Friday, January 30, 2004

Roman Britain scene of new sci-fi tale

George Poole isn’t sure whether his life has reached a turning point or a dead end. At forty-five, he is divorced and childless, with a career that is going nowhere fast. Then, when his father dies suddenly, George stumbles onto a family secret: a sister he never knew existed. A twin named Rosa, raised in Rome by an enigmatic cult. Hoping to find the answers to the missing pieces of his life, George sets out for the ancient city.

Once in Rome, he learns from Rosa the enthralling story of their distant ancestor, Regina, an iron-willed genius determined to preserve her family as the empire disintegrates around her. It was Regina who founded the cult, which has mysteriously survived and prospered below the streets of Rome for almost two millennia. The Order, says Rosa, is her real family– and, even if he doesn’t realize it yet, it is George’s family, too. When she takes him into the vast underground city that is the Order’s secret home, he feels a strong sense of belonging, yet there is something oddly disturbing about the women he meets. They are all so young and so very much alike.
Stephen Baxter possesses one of the most brilliant minds in modern science fiction. His vivid storytelling skills have earned him comparison to the giants of the past: Clarke, Asimov, Stapledon. Like his great predecessors, Baxter thinks on a cosmic scale, spinning cutting-edge scientific speculation into pure, page-turning gold. Now Baxter is back with a breathtaking adventure that begins during the catastrophic collapse of Roman Britain and stretches forward into an unimaginably distant, war-torn future, where the fate of humanity lies waiting at the center of the galaxy. . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Spartan

By Valerio Massimo Manfredi

A few days ago I finished reading "Spartan" by Valerio Manfredi. This is my first exposure to his work as I have but have not yet read his best-selling Alexander trilogy. I'm afraid I was not overly impressed, although the story was definitely readable. Most of the characters, with the exception of Talos, were not well developed, which in turn served to diminish the impact of some of the climactic moments in the book. The battle of Thermopylae was passed over so quickly, it did not create sufficient pathos when the two young Spartan warriors, ordered by Leonidas to deliver a message to the ephors, are ostracized by the Spartan community and labeled with the scornful title of "he who trembles". Likewise, the battle of Plataea was not portrayed in enough detail to grant the sacrifice of Brithos the emotional impact it should have had on Talos or the reader.

Afterward, as Talos traipsed around after Pausanias as a mercenary, the plot seemed to wander almost aimlessly for a time before Talos finally returned to Sparta and took up the mantle of his destiny.

The "love" scenes (if you can call them that) were right out of the fifties. Antinea steps out of her tunic and the scene changes and it’s the next morning. They seemed especially vacant after having just read Jennifer Macaire’s colorful Alexander time-travel novel, Children In The Morning.

However, The Spartan was far more interesting to me than Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March (I know that’s probably sacrilegious but that book just dragged for me) and stimulated my interest in further study of the helot conflict with the Spartans. I found one of Paul Cartledge’s definitive books on Sparta, The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse, at a bargain price on so I ordered it to continue my exploration of this culture.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


By Robert Harris

I’m definitely in a “Pompeii” mood! Last night on the way home I listened to the thrilling climax of Robert Harris' "Pompeii". I have read several of his other books ("Fatherland" and "Archangel") but this one is by far the best. His characters were wonderfully genuine. Now I will have a detailed mental image of Pliny the Elder each time I read something about him and I have added Attilius to my pantheon of great fictional Roman heroes. The descriptions of Vesuvius' "manifestations" were so vivid. They made me recall the images I saw on television of people in Portland, Oregon when Mt. St. Helens erupted – slogging along the streets through drifts of ash and the sky so dark and swirling with debris that the cars had to have their lights on in the middle of the day.

Anyway, a great read – I highly recommend it!

Pirates Of Pompeii

by Caroline Lawrence (Young adult fiction)

"AD 79, following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. Among the thousands of people huddled in refugee camps along the bay of Naples are Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan the Jewish boy, Nubia the African slave-girl, and Lupus the mute beggar boy. Their discovery that children are being kidnapped from the camps- among them the daughter of the powerful Publius Pollius Felix- leads them to solve the mystery of the pirates of Pompeii. A terrifically exciting and dramatic story and a brilliant picture of the aftermath of a great disaster."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Children in the Morning by Jennifer Macaire

I treated myself to a copy of Children in the Morning for a Christmas present and was not disappointed. Like Jennifer's two previous novels in the series, I found the characters believable and their relationships well developed. Alexander is a passionate hero with human failings just as I had always envisioned him and I enjoy the depiction of this unusual "family" group that has grown up around him during his efforts to explore the edges of the known world. Although battles are described, the emphasis is on the developing human relationships that I find as important to history (even alternate history) as events.

In this installment, Alexander and Ashley are in India and they experience the culture's exotic combination of beauty, courage, and treachery as they struggle through the monsoons, confront the formidable war elephants of Porus, and outwit brutal Brahmin rebels. Ashley must also face the reality of Alexander's looming death and consider the possibilities and consequences of cheating fate.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman

Review by Maureen Carlyle

"Cambyses, a Persian emperor who conquered Egypt, sent his army across the desert in 523 BC to attack the remote oasis of Siwa, site of the Oracle of Ammon, later immortalised by Alexander the Great. They never arrived. No-one knows to this day what became of them, but the most likely theory is that they were overcome and buried by a violent sandstorm. What if traces of the lost army were actually found, and details of the discovery were never reported to the correct authorities in the Antiquities Department? And what if a charismatic fundamentalist got to hear about it, and decided to use it for his own ends? "

"The plot is well carried through, with some excellent twists towards the end. It is sometimes far-fetched – for instance, Khalifa sets off into the Western Desert in a borrowed land-cruiser without any previous experience of desert driving, and only gets stuck in the sand once. There are other instances I can’t mention without revealing the plot. But this is Harrison Ford country, so who cares."

"Paul Sussman’s knowledge of Egypt – past and present – is really impressive."