Saturday, May 30, 2015

Post Captain

Post Captain (Aubrey-Maturin #2)
by Patrick O'Brian

Post Captain is the second historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1972. It features the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin in the early 19th century.

The naval captain is put on land with the brief Peace of Amiens, allowing both him and his friend to meet the women they love, then have life turned upside down by decisions of the prize court, a dishonest prize-agent and Napoleon.

With the Peace of Amiens, Jack Aubrey returns to England and rents a house with Stephen Maturin, with shipmates running the household, spending time in the hunt. He meets the Williams family, and their cousin Diana Villiers. Aubrey courts Sophia Williams (the eldest daughter), while Stephen Maturin pursues Diana. Aubrey wants to marry Sophia Williams, but she delays making a firm engagement. His fortune abruptly disappears when his prize-agent absconds with his funds and the prize court finds his capture of two merchant ships not valid. The court demands he repay the prize money, a sum beyond his means. Mrs Williams takes her daughters away to Bath on this news. Aubrey dallies with Diana, straining his friendship with Maturin and showing himself indecisive on land, compared to his ways at sea. Aubrey and Maturin flee England to avoid Aubrey being taken by the bailiffs.

In Toulon to visit the affable and hospitable Christy Pallière, the French captain who had captured Aubrey's first command Sophie before the peace, they learn from him that war is imminent. French authorities round up all English subjects. Aubrey and Maturin escape over the Pyrenees to Catalonia with Maturin disguised as an itinerant trainer and his dancing bear (Aubrey in a bear suit). After reaching Catalonia, where Maturin has property, they make their way to Gibraltar where Aubrey and Maturin take passage aboard a British East India Company ship. The ship is captured by the privateer Bellone, but a British squadron overtakes them and rescues Aubrey, Maturin and the other passengers.

In England, Aubrey is offered a letter of marque by Mr. Canning, a wealthy Jewish merchant. At the same gathering at Queeney's, Mrs Williams and Cecilia are among the guests; Sophia did not realize he would be there, so she stayed home with Frances. Mrs Williams learns of Maturin's castle in Spain and his training as a physician, raising his status in her eyes. An inadequate thief approaches Aubrey as he walks outdoors; Mr. Scriven proves to be a useful friend, knowing the law of debt and where Aubrey can be safe from bailiffs. He and Maturin move to The Grapes, safe in the Liberty of the Savoy.

Aubrey is given command of HMS Polychrest, so he turns Canning down. He is allowed a request, that Tom Pullings get his step to lieutenant, which delights Pullings. Polychrest is an odd ship that was purpose-built to launch a secret rocket weapon whose development was abandoned when its designer was killed during a test firing. The ship is structurally weak and sails poorly, and first lieutenant Parker is free with punishment. Under the command of Admiral Harte, Aubrey is given a free hand, to enrich the Admiral. His luck does not prevail; Aubrey drives the privateer Bellone aground outside a Spanish port, gaining no money but much approval from merchants. Having disappointed Admiral Harte, Aubrey is assigned to escort convoys up and down the English Channel. He gains a reputation for lingering in port as he carries on a furtive affair with Diana. Maturin is sent on an intelligence gathering mission in Spain. Upon return, Maturin is advised by Heneage Dundas to warn Aubrey about his reputation with the Admiralty. When Maturin does so, Aubrey gets angry. Soon they challenge each other to a duel. While in port, Aubrey calls on Diana, but finds her with Canning. Aubrey is ordered to raid the French port of Chaulieu to sink the assembled French troopships and gunboats and to destroy the corvette Fanciulla. The crew plans to mutiny because of the harsh treatment from Parker. Maturin overhears their plans and warns Aubrey - the first time they speak since the challenge. Aubrey quashes the mutiny by putting the instigators and some loyal crew in a ship's boat and then begins the attack on the moment. He rues his angry words with Maturin and his inability to take them all back in that moment. During the engagement in Chaulieu, Polychrest runs aground. Aubrey leads three of the ship's boats to board and capture Fanciulla. The successful Polychrests refloat Polychrest, which founders soon after leaving Chaulieu, as the crew transfer to Fanciulla. After the battle, Aubrey and Maturin resume their friendship, and the challenge is forgotten by both.

Aubrey returns to England in Fanciulla and is promoted to Post-captain. Not wanting to be ashore, he asks for any command. He is assigned as temporary captain for HMS Lively whose Captain, Sir Graham Hamond, has taken leave to sit in Parliament. Returning from Spain, Maturin tells Sir Joseph that the Spanish will declare war as soon as four ships full of bullion from Montevideo are safely in Cadiz. At Maturin's urging, Sophia asks Jack Aubrey to transport her and Cecilia to the Downs. While on board, they come to an agreement not to marry anyone else; Aubrey is too poor to propose a satisfactory marriage settlement to Mrs Williams. Maturin is close friends with Sophia, but does not take up her advice to propose to Diana. While attending an opera, he sees that Diana is being kept by Canning; his pain is deep.

Maturin takes no pay for his intelligence work; he does ask a favor, that Lively be included in the squadron sent to intercept the Spanish. The Admiralty grants this request, and tasks Maturin to negotiate the treasure fleet's surrender. Because of Maturin's temporary rank and his connection to the Admiralty, Aubrey realizes that Maturin has been involved in intelligence work for Britain. This other side of Maturin, along with Maturin's practice on board with pistols and with swords, reveals more in a man he thought he knew totally. The Spanish convoy refuses to surrender by negotiation and a battle breaks out. One Spanish frigate (the Mercedes) explodes and the other three (Fama, Clara, Medea) surrender to the chase. Clara, carrying the treasure, strikes her colours to Lively, greatly pleasing its captain. Then he chases Fama, having two Spanish captains to dinner, along with Dr Maturin, when they all toast Sophia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Guns, Gentlemen"

"Guns, Gentlemen"
by Cornell Woolrich

"Guns, Gentlemen" was first published in Argosy in the December 18 issue of 1937. According to Francis Nevins it was the last story that Woolrich published that year with Argosy. It was submitted by Woolrich to the magazine under the title "Twice-Trod Path" and was later published again in a collection of stories under a third title, "The Lamp of Memory."

The story centers around Stephen Botiller, the son of a wealthy family with a historic and heroic past. Stephen is obsessed by a portrait in his home of his great-grand uncle, who caries the same name as Stephen and died abroad under strange and mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty-five.
Now twenty-five himself and a college graduate, the current day Stephen finds himself traveling overseas and, in a strangely familiar surrounding, fighting a duel with a local nobleman over the affections of a beautiful woman.

It's a rare story where Woolrich deals with the subject of death in such a gentle, romantic manner.

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 December 1903 – 25 September 1968) is one of America's best crime and noir writers who sometimes wrote under the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley. He's often compared to other celebrated crime writers of his day, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler.

Woolrich is considered the godfather of film noir and is often referred to as the Edgar Allen Poe of the 20th century, writing well over 250 works including novels, novelettes, novellas and short stories.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Colour Out of Space"

"The Colour Out of Space"
by H.P. Lovecraft

"The Colour Out of Space" is a short story written by American horror author H. P. Lovecraft in March 1927. In the tale, an unnamed narrator pieces together the story of an area known by the locals as the "blasted heath" in the wild hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. The narrator discovers that many years ago a meteorite crashed there, draining the life force from anything living nearby; vegetation grows large, but tasteless, animals are driven mad and deformed into grotesque shapes, and the people go insane or die one by one.

Lovecraft began writing "The Colour Out of Space" immediately after finishing his previous short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and in the midst of final revision on his horror fiction essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature". Seeking to create a form of life that was truly alien, he drew his inspiration from numerous fiction and nonfiction sources. First appearing in the September 1927 edition of Hugo Gernsback's science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, "The Colour Out of Space" became one of Lovecraft's most popular works and remained his personal favorite short story. It was adapted into feature film versions in 1965 and 1987.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Danse Macabre

Stephen King's Danse Macabre
by Stephen King

Danse Macabre (1981) is a non-fiction book by Stephen King, about horror fiction in print, radio, film and comics, and the influence of contemporary societal fears and anxieties on the genre. It was republished on February 23, 2010 with an additional new essay entitled "What's Scary".

Danse Macabre examines the various influences on King's own writing, and important genre texts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Danse Macabre explores the history of the genre as far back as the Victorian era, but primarily focuses on the 1950s to the 1970s (roughly the era covering King's own life). King peppers his book with informal academic insight, discussing archetypes, important authors, common narrative devices, "the psychology of terror", and his key theory of "Dionysian horror".

Monday, May 11, 2015


Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
by Jeff Guinn

More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson’s childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson family have provided new information about Manson’s life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person near the scene of the crime was spared.

Manson puts the killer in the context of the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Robinson Crusoe

The Life and Strange Suffering Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. This first edition credited the work's fictional protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents. It was published under the considerably longer original title The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is a fictional autobiography of the title character (whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer)—a castaway who spends years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued.

The story is widely perceived to have been influenced by the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on the Pacific island called "Más a Tierra", now part of Chile, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. Other possible sources for the primary narrative have also been suggested. For example, Defoe might have been inspired by the Latin or English translations of Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, an earlier novel also set on a desert island. Another source for Defoe's novel could have been the Robert Knox account of his abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659 in "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon".

In his 2003 book In Search of Robinson Crusoe, Tim Severin contends that the account of Henry Pitman in a short book chronicling his escape from a Caribbean penal colony and subsequent shipwrecking and desert island misadventures is the inspiration for the story. Arthur Wellesley Secord in his Studies in the narrative method of Defoe (1963: 21–111) painstakingly analyses the composition of Robinson Crusoe and gives a list of possible sources of the story, rejecting the common theory that the story of Selkirk is Defoe's only source.

Despite its simple narrative style, Robinson Crusoe was well received in the literary world and is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Before the end of 1719, the book had already run through four editions, and it has gone on to become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning numerous sequels and adaptations for stage, film, and television.