Friday, April 30, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Just Finished Reading: The Coming of the Robots edited by Sam Moskowitz (FP: 1963) [254pp]
Continuing with my selection of Robot stories (which are some of my favourites but, surprisingly, rare considering that we’re living on the edge of the ‘Age of Robots’) this was a fairly old and fairly standard set of Robot short stories dating from 1934-1952. As with most collections the quality of the stories is a bit hit and miss. Coupled to this is the fact that the oldest tales are approaching 100 years of age. Overall I did find that these stories have not aged particularly well! As with all stories (or at least the vast majority of them) they say far much more about the age they are written in rather than the age they are being projected into. The classic example is of the humanoid taxi driver robot rather than the fully automated vehicle. Such examples abound in this slim work – we have humanoid and often intelligent robots but little else seems to be different from the age they originated in. Little attention seems to have been made to the general impact of robotics on the cultures they existed in and all too often they seemed to have a trivial impact even on the people who built them or used/experienced life with them. I suppose that I’m simply saying that, on the whole, these stories where noticeably unsophisticated – which is a comment you could aim at a great deal of SF of those times!
A case in point is the classic short ‘Helen O’Loy’ (1938) by Lester Del Ray. It revolves around two bachelors who are getting fed up with the service provided by their old automated kitchen – so they tinker with a robotic kit to create the perfect ‘housewife’. This they do with ‘Helen’ – named after Helen of Troy (which I didn’t know before). Unfortunately ‘Helen’ is a too perfect 30’s housewife and one of the bachelors falls in love with her. But it all works out in the end when ‘she’ falls in love with him too – roll credits. Apart from the devastating sexism of the times (forgiven because of the age) it’s a theme that has long continued in SF/Robot stories. Can you fall in love with a machine and can they fall in love with you? Then what? I guess that’ll be a question our grandchildren will probably need to deal with although if the ‘robots’ are anything like the ‘hosts’ in Westworld I predict the slow demise of humanity as the birth rate plummets.
A good handful of the stories did jump out at me for various reasons. I was surprised by a short called ‘I, Robot’ (1938) that *wasn’t* written by Asimov but by Eando Binder and was essentially the retelling of Frankenstein for a more ‘modern’ audience. Then there was ‘True Confession’ (1939) by F Orlin Tremaine which revolved around a robot becoming self-aware and using that self-awareness to protect his creator and his daughter (because ALL scientists have daughters – beautiful or otherwise). The other one which I found interesting (and rather gruesome in places) was ‘Rex’ (1934) by Hal Vincent with another accidentally self-aware machine who decided (after the appropriate study) that humans and human society were terribly inefficient and who decided to ‘fix’ the problem whether people wanted it to or not. Prescient or simple scaremongering?Taken on its merits (and taking into account its age) this wasn’t a bad collection and no doubt would have entertained people just as much in the 60’s as the stories did in the Pulp magazines in the 30’s and 40’s. Today though I found them too dated to be much fun. Reasonable, but only for collectors of robot stories I think.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Monday, April 26, 2021
Just Finished Reading: The Opium War by Julia Lovell (FP: 2011) [360pp]
It wasn’t just a profitable trade – it was a VERY profitable trade. Opium produced in India and transported to China raised a significant percentage of India’s running costs to the British Empire. Any restriction of that, admittedly illicit, trade not only threatened Indian revenue but arguably threated the Imperial project itself. At least that was what some of the actors in this drama told themselves and others back home. The Chinese had a long history of restricting access and trade opportunities to outsiders and after many decades of grumbling and smuggling the Europeans and especially the British had had enough. Whilst trade in opium was illegal the profits from its sale – initially to the wealthy and well placed – were enormous even with the middle men and bribes to everyone in the distribution chain. If the trade was made legal then profits would sky rocket. The opportunity arose during a periodic Chinese crackdown on the trade when a large consignment of opium was confiscated and burnt. Complaints from British traders fell on deaf ears and the local English language press had a field day in decrying how the European ‘race’ had been humiliated. The demand that ‘something be done’ was growing. Tired of the constant complaints the British government sent a representative to ‘sort things’. Siding with the traders he attempted to meet with officials, claim compensation and regularise the trade on a firmer foundation. This is when the misunderstandings and very different cultural world views came into deadly conflict.
The Chinese, often with very good reason, regarded the rest of the world as barbarians – no matter their technological prowess. The British, naturally to them, regarded the Chinese as a failed, backward and corrupt empire on the verge of collapse. Along with the slightly distasteful trade in opium they were bringing all of the benefits of European civilisation and, for some inexplicable reason, they were meeting resistance. A lesson, it seemed, needed to be taught. So they awaited an inevitable incident to arise that they could use as a wedge to finally breach Chinese trade restrictions once and for all. They didn’t have long to wait. Made into something far worse than it actually was the British envoy accused Chinese forces of an unprovoked attack on a British ship going about its lawful business (neither of which was strictly true) and demanded reparations. When none were forthcoming the British did what the British did back then – they called for military support. Back in those days (the late 1830’s) before widespread use of the telegraph it took weeks for messages to go back and forth from the edge of the Empire’s reach back to London and weeks more for a reply to be received on agreed action. None of this was in any way practical for efficient administration so envoys had a great deal of latitude to act on their own. Even with a latitude as wide as he no doubt had the British envoy overstepped his remit – and then some. Almost before they had begun to understand the situation the British government found themselves embroiled in what turned out to be the First Opium War.
Yet again (which seems to be a constant refrain here) the Opium War(s) was something I knew of but knew very little about (at least in detail). I know the fact that the British essentially used Royal Naval power to ENFORCE an illegal drug trade on another country but I wasn’t fully aware at how we first bumbled our way into it and then bumbled our way through it. Naturally with our technological superiority the war, if you can really call it that, didn’t last long or cost many European lives – though it cost a great number of Chinese ones. The subsequent treaty was flawed (mostly because of cultural misunderstandings and a Chinese ‘understanding’ that its provisions could be gradually ‘forgotten’) which led to the Second Opium War in 1856-60 which both opened up the Chinese mainland to a lot more trade – not just in opium – as well as full access for Christian missionaries. This, again naturally, became a casus belli for the subsequent Boxer Rebellion (more later!). From all of this you can see why the Chinese distrust and (arguably) hate Europeans almost as much as they despise the Japanese (more later!). In the last section of this fascinating book the author goes into the echoes of these conflicts – mostly long forgotten in the West but still fairly fresh in Chinese memory – both with the recurrent idea of a ‘Yellow Peril’ so often portrayed in popular culture since the mid-19th century to the present day and the deep-seated mistrust of any Western attempt to restrict or limit the Chinese taking what they see as their rightful place in the world. Not just a history of a war long ago in a place far away, this is I think an important contribution to understanding the Chinese world view and our place in creating it. With China rising in world power and the West arguably in relative decline misunderstandings of the kind that led to the Opium Wars will have much larger consequences for all involved. Hopefully works like this can reduce the changes of that happening. Most definitely recommended to anyone who wishes to understand China.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Friday, April 23, 2021
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Just Finished Reading: Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey (FP: 2011) [561pp]
Sol System, Sometime in the 23rd Century (I think!). Something incredible has been found on the moon Phoebe. The company that found it knows that it could change everything and, not incidentally, make a great deal of money as well as making the company – Protogen – the most powerful company in the entire system. All they need is time. Time to study it. Time to develop applications. Time to weaponise it. The only way that absolute secrecy can be maintained in a system full of high-tech and very suspicious operatives is to give everyone else something far more important to think about. The idea was pretty obvious. For years now unrest has been building in The Belt – the catch-all phrase used for the inhabited areas of the Asteroid Belt and a scattering of outer planetary moons. The political movement – labelled naturally by both Earth and Mars as a terrorist organisation – known as the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) is gaining adherents and power. Mars meanwhile has been building and enlarging its already impressive fleet and, year on year, increasing its threat to any manoeuvres by Mother Earth. Earth meanwhile, with a population of 30 billion, and depleted resources relies on the free transport of goods within the Sol system. Any planetary blockade, to say nothing of someone dangerously ‘throwing rocks’ could mean hardship at least and economic collapse at worst. All Protogen needs is a spark, a nudge to start the dominoes falling while it works on changing the world forever. That spark is struck with the destruction of the Belter ice-hauler Canterbury. When blame falls on Mars their fleet goes on high alert but when a Martian warship is destroyed in a fight with ships of a design never seen before some suspect that other players have joined the game. Has Earth decided to become involved? Has the Belt developed a capability previously thought beyond them? What exactly is going on out there in the black of deep space? It’s time to find out before the shooting really starts!
This is the first book in the Expanse series (yes, I KNOW… I’ve just started ANOTHER series!). I first heard of it a few years ago from friends and checked out clips on YouTube. Totally intrigued I bought the DVDs for series 1-3 (so far) and totally LOVED it. So naturally I now own the first 6 books in the 9 book series. The first book is told through the eyes of two of the main protagonists – James Holden who is/was XO of the Canterbury and Joe Miller a cop/investigator for Star Helix a private security firm. The first series of the TV adaptation follows more characters so it was a little disorienting at first to have such a restricted view in the books. But the first book does fill in some of the depth and background that we don’t get so much of in the first series. Weirdly though, because we are seeing through Holden’s and Miller’s ‘eyes’ the space battles that are fully displayed in the series are only either heard about later by the protagonists or only experienced obliquely. Again, having watched the first three series already, a little disorientating! Anyway…. Both Holden and Miller are investigating the same thing from different ends and slightly different perspectives so, when put together, gives an interesting view of what’s going on. I can’t really say too much without giving the plot totally way – plus it is passing complicated! Some critics have called it ‘Game of Thrones in Space’ and I can see why. There are three ‘factions’ – Earth, Mars and The Belt – all with their agendas, strengths and weaknesses. In the first book we mainly see things from the Belter’s point of view although in the first series on TV we also see a slice of the Martians (mostly from the MCRN battleship Donnager) and from Earth (mostly from characters which don’t appear in the books until later).
Seeing how differently ‘constructed’ the books are the series are (which kind of surprised me) I’d recommended reading or viewing the first three books/series and then swapping genres. I think the end of the first ‘trilogy’ is a good break point and doing this might reduce any confusion and ‘spoilers’ as events in the book happen out of sequence to the series. This is very accomplished read which I would have enjoyed just as much if I hadn’t already seen series 1-3. Part noir detective story, part political thriller, part GoT (I have to give it that) and part high space opera this was a delight to read and an even more delight to watch it come alive on screen. I am already looking forward to book 2 as soon as I can schedule it and series 4 as soon as it comes out on DVD. Most definitely recommended.
Oh, before I forget…. This version of the future is far more realistic than most others you’ll see on TV. Most of the tech you see is completely recognisable – from little drones zooming around to everyone checking their phones constantly. Space has been made both habitable and profitable by the invention of a very efficient engine called the Epstein Dive. It’s capable of both high acceleration (high enough to kill) and LONG burns. But there’s no inertial dampeners (so acceleration matters and too sudden deceleration will kill everyone on board), no shields, no phasers – space weapons are mostly missiles/torpedo and rail guns. Torpedoes can accelerate at 100+G so there’s no way in hell to outrun them. The only way not to get killed is Gatling gun type weapons called PDC’s (Point Defence Cannon). You run out of bullets – you die. End of…. Fun, eh?
New High Score(s) (since records began 22nd October 2020)
Page Count: 561pp [+43pp]
Average page count: 335pp [+1]
Hugo Best Novel (nominee)
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Monday, April 19, 2021
Just Finished Reading: Blueprint – How DNA Makes Us Who we Are by Robert Plomin (FP: 2018) [188pp]
We’ve come a long way since the Human Genome Project fully sequenced the first person. Not only is genome sequencing far faster these days it’s also a great deal cheaper too. Which is good news for those investigating the genetic factors in human behaviour, which is the author’s field of expertise.
For a LONG time now the debate has raged over the relative impact of Nature and Nurture. I remember this was a HOT topic back in my school days. Both sides have their advocates and the discussion has bled into both the Philosophical and Political domain. Talk of Free Will and Determinism abound in the debate and arguments about being ‘slaves’ to our DNA start flame wars across cyberspace. Confirming genetic inheritability of things like school attainment, obesity and sexuality are highly controversial in today’s super-charged environment (I’m looking at YOU Facebook) and the author is fully aware of this and the debates that rage throughout the genetic minefield (and mind-field!). However, this is all well and good but as more and more people have their genome sequenced and larger and larger studies are undertaken the evidence for genetic factors in much (if not all) of human behaviour is becoming unassailable. Many things that we have taken for granted as caused exclusively by environmental factors or are greatly amenable to environmental change are apparently nothing of the sort. Using LARGE studies of twins (both fraternal and identical), adopted siblings, and non-identical siblings separated in their early years it is clear that a significant percentage of human behaviour is genetically inherited. For example, whilst ‘only’ 50% of general intelligence is inherited a whopping 70% of spatial ability – the ability to navigate – is inherited from your parents (although I’m pretty good at navigating from a map my initial sense of where I am is terrible. If I need to go right I will invariably go left until I learn my mistake. I wonder which of my parents gave me that particular ‘skill’.). Interestingly stomach ulcers are 70% inherited as is Autism. Whereas height is 80% genetic and weight is, again, 70%.
If that wasn’t interesting enough the other thing which really got me thinking was the number of genes involved. I remember the amazement/horror some years ago when they supposedly found the ‘gay gene’. Reactions varied (naturally) with some hailing it as a victory that gay people are simply following their genetic disposition so it’s as natural as the day is long and not, as some maintained, an aberration whilst others celebrated the idea that they could now pick ‘straight’ in vitro embryos for re-implantation. Unfortunately for those on the side of human genome manipulation things have been confirmed as rather more complex than that. It had long been assumed that, at most, a small handful of genes are in control of various aspects of our being. So modification of these genes would produce any desired result – children with a higher IQ or an immunity to X. Not so fast. It appears that visible effects of single genes are tiny and had not, until recently, been picked up because the pool being tested was far too small. With bigger and deeper pools we discovered that attributes such as intelligence are influenced by 10’s and sometimes 100’s of genes. Modifying that many without the law of unintended consequences seriously smacking you in the face (if you’re lucky!) is decades away if possible at all. Likewise picking the ‘best’ embryo in vitro might be a juggling act of increased IQ, reduced chance of heart disease but increased chance of baldness and autism. Whichever way you cut it the ‘perfection’ of humanity through genetics might be a busted flush if the data keeps moving in the direction it seems to be.Of course there are many, many upsides to the information now building up. Early warning of physical and behavioural issues that can be addressed early enough to mitigate or prevent later catastrophic results plus individually tailored medication or educational programmes. Knowing that a child is genetically predisposed to have reading difficulties (for example) allows for extra resources being applied and removes any stigma of being labelled as ‘slow’ or being called ‘stupid’ by others. It’s still very much a tangled field of endeavour but our knowledge is increasing and the benefits could be great indeed. Told by an expert in his field who is obviously excited by what has been uncovered so far as well as the road ahead this is an interesting read that shouldn’t tax anyone with a reasonable scientific background. Plus there are LOTS of notes in the back if you want to dig deeper. Recommended.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Saturday, April 17, 2021
(Probably) The Last View from the Apocalypse
Not that I’m going anywhere – but I think the zombies are slowly dying out around here. With more than 50% of the population having their first jab and with numbers for infections, hospitalisations and deaths dropping month on month it’s starting to look like things are approaching an end point. Not only is the light at the end of the tunnel on, we can actually see it. We came out of what I do hope is our last lockdown on Monday 12th. Just walking around in my local area it’s starting to seem more ‘normal’. You still see lots of people wearing masks and they’re still required in shops and stores but there’s definitely more traffic on the roads and air pollution is getting back to pre-apocalypse levels – a sure sign things are getting back to normality!
Both my Mum and older brother have now had both of their shots and I’m due for my second next month. I think all of my gaming friends have now had their first shot too and a few will be having their second in the next few weeks. Much more importantly, of course, is that book shops are now open again [does Snoopy dance!] so there’s a Mall trip in my near future – super fuelled by the fact that I haven’t been able to shop for my birthday yet except on-line. I’ll also now be able to physically shop for shoes – I like to see and touch what I’m getting [old fashioned I know but I’m ‘built’ that way] – as well as some tools & things for future projects in and around the house.
Longer term I’ll actually be able to go ‘Up North’ later in the year and see my family for the first time in around 18 months or more. I wonder just how tall the kids are by now and if they still remember who I am [lol]. Prior to that I expect pretty much all travel restrictions – at least inside the country – to be lifted so day trips etc will be featuring more which is good news with summer almost upon us. My ex-work colleagues have also been in touch regarding my [very] late/rescheduled retirement drinks which will be happening when the pubs fully reopen. It’ll be nice to see them again and find out what’s been happening to everyone in the last year since I left [crazy to think that I’ve already been retired a whole year].
So, over all things are (generally) looking positive for a change. No doubt in years ahead we’ll look back on these days and laugh – not. It’s definitely been a strange and often difficult 12 months all round. But I think, for many of us, it’s finally coming to an end. Covid-19 is still going to be in the news for some time to come though. A lot of the world still needs fully vaccinating and there will be, no doubt, investigations into what went wrong and what we can learn from the pandemic because, sure as God made little green apples, there will be others. Let’s hope that lessons are learnt and we’re far better prepared next time.
Friday, April 16, 2021
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Just Finished Reading: Sharpe’s Battle by Bernard Cornwell (FP: 1995) [387pp]
Spanish-Portuguese border, 1811. Lost in the hills Sharpe and his men stumble upon a duo of French cavalrymen in the act of raping a young Spanish women. Disgusted by this all too common behaviour and the fact that the men’s unit had killed old men, women and children in the local village Sharpe orders that the men be shot. Despite being outside his authority to do so Sharpe’s men eagerly move to comply. When the enemy’s commanding officer appears to bargain for his men’s return Sharpe ignores him and orders the firing squad to proceed. Vowing revenge the French officer, Brigadier-General Guy Loup, determines to humiliate Sharpe in front of his men before he kills him. Sharpe has made a formidable enemy. Sent to command a dilapidated Portuguese fort it presents Loup with an ideal opportunity for revenge. Suffering heavy losses Sharpe is reprimanded and is told that he will be court-martialled for political reasons to save important Anglo-Spanish relations and that being demoted is nothing personal. The only way out is to perform an act of such spectacular bravery that any trial would either be a formality or dropped all together. The only problem Sharpe can see is doing something brave enough to be noticed and surviving to tell the tale. Luckily for Sharpe an opportunity is about to be presented to him. Wellington’s army is in a precarious position and if they lose the upcoming battle they lose the war – and probably their lives.
This is the 12th book in the Sharpe series and my 18th Sharpe book (I think!). Obviously I’ve not been reading them in 100% order but that’s not totally required. Following the usual pattern of opening incident, small battle followed by major battle (not all Sharpe novels are like this but the pattern is repeated more often than not I think) this is a great romp showing all of Sharpe’s – and Cornwell’s – strengths and few of his, admittedly few, faults. The opening incident in the massacred village is suitable gruesome and the baddie, Loup, is suitably nasty enough to elicit a cacophony of ‘boo’s’ off-page every time he enters the frame. Supported by a group of elite cavalry dedicated to hunting partisans they make a suitably tough nemesis to throw at Sharpe. Again as usual there’s a strong female character, the beautiful but traitorous Dona Juanita, who likes to dress in the uniforms of the men she’s slept with. Apparently she has a very large wardrobe. She’s definitely an interesting character if rather distasteful. The small battle, at the old fort, is both intense and fraught but the larger battle at the end of the novel is quite something – as well as being largely based on fact. A mixture of street fighting and a slow tactical retreat on the battlefield (which was wonderful to ‘watch’ and must have been very annoying to the French) was very exciting to experience – although probably not that enjoyable to take part in. Also, as usual, the dialogue is sparkling. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if conversations in the novel actually took place on the battlefield. They have a ‘feel’ of the authentically laconic.As always these books make me want to know more about the actual conflict – both the wider Napoleonic War and the Peninsula campaigns in particular – so I’m looking towards that. This leaves four more books to read plus another one to be published this year in hardback. I’ll be waiting for it in paperback though. There’s no hurry really with others in the ‘to read’ pile. Definitely a fun read and recommended for all 19th century war fans.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Monday, April 12, 2021
Just Finished Reading: Conspirator – Lenin in Exile: The Making of a Revolutionary by Helen Rappaport (FP: 2009) [293pp]
It was only a matter of time before they came for him. After the execution of his older brother for his involvement in the plot to assassinate the Czar the activities of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (known to history simply as ‘Lenin’) were under a constant police microscope. It wasn’t long therefore before he was arrested for political activities and sent into internal exile. On his release his mother advised him, for his own safety, to leave the country. So began 17 years outside Russia, a country he was working tirelessly to bring to a new and revolutionary path. Crossing and criss-crossing Europe during those wilderness years Lenin, along with a small band of close supporters including his wife, her mother and his sometimes lover, hammered home the need for revolution in his homeland in pamphlets, newspaper articles and impassioned speeches often to the detriment of his health. Both demanding of effort (as well as absolute loyalty to the cause and himself) and a total commitment he managed to alienate almost everyone he met. Causing and widening any split in the party as well as denouncing any deviation from his plans as nothing less than treachery he was a hard task master who managed to make few friends but many enemies. Moving from Russia to Germany, France, England and Switzerland (and back around again) due to money worries, political infighting and local police attention he only returned to Russia after the 1917 revolution had already started. Assisted by the German government (much to the disgust of his fellow revolutionaries) in the confident hope that he would undermine the Russia war effort he set about with his well-known ruthless style to make a Russian revolution into a Bolshevik one – to make it his Revolution.
Most of this book was an eye-opening surprise to me. I knew the highlights of course. I knew that Lenin returned to Russia in 1917 to the Finland station to prosecute the long hoped for revolution after travelling across German held territory in a ‘sealed’ carriage. What I didn’t realise is both how long he spent in exile and just how ineffective his activities across Europe turned out to be. Not only did he, and his small entourage, live most of that time close to abject poverty but the production of political tracts and radical newspapers had almost no discernible effect back home. About the only thing he did have was a laser like focus on exactly what he wanted – regardless of whatever anyone else thought either within or outside his organisation. He, apparently, never compromised his position no matter the consequences. He was right. Anyone who debated or disagreed with him was either a fool, a tool for the opposition (in other words a traitor) or compromised in some other way. No wonder he had few friends – either political or personal. It seems that he only really made a mark on the revolution and world history after he returned to Russia in 1917 and essentially muscled his way into a fledgling organisation that was already involved in the Revolution. He certainly had some influence in things before everything kicked off but the actual revolution on the ground was far from his to control. That, as we know, came later and at the cost of many lives.
Told in great detail – sometimes a little too much I thought – this was definitely an interesting insight into Lenin’s life before he really hit the world stage. Much more about his travels and travails than his politics it is a valuable addition to anyone’s library on the Russian Revolution. Reasonable.
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Friday, April 09, 2021
Thursday, April 08, 2021
Just Finished Reading: Clarissa Oakes by Patrick O’Brian (FP: 1992) [256pp]
The Pacific Ocean, 2 days out from the penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia, early 19th Century. Captain Jack Aubrey is not happy, not at all. One source of the unhappiness is clear to him – spending any time in Botany Bay. The other, at least for the moment, escapes him. After years aboard the Surprise, a vessel he knows well and loves more, something is….. off. He can’t place his finger on it but something is most assuredly wrong with the feel of the ship. Even the officers are behaving oddly. Then all is made clear and Jack is no longer unhappy. He’s furious. Not only has midshipman William Oakes smuggled a stowaway on board (and a woman!) but the officers and crew knew about it and kept it from him. As the Surprise is no longer under Admiralty regulations there is only so much he can do about the situation but still, it rankles. To make matters worse they are being hotly pursued by the British cutter Éclair. Convinced that the pursuit is to retrieve the stowaway Jack ensures that Oakes marries the woman in question to put an end to things. Naturally things are never that simple. The cutter carries dispatches (and personal mail!) regarding a privateer flying the American flag harassing British whalers. Sent in pursuit Jack is prevented from disposing of his stowaway and her new husband on the nearest inhabited island (or any passing British ship heading home). Forced now to entertain Mrs Oakes on board Jack discovers a young woman of surprising education and pleasing looks. His very good friend, ship’s surgeon and intelligence officer, Stephen Maturin discovers something else about her – she has information about a highly placed person with Bonapartist inclinations, information that must reach England.
This was my second Patrick O’Brian book picked up somewhere at random. I’d previously read ‘Far Side of the World’ (following seeing the movie) so had a good idea of what I was letting myself in for. Actually I was surprised that there was a lot less nautical terms scattered through this novel than I remember in his earlier work – or maybe I’m just getting used to jibs and studding sails? This is actually the 15th book in the Jack Aubrey series with ‘Far Side’ being his 10th. I really need to start back at the beginning especially as the 2nd book has recently come into my possession. Anyway, at first I was unsure what to make of this novel. Most of the plot – well over half – revolves around the eponymous lady in question: Clarissa herself. At first I thought she was some kind of sociopath and was at Botany Bay for a host of horrible crimes. Criminal she definitely was but her back story was a very interesting and intriguing one. As a character she was a real gem – once you understood her a bit more fully. I think I’ll remember her for quite some time. The sub-plot (or at least one of them) revolved around a traitor in the British establishment with definite French sympathies. To be honest I’ve never given this aspect of the Napoleonic conflict much thought. Sure there would be spies on the ground ferreting out upcoming moves but traitors – especially in the establishment – had never crossed my mind, not once! Although quite a short book this is a delightful read giving an insight into life on board a small(ish) ship of the time and some of the events in the Pacific and on various chains of islands scattered throughout. I’m looking forward to wrapping myself deeper into the experiences of Aubrey & Maturin series – all 20 books of them! (not counting the ‘unfinished’ novel published after the authors death). Recommended for those who like their salt in the air and the smell of gunpowder.