April 2004
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April 2004 Archives

April 28, 2004

Newmyer - Joseph Story

R. Kent Newmyer, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1985)

More Joseph Story. Newmyer emphasizes Story the conservative, starting with his Republican roots but framing his mature thought in Burkean lines, and even showing Story making approving references to Metternich. His Story is not the Madisonian Republican but the American Burke or Blackstone, appealing to the common law as the basis for a framework of jurisdiction that would restrain the Jacksonian devolution of the Republic.

Useful stuff.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)
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Cornwell - Black Notice

Patricia Cornwell, Black Notice

I have no idea if this is a good book or a bad book. Partway through the first tape I got bored and turned it off, and before I could commute again I had gotten Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath and Heinlein Moon is a Harsh Mistress as additional audiobooks. Cornwell runs a distant third to these two classics, and back to the library it went.

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Red Ted
at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)
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Flint - Ring of Fire

Eric Flint [ed], Ring of Fire.

I have blogged about Flint before. He is a good thinker and a solid writer, and I do like his stuff. This is a collection of short stories set in his 1632 universe. He did something interesting, unusual, and typical for him with that universe.

The basic premise is simple - a town in West Virginia is transported to Germany in 1632, in the middle of the 30 Year's War, by a cosmic plot device. The inhabitants then adapt to their new surroundings, transforming them along the way, and the most powerful new technology that came back through time was basic civics.

The premise is simple enough that people began to wonder what they would do if they were in that situation, or what the people in that situation might logically start to do, and almost immediatly Flint's fan bulletin board flooded with people who wanted to talk about the universe. He set up a new bulletin board solely for them and, like a good Science Fiction author, turned to the fan base for ideas and technical help. Someone at a Worldcon once commented that you can discover anything if you just ask fans, and she was right.

While picking through this material he realized that his fans were already writing stories and creating characters in his new universe. So, he opened it up to a shared worlds book, and did so while he was still working on 1633, the second novel in that world and the start of a transition from stand-alone to series. Some of the fan ideas made it into that novel, more made it into this collection of short stories.

As Flint comments in his introduction, history is not just the deeds and actions of a handful of major characters, even though the narrative conventions of both fiction and biography require the author to focus on a few people over an extended period of time. (Exception, Harry Turtledove's unreadable wrecks of alternate history, where he focuses on lots of people over a short period of time and does so badly.) Real history is a lot of stories all going on at once, and by encouraging the shared world folks to publish early, he hopes to capture some of the diversity of real life.

Anyhow, the stories are mixed. Some are quite good - Dave Freer's "Between the Armies" was to my taste. Others are quite clunky, with characters who engage in tedious exposition framed in dialogue that no living human would speak as conversation. Several of them take on the conflict between religious freedom and state churches, with Freer being the most emphatic in making Lyman Beecher's argument that it is only under a voluntary religious regime that truly pious people can act according to the dictates of their faith rather than the pressures of power politics. Not surprisingly, Freer and Flint have co-authored a novel about a transplanted American priest who takes the modern catechism and Bible to the Vatican in an attempt to reform the counter-Reformation Catholic Church. I look forward to reading
1634: The Galileo Affair and have asked the local library to buy a copy.

I like Flint, I like this Grantville universe, I am glad I read the book.

I wish I had slept instead, but I was tired and not sleepy last night, and so I finished the book.

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Red Ted
at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)
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Story - Joseph Story

William W. Story [ed] Life and Letters of Joseph Story (New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 2 vol. Orig pub 1851.

Most major political and religious leaders of the nineteenth century had their deaths followed by a volume of life and letters, commonly edited by a son or grandson. It was an act of fileopietism to create one of these volumes, and historians are very glad of that impulse.

William Story here combined the narrative of an autobiography written by his father with extracts from Joseph Story's letters, letters about Joseph story from his contemporaries, and comments on some of the more significant cases. It is a big book - each volume is some 575 pages - and luckily I was able to gut it, skimming for content and only commonplacing a few pages of notes.

More Joseph Story, some useful quotes including some letters on Christianity and the Common Law.

Now I get to think about how exactly I want to use Story in chapters two and three.

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Red Ted
at 03:37 AM | Comments (0)
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April 26, 2004

Modesitt - Archform: Beauty

I have been reading a lot of Modesitt. His Archform: Beauty is quite good. Based on two science fiction novels and half a dozen fantasy novels, I have decided that the man is a spectacular science fiction author and a pretty good fantasy author.

Archform: Beauty is set in a future of about three centuries hence. The language is clipped, the world includes nannites and information technology, the narrative cuts between half a dozen main characters, and all the main characters take pleasure in the beauty inherent in their work.

Like much light fantasy, the characters are all essentially capable people even if they are sometimes placed in situations that they do not care for and do not see an escape from. I like that in a fictional character - if I wanted to be depressed I would read the correct subset of history.

Modesitt frames the future as a place where the aesthetic and the practical conflict, and writes some future sociology about the limitations of a purely rational world view and suggesting that a world without aesthetic appreciation is a world doomed to progressively become less intelligent and, along the way, far far less interesting. It is, at one level, a reply to the folks who would trim the budgets for art and art education, and at another level a reminder that the beauty in life comes not just in the "high culture" of art but also in human relations - the Senator loves the beauty in politics as deals are made, positions are taken, alliances offered and rejected, and constituents coddled. And that makes him just as sympathetic a character as the adjunct professor of voice or the beleaguered researcher who writes poetry in the brief seconds between complicated fact-finding assignments for the news station.

It is a good book, both in itself and because the ending pushed my romantic buttons. After finishing the book, I went and found and smooched J., for she is also a lovely lady who sings.

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Red Ted
at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)
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April 25, 2004

Francis - Flying Finish

Dick Francis Flying Finish is a perfectly reasonable Francis by the numbers. He writes what he knows - in this case horses and flying airplanes - and combines them into a perfectly reasonable thriller.

So, I ate another potato chip. I think I have caught up with Dick Francis, so it is now time to find a new source of disposable light fiction to read during meals.

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Red Ted
at 09:12 AM | Comments (0)
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Francis - Field of Thirteen

I started but did not finish Dick Francis' collection of short stories, Field of Thirteen last week. I have read it before, short stories depend in part on the twist at the end, and I had no real desire to re-read the last two thirds of the book.

Still, there are some good bits in there.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)
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Robinson - Callahan's Legacy

Last week I read Spider Robinson Callahan's Legacy

It was, well, horrible.

I have Robinson's first three collections of Callahan's stories in a box in storage. I sort of liked them. If I find that box before I forget this book, I will throw the older books away for they will be tainted with the memory of this foulness, just like fresh chicken left out over a long weekend can put you off poultry for a month.

I really like some of Robinson's work - "God is an Iron" is one of my favorite short stories - but too much of his stuff is literary hackwork or a moment in which he obsesses over telepathy. Not having an overriding desire to become telepathic, I have trouble accepting some of his formulations and assumptions. Most of his fiction is licorice.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:08 AM | Comments (0)
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Dunne - Joseph Story

Gerald Dunne, Justice Joseph Story and the Rise of the Supreme Court

I am reading up on Story because he figures prominently in chapter two and in the framing section for chapter three. I had, for example, filed him as a Federalist because of his buddies and his later whigdom. Dunne reminded me that Story had been a street-fighting Republican in the late 1790s and early 1800s - getting into at least one fistfight in 1803 - before making friends with Federalists while working on the Yazoo Land case and then being named to the Supreme Court.

Story appears to have been a National Republican - a Madisonian not a Jeffersonian - and he took this perspective into DeuteroFederalism in the 1810s and then into Whiggery in the 1840s.

It was a useful book, though I skimmed more than I read.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)
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April 21, 2004

Kipling - Captains Courageous

Rudyard Kipling, Captains Courageous, Audiobook.

This is a classic YA and still one of my favorites. Kipling was visiting the US, got interested in the New England nautical world, and spent a summer down in Boston and Gloucester Harbours talking to everyone in sight. He then took that mess of information, combined it with a coming-of-age tale and mediation on masculinity, and wrote it as a YA novel.

The book is interesting on several levels: what was it like to go fishing for cod in the 1890s? what model of masculine adulthood is Kipling presenting, and why does the schooner We're Here sometimes remind me of an English public school? How does Kipling's use of racial terms shape his notion of masculinity?

That first of these is the obvious draw of the book, and Kipling takes us through the fog in a small dory, shows how to bait a hook and land a cod or halibut, and how to dress down the fish and pack it in salt for the trip home.

The second is Kipling's underlying purpose to the book. Harvey, our protagonist, starts as an obnoxious kid; he finishes as a good kid and has a coda as a very sharp young man. Kipling preaches hard work, responsibility, and the way that men among men will do their best, own up to their mistakes, help one another out, and work as a team to accomplish collective goals - for Kipling a ship is the model for the larger world.

The third was the most jarring, and the reason why I would not want to hand the book to a kid in 2004 without pausing for a moment. It is not just that Kipling casually refers to niggers a few times, or has a character praise another's good deed as being "mighty white" - these are turns of phrase, part of the normative world of a man born in colonial India and writing for an audience looking for "scientific" new methods of race relations. It is that the black cook, MacPherson - a "coal black gaelic speaker" from Novia Scotia, has the second sight, is double close to nature as a black man and a gael, and resolves at the end of the book to give up his own life and spend the rest of his days caring for Harvey's every need - the spiritual black man willingly devotes himself to life as a body servant, and this choice then validates Harvey's manhood and move to take up his inherited family wealth and power. The structure is jarring, for racial norms and character-defining norms have changed a great deal since the 1890s.

I might sometime want to team-teach something on novels for young adults, and their social and cultural contexts. Certainly Captains Courageous works well as a snapshot of late nineteenth century assumptions about class, work, race, and wealth.

I do like the book.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)
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April 18, 2004

Francis - The Danger

Dick Francis The Danger

Dick Francis novels are like peanuts - you can't read just one.

I went to pick up something summoned for me, and discovered that the library had sent it to a different branch. So, to fill in the idle hours I grabbed a couple more DF novels.

This was below his usual standard but still a perfectly fine page-turning thriller.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)
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April 16, 2004

Griffin - Retreat Hell

William E Butterworth is a hack. He freely admits it.

He is also a hack who has stumbled onto a gold mine of high quality hack fiction material. The guy has been cranking out a couple of books a year for thirty years under one name or another. He wrote a set of novels - basically a multivolume version of one long complicated story - about a batch of Army officers who meet during the 1950s and then serve in Vietnam. Along the way he writes about the U.S. Army's attempt to field a rocket-armed helicopter in the 1950s and 1960s, a project that he worked on during his own service time.

The books worked, and he wrote more.

The gold mine is in the response that he got from the retired military community - he had always stayed in touch with them and he lives Southern Alabama in retired US military heartland. What happened was that folks at the Armor Association, or his neighbors, or folks who read his novels and liked them, all began to tell him stories. He took those stories, wrapped them around his standard plot about rich dilettantes who get drunk, misbehave, and have sex with beautiful women while serving their nation, often heroically. It is a good formula, and only folks who read too many of them (like me) and remember what they read (like me) will be bothered by the repetition of the same stock encounters and stock plot sequences.

There is something to be said for being a good hack.

Retreat Hell is the latest in his saga of the US Marine Corps. It has the usual suspects: the dangerous intelligence man, the drunken lightweight flyboy who is his best friend, the career officer who is dismayed by the caravan of drunks and fools, and the politically connected troubleshooter who reports to the President. This advances the saga of the Korean War from the Inchon landing to the Chinese intervention. It was gripping enough that I finished it, long enough that it took a couple of days, and generic enough that I had little trouble putting it down after meals, can reading, or other short study breaks with a book.

The interesting part is that much of the book drew on a set of conversations with retired General Almond of the USMC, who was a crucial commander during that advance and who appears as a character in the novel. Butterworth writes his friends into his novels, or perhaps he writes novels around his friends, and in the process he gets a compelling rhythm underneath the hack plot and sometimes clunky exposition.

They are good books; I do hope he keeps writing them.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)
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April 08, 2004

Modestitt - Towers of Sunset

E.L. Modestitt, The Towers of the Sunset.

This is another book in Modestitt's Recluse series. It is the second written, the third that I have read.

I did not like it as much as the first two, largely because I really liked the Lerris character and did not care as much for the protagonist of this one. Perhaps I have read too much in this world already, for I am getting a little tired of amazingly powerful magicians who have no idea of their capabilities and act like fools because of it.

Then again, I was dreaming about black oak, white oak, and the relationship between wood and magic last night, so there is something in Modestitt's ideas that sticks with me.

I summoned the next in the series, but I will turn my fiction reading elsewhere until it arrives.

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Red Ted
at 01:00 AM | Comments (0)
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April 06, 2004

Mystic River

Did not finsih Mystic River by Dennis Leary, on audio tape. It is a sad book full of tragedy impending, I listen to tapes while commuting too and from school, and I am in the middle of teaching the Great War and the Russian Revolution with the tragedy of the Second World War impending in the very near future.

I could not take so much sadness, even if it is well written and well crafted. The book has too much potty language for me to play it with the toddler in the car, and so it went back.

I can see why Sheila O'Malley loved the book, and I might try it again this summer.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)
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Modestitt - Magic of Recluse

L.E. Modestitt jr, The Magic of Recluse

This 1991 novel made a big splash at the time, but I missed it entirely. It is yet another saga of the young magician making his way through an unfriendly world. It is better than most largely because Lerris, the same character I so enjoyed in Death of Chaos is here as a young man. Lerris is confused, honest, and more powerful than he suspects. He also talks to his pony and has the pony talk back to him. Well, lots of whinneying and chuffing but Lerris considers it conversation.

It works well, is written more clearly than some of Modestitt's other stuff. I liked it enough to move on to the second book in the world of Recluse, The Towers of Sunset which is far more obscure and confusing.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)
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April 04, 2004


I finally watched Casablanca this week. The infant and I watched it over four sessions while I danced around with a cranky baby.

My goodness, there are a LOT of famous lines in that movie. Even with the disruptions to the plot and ambiance that came because I was watching in little stints the movie wove a compelling web of time and place, and long lost love.

I liked it, yep.

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Red Ted
at 01:32 AM | Comments (0)
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April 03, 2004

Marty - Righteous Empire

Martin E Marty, Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America
New York, Dial Press, 1970

A pop-history review of American Protestant religious history. A couple of useful quotes to thicken the dissertation. He focuses on consensus and argues that Evangelicals were effectively everything. I focus on the tension between the one and the many and argue that Evangelicals were terrified that they would become nothing - a difference in emphasis that leads us to very different conclusions.

Good stuff, nice read, a little dated.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)
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April 02, 2004

Saberhagen - Golden Fleece

I just finished Fred Saberhagen's The Golden Fleece.

I do not know why I finished it. I don't much care for the story of Jason and the Argonauts; I don't much care for the current trend in hack speculative fiction in which folks re-write the same few stories from history and mythology; I despise bad writing.

But, I did end up turning the pages. For the first half I was curious what Saberhagen was doing with his Proteus character, for the second half I was curious to see if the ending was going to be as terribly sad as in the original myth.

I won't be reading more of this series. I don't mind reading YA books from time to time, but this was so simple as to be stupid.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 02:21 AM | Comments (0)
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