Monday, January 01, 2007

Rumors of War (2007)

In addition to endless piles of science fiction and fantasy, as well as science fact, I tend to read military-related books. They might be military science fiction (and I really need to write that dang essay that has been bouncing around inside my head for half a year now), they might be "pure technical" books (strategy, tactics, descriptions of vehicles...what can I say, I've been both a gamer and a model-builder at times, so the research habit dies hard), but in general, they are histories of battles, units, and personalities.

These range all over the place as well. I am most interested in the American Civil War, but any war that has tanks in it (my former MOS) holds a favorite spot in my I've read books on WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the various Arab-Israeli wars, the Gulf Wars...and more.

This year I've read (to date) four histories and might get through a few more. So this entry will probably be the omnibus entry for all the books mentioned in my 2007: The Year in Books listing (and may extend into 2008 as well).

On to the books!

Rick Atkinson: In the Company of Soldiers (Henry Holt, 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7561-5).

Atkinson is both a journalist and a military historian. His An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 is a well-regarded study of World War II and is the first volume of a trilogy. Wish he would start working on the follow-on volumes! He also wrote Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, one of the best independently-written single-volume books on our first excursion into that region.

In the Company of Soldiers deals with the run-up to the second war with Iraq, concentrating on the activities of the 101st Airborne Division. Atkinson was embedded with the division, and spent a lot of time with the division's commanding general, David Petraeus. Yes, that General Petraeus. A well-written history from both the division-level as well as some small unit tales; if I had any complaint, it would be that the book is too short and ends too soon. It gives a good look at Petraeus, and, as such, is still a timely read.

SSG David Bellavia: House to House (Free Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4165-7471-2) (with John R. Bruning).

Bellavia was a squad leader with the First Armored Division, in a mechanized infantry company during the battles that took place in and around Fallujah in 2004. This book focuses on a few days during the fight, from the initial entry into the city onwards. The epilogue focuses on Bellavia's return to Iraq in 2006 as a civilian. A harrowing book in places, Bellavia does an excellent job of showing why people fight, how effective good leadership can be, and why the United States Army is, despite its liberal detractors, one of the best organizations out there. Hoorah! A dang fine read, and probably destined to be one of my best of the year.

I started reading this one last night (10/18/07). When my wife got up to take her shower at 0300, I realized that I had been so captivated and moved by the story that I had stayed up almost the entire night reading it.

When you are done reading this one you are going to stop. Pause. Think. And thank God we have a volunteer Army that is made up of such people.

Philip Caputo: A Rumor of War (Henry Holt/Owl Books, 1996. IBSN 0-8050-4695-X).

Set rather early on in the Vietnam War, this book tells the story of a freshly-minted Marine lieutenant (Caputo) during his tour in Vietnam. Acting as a platoon leader in a rifle company, a battalion staff officer, and, finally, back with a rifle company, Caputo experiences the negatives—and positives—of war first hand. With a literary background, and scattered literary references throughout, I have a feeling that this book was the model for many that have followed, e.g., Anthony Swofford's Jarhead. The books that followed, however, missed what Caputo said as to why people fight and why they put up with the conditions under which they fight. They fight for each other, for their squadmates, tank crew members, platoon, company, etc. This is the reason that Caputo's book is a true classic, at times searing and deeply moving, while those pale imitations will soon fade away.

Colonel David H. Hackworth (Ret.) and Eilhys England: Steel My soldiers' Hearts (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-4613-6).

Very similar in scope with the book by Robert Hemphill (below), other than scope. Where Hemphill was concerned with shaping up a rifle company, Hackworth was concerned with shaping up a rifle battaltion. In the course of the book, he turns it from a very screwed-up, undisciplined group with low morale into a highly efficient, very disciplined unit. With an afterword written in the post-9/11 period, Hackworth talks about various universal constants for any soldier (e.g., stay alert, stay alive; always take care of your tropps, etc.). Maybe if we had a few more Hackworth's...

Robert Hemphill: Platoon Bravo Company (St. Martin's, 2001. ISBN 0-312-97657-7).

One of the more amusing tidbits that came out of this book is that when Hemphill was company commander of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, 25th Infantry Division there also was serving one Oliver Stone, the director of a film "loosely" based on his experiences during the same war. Hemphill talks about the period when he was in command, from the end of 1967 and into the Tet Offensive in 1968. A rather dry narrative, you don't get much personality out of the book. Hemphill does not delve deeply into himself, or the thoughts of his soldiers. When he relives, for example, one lieutenant for losing (perhaps on purpose) his glasses (so he can't lead his men) he does not dwell on his thoughts or speculate on the intent of that lieutenant. The book would have been better for such introspection.

Robert Mason: Chickenhawk (Penguin, 2005. ISBN 0-14-303571-1).

Chickenhawk details Mason's year-long tour in Vietnam as the pilot of a Huey, primarily shuttling troops and supplies into various landing zones, but also daring enemy fire to carry out the wounded. The book also touches on Mason's post-Vietnam life and his experiences in dealing with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

At one point Rumor Central had this book becoming a movie. I'm happy it did not; there are sequences of humor that probably would have been emphasized, turning the whole thing into a remake of M.A.S.H. It is one of the better I've read both from the perspective of small-unit action and the use of helicopters during the war; Hollywood would have cut out both aspects.

The book relates directly to We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, in that Mason flew into the "hot zones" of the action that is the basis for that book. It was nice to see his narrow experiences and knowledge mirrored into the battalion-level view of the other book.

Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway: We Were Soldiers Once And Young (HarperTorch, 2002. ISBN 0-06-050698-9).

This book concentrates on the Battle of Ia Drang, the first large-unit battle of the Vietnam War. As such, it gives you mostly the viewpoint from the battalion commander (Moore). Galloway was a correspondent that was present during much of the battle (and in stark contrast to today's "embeds" was armed and fought during the battle). It is also, as they say, a major motion picture (I haven't seen it yet, so I can't vouch for how they compare). Even with the bird's-eye view, it focuses on a lot of the small-unit and individual actions, with great impact. A dang fine book, and one that had echoes down into our present time.
2007: The Year in Shorts

Every year, for the past several years, I've made it a goal to read at least one short work per day of the year. I may read several on one day and none over a few days, but I try to average it out. When I finally get all my archived postings up you'll see that some years I do better than others, but I've managed to hit that minimum each time.

I had planned on waiting until I wrapped around to my archived 2007 entries before doing this one, but since I just finished a short story collection, I'll put this up and edit it later for the earlier 2007 entries. This year appears to be a stern chase (and that is the longest chase). Various events have conspired to keep me from reading as much short stuff as usual and logging it, so I'm going to have to slog to catch up!

Count for the year (as of December 31, 2007): 441 (goal of 365; 0 to go!).

Poul Anderson: The novels and short stories of Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization series (2 entries so far, in process).

Isaac Asimov (editor): The Hugo Winners (Volumes 1 and 2) (9 stories in 2006, sidetracked in 2007, started again in 2008).

James Baen (editor): Destinies, Volume 1, Number 1 (4 entries, in process).

Gregory Benford: A variety of short works from various sources (43 stories in 2006, 8 stories in 2007, continuing to read).

Alfred Bester: Virtual Unrealities (2 stories in 2006, continuing to read).

Leigh Brackett: Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (9 stories in 2006, 22 stories in 2007, initial stories re-read, collection completed).

Lois McMaster Bujold: The Mountains of Mourning (found in the omnibus edition Young Miles)

A. Bertram Chandler: The Hard Way Up (7 entries, collection completed).

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. I read this one to my daughter this year. I read one "stave" per night. I had to mentally edit the occasional sentence: not for anything shocking, but to find an alternate word for something that, even for me, was pretty obscure. Occasionally I would have to stop and explain something (e.g., the houses of the poor did not have ovens, so that is why they went to the bakery to cook the Christmas goose, etc.).

Gordon R. Dickson: Dickson! (2 stories in 2006, continuing to read).

Gardner Dozois: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Third Annual Collection (6 stories in 2006, five stories in 2007, continuing to read).

Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan: The New Space Opera (two entries so far).

David Drake: All the Way to the Gallows (9 entries, collection completed). The Military Dimension Mark I and Mark II (16 entries, collection completed). Hammer! Hammer! Hammer! Omnibus review posting here. (23 stories in 2006; 4 stories in 2007). Currently reading The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 2. Balefires (22 stories, in process).

David Drake & Sandra Miesel (editors): A Separate Star: A Tribute to Rudyard Kipling (23 entries, collection completed). Heads to the Storm: A Tribute to Rudyard Kipling (30 entries, collection completed).

Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett): The Collected Jorkens, Volume 3 (64 entries, collection completed).

Loren Eiseley: The Star Thrower (35 entries, collection complete).

Eric Flint (editor): Jim Baen's Universe, Volume 1, Number 2 (2 entries, in process).

Stephen Jay Gould: The Panda's Thumb (33 entries, completed.)

Joe Haldeman and Martin H. Greenberg: Future Weapons of War (13 entries, collection completed).

David G. Hartwell (editor): The Science Fiction Century, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (2 stories in 2006, continuing to read).

David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (editors): Year's Best SF 10 (1 story in 2006, continuing to read).

David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (editors): The Space Opera Renaissance.

Alan Lightman: Dance for Two (7 essays in 2006, continuing to read).

H. Beam Piper: A complete re-reading of his various works (5 stories so far).

Jerry Pournelle (editor): The Endless Frontier, Volume I (17 entries, in process).

Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr (editors): Endless Frontiers, Volume IV: Life Among the Asteroids (11 stories in 2006, 4 stories in 2007, collection completed).

Chet Raymo: The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage (3 essays in 2006, continuing to read).

John Scalzi: The Sagan Diary (1 entry).

James Schmitz (edited by Eric Flint): Telzey Amberdon (5 stories, in process).

Cordwainer Smith: Tales from the Instrumentality of Mankind sequence (53 entries, collections completed).

Allen Steele: The Good Rat. Agape Among the Robots (2 entries).

Ian Stewart: Letters to a Young Mathematician (14 essays in 2006, continuing to read).

Lewis Thomas: The Medusa and the Snail (29 entries, collection complete).

Rick N. Tumlinson and Erin R. Medlicott (editors): Return to the Moon (4 essays in 2006, continuing to read).

A.E. van Vogt: Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt (6 stories in 2006, 22 stories in 2007, collection completed).

Vernor Vinge: A variety of collections and stories (7 stories in 2006, continuing to read).

David Weber (editor): More Than Honor (1 story, in process).

Jack Williamson (edited by Stephen Haffner): The Metal Man and Others; The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume One (4 entries, continuing to read).

Donald A. Wollheim (editor): The 1972 Annual World's Best SF (8 stories in 2006, continuing to read).
2007: The Year in Books

Here's a list of what I've read so far this year, plus what is currently being read. As I move forward, I'll start posting reviews (and linking the reviews to this post). I'll also post my lists for previous years (I have 2001 through 2006 and recently came across a notebook for 1995. I don't have, alas, records for 1996 through 2000.)

Book Count (through December 31, 2007): 97 completed (does not count "in progress" works). Most recent book completed: The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld; Terry Pratchett, compiled by Stephen Briggs.

See also the 2007: The Year in Shorts for a listing of short works that might not make it into the book list.

Rick Atkinson: In the Company of Soliders.

Wayne Barlowe: Expedition: Being An Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV.

Stephen Baxter: Manifold: Time, Manifold: Space (Manifold Sequence).

SSG David Bellavia: House to House (with John R. Bruning).

Gregory Benford: In the Ocean of Night.

Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential.

Leigh Brackett: Martian Quest: The Early Brackett.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Shards of Honor. Barrayar (both in the omnibus edition Cordelia's Honor). The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game (in the omnibus Young Miles). Combined review here.

Jim Butcher: Storm Front (Dresden Files).

Philip Caputo: A Rumor of War.

A. Bertram Chandler: The Road to the Rim; The Hard Way Up (John Grimes).

C.J. Cherryh: The Pride of Chanur (old review, but it will do) (Chanur).

Arthur C. Clarke: The Reefs of Taprobane.

Stoney Compton: Russian Amerika.

Lester Del Rey: Fantastic Science–Fiction Art: 1926–1954.

Gordon R. Dickson: Necromancer, Tactics of Mistake (Childe Cycle).

David Drake: Rolling Hot. Paying the Piper. Hammer's Slammers Volume Two. Counting the Cost. The Warrior. Hammer's Slammers Volume Three (forthcoming) (Hammer's Slammers). (I'm going to have to work on how to count these books...Volume Two has several novels in it!) Omnibus review posting here. All the Way to the Gallows. The Military Dimension (Mark I and Mark II). With the Lightnings.

David Drake & Sandra Miesel (editors): A Separate Star: A Tribute to Rudyard Kipling and Heads to the Storm: A Tribute to Rudyard Kipling.

Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett): The Collected Jorkens, Volume 3.

Loren Eiseley: The Star Thrower.

Virgil Finlay: Virgil Finlay's Strange Science.

Eric Flint: 1632 (The Ring of Fire) (omnibus review here).

Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor: Boundary.

Frank Kelly Freas & Laura Brodian Freas: Frank Kelly Freas: As He Sees It.

William Gibson: Pattern Recognition.

Stephen Jay Gould: The Panda's Thumb

Col. David H. Hackworth: Steel My Soldiers' Hearts (w/Eilhys England).

Joe Haldeman & Martin H. Greenberg (editors): Future Weapons of War.

Robert A. Heinlein: Beyond This Horizon.

Robert Hemphill: Platoon Bravo Company.

Tony Horwitz: Blue Latitudes.

Dean Ing: The Rackman Files (Omnibus, three books. Inside Job, Vital Signs, Pulling Through.).

Anthony R. Lewis: Concordance to Cordwainer Smith, Third Edition.

Robert Mason: Chickenhawk.

Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway: We Were Soldiers Once...And Young.

Eric Nylund: HALO: First Strike and HALO: Ghosts of Onyx.

Patrick O'Brian: Desolation Island (review here). The Fortune of War. The Ionian Mission. Treason's Harbour. The Reverse of the Medal. The Letter of Marque. The Thirteen Gun Salute. The Nutmeg of Consolation. The Truelove. The Wine-Dark Sea. The Commodore. The Hundred Days (review here). Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy. General commentary here.

Jerry Pournelle & John F. Carr (editors): Endless Frontiers, Volume IV: Life Among the Asteroids.

Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites. Mort. Sourcery. Wyrd Sisters. Going Postal. The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld (compiled by Stephen Briggs).

John Ringo: Into the Looking Glass. Vorpal Blade eARC (w/Travis S. Taylor) (cover art here) (Voyage of the Space Bubble). Vorpal Blade (regular book production). Ghost (re-read, see original review here); Kildar; Choosers of the Slain.

John Scalzi: Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, The Sagan Diary (Old Man's War sequence).

Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger): Books and collections from the Instrumentality of Mankind sequence (two books, plus bits and pieces from several more).

Lewis Thomas: The Medusa and the Snail.

Mark L. Van Name: One Jump Ahead.

A.E. van Vogt: Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt.

Hugh Walters: Blast-Off at 0300 and Menace from the Moon (part of the Chris Godfrey series).

David Weber: In Enemy Hands. Echoes of Honor, Ashes of Victory (part of the Honor Harrington series).

Edward Whittemore: Quin's Shanghai Circus (review not written until 2008, after a second reading of the book).

Makoto Yukimura: Planetes 01, Planetes 02, Planetes 03, Planetes 04a, Planetes 04b (The Planetes Sequence).

Roger Zelazny: Nine Princes in Amber (The Amber Series).