On Reading and Writing, but Not Arthmetic

We’ll start with reading.

A few weeks ago, on TrekBBS, novelist Greg Cox recommended in a discussion about alternate histories, a series by Harry Harrison and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey (writing as John Holm) — The Hammer and the Cross.

The premise? The Norse religions put up more of a fight against Christianity in the ninth century.

I was leery, to be frank. I read Harrison’s Stars and Stripes Forever — Britain intervenes in the American Civil War, but they cock it up and attack the Confederacy, so the United States and the Confederate States form an alliance to conquer Canada — and besides being bog stupid, it was also downright atrocious.

But. Vikings! Tom Shippey! I was intrigued. I found the first two books of the trilogy cheap, and I’ve read the first book in the trilogy, The Hammer and the Cross.

It’s not bad. In places, it’s extremely well written. In other places, it’s quite boring. I ascribe the former to Shippey and the latter to Harrison. I’m not entirely clear on what the Point of Departure is supposed to be, though I assume that it’s the introduction of the protagonist Shef into events surrounding the Ragnarssons’ invasion of Britain in the ninth century or the introduction of an egalitarian, multicultural society in East Anglia. And, of course, the introduction of crossbows and late Middle Ages siege weaponry, which gives Shef’s Vikings a decided advantage over his rivals, both English and Viking.

I enjoyed the book, but I’m not sure if I’m going to read the next two, as the next two veer more into ahistorical fantasy; I’d have to find the third, which shouldn’t be difficult. The thing about reading The Hammer and the Cross is that it felt like I was reading a novelization of an Age of Empires II game — there’s research, there’s base building, there’s resource gathering, there’s strategy and tactics. The book was published six years before Ensemble released AoE2, so any relationship is coincidental.

It didn’t really give me a lot to think about, however; I had no sense of why, in our history, Christianity managed to uproot and supplant the native religions of the Northerners, or why a stronger military response by the Vikings against the Christian kingdoms would have made a difference in stemming the tide. I suppose that’s a failing of my own historical background; the triumph of Christianity over the pagan religions isn’t something I’ve really spent any time considering, so the underlying reasons are elusive to me.

Still, I liked it, for what it was. Historical fantasy, generally well written.


Baltimore’s City Paper, the free weekly here in Charm City, has opened their annual Short Fiction contest.

I’m going to enter. I’m thinking, honestly, of submitting part of “THOD,” the novel I’m writing.

The way in which the story is structured, there are “episodes” that can be extracted to stand, well enough, on their own. The question is, which “episode”? One I’ve written? Or one I’ve yet to write?

I’ll have to ponder this.

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