Tag Archives: civil war

Glory (1989)

Another movie night just past, and thusly do I dash off another quick correspondence. Although there are not always themes, the theme this week was ‘movies with Denzel Washington’, and the one that got picked was Glory. (Actually, part of that is a lie; it was picked last week but not watched in favor of general jabbering. So, this week instead. Now You Know!)

The thing I don’t like about period pieces are all the touches of accuracy. I’d rather not hear the soldiers sitting around their campfires or the officers in their captured mansions playing tootley music of the type I associate with Yankee Doodle Dandy. I understand that something being right is supposed to immerse me in the moment, but having to contemplate how bad peoples’ taste used to be ends up jerking me out of it.

My bitch out of the way, this was a really good movie. I mean, it was a really good movie all on its own, about what people find to be worth fighting and dying for, about the way that officers and enlisted men can, should, and do interact, and to a much lesser extent than the title would have you believe, about what honor and what accolades are to be found on the field of war. Then, on top of that, you’ve got the shades of our racist past that I find it all too easy to forget probably still exists even today, when I’m not busy contemplating it (like now). I can’t say exactly why, nor what it says about my psyche, but I always tend to enjoy more a movie that makes me mad because the characters are being so stupid about a question that I find it hard to remember wasn’t always long ago answered. Probably I just like the adrenaline rush of being angry, though.

Also, there should be more movies with Ferris, Morgan Freeman, and Westley all sharing screen space.

Return Engagement

I think half the fun of alternate history writing comes from the winks and nudges that the author is able to give the informed reader about the parallels and outright differences between what got written and what really happened. Not that this is hard to achieve in a Turtledove novel; he’s the genre’s Grisham, writing alternate history for the masses, which means that he’s not really writing out of the high school history level on most occasions. There are certainly things to spot even for more informed readers, but they’re rare. (Or else, I’m insufficiently informed; that’s likely.)

As for a review of the actual book, there’s not a lot I can say. Although Return Engagement is the first of the Settling Accounts trilogy, it’s the eighth book in the same storyline. Turtledove posits that a set of military orders sent by Lee to his subordinates early in the Civil War was not lost by the messenger, and then jumps ahead first to the 1880s to examine the new fates of such historical personages as Teddy Roosevelt, George Custer, and Abraham Lincoln against the backdrop of a divided continent, while the fledgling Confederate States face their second military challenge.

Except for How Few Remain, each of the books that follows is part of a trilogy, watching the events of first the Great War, then the boom and bust 1920s and 1930s, and most recently the second World War, through the eyes and lives of fictional characters both incidental and important. It works for him, because I’m as interested in the characters’ lives and outcomes as I am in the greater outside events he is chronicling.

Unfortunately, as I said, the similar style of each of these books makes it hard to review an individual one without delving deep into spoilers, especially this far along in the series. (Hint: he’s pretty well writing the same history we have now, except the players and outcomes are wildly divergent. His theory of human nature (which I buy into) just keeps pulling them back to the same places, despite the divergences.) The quality is as high as it was in the first book of the Great War trilogy, and consistently higher in this pure venue than when he writes about fantasy settings with parallels to real world history, or about aliens who launch a worldwide attack in the early days of World War II. Turtledove is simply a better historian than fantasist, and this series lets his talent through better than anything else I’ve read by him.

One thing I can say about this book in particular: as the series goes on, I can see things coming more clearly than I could reading the early books, and as I watch these characters that I’m interested in make clearly wrong choices, the warring sympathy and revulsion leaves me very uncomfortable, I think because of how it humanizes the actors in my world’s history. For my money, that’s good writing.