Original Publication Date
: honor, love, secrets (obvs), resurrection, Germanic hordeReview by heidenkind
Hardross Courage is a professional cricket player. His name is LITERALLY courage (this would be more amusing if his personality was the opposite of that, but no). When playing a cricket match in London, Courage checks into the worst hotel ever, where he meets a man named Guest. HIS NAME IS LITERALLY GUEST. You following me here? It turns out Guest is dying, and there are a bunch of nasties who want to force him to tell them some sort of secret before he kicks off. When a beautiful American woman with an annoying dog convinces Courage to help Guest by letting him spend his final days at Courage’s country estate, Hardross can’t say no, even though he has a sneaking suspicion he’s about to become embroiled in a very sticky situation.The Great Secret
is not to be confused with The Great Impersonation
, also by E. Phillips Oppenheim
. The man apparently really liked the word great! I thought The Great Secret
a much better book than The Great Impersonation
, which is crazy because I enjoyed the hell out of The Great Impersonation
. Despite the annoying Courage/Guest naming, The Great Secret
had a more complex plot than The Great Impersonation
, well-rounded characters, and went in a direction I totally wasn’t expecting.
My favorite part of The Great Secret
was about halfway through the book. I really want to talk about it, but since it’s pretty far into the novel, it’s a little spoilery. So avert your eyes if you don’t want to know…
Still there? Okay, so after Guest dies, Hardross decides to go to America to investigate. It just so happens the woman from the hotel, Adèle, is heading back to America on the same boat! And her matchmaking auntie immediately likes Courage because he’s related to a bunch of muckity-muck aristocrats and pretty rich. So he’s invited into their circle and discovers that one of Adèle’s suitors, M. de Valentin, claims he’s the rightful King of France and wants all these wealthy Americans to fund his return to the throne. And no one says, “But isn’t France a republic now?” Because ‘Merica. In return, de Valentin promises to turn all the wealthy Americans into dukes and duchesses and earls and stuff. They’re eating this stuff up with their silver-plated spoons and Hardross is all like:
But politely, because he has the hots for Adèle and doesn’t want to tell her her friends and relatives are cucking frazy. And somehow it all leads back to an evil German plot, so there ya go!
Speaking of Adèle, she’s 100x better than Rosamund, the love interest in The Great Impersonation
. She’s like something out of an Edward Gorey illustration—very dark and unapproachable and mysterious. I’m a sucker for Edward Gorey, so I immediately liked her. But it was when she told Hardross that she’d never been in love, never wanted to be, and that his blandishments were annoying her that I decided she was awesome. Of course, she changes her mind about Hardross inexplicably just so he can pine after her once he returns to England to save Europe from the Germanic horde; but at least at no point in the story does Hardross describe her as childlike.
I also really liked Hardross, despite his stupid last name. He’s not exactly the sharpest, but he is likable and has a heart of gold.
The extremely meandery plot of The Great Secret
started to lose me in the last third of the novel, and the ending is really abrupt, but overall this is a pretty damn entertaining thriller novel. My goal now is to read every Oppenheim
book with the word “great” in the title.
Download The Great Secret by E. Phillips Oppenheim
at Project Gutenberg
Virgil's Georgics by Charles Bane, Jr.
"All of American Literature begins with one book", wrote Ernest Hemingway, " and that book is Huckleberry Finn." Hemingway had slighted Washington Irving but underlined a truism of great writing: all lasting narratives center on a journey. Siddhartha, My Antonia, Kim, Moby Dick. All voyage deep into the Self, to a new creation.
If this is true, then it is true also that only one individual’s work stands sentinel at the journey’s end: Virgil's Georgics. There is more: long ago we wished into existence faiths that bode of afterlife; of life followed by blank sleep before waking again. OnlyVirgil- to us a pagan- achieved the miracle.
In his first consciousness, he was always ill, but a poet whose patron was the most powerful man alive and the only genius to preside over the Roman empire, Augustus Caesar. The canny Augustus supported Virgil and gave him the pretense of friendship because the poet’s Aeneid was the mythology narrative needed by a civilization whose gift lay in civil engineering, and who Caesar bid ever on the march. Virgil made their movement epic. And Augustus delighted in the Georgics' tilling of soil, for every legionnaire was promised a plot at the end of service.
Virgil was no fool. At the opening of The Georgics he invokes Augustus as a god:
" Or wilt thou, Caesar, choose the watery reign
to smooth the surges and correct the main?
Then mariners in storms to thee shall pray.”
Forgive him. He was not a propagandist. In the Aeneid, the hero and his men are cast on a foreign shore and are terrified ( as the first Roman invaders were terrified of Britain). But then Aeneas discovers stone carvings of great art. He turns to his men and says, “Do not be afraid; these are mortals such as we and mortal things touch their hearts.” Caesar’s eyes lighted on these unRoman words, content. Virgil had created a literature for a nation that “made a desert and called it peace.”
We bid good rest to the poet who, struck with fever traveling, died at the home port of Brindisi and would sleep through the long dark that followed Rome’s collapse. So dreamless was he that when he waked in the Renaissance, Latin had fled. But always, he was fortunate: The English language, rich in vocabulary and inexhaustible, was spaded around the Georgics by John Dryden and burst to life:
" What makes a plenteous harvest, when to turn
the fruitful soil, and when to sow the corn;
the care of sheep, of oxen and of kine;
and how to raise on elms the teeming vine;
the birth and genius of the frugal bee,
I sing, Maecenas, and I sing to thee.”
All of it, all he adores and calls:
" The milky herds that graze the flowery plains;
… from fields and mountains to my song repair.”
The Virgil of this tongue, is it he? Is it, as Tennyson called him, “Roman Virgil”? It is Virgil, as the King James Bible is the Hebrew Torah: a shaping of a poet’s words in a language whose primacy surpasses the antique.
I’ve written that the Georgics is the masterwork that waits for voyagers come home. But it’s in the nature of immortals to set men adventuring and Tennyson set off at once as will all journeyers with a pen who have no fear, like Virgil, of the unknown:
Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Original Publication Date
: science fictionTopics
: Pirates, economics, civilization, technology, coming-of-age, adventureReview by heidenkind
ersatz (adjective): 1. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else; 2. not real or genuine.
Bron Hoddan is not a pirate, but he comes from pirates. Instead of following in his family’s footsteps, he’s decided to try to make his fortune honestly, as an engineer on the most civilized planet in the galaxy, Walden. Unfortunately, the people of Walden aren’t interested in his inventions, and when Bron tries to press the issue, they arrest him for creating death rays. WHOMP WHOMP. Fed up with Walden, Bron escapes with the help of the most awesome ambassador ever. But it’s only when he meets a band of outcasts like himself that he has an opportunity to accomplish great things, grow rich, marry some delightful girl, and be a great man… somewhere.
I decided to listen to The Pirates of Ersatz
because it’s narrated by Elliot Miller
, the same Librivox narrator who read The Poisoned Pen
. Also: Pirates! Who doesn’t love pirates? Those lovable scamps. Even though these aren’t “real” pirates, they certainly do act like them most of the time. That being said, The Pirates of Ersatz
is mainly an adventure novel and coming-of-age tale: Bron goes to a wild, uncivilized world called Zan and discovers his place in the world.
Some of the more interesting parts of the novel are where the characters posit theories about civilization and economics that, despite the fact that they’re coming at me from a serialized science fiction novel, I kiiiiind of buy into? Like, even if they’re not true, THEY SHOULD BE. Here are some of my favorites:
"Do you realize," [the ambassador] asked, "that the whole purpose of civilization is to take the surprises out of life, so one can be bored to death? …Government, in the local or planetary sense of the word, is an organization for the suppression of adventure. Taxes are, in part, the insurance premiums one pays for protection against the unpredictable."
"I tell y’, piracy’s what keeps the galaxy’s business thriving! Everybody knows business suffers when retail trade slacks down. It backs up the movement of inventories. They get too big. That backs up orders to the factories. They lay off men. And when men are laid off they don’t have money to spend, so retail trade slacks off some more, and that backs up inventories some more, and that backs up orders to factories and makes unemployment and hurts retail trade again…
"But suppose somebody pirates a ship? The owners don’t lose. It’s insured. They order another ship built right away. Men get hired to build it and they’re paid money to spend in retail trade and that moves inventories and industry picks up. More’n that, more people insure against piracy. Insurance companies hire more clerks and bookkeepers. They get more money for retail trade and to move inventories and keep factories going and get more people hired…. Y’see? It’s piracy that keeps business in this galaxy goin’!"
Okay, twist my arm, I’ll take up piracy. There are similar passages about technology and engineering, since Bron is an engineer. If you’re thinking they slow down the story, you’d be right. But there’s not a lot of them, and they do become relevant later on.
Aside from Murray Leinster’s
economic theorizing, there’s a lot to like about The Pirates of Ersatz
. Both of the characters quoted above—the Ambassador and Bron’s grandfather—are awesome, as is Fani, the woman who’s obviously sweet on Bron (obvious to everyone except him). And then there’s Bron himself—he’s like a sci-fi version of Robin Hood (have I mentioned I’m a sucker for Robin Hood stories?). He’s definitely a reluctant hero, but he can think himself out of nearly any situation and he uses his powers to steal from the rich and give to the poor. And hey, it’s all insured anyway, right? The scene where Bron and his pirates land on Walden to raid a suburb is priceless. You kind of have to read this book just for that.The Pirates of Ersatz
is a fast, fun read with ironic overtones (obviously—it’s a book about pirates that aren’t really pirates, what can one expect?). It certainly won’t change your life, but if you’re in the mood for an adventure along the lines of A Princess of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I highly recommend it.
Download The Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster
at Project Gutenberg