March 5th, 2017

cass, can you not

Books! (Old Weird Things Edition)

The Hidden planet: Science Fiction Adventures on Venus (Donald A. Wollheim, 2017/#13): Not really good, but entertaining enough.

The Best of Robert Silverberg (Robert Silverberg, 2017/#14): A collection of short stories. They are all quite good, and classics on their own right; I think I read all of them before in different anthologies. Silverberg deserves to be better known than he is.

People and Goods on the Move (Ed. Özlem Çaykent, Luca Zavagno, 2017/#15): A collection of essays on very specific aspects and particular cases of, well, the movement of people and goods in the Mediterranean between Late Antiquity and the Early Modern age. It's not a good book: the quality of the writing is middling-to-bad, translations aren't better (bad translations of good texts can appear as bad writing at the sentence or paragraph level, but I don't think it spoils good overall structure), and some of the logical argumentation isn't. But the miscellany of information is indeed interesting. One hypothesis I do like, although I cannot judge its empirical validity, is that the rupture of North-South cross-Mediterranean trade wasn't directly driven by religious differences after the Islamic conquest, but rather because the warfare that preceded and accompanied increased drastically the local availability of slaves, which was pretty much the only thing Europe could export to the technically more advanced and ecologically richer lands to the South. It's not inconsistent with the little I know of, say, trade with Byzantium, and I confess the historical irony does add to the let's call it aesthetic appeal of the theory (which is of course irrelevant to its validity).

The Gothic Condition (David Punter, 2017/#16): Plenty of interesting observations, but more suggestive than convincing, and least interesting when it veers into the psychoanalytical. A good read nonetheless.

The Military Orders Volume 6 (Part 1) (Ed. Jochen Schenk, Mike Carr, 2017/#17): A set of conference papers mostly but not exclusively focused on the Hospitallers, touching on everything from the architectural details of individual buildings to aspects of grand strategy (one example of the minor but fascinating facts: there's a good argument to be made for Saladin having been one of the main forces behind the image of Templars and Hospitallers as elite warriors, as a tool of political propaganda directed to his allies)). Highly uneven, as you'd expect, but worth it for the miscellany.

The Military Orders Volume 6 (Part 2) (Ed. Jochen Schenk, Mike Carr, 2017/#18): See above.