Thursday, September 27, 2012

Raiding the Stacks: The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells

Once again we return the origins of science fiction with another novel by Mr. Wells, The Invisible Man. Again, much like The Time Machine this story is rather short compared to much of my regular reading, but remains a frequently referenced classic of the science fiction genre. However, I must state that unlike The Time Machine, The Invisible Man hasn't had as wide an influence on the science-fiction genre and remains overshadowed by Wells's other works.

The plot follows the titular Invisible Man who enters the village of Iping one February day and takes up rooms at a local inn. He remains extremely aloof and becomes a subject of much curiosity and discussion among the people of Iping. Eventually the fact that the Invisible Man is, well, invisible comes to light and the Invisible Man (aka Griffin) goes on a crime spree. Eventually he flees further south in Sussex and the law is faced with the question of how to arrest an invisible man, if he even exists at all.

Overall I'd say the main problem with The Invisible Man is that our main character, Griffin, is pretty much an asshole, if not a clinical psychopath. Griffin only cares about his own needs and desires, constantly resorting to petty theft and intimidation to meet his needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Griffin goes so far as to plan a reign of terror which he will enforce by personally executing people who oppose him. Any sympathy for Griffin, as unlikely as that seems, is well and truly gone by the second half of the novel. I found it rather difficult to continue at points in the story simply because of Griffin's personality.

An argument could definitely be made that Wells is exploring how a lack of consequences affects people in his novel. Unfortunately if this was the goal of his novel it does not convey very well at all. What little glimpses we get of Griffin's personality before he takes the invisibility formula are not flattering. While the invisibility formula may have exacerbated Griffin's psychopathy, I think if he knew he could escape the consequences (invisible or not) he would have engaged in criminal acts anyway. We are left with an ambiguous ending where another character is slowly working on decoding Griffin's notes and he could use the information within for good or ill. However, the fact that this character keeps the fact that he has the notes a secret bodes poorly for future uses of Griffin's discoveries.

Overall I think The Invisible Man is one of the mediocre works of Wells. While it explores an (even then) old concept in a new way, any message on the ethical application of such a technology remains overshadowed by Griffin's psychopathy. Furthermore its influence on the genre is nowhere near the proportions of The Time Machine or  War of the Worlds. I'd say even the more dedicated science-fiction readers can afford to skip this novel.

- Kalpar

Friday, September 21, 2012

Deus Vult!

Welp, here I am with yet another LP update for you. Slightly less exciting and battle heavy than usual, but then again, we are steadily running out of people to kill... Oh well. At least there is a Crusade to keep things interesting!

Part 84:

Part 85:

Part 86:

Part 87:

God Save the Queen

- Carvan

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America, by Jay Sexton

So about a month ago I was browsing a book store and found a copy of Jay Sexton's monograph on sale for about 70% off. Having a certain degree of interest in the history of the nineteenth century (and being very interested in what Mr. Sexton had to say about Theodore Roosevelt) I eagerly picked this book up and put it on my to-do list. Upon completion I have to say that although this is a fairly short monograph, it provides an excellent introduction to American foreign policy throughout the nineteenth century and gives bountiful sources for additional studies on specific topics. I would definitely recommend The Monroe Doctrine for anyone seeking to expand their knowledge of the nineteenth century and the history of American foreign policy.

For those of you that slept during your history classes in school or due to no fault of your own never attended an American school, let me provide a little background information on the Monroe Doctrine. (And if you wish to read this book at a future point it also discusses the creation of the doctrine in-depth and provides bountiful context.) By 1823 nearly all of the former Spanish colonies in Central and South America had rebelled against their colonial master and established (mostly) republican governments. The United States welcomed these rebellions initially, seeing it as an expansion of American ideals, and hoping for additional markets for their goods. However, as political instability threatened some of these new republics, Americans became increasingly concerned that European powers such as France and Austria would attempt to intervene in these former colonies and re-establish European supremacy. To prevent the anti-republican monarchies of the Old World from threatening American styles of government, President James Monroe and his cabinet included three paragraphs in his 1823 State of the Union address to congress. These paragraphs stated that the United States would not tolerate the expansion of European colonies in the American continents, nor their interference in the internal affairs of American countries.

The Monroe Doctrine, as those paragraphs would come to be called, was rather audacious considering the relative lack of power the United States had at the time. In fact, as Sexton rightly points out, the Monroe Doctrine was enforced only because Great Britain and the Royal Navy had reason to enforce it. The British were equally interested in the new trade opportunities presented by these American republics and did not wish to see them enter the economic orbit of another European power. In fact the United States would not be able to enforce the Doctrine twice during the nineteenth century simply because they lacked the resources. What Sexton finds more interesting about the Doctrine, though, is that it only details what European powers could not do, and places no such limits on the United States. As a result there would be countless interpretations of the Monroe Doctrine throughout the nineteenth century as America grew into an empire.

Throughout his work, Sexton details the various interpretations of the Doctrine during the nineteenth century, ending his work with the logical conclusion of the Roosevelt Corollary, contained in Theodore Roosevelt's 1904 State of the Union address to Congress. Proponents of slavery would state that the Monroe Doctrine was a call for America to make the western hemisphere safe for their peculiar institution and expand the slave economy. Nationalists would state that the Doctrine called for America to spread across the continent and bring the light of civilization to the frontiers. Isolationists would state that the United States should also maintain a policy of non-interference, and instead focus upon internal development to outmatch their main commercial rival, Great Britain. Sexton does an excellent job of taking you chronologically though each reinterpretation of the Doctrine. Eventually we see the shift in how Americans divided the world: initially Americans thought in terms of Old vs. New, the republics of the New World united against the decrepit monarchies of the Old, however by the time of Theodore Roosevelt, Americans had begun thinking of the world in terms of "civilized" and "uncivilized". As a result, the "civilized" United States had more in common with the monarchies of the Old World rather than their "uncivilized" republican neighbors to the south. This division continues today with the conception of an industrialized global north versus an industrializing or developing global south.

The Monroe Doctrine would end up being many things to many people for eighty years and although we seldom refer to it today, the latest interpretation of the Doctrine still affects American foreign policy and how Americans view the rest of the world today. In imitation of their formal colonial masters the American government created an empire that rivaled the strength and reach of the British Empire, and the American Empire seems to be rapidly going in the same direction. (Although that is a matter for another book.) The Monroe Doctrine provides an excellent insight into the history of American foreign policy and I recommend it to all my readers interested in the subject.

- Kalpar

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kalpar Lectures: Kalpar Tackles the Strong Independent Woman (TM)

Hello, everyone, I have some good news and some bad news for you today. The bad news is that the comic I was going to review, Rust: Secrets of the Cell, has had its publication date pushed back a month. Don't worry, dear and gentle readers, for I shall be reviewing the next issue of Rust in October, Emperor provided that the publication date is not delayed again.

Instead, for your immediate gratification today, I have decided to talk to you directly about an issue that's been bugging me for a couple of months. I hope you enjoy my video presentation, even if it's me just talking for fourteen minutes. Please let me know what you think and if you'd like to see more videos from myself in the future.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ciaphas Cain: HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!, by Sandy Mitchell

So as my two readers are well aware by this point, I am something of a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise and occasionally enjoy the odd omnibus or two from this ridiculously awesome universe. Recently I decided to go back to my good friends, the Imperial Guard, and read about the adventures of Commissar Ciaphas Cain in the first omnibus, Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium, which collects the novels, For the Emperor, Caves of Ice, and The Traitor's Hand into one volume, as well as three short stories.

Overall I liked this book, but I had a few problems which I want to talk about. First and foremost, I would not recommend this book for the beginner 40k fan. You really have to know how a commissar is supposed to act ("The first man who retreats will be shot!" and so on.) to really understand why a lot of the humor surrounding Cain works. Granted, the books provide plenty of exposition for other subjects in the 40k universe, but I feel like you have to meet some of the trigger-happy bastard commissars before getting a full appreciation for Cain.

My second big issue was that the jokes started wearing thin about halfway through the book because Mitchell seemed to rely on the same three jokes: Cain runs away even though he's not supposed to, Jurgen is phlegmatic, and General Sulla's memoirs, according to Inquisitor Amberley Vail, are an assault on the Gothic language. They were funny the first couple of times but it started getting old after about the fifth time. Fortunately, by the end of The Traitor's Hand Mitchell had introduced some fresh jokes and pretty cool action scenes so I was left with an overall pleased feeling.

My final big problem was that I noticed Cain is constantly excusing his concern for the soldiers under his command as him just keeping up his war hero facade rather than any actual interest in the troopers. Honestly, I didn't buy it because Cain has fought alongside these soldiers for five or six years by the final novel and there have been plenty of examples in history of that sort of experience building a bond as strong as family. Furthermore, even if Cain was one of the utter bastard commissars who sees troops as expendable, he'd probably still need to know how many men he had left before attacking an enemy position. It just seemed to me that asking if other people were okay was such a basic human reaction that Cain discredits himself too much saying he's doing it for his own selfish purposes.

A smaller, less important complaint about this book was that in the beginning Cain suffers a lot from "show, don't tell". When we first meet Cain in For the Emperor he's already a huge war hero and whose face is on recruiting posters across the sector. I really found myself wishing I could hear about these early adventures and how Cain developed his reputation before he becomes the Hero of the Imperium we all know and love. You kind of get that in the short stories between the novels, but I really wish there was at least one novel detailing more of Cain's early exploits. Fortunately, much of my "show, don't tell" problem was resolved by the end of For the Emperor because we get to see Cain be the big hero and defeat the enemies of the Imperium, save the day, and get the girl.

Overall, despite my issues with this book series, I ended up at least enjoying Cain's adventures. We get to see a far more human commissar and see his foibles and emotions; I would definitely call Cain more human in a respect than the famous Ibram Gaunt because at the end of the day, Gaunt's still a soldier, while Cain's looking for the nearest bar, gambling den, or house of ill repute. Cain is a man unashamed of pursuing the more carnal pleasures and in a way it makes his small acts of heroism seem all the greater as a result. The action is downright epic at times and although some jokes wear out their welcome, there's plenty of fresh humor to keep the book going.

I'm definitely interested in reading Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium, the next collection of Cain's adventures, and hope that Cain and Jurgen have plenty of awesome adventures across the galaxy. As I mentioned, this book probably isn't for beginners because you really have to know about Imperial commissars before you dive in, but if you're a 40k veteran you should definitely check them out.

- Kalpar