, stay high and deal with the overhead cover. Robber flight, dead ahead. We’re right with you. Charlie flight, left hook. Hit the bombers. We’ll be in to help as soon as we can.”

The flight leaders replied with acknowledgements, and Joe shifted his focus to staying in formation with Robber flight. The six Falcons charged toward the British formation. Facing off six against four was Joe’s idea of decent odds. Between that, the Falcon’s sturdy frame, and the British habit for light armaments, he wasn’t worried. The British planes closed to within a mile, and on the radio Robber One called, “Spread out.”

The six Falcons banked away from each other in pairs, and before the British pilots could react, the pirates were past them. Joe spared a glance up, where tracers drew burning lines across the sky as Takahashi’s flight engaged the British top cover, then stood his Falcon on its right wing and pulled as tight a turn as he could manage.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 76

“Takahashi, take your flight up high and watch the Limey top cover,” Joe said. “Call it in if—” Stopping in midsentence, he squinted toward the British planes left around the zep. The radio clicked as four Kestrels climbed out of Inconstant‘s formation. He set his radio to Emma’s channel and said, “You see two engines on those bandits?”

There was silence, and Joe could see Emma leaning over in her cockpit for a better view. After a moment, she replied, “Looks like.”

 

“Copy that.” Burr set her headset down and said, “Looks like they’ve got bombers out, skipper. That’s the last of our fighters launching now.”

Cannon stepped aside as a young crewman set a marker on the plotting table. “Hold the bombers for now.”

Before he could say more, Jane Tomlin slid down the ladder, breathing hard, and passed him a slip of paper.

“Thank you, Ms. Tomlin,” he said, glancing over the information she’d copied from Jane’s. As he’d thought, HMS Sparrow had been built in late 1921, and the state of the art had come a long way since then. Further down the page, Tomlin had taken notes on the Starling-class to which Sparrow belonged. She sported bow planes, but only two von Rubenstein cells—helium trim tanks, more or less—to Inconstant‘s six, and neither was fitted with a helium generator. Aware all eyes were on him, Cannon folded the note and limped aft to the gondola’s rear windows. “Binoculars,” he said. The lookout handed them over, and Cannon focused them on Sparrow. Sure enough, she held at least five degrees nose up above the angle of her climb. Her engines would be straining to push her to high altitude. Without more von Rubenstein cells or generators, she had only the lift from her tailfins and bow planes to hold her above her trim altitude.

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Updates will be resuming update

My summer of business is finally nearing its close, and I’ll soon be able to write regularly enough to sustain regular updating again, after mission trips, work meetings, and trips to Oshkosh to see airplanes. You can expect regular story content again starting August 12. Thanks a ton for all your patience.

In good news, Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross is finally finished, modulo a little bit of tweaking to the final scene, and I’m glad to have it past me. Next up is the Lagrältvärld story I think I’m tentatively going to title The Long Retreat, which I’ll be writing concurrently with Codex Reconditus (perhaps with better bad Latin), a short horror story I hope to submit for publication. Exciting times ahead.

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I’m-not-dead-yet update

Hello, loyal readers (or random visitors)! Sorry for the long delay in stuff.

You’ll be gratified to know, though, that I’m only a few pages away from wrapping up Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross, and I have a few things planned for the next story. You can expect regular updates to resume for real in the middle of August.

I’ve also been using my time unproductively, and you can watch me occasionally streaming games here.

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