April 2005
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April 2005 Archives

April 27, 2005

Cornwell - Crackdown

Bernard Cornwell, Crackdown

Bernard Cornwell
Crackdown

Sailing adventure story involving a wounded war hero, a slimy TV producer, and an accident that looked too much like murder.

The pages turned; the emotions thrilled; the Ted stayed up too late that night.

The sad thing is that I now barely remember the book. Adventure fiction can be fun, but it is also often the snack cake of the mind.

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Red Ted
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April 20, 2005

Sharpe's Escape

Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Escape
Narrated (very well) by Patrick Tull

Richard Sharpe is a highly reliable product.

If the character himself could speak he might well complain, but the truth is that Cornwell has created a good character, a good supporting character, and a rich and powerful milieu to set him in. In addition, Cornwell is particularly strong when writing about that moment half-way between horror and adventure, describing moments of violence and death in a way that both advances his story and produces a gut reaction in his reader. A couple of scenes from his Arthurian trilogy gave me nightmares -- they still come to mind as I write this and I read those books several years ago.

The horrors that Sharpe encounters are the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars during the Penninsular campaign, the horrors of guerilla war and counter-insurgency, and the horrors of what happens when a column of brave men marches forward into a line of brave men firing muskets and cannons as fast as humanly possible.

The first half of the book builds up to one of these battles, described in all of its graphic horror, and in many ways this is the center of the book. The plot itself involves Sharpe, a Portugese officer who admires Sharpe, and a fine villain who is engaged in selling food to the invading French Army.

It made a very good audiobook. I find that when I read Sharpe in book-book format, I tend to stay up at night turning pages like eating popcorn. As an audiobook I simply found myself looking forward to the commute, and turning the book off when the kids were in the car. Horror, you know, is horrifying. Patrick Tull has a good voice for the novel and reads Sharpe marvelously well.

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Red Ted
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April 12, 2005

The Blue Angel

The Blue Angel

Really, I should title this Der Blau Ange, because I watched the German version with English subtitles on.

I watched this a few weeks ago during spring break. I had told the students to watch a movie made before 1950, and this was one that I had long been curious to see.

Of course, this is not first impressions but the exact opposite, the memories of the movie that persist through a month of other reading, viewing, grading, and writing.

I watched the movie to see Marlene Deitrich. What I remember is Emil Jannings in the role of the Professor. He is fat and pompous, but from the very first moment - he goes to feed his pet bird, it is dead at the bottom of the cage, his landlady shrugs and says "it never sang anyway" - I felt a sort of bathos for the man.

He goes to a seedy nightclub, The Blue Angel, to try to chase his students away. He ends up meeting and falling for Lola Lola, played by Marlene Deitrich. That seedy nightclub is a much quoted place: I now see where Cabaret, Damn Yankees, and even Blazing Saddles stole some of their ambience. Of course, the Blue Angel makes the Kit Kat Club look classy - which is a mighty impressive feat. Still, the professor falls for Lola despite the warning looks from the old, mute clown, a character I remember well even though he did not speak a single line.

The fat manager manipulates the Professor, the Professor marries Lola,is fired from his job, goes on tour with Lola and the manager, and slowly declines and finally dies, humiliated and alone, after failing in his attempt to kill Lola. It is a very sad movie.

J. did not like it and asked me to turn it off every time she was around as I was watching it. I found it an uncomfortable movie, I like feel-good stories, but a movie whose scenes and characters have stuck with me.

Good stuff.

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Red Ted
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April 06, 2005

L.E. Modesitt - Recluse

L.E. Modesitt jr.
The Recluse Series

I read, re-read in some cases, about eight of these last month. They are all remarkably the same, so similar that they blur together.

Our hero is always a crafter of some sort. He has an awareness of order and chaos, usually of order, and he is a mage who can work with order and chaos. The details of that working will vary - some can manipulate the winds, even pulling the jet streams down to earth level to create killing storms, others work with iron, or hook atoms together to make a shield, but they all have similar skills.

They are caught up in hard times, bad government, and war. They travel about, learning by overhearing. Modesitt is very good at writing the snippits of conversation that you hear as you move through a crowd, and all his heros have very good hearing.

All in all they are entertaining, they tackle questions about the nature and purpose of government, and the villains are not so simple nor are the heros so heroic as they might seem. In all of this, though, Modesitt seems to be channelling the old Texas Ranger who warns that there is nothing quite so terrifying as a man who knows he is in the right and just keeps coming. Modesitt's heros are like that mythical Texas Ranger.

After reading a few, I had a powerful urge for spicy lamb in hot brown sauce, served with noodles and sweet brown bread. So I made Vindaloo and molasses bread on successive nights, and was content.

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Red Ted
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