Tuesday, 11 March 2008

S.M. Stirling

I'm much obliged to Richard Guha for recommending S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers to me in 2006: it's become one of my favourite books, being a good adventure story with a fascinating alternate-history scenario.

I naturally investigated Stirling's other books, of which he's written quite a few. He generously provides the first few chapters of each book at his own Web site, so you can sample them without paying a cent.

I've bought and read The sky people and Conquistador; both have good scenarios but are merely OK as fiction. He's written several different series of linked novels, but I feel doubtful about them and probably won't buy them.

Stirling is six months older than me and a fluent and competent writer, who researches his stories thoroughly and populates them with some quite likeable characters. He evidently likes and respects women, and creates some strong female characters.

Unfortunately he seems to have a preference for authoritarian politics and a fascination with hand-to-hand combat, neither of which are to my taste, although I can tolerate them up to a point as part of a good story. The Peshawar Lancers provides a natural setting for monarchy, aristocracy, and old-fashioned swordplay, and these things are acceptable in that context. However, in Conquistador he had a free hand to choose almost any political arrangement he fancied, so what he came up with is disappointing. Furthermore, while his female characters are somewhat varied, his male characters all have a certain basic similarity.

I continue to recommend The Peshawar Lancers to anyone who likes alternate history, but so far I wouldn't give the same recommendation to any of his other books, though they're readable enough.

Innocents abroad

BBC News:

Two Japanese sisters have been arrested for allegedly trying to evade paying a fortune in inheritance tax. Tax officials say the sisters hid almost 6bn yen ($58m) in cardboard boxes and paper bags at their home in the city of Osaka. They are accused of failing to declare most of the money they inherited from their wealthy father, who died almost four years ago.

I always feel sad when someone gets caught by the taxman, although I don't feel strongly about inheritance taxes. Those sisters didn't earn the money themselves, so their moral claim to it is relatively weak. However, the government's moral claim to it seems to me non-existent.

I'd feel more sympathy for the sisters if they'd shown more intelligence. I'm not sure what's the best way to hide a large inheritance, never having had to deal with the problem myself, but stashing banknotes around the house in cardboard boxes and paper bags seems somewhat lacking in sophistication. And they had four years to find some better solution.

Hell's bells, even burying the banknotes in the garden would probably have been an improvement. But it would have been better to get the money out of the country somehow.