This Week’s Book Review – My Enemy’s Enemy

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

Buettner skillfully mixes actual history to create a plausible, terrifying story

By MARK LARDAS

June 15, 2019

“My Enemy’s Enemy” by Robert Buettner, Baen Books, 2019, 448 pages, $16

An Islamist attempt to detonate an atomic bomb in downtown Washington D.C. on Independence Day is accidentally foiled by a South Carolina sheriff. Knowledge of the attempt is suppressed. (Why let the bad guys know how close they came to success?) U.S. retribution is thorough and secret.

This is the launch pad for “My Enemy’s Enemy” a science fiction thriller by Robert Buettner. The terrorist group launching the attack has learned of a new way to strike Washington D.C., a secret with its roots in Nazi Germany. And they plan to try again. The Asp — a top terrorist is sent on a solitary mission to the U.S.

Peter Winter is a brilliant German physicist, a student and friend of Werner Heisenberg in 1930s Germany. His wife is Jewish, and they despise Nazis despite an uncle who is one of 16 Nazis killed in the Beer Hall Putsch. Winter is drafted into a secret Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb.

It’s bootleg attempt by the Shultzstaffel to steal a march on Heisenberg’s Uranverein bomb project. Winter was picked because Himmler assumes Peter Winter’s uncle means Peter is also a loyal Aryan. Winter cannot refuse. He and his wife decided to use it as an opportunity to slow-walk the project while saving Jews.

In the present, cattle rancher-turned-fly-fishing guide Frank Luck discovers an odd Nazi-era artifact in Colorado. He takes it to the Air and Space Museum in Washington. He gets paired with aviation historian Cassidy Gooding to hunt out the origins of the artifact. She’s a vegan as liberal as Luck is libertarian. Sparks soon fly, metaphorically and literally. Their search uncovers a potential new attempt to attack Washington.

The three threads soon braid themselves together into a fast-paced and action packed thriller. “My Enemy’s Enemy” reads like the result of taking a subcritical mass of “Schindler’s List,” “The Sum of All Fears,” and an Indiana Jones movie and slamming them together with enough force to start a self-sustaining chain reaction.

Buettner skillfully mixes actual history with might-have-been to create a plausible, terrifying, and entertaining story.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – An Anxious Peace

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘An Anxious Peace’ looks at the Cold War

By MARK LARDAS

June 8, 2019

“An Anxious Peace: A Cold War Memoir,” by Hans Mark, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 688 pages, $47

Hans Mark entered the United States as a refugee from Austria, immediately before the United States entered World War II. He went on to a career where he was a key player in technologies critical to the United States’ success during the rest of the century: atomic physics, aerospace engineering and space exploration.

In “An Anxious Peace: A Cold War Memoir,” by Hans Mark, he tells his story.

Mark’s family fled Austria after the German Anschluss. Mark’s father, a noted polymer chemist and professor, had been imprisoned by the Nazis, escaping with a former student’s assistance. The family spent time in Britain and Canada. In 1940, Mark’s family came to the United States after his father became a chemistry professor at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

Hans grew up in New York attending Stuyvesant High School, a school focused on science and technology. Attending the University of California Berkeley, and MIT, he earned a Ph.D. in physics.

He spent his life showing his gratitude to the country that adopted him by protecting it from its enemies, especially the Soviet Union. Mark viewed communism as little different from the national socialism he had fled.

Mark’s next 50 years found him at the tip of the current hot technology battle of the Cold War. He designed helped nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. He led NASA-Ames Research Center, pioneering airborne astronomy, space exploration (including three Pioneer probes) and cutting-edge aeronautics. He served as an undersecretary and secretary of the Air Force, deputy administrator of NASA and chancellor of the University of Texas.

Along the way he influenced some of the technologies and tools critical to eventual U.S. victory in the Cold War: stealth technology, the B-1, orbital intelligence gathering, the space shuttle, the space station and parallel processing computers. He seemed to be at the right place at the right time.

The book is long, 650 7-by-10 inch pages. Yet it’s never dull. It’s a fascinating read, perhaps the most engaging memoir since “The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.” Readers will be rewarded with an intimate yet comprehensive account of the Cold War.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – The Iron Orchard

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘The Iron Orchard’ accessible to new generation of readers

By MARK LARDAS

Jun 1,, 2019

“The Iron Orchard: A Novel,” by Tom Pendleton, Texas Christian University Press, 2019, 384 pages, $32.50

Jim McNeely is from the wrong side of the tracks. His father died when Jim was a child. Jim’s dark complexion leads classmates to nickname him a name matching that of Huck Finn’s raft companion.

“The Iron Orchard: A Novel,” by Tom Pendleton, follows Jim McNeely.

Jim is forced from his hometown after his high school graduation after daring to love a girl far above his status. The Depression is at its height. Possessing only his strength and native wit, Jim takes a job with Bison Oil, in barren Central Texas. The job is hard. Jim is a member of a drill crew. His team leader hates Jim, as does the gang’s top hand, a mountain of a man. The two are determined to drive Jim out of the company.

Jim has to succeed. Friends like Dent Paxton and Ort Cooley help Jim stick it out. Eventually, he becomes his gang’s top hand. A quick learner, he acquires skills to run a drilling outfit. He strikes out on his own, starting his own drilling company, becoming an independent wildcatter.

He acquires a wife, and a loyal team of employees. Through square dealing and hard work, he builds a reputation as a successful oilman, and achieves success undreamed of in youth. But his desire to succeed beyond his hometown’s imagining leads him on a pursuit of wealth causing him to betray his principles. Eventually, his empire collapses. Failure is followed by redemption, when Jim returns to his roots in drilling one final well.

“The Iron Orchard,” was originally published in 1966. “Tom Pendleton” is a pseudonym used by Edmund Pendleton Van Zandt Jr., an oilman. Van Zandt wrote about what he knew. Over his career he was a roughneck, a Marine officer (in World War II), a lawyer, banker, and longtime employee of Gulf Oil Company. He wrote “The Iron Orchard” after retirement.

The 2019 republication of this minor classic coincides with the release of a movie version of the novel. Almost forgotten today, republication makes “The Iron Orchard” accessible to a new generation of readers. It is a timeless classic.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Painting War

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Painting War’ a fascinating, meticulously researched work

By MARK LARDAS

May 25, 2019

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” by Kathleen Broome Williams, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 312 pages, $29.95

George Plante was a commercial artist before World War II. From Scotland, he was in London illustrating advertisements when World War II started. He wanted to serve his country.

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” a biography by Kathleen Broome Williams, tells what happened next.

Plante discovers that the RAF, the Navy and even the Army were uninterested in him in the spring of 1940. A navy recruiter suggested Plante volunteer for service as a radio operator aboard merchant ships. Wartime requirement tripled the needed number of radio operators. Plante applied, went through training, and served from 1941 through 1943 as a radio operator in the North Atlantic.

It was the most dangerous period of the war to serve in the Merchant Marine. Plante’s ships, tankers, were twice torpedoed and sunk (the second sinking occurred while he was on leave awaiting the birth of a child). Plante spent his spare time between watches painting. His artwork came to the attention of the British Information Service. The BIS’s role was shaping American public opinion in Britain’s favor before American entry into World War II. The BIS wanted Plante’s artwork and Plante for propaganda purposes. The America-loving Plante made a great interview subject.

After Plante’s second tanker sank, Ian Fleming recruited Plante into the Political Warfare Executive. Plante finished the war in the Mediterranean illustrating propaganda leaflets and newsletters. The material was parachuted into the Balkans and Occupied Italy. Plante’s activities remained classified for years.

Once the war ended he returned to life as an adman, enjoying a successful career. He retired to the United States, settling in Hilton Head.

Kathleen Williams, a professional historian, was also Plante’s stepdaughter. She grew up entertained by her stepfather’s amusing stories of his wartime experiences, but in the universal manner of children, thought them just stories. After his death, realizing their significance, she set about writing a serious biography of his life. The result, “Painting War,” is both a fascinating and meticulously researched work. It also shows that sometimes the best history comes from the stories you grew up hearing.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Noir Fatale

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Noir Fatale’ a collection of short stories linked by the theme

By MARK LARDAS

May 18, 2019

“Noir Fatale: The Dark Side of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” edited by Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell, Baen, 2019, $25

Cherchez la femme — look for the woman. The phrase defines one sub-genre of noir mystery fiction.

“Noir Fatale: The Dark Side of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” edited by Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell, explore that sub-genre in science fiction and fantasy.

The book is an anthology, a collection of short stories linked by the theme. All are original, written for this collection. The authors are an all-star cast. Besides stories written by the two editors, Baen regulars David Weber, Griffin Barber, Sarah Hoyt, Mike Massa, and Robert Buettner contributed, as did Steve Diamond, Laurell Kaye Hamilton, Alistair Kimble, Patrick M. Tracy, Christopher L. Smith and Michael Ferguson. Hickley Correia, Larry Correia’s daughter kicks in a story too. Its quality testifies to heredity rather than nepotism justifying its inclusion. It’s a marvelous short piece set in Tokyo incorporating Japanese mythology.

Marvelous is a good word to describe all of the stories in the book. They’re split between science fiction and fantasy. Even within those categories the stories are diverse. There’s hard science fiction (in one story literally vacuum-hard), alternate history, and space opera. Fantasy includes urban fantasy, classic fantasy, and mixtures in between.

Weber’s story is set in his Honorverse, during the time of the People’s Republic of Haven. Larry Correia adds a story to his Hard Magic setting.

A broad range of story styles is presented, too. Some, such as Smith and Ferguson’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Kimble’s “A String of Pearls, and Hoyt’s “Honey Fall” are classic noir, whether set in the 1930s through 1950s or set in the far future. Others are like Barber’s “A Women in Red” and Tracy’s “Worth the Scars of Dying” are dark fantasy tales. World War II forms the setting for Massa’s “Three Kates” is equally dark.

Yet there are delightfully light tales in the mix as well. These include Hamilton’s urban fantasy “Sweet Seduction,” and Buettner’s “The Frost Queen” an unexpected love story.

“Noir Fatale” is a book that will charm both noir fans, and general science fiction and fantasy readers. Correia and Ezell have created a captivating mix of stories.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – A Most Dangerous Innocence

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘A Most Dangerous Innocence’ a coming of age novel

By MARK LARDAS

May 12, 2019

“A Most Dangerous Innocence,” by Fiorella de Maria, Ignatius Press, 2019, 220 pages, $15.95

Judy Randall is the type of student to madden an educator. She’s smart (especially in mathematics) and creative. She’s also obsessive about her interests, uninterested in conforming, and determinedly goes her own way.

Judy is the central character of “A Most Dangerous Innocence,” by Fiorella de Maria. The novel is set in autumn 1939. Sixteen-year-old Judy is a student at Mulwith, an isolated Catholic girls’ boarding school on England’s Channel Coast.

World War II has begun. Judy wants to remain in London to help fight the Nazis. At 16, with her father’s permission, Judy could do war work. Her father wants Judy out of London where she will be safe. He’s sending her back to Mulwith to finish her education.

Judy’s opposition to the Nazi’s is steadfast, almost obsessive. Judy had a Jewish grandmother. While Judy is Catholic, by the Nazi racial laws, one Jewish grandparent makes you Jewish, regardless of religion. As Judy points out to her father, if she were in Germany or newly conquered Poland, Judy would have to wear a yellow Star of David.

Judy is considered a troublemaker at Mulwith, especially by the headmistress Miss Miller. Miller is as obsessive about conformity as Judy is about her own interests. Miller views Judy as disobedient and insolent. Miller is also anti-Semitic (she owns a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”) and opposed to war with Germany.

Judy’s semester begins badly. Miller privately directs Judy to lose the footrace in the school games. Judy ignores Miller, winning the race. Thereafter, Judy decides Miller is out to get her. Judy also decides Miller is a Nazi spy and begins seeking proof of her thesis. Thing begin going very wrong.

Judy allies among the staff include the Petersons, husband-and-wife instructors, and the new mathematic instructor Harry Forbes. Yet, they find sheltering Judy from her follies more and more difficult.

With “A Most Dangerous Innocence” de Maria has written a marvelous and absorbing coming of age novel. De Maria’s portrait of Judy, on the cusp of becoming an adult in a difficult time, is engaging.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Taking Flight

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears, I post the review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Taking Flight’ explores the beginning of commercial aviation

By MARK LARDAS

May 5, 2019

Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938 by M. Houston Johnson V, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 300 pages, $44.96

Today we go to the airport, hop a jet and fly anywhere in the nation secure we will arrive swiftly and safely. In 1919, commercial air travel fit Hobbes’s definition of a state of nature. It involved continual fear and danger of violent death, and was nasty, brutish and short.

“Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938” by M. Houston Johnson V, explores the beginnings of aviation’s transition to a safe, effective mode of transportation.

Its focus is the years between the end of World War I and the start of World War II. This period established the commercial aviation infrastructure still used today. The heart of the book examines establishing federal control of commercial aviation starting in 1921, in the Harding administration.

The most compelling reason for federal control of commercial aviation was it would soon be interstate commerce, a federal responsibility. The question was what form of federal control was appropriate? Did the government establish airways with local communities taking responsibility for airfields? This was the model followed for ships. The government developed the navigation lanes. Cities built ports and docks.

Another issue was how to foster commercial aviation. In Europe, governments subsidized or even owned airlines. This model ran counter to American sensibilities. In the United States there was a desire for privately-owned and operated airlines.

Johnson shows how the federal government answered those questions. The Department of Commerce set aviation policy from 1921 through 1925 until the Air Mail Act of 1924, and the Air Commerce Act of 1926 emerged. He also looks at the Air Mail hearings in 1934, and the use of the WPA in airfield construction.

The book’s unlikely hero turns out to be Herbert Hoover. As commerce secretary between 1921 and 1928, he created the foundation of today’s aviation transportation network. Airmail subsidies allowed the government to encourage privately-owned airlines without imposing government ownership. Hoover also oversaw creation of aircraft and pilot certification systems still used today.

“Taking Flight” is a fascinating look back at American aviation’s infancy. It shows how much went right, and what could have gone wrong.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Admiral Gorshkov

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears, I post the review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Admiral Gorshkov’ a biography of the Soviet Navy’s architect

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 28, 2019

Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy,” by Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks, and George E. Feederoff, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 304 pages, $39.95

Historically, Russia has been a land power, with large armies and limited mobility. Yet during the 1960s and 1970s, during the Soviet era, it built an oceangoing navy to challenge the United States at sea.

“Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy,” by Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks, and George E. Feederoff, is a biography of the architect of that Soviet challenge.

Born in 1910, Sergei G. Gorshkov grew up in the new Soviet Union. He bypassed the university to enter the Frunze Naval Academy in 1927. When a Communist Party screening committee asked why, a then-teenaged Gorshkov replied, “I will be more useful serving in the Navy than doing anything else.”

As this book shows, he proved correct, rising to be the longest-serving commander of the Soviet navy and the longest-serving admiral to command the Soviet navies since its establishment by Peter the Great.

After a brief period as a navigation officer in the Black Sea, he spent his career before World War II, from 1932 through 1939 in the Pacific, where he rose to command of a destroyer brigade. Reassigned to command of a Black Sea cruiser brigade in June 1940, he spent World War II in the Black Sea, the one theater in which the Soviet Union could significantly challenge the Axis at sea. Gorschkov amassed a remarkable record of achievement during the war years, gaining the trust and friendship of Nikita Khrushchev, then a senior political officer.

Remaining in the navy at war’s end, his career took off after Khrushchev took charge of the Soviet Union in 1956. Gorshkov was given command of the Soviet navy and the freedom to rebuild it as he saw fit. During the next decade, he created a navy that threatened the supremacy of the United States navy — then the most powerful in world history. Gorshkov did this by creating a force balanced between submarines and surface ships, one providing a serious challenge within the limitations of Soviet resources and goals.

“Admiral Gorshkov” is a fascinating portrait of a man who was the U.S. navy’s most dangerous 20th century adversary.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Moon Tracks

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Readers of all ages can enjoy ‘Moon Tracks’

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 16, 2019

“Moon Tracks,” by Travis S. Taylor and Jody Lynn Nye, Baen, 2019, 256 pages, $24

What will life be like on the first lunar settlement?

“Moon Tracks,” a science fiction novel by Travis S. Taylor and Jody Lynn Nye, explores that question. A story around the first moon buggy race around the moon, it’s a sequel to “Moon Beam,” a novel about the Bright Sparks.

These teenagers star in a science-oriented reality video show produced on the moon at Armstrong City. At 7,000 people, it’s the largest lunar city. Led by Dr. Keegan Bright, the Sparks do science and engineering on the moon for an audience on Earth and moon.

Billionaire philanthropist Adrienne Reynolds-Ward has offered $1 million for the winners of an 11,000-kilometer race around the circumference of the moon by a crew of four racers. Twenty-six teams from Earth have entered racers. Of course, the Bright Sparks are entering the race.

They’re building Spark Xpress. Although the hometown team, and the best and brightest on the moon, their competitors are the best and brightest from Earth. The Sparks have to finish their entry to race it. Then they have to beat the other teams. While the race is to the swift, it’s also to the most reliable.

The teenage Sparks end up being too optimistic in their development schedule, and must make up lost time to complete Spark Xpress on time. They do this largely due to the newest Spark, Barbara Winton. Her talents at improvisation and organization, honed on the family’s farm get the Sparks past this challenge.

The race proves as challenging. The moon’s terrain is hostile and unforgiving. An additional obstacle is provided by TurnTables, a social media game, broadcasting music. Rare hard-to-find tracks are spotted along the course proving a Lorelei luring teams into misfortune. A real-life accident involving Dr. Bright forces the Sparks to mount a rescue, endangering race participation.

“Moon Tracks” is a young adult novel, but in the sense Heinlein defined how he wrote juvenile — write the best story you can with teenaged protagonists. Taylor and Nye have written an exciting story which readers of all ages can enjoy.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Today’s Poem: Dover Beach

The fire at Notre Dame brought to mind Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach. Notre Dame can be rebuilt if there is the will. It has been rebuilt before, most recently in the mid-1800s after Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (actual name Notre-Dame du Paris) renewed interest in the place. (In typical French fashion they botched the restoration. The work that was being done where the fire started was in the tower rebuilt during that 19th-century restoration. It was apparently done poorly enough that it needed to be completely redone after just over a century.) Yet the question is not whether it can be rebuilt, but whether the Sea of Faith has receded to the point where the will to rebuild it is gone.

Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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This Week’s Book Review – Code Name: Lise

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

“Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 9, 2019

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis, Gallery Books, 2019, 385 pages, $27

On July 16, 1940, Winston Churchill began an effort to “set Europe ablaze,” creating the Special Operations Executive to strike at Nazi Germany from within Occupied Europe — the nations conquered by Germany. One of the agents recruited to infiltrate into France was Odette Sampson, a married mother of three.

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis tells her story.

Sampson was born in France, but had moved to Britain between World War I and II after marrying an Englishman. She wanted to do her bit for Britain after France fell in June 1940, and offered her services. She thought she could be useful as a translator. Instead, as Loftis shows, the SOE saw her as a perfect agent to infiltrate into occupied France. They convinced her to do so, leaving her children with relatives in Britain.

Assigned to the SPINDLE network, she served in Southern France, then run by the German-friendly Vichy government. She was a courier, carrying messages, money, and munitions to other agents. Women could move more freely than men.

She proved competent, gaining the trust and admiration of the network’s leader, Peter Churchill. Danger brought the two together. Their relationship passed from admiration to love, although neither acted on their inclinations while active agents.

In turn, the SPINDLE network was being tracked by Hugo Bleicher, a sergeant in the Geheime Feldpolitzei. He proved outstanding at counterespionage, successfully turning one SPINDLE agent and rolling up the network. He captured Sampson and Churchill as they attempted to escape to Switzerland.

When captured, Sampson claimed she was married to Churchill and that he was related to the British Prime Minister. Both claims were false. The Germans believed it, and ultimately it kept the two from being executed due to their “hostage” value. They also were sheltered and fostered by Bleicher, an oddly humane counterspy.

Loftis follows the story from its origins through the end of the lives of the participants, well after the war’s end. “Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Today Poem: Loveliest of Trees

Inspired by Dime’s tree posts, I thought this appropriate. It is not Kipling, but Houseman is another favorite of mine. This is one of his few cheerful poems and about the only one by him I saw in my middle school English texts. (Those were typically filled with dreadful stuff by Emily Dickinson.) When I was in college, I discovered A Shropshire Lad, in which this poem appeared, and which had lots of other gloriously mordant verses.

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Houseman

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This Week’s Book Review – Houston: Space City, USA

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Houston: Space City’ combines history, science and culture

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 2, 2019

“Houston: Space City, USA,” by Ray Viator, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 224 pages, $37

Houston and America’s manned space program are inescapably intertwined. The Manned Spaceflight Center (today’s Johnson Space Center), which runs all of NASA manned missions, is in Houston. The first word broadcast by a human from another planet was “Houston.” The city gives major sports teams space-related names like Astros and Rockets.

“Houston: Space City, USA,” by Ray Viator, explores that connection in an extended photo-essay. It arrives just in time for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

Viator, a long-time Houston media figure, combines history, science and culture. He starts out by looking at the history of NASA in Houston, focusing on the Apollo 11 moon landing. He goes well beyond that, however. Subsequent sections look at the impact hosting the Johnson Space Center has had on the city of Houston and its environs.

His exploration of space’s impact on Houston isn’t limited to rocket-related activities. He explores the impact of space on Houston’s research communities — institutions of higher education, medical research, and the whole spectrum of science research. He also looks at the impact the Johnson Space Center has had on Houston’s art community and its culture. He shows how Houston has embraced the concept of being Space City into its music, its architecture, and its visual arts.

He underscores his thesis with an eye-popping array of photographs. Many are his own. Some, especially when historical images are needed, come from a variety of other sources including NASA, the Houston Public Library archives or other local photographers.

The book mixes wonder with whimsy. Photographs showing the latest-greatest space technology, prominent figures in space history, reverential monuments and buildings significant to Houston’s space history are placed in proximity to space-themed Lego constructions, larger-than-life space-suited manikins selling stuff, or humorous space-themed murals. Viator also makes use of every opportunity to photograph the moon in proximity to some Houston activity.

Viator wanted to recapture the wonder of the 1960s space program and the sheer amount of fun space has provided Houston and Houston residents over the last 50 years. “Houston: Space City, USA” succeeds admirably in achieving that goal.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Gray Day

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Gray Day’ details uncovering a cyber spy

By MARK LARDAS

Mar 25, 2019

“Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy,” by Eric O’Neill, Crown, 304 pages, 2019, $27

In 2000, FBI agent Eric O’Neill’s career was in eclipse. He had married a German foreign national. She was from the former East Germany and viewed as a potential security risk. Germany might have reunified and the Soviet Union gone, but Russia was still there. Because of that he got tapped for the biggest case of his career.

“Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy,” by Eric O’Neill recounts what happens next.

Robert Hanssen was selling secrets to Russia and earlier the Soviet Union. The FBI needed to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. They wanted him in prison. He had been betraying the United States for decades and his revelations had led to the execution of several spies working for the United States. He was going to retire in April 2001.

The FBI set a trap for Hanssen. They put him in charge of a new FBI cybersecurity group, offering Hanssen a new batch of secrets to sell. They wanted O’Neill to be his deputy, to spy on Hanssen. O’Neill agreed.

The book follows the effort to trap Hanssen, as seen through the eyes of O’Neill. Despite Hanssen’s new posting being an FBI deception, as O’Neill shows, it filled a desperate need. The FBI entered the 21st century with its computer technology mired in the early 1980s and organizational attitudes toward computers from the 1960s. Hanssen’s spying exploited that.

“Gray Day” (Hanssen’s code name in the investigation) shows O’Neill cope with the pressure of juggling an abusive boss (Hanssen), keeping up with his schoolwork (O’Neill was a law student) and keeping his marriage intact — while secretly investigating his boss.

The book reads like a John Le Carre spy novel, but the events happened. Some names are disguised. O’Neill walks readers through the methods the FBI used to weave a net around Hanssen, including success and failures. He also shows the personal cost to him. His marriage started unravelling due to the pressures of the investigation.

“Gray Day” is a book that keeps readers on the edge of their seat, and contains an important message about data security.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Today I am Carey

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Today I Am Carey’ rare thought-provoking novel

By MARK LARDAS

Mar 19, 2019

“Today I am Carey,” by Martin L. Shoemaker, Baen, 2019, 336 pages, $16

What defines life? What’s the difference between something truly alive and something which is a clever simulation of life?

“Today I am Carey,” is a science fiction novel by Martin L. Shoemaker. It examines those questions.

Medical Care Android BRKCX-01932-217JH-98662, created by MCA laboratories, is a caretaker robot. Leased by the family of Mildred Owens, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, its job is to comfort Mildred, look after her, provide her with companionship, and help her with her needs. It has the capability to physically emulate different members of her family: her late husband Henry, her son Paul and his wife Susan, her granddaughter Anna, and the various human nurses who care for Mildred.

BRKCX-01932-217JH-98662 has become self-aware, and has begun wondering what that means. It’s a sophisticated android with the latest neural networks and sensory feedback systems, and has developed consciousness.

Its developers realize something special has happened. The designer, Dr. Zinta Jansons begins exploring the implications, as the android continues caring for Mildred. When she finally dies, it has become part of the family. The Owens family purchases the android, purportedly to look after their daughter Millie, but in reality because they cannot part with it. The android is quickly named Carey, and ceases to emulate people.

The book follows Carey and the Owens family through the years in a series of short chapters, all presented through the point of view of Carey. Both family members and Carey mature. His primary charge becomes an adult, eventually with children of her own. Carey discovers he must redefine his existence and purpose over time. He experiments by taking a job. He travels and learns more about the world. Eventually, he discovers that being alive means making hard choices, including whether to live or die.

“Today I am Carey” is a rare novel. While entertaining, it goes beyond simple entertainment. Shoemaker examines the question of what it means to be alive. Despite being written about a robot, the book is about people and the meaning of individuality. Lyrically written using simple language, this story will leave readers pondering its implications.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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