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When the beacons go out... - The sound of cogs and spindles
Brute force and erudition.

glenatron
Date: 2006-01-24 22:15
Subject: When the beacons go out...
Security: Public
Mood:melancholy
Music:Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day
For some reason I seem to end up reading historical fiction at this time of year and this is no exception- I have just finished rereading Rosemary Sutcliff's classic stories of late Roman Britain. There is something about the subject matter- life on the fringes of a great civilisation that is collapsing in on itself while the barbarian hordes press in from every side- that I find poignant and compelling. For me, on this reading, it was this quote- from the lookout of Carausius' mansion on a storm-filled night- that was really at the heart of the books:
"Yet the wolves gather," Carausius said. "Young Constantius would be hard put to take his troops from the German Frontier this spring to drive me from Gesoriacum.... Always, everywhere, the Wolves gather on the frontiers, waiting. It needs only that a man should lower his eye for a moment, and they will be in to strip the bones. Rome is failing, my children."

" ... Rome is hollow at the heart and one day she will come crashing down. A hundred years ago, it must have seemed that all this was forever; a hundred years hence - only the gods will know ... If I can make this one province strong - strong enough to stand alone when Rome goes down, then something may have been saved from the darkness. If not, the Dubris light and Limanis light and Rutupiae light will go out. The lights will go out everywhere."

The next book in the sequence begins with the last roman troops being called away and Rutupiae light shining for the last time before the saxons come.

Thinking of Britain as that dangerous place where our ancestors fought to save their way of life and their civilisation and others of our ancestors fought to take the land from them gives a different view of the safe, stable world we live in. We can be glad that our civilisation is solid, there are no outside factors, no wolves at the frontiers waiting to tear it down; although perhaps Rome could have survived the wolves if it had not been collapsing at the heart- and that is something that could as easily happen to the empire we belong to now.
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life_of_tom
User: life_of_tom
Date: 2006-01-24 15:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I utterly love those books. It's been so long since I read them.

whilst we're on the subject of prophecy through literature, Kim Stanley Robinson's been doing much the same from an environmental standpoint. The first book of his most recent trilogy, 'forty signs of rain' predicted an american city being flooded due to effects of global warming. the second, 'sixty degrees below' deals with the switching off of the Gulf Stream, and a new Ice Age. As I write, my room is really cold, and the friendly Big Issue seller I pass on my way to work every day tells me that we're getting Russian weather coming over; sixty degrees below. I'm waiting for the third book, but I'm frightened of what'll be in there; if I was Robinson, I'd be pretty freaked out, and looking to use my authorial power wisely...
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shiva_matimbres
User: shiva_matimbres
Date: 2006-01-25 01:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
when reading historical fiction, beware of Manda Scott's Boudica ones. Lex loves them but they are BORING
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glenatron
User: glenatron
Date: 2006-01-25 03:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I shall bear it in mind. I kind of think that picking a really well-known patch of history gives you a lot less space to move as a writer, I would rather read stories about situations where I don't already know what happened- the Carausius setting is a good example of that. And anyway, the Iceni had it coming, from what I heard.

I'm quite nervous of historical fiction generally, partly because Rosemary Sutcliff and Dorothy Dunnett do it so brilliantly that I find it hard to think other writers could match up.

I am intrigued by the new Bernard Cornwell series, though, because I think the story of Alfred deserves to be told although I've heard mixed things about his writing. Cornwell's writing, that is. Obviously I've not heard much about king Alfred's writing. I don't think a whole lot o f it survived.
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life_of_tom
User: life_of_tom
Date: 2006-01-25 05:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
cornwell's a bit 'boy's own adventure', at times. I did enjoy the books of his I read, but they're not exactly mervyn peake when it comes to descriptive prose. They're also unashamedly formulaic; I heard him on Desert Island Disks a while back, and apparently to write the first Sharpe book, he sat down with a Hornblower novel and analysed the format; where do you have action, what elements do you have where, etc etc, and just copied it.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-01-25 13:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
'lo

That second line, about the lights going out, makes me think that i can remember it from when i read those books about 15-20 yrs ago. I think I *can* remember it from then. Wow, must re-read them at some point.

Aren't wolves great. At least as an analogy for lurking wild badness.

Exciting news (off topic) for me is that not only has my laptop finally arrived, but it connects to someones nearby unsecure wifi router thing. Broadband! Free! At least for now..! Yay!

Also, Ben, I claim a rare "there's Cla(i)re" point, in retrospect from Sunday.

Hope all you good people are well. Sorry to miss Sequoia at Bordlerline but was working somewhere or other.

Ben
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glenatron
User: glenatron
Date: 2006-01-25 15:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
They are worth re-reading, they stand up to time very well.

Damn it, I never win at "There's Cla(i)re."

London will be calling again before long, no doubt. In fact I think it calls around the 3rd March. If you aren't there I just might have a chance to steal a There's Cla(i)re...

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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-01-25 15:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm afraid that I'll be in Birmingham in the 03/03.

And when I say afraid, I do mean it!

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life_of_tom
User: life_of_tom
Date: 2006-01-25 17:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
don't fear it. you'll have a great opportunity to phone people up, and play this at them http://robmanuel.blogspot.com/2005/01/u2-vertigo.html
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