Mad Matt’s CultureQuest Ep 1: Regeneration, by Pat Barker

It’s probably a good omen that my first foray into this grand endeavor is one of success. I probably wouldn’t have predicted it, but I really enjoyed this book, and I can see why it was double recommended to my lists.

Summary and Reflection

Regeneration is a slice-of-life historical fiction detailing a World War 1 Hospital dealing with officers that had suffered a mental breakdown due to the war. Apparently, many of these characters actually existed, and factual details are scattered  throughout the book, but the rest of the work is so elegantly crafted, it’s hard to differentiate. The writing is good; grammar and punctuation are occasionally tossed out to make the words flow like speech or thought.

The main-ish character throughout is Doctor Rivers, tasked with repairing broken men so they could be returned to the front. We see through his eyes, as he diagnoses, treats, and tries to understand his patients. But his is not the only view point. The perspectives shift wildly, sometimes without the decency of a chapter break or even page break to warn the reader. I didn’t actively recognize us shifting POV inside of a paragraph, but it would not surprise me. The other characters we inhabit are the patients, shell shocked, broken, and with very different desires.

While I liked this book, I don’t think it’d be a book I would buy a copy of. You buy books you want to re-read, or you want to lend to friends so you can have a conversation about the topic. But while I’m glad to have read it, I can’t imagine reading this again. And while I can see myself giving a friend a copy, I don’t think it’d be one I want returned. I’d want them to keep it, to fill the margins with private thoughts. If I thought this was a book they needed, I’d buy them a fresh copy, and perhaps write a note for them in the beginning.

This book makes me think of war in ways I’ve not thought of, which is not a comforting line of thought.

First, on the exhaustion of a people at war. World War 1 lasted 4 years, but the people thought it would never end, that it would last forever until all the men and all the women, and even the cats and dogs were used up.( that line is in the book somewhere.) It sure puts into perspective that the USA has been at war for 20 years, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a different scale of war. There’s not conscription or rationing. The people at home barely know there was a war on.

Speaking of scale, that’s the second line of thought. There’s a place in Regeneration where the convalescing officers get news from the front. In the last month alone, 102,000 troops were dead. I can’t imagine that amount of loss. My rough googling is returning that 7,000 of our servicemen have died in the War on Terror (and other related endeavors? Apparently there’s been some rebranding of things that I missed. But 20 years of war is 7,000 dead. In that one month in World War 1, our twenty years occur every two days.

I’m no armchair general, but I’ve read enough to know that the way we fight has changed a lot since Cain and Abel. World War 1 was a sample of tactic failing to catch up with technology. Lives were poured into the paths of machine guns. Calvary charges caught on barbed wire trenches, and the small air forces changed the face of war from above.

Things are different now. Satellite tracking, drones, fighters and bombers, a front line, of all your troops amassing in a line of defense sounds suicidal. But then, most of what I know from modern war are small snippets and stories, and the bits they include in modern movies, which are few and they care more about the story they are telling than displaying how things are done.

Interestingly, the big thing I feel about not knowing how modern wars are fought is that I’m not a good brother. I only have one strong connection to modern war. I have a bunch of weaker ones, but just the one direct link.

While I’d be interested to know anyone’s thoughts on reading this, I really want to hear Zaac’s thoughts on this, he being the only person I personally know who was in the shit, as they say.

I am taking a lot of facts and opinions of the novel at face value. I assume, since she would have grown up knowing survivors of both the world wars, she would have had the chance to have personal second hand knowledge of things, where as I’m getting them third or fourth hand.

Other Thoughts

There’s an interesting section in this book where one character talks about having invited HG Wells to come by the hospital. It didn’t happen, but I got me wondering if that was a thing HG wells did. And I realized: I know NOTHING about HG Wells. I know nothing about Jules Verne, or CS Lewis or Charles Dickens, or JK Rowling, or GRR Martin. There’s a few authors I know some scraps about. A lot more cartoonists, but very little about WHO all these authors are. It reminds me a little of that scene in Ocean’s 11, but a bit in reverse.

It’s not enough to read good books, I also have to meet these authors. I think more of an author’s soul is poured into a novel than into a painting. (If a picture is worth 1,000 words, and a novel is 50,000 words, then a novel is worth 50 pictures.)

I did look this book up on Wikipedia after I had read it and written this. I did not know it was the first in a trilogy. I thought it had ended rather abruptly, but I guess the story continues. What’s more, the rest of the trilogy is on my list, albeit with less commendation. While the writing was good, the thought of reading a sequel feels me with dread. I think I need to take a break with other novels, and we’ll tackle other books in the series later.

Skraz

I was going to include a small “What I learned for D&D” section in these, but I have bigger thoughts that that from this book, so it’ll be its own article Soon™.

As melancholy as this book has made me feel over the last few days, I’m really glad to have read it. This was a good book. And if you’re up for an interesting discussion on whether this book has a happy ending or not, then we should talk. (Although there are more books in the series, so that changes the answers, maybe.)

Subskill Thoughts, Question, and such

I haven’t heard a lot back about my subskill system, which is a shame because the piece I intended for today had a bunch of stalled research. So today, I’m struggling to write a sufficiently long filler piece, as I wonder how committed I am to twice a week updating.

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Subskills: Expanding 5e’s skill system

It’s no secret that I kind of hate skills. 5e is the best system so far, but that doesn’t mean I like it. My distaste for the skill system led me to create the Specialty system, which I just realized isn’t posted anywhere since the site refresh. Sigh. 

Anyway, I had a breakthrough last week of a way skills SHOULD work but don’t (or rather, how the lack of skills should work). 

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New Unearthed Arcana Jan2020 Subclasses Part 1

Look, I WANTED to just do 2 posts this week, but things keep happening. This time, a new playtest UA came out, with some subclasses. So let’s do a first look at those before I co back to working on the beast of the Friday post that is in the works. (Remember, doing the surveys for the Unearthed Arcana is how we get broken things fixed!)

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Master of Masks Prestige feat

 So I’ve been building these things I call Prestige Feats, which convert a 3e Prestige class to an overpowered 5e Feat. Today, I’m demonstrating how I do this conversion, using the Master of Masks, a prestige class from the Complete Scoundrel, apparently. Fellow DM, Teddy, said this was his favorite Class, for flavor over power. So I decided this would be a Prestige to rebuild.

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Overthinking Eberron: Khorvaire Newspapers

One of the things that makes Eberron so interesting is the world they’ve created. Official sources said “There are newspapers!” and left the details in unspecified darkness. So I wrote some stuff about Newspapers.

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