Category Archives: Reading

What I’m reading, what I’ve read and what I might read soon

The Passing of Time Changes Nothing

hviii1A couple of nights ago I read a passage within the pages of Margaret George’s superb ‘The Autobiography of Henry VIII’ which stopped me in my tracks. Not long after the death of Catherine Howard, a conversation is taking place between an aging Henry and an ambassador sent forth from the Court of King James V of Scotland.  Within it was a brief exchange which I quote verbatim:

[Henry] ‘let us state it plain. Here is what I wish: that Scotland and England unite, preferably through marriage. That we cease these hostilities, which are nonsensical, if you consult a map; for we are one country. All else flows from that.’

[Scottish Ambassador] ‘Now you understand me,’ he said, and his voice was burred and edgy. ‘I care not what your maps say, or what your logic tells you. We Scots are a different people, entirely different from you. That you understand us not is of no concern to us. We are people of our land, and our land is as different from yours as is Spain’.

Now, I have no knowledge of whether such a conversation took place, or whether it was simply Margaret George using her artistic licence. However, if she did make it up she’s comprehensively nailed the reason why us Scots should have had no qualms or fears about voting YES in the 2014 referendum. It encapsulates entirely why those who seek to bind us are doing so despite the deep rooted cultural differences which will always exist.

You may accuse me of going all ‘Braveheart’, but I’d respectfully disagree. Scotland has been an independent country for most of it’s history. Only when a greedy few sold us out for English coin did we join with England. The above conversation, even if fabricated, is undoubtedly what was felt in Tudor times. For many nothing has changed.

As Scots we should never forget our history – it made us who we are. I remain convinced that one day we will be an independent country again. I just hope I live to see it, even if only for my final breaths.

(A more detailed review of Margaret George’s book will be posted soon – I’ve nearly finished it!)

Thanks for reading.

New Politics, New Media

holy1It was once famously stated that Devolution would kill nationalism in Scotland. That was in 1995 before the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1997. Since then the Scottish National Party has become the party of Government in Scotland as their rivals in the Labour Party struggle to come to terms with the ever changing political landscape. Yes, there are undoubtedly those who vote SNP yet wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘Scottish Nationalists’, but simply prefer the SNP’s brand of left-of-centre politics to the increasingly centralist, Westminster driven agenda offered by Labour. However, there is equally no doubt that many who support, and continue to move towards the SNP, are indeed doing so from a platform of civic nationalism.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, after Lord Geordie Robertson’s quote from 1995 it was likely once more decreed that a defeat for ‘YES’ in the referendum of September the 18th would quell the cry of independence for a generation or more. One startling statistic says that is not going to be the case:

  • SNP Members on September 18th, 2014 – 25,642
  • SNP Members at 7pm on September 27th, 2014 – 68,231

joinsnpIn the space of barely over a week membership of the seemingly ‘defeated’ SNP has increased by nearly 43,000. They are now the third biggest party, by membership, in the United Kingdom. Some will say this is simply a reaction, an admittedly huge reaction, to the defeat i.e. join the party which drove the fight for independence to show solidarity. However, for so many to pay to join a political party needs to be taken seriously, no matter your allegiances. How many of these will remain members beyond a year, who knows. However, it shows the political lion has well and truly woken in Scotland and isn’t going to doze off again any time soon.

One last thing. Several commentators tell us that these on-going YES gatherings, rallies, people joining the SNP etc is a continuing denial of the result on 18/09. I couldn’t disagree more. What they show is that people want change. Let’s not forget, not only did the 45% who voted ‘YES’ want change, but so did a sizeable percentage of those who voted ‘NO’ – just that they wanted it within the UK framework. To this end the SNP and FM elect, Nicola Sturgeon, has made it clear the priority, for what was the YES movement, is to focus on the powers promised by the Unionist parties during the final weeks. They must be held accountable for these promises; they must deliver these promises. If not 1.6 million voters and rising will be demanding to know the reasons why.

n.b. It would be remiss of me to point out that the Scottish Greens have also seen a surge in membership. As the only other mainstream party to back the YES campaign they too seem to be receiving a commendable show of support from the voters of Scotland.

***

As well as entering a new chapter in Scottish politics, the eyes and ears through which many of us view the political arena, the Scottish Media, is also set to undergo a revolution. Is revolution too dramatic a description? Probably. However, as this new media is initially likely to be aimed at a target audience of 1.6 million (YES voters) there is every chance it has the potential to become something the mainstream channels will need to keep an eye on.

So why do we need this new media and who is it?

SundayHeraldYesWhy? Well, most of us in the YES camp would say there was a nigh-on systematic failure of the media in Scotland over the last two years. The newspapers, in the main controlled outwith our borders, were almost without exception in favour of the Union – two of them The Sun and Daily Record played the pro-Union fiddle all campaign only to back nobody in their final editions. This to me is having their cake and eating it i.e. back one side all the way only to claim some form of unearned impartiality at the death. Nope, their positions were clear and along with every other daily newspaper in Scotland they were hostile to independence. The only printed offering which openly campaigned for a YES was the Sunday Herald.

The other part of the media is of course the spoken variety: TV and Radio. Here we come up against the controversial, thorny subject of the BBC. Were they truly biased or simply incompetent? For my part I think they set out to play the role of a ‘concerned undecided’ voter i.e. someone who was looking for answers before making an important decision. As YES was campaigning for a change then this was I suppose fair enough. However, on too many occasions I felt this role morphed from ‘concerned undecided’ to ‘frantic, terrified’ NO. This led to some openly hostile and downright disrespectful interviews with the First Minister and others. Despite having questions of their own to answer (clarification of more powers, their own preferred options on currency etc) the NO interviewees rarely appeared to meet the same hostility.

Another example of the state broadcaster’s questionable role broke last week. Post-referendum the BBC published a story about new technology which would allow more oil than previously anticipated to be extracted from the North Sea. Pre-referendum the BBC and NO made continual play on ludicrous scares that oil was in fact running out. Now here is the kicker. The story the BBC eventually published post-referendum regarding new oil extraction technology was in fact not new – it had been widely available to anyone (and tweeted endlessly) since early August. So why was a story likely to favour YES not reported until after the vote? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Now onto the what: what is this new media. Well, you won’t be surprised to hear it is web based. In the main it’s a stream of existing www outlets who have decided to up their game, increase their output and offer genuine independent alternatives to the likes of the BBC and the establishment mediums. To name check a few:

Bella Caledonia

Newsnet

Derek Bateman

Yes, these are all essentially pro-Independence channels. Yet, as support for some form of change in this country is now undeniable, these outlets will surely campaign to ensure change, even if it’s not independence for now, comes to our country. If for no other reason than balance it is vital such places exist. I hope you will find time to check them out.

Thanks for reading.

Kindle Delights – Taking A Break From the Main Story

Erikson_MidnightThose who have been following me since I started blogging on here will know that I am currently working my way through Steven Erikson’s ten part epic “The Malazan Book of the Fallen”. Well I have just finished book five, Midnight Tides and have cracked open book six, The Bonehunters. Not going to give a review of book five as I don’t think I have the expertise to really critique the work of someone like Erikson. That and I don’t want to give spoilers to those who may be interested enough in my posts to start reading Erikson themselves. With that in mind I would say that what follows contains some minor spoilers, although nothing that would in any way affect your enjoyment of the series. Now onto the point of this blog. That points is to discuss what Erikson chose to do in book 5, namely to move away almost completely from the story so far.

The first four books in the series are all set in the same two locations. There are common characters between all of the books. In short the first four books feel like one large story. It’s not a straight forward tale by any means and the books do cover different, as well as on occasions, the same time periods. However, it is one coherent story. You definitely feel that one continuous epic tale is being woven. The fourth book, House of Chains, ends at a point where you are definitely thinking “I wonder what will happen next?”. Well what happens next is Midnight Tides. The fifth instalment in the Malazan series moves location to a part of our world as of yet untouched by the Malazan empire. Hence we have new characters, new landscapes and new concepts. More importantly we have almost none of anything which was covered in the first four books.

The_Bonehunters_1st_edHaving completed Midnight Tides I have now read the first 50 or so pages of the The Bonehunters. This book takes off a matter of days after the end of House of Chains and thus continues the story we seem to have taken a one book time out from. Truth is I enjoyed Midnight Tides. However, I enjoyed it as I might any other piece of stand alone fantasy fiction. Of course there were tie ins to the other books in the series but so few of consequence that you could have easily read it at any point amongst the previous four. On reflection Erikson did something similar when he dedicated the first 200 pages of House of Chains to the back story of one relatively minor character. At the time this seemed excessive to me and still does. Question is even in a ten part epic can an author afford to move the focus away from the central plot line for so long ? For me the jury is still out.

Problem I had with Midnight Tides is that over the course of the first four books I had bought in to the characters, their issues, their world, their story. To then leave that behind for 700 pages seemed a risky strategy. Perhaps after four books Steven Erikson thought that his readers were already along for the ride. Thus a change of location and the start of what was in essence a completely new arc would be be accepted. Well, I am still reading so maybe he was right. That said I am glad to be back in the world of the first four books again.

From what I have read the characters and locations of Midnight Tides will return. By then they too will feel familiar. Hopefully though when they do return they mix in with the other characters and parts of the Malazan empire we already know. With only four books left after the one I am reading I don’t think we can afford to leave the central story again for too long without potentially losing readers with only a few laps to go. Just my opinion. I’m sure some Malazan aficionados will be scoffing at what I’ve written. No, I am not an expert on fiction and writing styles. I’m just a reader who thought what an author did was a bit strange! Yes, bring us new characters and new parts of your world but maybe do so while not leaving those we have come to know, love and hate out of our thoughts for so long.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malazan_Book_of_the_Fallen

Kindle Delights – Malazan Book Of the Fallen

Like some people. Let me try that again. Like a lot of people I hadn’t heard of George RR Martin and his epic A Song of Ice and Fire before Sky Atlantic started showing Game of Thrones. Straight away I was hooked. Not only into reading all the books in the series but also into the epic fantasy genre. Yes, I had read “Lord of the Rings”. Who hasn’t? That apart though my fantasy reading history was fairly thin. George has probably changed that forever.

After finishing the latest in book in A Song of Ice and Fire, Dance With Dragons I needed more. Well, there will be no more from George for a while. It took him five years to complete Dance with Dragons so even if he speeds up a bit we are still likely to be waiting for another couple of years. I then did what I usually do in this situation. Joined a forum and asked for help. Several authors were mentioned. A few were tried and dismissed. One, Joe Abercrombie, was tried and thoroughly enjoyed to the extent that all five of his books to date have been read. However, I still wanted more. I wanted more epicness. I now think I have it.

Steven Erikson is a Canadian author who I had heard of but ignored as the word was his books were almost unreadable. His masterpiece is the 10 part magnus opus that is The Malazan Book of The Fallen. As I said I had heard of it and been told it was very much a case of like it or loathe it. As it happened I stumbled across a free copy of book one, Gardens of the Moon, and so I had nothing to lose. Straight away I could see why so many people love this work. To be honest I could also see why some hate it. A heady mix of mythology (i.e. gods and things), military campaigns, a vast world of contrasting continents and cultures and more races and forms of humanity, and non humanity, than you could wish to hope for. In short there is a lot going on.

Currently I am about half way through the fifth book, Midnight Tides. Five more to go after this, ten if you include the contributions of fellow author and close friend Ian Esslemont, who co-created the Malazan world. Steven Erikson has actually now begun a new series which is a prequel to the Book of the Fallen. Sounds good but it will be a while before I get there. So to finish. If you want epicness on a truly grand scale. If you want ideas and concepts which at times may baffle you. If you want characters who you are really interested in no matter how good or bad they are. In short if you want a thumping good read then the Malazan Empire awaits.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malazan_Book_of_the_Fallen