Adwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.
The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.
A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight.
Neuromancer is the foundation stone of cyberpunk. William Gibson’s novel came out in 1984 before the genre even had a name, and won a lot of awards. The judges could tell this neo-noir about hackers in cyberspace was something special.
Gibson had been working in this direction for a while, finally perfecting the prototype with his 1982 story Burning Chrome. Contracted for a novel, he lashed his cyberpunk world to a heist plot. Neuromancer’s protagonist is the burnt out hacker Case, hustling through the nightlife of Japan in a suicidal spiral until a girl called Molly with mirror shades and blades in her fingers scoops him up for her ex-military boss.
They want him to take on some top level defences in cyberspace. The rest of the team is assembled, the heist set up, and then everything goes wrong when the team breaks into a rambling family mansion up in an orbital Las Vegas and the real mastermind behind it all is revealed.
It’s done. The manuscript of Soldiers of a Different God went off to the publisher this weekend. Should be in print around autumn 2018. I’ll keep you posted.
This thing nearly killed me but I finally got it on the page. The untold story of how an unlikely anti-Islamic alliance of gay activists, feminists, fascists, evangelical Christians, populist politicians, and surfing rabbis from California fuelled the rise of the hard right across Europe and gave us President Donald J Trump.
Right now there’s champagne to be drunk and a 1,000 yard stare to shake off. While I work on that, here’s a deep dive into what the book’s about. Salut!
Groovy baby. The swinging sixties meant nothing to most people in Britain. They had jobs and mortgages and marriages and kids and gas bills. Only a select few got to hang out with dope smoking aristocrats in Chelsea or peacock around town in an outfit from Granny Takes a Trip. The class barriers may have come down for a few talented working-class photographers and musicians but they remained firmly in place for everyone else.
The closest the great British public got to joining the psychedelic generation was through the vicarious second-hand thrill of popular entertainment. The Beatles and Rolling Stones sold the sixties dream on vinyl, and movies like What’s New Pussycat? pushed the vision on screen. In 1967 the written word got in on the act. Adverts were all over the Sunday supplements and double-decker buses for a new face in town. He had a blond Brian Jones-style cut and fashionable neo-Victorian clothes.
‘You Don’t Listen to Adam Diment,’ said the slogan. ‘You Read Him.’
He was the first psychedelic spy novelist. And he burnt out quick.
Some men live like heroes. James Horowitz did school at West Point, flew fighter jets in the Korean War, wrote screenplays for Hollywood, skied in Aspen, loved in Paris, and knew film stars as friends. He wrote novels as James Salter that ached with sex and loss. Burning the Days is his autobiography.
Americans who write about books for a living call Salter a great prose stylist, a literary giant, a master. Whether you agree depends on your tolerance for misty poetics and heartfelt vagueness. Here’s a slice of prose:
‘A woman, burnished by the sun, walks down the street in early morning carrying an eel. Many times I have written of this eel, smooth and dying, dark with the mystery of shadowy banks and, on that particular day, covered with bits of gravel. The eel is a saint to me, oblivious, already in another world.’
If that makes your heart throb then this is the book for you. Those already frowning should steer clear.
In 1921 a young journalist from Illinois arrived in Paris with a loving wife and a suitcase of tyro manuscripts. Seven years soaking up the avant-garde teachings of Ezra Pound and James Joyce turned him into the best prose stylist of his generation. Ernest Hemingway returned to America with a fresh literary approach, a book contract, and a younger, richer wife.
Most readers still associate Ernest Hemingway with the French capital, an image cemented by his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Guides do walking excursions round his old haunts for the tourists.
Richard Owen has other ideas. In a new book he makes the case that Italy, not France, was the place closest to Hemingway’s heart.
I‘m working on my fourth book. Soldiers of a Different God should be out in late 2018. Crack open a bottle of champagne and alert the Nobel Prize committee.
Still a few months of keyboard-melting work to go but I can always use some help. Let me know if you’ve got any information or photographs that could help tell the untold story of how an unlikely anti-Islamic alliance of feminists, football ultras, evangelical Christians, gay activists, fascists, populist politicians, and surfing rabbis from California fuelled the rise of the nationalist right across Europe and gave us President Donald J Trump.