On Sieges
September 28, 2013 12:53 PM   Subscribe

The history and technique of the siege, by fantasy author K.J. Parker.
posted by Chrysostom (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
KJ Parker is an amazingly detailed world builder, to the extent that you feel like he lived in his own fantasy worlds and observed the passage of time and force of entropy. I'm looking forward to reading this.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2013

Imagine if a certain Swedish furniture maker built siege engines - this would come in the box...
Hjürl (pdf)

This was the handout for my "Mechanical Artillery 101" lecture at this years NYC Maker Faire.
posted by rjnerd at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

His/her, right? AFAIK nobody actually knows who KJ Parker is.

I tried to read Devices and Desires once but bounced off, should give it another go. Or is there another of his/her books that are better?
posted by selfnoise at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2013

Awesome. I think I just split the difference between writing my D&D campaign and procrastinating on MetaFilter.
posted by griphus at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I apologize for the pronoun. I liked KJP's 'Sharps', 'The Hammer', and 'The Folding Knife' better than the Engineer/Devices and Desires trilogy. There is kind of a detachment or numbness in most of the central characters in KJP's books which makes for some difficulty in engaging with it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2013

Yeah, that's exactly the problem I had. There would be peril and the characters would be like "Hmm... some peril."
posted by selfnoise at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2013

I'm a big fan of both The Company and the Devices and Desires trilogy.

All my literary gender-detectors tell me that KJ Parker is a woman. Men in this genre a. don't get human motivation the way Parker does and b. don't see any reason to disguise their gender.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I particularly liked Shadow and the other two Scavenger books, but had the same problem with characters after that. Still, she does have charm as an author, and reading her books feels like learning in a savant's masterclass on utter and precise practicality.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Masterclass in the use of practical utilitarian ethics in the pursuit of flawed human desires anyway. It's an interesting inversion of the usual character motivations, and it feels like a succession of tragedies in the Greek sense of the word. With most authors I almost prefer to read the entirety of their work all at once, but with KJP I like to space it out as much as possible so that I don't get too used to the similarity of KJP's characters' emotional affect.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2013

All my literary gender-detectors tell me that KJ Parker is a woman.

All my literary detectors told me, when I first read KJ Parker's The Folding Knife in spring of 2010, was that KJ Parker's writing had stylistic and thematic qualities extremely reminiscent of Tom Holt's five historical novels. I like them both a lot, so that was a positive thing to my mind. Imagine my surprise when I read this summer 2010 interview between KJ Parker and Tom Holt indicating their personal connection and later heard people speculating KJ Parker is his wife and pointing out some of his books are copyright Kim Holt. Apparently, someone who'd know has said KJ Parker is definitely not Tom Holt, and I'd be the very last to suggest KJ Parker is anything other than an independent author writing exactly the way they happen to like (see How to Suppress Women's Writing). But what I am saying is that if you like KJ Parker you'll probably also like Tom Holt's historical novels.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:43 PM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

While I can totally see the appeal, Sharps read so precisely like stereotypical Eurocentric male-focused fantasy that I actually would be relieved to find out it was written to consciously overemphasize those tropes. It's absurd. It's a good book, if on the grimdark side, but hilariously sexist and with some utterly bizarre race issues.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love K. J. Parker' books, have read most of them. I thought the recent "Sharps" was one of the best. Might be a good place to start: works as a standalone and the characters aren't too unsympathetic.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:52 PM on September 28, 2013

If you like to read descriptions of siege warfare, Umberto Eco has some in 'The Island of The Day Before' and 'Baudolino'.
posted by ovvl at 3:22 PM on September 28, 2013

Siege warfare worked more or less the same way. The outcome was not in question. What mattered was how the defenders played their game before they lost.

Except perhaps Leningrad - where the defenders won - but that probably wan't a siege in the biblical sense as the city was thinly supplied throughout.

...and, Stalingrad wasn't a siege.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:30 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought KJ Parker came off as having a female voice after having read the engineer series. I get the sexism complaints from Sharps, but even with that I didn't think the book came off as male voiced.
posted by MillMan at 6:54 PM on September 28, 2013

I think history suggests pretty clearly that it's a losing game to try to guess gender by reading someone's fiction.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:22 PM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Interesting. I will have to put in a mention of my favorite historical anomaly, the only Vauban-style fortress in Japan, Goryoukaku. It's one of those strange spots that history pivoted around. The Battle of Goryoukaku was the final battle of the Boshin War. The newly built fortress was held by the rebel forces of the Ezo Republic. Imperial forces laid siege and bombarded Goryoukaku from the sea, after they destroyed the Ezo ships in Battle of Hakodate Bay. That is considered Japan's first modern naval battle, a civil war taking place between the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:19 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

...and, Stalingrad wasn't a siege.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 8:30 PM on September 28 [+] [!]

Yeah, if anything, the awful Battle of Konigsburg is the first WWII example that comes to mind of the horror, and even the setting, of old-school siege warfare combined with the scale and efficiency of modern armament.

This was a great read, I had never heard of KJ Parker but will add her/him to my list!
posted by cacofonie at 8:24 PM on September 28, 2013

This author doesn't know his or her Greek military history. In the Pelopponesian war, the Athenians defensive strategy was "we have a wall - nyah nyah!" Classical greeks couldn't manage a siege. It would be "come out and fight you cowards", and often enough that was successful. If the defenders said, "nup, we've got heaps of olive oil and wine", the defenders would basically say bugger and leave.
posted by wilful at 3:39 AM on September 29, 2013

The image of city defenders placing bowls of water all around to find enemy sappers is pretty fantastic. Surprised that hasn't shown up in a movie.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:24 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks to this post I finished the engineer trilogy and started the fencer trilogy.

I like the books quite a bit so thanks for introducing me to the author.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:09 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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