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English, Vida

Non-KM reading from the beach

Yes, I’m still here. Forty-two hours of holidays still to go.

Two weeks of intensive beach can be boring. There’s a limit to neighbourly conversation (even if your wife knows almost everyone in a fifty-meter radius after twenty years of holidaying in the same area), pregnancy wonder, even political chatter. And even I can get tired of planning and scheming ahead. You can’t spend the day swimming, and the the internet is (in practice) off.

So I’ve been doing some reading and you’re about to be pestered with the details. Surprisingly, the best three of the books (which I picked completely on whim) turned out to shine some light on each other, and indeed were quite interesting. Here’s the notes:

Václav Havel. Sea breve, por favor. Pensamientos y recuerdos” by Václav Havel, the inimitable philosopher president. The book (“Václav Havel. Please be brief. Thoughts and memoirs” could be a translation) has just been published in Spanish and gives a very particular view of the life of a man who refused to play politics while acting in the global stage and shaping his country. It is a quirky mix of diary, interview and sample of internal documents from the Czech presidential office (some get repeated airing, to eerie effect). The focus starts just before accepting the presidency of Czechoslovakia and lasts into 2005. It’s instructive, interesting, and definitely harrowing. The price paid for doing all that is terrible, the story is so human it hurts, and the author contrives to put a deathbed-experience feel about the text. I’ve always admired and looked up to Havel. After this book… about ten times more so. There’s a lot to learn in it and not all is European recent history. Will be reading more of Mr Havel’s works with a lot of interest. Pity about the original language. Thoroughly reccomended.

El Papa Borgia: un inédito Alejandro VI liberado al fin de la leyenda negra” by Lola Galán and JC Deus, a writing married couple of leftish leanings that have delved (not too deeply) in contemporary medieval writings, especially Venetian envoy reports, to find a compelling view of the real life and times of Alexander VI. They manage to strip one of the most famous Popes of almost all the slander and misrepresentation of facts poured on him across the centuries. Makes for interesting reading for any history buff, especially if interested in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance years. Narrow and definitely shallow (it’s more journalism than history) but very nice in its unpretentious way. I don’t think it will rate a translation to English but it’s reccomended any way.

The Ottoman Empire, 1300-650” by Colin Imber, very enjoyable romp through the doings and ways of the Turkish empire’s early and golden days, from way before the fall of Constantinople to the onset of decline. Thick with detail and anecdote, very orderly, nicely told. Whole lots of new things to learn, at least for me, about eastern european and Mediterranean history and the way the cultures in the area have mixed. Shines so much light on more commonly known bits of history and whets the appetite for more. Some bits can be a bit heavy (examining the evolution of the ottoman legal system and its relationship with muslim sharia is no task for the faint hearted), but I think it manages its scholarly weight with impressive nimbleness. Definitely reccomended.

First among sequels” by Jasper Ffjorde. It presents itself as an equal to Terry Pratchett’s wordlbuilding but is as dissimilar as you can get. It’s different, quirky, intelligent and creative. That’s about the best I can say of it. Beach entertainment. I’m not lugging it back home.

The dreaming void” by Peter F Hamilton. A nice continuation of the Commonwealth theme (set some thousands years after the the Prime aliens war), with the typical Hamilton ploys. Nice reading, some real sci-fi innovation in it (multiple humans and their context), keeps the interest. Not ground shattering or half as daring as other titles, but I’ll be buying the rest of the trilogy.

On Basilisk Station” by David Weber. Sci-fi again, space opera but nicely in the mould of all-time naval warfare stories (Hornblower, Aubrey). Good beach fodder, some re-read value. I’ll be looking for the rest of the series to see if it keeps up.

I confess I started another one, a Heinlein Prize winner, and could not get past the first 50 pages. Some story settings are just too “crepuscular” by half.

Now I’ve entered the writing phase of the holidays, so I’ll be inflicting some drafts on my dear and patient readers shortly. KM-related, this time :-).


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