On Nazis and pregnancies, but not at the same time

I’ve been playing Sniper Elite 5 on the PlayStation 5 lately, because setting the difficulty to something obscenely low and shooting Nazis in the face from a hundred yards away has been about where my brain has been at lately. I like this series, but not as anything I take seriously; I don’t want to be challenged in Sniper Elite 5. I want to be an invincible force of death. I want the Nazis to tell their children that I’ll find them if they’re not quiet and well-behaved, and then I want those kids to tell me where their parents are, because their parents are Nazis and that means I can shoot them in the face.

Also, it’s the anniversary of D-Day. Also also, any time the anniversary of D-Day rolls around, I start thinking about my grandfather, who wasn’t actually at D-Day but joined the Allied assault in France a bit later, eventually being wounded in the Battle of Nancy, being handed a Purple Heart, and rotated back Stateside with a piece of a mortar shell in his ankle that, presumably, is still in his coffin with him, since the surgeons never bothered to remove it.

And today something hit me: I have an aunt named Nancy. And I tried to think about the timeline, and ended up calling another one of my aunts, the one I can bother relatively early in the morning with nonsense like this, and asked her about the timeline between Grandpa getting home and Nancy being born and named. Had my grandfather named my aunt after the battle in which he’d been wounded? It seemed possible, at least; I had to know.

No, as it turns out. Grandma was pregnant with Nancy when Grandpa shipped out, and she was born while he was overseas and named him herself. Tantalizingly, though, apparently my grandmother named Nancy herself and wrote Grandpa and told him the name, and my aunt tells me that his response was that she should “take it (the name, not my aunt) out and bury it, because it stinks.”

It is perhaps indicative of the type of woman my grandmother was– this is the one the name Siler comes from, by the way– that she ignored his, uh, suggestion, and her second daughter kept the name that she gave her. It’s also possibly an indication that Grandpa knew when he wrote the letter where he was heading and where he was likely to see combat, but I’d have to know a lot more about timelines– they’re both gone, so who knows where those letters might be– before I could make a supposition like that.

This led, somehow, to a conversation about the timing of the conception of various and sundry of my relatives; turns out one of my cousins is the product of a “lunch quickie,” and that my grandparents were in the house when another of my cousins from her was conceived. I changed the subject as soon as the phrase “lunch quickie” came up, by the way.

(My birthday is July 5; my mom’s was October 3. I have always assumed I was a birthday present; Dad, if that was not the case, I don’t need further details.)

#REVIEW: King of the Rising, by Kacen Callender

I was not a huge fan of the first volume of Kacen Callender’s Islands of Blood and Storm duology, Queen of the Conquered. Feel free to click through to the review, of course, but the short version is that I felt like the book was both too ambitious for its own good and a main character who was not only not especially likable to the reader but was also flatly detested by literally every single character in the book. It had potential, though, and I decided to keep an eye on Callender in the future although at the time I wasn’t committing to picking up the sequel to the book.

Well. Kacen Callender is from St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, and I hadn’t read a book from there last year, so …

It took a while to get to it; in fact, when I picked it up yesterday it had been on my unread shelf since 2021, and had spent more time there than any other book on the shelf. I honestly just picked it up to get it out of the way, and for a brief moment I considered not actually reading it, since it’s not like the Read Around the World thing is something official any longer.

*cough*

It’s a lot better.

King of the Rising begins exactly where Queen of the Conquered left off, at the beginning of a massive slave revolt on an archipelago colonized by the white-skinned Fjern, and if you want the historical equivalent you need nothing more than to recall that Callender is a St. Thomian, and St. Thomas was colonized by the Dutch. What makes this a fantasy novel and not just thinly-veiled historical fiction is the existence of Kraft, which is basically X-Men style magical powers that some of the characters possess. Kraft, if I’m being honest, is the weakest part of the book and in general its main role in the plot is to give the main character of this book and the main character of the last book a way to communicate with each other across long distances.

That switch in narrators is probably the singe change that that played the biggest role in my enjoying this book more than Queen. Sigourney was kind of rough as a narrator. She was very passive in a lot of ways and literally everyone hated her, and she just wasn’t a great choice as an MC. This book is told from the perspective of Løren Jannik, her half-brother, and while Sigourney still plays a pretty significant role in the story, Løren is a much more dynamic character than she was. He is still flawed, certainly; one of the major themes of the book is leadership during crisis, and the book isn’t interested in backing away from his failures as both a leader of the revolt and as a person in general. But the main thing is that he makes decisions during the book and while some of them are definitely bad decisions, at least he acts throughout the course of the book. Sigourney was just too passive, and pushing her offscreen or at least into the background made King of the Rising a superior read.

I probably should have put this first, but, like, you don’t need a trigger warning for this one, do you? Because this book is about a slave revolt against a colonial slave power, with everything that implies, and it can be a really fucking rough read. If you read Queen of the Conquered you should absolutely pick this up even if you didn’t particularly like it. If you did like Queen, I feel like you’ll really enjoy this one.

It is White People Shut Up Day

and I am following instructions. See you tomorrow.

#REVIEW: The Meaning of Names, by Karen Gettert Shoemaker

I’m not entirely sure that my thoughts about this book are going to rise to the level of a full review, but here we go: this book is a story about (mostly) a German immigrant family in Nebraska in 1918, at the tail end of World War I, a war that, let me remind you, was fought over absolutely nothing. It’s kind of astonishing how angry reading about World War I makes me; there is an argument to be made (in another post, mind you) that it was at least one of history’s most pointless wars, and literally not a single soul who died or was injured in that war made that sacrifice for anything at all. Everyone just got involved because they were supposed to, and then suddenly we have thousands of men dying over inches in fields where the mud is so deep the horses are drowning in it. Over nothing.

Anyway.

I said a German immigrant family, mind you, and if you’re suspecting that German speakers might have faced some bigotry in Nebraska during a time when America was at war with Germany, you’d be suspecting correctly. So this book is already about a war that makes me irrationally angry to read about, then drop a load of bigotry on top of that.

And, uh, do you happen to remember what else happened in 1918? Oh, right, a global pandemic caused by an extremely contagious respiratory disease! One that people blamed on … immigrants! Or, at least, they blamed on immigrants when they weren’t pretending the whole thing was a hoax! There’s even a bit where the local doctor tells someone to wear a mask when he’s in public and he scoffs at it.

(The book was written in 2014, by the way, so this parallel was unintentional.)

Now, here’s the thing: the book is good! It’s well-written, and the plot and the characters and all that are well done. But Christ this book was hard to read, and … like, can I get away with saying that the book wasn’t annoying but reading it annoyed me anyway? And in a way that I absolutely don’t blame on the book or the author. Again, this is a good book and you should read it. Just … ignore the fact that I’m probably never picking it up again.


I’m going to be out of town for the next couple of days, as we’re going to the northern Chicago suburbs to have early Thanksgiving dinner with my brother, sister-in-law and my new nephew. There will be the standard view-from-my-hotel post tomorrow, but expect relative quiet. In the meantime, I’ll be up way too late tonight streaming Elden Ring from 10:00 to 1:00 am EST, so you should absolutely check that out.

A Fourth of July factoid

Many of you probably know this, either because you’re history buffs like me or you’ve seen me mention it here before or you saw it somewhere else today, as this is going to be far from the only place to learn this today.

But!

One of my favorite stupid party tricks is that I can always tell you how old America is without having to do the math. My birthday is tomorrow, and I was born on July 5, 1976, meaning I was born the day after America’s bicentennial. I therefore can determine America’s age by just adding 200 to my own rather than dealing with any piddling subtraction like some sort of heathen.

But I have another trick! I can also, by adding 150 to my age, tell you how many years it has been since both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. You see, the two men both died on the same day– and not only did they die on the same day, but it was July 4, 1826– in other words, on America’s 50th birthday.

Jefferson’s last words were “Is it the Fourth?”

Adams, who always thought America should celebrate its birthday on July 2 because he was a contrary old bastard like that (hot take: Adams was the Bernie Sanders of the 1700s,) didn’t give a damn about dying on the Fourth, but his last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He was wrong. Jefferson had been dead for a few hours, but, y’know, 1826. I don’t know how long it took for the knowledge of Jefferson’s death to make it from Virginia to Massachusetts, but it was probably at least a week or so, and I imagine it took a minute to determine which man had actually passed away first.

And now you know something about what happened 195 years ago today.