Weekend reading

I went and dug my copies of the Sten series by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole out of storage, and I’m planning on spending most of the weekend imbibing mass quantities of tea and drifting through the Eternal Empire.

This is one of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi book series. It combines sly humour, politics and a truly encyclopaedic amount of military history into eight books that chart the rise of a grunt through the ranks of a benevolent fascist empire until his inevitable confrontation with the leader of that empire.

And when I say “encyclopaedic military history”, I’m not kidding. The sub-plot of the series is a retelling of World War 2 and the Cold War — up to the seizing of the American Embassy in Tehran; and if that isn’t enough, there is enough military trivia snuck in on the sly to require a reference library to catch all the good bits.

For instance, a code-word — Myitkyina — used briefly and all-to-easily lost in the chapter, is the name of a fairly important, though little-known-to-Americans battle in the Burma Theatre of Operations during WWII; at flight school Sten is joined by an infantry soldier who is tired of land warfare named William Bishop the 43rd; the tacship that Sten ends up commanding is a Bulkeley-class; and when Sten and Kilgour are captured by the Tahn and prove themselves to be incorrigible prisoners, they are moved to a seized monastery called Koldyeze — “Koldyeze” being the original spelling for the European castle of Colditz, where the Germans kept “incorrigible” Allied POWs during WWII.

And those are some of the more obvious military trivia found throughout. I’m fairly sure that I’ve missed many, many more.

There are eight books to this series:

If you’re in the mood for real-world politics, military history and trivia, sly humour and enough genuine Scottish dialect to tie your tongue into knots, I seriously recommend this series of books.


Weaselboy gets his day in court.

24 thoughts on “Weekend reading”

  1. I’ve read and re-read the series several times; and I agree it’s a great series for people with a historical bent.

    I think this can be attributed to the fact that they were the son of a CIA officer, and a viet-nam vet Ranger (actualy a LRRP patrol commander) respectively.

    I also kind of like that they wrote the books as an explicit repudiation of the authoritarian school of hard SF.

    Unfortunately, at the moment I’m missing 3 of the eight books (2, 7, and 8); and they aren’t curently in print.

  2. Chris: They were reprinted in 2002, and Amazon currently shows them all in stock.

    I just ordered 7 & 8.

  3. “GO BACK, IT’S A TRAP! THERE’S TWO OF ‘EM!” How many versions of THAT one have I heard? Eventually, I started teling it as a century of Romans and a Gael…
    The repudiation of the crypto-jackboot-school of SF (i.e., that any galaxy-spanning civilization necessarily must be a classic-style empire) doesn’t show up until the end of the series; unfortunately, I know people who got disgusted because “The Eternal Emperor is a joke” and stopped reading early, and never got it.
    Oh, well, their loss.

  4. And through this, you’ve reminded me of the the DDG1001 campaign to get the USS Robert Anson Heinlein commissioned.

  5. Now I know what to get my son for his birthday. He’ll devour these like cake!

  6. I’d almost forgot about those books. Great stuff! What did you think about Ringo’s stuff?

  7. I guess Al T and me are on the same wavelength, I immidiately thought of John Ringo’s books when I read this… of course, those aren’t as steeped in history(but not entirely without it), very good reads though.

  8. Lemme see if I understand this…. somewhere out there there is a science-fiction series of novels, that draws heavily on military history, is filled with insider information and jokes about the military, and is written in a British dialect?

    How is it possible I have not heard of these already ?!?

    And I’ve just checked, and none of my local libraries have any of them.

  9. Kaerius, Weber really is much more of a historian than Ringo (of course there’s Flint and Turledove if you like alternate history).

    Also, if you don’t mind an overly healthy dose of self loathing, Feintuch is pretty good.

  10. PubliusCicero,

    They’re not written in a British dialect, but one of the main characters is a Scot… with an accent you could cut with a knife. And a TRULY horrendous taste in jokes.

    There’s a well-worn set of Sten books on my bookshelf, right between Hal Clement and Glen Cook’s Black Company series.

  11. I cannot tell the story of the Spotted Snake without breaking myself up.

    Jim w.

  12. Ever since reading the Sten Series, I have:

    1. Told the “spotted snake” joke. Just once.

    2. Have taken to calling idiots “clottin’ fools”.

    3. Re-read “They Have Their Exits”, by Airey Neave.

  13. Thought you might like our take on the concept of ID theft and “fly Over Country”

    Sad aout Molly Ivins…She will be misssed.

    Letters from the Heartland

    February 3, 2007

    Dear All,

    When we moved to Kansas many friends reacted as if we were moving to the land of corn growing cattle pushing red neck hicks. Our relocation was, to them, tantamount to burying ourselves in a place that was only fit to fly over. According to them True People just didn’t go there and besides what was there to do other than watching the corn grow? It didn’t take long for us to discover just how wrong they are about our part of the middle of the country.

    Within three miles of our house is one of the largest community colleges in the country and a branch campus of Kansas University. Lawrence, where the main campus of KU is located is only about 30 minutes away and there are several colleges within a 20 mile radius. Over the line in Missouri there are additional educational and cultural opportunities for us to take advantage of. Education is important to the people who live here and the schools are both booming with and challenging to the students.

    One of the programs at the nearby KU branch is a Masters program in Communications that Clarin will be starting in the very near future. In addition to the plethora of Emergency Management, Adult Education and Communications Management training she has completed acquiring a masters level degree will allow her to expand her sphere of influence and have more independence in pursuing her goals. I’m also a beneficiary of available education in that there is training in specialized areas that improve my skill (and exposure) in mediation. All in all the availability of good educational opportunities is keeping us active, up to date and able to be productive for years to come. (Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?)

    But the best part about having educational facilities nearby is cultural. There is always some program available that illuminates, titillates or educates. For example: earlier this week it was an easy drive in snowy weather to enjoy an evening of music by a trio of piano, flute and oboe. That might sound like an odd combination of voices but there is lots of music (mostly from the Baroque Period) written for that combination. Because of the weather the hall was not filled, but the music we enjoyed was filling to our souls. If we don’t want music or one of the performing arts there are lecture series that challenge the mind and expand our mental horizons. People here are alert and very aware. One of the impressive aspects of going to these events is seeing the numbers of children who attend and they all look to be enjoying being there at events that our friends in other areas would not dream of taking their kids too. (It’s “too adult” for the children)

    So for those who thought that by going to Kansas we were burying ourselves in a land of ignorance we can only say that we have enjoyed more good entertainment and challenging learning opportunities than at any time in the past. And we’re loving it!

    In my last letter I mentioned that our bank card had been compromised. The angst caused by having our little world exposed to other hands is behind us now and we are proceeding with life. But the story does continue…I called the store in New York that was hit by the perpetrators and all I got was an argument that because I had “let my card number be used” it had to be my fault and that they would swallow the lose to their business and not report it to the police.

    Now that got my dander up. So I called the New York Police Department and after much hassle I got routed to the Fraud Investigations Unit. There I was greeted by an automated system that said if I was a city resident I should call my local precinct and if I was not a resident they would not take a report even though the crime was committed in their fair city. That is certainly one way to keep crime statistics in line isn’t it…if the victim doesn’t live in the city the crime never occurred!

    The only conclusion I can reach is that crime figures are an unknown variable since the reporting system seems to be rigged to give a false conclusion. The situation we experienced is not as bad as one I recently heard about in England. Some one broke into a house and stole a significant amount of property and when the home owner rang up the police they would only take a phone report and wouldn’t investigate the crime since “it’s most likely the criminals won’t be caught”. The home owner, thinking that in all likelihood the crooks were local yobs posted a sign saying that a reward was being offered for return of his property and that no questions would be asked.

    That brought him a visit from the police who informed him that unless he removed the sign he would be charged with violating a law forbidding advertisements concerning stolen property that indicated no questions would be asked concerning the return of said property.

    Ye Gods and little fishes…what is the world coming to when the people we depend on to come between us and the low life are more concerned with statistics and “face” rather than doing the function we depend on them to perform! The world I know today bears little resemblance to the world I grew up in. But perhaps it never did.

    Winter has finally come to Kansas and the temperature this morning was a few degrees below zero. For the next week or so it looks like we will remain below freezing and the snow on the ground will be with us for a while. It’s been more than a few years since we have “enjoyed” cold weather and I’ve got to say it’s “rather bracing” when I answer the alarm clock in the morning. But at least I don’t have to worry about grass mowing and flower tending!

    Love to all,

    Bestifar & Bestimor

    Dad & Clarin

  14. I’ll have to see if they have those on the eBook store.

    One of the presents my ever-indulgent wife got me for Christmas is something that I’ll bet you’d like LawDog – the Sony eReader (http://www.sony.com/READER) – it’s the first commercial product using that electronic paper display they’ve been working for what – 15 years?

    Looks like a slim folio sized book. 64M internal memory, we added a 1G card when we bought it. What makes it work is that it handles the proprietary eBook format plus PDF, Rich Text, and Plain Text. Right now I’m reading the Project Gutenberg copy of Twain’s “Roughing It”. Yeah, the line breaks are odd – especially when I step from the Small -> Medium -> Large print size but hey, I once read 2 cases of German produced ‘English language’ pulp SF so odd line breaks are no problem.

    It’s a reflective display just like paper so you need light to read by.

    I think I finally figured out what’s so terribly addicting about the thing – it’s a book you never finish. Oh sure, I’ve read over a dozen books on it so far and happen to have the Turtledove WWII series loaded right now (they were on special). But it feels like you haven’t finished this particular book because you’re picking up the ‘same’ one.

  15. Lawdog,
    Ever read the ‘General danced at dawn’? Damn funny recounting of life in a highland battalion in post war north africa by George Mcdonald Fraser (wrote the Flashman books).

  16. There are two more books that go with The General Danced at Dawn – MacAuslan in the Rough, and The Sheikh and the Dustbin. I recommend them all.

  17. Another interesting set are Dies the Fire and The Protector’s War by S. M. Stirling. They take place in the WIliamette Valley area in Oregon after an EMP like blast stops all technology. Lots of Gaelic tie-in. Good airplane book or cold winter night…

  18. Good day, amigo – –

    Shall I take it that the listed order – –
    – –
    is the cronological order of the series? If not by publishing date, then in logical order of the ongoing saga?

    I went to local public library this morning and found they don’t have one single title from that series, though they DO have a few by those authors. I noticed that one, A Reckoning for Kings, by Burch alone, is subtitled, “A Novel of the Tet Offensive,” or something like.

    Then I went to the huge second hand books, tapes, etc. store downtown and purchased four of the titles,
    * (asterisked) on the list above. I will TRY to wait to start on ’em until I have at least the first couple in the series.

    I did put my name on a waiting list for the other four in the series, as well as for the “Reckoning” book. I said I’d accept either hardback or wsoftcover. I figure at least another fifty bucks your blog will cost me, pal . . . .

    When you coming for another visit?

  19. That is the proper order, however, it is possible to read the books out-of-order if one chooses to do so.

    I’m thinking of heading y’alls way the weekend of the 10th/11th to see about renting and test-firing something Czech.

  20. Thanks for the list of books…
    I had read the first 4, and then strayed from the path.
    Now I have returned.. (happy face)
    Time to go book shopping (grin)
    Wife will not be happy – “What! MORE BOOKS!!” (unhappy face)
    OoooHH that means I get to build another bookcase! (happy face)
    …and buy EVEN MORE BOOKS!!!
    (EVIL GRIN!!!)
    Today is a good Day!

  21. Well, on your recommendation I just pulled the trigger on the whole set on eBay. Found a nice obliging gentleman in Australia selling all 8 for $32 US. Of course, the email from Oz will run $36…

  22. I appreciate it very much, at least I know from it someone is reading the contents I have here.

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