January 03, 2008

Flashman, R.I.P.

The Random Penseur passes on the sad news that George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman Papers (among other works), has passed at 82.

Alas, now we'll never know whether or how Flashy gets himself mixed up with the Battle of Gettysburg or the Mexican Revolution, both of which stories Fraser had hinted around he might commit to paper in the near future.

Ah, well. Most other fans will no doubt pay homage to the rollicking badness of ol' Flashy and the delicious way he gets himself in and out of scrapes. But I'd also like to note the wonderful historickal accuracy of Fraser's tales: the endnotes to each of his stories are a joy in and of themselves and a positive goldmine of primary sources. Indeed, it has always been something of a struggle for me, when reading a Flashman novel, to restrain myself from nipping over to the devil's website and ordering the entire collection of such references on the spot. And I must confess, it's a struggle I haven't always managed to win.

UPDATE: Our dear pal Kathy gave Flashy a whirl not too long ago and didn't think much of him. Well, all I can say is that I had some reservations after my first encounter as well, reservations that I quite overcame as I got farther into the series. The books definitely improve as Fraser finds his stride.

Speaking of which, the RP and I have been emailing on the side about writers of historickal fiction, specifically Fraser and Patrick O'Brian. One difference between the two, IMHO, is that the Flashy cycle stays fairly strong throughout (with obvious highs and lows, of course), while there is a definite arc to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, with a notable downturn in both energy and quality after The Wine Dark Sea, as O'Brian seemed to get sick and tired of the whole damn' business.

So here's a question for you: Who are the good writers these days? I'm sure many of you would say Bernard Cornwell (author of the Richard Sharpe novels, among others). In reply, I would say that Cornwell's books certainly are entertaining, but surely not in the same league as those of Fraser and PO'B. I also happen to be a fan of Derek Robinson, who wrote a number of books about the air war in WWI and WWII.

Posted by Robert at January 3, 2008 10:01 AM | TrackBack

I gotta tell ya, Robbo, I gave Flashman a whirl almost a year ago, and I barely enjoyed it. Whilst it's been helpful in filling out crosswords ("Name of bully in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays'"), and whilst I enjoyed Harry's sense of self-preservation, there was just something about the character that turned me off. I can't put my finger precisely on it, but I haven't bothered reading the rest of the books. The sense of fun that I expected to be there simply wasn't.

Now, granted, I did read this whilst I was recovering from my surgery, so maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to read it in the first place, but, well, bleh. I've thought of giving it a reread, but I'm not quite sure if it's worth my time to do so.

Posted by: Kathy at January 3, 2008 10:21 AM

If you're looking for more historical fiction, I would highly recommend giving Dame Dorothy Dunnett and her Lymond Chronicles a go. It's a series of six books following the 16th Century adventures of Scot Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond over a ten year period of time. The series starts with Game of Kings, and is followed up by Queen's Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and, finally, Checkmate. Lymond is a wonderful character. He's clever, devious, calculating and willing to go the extra mile when his honor is on the line.

I will admit it's challenging reading, simply because Dunnett forced me to have the unabridged dictionary at hand every time I picked them up, but the payoff is totally worth it.

Posted by: Kathy at January 3, 2008 11:04 AM

Never read Fraser, though I understand he wrote the screenplay for the 1970s version of The Three Musketeers, which is one of my top ten favorite films of all time. I'll get to Flashman at some point.

I haven't read much historical fiction recently, though for alt-history, I've enjoyed S.M. Stirling's somewhat silly changeverse series, and William Gibson/Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine (which posits a computer revolution in Victorian England based on Charles Babbage's machines) was a pretty compelling read. I've always enjoyed William Gibson's books, inclusing his San Francisco alt-history series (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties), but he's an acquired taste.

Posted by: The Abbot at January 3, 2008 11:33 AM

The Baroque Cycle by Stephanson

Posted by: old school lady at January 3, 2008 01:06 PM