Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Word for World is Forest

Every book by Ursula Le Guin is by definition the best book by Ursula Le Guin. And there is no book by Ursula Le Guin that's not the best book by Ursula Le Guin. But this one, "The Word for World is Forest" may be even better than that!

I read "The Word for World is Forest" maybe 30 years ago, but when I took it up again, every word in it was familiar to me, as I had dropped it in a drawer just one week before. Each word of it carried the rumble of thunder and the force of a hurricane, the same effect on me of a presentation by Anastassia Makarieva on the same subject, the forest.

Anastassia Makarieva is a scientist, Ursula Le Guin was a novelist. It doesn't matter. There is a thread, there is a narration, there is a story that pervades humankind's consciousness. I can't remember who said that trees are the pillars that hold the sky, but I am discovering it is true. Not single trees, the forest, it is the biotic pump, an incredible machine that works pumping water from the air above the oceans and distributes it for free to every living creature. The ultimate gift of life.

I can't understand how Ursula Le Guin could grasp these concepts by pure intuition nearly 50 years ago, but she did. Reread many years later, this book is a pure hit to the stomach. It leaves you breathless, but in a state of mind as if you wanted to be punched again and again, for the pure pleasure of the action, the movement, the sensation.

In 1972, something about this subject was already known and the destruction of the Vietnamese forests using the infamous "agent orange" reverberates all over the book. The basis of the story is the Vietnam war, retold in a science fiction setting, with the Aliens in the role of the Vietnamese and the Terrans of the Americans. The Terrans want to destroy the forest to turn it into plantations, the Aliens want to save it. In fact, it is the same story as that  of the "Avatar" movie, it is just that Cameron's debt to Ursula Le Guin is not acknowledged.

But the book is not just a political statement, it is much more than that. Read this passage ("Selver" is the alien leader of the story):

"Sometimes a god comes," Selver said. "He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. A new kind of singing, or a new kind of death. He brings this across the bridge between the dream-time and the world-time. When he has done this, it is done. You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses. That is insanity. What is, is.

The meaning of this passage may be evident to you, or you may need to mull it over for a while in your mind. But it is one of the deepest statements I've ever read on the predicament we find ourselves in. The beauty of it is that so much hope is embedded in these words: the world changes, ideas evolve, sometimes taking the form of Gods or god-like entities. It is in this way that the world is changed: when dreams become reality. And some dreams are truly beautiful and full of hope, like this one by Anastassia Makarieva

You see, there is a succession process for forest recovery. We first have shrub grasses after some disturbance like fire, then it takes time for that to be replaced by trees. So if we are lucky our grand grandchildren will be walking in such forest, so this dimension should also be stressed. We are working for the future we are not just securing for ourselves some two dozens years of better comfort. Rather, we send a message through centuries such that people will remember us and walking into this forest along the brookes and rivers they will remember us with gratitude for our consciousness and dedication. (Anastassia Makarieva  ( - min 30:05))

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Blood of the Whale

When reaching far over the bow, Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into the fish, and kept it there, carefully churning and churning, as if cautiously seeking to feel after some gold watch that the whale might have swallowed, and which he was fearful of breaking ere he could hook it out. But that gold watch he sought was the innermost life of the fish. And now it is struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing called his "flurry," the monster horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so that the imperilled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to struggle out from that phrensied twilight into the clear air of the day.

And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view; surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)


The soldiers therefore came; and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it, hath given testimony, and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true; that you also may believe (John 19:32-35, Douay-Rheims translation).

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

If He was Fire, then she Must be Wood.

Carola Rackete, captain of the ship "Sea Watch," arrested last Saturday in Italy when she docked her ship after spending two weeks in international waters with dozens of rescued African migrants on-board.

Now the flames they followed joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.

Well, I'm glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I've watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I'm fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.

Then fire, make your body cold,
I'm going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

Song by Leonard Cohen

Thursday, May 2, 2019

History as Told in Novelspace: Roger de Flor and the Waning of the Middle Ages

For a while, our society has expressed itself in the form of novels. Once, it was the time of sagas, then of poetry, then of novels -- maybe as the result of the invention of printing that made bards not necessary anymore. Novels, today, are probably as obsolete as epic poems, but they are still part of our heritage and give us a window of the world, one of those dim mirrors that Saul of Tarsus describes. And, in the exploration of reality through the novel mirror, you discover all sorts of reflections.

So, I happen to meet a lady at a book fair. Her name is Elide Ceragioli and she writes novels. She wrote several of them and I already commented on her novel on Hildegard von Bingen. And I bought also her book, The Hawk and the Falcon, and I set for myself the task of reading the story of Roger de Flor, or Ruggero da Fiore, or Roger von Blum, 13th-century adventurer. And that set me on a journey that went well beyond this novel.

As Walt Whitman said, in a book there is a man. A man is a story, and that's true for Roger de Flor, whose life comes out of the novel with a certain strength, but also clouded in a world that, for us, is more remote than a Martian civilization could be. Ceragioli makes an interesting effort to penetrate the mind and the story of this man, a nearly impossible task in which she succeeds, at least in part. She doesn't make the mistakes that Poul Anderson makes with his novel, "Rogue Sword," set in the same age and places as Ceragioli's one. The main mistake that Anderson makes is to make his protagonist think like a 20th-century person. Ceragioli's effort does much better and the way she tells the story of the fall of Acre is simply memorable.

But the novel is long and it is about the life and death of Roger de Flor. What do we, 21st-century characters of a novel that someone may be writing, understand of this particular mirror? Something and nothing. Ceragioli's story is rich of events, the details many, but the great movement of people, ships, storms, wars, and battles of the novel remains somewhat 2-dimensional. We see things happening, but we need to know more, to understand more, to make the painting 3-dimensional, to see it from every side.

So, I had to read more on those times. Ceragioli's novel led me to re-read the chronicles of the Catalan company by Ramon Muntaner, "Baudolino" by Umberto Eco, and several more books dealing with the calamitous 13th century. In a sense, the pinnacle of the Middle Ages, the moment of maximum expansion of a world that had emerged from the cinders of the Western Roman Empire

You can understand this age if you see it as a great wave coming from the West and crashing on the Oriental beaches. It is a wave of people in search of power and riches, crusaders, adventurers, soldiers of venture. It had all started in the West, even before the dawn of the 12th century, with the first crusade. Like an adventure novel, it was a romp in the sand and a city taken as you pick an apple from a tree. Then, things had started getting tough and the West had started destroying itself with the crusade against the Albigensian and the massacre of the Cathars, one century later. And, almost in contemporary, there was the 4th crusade, the one that turned Greece into a wasteland, the one that destroyed the Byzantine Empire.

You can't understand Baudolino, nor Roger de Flor, nor Ramon Muntaner if you don't understand how the West had turned into a hungry beast that was devouring itself. When the Catalan fighters invaded Greece at their battle cry of Desperta Ferro! (awake, iron!) they were advancing into a vacuum, into a desert. There was nothing left of the once mighty Byzantine Empire. That explains how Ramon Muntaner describes the advance of the Catalans as nothing but a series of victories, one after the other, against feeble attempts by the Byzantines to hold their ground.

The beast that was Europe finished devouring itself with the Black Plague of the mid 14th century that killed maybe 30% of the population, maybe even more than that. An age was over, the age of the crusades. And, with it, there went the Templars, Roger de Flor had been one, the attempt of turning Europe into a unified transnational force -- they were both a bank and an army, not unlike our dying European Union (not even an army, though). The Templars were destroyed by the embryonic nation states that Europe was turned into -- dark and bloodthirsty beasts that went through their parable with the great witch hunts of the 16th century, and then forged in blood in the 30 years war in the 17th. Events almost forgotten today, but they ushered our age.

And so, who was Roger de Flor? A long lost shadow left to us nothing written but that somehow incarnated briefly in the mind of a 21st-century Italian woman who attempted to cross the barrier of the centuries. She partly succeeded, in part failed, in the great cycles of the universe, everything goes, everything returns, and the heavens declare the glory of the Lord.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Why Does an Apple Fall from The Tree? What Caused the Invasion of Russia in 1812?

Tolstoy was a great writer for several reasons. One was his understanding of the world and of the ways of human beings -- a vision that's rare in a world where all discussion is based on the idea of finding someone to blame. Here, discussing the event of the invasion of Russia in 1812, Tolstoy searches and finds nobody as the "cause" of the tragedy. It is like an apple falling from a tree. Why does it fall? Because it has to. It is a message that's still relevant -- very relevant -- for the current world situation.

From an excellent post by Gilbert Doctorow

War and Peace. First pages of Volume Three. Part One Tolstoy’s philosophical thoughts on historical causality, on the role of Great Men in history and on day one of the invasion.

“From the end of 1811 there began a strengthened arming and concentration of forces of Western Europe and in 1812 these forces – millions of people (taking into account those who transported and fed the army) moved from West to East, to the borders of Russia to which precisely as in 1811 the forces of Russia were drawn. On 12 June the forces of Western Europe crossed the borders of Russia and war began, i.e., an event occurred which went against human reason and against all of human nature. Millions of people did to one another such countless evil deeds, deceptions, betrayals, theft, counterfeit and release of fake bank notes, stealing, arson and murders which for whole centuries you do not find in the chronicles of all courts of the world and for which in this period of time the people who perpetrated them did not view them as crimes.

“What produced this unusual event? What were its causes? Historians with naïve certainty say that the causes of this event were the offense given to the Duke of Oldenburg, the failure to observe the Continental system, the thirst for power of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the errors of diplomats, etc.

“Consequently, you needed only that Metternich, Rumyantsev or Talleyrand, between the going forth and the rout, had to try harder and write some paper more skillfully or for Napoleon to write to Alexander: “Sir, my brother, I agree to accord the duchy to the Duke of Oldenburg,” and there would have been no war.

“It is understandable that it seemed to be the case to contemporaries. It is understandable that to Napoleon it appeared that the cause of the war was the intrigues of England (as he said on the island of St. Helena); it is understandable that to members of the English House of Commons it appeared that the cause of the war was the thirst for power of Napoleon; that to the prince of Oldenburg it appeared that the cause of war was the violence committed against himself; that to merchants it appeared that the cause of war was the Continental system, which ruined Europe; that to the old soldiers and generals it seemed that the main cause was the need to use them in the affair; to the legitimists of that time it was necessary to restore the proper principles, and to the diplomats of that time, everything resulted from the fact that the alliance of Russia with Austria in 1809 was not sufficiently skillfully concealed from Napoleon and the memorandum No. 178 was clumsily written. It is understandable that these and still countless more reasons, whose number depends on countless different points of view, appeared to contemporaries; but for us – the descendants who see the enormity of the event and are looking into its simple and terrible sense, – these causes are insufficient. For us it is not clear that millions of people- Christians – killed and tortured one another because Napoleon was thirsty for power, Alexander was firm, the policy of England was crafty and the Duke of Oldenburg was offended. We cannot understand the connection between these circumstances and the fact of murder and violence; why in consequence of the fact that the duke was offended thousands of people from one end of Europe killed and destroyed people of Smolensk and Moscow provinces and were killed by them.

For us, the descendants – not historians, not carried away by the process of searching and therefore with undimmed common sense contemplating the event, the causes seem to be countless in number. The more we get into the search for causes, the more they are revealed to us and every cause taken separately or a whole array of causes seems to us to be equally just by themselves, and equally false in their insignificance by comparison with the enormity of the event and equally false due to their inability (without the participation of all the other coincidental causes) to create the event which took place. Such a cause as the refusal of Napoleon to move his troops back beyond the Vistula and to give back the duchy of Oldenburg seems to us to rank with the refusal of the first French corporal to enroll for a second tour of duty: for if he did not want to go into the service and did not want a second tour and a third tour and the thousandth corporal and soldier there would be so many fewer people in the army of Napoleon and the war could not have been.

“If Napoleon had not been insulted by the demand that he move back beyond the Vistula and had not ordered his troops to advance, there would not have been a war; but if all the sergeants had not wanted to go for a second tour of duty war also would not have been possible. Also there could not have been a war if there were no intrigues by England and if there was no prince of Oldenburg and the feelings of insult in Alexander, and if there were no autocratic power in Russia, and if there had been no French revolution and the dictatorships and empire which followed from it, and everything that produced the French revolution, and so forth. Without one of these causes nothing could have been. And so these causes, all of them, billions of causes, came together for what happened to occur. And consequently nothing was the exclusive cause of the event, but the event had to happen only because it had to happen. Millions of people had to abjure their human feelings and their reason, going to the East from the West and killing people like themselves, just as several centuries before that crowds of people went from the East to the West and killed people like themselves.

“The actions of Napoleon and Alexander, from whose words it would seem the event took place or would not take place – were also no more arbitrary than the action of each soldier who went on the campaign by drawing lots or by recruitment. It could not be otherwise because for the will of Napoleon and Alexander (people upon whom, it seemed, the event depended) to be executed it was necessary that there be a coincidence of innumerable circumstances without one of which the event could not be carried through. It was necessary that millions of people in the hands of which there was real power, the soldiers who shot, carried the provisions and cannon, they had to agree to carry out the will of the singular individuals and weak people and they were brought to this by an innumerable number of complex and diverse reasons.

“Fatalism in history is inevitable to explain unreasonable phenomena (i.e., those whose reasonableness we cannot understand). The more we try to reasonably explain these phenomena in history, the more they become unreasonable and incomprehensible for us.

“Every person lives for himself, uses his freedom to achieve his own personal objectives and feels by his whole being that he can now do or not do some action; but as soon as he does it, this action completed at a certain moment in time becomes irreversible and becomes the property of history, in which it has not a free but a predetermined significance.

“There are two sides to life in each man: his personal life, which is freer the more abstract are his interests, and the elemental life where man inevitably performs what the laws prescribe for him.

“Man consciously lives for himself, but serves as an unconscious tool for the achievement of historical, general human goals. The act completed is irreversible, and his action, coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people, receives historic significance. The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more he is bound up with big people, the more power he has over other people, the more obvious is the predetermination and inevitability of his every action.”

“The tsar’s heart in in God’s hands.”

“The tsar is the slave of history”

“Napoleon, despite the fact that more than ever before in 1812 it seemed to him that it depended on him whether to spill or not to spill the blood of his peoples (as Alexander wrote to him in his last letter),never more than now did he submit to those inevitable laws which forced him (acting in relation to himself, as it seemed to him, by his arbitrary choice) to do for the common cause, for history, what had to be done.

“The peoples of the West move to the East to kill one another. And by the law of coincidence of causes it happened on its own and coincided with this event that there were thousands of small causes for this movement and for the war: rebuke over nonobservance of the Continental system, and the duke of Oldenburg, and the movement of troops into Prussia undertaken (as it seemed to Napoleon) only to achieve an armed peace, and the love and habits of the French emperor for war coinciding with the predisposition of his people, the attraction to grandeur of preparations, and the expenses on preparations, and the need to acquire advantages which would justify these expenses, and the ……millions and millions of other causes which underlay the event and coincided with it.

“When the apple falls, why does it fall? From the fact that it is drawn to the earth, from the fact that the stem dries out, from the fact that it is dried by the sun; that it grows heavy, that the wind shakes it, from the fact that a boy standing underneath it wants to eat it?

“Nothing is the cause. These are just the coincidence of conditions under which any live, organic and elemental event occurs. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because its cells decompose, etc. will be just as correct and just as incorrect as the child standing underneath who says that the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for this. Just as right and wrong will be the person who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted this and he was ruined because Alexander wanted his destruction: both right and wrong will be the person who says that an excavated hill weighing a million poods fell because the last worker struck it the last time with a pick. In historical events so called great men are labels which give a name to the event, which like labels have least of all any connection with the event.

“Every action by them which seems to them to be arbitrary and for themselves in historical sense is not arbitrary but is bound up with the whole course of history and has been determined eternally.”

29 May 1812 [Old Style] Napoleon left Dresden where he spent three weeks surrounded by his court.

“Although diplomats still firmly believed in the possibility of peace and worked hard with this goal, despite the fact that the emperor Napoleon himself wrote a letter to emperor Alexander calling him Monsieur mon frère and sincerely assuring him that he did not want war and always would love and respect him – he went to the army and gave at every station new orders aimed at speeding up the movement of the army from west to east. He traveled in a carriage pulled by six horses, surrounded by pages, adjutants and a convoy on the road to Posen, Torn, Danzig and Koenigsberg. In each of these cities thousands of people met him with thrill and delight.

“The Army moved from West to East and exchange teams of horses bore him there. On 10 June [Old Style] he reached the army and spent the night in the Wilkovis forest in an apartment prepared for him in the estate of a Polish count.

“The next day Napoleon caught up with the army and in a carriage approached the Nieman so as to inspect the place of crossing. He changed his dress into a Polish uniform and went out onto the shore.

“Seeing on the other side Cossacks and the Steppes spreading out, in the middle of which was Moscow, the Holy City, the capital of a state like the Scythian state, where Alexander of Macedon had gone. Napoleon, unexpectedly for everyone and against both strategic and diplomatic considerations, ordered the attack and on the next day his troops began to cross the Nieman.”

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How the Goddess Inanna Slew a big Monster. And she Won't Stop at That!

In the image above, you see an excellent rendition of the story of Inanna and Ebih, as it was told to us for the first time by the Sumerian priestess and poet, Enheduanna, during the 3rd millennium BCE.

The story is about how the Goddess Inanna became enraged at the bad behavior of the monster Ebih, said to be a mountain in Enheduanna's story, here shown as a mountain of flesh in the form of an elephant. Inanna first asked for help to her father, the God An, shown here as a rather embarrassed blue donkey -- and indeed, an embarrassed An refused to help his daughter.

At this point, an enraged Goddess Inanna equipped herself with her best weapons and armor, flying in the sky to fight the monster Ebih. In a spectacular clash, she slew him, utterly destroying him, "turning him into a vat of sheepfat" as Enheduanna tells us. You see in the image the victorious Inanna, still holding her sword (it was a mace in Enheduanna's story, but it is a detail).

But what about the building in the background? It is interesting to note how Enheduanna told us that her temple had been usurped by an evil man and that she had prayed the Goddess to remove him from there. Maybe it will be the next task of the Goddess: to remove the evil man who has usurped the temple that you see in the background of the image. When Inanna is angry, nothing can stop her!

A comment of mine on the story of Inanna and Ebih.

The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998

1-6 Goddess of the fearsome divine powers, clad in terror, riding on the great divine powers, Inanna, made complete by the strength of the holy ankar weapon,drenched in blood, rushing around in great battles, with shield resting on the ground, covered in storm and flood, great lady Inanna, knowing well how to plan conflicts,you destroy mighty lands with arrow and strength and overpower lands.

7-9 In heaven and on earth you roar like a lion and devastate the people.Like a huge wild bull you triumph over lands which are hostile.Like a fearsome lion you pacify the insubordinate and unsubmissive with your gall.

10-22 My lady, on your acquiring the stature of heaven, maiden Inanna, on your becoming as magnificent as the earth, on your coming forth like Utu the king and stretching your arms wide, on your walking in heaven and wearing fearsome terror, on your wearing daylight and brilliance on earth,

on your walking in the mountain ranges and bringing forth beaming rays,

on your bathing the girin plants of the mountains (in light),

on your giving birth to the bright mountain, the mountain, the holy place, on your ……,

on your being strong with the mace like a joyful lord, like an enthusiastic (?) lord,

on your exulting in such battle like a destructive weapon —

the black-headed people ring out in song and all the lands sing their song sweetly.

23-24 I shall praise the lady of battle, the great child of Suen, maiden Inanna.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Mystery of Roger De Flor. Novelizing the Middle Ages

I don't think there exists a competition for the ugliest book cover but, if there were one, this image would reasonably compete for a prize. Yet, the novel behind the ugly cover deserves a comment.

None of us can enter the mind of other people, but a novel writer must be able to do exactly that and to manage the characters he creates in such a way that they ring true in the mind of the readers. It is a nearly hopeless task especially with historical novels where the writer and the reader together attempt to recreate a world that they never directly experienced. Sometimes, though, it leads to flawless novels such as the "Memoirs of Hadrian" by Marguerite Yourcenar. I can't say what Emperor Hadrian would look like if I could meet him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were exactly like the ghost that Yourcenar summoned.

But let me go to the matter I wanted to discuss here: the story of how the Catalan Company of the soldiers called the Almogavars fought a series of campaigns in Greece and in Asia Minor against Greeks, Turks, and other peoples around the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th. The company was led by Roger De Flor, also Roger von Blum, who was treacherously killed by his Byzanthine allies. It is a story told to us in the book the Crònica, written by one of the Catalan commanders, Ramon Muntaner (1265 – 1336). Not a novel, but an excellent book that reminds me of the "De Bello Gallico" by Julius Caesar. When an author knows what he is writing about, he writes well.

But every age needs to rewrite history according to its canons and, for us, the adventures of the Catalans can be seen as useful material to build the modern literary form called the novel. A form that, by the way, didn't exist in Europe at the time of Ramon Muntaner.

And that's the origin of Anderson's "Rogue Sword." Anderson (1926-2001) is one of the recognized masters of classic science fiction and he used to be, and still is, one of my favorite writers. But I recognize his limits and here they appear more clearly than in other novels of his. When he wrote this novel, Anderson was a little over 30 years old, already a mature writer in terms of writing techniques, but not yet able to master the rhythm and the structure of a complete novel.

So, what did Anderson have in mind with "Rogue Sword"? Possibly, the idea was to write a picaresque novel. Indeed, from the first scene we enter exactly that kind of mood, with the protagonist running away all naked from the fury of a husband who surprised him in bed with his wife. The scene is masterfully written, as most of the novel is. Apart from the various scenes of seduction, Anderson did his homework and he tells us of the Mediterranean world in a way that makes us almost see the colors, smell the smells, feel the breeze. Just think of how he notes that when sailing ships form a convoy, they must all be of the same shape and size, otherwise some will be faster than others and the convoy will disperse. Anderson never was the admiral of a Mediterranean medieval fleet but these are the kind of details that make a historical novel believable. The novel is true to history, it takes place after the death of Roger de Flor and features text taken directly from Muntaner's chronicle

The novel has more good points, one is the female characters. Na Violante de Lebia Tari, the femme fatale of the story, is more than a little overdone, but she is believable and wonderful. The Circassian girl, Diansha, is lovely, and the Greek widow, Xenia, is well described and human. It is what a good novelist should do, care for his or her characters.

But where the novel fails - and fails badly - is with the protagonist, Lucas Greco, never really making himself believable. One problem with picaresque novels is with the motivation of the protagonist or protagonists. What is that they want to accomplish? Mostly, it seems, they want to seduce as many women as they can and climb the social ladder as high as possible. But that makes for a repetitive an uninteresting plot.

And this is the problem with Rogue Sword. Lucas' character is consistent, but never really interesting. Anderson uses the partially omniscient viewpoint, which is the easiest way to write a novel, but also the way to write a sloppy one. So, we always know what Lucas thinks, but he thinks like a 20th-century character. He despises slavery and bloodbaths and he is a nice boy in all circumstances. But that's not the way we expect a Medieval rogue fighter to behave.

Where the plot really fails is at the end, where Anderson tries to make ends match with a totally unbelievable final battle royale where Lucas manages to kill all his enemies and gain the love of the girl he wanted. I don't have to tell you that it would never work in real life, but it doesn't work even in fiction -- it is pure nonsense that leaves the reader wonder how a professional author could write such tripe. Unfortunately, it is rather typical of Anderson to ruin a perfectly good novel with a final stretched way beyond credibility, but so it goes. As I said at the beginning, writing a novel is a monstrously difficult task.

Next post, we'll see how Elide Ceragioli has interpreted the same age and the same events, taking Roger de Flor as the protagonist of her novel. Overall with better results than Poul Anderson, but with defects, too.