Diamond and Keegan

I just finished up John Keegan’s A History of Warfare. Reading that book has given me a new outlook when it comes to thinking about war. And earlier this year, I read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. That book proved useful in trying to formulate an intellectual basis for my world building. Basically, what I’m saying is that these two books are proving to be very important research tools when it comes to my world creation.

And Keegan points out one important aspect to my Bas-Lag Reading Project posts. I am wrong in my critique of Mieville’s usage of the small naval battle in The Scar. What I failed to remember is that Bas-Lag, and New Crobuzon, exist within two rough “historical” frameworks. Technologically, and to a degree culturally, New Crobuzon is fantastically steampunk. But fantastic is the key because politically Bas-Lag is largely pre-state or city state in development terms. While Victorian Britain could produce tens or hundreds of ships, New Crobuzon, despite its power, probably lacks the resources to exceed the Athenian or Carthaginian navies. Add to that the fact that iron clads are far more expensive to build than simple galleys. So New Crobuzon having only a fleet totaling around fifty is believable (plus I don’t remember another naval power threatening the city save for Suroch and Armada).

Moving back to A History of Warfare, I personally enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone wanting to broaden their horizons when it comes to military matters. Now, Keegan does spend a lot of the book focusing on the West and the West’s military encounters with the East. But Keegan navigates the situation well. His understanding of medieval Islamic motives and tactics (and sustained focus on the early Arabs, the Mamelukes, and Turks) make for some of the most interesting reading. Where I wish he had spent more time is in East Asia. China appears irregularly (and then mostly in relation to others, like the steppe peoples, Arabs, and Westerners) and Japan’s few mentions leave out much of the samurai martial culture.

But still, A History of Warfare is highly useful when it comes to thinking about the history of war and creating one’s own forms of warfare in speculative fiction. I mean, I have some interesting ideas about mounted knights and warrior wizards.

Moving on to Guns, Germs, and Steel, it has been a few months since I read that book, so my take may be rusty. Diamond has a reputation in some scholarly circles for being “Eurocentric” and a big part of Guns, Germs, and Steel  goes to trying to explain why Europe or European culture has achieved dominance over the past five hundred years. His explanation is geography. What foods can grow where, the easy accessibility of trade goods and ideas from distant civilizations are all key components of his thesis. And the thesis, that geography plays an important role in how cultures develop, is potentially a key in the world building arsenal. But the critique of Diamond, especially in the past few years, is valid on many fronts.

Inspiration is key, whether it is sourced in the genre, philosophy, history, or whatever. My own tastes tend to the academic when it comes to research, but in the end, use whatever works.


Posted on June 23, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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