Daily Update #26

Hey, didn't I just do this?  Well, yeah.

–  I completed a short story about a deep-dwelling ocean entity and posted at FWO – my first such post in over a year.  I am having a very hard time forcing myself to carve out the time to write, so any impetus – in this case, the website monthly contest – that keeps me moving is a good one.  I’m working on one for the next prompt.  Even if I don’t submit, it still keeps me writing.

– On that note, sometimes providence smiles upon you and gives you the kick in the rear you need.  I was invited to participate in a reprint anthology to be posted on Amazon.  True, I don’t have a wide swath of published stories to choose from but I will pick something out.  With the exception of my most recent tale, I believe the electronic rights  have reverted to me on all my publications (which I will confirm beforehand).  It's a nice ego-boost to be invited.  More importantly, ever since then, I have been thinking more about writing and pushing stories for publication.  Sometimes it’s good to get a nudge.

– But on the other hand, my progress on Pilgrimage has almost ground to a halt.  I did several thousand words a few weeks ago and nothing since.  Annoying.  I need to go ahead and get that draft finished.  Mrs. Axe jokes that I need to have a novel sold by mid-2014 or I won’t be able to come in the house anymore.  At least, I think she’s joking.

– I finished reading a book titled Ancient Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire on my Kindle.  It doesn’t do a blow-by-blow chronicle of Roman history but looks at some pivotal moments throughout, from the inception of the Roman Republic, to the fall of Rome in 476, which finished the Western Roman Empire for good, a full generation after the word “empire” had been rendered a mere fiction.  If you like ancient history, it’s a good read.  Sex, violence, betrayal, rebellion – in other words, lots of good Roman stuff.  And there is a lot of discussion about how the old Republic wasn’t as egalitarian as one might think.

– I see that Harry Harrison died.  I never got around to reading Make Room! Make Room! but it has always been on my long list.  Another big guy goes down.  Rest well, my brother.

I have another death-related post but I will cover that in another installment.

In the meantime, stay thirsty my friends.

Scarier than Fiction

So ….

Four day weekend.  I would like to say I spent it reading, writing or doing something else productive.  The truth is that I spent a lot of time goofing off, cursing at the TV during football, and goofing off.  (Muse:  You said "goofing off" twice.)  So I did.  Some days, it's fun to be a slug.

But I did re-read an old favorite of mine:  The Most Evil Men and Women in History.

The book is a compilation of profiles and essays on the worst of the worst, baddest of the bad.  Each of the essays is quick and easy to read, and is written in a wry tone that flows very well.  The book covers a couple of Roman emperors (Caligula, Nero), a few British monarchs (Mary I and John I), some Russians (Ivan the Terrible, Rasputin), a handful of 20th century dictators (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin) and others.  Each chapter covers the person, their history, rise to power, and the terrible, terrible acts they inflicted.  A lot of blood is spilled on these pages.  Sadly, violence is a spectator sport and those who think otherwise have obviously never seen two mothers wrestling over the last copy of the season's hot toy at a Christmas sale.

There are some problems, too.  For one, the information on the older historical figures is often hard to separate from the propaganda.  There is a circle of thought out there that Caligula wasn't guilty of nearly as much brutality and deviancy as is laid at his feet – but was instead the target of well-run smear campaigns by subsequent emperors and historians.  Ditto Elizabeth Bathory.  Mary I and John I were brutal rulers but no more so than their contemporaries.    Will we ever know the total truth on these folks?  Probably not.  And anyone looking for a wide coverage of global history, the focus is more Eurocentric, and essentially Western Europe-centered, at that.

Sadly, much of the above paragraph doesn't matter; if even half the shit these people did was true (and for the more modern folks, it's harder to dispute), there are enough acts of evil to give anyone the shivers.  Humanity has infinite capacity for a rainbow of emotions – including, unfortunately, cruelty and inflicting pain.  For me, knowing what has happened in real life puts most fictional evil in perspective.  When you read about a cruel king who wants to wipe out the tribe of elves living in the forest, for no reason other than "just because" … you might think it's hard to believe.  It really isn't.

There is an entire series (Most Evil Women, Most Evil Dictators, etc., etc.) out there.  I've read a few; if you can pick 'em cheap, give an open-minded read.  Overall, they are great light reading, to be taken as such.  Enjoy!

The King is dead, long live the next one

So ….

While on vacation, I got to do some reading.  I kind of fell into a book called A Treasury of Royal Scandals by Michael Farquhar.  The subtitle of the book is "The Shocking True Stories of History’s Wickedest, Wierdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors."

Boy howdy, did this deliver.  After reading this, one could conclude – with ample justification – that there’s isn’t much worthy in the sea of monarchy that covered Europe for the last two millennia.  The book is a categorical list of every half-crazed, oversexed, and cruel murdering ruler that plagued the good people.  Ranging from discussions on the murderous proclivities of several Roman Emperors in a row – Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero – to the hellish marriage of King Edward VIII to the waspish Wallis Warfield Simpson, the book is a quick easy read of about 300 pages.  The stories are grouped by loose categorization – lusty monarchs, murderous ones, and villanous turncoats.

At times, Farquhar gets a little chummy with his language, downgrading the prose to all but conversation level.  It works for most of the book and results in easy-reading but some of the phrases felt too informal.  Also, the book’s focus is – with one exception – entirely focused on western European monarchies, and mostly those of the last seven hundred years.  It does touch on the tsars of Russia in a few places but those are far between.  Aside from the information offered a on a few Popes, there is little written between the early Romans and Norman England circa 1100 AD.  I would have also liked exposure to some older information, or some from eastern Europe or from the Orient.  In all fairness to Farquhar, he has written some other similar books, so maybe that will be forthcoming.

All in all, it makes for interesting reading.  A lot of people extol the virtue of certain authors for building their feuding families and the intricate backgrounds of their character affairs and betrayals, such as George Martin in his Song Fire and Ice series.  This book is a reminds us that, if nothing else, truth is stranger than fiction.