So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


ACTION PHILOSOPHERS: AYN RAND! by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey

Action Philosophers' short 8-page black and white comic does a good job of outlining the life of Ayn Rand and the major points of her thinking. This is typical of this series of comics that takes a light broad overview of the lives and thoughts of many of the world's major philosophers. Do not expect much detail in a 38-panel review of a major modern thinker. Yet all the major points are covered in an amusing style that makes good use of the combination of short texts and voice bubbles illustrated with comic drawings. This brief free edition is available on the Comixology Droid app which I use on my Kindle Fire.

The Poniard’s Hilt by Eugene Sue

The Poniard’s Hilt; or, Karadeucq and Ronan: A Tale of Bagauders and Vagres by Eugene Sue is the sixth book of Eugene Sue's 21 volume series The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age. The series was created to be a European history that depicts the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typifies the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted as each generation of Joel's family writes the story of their lives and adds it to the collective story gathered so far. The Poniard's Hilt takes place in the 6th century CE just after the invasion of Gaul by Clovis and his Frankish tribes. Clovis embraces Christianity, but also uses intrigue and wars to build what we now know as the Merovingian dynasty. This combination of conquest, Christianity, and corruption lays waste to the lands and the people of Gaul. Local priests and lords pillage the land, stealing from the people and each other to amass their wealth and power. As a response to the crushing domination of this combination of church and state, small groups of Gallic peasants, gathering together in the forests in rebellious bands called Bagauders and Vagres, resort to guerrilla counterattacks. Karadeucq and his son Ronan are descendants of Joel, and this tale is told as if it were written down by Ronan, a brave and boastful brigand. Ronan's group of Vagres takes revenge on the local bishop by burning and looting his home and freeing his servants. Bishop Cautin seeks help from the local Frankish lord Count Neroweg and his troops who kill or capture the Vagres. Karadeucq, a Bagauder disguised as a travelling performer, comes to Neroweg's castle to free his son. The tale is written as if told by the youthful Ronan who glorifies the life of the forest rebel and vilifies the court life based on pillage and enslavement of the local Gauls. The modern reader can see Ronan as a French Robin Hood who takes from the rich plunderers and distributes it back to the oppressed. The poniard (also spelled poignard) of the title is a long thin knife used for thrusting that is passed on to Ronan by his brother that contains three words engraved in its hilt. Two are the Gallic words Friendship and Community, but the third was a Saxon word new to him - Ghilde. When Ronan asks the meaning, he is told that a Ghilde is an association of men owing solidarity to each other. It is through the forming of a community of workers that this story ends to be picked up in book seven of the series: The Branding Needle; or, The Monastery of Charolles: A Tale of the First Communal Charter.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Flying Cars: The Extraordinary History of Cars Designed for Tomorrow's World

Flying Cars: The Extraordinary History of Cars Designed for Tomorrow's World by Patrick J. Gyger
Originally published in 2005 in France by a Swiss historian as Les voitures volantes, Souvenirs d'un futur rêvé, this 2010 English translation is a survey of the idea and the reality of flying cars over the past one hundred years. Gyger provides images and text related to flying cars in both fiction and the popular press to balance his history of the inventors and their machines. The text proceeds from the earliest attempts to build a transport that will work on both the ground and in the air to the latest thinking on how personal aerial vehicles (PAVs) might fit into modern transportation planning. The one fault of the book is that the latest attempt to build a true flying car, the Transition from Terrafugia, is barely covered since it started in 2006, just after the original book was written Gyer was director of Maison d'Ailleurs, a museum in Switzerland devoted to science fiction illustration, and this book contains an excellent collection of flying car art. The book is more a popular history than a technical one, with pictures on almost every page. The pictures and side panel commentary tells the story of the idea of the flying car in the popular imagination. Heavily illustrated with artistic fantasy from science fiction, futurist non-fiction, and movies, the book illustrates the grip that the flying car has had on the popular imagination. It is not a technical book, and engineering details, if mentioned at all, are passed over lightly.