Flashman author dies

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(Image courtesy Knopf)

A bummer for the new year: One of my favorite authors, George MacDonald Fraser, has died at the age of 82. According to his publisher, he had been suffering from cancer.

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Fraser wrote the screenplay for the James Bond movie Octopussy, but is most famous for his scrupulously researched -- and roaringly funny -- historical novels. His Flashman series is his signature work, and each presents the same literary conceit. To quote from my 2005 Creative Loafing review of Fraser's latest and possibly last novel, Flashman on the March, "In his old age, one of England's most decorated Victorian heroes confesses in his memoirs that he's always been a cowardly, lecherous opportunist, and his celebrated triumphs were always dumb luck. The epitome of a bigoted, sexist, colonial bully, Harry Paget Flashman narrates his exploits in a delightfully nasty voice that uses 'roger' as a verb and commands a veritable lexicon of obsolete ethnic slurs." If you want to get teenagers interested in world history, the Flashman books might be a great jumping-off point.

The Flashman series offered a prime example of what modern audiences would call the Forrest Gump factor, by placing a fictional character on the scene of major historical events. Despite his rank cowardice (in fact, some times because of it), Flashman perpetually found himself at some of the 19th century's most notorious battles, including Little Bighorn and the Charge of the Light Brigade. In his books Flashman alluded to being at the Battle of Gettysburg (in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, he met abolitionist John Brown and was at Harpers Ferry), but rather maddeningly, Fraser never seems to have written his big Civil War adventure novel. One can only hope he put it to paper before his death and that it will be published posthumously.

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