Saturday, November 7, 2009

We're all in someone else's box.

I've started reading a historical novel by Robert Harris, Imperium. The main protagonist is a young Cicero.

Historicals are always tricky for me, because my image of major historical characters is so outsized. Cicero is young and callow, so I'm O.K. so far, but I'll be interested to see how he handles Caesar and Pompey and Crassus.

One of the things I loved about Talbot Mundy's Tros series is that he makes Caesar as crafty and cunning and tough and mean as I always imagined him. He also makes him brave and principled, but that's just a novelist's conceit.

On the other hand, I could never get into the Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer, because characters like Mark Twain were just paper mache compared to my own vision of them.

I read a recent book by William Dietrich, Napoleon's Pyramids, that has Napoleon as a major character. Even though most of the words out of his mouth are historical, the characterization was still a little thin for me.

I've always thought the best Napoleon was the character Mule in the Asimov S.F. series, Foundation, conflicted and contradictory and unexpected and just flat out smarter than everyone else.

Gore Vidal's historicals bring down the historical characters to a human level -- I think that's their intent. Lincoln was flawed, Burr wasn't the villain and so on. Even there, they didn't quite flesh out as much as I hoped.

Doctorow does a pretty good job with historical events; but he keeps the major historical characters at a distance.

Caleb Carr is pretty good with a young Teddy Roosevelt; I'm thinking it must be easier to do the younger characters...

Of course, to me, the best book ever for conveying the magnitude of events was Killer Angels by Michael Sharra. Amazing book. (Did not care for any of the followups by his son -- again, paper characters....)

While Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty may not be real historical characters, I've never liked any other writer's interpretation of them. Meyer's Nine Percent Solution did a nice job with Freud and Holmes, but I've hated the books that have Holmes married, for instance. That's just wrong.

The best Moriarty I've ever read or seen was the one in Star Trek. Hands down my favorite Star Trek episodes.

"In fact, Picard has both of them encapsulated in a small computerized cube. And in the greater scheme of things, he muses to his staff, who's to say that they aren't caught in someone else's fantasy right now." Star Trek, the Episode Guide.

Too cool.

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