Eighth Rebus detective novel: Black and Blue. I kind of missed the point in this one: it mixes fact and fiction but I wasn't aware of the factual bits. The plot features a real serial killer active in the Sixties who tries to track down a fictional serial killer who is imitating his methods. Still a good read though, complicated multi-stranded plot. Also has Rebus travelling out of his normal haunts to Glasgow and Aberdeen (Furry Boot Town).
What I'm Reading 2
Grabbed a comic from the library which looked interesting. NYC Mech: Let's Electrify by Ivan Brandon and Miles Gunter. Didn't really click with me though. The characters are drawn as robots but act and function like normal human beings: eat, smoke cigarettes, have sex, and apparently use the toilet. Except in some ways things seem to be different: there are kitchen robots of ambiguous sentience. Sometimes they're seemingly hurt by punches, sometimes fingers get shot off without apparently causing much pain.
So, found it hard to get involved. Never thought I'd say this, but human beings might have been better than robots.
What I'm Reading 3
Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman by Frances Stonor Saunders. Biography of the famous mercenary, following his life from twoccing a plough-horse in 14th century Essex to a lavish state pension, funeral and Duomo memorial in Florence, Along the way he fought in the Hundred Years war in France, blockaded the Pope in Avignon as part of the Great Company, took part in the massacre of Cesena and changed sides a bewildering number of times.
It's a fascinating story, and Saunders fills it out with plenty of detail from what was happening at the time, as the medieval world was edging into the Renaissance. Europe was riven by wars: the Hundred Years war in France, and the city-state wars in Italy were complicated by the attempted return of the Popes to Rome, then the fission into Pope and Antipope, supported by rival powers. Not that peace made much difference, as the soldiers would immediately turn into bandits and mercenaries, who would then rampage around pillaging and demanding enormous bribes in protection rackets. For light relief, you had the plague.
The mercenaries were dynamically organized, with accountants and lawyers as well as camp followers and armourers. A company would be a couple of hundred men, but they would then join into thousands-strong units like the Grand Company: these were pretty much the same size as conventional armies of the day. (The English army at Agincourt was 6,000 strong).
The companies were made up of smaller units of just three men, called a Lance, mounted and wearing light armour. There would be one mounted soldier, one archer, and one page. This gave them an impressive flexibility. Mounted, they were hugely mobile. In battles, while the page held the horses they would fight dismounted, the archer and soldier wielding the same heavy lance as part of a tight hedgehog-like formation. Or when necessary the archers could separate to form their own groups with tremendous firepower. When storming a fortification the archers would lay down covering fire while the soldiers used ladders to scale walls.
It seems to me that while the Italian city-states often get a lot of criticism for relying on mercenaries, opposing these guys with volunteers was a bit of a non-starter. It must have required a lot of skill and experience to do the rapid manoeuvring of the Lances, not to mention that you needed horses. Charging the tight, disciplined, formations with traditional armoured knights was impossible. When Siena tried to oppose Hawkwood with a citizen army, they were hopelessly outmatched: he cut their supply lines and waited till thirst and starvation forced them into a suicidal charge.
The weakness of the book is a lack of information. Saunders' research seem very thorough, but while a lot is known about some periods of Hawkwood's life, down to detailed inventories, there are huge gaps. Almost nothing is known about his part in wars in France, for instance.
Also he left no letters and cultivated a reputation as a man of few words: it's hard to get a feeling of what his actual character was like. He could be utterly ruthless, but he also tried hard to provide for his friends and family, purchasing cushy church jobs for his illegitimate sons. Was he just a man struggling to survive in a harsh, dog-eat-dog time? Was his brutality calculated and his mercy sincere, or was he brutal by nature but pragmatic enough to be merciful? Did he suffer painful pangs of conscience for bloodbaths like Cesena, or was it just another day at the office? We'll never know.
Overall though, an interesting book on an interesting guy.
What I'm Watching
Doctor Who was really good again: loved the world without the Doctor. Thought they'd settled into a comfortable semi-mediocrity, but they've had a really good run with the last three episodes.
What I'm Not Watching
Watched the first hour of The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford but don't think I'll be carrying on. Partly it's that it's so slow and nothing happens, partly that you know how it's going to end, partly it's that it seem like watching ten minutes of Unforgiven only in slow motion... but mostly it's that really annoying ding... ding... incidental music.
YouTube: Ants eat dead gecko.
Problems with the concept of Internet addiction.
Attempt to game Microsoft search bribes
Phase 1: Buy $630 in cash for $714
Phase 2: Pocket 35% of price in bribe from Microsoft
Phase 3: Profit.
The only place the course backfires is in the unit on Christianity. Students who have spent every Sunday of their lives in church may be able to name the books of the Bible in order, but they rarely have any idea how those books were assembled. They know they belong to Victory Baptist Church, but they do not know that this makes them Protestants, or that the Christian tree has two other major branches more ancient than their own. Very few have heard of the Nicene Creed. Most are surprised to learn that baptism is supposed to be a one-time thing.
... The things I tell students are so different from the things they have heard in church that I can hear their brains straining against the waves. They never noticed that Matthew and Luke tell different stories of Jesus' birth, or that Mark and John tell no such stories at all. They never imagined that the first Christians did not walk around with New Testaments in their pockets. No one ever told them about Constantine, Augustine, Benedict or Martin Luther. They never thought about what happened during the centuries between Jesus' resurrection and their own professions of faith. In their minds, they fell in line behind the disciples, picking up the proclamation of the gospel where those simple fishermen left off.
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