H. E. Parmer

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H. E. Parmer

H. E. Parmer’s book reviews

Fast-moving blend of satire and social commentary, military action and espionage, as only Mack Reynolds could do it.
I'm a space opera junkie from way back, but this one didn't do much for me.

This is supposed to be a collaboration between the listed author and E. E. "Doc" Smith -- but don't let that get your hopes up. Much talk, little action, a few interesting concepts, and characters crafted from the finest cardboard. Even the climactic space battle is something of a dud, which is not what you'd normally expect from Smith.

Not awful, but not all that entertaining, either.
I can't honestly give this collection five stars. The Tales of Terror contains some gems, like "The Horror of the Heights", "The New Catacomb" and "The Terror of Blue John Gap". And "The Leather Funnel" has a certain gruesome charm. But the Tales of Mystery are a bit of a disappointment: These mysteries are definitely sub-Sherlockian, although the conspiratorial machinations revealed at the end of "The Lost Special" are pulpishly amusing.
"Sidonia the Sorceress" and "The Amber Witch" (which is included in the second volume) are unusual examples of Victorian supernatural horror. The stories are set in the Duchy of Pomerania during the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, a time of great political and social turmoil in Northern Europe, culminating in the appallingly vicious "Thirty Years War", which also coincided with the height of the virulent mass psychosis of the Witchcraft Persecutions.

And it's witchcraft and the dire fate of those unlucky individuals who were accused of practicing it which primarily drive the plots of both these tales, although "The Amber Witch" also describes some of the terrible hardships of the Thirty Years War. Since "The Amber Witch" (which was actually Meinhold's first work in this vein) is by far the better-known of the two, I'll devote the rest of this review to "Sidonia the Sorceress", which was published nine years later, in 1847,

Meinhold employs much the same literary device here that he used in "The Amber Witch", making Sidonia's chronicler a (near) contemporary: a cleric commissioned by Bogislaw XIV, the last Duke of Pomerania, to compile a history of the witch Sidonia von Bork, whose curse supposedly doomed the ducal line. (Bogislaw and his unlucky brothers are actual historical figures.) The narrator is a fervent believer in witchcraft and Satanic powers, who never exhibits the slightest skepticism towards the fantastic events he's recording for his patron, or that Sidonia's "confession" was extracted from a demented old woman by torture. This lends an intriguing ambiguity to the narrative, when you consider the true author of this tale was a highly educated Lutheran pastor, whose audience was firmly rooted in the age of Reason.

"Sidonia the Sorceress" does in fact read like an early 17th Century chronicle -- which is both its strength and its weakness. Episodic and at times a bit rambling, it's an artful evocation of the extravagant piety and childish credulity which so often characterized the era, Whether his fictional narrator is describing the pomp and magnificence of the Pomeranian nobility, the squalid lives of robbers and peasants, or relating supernatural apparitions and the absurdly legalistic, state-sanctioned lunacy of the witch-finder, Meinhold knew his source material. The incidents of witchcraft and details of its prosecution could have come straight out of Reginald Scot's "Discovery of Witchcraft" or Heinrich Kramer's infamous "Malleus Maleficarum" -- the "Hammer of the Witches" (1486) -- a legal manual for the detection and prosecution of witches and warlocks, which vies with "Mein Kampf" for the dishonor of being the most demented, evil book ever published. There's even a sub-plot which demonstrates the real author's evident familiarity with ritual magic of the white variety.

Meinhold's attempt to mimic both the style and delusional atmosphere of an earlier time actually works to his advantage, helping him avoid some of the melodrama and cliches of the typical Victorian Gothic romance.

Which isn't to say that a modern reader won't find "Sidonia" heavy going in places, particularly as the story gets off to a rather slow start. But the reader who sticks with it will be rewarded with some superbly weird and gruesome scenes, as well as gaining some authentic insight into a time when "civilized" Christians truly believed looks could kill, that curses could destroy a family and every misfortune was the fault of witches working Satan's evil will with the aid of their demonic familiars.

I'd even go so far as to say this reader found a disturbing resonance between the time Meinhold depicts and these first decades of the 21st Century, which even vile bureaucratic euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" cannot fully obscure.
A colorful and energetic action yarn set in the mid-1890s, during the first Sino-Japanese War, A Chinese Command mixes historical fact with a series of wild adventures that have the protagonist Frobisher smuggling arms in Korea, fighting bandits in China, discovering the treasure of Genghis Khan, commanding a cruiser for the Chinese in the crucial Battle of the Yalu River, and surviving a deadly typhoon, shipwreck and capture by cannibals.

Don't look for any love interest, conflicted souls or much at all in the way of character development, though it has to be said Frobisher has an almost Flashman-like knack for involving himself in ventures which don't turn out so well.

Collingwood has an undeniable gift for description, whether it's a raging storm at sea or one of the story's numerous action sequences. The author also seems refereshingly free of many of the racial prejudices of his time. He expresses a high opinion of the Chinese Navy, officers and men, though he has much harsher things to say about the Qing government, especially the corrupt, war-profiteering mandarins who supplied the navy with defective arms and ammunition.

Although the bit about Frobisher stumbling across the treasure of Genghis Khan while being pursued by bandits through a ruined city, and how he later disposed of that fabulous wealth, were a bit much, it doesn't keep me from recommending this as a fine, entertaining read.
 Adam Nicholls & Jay Nadal - Private Eyes, Detectives and Psych Thrillers
FEATURED AUTHOR -  Adam Nicholls grew up in the southwest of England, where he studied creative writing while working a variety of full-time jobs. When his Mason Black series was first published, he quickly became a bestseller and then went on to create a name for himself in the thriller genre. Adam now lives with his wife in Bristol.