Monthly Archives: August 2014

Book Review: X-Novo

X-Novo by Ken Hagdal is a novel of a future American society and system celebrating its first year in power. Women took control of the country quickly through a variety of means and now control the men. Women learned through the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Bible has been tampered with, by men, and that it is women who should hold power. Hagdal uses an interesting turn on Jewish mythology and religion to frame his story. At the one year anniversary of the revolution, the faction in control celebrates, but not all women and certainly not all men approve of the situation.

In this new society men have become the Stepford Wives of the future. A collar around their neck and controls sent from their wives and, for a lack of a better word, overseers keep the male population subdued. The main character is the Director of Information, Lisa Fenrich, whose job is to keep the appearance that all things are running smoothly by issuing news stories and writing speeches for the other branches of the government. She seems to be a happy, well-adjusted person who takes her job of keeping the public safe (from information that may cause panic) seriously. She is a very detailed character in the story, and one that you continue to learn more about as you read on. Faults or otherwise she becomes a character the reader will care for.

Lisa’s position puts her in the perfect place to know all sides of current events. She is an insider in the government and sought after by the opposition BBs or Better Before Party. As an insider Lisa sees first hand the newest government project. She is also contacted by one of the BBs who talks like a cross between Jersey and Valley Girl, “like, you know?”. Government and societal problems are not Lisa’s only problems. She has some personal problems too. Overworked and single, she decides to choose a man from “the pool” to be her collared spouse. There is plenty going on, and Lisa is beginning to feel that not everything is right.

I really like the characters and the running story throughout the novel. However, at times I felt like I was in the second book of a series without having read the first book. The details of the revolution are given in the book to some extent, but a prologue or a prequel covering the previous year or more would be a welcome addition. If the reader can accept the current setting, the story reads well and moves at a good pace. Information is revealed at an acceptable rate to keep the reader appraised of the character’s past and connection to the current events. There is satire and even the key to the deepest secret is even more unexpected.

The author’s intent is to play on gender issues and that is clearly on the surface of the novel. Perhaps, it is my background in political science that has me looking below the surface. I saw the novelization of real world events. The oppressed rise and overthrow the oppressors. The masses fighting for freedom, gain control, oppress the former oppressors, and some of their own less loyal members, and it results in a scenario where it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Hagdal does this with interesting characters, an appealing story, and with perhaps the oldest oppression known to mankind. Aside from my single quibble, the novel comes together and works very well.


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Book Review: Generals Die in Bed: 100th Anniversary of World War I Special Edition

Generals Die in Bed: 100th Anniversary of World War I Special Edition by Charles Yates Harrison is a novel of a soldier’s time in the trenches of WWI. Harrison was born in Philadelphia but raised in Montreal. He served as a machine gunner in the Royal Montreal Regiment in WWI, wounded in the battle of Amiens, and became a writer in Montreal and later New York. Generals Die in Bed was serialized in several American and German periodicals in 1928 and eventually published as a novel in 1930.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to remember while reading this book is that it is a novel. It reads as a memoir and with the author’s war experience it is difficult to tell how much is actually fiction — even to the point of the author, in real life, and the main character both being taken out of the war by a foot wound. It is easy for the average reader to think this is an autobiography. Many more educated people made the same mistake. The Senior Historian at the Canadian War Museum discredited the book by treating it as an autobiography and criticizing Harrison for promoting himself to corporal in the book. The book was hailed and condemned at its release. Many of the military commentators had a very low opinion of the book, coming just short of calling it treasonous.

There is little doubt that we today learn much of the war through nonfiction, research, news articles, government documents, memoirs, and letters. Anyone who has written a graduate level paper in history or political science can attest to this. What brings history to life is first hand information, the event being told by the participant. Perhaps, one thing that makes first hand information more valuable in understanding is when it is fictionalized. Not fictionalized in the Hollywood sense of selling a movie, but in the sense of removing inhibitions about telling the whole truth. It may be difficult to reveal friends secrets, or name names for the acts of someone who fell in battle. Fiction, in this sense gives the reader more than the entire story, it gives the reader the feel of the event.

Harrison is able to identify with the soldier, as he was one. His telling of life in the military rings true today. There is questioning. There is a change from patriotism to self preservation. Basic human needs to continue breathing and having a full stomach trump the sense of duty. You do your job, and do it well. You just lose that naive patriotism. You form bonds with those you serve with; that brotherhood becomes as strong as or stronger than family. Those in the trenches where doing the job the vast majority of the population did not want to do. Governments had to force people into uniform with a draft. Harrison’s fiction brings this to life. There is a timeless bond to those in uniform. Give this book to a Marine who fought in Fallujah and he will relate to the feelings, emotions, and actions of soldiers in trenches one hundred years ago. The people may change, but the fighting man is always the same.

Generals die in bed. The higher the rank the better chance of that happening. When the general or officer speaks to the enlisted man of “we”, the enlisted man knows “we” does not include the officer. This was much more pronounced in WWI than today, but the feeling still remains among the enlisted. There is a reason this book was vilified by ranking members of the Canadian military. Generals Die in Bed is a moving account of the war. Perhaps the most moving I read since Johnny Got His Gun, but more real. A great read for anyone wanting to the trench level experience of WWI.

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Book Review: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I

“We began the war, not the Germans and still less the Entente — I know that.”
~ Baron Leopold von Andrian- Westberg.

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson is the history of World War I from a German and Austrian setting. Watson holds a PhD from Oxford University. He lectures on the social, economic, military and political history of the First World War, the Second World War, and the Habsburg Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. Watson has published and has done extensive research on the history of World War I.

Ring of Steel holds the claim to be the first modern history of the war told from the Axis perspective. The Axis powers mobilized on an unprecedented scale. Germany mobilized almost 13.5 million men, 86% of the male population between the age of 18 and 50 passed through the armed forces between 1914-1918. Austria-Hungary mobilized 78% of its military aged men during the years of the conflict. Watson makes three main points with this work. First the call to war was not just a state command in Germany; support ran throughout the country and at all levels. Secondly, he attempts to explain the growing and escalating violence of a war that was thought to be defensive by all sides. The alliances put both sides on the defensive until the outbreak. The third theme concerns the break up of societies by the war.

Germany and Austria-Hungary were very different countries. Germany became a state in 1871 and accepted a national identity rather smoothly. Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy with two separate parliaments and a centralized foreign policy, military, and finance under the Habsburg leadership. Austria Hungary was a collection of separate nationalities and eleven spoken languages. Although under a collective empire, there was no ethnic, language, or national unity as in Germany. A modern observer looking in at Austria-Hungary would be curious as to how it held together.

Watson brings a few new thoughts to light in his book. One event took me by surprise. Unrestricted submarine warfare has been debated and is usually regarded as ineffective in the long run. Despite the massive amounts of sunk cargo, it did not help Germany in the end. Watson makes another point, this is the first time I have heard it, that unrestricted submarine warfare was responsible for Germany’s defeat. His argument is that England was going broke. The war was costing England 2 million pounds a day,and England would be bankrupt by March 1917 and out of the war. The United States was at odds with England over its strict contraband definitions and not respecting the rights of neutrals. England effectively prevented trade with Germany. Unrestricted submarine warfare changed the US position and doomed Germany.

Watson also concentrates on the social and economic effects of the war in Germany and Austria-Hungary. Jobs and food became scarce. People began their own gardens and even pets changed. Dogs and cats were replaced with edible pets: rabbits, ducks, and goats. Racial issues played a role in the war too. The Russians began persecution of Jews in conquered lands. The Entente propaganda created German atrocities that did not exist, and Russia’s army actively prosecuted soldiers who raped women in occupied territory. The Austrian public attacked their Croat soldiers for wearing Croat colors on their uniforms — nationalism was an attack on the empire. Inside Austria-Hungary extreme enforcement of sedition laws were well publicized.

Ring of Steel gives a detailed look inside both Germany and Austria during WWI. Military as well as civilian issues are covered in great detail. Watson goes through great lengths to document all his writing. Nearly one quarter of the book is bibliography and citations. Ring of Steel is more than a war history. It is a social history that not only describes the war, but the war’s effect on the people.

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