Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!


Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.

Nonfiction:

Long Live Death: The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War

Fiction:

Three Weeks with the Coasties: A Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Vampires of Michigan

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion

Wargaming:

Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition


Gallipoli: Putting 1917 to shame

Having watched the disappointing 1917, I noticed that Gallipoli was free to view on Amazon, so I took a gander.

I'd seen it long ago on video, and one of my hobbies these days is re-watching old war movies in light of my own military service and the changing times.

It's held up rather well, and goes through the traditional storyline of introducing characters before they begin military service and then chronicling the way military life changes them.

This is an early Mel Gibson movie, when he was still playing Australians (so much so that I thought he was one for many years). 

While the plot meanders, that works because the narrative is based on capturing the feel of adventure the ANZACs experienced when they went off to war for the Mother Country.  They were literally going to the other side of the world.

I cannot overlook that the movie shows its typical anti-British bias, something that would later become a Gibson trope.  No matter how or why, he has to slur the English in the most crude ways possible.  I wasn't at all surprised that man who can nurse such an irrational, all-consuming hate for one ethnic group, would also have it in for the Jews. 

The core tension of the film is ironically the same as that in 1917: a doomed attack is about to start and only a timely message passed by runner can stop it.  Unlike in 1917, the setup is at least plausible: the setting is the beach head at Gallipoli, where Allies forces clung tenaciously to exposed positions.

Trench warfare was new, the soil was rocky, the Turks held the high ground and tangled communications are therefore a lot more likely here than in the well-dug, well-maintained trenches shown in 1917, which positively bristle with telephone lines.

The weakest point is that Gallipoli embraces the standard trope that World War I troops mindlessly stood up and got shot again and again, even though they knew it was certain death.

In fact, people back then weren't any more stupid or suicidal than they are today.  Faced with crippling fire, they'd simply refuse to move.  This might cause a "flap" but so be it.

The reason why battles like the Somme had such horrific losses was that troops were caught out in the open with nowhere to go.  Both sides figured out that trick early on - you let the enemy advance almost to the wire and then pin them in a lethal crossfire.  If your trench is being covered by fire, you try to suppress it with fire of your own from elsewhere.

To put it another way: officers cared about their troops.  The generals pushed forward attacks based on faulty information, and in every case believed that while they were being bled white, the enemy was getting it far worse.

In any event, Gallipoli works as a war movie and while it has some tropes, it's much better than 1917,


Memories of elections gone by

Eight years ago I ran for my local school board.  It was an interesting experience, because while I had worked in politics for many years, I'd never actually been a candidate before.

Perhaps the strangest thing was being the one in charge.  I got to decide what I said!  That sounds a bit odd, but if you work in politics, most of the time you're either asking people to say something or repeating what they said to someone else.  It was weird being in charge and able to say whatever I wanted.

I didn't win, but that was fine with me.  The entire reason I ran was to get rid of the school board president, and in that respect I was successful.

I've come to cordially despise politics and for those new here, I am officially A Man of No Party.  I've been a Democrat and a Republican and now I'm sick of them both.  How I vote is my business, and I haven't given a penny to a political cause since I got out of "the game" in 2006.

Politics seems to intrude everywhere these days, and everything from the food you eat to the car you drive is now held up to a political lens.  It's exhausting.

I like to think that when the election is finally over this will go away, but I'm afraid it won't.  I've said before that everything happening now seems like a replay of Spain in 1935-36.  I pray that I'm wrong.


1917: An evocative, attractive failure of a movie

When 1917 came out, I figured that I would hate it because it would be chock full of historical inaccuracies.  This is a particular bugbear of mine, and my family knows full well that asking me to watch a "war movie" is asking for trouble.

I typically pick nits as if they were precious pearls, relishing each one as I find it.

In the case of 1917, the look and feel of the film is spot-on.  Sam Mendes (or his consultants) did a great job, but in fact it's assumed that British filmmakers can knock it out of the park regarding the Great War.

The problem with the film is that its premise is stupid and its execution deeply flawed.

But other than that it's pretty to look at and has some nice scenes with cool music.

Okay, let's look at the premise.  The film centers around the need for a pair of British troops to convey urgent orders from headquarters to stop a doomed attack.  Fair enough.  A similar plot device was used in the much, much better Gallipoli nigh on 30 years ago.

The difference is that for some inexplicable reason, the messengers must cross enemy territory to convey this message to friendly troops on the other side of a salient.

To anyone who knows anything about World War I, normal command arrangements or basic logic, this is nonsense on stilts.  The "Second Devons" who need the message are not cut off or surrounded, they're simply on the other side of a wide patch of (formerly) German controlled territory. 

The problem can literally be solved with a phone call.

What's that?  The phone lines have been cut?  Well gosh, then have a messenger run down a friendly trench from the higher HQ telling them not to attack.

You see, contra the myth that the trenches were permanent, long-term dwellings of troops ala the 4077th in M*A*S*H (I mean the TV show, not the movie), in fact there was constant movement within the lines.  A battalion would rotate in, spend a couple of weeks on patrol, covering the front, and leave when new troops arrived.

Whole divisions rotated back and forth, up and down the front in this manner, and all the while the troops needed food, ammunition, water, blankets, etc.  To be sure, a heavy bombardment might wreck the connecting trenches and leave the front line troops temporarily cut off, but both sides would immediately strive to restore their lines of communication (which is why these trenches were called "communications trenches").

Thus Colin Firth didn't need to send two messengers across enemy territory to stop a useless attack, he simply could have his staff pick up the Fuller Phone and tell Benedict Cumberbatch not to attack.  If he was being a jerk, he'd order him back to the rear.

If the phone line was cut, it would be quickly repaired (this being a high priority thing) and in the meantime, messengers would stream forward with the latest crates of food, ammunition and water.

I hate to belabor the point here, but it is a seriously stupid premise, like one of those horror movies where the entire film would end if any of the characters had a room temperature IQ.

Okay, the premise is dumb, but what of the execution?

Mendes made a big deal of making the film look like it was one continuous take.  For some things, I think that could work, but it fails utterly here.  Perhaps it's because its a trench system, but it feels a lot like watching someone play Call of Duty: The Somme or something.  The effort to keep the action going, makes it feel contrived and labored, and even with the wildly improbable events, Mendes still had to do a fade to black and skip ahead.

I'm going to avoid the temptation to give specific spoilers, but will simply note that Flanders - where the film takes place - is not noted for the quality of its white-water rafting.

In fact, Belgium - being a flat, swampy country - has crap for waterfalls.  I actually looked it up.

This is like having a character scramble to the top of the 10,000-foot mountains of central Ohio.

Anyway, if you don't know anything about World War I, Belgian geography, or how the military actually works, you might enjoy the movie.  I didn't find it painfully stupid, but I'm not in a hurry to ever watch it again - unless I'm drunk and making fun of it.

 


The much-needed change of the seasons

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend in Texas and he lamented the sheer monotony of the weather there.

Coupled with COVID precautious, which essentially leech the fun out of just about everything, he felt as though he was stuck on a treadmill, re-living Groundhog Day, as the metaphor goes.

Being a Michigander, he asked how the weather was and I said the change of the seasons was underway, with the first harbinger of fall showing up in cooler nights.

Since then, the weather has taken a more decisive turn, dropping into the 60s during the day and touching the 40s in the evening.

This is what I consider Ideal Weather.  I love it.

Like just about everyone else, I figured the disease would be bad, but short-lived, as such things historically have been.  What I did not foresee is the political leadership deciding to make the precautions indefinite.  It's profoundly disappointing.

Yet, there are some bright spot.  My diocese reports that not a single case of COVID spread can be traced to Mass attendance.  Not one over months.  So maybe we can loosen things up, perhaps?

Also, I'm glad to see Big Ten football is coming back.  I was all-in on the college game a few years ago before burning out, but now I like the background noise and the occasional game.  Plus, the sports pages are a welcome change away from the howling madness of contemporary politics.

Above all, for me autumn is about tradition, times gone by and fond memories.  It is reflective and comforting.  See it locked up and shut down is particularly hard to take.

We are only getting a glimmer of light, but sometimes that all we need.  Like the distant star peeping through Mordor's gloom, it reminds us that evil can never fully triumph: somewhere, light will still shine unsullied.


More thoughts about writing a fantasy novel

The change of the weather is putting me in a creative mood, and once again I'm at a loss for what to write next.

As I've pondered this question, I realized that the main reason I haven't gotten more than a few pages into a fantasy novel is because of Lord of the Rings.

I first read it in middle school and I've re-read it dozens of times in the years since, most recently earlier this year.  Each time I do so, I'm impressed by the quality of the work and instead of inspiring me to write something on similar lines, I am forced to recognize that Tolkien's masterpiece is the first and last word in the genre.

Obviously, there's a thriving market for fantasy books, and I've read more than a few, but they all struck me a second-rate when compared to the work of the master.  The essential problem is that I can't think of anything to say that Tolkien hasn't already said better than I ever could.

I admit that at one point I was gearing up for a Game of Thrones-style work, but my motivation barely got me to to 15,000 words before failing.  I found the Game of Thrones worldview demoralizing and writing something like it was unpleasant.

Since I write primarily because I enjoy it, I dropped the project.

At the moment I'm re-reading Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End series.  Perhaps it will give me some insight on what I want to do next.  I'm somewhat torn between doing a sequel (or prequel) of an existing work, or striking out with something new (hence the ongoing discussion of fantasy).

The advantage of the sequel is that there's a built-in audience and it's fun to revisit an earlier book.  On the downside, that sort of thing requires careful attention to continuity.  Starting from scratch, on the other hand, offers maximum creative freedom.  Having been recently bound by the constraints of non-fiction, that's what I'm in the mood for at the moment.


The uncanny parallels

I try to keep this blog free of politics, but the last few weeks have brought out a series of very alarming parallels between the current situation in America and that in pre-Civil War Spain.

As Stanley G. Payne pointed out in great detail in his Spanish Civil War, by 1935 the Spanish Left reached a point where it believed that no other party should be allowed to govern Spain.  This repudiated the constitution that they themselves had written only recently.

Time and again, they broke laws, ignored customs and always chose to escalate rather than calm.  Payne goes through an entire checklist of "off ramps" the Left ignored, any one of which could have avoided the resulting carnage of war.

The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to push a war on people who don't want one.  The Man of Destiny series was written in calmer times, but I recognized that one of the fatal flaws in the Star Wars prequels was how arbitrary and random the start of the Clone War was.

Thus when I began telling my story, I spent all of the first book and half of the second chronicling the downward spiral, including opportunities for both sides to de-escalate.

All historical parallels are inexact and one can rightly note that the standard of living, technology, international reach of modern American cannot be compared with that of Spain in 1936. 

Still, I cannot deny that part of the frenzy that drove me to write Long Live Death was a desire to get out in front of events and supply the book as a cautionary tale.  Spain's leaders in 1936 did not have many examples of how a seemingly united and peaceful society can disintegrate into conflict.  We do, with not just Spain but the breakdown of Yugoslavia serving as grim reminders that the bonds that keep nations together can collapse with frightful speed.

I will conclude by asking those of a religious bent to include a plea for reconciliation, forgiveness and renewed unity in your prayers.  We need all the help we can get.


Long Live Death is a Best Seller!

Sales are starting to trickle in for Long Live Death, largely thanks to a big plug from the bookworms over at Ace of Spades HQ.

Naturally, they've already found typographic errors - ah, for the luxury of copy editor!

Still, it's the #1 New Release in History of Spain and Portugal! 

It's up to #3 for Best Sellers in History of Spain and Portugal.

How about that?

I'm actually a Best Selling Author.

Whoa.