It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

And that means another year for the Semantic Gift-Swap!

Each year we hold a Christmas Gift-Swap, where each participating member gets randomly assigned another participant to give a gift to. The gifts given in the swap shouldn’t exceed the price of twenty-five dollars. If you want to join the gift-swap, just comment on this post or message me before the 20th of December, when I will post a list of who you will be buying for. All gifts should be delivered by January 6th (the last day of Christmas). If there are any issues during this event, just let me know.

Happy holidays!

Draco

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By Bookworm’s Behest #1

It’s past three AM and the sleep I’m chasing is running away from me at full pelt. What better time to start that post series I’ve always planned to get around to?

Greetings, assorted gentlepeople! My name is Hovawart, and I will be your host for the night. As a rather voracious reader, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy department, I often find myself giving out book recommendations to friends. These recommendations tend to be the latest fantastic item from the shelf, and I find myself giving the same titles and sales pitches to a variety of people. I figure that I might as well consolidate my opinion into one place for all to see. If you are a friend with similar literary tastes to whom I’ve handed this, thank you for supporting my laziness. If you have happened to wander by this particular part of the internet by chance, I can only hope I will lead you to some gems.

Today I will be putting before you a book titled The Shadow of What Was Lost, written by James Islington. Though this was published all the way back in the ancient year of 2014, it somehow escaped my hungry gaze. It is a part of a trilogy, the second book of which I have yet to obtain and the third of which is yet to be published.

shadowofwhatwaslost

The Shadow of What Was Lost is high fantasy of the highest order; if that isn’t your jam, feel free to get off the bus at this time. The book is set in a world still recovering from a great war in which the near-godlike Augurs were overthrown and eradicated. Their servants, the Gifted, were spared only after they accepted to be bound by a code of laws that greatly reduced their power. The newest generation of Gifted individuals have been born under these laws and forced to live with the deeds of their ancestors, which they are quite understandably unhappy about. Things muddle along as usual until the main character, Davian, discovers that he has inherited the powers of the Augurs. A great evil is also awakening up north, but when isn’t it in fantasy?

I have already made my mandatory jab, but I hear what you’re thinking. “Hovawart, this sounds like the most bog-standard fantasy you could present, random capitalized words for titles and all.” You would be right, but only in terms of the setting. This author’s storytelling is simply superb. It may be a slight spoiler to say this, but he is extremely fond of writing in twists. You think you know where the story is going, predict the ending, are very comfortable in your cushy chair, and then he throws a vase at you. He doesn’t let up, either, continuing to escalate in terms of furniture until finally he’s put on a set of power armor and is chucking tables your way. The twists are earned each time, so they don’t feel cheap or as if they are coming out of left field, and they just keep coming. This book is a ride until the very end.

This probably doesn’t deserve its own paragraph, for I will have to be very brief to avoid spoiling something grand. This book is one of the very few works in general to have handled time travel exceedingly well. It deserves to be mentioned, but I will say no more on the subject.

After having mentioned the setting and the plot, such as I have, I feel I would be remiss not to speak of the characters. My next statement is a wide one and I have no intention of being held to it; one may either make good characters by building excellence in the present, or by giving them an excellent story. If I might elaborate, some characters, through personality and dialogue and the mystical arts of the author, feel as if they’re about to step out of the page and join you. Others have such fascinating backstories (or futures, when time travel is involved), that you can’t help but perk up whenever they enter the scene. The characters in this book were definitely the latter to me. I do not in any way intend for this to be taken as me saying that the personalities and dialogues are sub-par; far from it. One of the other main characters has lost his memory when he is introduced, and a significant part of his story is spent slowly piecing together what few he has left and discovering more. If his past were anything short of fascinating, it could be detrimental, but fortunately it is quite the opposite. I often felt myself wanting more of his past than was provided, and I suspect that his continued quest to find himself will be a large part of the books to come. Another character’s future incarnation is constantly tinkering and guiding events, leaving me excited to see how his present self reaches that point. I’m left wanting more of their individual stories, which to me is the sign of an engaging character.

I believe I have said all that comes to mind, so I will conclude here; this book’s masterful, suspenseful storytelling and intriguing characters mean that you should go pick up this book at your earliest convenience. As for myself, I will be hunting down the sequel in hopes of continued quality and more tables thrown at my head. I bid you all farewell, and I hope that you have an excellent week.

Conclave: The Creation of the Constitution

Every fortnight in the nation of Bernia, a conclave is held by the members of the Bernian Nobles. The purpose of this meeting is to vote on legislation and propose new legislation for the next meeting. Discussion of the legislation is held outside of these meetings, in the name of timeliness, but this often leads to larger schemes. The location of the conclave changes from province to province each week, with the host acting as a moderator for that conclave, as well as acting as a tie-breaker in the case of an equal count of votes from both sides.

Bernia gained its independence after the collapse of the nation of Catania in 1289. It soon became a prosperous mercantile nation due to its ideal position being nested in between Alpha Catania and Denizli. It not become a full nation until the First Conclave of the Provinces of Bernia in 1302, where a constitution was officially voted on by the Counts of each areas within the Bernian Region.

For those who were unaware, I am planning on running a political simulation roleplaying game, where the players put forth and vote on legislation every two weeks. On this post you may sign up to join the game as well as give suggestions on what should be included in the constitution of the nation of Bernia by leaving a comment on this post. You can send the idea to me in chat, but I ask you to please comment with the idea as well so that others may be able to see it and give their opinion.

Hope you enjoy!

Draco Blackstone.

 

History With Snark – Vol 1, Issue 7

Welcome back, esteemed readers, to a seventh issue of History With Snark!  We’ve come a long way… or, well, I have.  I’ve been unfortunately too busy to continually find the obscure to give to you, but today is your just-before-Christmas treat!

Today, I want to talk about another hero of the Polish Army (maybe that’s Volume 1’s theme… Germany and Poland), General Stanisław Maczek (stah-nyee-swav mah-chek)*.  Maczek was the commander of Poland’s only armored division during World War II, never losing an engagement in the 1939 invasion of Poland.

Maczek was born in Austrian-controlled Poland in 1892 and studied Polish philology at Lwów University.  During this time he was part of the Polish Rifleman’s Association, where he acquired basic military skills. At the outbreak of World War I, Maczek was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army.  He was deployed to the Italian Front and gained experience in mountain combat — the only Polish commander to do so during the war.  Initially an NCO, he was a lieutenant by the war’s end.  With the formation of the Republic of Poland, he left the Austrian army and joined the Polish Army.  He fought in the Polish-Ukrainian war with distinction, leading a motorized unit under the 4th Infantry Division.  The idea was taken from the Germans during World War I… Given what came next, though, it seems like they should have taken the idea for tanks instead.

By the outbreak of WWII, Maczek was a full colonel and commander of the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, armed with only light tanks, tankettes (which are kind of like sports cars for tanks but not nearly so high-performance), and eight heavy cannons.  On the first day of the war, the brigade faced the entirety of the XVIII Army Corps and managed to protect the southern flank.  He soon battled the 2nd and 9th Panzer Divisions and the 3rd Mountain Division, though he had the assistance of a few border guard battalions (you know, the guys who keep the Mexicans out?).  Maczek used the terrain to his advantage — unlike most of his opponents, he had fought in the Alps in the last war and already had valuable combat experience.  He translated this infantry skill into his current situation with tanks and reduced the Blitzkrieg’s pace to less than ten kilometers per day.  Compare that to France, where Rommel achieved 322 kilometers in a day.  To be fair to these Germans, they were not Rommel… but Maczek was certainly not French.  His brigade was ordered to retreat as the entire northern sector collapsed.

Maczek continued operating in western Poland, covering for other units to escape to the interior.  When the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17th, this operation was abandoned and he was ordered to cross into Hungary (Hungary was aligned with the Axis but neutral until November 20, 1940).  By the end of the September 1939, the brigade had lost half of its men, but it had not been defeated in battle and is considered the only Polish unit that did not lose a single battle during the invasion.

Maczek traveled to France with several other Polish units, forming a Polish Army-in-exile in France to defend it from the Reich.  Here, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a military camp in northern France.  He wrote a detailed report on his experiences with the Blitzkrieg and gave suggestions on how to defeat it, but the French did not read the report and provided Maczek with obsolete vehicles — months after he arrived.  When Germany invaded by going around the useless Maginot Line (seriously, using Belgium to replace your fortifications? I thought that failed in the first war.), Maczek was provided with all the equipment he asked for and immediately deployed.  Because they had no time to learn how the new tanks worked, Maczek took only his best men and formed the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade (named after the original), leaving the rest to train with their new equipment.  The brigade was assigned to the 4th Army in northeast France, near Reims.  They were ordered to cover the 4th Army’s left flank, but their size and weaker tanks hindered their effectiveness and they were forced to withdraw.  Maczek’s brigade attacked the German-held city of Montbard with great success, but the French defense had already collapsed.  Perhaps if they had read Maczek’s report, they would have successfully repelled the German attack.  Stranded in the open and out of fuel, the brigade destroyed their vehicles and retreated on foot.  Some of them joined resistance groups in France and Belgium, but Maczek and many of his men made their way to London to join the other Poles that had assembled there.

The British government, skeptical of the Poles’ usefulness, had planned to use their army as the Scottish line of defense — that is, to defend Scotland after England and Wales fell.  Maczek’s arrival changed these plans and Władysław Sikorski, the commander of the Polish army-in-exile, convinced the British government to provide Maczek with the newest tanks, including the legendary Churchill and M4 Sherman.  Maczek was still held in reserve, but this was because the British intended to use him as a powerful weapon in the upcoming Normandy invasion.  Maczek’s 1st Polish Armored Division arrived in the end of July, 1944 (after the initial danger of landing had passed — why waste your best men before they even reach shore?) and was attached to the First Canadian Army.  Maczek tore through German lines, achieving victory after victory.  In one daring battle, the 1st Polish Armored Division surrounded and destroyed fourteen SS and Wehrmacht divisions.  He went on to liberate large portions of Belgium and, at no small cost to his own forces, liberated the Dutch city of Breda without any civilian casualties.  For this, the people of Breda created a petition that resulted in Maczek being made an honorary citizen of the Netherlands.  It was his division that accepted the surrender of Wilhemshaven, a massive German naval base.  Two hundred vessels were capture along with the entire garrison.**  The Poles remained part of its occupation force until 1947.  At the close of the European Theater, he was promoted to major general and received command of all Polish forces under the British military.

Oh, and just in case you thought Polish people were allowed to get happy endings:  after the war’s end, the People’s Republic of Poland (Russia) stripped Maczek of his citizenship, forcing him to stay in the UK.  The United Kingdom, for their part, did the right thing and denied Maczek combatant rights or a pension. The great general was forced to take up work as a bartender in a hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, just to pay bills and take care of his chronically-ill daughter.  Despite this, he still had a strong relationship with the people of Breda, and when the mayor of Breda heard of Maczek’s situation, he made an appeal to the Dutch government to give the man a pension.  The government quickly came to a decision and awarded Maczek a secret allowance appropriate for his rank.  On top of this, the public held a fundraiser to get him enough money to cover his daughter’s medical costs.  Despite him never serving until the Dutch flag, it was they who cared for him most.

Because of the tensions of the Cold War, the government of the Netherlands could never publicly reveal that they were paying a former general of the Polish Republic: Communist Poland would have been outraged.  In addition to this, it would call into question Britain’s failure to deliver a pension to one of their own officers.

In 1989, the last Prime Minister of Communist Poland issued a public apology to Maczek and in 1994 the Republic of Poland presented him with their highest honor, the Order of the White Eagle.  It didn’t acknowledge all the crimes of the Communist regime, but it’s a good step.

On September 11, 1994, Stanisław Maczek died in Edinburgh.  He was 102.  Per his last wishes, he was laid to rest in Breda, next to the fallen soldiers of the 1st Polish Armored Division.  The division and its commander are still remembered every year on Liberation Day in Breda.

Okay, so maybe he got a happy ending.

Emblem of the Division

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*I’m not going to attempt to guess the emphasized syllables in his name, though I feel as if they’d be on the second and first syllables, respectively.

Polish is a West Slavic language, relating more to Czech and Slovak more than Russian.  Although it was traditionally an important diplomatic language between Central/Eastern Europe, after the Second World War the dispersion of Poles led to many speakers in places like Britain and United States. Poles constitute the largest Slavic ethnicity in the States, though until 1918 the Polish state did not exist and most Polish immigrants were classified as Prussian, Austrian, or Russian.

Two notable Polish-Americans are Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko, who led Patriot armies in the Revolutionary War.  Any place in America named Pulaski is named for him.  Kościuszko returned to Europe, where Napoleon soon created a tiny puppet-state of Poland that Kościuszko detested.  After Napoleon’s fall, he attempted to create a Polish state with Tsar Alexander, only to discover that the Tsar’s planned “Poland” was even smaller than Napoleon’s, and he left for Switzerland — you know what, I’ll make him the subject of next week’s issue.

**Wilhemshaven is still a German naval base today, and it operates a pretty cool museum with some warships on display, discussing German naval history from the 19th century-onward.  If you’re interested in naval history and happen to have that kind of money.  I know I don’t.

Knight Semantic Christmas Gift Exchange!

Hello and Merry Christmas, my fellows. How are you enjoying the holiday spirit?

Anyone who is interested may join the Knight Semantic gift exchange, where everyone who enters gets assigned someone else to give a gift to. If you are interested in joining, please drop a comment here or PM me and I’ll add you to the list. The deadline for entry is the 20th, and all gifts should hopefully be about before the end of the month.

Hope you all have a merry Christmas!

Draco