Category Archives: History

Story of the site

Review: The Time in Between by Maria Dueñas

The Time in Between is an historical romance, but it is also a spy novel with a finely-drawn female protagonist and an exciting adventure story. Dueñas’ book opens with just enough back story to give a strong sense of her protagonist, Sira Quiroga. Then, once we really like the girl and wish her the best in life—this takes less than a paragraph—the author piles problem after problem on the girl: An unmarried mother. Poverty in post-World War I Madrid. A nonexistent father. A seduction that makes you cringe because you see it coming for chapters and can’t make yourself look away. And then there is history….

Dueñas has set all this against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, a tragic prelude to the approaching global conflict. She spares Sira the worst of the horrors of civil war by placing her in the Spanish Protectorate, the corner of Africa directly across the strait of Gibraltar, but the protectorate serves mostly as an incubator. Sira loses her innocence there, but she also takes her first steps into a bold and confident womanhood. She needs every bit of strength she finds there because her next step is back to a Madrid populated by Nazi soldiers, diplomats, spies, and their sympathizers.

The book is very well reviewed. The historical and political backdrops are meticulously researched. It isn’t possible to read the book without loving the heroine, even as she behaves most foolishly. The other characters are, for the most part, well drawn and believable. The action is generally finely tuned. The villains are as despicable as you would expect. They lack depth, but after all, they are Nazis, stock characters in this corner of the literary landscape.

The Time in Between is both a compelling read and a rewarding read. The author has a deft touch with plot and an excellent eye for character. It is remarkably strong for a first novel. Only an occasional adherence to the conventions of the romantic heroine weakened the work: conspirators rarely conspire without looking behind the sofa for accidental eavesdroppers, for instance, and Sira should have been able to save herself at one point when the author provided her with a convenient and very fortuitous savior. Despite these cavils, this is a very good book. Sira matures over the course of the story into a woman any man would want to know, and she possesses, in the end, a character and a future any woman could envy.

Counting Down: PLENUM – 7

The World of PLENUM

PlenumEBookCoverAWhen Art Penn was recruited (he’d say shanghaied) by an old Dragon named Morl back in 1999, he found himself trapped in a time war with the Knights over the Prime Context, the most probable human future. The context split into two time lines in 3092, four hundred years after the end of the worst catastrophe in any of the human contexts left mankind on the brink of extinction. Six centuries of religious slaughter and environmental collapse had left the few hundred million survivors with no hope of recreating the glorious technology of the twentieth century. All the easily accessible minerals and energy sources had been depleted. Almost all the books had burned. Only a few religious documents survived and even those were suspect after the centuries of carnage they inspired. Both the Knights and Dragons regarded that as a good thing.

Hopes remained, however. Dreams. Men told stories around the camp fire, stories of a golden age when fabulous animals filled the world and men created light just by wishing for it and pounded the earth itself into weapons of unimaginable power. Women whispered around the community hearth of a time when disease could be twisted like a hungry worm and made to feed on itself, a time when the secrets of life commanded even Life itself, and designed plant and animal alike to serve human ends.

The age of great machines was over but small machines were still possible, and if the oil and uranium were all gone then dreams must power the future. Small machines grew smaller and smarter. The code of life was edited, snipped and rewritten. The distinction between man and machine began to blur. At the same time the definition of humanity was rewritten: redesigned flesh incorporated the poorly-remembered dream. The trends coexisted for a time, but the tension between them grew until they could not share the world. In the year 3092, the human context split in two. One future belonged to the Knights and in it human consciousness, mind, abandoned biology and spread into the physical universe. The other future belonged to the Dragons. In it, human life began to incorporate the non-human world. Organic consumed inorganic and mind drifted away from machine.

For good or ill, we humans are locked into our private histories, the time lines into which we are born. Neither the Dragons nor the Knights were aware of the context split until emissaries from their distant futures opened the tunnel that touches every point in space and time. They revealed a larger universe, the context of all contexts, in which their time lines were slowly becoming less probable. One fruit of that revelation was a war over which context would dominate the human future, a war that spanned a thousand human centuries and all the countless human histories. Another was Arthur Penn, born in Chicago, veteran of America’s wars in the middle east, Dragon battles in ancient Rome, stone age Europe, and the depths of the last ice age, and beloved of a true woman, a Dragon woman, and . . . something else.

PLENUM on Amazon

Creativity and the Fishmonger

I wrote of stories once, back when the internet was young, and used a fishing metaphor. The sea is wide, I wrote, full of mysteries below, and worked by desperate fleets.  This crew fishes for romance, that for suspense. and that fleet over there, why, they have cast their nets for adventure, and hope to drag in a big one.  That’s all, in fact, they fish for: they want the big one, today’s best seller, tomorrow’s classic.  They scorn the simple outrider, the lone fisher sculling near the horizon.  Never mind he may hook a big one. That’s not the meat the fleet’s are after. They want flesh by the ton, not the pound.  Theirs is the mass market.

Well, perhaps you’d think my heart’s with that sculler out near the horizon, working the depths for something new, but you’d be wrong.

Okay, the ocean is deep, and it’s full of fish — we’re pretending here that stories are fish, right? — and it’s a simple matter of throwing a line over the side and pulling up something strange and wonderful, but the market is with the fleets.  No matter how long you sweat to pull in a masterpiece, the product must still be gutted, skinned, filleted, packaged, branded and sold,  or all you’ve got is sweat, scales and stink.

So now you’re thinking, whoa, this dude’s from marketing, right?  Nope.  Wrong again.

Fact is, I’ve always sailed near the horizon, and the fleet stays close to shore.  No communication out here.  I hauled one in, once, and sold it to the Doubleday fleet, who handled the scaling and filleting.  I did the book tour, the signings, and the interviews, and then I went back to sea.   I only look back at that with regret when I consider what I’d like to leave above water after the coming storm.

For me, it’s enough to know the depths are unknowable, the air is just another sea, the stars reflections off an undiscovered interface, every bit the same mystery, and my nets themselves are woven of dreams.   We’ve built astrolabs and compasses and forgotten that North is just a marketing convention.  Those fish, though. They are something else. Dreams at worst, and maybe more.  Maybe they follow, in their depths, truer lines of lattitude and longitude than we reckon with.  And even if they don’t, well, we can live on their flesh while chewing on the mystery.