wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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"...and then all Hell broke loose."

This seems an apt description for the goings-on in The Sword of the Lady, S.M. Stirling's latest novel in what's come to be known as the Emberverse series. Rudi Mackenzie and his companions have partied, parleyed, evaded and fought their way across North America, despite the best efforts of the diabolical agents of the Church Universal and Triumphant. In addition to the mundane problems of working their way through the mess of "pumpernickel principalities" that have grown up from the scattered survivors of the United States, Rudi and his friends are coming to realize they're not only important actors in a very important play, but that they had no idea how huge the stage is. Much is revealed about the Alien Space Bats, but meanwhile, back west where the adventurers' families are struggling to defend themselves against the unholy alliance of the CUT and the United States of Boise, things aren't going well at all...

A fabulous book it is, with almost all the characters from the second trilogy on stage and doing what they do so well. Treasures are recovered, allies found - or made - sly references to previous Stirling works made, and -perhaps inevitably- an Asatru dominion found in Maine. One of these days when I'm working steadily again, this book is going in the library, because I know I'm going to be reading it and re-reading it for years to come.

A long, long time ago, when the Co$ was adamantly denying that Hubbard had ever written science fiction before turning his hand to crime, it was damned near impossible to get copies of his SF. This was a shame, because whatever one may think of Dianetics and Scientology, there's no denying that Hubbard was a prolific and competent writer, publishing not only under his own name but several pen names as well. I'd become fascinated by his work while spending way too much time at the Library of Congress reading back issues of Astounding SF, and when I came across one of the rare original hardbacks of Final Blackout, his apocalyptic tale of a World War II that eventually wrecks the world with atomic, chemical and finally biological weapons run wild, I snapped it up. Considering that you couldn't find the thing in normal bookstores, $25 seemed like a reasonable price.

Well, some thirty years later, the Co$ came to its senses and realized there was money to be made in selling Hubbard's backlist to Scilons with a taste for SF, and eventually published most of his old novels under the Bridge Publishing imprint. As it happened, I was hard up for cash at the time, so I picked up a used paperback copy of Final Blackout and eBayed the hardback, and last night I lugged the softback along on the Metro to kill time. Aside from not being long enough, it hasn't aged well. As we all know, the war didn't grind on and on until industrial civilization collapsed, and for all their madness, neither Hitler nor Tojo could quite bring themselves to uncork the bio or chem weapons, perhaps remembering better than Hubbard the sort of problems chemical weapons caused in the First World War. More than anything else, Final Blackout reminds me of the Twilight:2000 RPG, except that Hubbard has a much lower opinion of civilians (and especially politicians) than did the lads at GDW. One can understand why both Fascists and Communists were critical of the book; it does too good a job of portraying the kind of people who run those regimes. It's worth reading, dated though it is, but I wouldn't buy a new copy if I could avoid it.
Tags: back in the day, books, co$
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