gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
[personal profile] gridlore
The title is half of one of my favorite Grateful Dead lyrics.

Went up to Half Price Books today, it what is probably the last load of decluttering books for some time. While waiting for them to tabulate my payoff, I wandered around for a bit.

Wandering the history section, I scored. My friend Bruce Norbeck had suggested two books for me as part of me research for Task Force Singh, "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel", both by Robert K. Massie. The first is a detailed examination of the people and events that shaped the naval arms race between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in the decades leading up the First World War.

It's an amazing read, as Massie takes the time to introduce to characters like Kaiser William II and Admiral Jackie Fisher as people. Indeed, the book spends more time on how the personalities of the movers and shakers interacting with each other shaped the balance of power in Europe. This style also gives great insight to these powerful figures as human beings. Otto von Bismarck was a brilliant statesman, but also a petulant, petty jerk. King Edward VII was pretty lost as a monarch, happily deferring to his government on almost everything. And Winston Churchill had the crappiest childhood you can imagine.

All of this is wrapped around the whirl of European politics in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; the war that made the scattered German states into a single empire while causing the fall of France's Second Empire. It's really fascinating to see how England was stuck in the ideal of the Splendid Isolation, secure in the knowledge that the Royal Navy was a bulwark against any invasion. Even as the age of sail began to fade, the hide-bound traditionalists of the Royal Navy clung to sail. It took true revolutionaries and mavericks to drag the navy into the modern age.

In Germany, the Kaiser faced a similar problem. German had little coast line and limited access to the North Sea, so a navy had never been a concern. Besides, Germany's power was her armies. Vast, disciplined, and well led by a professional officer class, the Imperial German Army could crush any of her neighbors. Convincing the Reichstag to spend huge piles of marks on building battleships and improving the Kiel canal to allow them access to the North Sea was the work of years, and involved no small amount of dishonesty and gambling. Several times, the Kaiser ordered ships to be laid down before the funds had been approved, and then presented the assembly with a fait accompli.

All in all, a fascinating read. But as long one, and quite dense. I've already had to renew the books once, and the Santa Clara library never guarantees endless renewals. "Dreadnought" is almost a thousand pages long, and the next one is about the same length. But there's so much good material in here! I've already cribbed three characters, some setting details, and the casus belli that sets off the who plot.

Since these are library books, I've taken to taking pictures of important passages that I want to remember and emailing them to my self. Rather clumsy, but it works. I tend to do most of my reading in bed lying down, so taking notes would be an act of some contortion, and even I can't read my own writing these days.

So these books must be returned, and possibly soon. Which brings me back to Half Price Books. As I said, I was wandering the store, glancing at this and that, when I spied the Ballantine Books paperback edition of "Castles of Steel", which is more directly on point for the style of warfare I'm hoping to describe in Task Force Singh. New, this book goes for $20. I got it for about nine bucks, which I just took out of what I got for the books I was dropping off.

Now I can highlight, margin note, and page mark to my heart's content! I can take time, reread important bits, and really digest the material. Because I really want the foundations of the novel to be as strong as possible. As I mentioned in my writing group this morning, getting the basics right makes the whole story sing.

My next step in laying that foundation, is to design the Vajra, the Arjun battleship that will be one of the main locations for the events of the book. I'll be using GURPS Starships for at least an initial pass on making the ship more a place than an idea, but will be working out details of the living ship. Because down properly, the ship can become a character in its own right.
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