The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby

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The Ionia Sanction is a sequel to The Pericles Commission. It fea­tures Nicolaos, the young Athenian who has inven­ted the job of agent in order to learn polit­ics to avoid becom­ing a sculptor like his father.

I liked The Pericles Commission and the only quibble I had was that Athens wasn’t as grim in Gary Corby’s book as I thought it might be. That’s no bad thing because I thought the ancient world could be an unpleas­ant place. Pretty much as unpleas­ant as in The Ionia Sanction, which is slightly darker and more viol­ent than the first book.

The book opens with the appar­ent sui­cide of Thorion, a prox­enos. A prox­enos was someone who would help with the interests of a for­eign city. Thorion was an Athenian cit­izen with con­nec­tions to Ephesus, so when his sui­cide note sug­gests he’s com­mit­ted treason Pericles decides someone needs to find out what has happened. He sends Nicolaos to invest­ig­ate. It quickly becomes clear Thorion was murdered, and events lead to Nicolaos leav­ing the safety of Athens and trav­el­ling to Ionia, inside the Persian empire.

Like the first book, The Ionia Sanction is based around a his­tor­ical fact. In this case it’s the life of Themistocles. Themistocles was the gen­eral respons­ible for the defeat of the Persians at Salamis. However, Themistocles was not a mod­est man and with some Spartan help he was framed for treason and ostra­cised. To flee to safety Themistocles sur­rendered him­self to the Persian king and became sat­rap of Magnesia, on the coast of what is now Turkey.

The text runs smoothly. The only jar­ring note for me is that these are edited for the American mar­ket. It means Themistocles talks about assholes, which looks odd. Assholes fea­ture in a sec­tion of the book due to a method of exe­cu­tion that uses a sharp wooden stake, tip­toes and a slow death through exhaus­tion. Gary Corby also had to find a sexual vice that a man had that could be used for black­mail. This man was an ancient Greek, so a small round of applause is due for find­ing one.

A com­mon prob­lem for any book like this is that there were some things known in ancient Greece that the reader doesn’t know. How do you get this inform­a­tion in? Fantasy authors have that well-used standby “As you know your father, the king…” before launch­ing on five pages of expos­i­tion. Here the source of know­ledge is Diotima, the (ex)girlfriend of Nicolaos who left for Ephesus a few months before and a female slave, Asia. It’s not stretch­ing cred­ib­il­ity for Nicolaos to know very little about the Persian empire, so it works without the sound of nar­rat­ive gears crunching.

Fortunately the amount of expos­i­tion needed wasn’t too much. The book is a story, not a his­tory les­son. As a story it works. Not everything was obvi­ous, I didn’t work out any of the murders before they were revealed, but there was noth­ing that seemed too contrived. 

It’s taken me a while to read it. I didn’t want to read it while work­ing on any­thing ancient because I didn’t want it to feel like work. I’ll prob­ably make a point of get­ting Sacred Games when it comes out and buy­ing an authors next book is prob­ably a pretty good indic­a­tion of how his last one went.

The thing I’ll grouch about this time is the cover. As art I like it, but it doesn’t fit well with the book. It looks a bit YA, and I think The Ionia Sanction is more 18+. The first two books will be out shortly in paper­back, with the Australian cov­ers. After a couple more books I’ll com­plain if the cov­ers aren’t in the same style, so this isn’t a major gripe.

If you enjoyed The Pericles Commission then the The Ionia Sanction is worth your money. If you’ve read neither then start­ing with the first book is the bet­ter bet.

#blog #twt #books #AncientGreece

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Senna versus Prost by Malcolm Folley

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This past sea­son of Formula One has been the best since 1993. The next sea­son, I think, will be the first where no one on the grid has driven against Senna. Depending on how you feel about Schumacher, it’s pos­sible Senna was the last great driver in Formula One. He wasn’t the most suc­cess­ful, but Senna raced in era when other drivers had access to poten­tially race-winning cars. His biggest rival, Prost, was in the same car for a couple of seasons.

It’s easy to fix­ate on one of the drivers, but the book cov­ers the devel­op­ment both of the. Prost’s tale starts with his first spell with McLaren of that rivalry from Prost’s arrival at McLaren in 1980. Folley doesn’t simply take Prost’s recol­lec­tions. He also draws on other people around at the time, such as Tony Jardine. Senna’s early career is covered with his time in Formula Ford in the UK. Martin Brundle gives an hon­est view of how it was like to race Senna at the time.

Jo Ramirez, who worked at McLaren dur­ing the Senna/Prost era is another source of mater­ial for their time in the team. Other drivers gave brief accounts to fill out the story. There are inter­views with Hill and Williams too. Senna’s time before his death at Williams was brief, but it was Williams who gave Senna his first F1 drive as a part of a test session.

Obviously the two title char­ac­ters dom­in­ate the book, but it is a taste of what Formula One was like in the 1980s. The extra back­ground adds more con­text to what was going on. For example, the clas­sic clip of Senna first com­ing to threaten Prost is from Monaco 1984 where an irres­ist­ible Senna in a poor car chased down Alain Prost in almost undrive­able con­di­tions. Prost’s hand wav­ing in the down­pour is eas­ily mis­taken for someone appeal­ing to be given the win (1984 Monaco Grand Prix — part 7). However it is clear from the book that Prost was deeply affected his acci­dent in prac­tice for the 1982 German Grand Prix where Didier Pironi came out of heavy rain­spray to smash into the back of Prost’s Renault. Pironi never raced in Formula One again. (Didier Pironi — Hockenheim ’82, crash and recov­ery)

1982 was a black year for Formula One. Along with Pironi’s career-ending acci­dent, Villeneuve and Paletti died in races. Paletti’s death would be the last at a Formula One race till the week­end in 1994 when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died. Prost was aware that F1 was a dan­ger­ous career. Ayrton Senna didn’t start in F1 till 1984. His faith was a worry for some other drivers, espe­cially in his later years, when some thought Senna  believed he had divine protection.

There is a prob­lem with any book like this. Prost is alive to give his side of the story. Senna is not. It’s hard to judge now if Senna really thought he was invul­ner­able. If you’re already a fan of one over the other I don’t think you’ll find any­thing here to change your mind. But the other drivers come well out of this. Derek Warwick in par­tic­u­lar could have been bit­ter after Senna effect­ively ended Warwick’s hopes of get­ting in a race-winning car.

The close of the book is inev­it­able, but even here Folley is able to add some­thing, like the pres­sure Senna felt from Schumacher. Everything Senna had thrown at Prost was now com­ing back at him from Schumacher. A sur­prise in the book is how is seems Senna appre­ci­ated what a rival he had lost after Prost’s retire­ment. It also emphas­ises the shadow left by claims over the Benetton team using trac­tion con­trol. Did Senna die chas­ing an illegal car? http://​www1​.skys​ports​.com/​f​o​r​m​u​l​a​-​1​/​n​e​w​s​/​1​2​4​3​3​/​7​3​6​2​4​0​1​/​V​e​r​s​t​a​p​p​e​n​-​S​c​h​u​e​y​-​s​-​c​a​r​-​d​i​f​f​e​r​ent–

With no Schumacher or Barrichello on the grid for 2013, this will be the first sea­son in a long while where none of the drivers will have known a death at Grand Prix week­end. The massive advances in safety are due in part to the death of Senna. No other event could have shocked the sport into improv­ing safety by so much.

#blog   #f1  

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Tentative Astronomical World Heritage Sites

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I’m mak­ing a note for myself here, but other might be inter­ested. It’s occurred to me there’s a very easy way to list sites on the tent­at­ive world her­it­age lists with an expli­cit astro­nom­ical con­nec­tion. Just search for the word astro­nomy on the list. It’s not rocket science.

It’s not per­fect either. The list­ing for Herat is tan­gen­tial to astro­nom­ical her­it­age, but other entries are obvi­ously rel­ev­ant, like Astronomical Observatories of Ukraine and The Cape Arc of Meridian, South Africa.

One or two are new to me, so I have some read­ing to do.

#blog   #AstronomicalHeritage  

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UNESCO World Heritage Centre — Tentative Lists
UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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Some splendid lunar animations

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I’m work­ing on a talk today. At one point it threatened to be inter­est­ing, but I think I’ve got that under con­trol. Something that might spoil that plan though are some lunar anim­a­tions from NASA. You can Dial-A-Moon at their web­site and down­load anim­a­tions of lunar phases and libration.

Libration is inter­est­ing. It’s the wobble in the moon as it gets pulled around in orbit. The down­load­able anim­a­tions bring this out nicely and NASA has gone to some lengths to make them as usable as pos­sible for people. You can down­load the files in vari­ous formats from http://j.mp/dialamoon or watch them via YouTube.

#blog   #moon   #astro­nomy  

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CC licensing and open access

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Here’s an example of how lim­it­a­tions through CC licences can change what you do with a paper.

I’m look­ing at an image. At first I thought to use it in a blog post about organic bat­ter­ies. I thought I could do that because the paper is open access, but the licence of the paper is BY-NC-ND. Taking an image from the paper and blog­ging about it is pretty much mak­ing a D of it. The ND for­bids deriv­at­ives, even if the point of the deriv­at­ive is to say “Hey go look at this paper!” The page for the image itself has no CC licence inform­a­tion, so it looks like the copy­right in the footer applies.

I can see why there’s the NC clause. This has its own prob­lems, like mak­ing it unus­able for things like Wikipedia, but I can see sense in it. But ND seems an odd clause for sci­entific papers. Surely (properly-credited) deriv­at­ive works are a good thing for sci­ent­ists? I can see there’s a reason for ND in artistic pro­tec­tion, but sci­ence papers gen­er­ally aren’t works of art. Are there good reas­ons for Nature to have the ND clause?

I’ve trimmed the image thumb­nail and descrip­tion from the link because they would be deriv­at­ive from ori­ginal paper.

#blog   #pub­lish­ing   #aca­demia  

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Lithium stor­age mech­an­isms in pur­purin based organic lith­ium ion bat­tery elec­trodes : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

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