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Ash: A Secret History 89

Duncan Lawie contributed this review of Mary Gentle's A Secret History, a book which sounds like a must-read for followers of historical fiction, science fiction, medieval fiction, feminist revisionism and more. Interestingly, British readers are entrusted with the whole thousand-plus-page story, while the publishers thought that Americans would like to take things a little more gently.

Ash: A Secret History
author Mary Gentle
pages 1110
publisher Gollancz (UK) Avon Eos (U.S.)
rating 9.5
reviewer Duncan Lawie
ISBN 0380788691
summary A powerful, expansive, genre-blurring work, impressive in detail and astounding in scope.


Mary Gentle wrote her first published novel, A Hawk in Silver, at the age of 18, though it took her some time to find a publisher. Her first adult science fiction work, Golden Witchbreed, suffered a similar hiatus. Her subsequent writing career has been informed by her late decision to embrace academia, exploring areas such as militarism, feminism, Plato and the Renaissance world view. She wraps these potentially dry subjects, though, with a delight in imparting (possibly twisted) information and an energy for entertaining. Her eclectic approach has carried her across genre boundaries; her latest work displays this characteristic and the richness such cross-fertilisation can bring.

Ash: A Secret History has been released in the UK as a single volume of over 1100 tightly packed pages, while the book's American publishers are putting it out in four parts, with the last part due before year's end (The Book of Ash: #1 A Secret History, #2 Carthage Ascendant, #3 The Wild Machines, #4 Lost Burgundy). At heart, this is the story of a female mercenary commander in Europe and North Africa in the late 1470s. Ash, who grew up in the baggage train of assorted mercenary companies, is a survivor of harsh conditions. As the book proper opens, she leads a company of 800 fighting men (and women), aided by an apparently miraculous inner voice which offers her explicit tactical combat instructions. Ash is an incredibly well-realised character. She is a soldier by training and inclination, but she is also a well-rounded human being. Her skills as a leader of people match her battle prowess and her ability to take quick advantage of a changing situation. This Demoiselle-Captain is a strong character, utterly convincing in her tone, her inner life and its visible expression in the text. She is the cornerstone of the novel, present in almost every page.

Ash's story is presented as an academic work, originally published by a University Press in 2001. This fictional outer story is described as a translation of medieval Latin manuscripts (the work of Dr. Pierce Ratcliff, professor of War Studies), a major revision and modernisation of the "Lost History of Burgundy." The book also includes correspondence between Ratcliff and his editor annotated by another hand and inserted in differing typeface within the main body of the text. These affectations are easy to overlook early on in the book as Ash leads her company on the battlefields of Europe and is rewarded with court intrigue. However, the unsettling differences between the history in the main text and our own history are increasingly the subject of Ratcliff's correspondence. This fancy of commentary allows modern academia to creep into the interstices of the book without unbalancing the unscientific world of miracles, acting as a regulator when the plot seems to wander off into the realms of fantasy or alternate history. The concreteness of Gentle's writing carries the story in incredible directions without ever challenging the suspension of disbelief. Looking back on the early chapters from the perspective of the book's end there is a sense of astonishment at how far the story has travelled. As sunny summer fades to horrific winter the tone becomes heavier, reflecting a growing seriousness, but the writing never loses its sense of balance between light and shade.

The solidity of the book comes from a combination of detail and character. Throughout, the reality of medieval life is clear. The characters live in a world where armour rusts and rain runs down inside every knight's plating; ice and bad luck are as dangerous as lances and arrows. The mercenaries' life is displayed through reference to the polyglot of languages they speak and the language they use. (Ratcliff confesses early on that Ash swears "rather a lot" and explains that he has used modern equivalents rather than medieval blasphemies). There is a wonderful precision in the terminology also; a generic word for the tools of war is never used where a specific one is available -- artillery includes cannon, arquebus (or hackbutt), trebuchet, bombard, mangonel, ballista and catapult -- and where necessary, Dr. Pierce Ratcliff provides a footnote to explain the term. Ratcliff and his correspondents gradually become just as real as the mercenary company, though they do not leap out of the first page; it is a wrench to recall that this may not be a translation and that Ratcliff is not really toiling away on it at a North African archaeological site.

Any attempt to provide a full precis of a plot as long and gloriously complex as that Ash: A Secret History has to offer must fail in the attempt, while revealing details which ought to be allowed to delight the reader firsthand. That plot includes perhaps a touch of sentiment, but this is no more than a balance for the harshness, holding the book in a dynamic tension rather than allowing it to slide into the unremitting horror of war. While the book may appear in the disguise of the BCF (Big Commercial Fantasy), it is not really so easy to pigeonhole. Neither is it the simple historical romance it first appears to be, or the alternate history it shows signs of becoming. Though the scientific roots of this work are well hidden in the first few hundred pages, Ratcliff develops theories which owe a great deal to high physics and hard science fiction. High drama and rich plotting in both time frames draw the book to an intense climax. The ending is shattered, splintered, hugely open to re-interpretation -- and the last revelations don't become clear until some time after the final pages are turned. Though I feel that Ash: A Secret History is science fiction, this book is so good at blurring genre boundaries, and is such an excellent work, that every genre will try to claim it as its own.

Readers intrigued by this book may be interested in this recent interview with Gentle.

You can purchase this book at ThinkGeek.

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Ash: A Secret History

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  • British readers are entrusted with the whole thousand-plus-page story, while the publishers thought that Americans would like to take things a little more gently.

    Upon closer inspection, it was found that the only difference was that the Americanized book was hundreds of pages shorter to do translations such as colour->color.

    Other sources claimed that Americans would rather be seen with a smaller book so as to appear more environmentally friendly.

  • Actualy, anybody have a UK source other than Damned if I'm going to pay extra just to keep track of extra books (I have way too many series as it is), but I'm not buying anything from

    Preferably someplace that won't have any problems shipping to a US address.
  • Gads, I missed a whole paragraph of the article. Caffeine time.
  • Never heard of Joan Of Arc?

    Heard of Joan of Arc? Sure. Can I be positive about how much I've heard is accurate? No. Even if it is, does one exception change the fact that combat has historically been a male domain?

  • At first glance I thought it was about the mighty Ash from the Evil Dead movies. Now, there would be a secret history worth reading, but I doubt it would fill 1K of sheets of dead tree.

    On the other hand, it could have been worse, it could have been a secret history of Ash, the Pokemon trainer....

  • My boyfriend is about halfway through the second book of THE SECRET HISTORY right now; he seems to enjoy it, but I won't go near the books for a different reason. Some months ago I picked up an earlier Mary Gentle book, GRUNTS. So ugly a book is GRUNTS, so much "in the spirit of Mordor" to quote a friend of mine, that I wasn't able to read more than a page or two of THE SECRET HISTORY before my simmering antipathy towards Gentle came to the surface.

    GRUNTS, for those not in the know, is Gentle's answer to LORD OF THE RINGS. It would be a better answer if Gentle had managed to create real characters and an original story. Instead, GRUNTS reads like Gentle had watched FULL METAL JACKET one too many times. She seems to think that, merely because her characters talk and swear like Marines, in a fantasy setting, she's accomplishing something new and original.

  • Upon closer inspection, it was found that the only difference was that the Americanized book was hundreds of pages shorter to do translations such as colour->color.

    It can't be this, cos it would be cancelled out by words like 'elevator' and 'faucet'.

    Can't see many of those popping up, mind...
  • And when was the last time you saw a 20-40 pound sword? Even a scottish claymore (think Braveheart if you need a mental image) doesn't weigh that much. Granted, I've never weighed one, but I've held a 1.5 meter long sword, and even the 20-pound low end of your estimate seems too high. Go to a museum; see what they have to say. I'm betting you'll find swords to be surprisingly light.

    And why such hostility towards feminists? Does the idea of a woman in hand-to-hand combat so disrupt your fragile self-image that you have to mock it as ridiculous and prove yourself ignorant? I'm male too, but at least I don't feel a need to prove myself in a "me tarzan, you jane" fashion.

  • saying that fantasy and science fiction need to be totally realistic seems to me to miss the point.

    I concur, what fiction needs is not realism, but believability.

    A real life example. A friend of mine in high school had one of those weird old Chevrolet's with the engine in the back (Chevelle?). While out and about one evening, he was driving over a bridge with a marvelous sunset and decided to stop and watch, so he stopped and put the hood up in back of the car so that the people stuck behind him would think he had car trouble while he was busy watching the sunset. His friend who was with him said that maybe he should open up the trunk as not many people would think they were having car trouble while what looks like the trunk is open.

    Or consider the Matrix. If the Matrix would have been 'realistic' to most of us geeks, it would not have been 'believable' to the average movie viewer.

    Fiction needs to be believable, which in some but not all cases is also realistic.

  • Alternate history (vikings, 10th century).

    Um, actually, it's hardly alternate at all. A lot of Civil War etc. novels that are generally labelled 'historical' play far faster and looser with actual events than H&C did.
  • And you explain the success of Robert Jordan's godawful shit how?

    Hey, the first book was excellent. The next two or three were pretty good as well.

    They really have become quite pathetic since, I agree. It's just a collection of short stories now rather than any kind of compelling narrative.
  • I was expecting to hear something like:

    It has been revealed that the code for /bin/ash was actually originally intended to power supersonic nuclear submarines! This becomes more clear if you read some of the original comments and function names.

    (flash to picture of a little girl tugging on a woman's skirt) Mommy, what does function fire_torpedoes() do?

    Don't let this happen to you! Use /bin/csh whenever possible!
  • Or, try the Conrad Stargard series by Leo Frankowski. A modern engineer finds himself accidentally time-jumped to 12th century Poland just 10 years before the Mongols arrive. How to turn a medieval economy into a modern military power in 10 easy lessons. :)
  • Female Merc in the 1470's? Bullshit!

    No, just unusual. Perhaps you have heard of a little teenybopper named "Joan of Arc" for instance?

    Women didn't do combat. Why? Women were not strong enough.

    You should go through the Norse sagas to find some striking counterexamples. However, Teutonic women are a special case, as any of you who have visited Nordic countries probably know already :) Viking lines of battle were often anchored by lines of shieldmaidens. Stabbing spears poking out from shieldwalls aren't particularly valiant or odeworthy, and don't require a particularly notable amount of strength ... but they are very effective.

    Valkryies aside, effective women warriors have historically been archers, as any reasonably strong woman can pull a bow of the rather pathetic draws that historical bows were capable of handling. Also, being a good archer requires a lot more training and discipline than a footsoldier while being less individually glorious, which traits are more often to be found acceptable by women than macho male warriors, oddly enough :) The Amazons were foot archers, as much as what Amazons actually were can be pulled out of the myths; many of the Central Asian steppe tribes used women (and children) as horse archers, Samartians most notably; Chinese had women crossbow regiments; it seems the Incans had women sling corps, but we don't really know enough about them to be sure of that. Et cetera.

    The reason there aren't more examples to draw from is that historically most cultures were not on a constant war footing and thus women could be relegated to babymaking and surplus male population to warmaking. In cultures where everyone had to fight, women were vital components of the order of battle in some position where their average lack of upper body strength wasn't particularly relevant.

    And, to step away from direct combat, female ninjas were actually more prevalent and dreaded than male ninjas, contrary to current movie mythology; there are several recorded instances of ninja geishas with their koshigatanas taking out multiple samurai. Ninja geishas. Mmmmmm. Mmmmm. :)
  • I remember reading the purported "last chapter" of A Clockwork Orange in some rag, Rolling Stone I think, many years after I read the book. It was interesting, but my recollection (it's been twelve years) is that I felt it diluted the fundamental theme of the book (security versus freedom). I'll have to go back and ready it again.

    The funny thing is, things seem the opposite now. Aren't American filmmakers (or at least filmmakers who get their funding in this country) usually pressured to change or tack on warm & fuzzy Hollywood endings onto otherwise hard and challenging films (Blade Runner, Brazil, countless others)? Sometimes the filmmaker refuses (Brazil), often not...
  • 'Micks' is a racially abusive term used by Americans when referrring to the Irish..
  • hmmm... When I read the headline I thought it would be an account of Bruce Campbell and the history of the Evil Dead Trilogy... Hey, AoD was set in medieval times....
    "This is my boom stick" :)
  • yanks are thick, and would be scared by an 1100 page book

    And you explain the success of Robert Jordan's godawful shit [] how?

    Jordan, like his rabid hero Rand Al'Thor, needs some crack. An overdose. Let Piers Anthony [] finish the Wheel of Time.

  • For anyone who is interested in a most excellent mediaval / technology book, you really should check out Timeline by Michael Crichton. It has some very VERY cool concepts in it. It revolves around the idea that the universe is not really a universe but rather a multiverse. That is, each potential path that could be taken, is taken, thus creating infinte amounts of universes. A company has developed away of "jumping" these universes thus sort of in a way allowing for time travel. Within the first 60 or so pages of the book the characters end up in medieval france, where one immediately gets his head chopped off by a knight riding by. A truly excellent read and as usualy with his books, full of scientific references and novel ideas.
  • This novel sounds to me to be a little too much of a re-write of the life and times of Joan Of Arc, whimsically mixed in with a little fantasy.

    hmmm....a woman that leads an army around. she hears voices...and it all takes place during the time of the hundred years war...

    a major revision and modernisation of the "Lost History of Burgundy."

    who else do we know who fought for france's control of burgundy? anyone? anyone?

    it would be wise to point out, additionally, that Joan of Arc was clearly Scyzophrenic

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • I thought this was going to have something to do with the shell, ash, maybe it's time for me to go schedule some vacation time, somewhere without electricity . . . .
  • by JimPooley ( 150814 ) on Friday September 01, 2000 @05:36AM (#811326) Homepage
    I think Ash is the best thing Mary Gentle has done since the excellent Rats and Gargoyles (Not got info on me - look it up).
    Curiously, though I'm British, I've been buying it in the US format set of four normal-sized paperbacks rather than the incredibly large UK single edition. (You may think Cryptonomicon was a large book. Ash dwarfs it!) I have to wait longer to get to the end - but the smaller books are more manageable to carry around. And the US saw parts 1 and 2 months before the UK edition was announced.
    When it comes to medieval battle, Mary Gentle knows her stuff - and she used to put on displays of swordfighting at SF cons which were excellent. (None of your poncy rapiers - big swords, and even though these were blunted, they'd still hurt if you hit someone with them...)
    This is an excellent book, and I think is probably the best thing Mary Gentle has ever written.

  • Good Ash or Bad Ash?

    (no, actually it sounds interesting... I'll put in on my list)
  • i mean, sure, /bin/ash is not the best known application out there, but I don't think it's *that* obscure either.... or does it have some dark origins than 'they' don't want us to know of?
  • >> a major revision and modernisation of
    >> the "Lost History of Burgundy."

    > who else do we know who fought for france's
    > control of burgundy? anyone? anyone?

    Burgundy did. It was an independent country
    of some importance in the early middle ages,
    not becoming part of France until 1002, and
    having considerable autonomy even thereafter.
    The dukes of Burgundy were a power unto
    themselves (even though they were closely
    related to the French king) during the Hundred
    Years War and even sided with the English
    during part of that war. The last duke of
    Burgundy with any real independence, Charles
    the Bold, was finally suppressed by Louis XI
    in the late 15th century.

    Chris Mattern
  • Women didn't do combat. Why? Women were not strong enough.

    Look at William of Wallace (the subject of Mel Gibson's Braveheart). Despite Mel wanting the title role, the real William of Wallace was somewhere around 6 foot 10 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds. When King Edward the Great had poor old William hung, they built a special gallows to make certain it would not break under his weight.

    My point? Memorable events in history typically surround exceptional people and events. History is chock full of events that are improbable and not very likely to happen at all, the sorts of events that intelligent people immediately right off as urban legends when they hear a modern day equivalent.

    So, given that today there exist women who are into body building that could likely kick the tush of some of the best mercenaries around in the 15th century, it is not all that unbelievable that a woman could have existed back then that had more or less the same physique as William of Wallace. Heck, compare the women's weight lifting world records today with the men's world records from fifty years ago. Which means, that the genotype is there for women to develop into mighty warriors, if they are exposed to the proper environmental condiditions.

    Women typically didn't get the same type of physical labor that men did and consequently didn't build muscle in the same way that men did.

    Here, I think you show your ignorance of history. While women may have been regarded as baby-factories throughout large portions of medeival Europe, that did not mean that they did not also engage in physical labor.

    As an example, in Industrial Era Britain, women were expected to work 12 and 14 hour days in factories, even when pregnant. Many women would work, go over to a corner to give birth and a mid-wife would take care of the child while the mother went back to work on the assembly line

    And as a final point, I suppose that Joan of Arc couldn't fight worth or lead troops worth anything?

  • Is available at chapters []
  • ...check out the latest issue of the excellent Infinity Plus [] (which should be on any SF-loving /.er's favourites list anyway.) There is an interview with Mary and a short story of hers, also with Burgundian overtones but not directly related to ASH.

    (As an aside, I concur with this article. ASH is an excellent book and well worth the effort if you have the attention span and upper body strength to handle it.)
  • It did happen: I give you the example of Queen Bodicea [], Celtic ass-kicker extraordinaire.

    As for the societal structures demanding that women stay at home while men be breadwinners, oh yes, they're still around.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    actually if you read the preface, he mentions that he basically just glosses over all of the 'scientific' details, which becomes fairly obvious once you get into the book. i would actually describe this as one of his least scientifically accurate books, although he doesn't attempt to fool you into thinking it is scientific. he just wants to get into the main story. the details of french history are actually fairly accurate and this is what makes the book so interesting (well that and his quality storytelling) just don't read this expecting 'scientific references and novel ideas'
  • Titanium is lighter than steel, that's why eyeglass frames are often made from it. My frames are Titanium and they're lighter than the steel+plastic ones that I wore as a kid. Granted, modern plastics are lighter than those of 10/15 years ago, but even the empty frames of my old glasses were heaver than the titanium ones that I have now.

  • read the review again. It is a book with a "frame story" where the story is told by or to people in another, equally fictional setting. The Princess Bride (both book and movie) is a frame story. Both Stephen King's Carrie and several Micheal Criton books are told in a frame story that sounds somewhat like this one, where police or accedemic reports on the events slip in and out of the narrative story.

    Frame stories are somewhat overused in movies these days but can be an interesting addition to a solid plot.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • As far as Jordan goes, I won't argue that there's been a rather large decline in quality over the last 2-3 books.

    But goddammit, he's still got the best-realized world I've seen in a long, long time, the best political landscape, and the most logical backstory.

    I personally think the poor man's getting bogged down under the weight of his own complexity.

    I just hope George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series doesn't fall into the same trap.


  • Almost exactly one half of the American population is, of course, below average intelligence. Thus, making the cuts could potentially increase sales by a large $ value.

    On the other hand, almost exactly half of the British population is above average intelligence.

    Obviously, the American publishers belong to the former group and the British publishers are in the latter.
  • Plus, Ash effectively describes Joan at one point.


  • Lets see we stole it from the mexicans, who kicked out the spanish who stole it from the indians........ So that makes us americans so wrong........
  • That said, the 4 volumes may not be such a bad idea. People might be more likely to take a chance on a new author's book if it's normal paperback size.

    Heck, that's what they did with Lord of the Rings. Though I am now happy to see that there are almost as many editions that are either in one volume or six, which are really the more natural divisions than three.

  • 'Micks'? I'm English, and I've never heard that word...

    Anyway; what do you mean 'no great english authors'? There are lots of english authors who are, at least, very good (Mary Gentle, for one, who I know is english because she only lives 30 miles away from me). I could probably point out several, but I don't have the energy, so I will just say one word: Tolkein.

    On second thoughts I'll expand upon that; J.R.R. Tolkein (English) wrote the Lord of the Rings which is widely considered to be one of the best books of the century.

    Beat that.
  • the implied reference was towards JOA's role in the hundred years war. ;-)

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • What would have been realistic to me would have made the movie boring for all. If agents were necessary to keep people in line, why then not just give everyone a frontal lobotomy for a first birthday present? Problem solved. Body keeps working, but none of that pesky individuality.

    Well, my theory is that the machines aren't just using the people for heat. The real purpose behind keeping millions upon millions of people alive is to use their brains for a giant beowulf cluster. So the Matrix is simply the collective consciousness of humanity.

  • When I saw the title, "Ash: A Secret History", I thought this would be about the ash shell and some historical sidelights about it's creation and evolution. I thought "sounds pretty boring". Then I read the summary and review--even more boring than I expected.
    Bid on me! []
  • Great english authors of the 20th century? There are none!

    The ones I can think of off the top of my head are:

    • G.K. Chesterson
    • C.S. Lewis
    • J.R.R. Tolkein
    • George Orwell
    • H.G. Wells

    How many more do you need?

  • 'Micks'? I'm English, and I've never heard that word..

    FYI, Mick is an American slang derogatory term for a person of Irish descent. IIRC, its usage goes back the influx of Irish immigrants into the US during the Irish potato famine.

    Mirriam-Webster's online dictionary [] says this about the word:

    Main Entry: mick
    Pronunciation: 'mik
    Function: noun
    Usage: often capitalized
    Etymology: Mick, nickname for Michael, common Irish given name
    Date: 1856
    often offensive : IRISHMAN
  • Hm. How to respond?

    Is Mary Gentle a nice person? Quite probably. I know that she posted to the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written, when GRUNTS was the subject of contention, and she defended her work calmly and lucidly. (I _would_ insert, at this point, a Dejanews URL, but since any posts more than about a year old are "temporarily unavailable" through Deja, and have been so "temporarily unavailable" for quite some time, I can't.) Gentle's gentleness has little to do with the quality of GRUNTS, however...

    Is GRUNTS funny? To some, obviously. For me, the joke of Orcs saying "fuck" every few lines and spouting tough-guy drill-sergeant dialogue grew old after the second chapter of it. I still remember a few lines as funny (e.g. the "Black Squads, Dark Squads, Ebony Squads, &c., ...and one Pink Squad--we're a little worried about Pink Squad.") But after a certain scene which I'll mention below, I didn't find much in GRUNTS to laugh at.

    Gentle, in that same Usenet discussion, said that she wrote GRUNTS in part to answer the weaknesses of Tolkien's work; I remember that one of the things she said was that THE LORD OF THE RINGS had barely a half-dozen female characters of any complexity, "and that's counting Shelob". She's right--but then, GRUNTS doesn't have any strong characters either! They're cliches themselves--different ones, from the usual hackneyed fantasy types, but cliches all the same.

    As for GRUNTS being a "fucking JOKE", I will say, right now, that I stopped laughing at the "fucking JOKE" right after Gentle saw fit to give us murderous, thieving hobbits who enjoy a spot of cannibalism. I thought it revolting, I still think it revolting, and I'll not shy from telling anyone the same--even at the risk of being called a humorless "lame-ass whimpering uptight git" by someone who can't bear criticism of one of his beloved books.

  • Hm, maybe it requires a certain mindset to enjoy 'Grunts'

    A friend of mine loaned it to me. I loved it. It took most of the old stereotypes of fantasy and turned them on their heads.

    I guess people who are too attached to their fantasy worlds will be shocked and revolted by this book. But those of us that enjoy being surprised, and don't mind a little gore, should love the book.

    Have you always hated elves in D&D and other fantasy? Did you think the way the orcs presented themselves in 'Warcraft' was cool? Do you like dark Humor? Then check this book out. I've never read anything like it before.
  • I (typically non yank) am also scared of a 1100 page book. Seriously, it's hell reading them. As soon as a book get more than some 500 pages they get all heavy, the pages will bulge too much making the line appear in a very non-straight way. I'll probably try to get the US edition(s) even if it will probably be more expensive...
    Another thing, carrying around a 1100 page book is hell, while a 300 page book is quite alright. =)
  • Actually, far more interesting, entertaining, and thrilling than some unixsy bollocks.

    Get a life, you sad man.

  • Ash's story is presented as an academic work, originally published by a University Press in 2001.

    How did the book get published in 2001, when it's only 2000 now?
  • The Hammer and the Cross, a trilogy written by Harry Harrison and John Holm, has the following similarities with Ash:

    Alternate history (vikings, 10th century).

    Warfare and tactics (and trebuchets!)

    An inner, supernatural voice guides the protagonist.

    Interest in science.

    All in all, a great read and a rare treat, although by no means perfect. I'll have to check out Ash to see if it is even better.
  • Yes, I'm annoyed by cuts also. Its annoying having to go find the next book.

    That American Adventure site is very interesting. I was not aware that tex-mex food was a popular choice en The Alamo when the Mexicans butchered the Americans for their stealing their land.

    I thought us Americans were particarly bad at having a twisted view of history, but I guess the bug gets around.

    Excuse me, but I've got to coon hunting with my dogs.
  • Never heard of Joan Of Arc? Still, you probably never even met a woman.

  • This novel sounds to me to be a little too much of a re-write of the life and times of Joan Of Arc, whimsically mixed in with a little fantasy.
    But it isn't. Trust me. It would be difficult to explain why without introducing spoilers, but Ash is no Joan of Arc. Except in the sense of - darn. Even that would be giving too much away....

    Furthermore, I'd categorise it as SF rather than fantasy. Swords and horses (and even a little Hermetic science) do not necessarily add up to 'fantasy'.
  • yeah they do weight that much, i have a friend who has a titanium sword and it weights 10 lbs easy, and its about 3 and a half feet long, now imagine the sword from braveheart which had to be five feet long at least, made of steel, not exacly the lightest metal. I know he had a couple of steel ones too although i don't remember what they weighed. trust me though 20-40 lbs is about on target. remember the type of metal used in the construction will dictate the weight.

    a bugg

  • marking a mixed review of another of the author's reviews as flamebait?

    bad moderator, no Jolt.

  • Good, bad, I'm the one with the gun.
  • Off-topic, but the trouble with Crichton is that he's one of the best ppl around at thinking up great ideas for books, but he sucks big-time when it comes to the actual writing. He'd be much better teaming up with someone who knows about characters and plot development. Oh, and someone to read it and point out the huge gaping holes in the plot which you could drive a tank division through, as well...

  • Is this a common occurence, editing books for the US market? I once purchased an American edition of 'Vurt' by Jeff Noon...

    I believe so. FWIW, another notable "Yanks can't handle an ending like this" case is the omission of the last chapter of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Apparently the chapter was seen at the time as being too "warm and fuzzy" for a jaded America who had just survived Nixon and Watergate, and so the publisher nixed the ending where the protagonist, now no longer young, has become socialized at long last. This chapter changes one's entire outlook on the book, imo.
  • One half of the American population is below *median* intelligence. Quite a few more of us are below *average* intelligence. I've forgotten most of my high school math, but knowing the difference between median and mean is important.

  • And, well, saying that fantasy and science fiction need to be totally realistic seems to me to miss the point.

    Not totally, but to some degree. For example of Conan, or Solomon Kane were to charge the bad guys with an AK-47 or a SAW that he found in some mystical lair, that would pretty much suck ass.

  • >Is Mary Gentle a nice person?

    Yes she is. She's also a very interesting person with a highly developed, ironic, dry sense of humour. Which probably means her humour may not be appreciated by many people following this thread.

    But heck - that doesn't matter. There's loads of books out there so if someone doesn't like one there's always another.

    Anyway - I've exchanged emails with Mary about the existence of this thread and, if she can drag herself away from her kunes (a rare breed of pig she breeds) and find a computer with a working web-browser she might wander in here and explain some things for herself. Only maybe though because her piglets are very cute.
  • was, I was told by a SF author of my acquaintance, known to blast the living crap out of things in her back yard with an AK-47, also.

    Apocryphal, but probably true ;)
  • Hmm. I always thought J. R. R. Tolkien was an Afrikaneer. Goes to show you learn something new every day.
  • As there is a US version, I can only assume that nobody will be importing this title so we'll all have to order them from [] or someplace. I hate buying an incomplete verion of anything.

    One wonders who decided to make the cuts. Was it the US publisher, or did somebody in the UK decide that "those dumb yanks would never be able to understand this".

    As an aside, an amusing British view of the US can be found at The American Adventure [] theme park (warning: site requires flash). Did you know all Americans speak with southern-Ozark accents?

  • Go HP (IV is the best of the series)
  • Grunts is the only Mary Gentle book I've finished. It was clever and funny, but still showed the political/strategist side of war. I tried reading one of her more serious books and was very bored.

    People talking about the weights of swords:
    Maybe you've weighed them on scales or something and what I'm saying won't help, but some swords may SEEM like they weigh 30+ lbs if they are blade-heavy. My housemate has a handle-heavy claymore that seems light, and my ex-roommate had a (some type of Japanese sword) with a small wooden handle and a thick single-edged blade that made it seem very heavy because of the lever-arm from the grip to the center of balance.

    Instant Crisis

    "Kicking a kitten... a grown man punting a kitten who was looking the other way... it was the bravest thing I've ever seen." -- Torg (Sluggy Freelance)

  • >blast the living crap out of things in her back yard with an AK-47,

    I'm fairly sure it isn't legal to own an AK47 in the UK. Even if it were it wouldn't be legal for her to fire it in her backyard :-)

    However she almost certainly does "blast the living crap" out of things in her backyard with something which looks a lot like an AK47. I've seen and played with some of her "toys".

    Then again the town where she lives is a distinctly dodgy place - even if she lives in one of the nicer parts of it.
  • Actualy[sic], anybody have a UK source other than

    You could try streetsonline []. For a hardback [] copy at 19 UK Pounds, or a paperback [] [Am. Eng. = "softback"] copy at 14.24 UK Pounds. They advertize US [] shipping.

    The review []referred to certainly makes me want to read the book. She sounds a very interesting character, strange obsession with degree courses notwithstanding. I'm interested to see how well the academic wrap of 'a translation of medieval Latin manuscripts (the work of Dr. Pierce Ratcliff, professor of War Studies), a major revision and modernisation of the "Lost History of Burgundy"' goes. A similar narrative device in Stephen Lawhead's [] Celtic Crusade cycle can be a little jarring - though it does have a feeling of leading up to something.
    - Derwen

  • When I saw the title Ash: A Secret History, I thought this would be about Ash Ketcham (Satoshi) of Pokémon fame and some of the interesting mishaps that did not make it into American OR Japanese television.

    I, too, was disappointed. I was hoping for anime of the Saturday morning variety, not Princess Mononoke.

  • I don't see where it says the book was abridged or cut, only that it was placed into 4 volumes. All the better to make more profit on...
  • So in lit geek newsgroups this will be referred to as Ash:ASH, or what? I want to be ready with all the right acronyms for when I start posting to

    Or is it one of those things where ASH stands for "Ash, a Secret History"?

    I think the most logical conclusion here is that the GNU-like title is a socially-encoded hint to us that the author believes that information wants to be free, and wants to encourage bootlegging without angering the publisher.

    (For the humor impaired, the 'girl.fiction' reference was a sarcastic swipe at childish misogyny (see before flaming), rather than an example thereof).

  • by MattyG ( 6408 ) on Friday September 01, 2000 @05:53AM (#811375)
    You can get the full book at, at: http://www. 69-7622009 []
    Wha? TV & Movie Theme Songs? Oh yeah....
  • Considering that I already have my laptop, one or two technical books, a few files, a few notepads and my lunch stuffed into my briefcase, I think I'll gladly spend more money to read the slimmer tomes sequentially while riding the bus to work.

    Of course I'd also be willing to pay far more for a laptop with a far less powerful CPU if it could rival my Palm Pro for battery life...

    Just because the book is cheaper in one volume doesn't mean that one volume is better (and that works the other way around as well, I'm sure that some people would place a higher value on one volume for reasons other than price).

  • I'll second that. Grunts was a truly horrible book, the kind of book that is so bad that it can generate the "simmering antipathy" that hyacinthus names. I followed the link thinking, hey, this might be an interesting book, then saw Gentle's name and winced.
  • I suppose that the following were all myths, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary:

    Joan d'Arc
    Kang Ke-Ching
    Grace O'Malley
    Bat Zabbai (Zenobia)
    A whole nation known as the Amazons

    While it is very true that women were traditionally a minority in armed combat, they were certainly not unheard of. Take a look at one of the Women Worriors [] pages on the net, or do your own search next time that facts inconveniently stand contrary to your opinion and prejudice.

    The REAL jabber has the /. user id: 13196

  • There is scientific proof that there was a 'race of woman warriors' way, way back in Roman and Greek times. The female warriors were large women, and quite battle ready.

    Sorry, I don't know of any links (I saw it on the History Channel). Can anybody help me out?

    The show I saw had them digging up a 'city' of what appeared to be all women (with a few men in a 'sanctuary building' which was supposedly a holding pen for breeders or some such). And it seemed that there was a lot of weaponry and most of the women wore battle gear.
  • Go to a museum; see what they have to say. I'm betting you'll find swords to be surprisingly light

    Or better yet, visit the Weapons Emporium []. Even the shipping weight of many of their 'Great Swords' and broad swords aren't up to 20 pounds. And that includes scabbards, sheaths and packing material.

    And before you argue it, they are using the same construction methods and almost the same materials (with rust inhibiting carbon steel instead of iron) as they used back in that time period.
  • I thought this was going to be the story of how Ash woke up earlier that fateful morning in Pallet Town, and picked Bulbasaur as his first Pokemon! What a disappointment.

    Yeah, just cos everyone else is going to make a funny comment about AoD...

  • So ugly a book is GRUNTS, so much "in the spirit of Mordor" to quote a friend of mine, that I wasn't able to read more than a page or two of THE SECRET HISTORY before my simmering antipathy towards Gentle came to the surface.

    Heh, now here's a same planet different worlds scenario. Not being a lame-ass whimpering uptight git like yourself, I thought GRUNTS! just fucking ROCKED.

    "Pass me another elf, this one's split..."

    All baiting aside, Mary is actually quite a nice person and GRUNTS! is parody. You know, humour? Like, a fucking joke?

    (Of course, people who have actually been in war zones say that it's the most accurate portray of how real soldiers behave that they've ever seen in literature, so maybe it's not actually all THAT funny...)
  • You can get the full book at, at ...

    At 1.30 gmt Amazon UK is down with the following message:

    Keep shopping... Feel free to visit our partner site, which remains open. Again, we apologise for the inconvenience, and thank you for your patience. Your friends at Please enter your e-mail address:

    Has the site been slashdotted by Americans over-eager for the single-volume version. How can you be so unethical? Does the matter of patents [] mean nothing to you?? ;-)
    - Derwen

  • What nationality would you consider a man born in South Africa to English parents (they moved to South Africa because Tolkien's father took a job there) who spent most of his life in living in England?

  • No no no. Apparently I wasn't making myself clear. My point was more that we are not portrayed as Nazi killers, which I believe us Americans more or less are. The weapon of choice may be howitzers and naplam instead of gas chambers, but its the same idea. (I'm a pacifist if you havn't figured that out yet.) (ranting continues) Look at us not cleaning up the mess in Cambodia that we started (the 'evil' vietnamese were the ones who did, albeit for their own selfish reasons.) And we continue to bomb Iraq. The UN estamated that 1 million people have died as a result of the sactions againist it. Saddam Hussan is noted as having sent 300,000 citizens to the grave at one time. Granted his grand total of people killed is probably 1 million (especially if you count Iran) but the point is that we Americans (and other members of NATO for that matter, but especially the US and Britain) are no better then him. We saying to him "You have no respect for your people lifes. In punshiment we will put sactions that lead to their deaths."
  • It has some very VERY cool concepts in it . . . and novel ideas.

    Rather, it has some very old ideas in it. The "many worlds" hypothesis for quantum mechanics has been around about forty years. Science fiction involving visiting those other timelines worlds is almost as old; there was even an original series Star Trek episode based on the concept. And even using the term "jumping" to refer to such trips predates Timeline's publication by at least ten years.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • Ok, I will admit that the book had some good ideas in it, and was wearth a read. But all of the good ideas were historical, not scientfic. The science in Timeline is a joke!. I'm usually quite happy with how Crichton keeps technical details correct. That's why I like him (normally).

    However, this book was poorly lacking in reality. It was the same old time-travel story (like that's never been done before) with a bunch of handwaving about quantum theory. If you know anything about quantum physics, you wouldn't laugh at this book, you'd be disgusted. I know I was.

    Spinning triangular rods make people shrink so that they can fit into quantum foam and travel to another multiverse? Right.....

  • From the Article:

    while the book's American publishers are putting it out in four parts, with the last part due before year's end (The Book of Ash: #1 A Secret History, #2 Carthage Ascendant, #3 The Wild Machines, #4 Lost Burgundy).

    So you are going to miss anything; you'll just have to buy four books.

    Maybe they were afraid you couldn't read a full page of text completely?

    Sorry, just couldn't resist

  • That 'why-can't-we-all-get-along' ending was a new nadir as far as anything I ever bothered finishing.
  • You should have said: "yanks" (I use the original term) "would be scared by a 1100 page book by someone they've not heard of before". I seem to recall The Stand selling quite well.

    That said, the 4 volumes may not be such a bad idea. People might be more likely to take a chance on a new author's book if it's normal paperback size. Then, if they like it, they buy the others, and voila! $$ for publisher and author! If the reader does not enjoy volume 1, they will not buy the others and their badmouthing of said author will likely be minimal.

    That said, this book sounds interesting. I wish I still had an attention span :-)

  • Well, there is at least one case where a book gained a bit whilst being exported from the UK to US, and that's Douglas Adams's "Life, the Universe, and Everything." For some confusing, complicated reason that nobody seems to remember, two chapters were left out when it went to press. Then when the US version was done, Adams managed to get them back in as an epilogue; and later UK versions also contain them.

    There's also one other difference between the US and UK versions, but I don't remember why this is (or even if there is any reason), but the whole bit at the party with the guy who won a Rory for The Most Gratuitous Usage of the word "Belgium" in a Serious Screenplay, in the UK version the word was changed to just "Fuck" and a large chunk of humour excised in the process.
  • is /usr/bin/tcsh okay?

    Anyway, I'd rather use /usr/bin/bash

    ObTopic: So, if the heroine were to convert to Christianity, I guess she'd be a "Born-again Ash" too. <rimshot>
  • Oops!
    I thought it meant the ash shell!

You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements. -- Norman Douglas