Science Fiction Techno-Thriller, A Rambling Wreck, On Sale

Thought I’d share the news that my science fiction alternate history conspiracy thriller, A Rambling Wreck, will be on sale for $0.99 for the next couple of weeks.

Here’s an excerpt from John Walker’s recent review of A Rambling Wreck:

This series is a bit of Golden Age science fiction which somehow dropped into the early 21st century. It is a story of mystery, adventure, heroes, and villains, with interesting ideas and technical details which are plausible. The characters are interesting and grow as they are tested and learn from their experiences. And the story is related with a light touch, with plenty of smiles and laughs at the expense of those who richly deserve mockery and scorn. This book is superbly done and a worthy sequel to the first. I eagerly await the next, The Brave and the Bold.

If you’re a science fiction fan, consider participating in the Dragon Awards to honor the year’s best fiction. Declan Finn has a nice round-up of Dragon Award suggestions. A Rambling Wreck made Declan’s list as well as the Happy Frogs slate of recommendations.  There are many other fine works worth looking into as well.


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This Week’s Book Review – Lost, Texas

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

Exploring Texas and its forgotten places

By MARK LARDAS

June 12, 2018

“Lost, Texas: Photographs of Forgotten Buildings,” by Bronson Dorsey, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 244 pages, $40

Buildings and towns have lifespans, just like people.

“Lost, Texas: Photographs of Forgotten Buildings,” by Bronson Dorsey underscores that. A photoessay, the book captures forgotten and abandoned buildings throughout the state of Texas.

His photography is stunning. Readers make an extended road trip through Texas exploring forgotten places, buildings and towns. The trip takes readers around the state visiting east, south, central, north and west Texas and the Panhandle.

Dorsey explores the Texas that can be seen off the interstate, on state, county, Farm-to-Market, and Ranch-to Market roads. Small towns, including ghost towns, predominate, but he has a few small cities, such as Palestine and Marshall.

All buildings featured outlived their original purpose. Some, such as the old International and Great Northern Railroad Hospital in Palestine, seem in good shape, abandoned, but capable of revival if a new use could be found. A few, like the Koch Hotel in D’Hanis, are still in use, restored as bed-and-breakfasts or museums. Most, however, are abandoned in various states of deterioration.

“Lost, Texas” charts the rise and fall of both buildings and communities. The reasons for abandonment are many. Entire towns die when bypassed by the railroad, and later the interstate. Changing travel tastes make tourist courts and railroad hotels. Gas stations and stores become uneconomical when new highways bypass them.

Technology matters, too. Mechanization reduced the need for farm labor. As a result, farm communities dwindled, the schools, stores, and restaurants that served the departed community became unnecessary. Industry closings, such as the Sulphur plant at Newgulf or Presidio Mines in Shafter cause communities to whither.

Dorsey captures these trends in his photographs. The book is filled with poignant and sometimes haunting images testimony to dead dreams: A crumbling service station in Pep, the decayed sheriff’s office in Langtry, collapsing World War II bomber hangers in Pyote, a lonely red, one-room schoolhouse on the Panhandle plains in Wayside.

Each set of photos is accompanied by the story of the building captured. They are all different, yet all similar. “Lost, Texas” takes readers into the Texas of yesteryear.

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


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Book Review: Influx

“Influx” by Daniel SuarezDoesn’t it sometimes seem that, sometime in the 1960s, the broad march of technology just stopped? Certainly, there has been breathtaking progress in some fields, particularly computation and data communication, but what about clean, abundant fusion power too cheap to meter, opening up the solar system to settlement, prevention and/or effective treatment of all kinds of cancer, anti-aging therapy, artificial general intelligence, anthropomorphic robotics, and the many other wonders we expected to be commonplace by the year 2000?

Decades later, Jon Grady was toiling in his obscure laboratory to make one of those dreams—gravity control— a reality. His lab is invaded by notorious Luddite terrorists who plan to blow up his apparatus and team. The fuse burns down into the charge, and all flashes white, then black. When he awakes, he finds himself, in good condition, in a luxurious office suite in a skyscraper, where he is introduced to the director of the Federal Bureau of Technology Control (BTC). The BTC, which appears in no federal organisation chart or budget, is charged with detecting potentially emerging disruptive technologies, controlling and/or stopping them (including deploying Luddite terrorists, where necessary), co-opting their developers into working in deep secrecy with the BTC, and releasing the technologies only when human nature and social and political institutions were “ready” for them—as determined by the BTC.

But of course those technologies exist within the BTC, and it uses them: unlimited energy, genetically engineered beings, clones, artificial intelligence, and mind control weapons. Grady is offered a devil’s bargain: join the BTC and work for them, or suffer the worst they can do to those who resist and see his life’s work erased. Grady turns them down.

At first, his fate doesn’t seem that bad but then, as the creative and individualistic are wont to do, he resists and discovers the consequences when half a century’s suppressed technologies are arrayed against a intransigent human mind. How is he to recover his freedom and attack the BTC? Perhaps there are others, equally talented and defiant, in the same predicament? And, perhaps, the BTC, with such great power at its command, is not so monolithic and immune from rivalry, ambition, and power struggles as it would like others to believe. And what about other government agencies, fiercely protective of their own turf and budgets, and jealous of any rivals?

Thus begins a technological thriller very different from the author’s earlier Dæmon and Freedom™, but compelling. How does a band of individuals take on an adversary which can literally rain destruction from the sky? What is the truth beneath the public face of the BTC? What does a superhuman operative do upon discovering everything has been a lie? And how can one be sure it never happens again?

With this novel Daniel Suarez reinforces his reputation as an emerging grand master of the techno-thriller. This book won the 2015 Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel.

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Signet, [2014] 2015. ISBN 978-0-451-46944-1.


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This Week’s Book Review – Otto Kretschmer

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.

Seawriter

Book Review

Kretschmer a record-breaking World War II U-boat captain

By MARK LARDAS

June 5, 2018

“Otto Kretschmer: The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-Boat Commander,” by Lawrence Patterson, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 288 pages, $39.95

Every wartime activity has its ace-of-aces. In submarine warfare it is Otto Kretschmer, the U-boat commander who sank more tonnage than any other submarine commander in any Navy, during World War II.

“Otto Kretschmer: The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-Boat Commander,” by Lawrence Patterson, is a biography of Kretschmer.

During his career, Kretschmer sank 47 merchant ships totaling 272,043 tons. He accomplished this over a remarkable 20 months, between the start of the war in September 1939 and his capture in May 1941.

Kretschmer also became Great Britain’s “favorite German.” As Patterson shows, he was an honorable foe, assisting the crews of the ships he sank when possible. A firm German patriot, he was apolitical, serving his country rather than a party. He was also a daring and worthwhile enemy, something the British rarely resist. After the war he became good friends with Capt. Donald Macintyre, the Royal Navy captain who sank Kretschmer’s U-99.

“Otto Kretschmer” is the first major biography of Kretschmer written since Terrance Robinson’s “The Golden Horseshoe,” in 1955. Patterson’s biography is a more comprehensive and accurate account than was possible when Robinson wrote his in 1955. Patterson had access to files that were still secret in 1955. All the major participants have died, allowing greater frankness.

Greater honesty does not reflect badly on Kretschmer. Rather it allows him to be seen in greater clarity. Regardless of his cause, he is shown as a remarkable war leader. His men called him “Silent Otto” because of his reserve, but greatly respected him.

Patterson was able to accurately re-create Kretschmer’s career, including his early years in the pre-war Kriegsmarine and his wartime service. Patterson reconstructs each of Kretschmer’s war patrols in U-23 and U-99. He also follows Kretschmer’s years as a prisoner of war in Scotland and Canada. (Kretschmer very much believed resistance within the limitation of the laws of war was an officer’s duty as a POW.)

“Otto Kretschmer” is a revealing look at the career of a consummately professional naval officer. For those interested in the Battle of the Atlantic it should not be missed.

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


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Book Review: Enemy of the State

“Enemy of the State” by Kyle MillsThis is the third novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. It is the sixteenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series (Flynn’s first novel, Term Limits, is set in the same world and shares characters with the Mitch Rapp series, but Rapp does not appear in it, so it isn’t considered a Rapp novel), Mills continues to develop the Rapp story in new directions, while maintaining the action-packed and detail-rich style which made the series so successful.

When a covert operation tracking the flow of funds to ISIS discovers that a (minor) member of the Saudi royal family is acting as a bagman, the secret deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia struck in the days after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.—the U.S. would hide the ample evidence of Saudi involvement in the plot in return for the Saudis dealing with terrorists and funders of terrorism within the Kingdom—is called into question. The president of the U.S., who might be described in modern jargon as “having an anger management problem” decides the time has come to get to the bottom of what the Saudis are up to: is it a few rogue ne’er-do-wells, or is the leadership up to their old tricks of funding and promoting radical Islamic infiltration and terrorism in the West? And if they are, he wants to make them hurt, so they don’t even think about trying it again.

When it comes to putting the hurt on miscreants, the president’s go-to-guy is Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s barely controlled loose cannon, who has a way of getting the job done even if his superiors don’t know, and don’t want to know, the details. When the president calls Rapp into his office and says, “I think you need to have a talk … and at the end of that talk I think he needs to be dead” there is little doubt about what will happen after Rapp walks out of the office.

But there is a problem. Saudi Arabia is, nominally at least, an important U.S ally. It keeps the oil flowing and prices down, not only benefitting the world economy, but putting a lid on the revenue of troublemakers such as Russia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is a major customer of U.S. foreign military sales. Saudi Arabia is also a principal target of Islamic revolutionaries, and however bad it is today, one doesn’t want to contemplate a post-Saudi regime raising the black flag of ISIS, crying havoc, and letting slip the goats of war. Wet work involving the royal family must not just be deniable but totally firewalled from any involvement by the U.S. government. In accepting the mission Rapp understands that if things blow up, he will not only be on his own but in all likelihood have the U.S. government actively hunting him down.

Rapp hands in his resignation to the CIA, ending a relationship which has existed over all of the previous novels. He meets with his regular mission team and informs them he “need[s] to go somewhere you … can’t follow”: involving them would create too many visible ties back to the CIA. If he’s going to go rogue, he decides he must truly do so, and sets off assembling a rogues’ gallery, composed mostly of former adversaries we’ve met in previous books. When he recruits his friend Claudia, who previously managed logistics for an assassin Rapp confronted in the past, she says, “So, a criminal enterprise. And only one of the people at this table knows how to be a criminal.”

Assembling this band of dodgy, dangerous, and devious characters at the headquarters of an arms dealer in that paradise which is Juba, South Sudan, Rapp plots an operation to penetrate the security surrounding the Saudi princeling and find out how high the Saudi involvement in funding ISIS goes. What they learn is disturbing in the extreme.

After an operation gone pear-shaped, and with the CIA, FBI, Saudis, and Sudanese factions all chasing him, Rapp and his misfit mob have to improvise and figure out how to break the link between the Saudis and ISIS in way which will allow him to deny everything and get back to whatever is left of his life.

This is a thriller which is full of action, suspense, and characters fans of the series will have met before acting in ways which may be surprising. After a shaky outing in the previous installment, Order to Kill, Kyle Mills has regained his stride and, while preserving the essentials of Mitch Rapp, is breaking new ground. It will be interesting to see if the next novel, Red War, expected in September 2018, continues to involve any of the new team. While you can read this as a stand-alone thriller, you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve read the earlier books in which the members of Rapp’s team were principal characters.

Mills, Kyle. Enemy of the State. New York: Atria Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4767-8351-2.


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Lando Calrissian: The Back-Story to the Back-Story

“The Lando Calrissian Adventures” by L. Neil SmithIn case you aren’t a Star Wars fan, Lando Calrissian is a second tier character in the original movies, introduced as the person from whom Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc and proprietor of the city in the clouds in The Empire Strikes Back.  After the success of the Star Wars franchise, Lucasfilm decided to expand their merchandising of the universe by fleshing out the back-story of the characters in a series of novels.

In 1983, Lucasfilm contracted libertarian science fiction author L. Neil Smith (here is a review of his most recent novel) to write three novels providing the back-story of Lando before he appeared in the original movies.  These followed on from a trilogy of Han Solo stories written by Brian Daley who, for some reason, had fallen out of favour with Lucasfilm, and was not considered to write the Lando novels.

L. Neil had never written anything set in a universe not of his own creation, but, as a professional writer who needed the money, he signed the contract and delivered the product on time and to specification.  Here is my review.

He has just posted an article on his publication, The Libertarian Enterprise, which provides the back-story to the origin and production of the Lando novels.  Apparently, some of his work has been deemed canonical and included in the recent Solo movie, but he does not get into the details apart from the invention of the game of sabacc.


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This Week’s Book Review – Unlikely General: “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America

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.

Seawriter

Book Review

Gen. ‘Mad’ Wayne builds army to defeat Native Americans

By MARK LARDAS

May 29, 2018

“Unlikely General: “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America,” by Mary Stockwell, Yale University Press, 2018, 376 pages, $35

They called him “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

“Unlikely General: Mad Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America,” by Mary Stockwell tells his story. A flawed, often-despised man, Wayne rose above his weaknesses to save the United States.

Stockwell frames Wayne’s biography around Wayne’s greatest achievement: his 1794 victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. It permitted the United States to grow into a nation, which spanned the North American continent. Fought at rapids on the Maumee River, Wayne’s Legion of the United States defeated a coalition of Indian tribes battling to keep settlers out of today’s state of Ohio.

The stakes could not have been higher. The Indians got support from the British (then still occupying forts in the Old Northwest Territory the British had ceded to the United States at the end of the American Revolution). The Native Americans had defeated two previous United States armies, including a massacre of the last army sent into the Ohio Territory in 1791. Had Wayne’s army lost, the United States would likely have been constrained east of the Appalachians, with British-sponsored Indian nations controlling the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.

Stockwell shows how Anthony Wayne built the army, which defeated the Native Americans and did so despite inadequate supplies, inadequate numbers of troops, and a second in command who actively undermined Wayne.

Stockwell starts with the announcement in the nation’s capitol (then-Philadelphia) of the massacre of General Arthur St. Clair’s army at the Wabash. Stockwell then alternates between telling of Wayne’s appointment and conduct as St. Clair’s military successor, with a biography of Wayne’s life. By using this technique, she shows the links between how Wayne rebuilt the U.S. Army in the northwest and his experiences as a farmer and general earlier in his life.

She demonstrates how Wayne may have been the only general officer in the 1790s U.S. Army capable of developing a force to defeat the Native Americans. “Unlikely General” is a book that captures the complexity of the political and military situation in the 1790s, presenting it in terms that make it clear and understandable.

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


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Book Review: A Rambling Wreck

“A Rambling Wreck“ by Hans G. SchantzThis the second novel in the author’s Hidden Truth series. In the first book we met high schoolers and best friends Pete Burdell and Amit Patel who found, in dusty library books, knowledge apparently discovered by the pioneers of classical electromagnetism (many of whom died young), but which does not figure in modern works, even purported republications of the original sources they had consulted. As they try to sort through the discrepancies, make sense of what they’ve found, and scour sources looking for other apparently suppressed information, they become aware that dark and powerful forces seem bent on keeping this seemingly obscure information hidden. People who dig too deeply have a tendency to turn up dead in suspicious “accidents”, and Amit coins the monicker “EVIL”: the Electromagnetic Villains International League, for their adversaries. Events turn personal and tragic, and Amit and Pete learn tradecraft, how to deal with cops (real and fake), and navigate the legal system with the aid of mentors worthy of a Heinlein story.

This novel finds the pair entering the freshman class at Georgia Tech—they’re on their way to becoming “rambling wrecks”. Unable to pay their way with their own resources, Pete and Amit compete for and win full-ride scholarships funded by the Civic Circle, an organisation they suspect may be in cahoots in some way with EVIL. As a condition of their scholarship, they must take a course, “Introduction to Social Justice Studies” (the “Studies” should be tip-off enough) to become “social justice ambassadors” to the knuckle-walking Tech community.

Pete’s Uncle Ron feared this might be a mistake, but Amit and Pete saw it as a way to burrow from within, starting their own “long march through the institutions”, and, incidentally, having a great deal of fun and, especially for Amit, an aspiring master of Game, meet radical chicks. Once at Tech, it becomes clear that the first battles they must fight relate not to 19th century electrodynamics but the 21st century social justice wars.

Pete’s family name resonates with history and tradition at Tech. In the 1920s, with a duplicate enrollment form in hand, enterprising undergraduates signed up the fictitious “George P. Burdell” for a full course load, submitted his homework, took his exams, and saw him graduate in 1930. Burdell went on to serve in World War II, and was listed on the Board of Directors of Mad magazine. Whenever Georgia Tech alumni gather, it is not uncommon to hear George P. Burdell being paged. Amit and Pete decide the time has come to enlist the school’s most famous alumnus in the battle for its soul, and before long the merry pranksters of FOG—Friends of George—were mocking and disrupting the earnest schemes of the social justice warriors.

Meanwhile, Pete has taken a job as a laboratory assistant and, examining data that shouldn’t be interesting, discovers a new phenomenon which might just tie in with his and Amit’s earlier discoveries. These investigations, as his professor warns, can also be perilous, and before long he and Amit find themselves dealing with three separate secret conspiracies vying for control over the hidden knowledge, which may be much greater and rooted deeper in history than they had imagined. Another enigmatic document by an obscure missionary named Angus MacGuffin (!), who came to a mysterious and violent end in 1940, suggests a unification of the enigmas. And one of the greatest mysteries of twentieth century physics, involving one of its most brilliant figures, may be involved.

This series is a bit of Golden Age science fiction which somehow dropped into the early 21st century. It is a story of mystery, adventure, heroes, and villains, with interesting ideas and technical details which are plausible. The characters are interesting and grow as they are tested and learn from their experiences. And the story is related with a light touch, with plenty of smiles and laughs at the expense of those who richly deserve mockery and scorn. This book is superbly done and a worthy sequel to the first. I eagerly await the next, The Brave and the Bold.

I was delighted to see that Pete made the same discovery about triangles in physics and engineering problems that I made in my first year of engineering school. One of the first things any engineer should learn is to see if there’s an easier way to get the answer out. I’ll be adding “proglodytes”—progressive troglodytes—to my vocabulary.

For a self-published work, there are only a very few copy editing errors. The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. In an “About the Author” section at the end, the author notes:

There’s a growing fraternity of independent, self-published authors busy changing the culture one story at a time with their tales of adventure and heroism. Here are a few of my more recent discoveries.

With the social justice crowd doing their worst to wreck science fiction, the works of any of these authors are a great way to remember why you started reading science fiction in the first place.

Schantz, Hans G. A Rambling Wreck. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2017. ISBN 978-1-5482-0142-5.


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Book Review: Into the Cannibal’s Pot

“Into the Cannibal's Pot” by Ilana MercerThe author was born in South Africa, the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Benzion Isaacson, a leader among the Jewish community in the struggle against apartheid. Due to her father’s activism, the family, forced to leave the country, emigrated to Israel, where the author grew up. In the 1980s, she moved back to South Africa, where she married, had a daughter, and completed her university education. In 1995, following the first elections with universal adult suffrage which resulted in the African National Congress (ANC) taking power, she and her family emigrated to Canada with the proceeds of the sale of her apartment hidden in the soles of her shoes. (South Africa had adopted strict controls to prevent capital flight in the aftermath of the election of a black majority government.) After initially settling in British Columbia, her family subsequently emigrated to the United States where they reside today.

From the standpoint of a member of a small minority (the Jewish community) of a minority (whites) in a black majority country, Mercer has reason to be dubious of the much-vaunted benefits of “majority rule”. Describing herself as a “paleolibertarian”, her outlook is shaped not by theory but the experience of living in South Africa and the accounts of those who remained after her departure. For many in the West, South Africa scrolled off the screen as soon as a black majority government took power, but that was the beginning of the country’s descent into violence, injustice, endemic corruption, expropriation of those who built the country and whose ancestors lived there since before the founding of the United States, and what can only be called a slow-motion genocide against the white farmers who were the backbone of the society.

Between 1994 and 2005, the white population of South Africa fell from 5.22 million to 4.37 million. Two of the chief motivations for emigration have been an explosion of violent crime, often racially motivated and directed against whites, a policy of affirmative action which amounts to overt racial discrimination against whites, endemic corruption, and expropriation of businesses in the interest of “fairness”.

In the forty-four years of apartheid in South Africa from 1950 to 1993, there were a total of 309,583 murders in the country: an average of 7,036 per year. In the first eight years after the end of apartheid (1994—2001), under one-party black majority rule, 193,649 murders were reported, or 24,206 per year. And the latter figure is according to the statistics of the ANC-controlled South Africa Police Force, which both Interpol and the South African Medical Research Council say may be understated by as much as a factor of two. The United States is considered to be a violent country, with around 4.88 homicides per 100,000 people (by comparison, the rate in the United Kingdom is 0.92 and in Switzerland is 0.69). In South Africa, the figure is 34.27 (all estimates are 2015 figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). And it isn’t just murder: in South Africa,where 65 people are murdered every day, around 200 are raped and 300 are victims of assault and violent robbery.

White farmers, mostly Afrikaner, have frequently been targets of violence. In the periods 1996–2007 and 2010–2016 (no data were published for the years 2008 and 2009), according to statistics from the South African Police Service (which may be understated), there were 11,424 violent attacks on farms in South Africa, with a total of 1609 homicides, in some cases killing entire farm families and some of their black workers. The motives for these attacks remain a mystery according to the government, whose leaders have been known to sing the stirring anthem “Kill the Boer” at party rallies. Farm attacks follow the pattern in Zimbabwe, where such attacks, condoned by the Mugabe regime, resulted in the emigration of almost all white farmers and the collapse of the country’s agricultural sector (only 200 white farmers remain in the country, 5% of the number before black majority rule). In South Africa, white farmers who have not already emigrated find themselves trapped: they cannot sell to other whites who fear they would become targets of attacks and/or eventual expropriation without compensation, nor to blacks who expect they will eventually receive the land for free when it is expropriated.

What is called affirmative action in the U.S. is implemented in South Africa under the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme, a set of explicitly racial preferences and requirements which cover most aspects of business operation including ownership, management, employment, training, supplier selection, and internal investment. Mining companies must cede co-ownership to blacks in order to obtain permits for exploration. Not surprisingly, in many cases the front men for these “joint ventures” are senior officials of the ruling ANC and their family members. So corrupt is the entire system that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most eloquent opponents of apartheid, warned that BEE has created a “powder keg”, where benefits accrue only to a small, politically-connected, black elite, leaving others in “dehumanising poverty”.

Writing from the perspective of one who got out of South Africa just at the point where everything started to go wrong (having anticipated in advance the consequences of pure majority rule) and settled in the U.S., Mercer then turns to the disturbing parallels between the two countries. Their histories are very different, and yet there are similarities and trends which are worrying. One fundamental problem with democracy is that people who would otherwise have to work for a living discover that they can vote for a living instead, and are encouraged in this by politicians who realise that a dependent electorate is a reliable electorate as long as the benefits continue to flow. Back in 2008, I wrote about the U.S. approaching a tipping point where nearly half of those who file income tax returns owe no income tax. At that point, among those who participate in the economy, there is a near-majority who pay no price for voting for increased government benefits paid for by others. It’s easy to see how this can set off a positive feedback loop where the dependent population burgeons, the productive minority shrinks, the administrative state which extracts the revenue from that minority becomes ever more coercive, and those who channel the money from the producers to the dependent grow in numbers and power.

Another way to look at the tipping point is to compare the number of voters to taxpayers (those with income tax liability). In the U.S., this number is around two to one, which is dangerously unstable to the calamity described above. Now consider that in South Africa, this ratio is eleven to one. Is it any wonder that under universal adult suffrage the economy of that country is in a down-spiral?

South Africa prior to 1994 was in an essentially intractable position. By encouraging black and later Asian immigration over its long history (most of the ancestors of black South Africans arrived after the first white settlers), it arrived at a situation where a small white population (less than 10%) controlled the overwhelming majority of the land and wealth, and retained almost all of the political power. This situation, and the apartheid system which sustained it (which the author and her family vehemently opposed) was unjust and rightly was denounced and sanctioned by countries around the globe. But what was to replace it? The experience of post-colonial Africa was that democracy almost always leads to “One man, one vote, one time”: a leader of the dominant ethnic group wins the election, consolidates power, and begins to eliminate rival groups, often harking back to the days of tribal warfare which preceded the colonial era, but with modern weapons and a corresponding death toll. At the same time, all sources of wealth are plundered and “redistributed”, not to the general population, but to the generals and cronies of the Great Man. As the country sinks into savagery and destitution, whites and educated blacks outside the ruling clique flee. (Indeed, South Africa has a large black illegal immigrant population made of those who fled the Mugabe tyranny in Zimbabwe.)

Many expected this down-spiral to begin in South Africa soon after the ANC took power in 1994. The joke went, “What’s the difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa? Ten years.” That it didn’t happen immediately and catastrophically is a tribute to Nelson Mandela’s respect for the rule of law and for his white partners in ending apartheid. But now he is gone, and a new generation of more radical leaders has replaced him. Increasingly, it seems like the punch line might be revised to be “Twenty-five years.”

The immediate priority one takes away from this book is the need to address the humanitarian crisis faced by the Afrikaner farmers who are being brutally murdered and face expropriation of their land without compensation as the regime becomes ever more radical. Civilised countries need to open immigration to this small, highly-productive, population. Due to persecution and denial of property rights, they may arrive penniless, but are certain to quickly become the backbone of the communities they join.

In the longer term, the U.S. and the rest of the Anglosphere and civilised world should be cautious and never indulge in the fantasy “it can’t happen here”. None of these countries started out with the initial conditions of South Africa, but it seems like, over the last fifty years, much of their ruling class seems to have been bent on importing masses of third world immigrants with no tradition of consensual government, rule of law, or respect for property rights, concentrating them in communities where they can preserve the culture and language of the old country, and ensnaring them in a web of dependency which keeps them from climbing the ladder of assimilation and economic progress by which previous immigrant populations entered the mainstream of their adopted countries. With some politicians bent on throwing the borders open to savage, medieval, inbred “refugees” who breed much more rapidly than the native population, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how the tragedy now occurring in South Africa could foreshadow the history of the latter part of this century in countries foolish enough to lay the groundwork for it now.

This book was published in 2011, but the trends it describes have only accelerated in subsequent years. It’s an eye-opener to the risks of democracy without constraints or protection of the rights of minorities, and a warning to other nations of the grave risks they face should they allow opportunistic politicians to recreate the dire situation of South Africa in their own lands.
Mercer, Ilana. Into the Cannibal’s Pot. Mount Vernon, WA, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9849070-1-4.
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This Week’s Book Review – Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Propellants

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.

Seawriter

Book Review

‘Ignition!’ explores the ‘golden age’ of rocketry

By MARK LARDAS

May 22, 2018

Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Propellants,” by John D. Clark, Rutgers University Press Classics, 2018, 302 pages, $24.95

Today, rocket science commonly refers to anything dealing with space. Originally, it meant rocket design, especially fuel development.

“Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Propellants,” by John D. Clark, harks back to those day. While informal, it is a comprehensive account of rocket fuel development.

In “Ignition!” Clark reveals what went on behind the scenes in the early days of rocketry. He was the perfect man to do so. A pioneer rocket scientist, an active chemist from the early 1930s, between 1949 and 1970 he was one of the leading developers of liquid rocket fuels. A talented writer (publishing science fiction in 1930) he knew all the players, inside and outside the United States.

Clark shows what made rocket science challenging is not that it is difficult. It is that rocket fuels are very finicky. Do anything wrong and the rocket does not go whoosh. It goes boom.

Clark shows all the ways they go boom. He explains what makes a good rocket fuel, shows readers what works and shows readers what does not work and why. He starts with Tsiolkovsky in the late 1800s, and ending with the Saturn V and the moon missions in the late 1960s.

His focus is on the golden age of rocket fuel development, from 1946 through 1961. Those years saw development of the liquid fuels still used in rockets today, with a lot of dead ends. Clark spends chapters on the dead ends, such as peroxide fuels and monopropellants. Frequently those chapters are books’ most entertaining.

There is chemistry involved, including formidable chemical equations. Readers unfamiliar with chemistry should skip them. They are for the chemistry geeks reading the book. Between the equations are what makes the book entertaining; the technician attacked by bats after a fuel test, the propellant developer who took a year off to develop hula hoops and many similar stories.

“Ignition!,” originally written in 1972, is back in print after a long hiatus. A classic book, it tells a rollicking story of an era when space was the frontier. An informative history, it reads like an adventure 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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