Alaska is a Michener novel

Alaska’s physical features and main modes of travel are suggested in the image on the novel’s dust jacket
Geography guides Alaska’s history

Alaska is a novel to please, but not surprise, James A. Michener fans except for one astonishing fact: All the astonishing-beyond-belief stories in the novel are true.

In another novel, fictional characters like Jeb Keeler and Poley Markham, American lawyers who come to Alaska to make their fortunes by means more legal than moral, would be anomalies.

Against the background of Alaska’s real history, the two are almost dull.

Michener begins his tale with Alaska’s prehistoric origins. He focuses, however, on three historic periods: the 18th century when men in sailing ships explored the Pacific coasts, the 19th century when Russia sold Alaska to the United States, which administered it with ineptitude that beggars belief, and the 20th century when World War II revealed to the American government the importance of Alaska to its national survival.

Michener uses his fictional characters primarily to show how “ordinary Alaskans” (the term itself describes fictional characters) lived at various places at various times.

If you want to read Alaska, find a copy that doesn’t come from a library that glues protective plastic dust jacket shields to the inside covers of books:  To follow Michener’s story, you need Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps inside the book’s covers.

map inside front cover of "Alaska"
Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps are essential to understanding the novel
Alaska by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1988. 868 p.
1988 bestseller #5; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Predictable plot can’t spoil The Spoilers

An immediate success in 1906, Rex Beach’s The Spoilers seems shopworn today because of its overused romantic plot.

But however tired the romance, even today Beach holds readers’ interest with his fast paced, action-adventure plot.


The Spoilers by Rex Beach

1906 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg ebook #5076. My grade: B.


First edition cover ot The Spoilers shows village at the foot of Alaskan mountain.Handsome young Roy Glenister and his older sidekick, Bill Dextry, are headed back to their Midas Mine when Helen Chester makes a dash for their ship with several sailors in hot pursuit.

The men help Helen aboard and escort her safely to Nome where she has important business.

On the trip, Roy decides he’s going to marry Helen.

She disagrees: He’s too uncouth for her tastes.

There are the usual plot complications: misunderstandings on both sides, the girl’s guardian who’s a scoundrel, the suitor who’s an even worse scoundrel, the hero’s old girl friend.

The novelty is the plot trigger: Unscrupulous politicians have devised a way to steal gold from the Alaskan mines with the blessings of the courts and the US government.

The plan is simple, looks legal, and seems to be aimed at protecting honest miners.

Beach trained as a lawyer before spending five years prospecting in Alaska. The romance didn’t happen, but the skullduggery did.

Fraud on such a scale is mesmerizing—and well worth a read.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The prize in The Silver Horde is gold

Rex Beach’s The Silver Horde is a breathless story of competition to make a killing in the short salmon spawning season.

Engineer Boyd Emerson and “Fingerless” Frasier, whom he rescued from police on an ice-floe in Norton Sound, arrive in Kalvik, Alaska, just barely alive.

Salmon spawning
Salmon spawning

The Silver Horde by Rex Beach

1909 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg E-Book #6017. My grade B+.


All doors but one are closed to them.

Miss Cherry Malotte, a lovely young entrepreneur living alone, takes the men in.

She convinces Emerson to start a salmon canning company to compete with her arch enemy, Willis Marsh.

Emerson has a girl in the States whose rich father disapproves of penniless engineers and wants his Mildred to marry Willis Marsh.

Even without peeking,  readers know how the romance will end.

What they don’t know is how bloodthirsty salmon fishing can be.

Beach makes sure they don’t remain ignorant.

Cherry has a past; Boyd has depression. Those traits make make them miserable.

Frasier is another matter.

The good-hearted crook talks incessantly to fill Boyd’s morose silence. Frasier tells Boyd:

If you prefer to swallow your groans, you do it. I like to make a fuss when I suffer. I enjoy it more that way.

And readers will enjoy The Silver Horde: Beach doesn’t let any character’s misery get in the way of his story.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Salmon Spawning at Hood Canal” by Hood Canal