by Patricia Anthony
Ace, ISBN 0-441-00528-3, 1998, 384pp, US$23.95
In Flanders Field the poppies blow ….
To Flanders in 1916 comes Travis Lee Stanhope. He has volunteered for the British Army, looking for escape and adventure. What he finds is hell. (As a Southerner, one suspects he refused to listen to General Sherman’s statement along these lines.) Kim Stanley Robinson summarized it well in “A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations”: 54,000 men who died over a fifteen-year period are remembered on the Vietnam Memorial. Imagine one of those for the Triple Entente losses every *six weeks* of the Western front of World War I, or thirty-five Vietnam Memorials in all, lined up in a row. Along the Western front, there were 7500 casualties each day, not in battle, but from sniping; this was called “wastage.” This is particularly noteworthy, because it is as a sniper that Stanhope comes to Flanders.
Stanhope is an outsider: an American in the British Army, a Southerner constantly called “Yank,” a reader of the Romantic poets in a company of men more interested in more earthly delights, a man blessed (or cursed) with “second sight.” As such, he finds himself attracted to other outsiders, and Anthony does a good job of showing us the many faces of the outsider.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY compares this book to Erich Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. I also saw a lot of parallels between FLANDERS and Stanley Kubrick’s classic film PATHS OF GLORY. There is the heartlessness of the distant commanders in their commands. There is the insular attitude, the use of the outsider as scapegoat. What there is more of in Anthony’s novel is the hell of war, a hell that could not be brought to the screen in the 1950s. She lays it all out–not just the battles and sniping and “authorized” killing, but also the disease and the maggots and the hardening of men’s hearts and souls.
Stanhope tries desperately to hold on to his humanity in all this, but he finds himself gradually sinking further into not just despair, but death–the death of his soul.
Although the fantasy content is on a much more restrained level that most fantasy novels, it is necessary to the story. Without it, Anthony would still have a powerful novel, but a different novel. As it stands, though, this will be on my Hugo nomination ballot next year.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. --JOHN MCCRAE %T Flanders %A Patricia Anthony %C New York %D 1998 %I Ace %O hardback, US$23.95 %G ISBN 0-441-00528-3 %P 384pp
Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper