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Short Stories Featuring Early 19th Century Technology
on 1 July 2004
Although the episodes in Hornblower and the Atropos are tied together with a modest connecting story line, each one could just as easily be an independent short story about Hornblower's experiences on his way to, during, and after his assignment as captain of the Atropos, the smallest three-master in His Majesty's fleet. What positively distinguishes these stories are fascinating details of some of the most advanced technologies in the Britain of 200 years ago. You will learn about the new fresh water canals and tunnels used then to speed shipments of people and fresh market goods, underwater demolition and salvage operations, coordinating naval battles through signaling, repairing ships on station, turning a ship without using the wind, treating gunshot wounds, and how to administer a very detailed operation without use of telephone, telegraph, or radio. The book is well worth reading just for these details.
The book's main disappointment for me is the absence of the redoubtable William Bush who plays such an important an interesting role as Hornblower's foil and partner in most of the novels. I missed Bush. I think you will, too.
As occurs increasingly in the books in the series, Hornblower comes into contact with famous people of the day. Hornblower's success with the Hotspur has won him friends in the Admiralty, and even higher places.
You will enjoy this book much more if you refer to the maps in the Hornblower Companion as you read this book.
Much of the appeal of the Hornblower series is involved in the naval engagements. While this book will make it seem like all of that is going to be missed here, just be patient.
One of the most interesting parts of this book comes when Hornblower uncharacteristically makes a rather large mistake, and has to face up to the fact that he may have no honorable way out. This situation reminds me of the Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk describes how he handled the insoluble problem provided to each cadet at Starfleet Academy. Yes, there is always a way out.
Be curious about all that is around you, and consider how it can be turned to new advantages . . . when you change your assumptions about what is most important!