Absolute War    

     Absolute War by Chris Bellamy is a comprehensive look at the entire Eastern Front largely from the Russian perspective. The author doesn’t just build upon prior works but gathers new information gained from Russian archives in the early 1990s to present some new points of view and add to the debate on old ones. Using a style that keeps the pages turning I would say this is a good read for anyone and not just students of World War II. Which isn’t easy to pull off in a history book since we already know how it’s going to end.

      The first sentence of chapter 1 as the lead in is a head scratcher that first left me thinking, “Huh?” But as a way to preface the book and snap a reader out of preconceived views about the war or what you already know it’s one of the best beginnings to a history book I have read yet. Once begun we delve into pre-war politics and the run-up to war. I thought the author did a good job in laying out the case that Stalin wasn’t as dismissive of western warnings to German aggression as is popularly portrayed. That Russian ignorance of an attack being the first great maskirovka, or military deception, of the war is an intriguing argument.

     That Stalin was preparing a preemptive strike against Germany isn’t a new theory. This book however presented a detailed look at that theory to help explain 590,000 Russian casualties during the first two and a half weeks of the war in a way I found very interesting. While not definitive the weight he adds to the argument of preemption is difficult to ignore. The contrast to other history reads that dismiss the Frontier Battles as Russian amateurism and abysmal communications too reliant on easily cut phone lines was refreshing. Past the mind numbing totals the author also does a great job putting the great encirclements into a human context where the reader can place themselves in the boots of a General literally losing 44,000 troops PER DAY.

     At this point the author assumes you’ve already read The Road to Stalingrad (1975) or similar work and doesn’t get bogged down in the details of tactics. Instead, the strategic view of the march on Leningrad, Moscow and Crimea is the contextual backdrop to the rise, expansion and growing Russian military reliance upon the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). The country might move at the direction of Stalin but the author shows how the NKVD was the extension of that will in not only the conduct of the war but in keeping the country together in order to fight it. Here the book really adds to the narrative on the Eastern Front showing the expansion not only in size but role of the NKVD was greater than previously known.

     This narrative carries the reader through most of 1942 and again the author assumes you’ve already read Enemy at the Gates (1973) so we shift our focus north.

     While the Stalingrad counter offensive (Operation Uranus) and eventual destruction of 6th Army is well known what has not been is the Moscow counter offensive (Operation Mars) aimed at the German 9th Army. For almost 50 years this battle has been scrubbed from the history of WWII and this book really builds on previous works in bringing it to light. As the second part of the Stalingrad encirclement Operation Mars resulted in 335,000 killed/missing/wounded for the Russians over two and a half months of fighting. Not only that but it failed to achieve any of its objectives. So even though in terms of soldiers, aircraft, tanks and artillery it was the same size as the Stalingrad encirclement one can see why it was buried. But the fact that it was successfully done so shows how much of the WWII narrative history still has to uncover.

     As an American reader the book at this point I found interesting because of the comparisons in time lines of war. I really liked how the book pointed out that in November 1942 while the Americans were entering the war with landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) the Russians were ripping the 6th Army out of the German order of battle. Not to mention the Romanian 4th and 3rd, Italian 8th and Hungarian 2nd armies. Very contrary to the usual view of World War II that we get here in the States where Normandy is the turning point of the war.

     Beyond the battle and politics hidden from the world all this time the author also adds to the history of women in the Russian army likewise buried. We of course are introduced to well known figures like sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko who is credited with 309 kills including 36 enemy snipers. But the scale of almost 800,000 serving women in the armed forces is a story largely untold. After the war it was quickly wiped from the record by the Russians even to their own people. The glimpse the author shows us from that brief window in the 1990s to this story is the best we’ll probably get until Putin opens the archives back up.

     Of note was the Night Witches that I had not encountered before. The Russian 588th air regiment from mechanics up to officers was composed entirely of women. Flying night missions with obsolete biplanes they conducted harassment bombing missions. Cutting the engine the pilots would glide into the target, drop their bombs then restart the engine and leave the area. More often than not the bombs dropped were the first indication German troops had that the regiment was there. The regiment in fact got its name from the Germans who started calling them Nachthexen (night witches).

     The closing act of this book again doesn’t get bogged down with tactics and does a good job of closing out the war while exploring the politics and foundations of what will be the start of the Cold War. The long term repercussions of the war to Russia is also expanded upon. The newly revised figure of 27,000,000 killed, or 1 in 7 Russians, and how that has echoed through history to the current day is a good read.

     A touch of levity to counter the tragic totals is provided with the iconic cover art of the book. The famous photo depicting the Fall of the Reichstag was actually a 1945 version of photoshop. In the original photo the soldier below the one raising the flag over Germany was wearing two watches, almost certainly looted, and it was repainted to him wearing only one. The flag was touched up to look like it was billowing out and more smoke was added over the city for effect. The original photo is included in the book.

     All in all not a definitive work on the Eastern Front but as a companion book I would say that this is a must have on your bookshelf in the history section.

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The West Report

The opinions expressed in The West Report are the author’s own. Feel free to repost or share, we just ask you credit or link to this article as a source.

Third time’s a charm, or so its said, and this November will be my third attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Then again its also said “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result each time.

We shall see which proverb proves most apt this time around.

I decided to jump into the fray at the last minute in 2011 about a week before the official start. Listening to a friend of mine speak almost constantly about participating since the previous year had something to do with that. No outline, prep, characters, artwork or time-line. What the hell, at least now I would have notes to trade and what habitual reader doesn’t think about writing a novel from time to time?

The plot is based on a main character who plays music in a band so the whole, “Write about what you know,” point was covered. But doing things the easy way is not how tasks get done here at The West Report. So I made it fiction, which I rarely read, and as a first person narrative, which is about the hardest prose to write in.

See where this is going?

I did learn how to make shadows with GIMP while creating concept artwork for the book cover but mainly I ended the month with a long list of how not to write 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo. Love the story idea and I’m still outlining for it on the side. “Battle of the Bands” however has turned into the cherished car in my garage that’s being restored over time one part at a time.

For 2012, armed with my trusty list of what not to do, I made sure that first person narrative fiction was off the idea list. Concept cover art was done during October so no time was spent during November on it. Title, plot outline and even character names were started while I settled on trying to write a Sci-Fi novel.

38,000 words.

Not bad considering Aldebaran was simply the still-life star I was using to learn how to paint space pictures with. After figuring out what star it was I discovered that there was literally nothing there. No planets, no other stars in the area, no resources or anomalies. Nothing. Writing a novel about Solgrsteme Corp sending a five ship mission there to set up operations for some reason was daunting from the start. But since I liked the cover art so much I was committed.

Currently I am at about 72k words on that book and am looking at possibly the first rewrite. I envisioned it being a book I with book II being about the interstellar transit time between the two systems. Where it will end and how is still up in the air since it might make a better single large novel than trilogy. No consensus from our scientists on where the solar system actually ends isn’t helping my research either.

So even though Aldebaran may be the first book finished to first draft it still didn’t get to the 50k mark during November. That is why this year I am writing fantasy. No research, no narrative flashbacks, no changing prose mid chapter and the artwork is already done!

“The Fifth” will be a novel following the Fifth Legion through the end of one war only to find another started. More wars also means a higher word count while providing something to blog about. So much the better.

50,000 words in a month? Bring it on.

Right now I’m calling the army a “Legion” as a working name for time / technology period but really have no intention of a Pax Romana setting. We’ll see how well that works out. There’s already a lot of Latin creeping into my character name list.

Then again that seems to be one of the joys of NaNoWriMo. The story started so far hasn’t been the story finally written. 50k mark aside I look forward to seeing where this story will take me during the month of November.

This post = 690 words

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The West Report

The opinions expressed in The West Report are the author’s own. Feel free to repost or share, we just ask you credit or link to this article as a source.

The third book of Steven Erikson’s epic “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” picks up where the first book left off with Dujek One Arm’s Host on the Genebackis continent facing a new danger, Pannion, a Jaghut word carried on the winds of Omtose Phellack, the Warren of Ice.

Taking place on a timeline during the 2nd book in a different location “Memories” largely centers around the siege of Capustan, a city not yet reached by the Malazan armies. The Pannion is conquering city after city as it marches north along the eastern coast of Genebackis and the Host has only its enemies led by Caladan Brood to turn for possible aid.

Erikson continues his masterful weave of multiple storylines taking us from Gruntle the caravan guard to Itkovian of Fener’s Reve as the scope of this new danger grows into a force even Kruppe of Darujhistan might be unable to stand against. The Tiste Andii as a people and their ascendant leader Anomander Rake is expanded upon in this book while the gods themselves are being drawn into the fray as it is revealed that this conflict upon the mortal plane might possibly be the opening gambit for a conquest of the pantheon as well.

To me, the actual siege of Capustan is what dominates this book, remarkable after this re-read because the siege itself is such a small part of the book’s actual page count. Once it gets going though it sure does deliver. The Battle of Sulingen on a bend in the river Wolter from Turtledove’s Darkness series and the Alamo rolled into one is my best attempt at a comparative description.

I kept on reading and was two more books into the series before I went, “Hey, wasn’t I supposed to be writing a blog review about these?” That is a compliment pertaining to how engrossing this book and series is, not a thinly veiled attempt to explain why I haven’t posted a blog for a month.

The title, Memories of Ice has several interpretations throughout this story including; the awakening of self and feeling within Onos T’oolan, former First Sword of the Tarad Clan as he travels with the punitive army of the Seguleh. The appearance of K’Chain Che’Malle and the Ay, races thought extinct or lost to the ages. And of course the Jaghut, their warren of ice and war with the T’lan Imass that has stretched through time and beyond death itself.

Memories of Ice can also speak of events that for the characters of this tale will be frozen in time as we see why this series is called the Malazan Book of the Fallen. With no reserves or hope of reinforcement what’s left of the Bridgeburners prepare to be first in before the gates of Coral with none expecting to be last out.

Next up in this series re-read is book 4, House of Chains.

The second book of the, “Malazan – Book of the fallen” series, picks up where the first left off with the Bridgeburners Fiddler and Kalam escorting Sorry back to her home in Itko Kan. Seven Cities is their first destination, a conquered land of the Malazan Empire quickly sliding into open revolt, which they must cross to continue by ship on the other side.

Here, Steven Erikson does a masterful job of splitting the storyline and introducing Coltaine, the newly arrived Fist, as he takes command of the Malazan 7th Army to protect the Empire’s interests in the area. Told largely from the perspective of Duiker, the Imperial Historian attached to the 7th, the story of Coltaine and what will become known as “The Chain of Dogs” as he attempts to do just that is reason enough to read this book.

Without going into any spoilers I will just say that more than once I have caught myself searching the bookshelf for “Chain of Dogs” forgetting that this book is called “Deadhouse Gates”.

The role of the Gods in the Malazan world is expanded on in book 2 with more deities, manipulations and priests such as Iskaral Pust, High Mage of the House of Shadow. The concept of accenssion is built upon also, that mortals can “ascend” to godhood through deeds, coup or by crossing through a gate after following the “Path of Hands”.

In all ways this story takes the Malazan tale and raises the stakes, rewards and risks above the previous book. At times one can almost taste sand grit from the Holy Desert Raraku or hear hoof beats of Wickan warriors closing in. All 10 books of this series make one big story, but if I had to pick just one book as a favorite “Deadhouse Gates” would be it.

Next up in this series reread is “Memories of Ice”.

     First in an epic series about the Malazan Empire, “Gardens of the Moon” and this entire series of books grabs me from the start and doesn’t let go until the end of the 10th one. It really is that good.

     Our story begins with the siege of Pale, a city on the Genabackis continent.  The author wastes no time in back-story or world building, instead the reader, like the 9th’s new recruit “Sorry”,  is thrust into the middle of things and expected to keep up with the veterans we find ourselves serving with. Survive long enough as a rookie to reach the 3rd chapter and the other Bridgeburners in our squad might start to clue us in a little.

     In a empire as vast as the Malazan’s more than just this siege is going on and Steven Erikson does a fantastic job of taking us from story line to story line weaving it all together as one grand tale. Following the siege of Pale armies of the empire expand the frontiers as rebellion stirs through lands already conquered. Meanwhile our squad of Bridgeburners is sent into the last free city on Genabackis, “Darujhistan”, to scout ahead of the rest, “First in, last out”.

     Add plots within plots, a rich magic system, threats at every turn and the gods themselves stirring the soup for chuckles and high adventure on the literary seas doesn’t get much better than this. This book and series is a re-read for me and each time I start it I know not much of anything else will get done for the next couple of weeks, which, when reading this series is always an even trade.

     Next in the series is “Deadhouse Gates”, stay tuned!

     The great thing about writing a review or update on a history book is I don’t have to worry about spoilers since everyone already knows how it will end. The hard part in blogging about it is if I have a good book to read I’ve got better things to do than type a blog. As dilemmas go, not a bad one to have, and reading “A Bridge Too Far” by Cornelius Ryan has proven insightful and I look forward to reading the rest of it.

     On occasion when reading a history book this old I find gaps or inaccuracies that subsequent time has thrown new light on. Just in the last couple decades FOIA requests, time dated declassified documents and access to previously closed national archives in the East are rewriting many chapters that make up the story of WWII. Showing a date of 1975 on the inside cover the material thus far has been relevant and current almost 70 years after the event.

     Written largely from the perspective of the soldier on the ground many first hand accounts of small unit action are told from both sides of the firefight by those who took part. Particular attention is paid to the “fog of war” where perceptions of the battle by one side are compared with the realities documented by the other as experienced from the squad up through command levels. Subsequent history, facts and new information only adds to that.

     This would be a good spot to end the reading update and recommend another book about the Market Garden Operation but I don’t have one. The only other history book in my library focused on that part of Europe is “The Guns of August” which is an entirely different War. In light of this I’ll just suggest starting the Liberation Trilogy by reading “An Army at Dawn” by Rick Atkinson if you haven’t already.

     Maint: The book page is outlined, just needs filled out now. It occurred to me while editing the page that if you own enough books to justify investing in a card catalog to keep track of them a “book review / reading” section would be a good fallback topic for those times writers block strikes. Doesn’t do much good to set up a blog if you have nothing to blog about. We’ll see how that works out.

     The Bio page is going to be a “Misc” or “Other” ? type of page to host blog posts that don’t fall under the other page topics. I can’t be the only one that is traumatized by the forest service switching Smokey the Bear’s message from “Forest Fires” to “Wildfires”, now that blog post will have a home. Whew!

     Stay tuned for more reviews and blog maintenance reports!

Book page started

March 3, 2013

     After two days I have reached the conclusion that you cannot add new sections below a page sticky. Rather than run in circles searching for ways to do this I went ahead and just created a picture using the GIMP and Paint programs which serves well enough. Now that the spacing is done I can use that for all the pages and just change the text. The image is “centered”, linked to “none” and displayed at its full size of 428 x 36 pixels.

Book Blargs

     The obvious downside is the lack of a reply / comments for sections and the blarg content is linked rather than in one spot. All things considered however this really isn’t that big of a deal, beggars / choosers.

     Categories  doesn’t post a blarg to the parent topic page and if you manually direct it to do so the post will overwrite/delete the sticky that is there on top. The different menus or “widgets” as wordpress calls them do sort by blarg posts by topic but is rather redundant considering how this site is set up and amounts to extra clutter in the sidebar. What I did find however is that categories will put all posts into a different parent page.

      I have labeled this post also as “books” to go with yesterday’s post. So both of those should appear on a “wordpress.com/category/books/page. I can’t include a link directory as a sticky on the Blarg page, since it will be overwritten by the first post that gets put there after, so perhaps a category directory on the Welcome page would be a good idea. The individual post links can be included on the topic pages as I have started doing with Books.

     The Blarg page went past the 1500 pixel mark, meaning it is past the background image. Rather than change the header background to accommodate “infinite scrolling” I had a little fun with the background and put in a warning strip that the reader was about to go out of bounds. How much blank space is or is not seen on the sides of the site with widescreen monitors I have no way of testing yet.

     Email notices seem to work just find. The problems I read in researching how to set up a wordpress page dealing with @hotmail accounts either has been addressed or successfully avoided so far. The “Follow by Email” button works correctly and I do like the “I ♥ spam” text on it, a little truth in advertising.

     Getting there. The Bio page is still here to be a test page now that books has been started and I can’t use that. Once the site is fully set up it will just be deleted or changed to another topic of interest that arises during.

     Stay tuned for more exciting maintenance reports!