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markk

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The Draining of the Fens: Projectors, Popular Politics, and State Building in Early Modern England (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology)
Eric H. Ash
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Martin Brecht
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A book I love to despise -- and read over and over again

The Foresight War - Anthony G. Williams

I have an extraordinarily weird relationship with this novel.

 

I first came across it thanks to Amazon's algorithm. I was reading a lot of Harry Turtledove at that time, and so the ones and zeroes thought I might enjoy this book. I wasn't too familiar with self-publishing at the time and what I knew left me leery, but the premise sounded interesting enough to I decided to give it a try.

 

And wow, was it bad.

 

The premise of the book is that Don Erlang, an historian who just happens to specialize in the Second World War, finds himself suddenly and inexplicably transported back to 1934 Britain. Instead of making some strategic investments or getting a gun and taking a trip to Berlin he decides to use his knowledge to encourage the British government to build better weaponry so as to win the war more quickly -- a strategy soon foiled by the fact that a second historian has somehow turned up in Germany (thought equally inexplicable, though apparently more intentioned means) and is giving Adolf Hitler the exact same advice. The rest of the book becomes a re-envisioning of the war using the tools and lessons gained from it, all of which leads to an ending that might leave the reader wondering why nobody thought of it sooner.

 

Anthony G. Williams is an author who specializes in books on military technology. This is reflected not only in the focus on such in his novel (a rather high percentage of which is spent describing all of the lovely new weaponry the historians make possible), but the fact that Williams went the self-publishing route despite already having contacts in the publishing world. Now, it could be that he went that route for perfectly understandable reasons, but I can't help but think that his manuscript passed through more than a few hands before Williams decided to go at it alone.

 

Perhaps I'm being judgmental, but it's hard for me not to be after reading this book. The plot is the highlight of the book, yet Williams can't seem to do more than have the war follow the general course of events outlined in our history. Worse are the battle scenes, which should be the strongest part of a book like this. Yet all too often, instead of describing the action, Williams prefers to have his "characters" (more about them in a moment) sit around summarizing events for the reader. It's as though WIlliams thought that there was nothing more gripping than having a bunch of armchair generals offering potted synopses. Tom Clancy he is most definitely not.

 

The worst part of the book, though, are the characters. While I'm no fan of Clancy's abilities to develop multidimensional, nuanced characters, he might as well be Leo Tolstoy compared to Williams. Most of Williams's characters are little more than named mouthpieces, with no background or even independent presence provided outside of that role. At times it was difficult for me to distinguish one from another -- not that such distinguishing was necessary given their minimal contribution to the plot. Even the historical ones lack any depth, and seem more like caricatures than the real-life people who bore their name.

 

By now it should be clear that my opinion of this book is extraordinarily low. You would think that I cast my copy into flame long ago so as to spare anybody else its awfulness. And yet not only do I still own my copy, I even re-read it every few months. I honestly can't explain why I engage in this exercise in reading masochism: perhaps because it is the most mindless reading I own, or that when I do read it I can see the faintest outlines of a  . . .well, maybe not a good book, but a more decent one than this was. As this better book is unlikely to appear magically, perhaps I should stop wasting my time with it and move on permanently to better books.

 

Maybe after just one more quick read.