This Week’s Book Review – Seapower States

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

How maritime culture affected historical events

By MARK LARDAS

Dec 4, 2018

“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert, Yale University Press, 2018, 424 pages, $30

Free markets and representative government combined to create unprecedented wealth since 1800. During the 20th century, three major conflicts were won by the coalition better representing those two traits.

“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert examines the roles maritime cultures play fostering progress. Lambert holds that nations depending on seapower must necessarily favor free trade and possess representative governments.

He examines five nations that became world powers through embracing maritime culture and seapower: Athens, Carthage, Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. All five gained power through trade — and more importantly, exchange of ideas. He argues they achieved this because all five had decentralized, representative governments made up of people whose livelihood depended on trade. This allowed the best ideas and the best leaders to rise to the top.

He also examines the major rivals of each state — continental powers favoring a strong central government with a command economy set by that government: Persia and Sparta against Athens, Rome against Carthage, Imperial (and later Revolutionary) France against Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. He explores the wars fought between the rival piers and what led to victory or defeat in each case.

Lambert differentiates between seapower (controlling the sea and trade on it) and naval power (possessing a strong navy). Continental powers can build and sustain strong navies (as did Rome and Russia in examples given in his book) and even defeat seapowers with their navies. But while seapowers use their navies to protect trade, continental powers use their navies to project land power. Rome invaded Africa, and Russia used its fleets to flank Sweden and the Ottomans.

He also examines sea states, nations which developed seapower, but didn’t become dominating nations. These include the ancient Phoenician cities of the Levant coast, Rhodes, and Genoa.

Lambert argues what makes seapower states dangerous to continental states is they foster innovation. This is destabilizing, as new technologies often undermine the authority of central governments. “Seapower States” offers insight into the direction the modern world may take due to tensions between liberty and centralization.

 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 – Smoke ‘Em if You got ‘Em

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

‘Smoke ’em’ shows military’s role in masculine rite

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 27, 2018

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em: The Rise and Fall of the Military Cigarette Ration,” by Joel R. Bius, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 328 pages, $39.95

Anyone serving in the U.S. military before 1980 remembers the cry opening every break: “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” Almost everyone, from the lowest private to the most senior officer present, would light up a cigarette.

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em: The Rise and Fall of the Military Cigarette Ration,” by Joel R. Bius examines the link between the military and cigarette smoking. He shows how cigarette consumption and the military were connected.

In 1900 cigarettes were a surprisingly small fraction of tobacco consumption. Around 7 percent of all tobacco products were retailed in the form of cigarettes. Cigarette smoking was viewed as unmanly and un-American.

World War I changed that. Nicotine proved the American Expeditionary Force’s battlefield drug of choice. Tobacco simultaneously calmed the nerves while increasing alertness. Smoking masked the battlefield’s stench. Although tobacco was known to be bad, its adverse effects were long-term. Meantime, there was a war to win. Organizations like the YMCA freely distributed cigarettes, the most convenient form of smoking tobacco to our boys in the trenches.

The link stuck when the boys returned home. Cigarettes gained the cachet as a man’s vice, linked with battlefield bravery. Bius follows the arc cigarette consumption followed through the century’s middle years. Battlefield use of cigarettes in World War II sealed the image of cigarettes as a masculine activity. By then, the Army issued a cigarette ration and subsidized smokes at the PX. Use hit a peak after World War II years when 80 percent of men smoked cigarettes.

Despite the 1964 Surgeon General’s warning and government efforts to cut tobacco use thereafter, cigarettes remained popular, even after the military eliminated the cigarette ration in 1972. It took the All-Volunteer Army to break the link between smoking and the military. Containing health care costs led the military to discourage tobacco use. That in turn broke smoking’s image as a masculine activity. Cigarette use plunged; until today, cigarette use is almost back to 1900 levels.

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em” is a fascinating story about the rise and fall of a masculine rite of passage.

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


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Saturday Night Science: Apollo 8 Fifty Years Ago

Apollo 8 EarthriseAs the tumultuous year 1968 drew to a close, NASA faced a serious problem with the Apollo project. The Apollo missions had been carefully planned to test the Saturn V booster rocket and spacecraft (Command/Service Module [CSM] and Lunar Module [LM]) in a series of increasingly ambitious missions, first in low Earth orbit (where an immediate return to Earth was possible in case of problems), then in an elliptical Earth orbit which would exercise the on-board guidance and navigation systems, followed by lunar orbit, and finally proceeding to the first manned lunar landing. The Saturn V had been tested in two unmanned “A” missions: Apollo 4 in November 1967 and Apollo 6 in April 1968. Apollo 5 was a “B” mission, launched on a smaller Saturn 1B booster in January 1968, to test an unmanned early model of the Lunar Module in low Earth orbit, primarily to verify the operation of its engines and separation of the descent and ascent stages. Apollo 7, launched in October 1968 on a Saturn 1B, was the first manned flight of the Command and Service modules and tested them in low Earth orbit for almost 11 days in a “C” mission.

Apollo 8 was planned to be the “D” mission, in which the Saturn V, in its first manned flight, would launch the Command/Service and Lunar modules into low Earth orbit, where the crew, commanded by Gemini veteran James McDivitt, would simulate the maneuvers of a lunar landing mission closer to home. McDivitt’s crew was trained and ready to go in December 1968. Unfortunately, the lunar module wasn’t. The lunar module scheduled for Apollo 8, LM-3, had been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in June of 1968, but was, to put things mildly, a mess. Testing at the Cape discovered more than a hundred serious defects, and by August it was clear that there was no way LM-3 would be ready for a flight in 1968. In fact, it would probably slip to February or March 1969. This, in turn, would push the planned “E” mission, for which the crew of commander Frank Borman, command module pilot James Lovell, and lunar module pilot William Anders were training, aimed at testing the Command/Service and Lunar modules in an elliptical Earth orbit venturing as far as 7400 km from the planet and originally planned for March 1969, three months later, to June, delaying all subsequent planned missions and placing the goal of landing before the end of 1969 at risk.

But NASA were not just racing the clock—they were also racing the Soviet Union. Unlike Apollo, the Soviet space program was highly secretive and NASA had to go on whatever scraps of information they could glean from Soviet publications, the intelligence community, and independent tracking of Soviet launches and spacecraft in flight. There were, in fact, two Soviet manned lunar programmes running in parallel. The first, internally called the Soyuz 7K-L1 but dubbed “Zond” for public consumption, used a modified version of the Soyuz spacecraft launched on a Proton booster and was intended to carry two cosmonauts on a fly-by mission around the Moon. The craft would fly out to the Moon, use its gravity to swing around the far side, and return to Earth. The Zond lacked the propulsion capability to enter lunar orbit. Still, success would allow the Soviets to claim the milestone of first manned mission to the Moon. In September 1968 Zond 5 successfully followed this mission profile and safely returned a crew cabin containing tortoises, mealworms, flies, and plants to Earth after their loop around the Moon. A U.S. Navy destroyer observed recovery of the re-entry capsule in the Indian Ocean. Clearly, this was preparation for a manned mission which might occur on any lunar launch window.

(The Soviet manned lunar landing project was actually far behind Apollo, and would not launch its N1 booster on that first, disastrous, test flight until February 1969. But NASA did not know this in 1968.) Every slip in the Apollo program increased the probability of its being scooped so close to the finish line by a successful Zond flyby mission.

These were the circumstances in August 1968 when what amounted to a cabal of senior NASA managers including George Low, Chris Kraft, Bob Gilruth, and later joined by Wernher von Braun and chief astronaut Deke Slayton, began working on an alternative. They plotted in secret, beneath the radar and unbeknownst to NASA administrator Jim Webb and his deputy for manned space flight, George Mueller, who were both out of the country, attending an international conference in Vienna. What they were proposing was breathtaking in its ambition and risk. They envisioned taking Frank Borman’s crew, originally scheduled for Apollo 9, and putting them into an accelerated training program to launch on the Saturn V and Apollo spacecraft currently scheduled for Apollo 8. They would launch without a Lunar Module, and hence be unable to land on the Moon or test that spacecraft. The original idea was to perform a Zond-like flyby, but this was quickly revised to include going into orbit around the Moon, just as a landing mission would do. This would allow retiring the risk of many aspects of the full landing mission much earlier in the program than originally scheduled, and would also allow collection of precision data on the lunar gravitational field and high resolution photography of candidate landing sites to aid in planning subsequent missions. The lunar orbital mission would accomplish all the goals of the originally planned “E” mission and more, allowing that mission to be cancelled and therefore not requiring an additional booster and spacecraft.

But could it be done? There were a multitude of requirements, all daunting. Borman’s crew, training toward a launch in early 1969 on an Earth orbit mission, would have to complete training for the first lunar mission in just sixteen weeks. The Saturn V booster, which suffered multiple near-catastrophic engine failures in its second flight on Apollo 6, would have to be cleared for its first manned flight. Software for the on-board guidance computer and for Mission Control would have to be written, tested, debugged, and certified for a lunar mission many months earlier than previously scheduled. A flight plan for the lunar orbital mission would have to be written from scratch and then tested and trained in simulations with Mission Control and the astronauts in the loop. The decision to fly Borman’s crew instead of McDivitt’s was to avoid wasting the extensive training the latter crew had undergone in LM systems and operations by assigning them to a mission without an LM. McDivitt concurred with this choice: while it might be nice to be among the first humans to see the far side of the Moon with his own eyes, for a test pilot the highest responsibility and honour is to command the first flight of a new vehicle (the LM), and he would rather skip the Moon mission and fly later than lose that opportunity. If the plan were approved, Apollo 8 would become the lunar orbit mission and the Earth orbit test of the LM would be re-designated Apollo 9 and fly whenever the LM was ready.

While a successful lunar orbital mission on Apollo 8 would demonstrate many aspects of a full lunar landing mission, it would also involve formidable risks. The Saturn V, making only its third flight, was coming off a very bad outing in Apollo 6 whose failures might have injured the crew, damaged the spacecraft hardware, and precluded a successful mission to the Moon. While fixes for each of these problems had been implemented, they had never been tested in flight, and there was always the possibility of new problems not previously seen.

The Apollo Command and Service modules, which would take them to the Moon, had not yet flown a manned mission and would not until Apollo 7, scheduled for October 1968. Even if Apollo 7 were a complete success (which was considered a prerequisite for proceeding), Apollo 8 would be only the second manned flight of the Apollo spacecraft, and the crew would have to rely upon the functioning of its power generation, propulsion, and life support systems for a mission lasting six days. Unlike an Earth orbit mission, if something goes wrong en route to or returning from the Moon, you can’t just come home immediately. The Service Propulsion System on the Service Module would have to work perfectly when leaving lunar orbit or the crew would be marooned forever or crash on the Moon. It would only have been tested previously in one manned mission and there was no backup (although the single engine did incorporate substantial redundancy in its design).

The spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control system and its Apollo Guidance Computer hardware and software, upon which the crew would have to rely to navigate to and from the Moon, including the critical engine burns to enter and leave lunar orbit while behind the Moon and out of touch with Mission Control, had never been tested beyond Earth orbit.

The mission would go to the Moon without a Lunar Module. If a problem developed en route to the Moon which disabled the Service Module (as would happen to Apollo 13 in April 1970), there would be no LM to serve as a lifeboat and the crew would be doomed.

When the high-ranking conspirators presented their audacious plan to their bosses, the reaction was immediate. Manned spaceflight chief Mueller immediately said, “Can’t do that! That’s craziness!” His boss, administrator James Webb, said “You try to change the entire direction of the program while I’m out of the country?” Mutiny is a strong word, but this seemed to verge upon it. Still, Webb and Mueller agreed to meet with the lunar cabal in Houston on August 22. After a contentious meeting, Webb agreed to proceed with the plan and to present it to President Johnson, who was almost certain to approve it, having great confidence in Webb’s management of NASA. The mission was on.

It was only then that Borman and his crewmembers Lovell and Anders learned of their reassignment. While Anders was disappointed at the prospect of being the Lunar Module Pilot on a mission with no Lunar Module, the prospect of being on the first flight to the Moon and entrusted with observation and photography of lunar landing sites more than made up for it. They plunged into an accelerated training program to get ready for the mission.

NASA approached the mission with its usual “can-do” approach and public confidence, but everybody involved was acutely aware of the risks that were being taken. Susan Borman, Frank’s wife, privately asked Chris Kraft, director of Flight Operations and part of the group who advocated sending Apollo 8 to the Moon, with a reputation as a plain-talking straight shooter, “I really want to know what you think their chances are of coming home.” Kraft responded, “You really mean that, don’t you?” “Yes,” she replied, “and you know I do.” Kraft answered, “Okay. How’s fifty-fifty?” Those within the circle, including the crew, knew what they were biting off.

The launch was scheduled for December 21, 1968. Everybody would be working through Christmas, including the twelve ships and thousands of sailors in the recovery fleet, but lunar launch windows are set by the constraints of celestial mechanics, not human holidays. In November, the Soviets had flown Zond 6, and it had demonstrated the “double dip” re-entry trajectory required for human lunar missions. There were two system failures which killed the animal test subjects on board, but these were covered up and the mission heralded as a great success. From what NASA knew, it was entirely possible the next launch would be with cosmonauts bound for the Moon.

Space launches were exceptional public events in the 1960s, and the first flight of men to the Moon, just about a hundred years after Jules Verne envisioned three men setting out for the Moon from central Florida in a “cylindro-conical projectile” in De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon), similarly engaging the world, the launch of Apollo 8 attracted around a quarter of a million people to watch the spectacle in person and hundreds of millions watching on television both in North America and around the globe, thanks to the newfangled technology of communication satellites.  Let’s tune in to CBS television and relive this singular event with Walter Cronkite.  (For one of those incomprehensible reasons in the Internet of Trash, this video, for which YouTube will happily generate an embed code, fails to embed in WordPress.  You’ll have to click the link below to view it.)

CBS coverage of the Apollo 8 launch

Now we step inside Mission Control and listen in on the Flight Director’s audio loop during the launch, illustrated with imagery and simulations.

The Saturn V performed almost flawlessly. During the second stage burn mild pogo oscillations began but, rather than progressing to the point where they almost tore the rocket apart as had happened on the previous Saturn V launch, von Braun’s team’s fixes kicked in and seconds later Borman reported, “Pogo’s damping out.” A few minutes later Apollo 8 was in Earth orbit.

Jim Lovell had sixteen days of spaceflight experience across two Gemini missions, one of them Gemini 7 where he endured almost two weeks in orbit with Frank Borman. Bill Anders was a rookie, on his first space flight. Now weightless, all three were experiencing a spacecraft nothing like the cramped Mercury and Gemini capsules which you put on as much as boarded. The Apollo command module had an interior volume of six cubic metres (218 cubic feet, in the quaint way NASA reckons things) which may not seem like much for a crew of three, but in weightlessness, with every bit of space accessible and usable, felt quite roomy. There were five real windows, not the tiny portholes of Gemini, and plenty of space to move from one to another.

With all this roominess and mobility came potential hazards, some verging on slapstick, but, in space, serious nonetheless. NASA safety personnel had required the astronauts to wear life vests over their space suits during the launch just in case the Saturn V malfunctioned and they ended up in the ocean. While moving around the cabin to get to the navigation station after reaching orbit, Lovell, who like the others hadn’t yet removed his life vest, snagged its activation tab on a strut within the cabin and it instantly inflated. Lovell looked ridiculous and the situation comical, but it was no laughing matter. The life vests were inflated with carbon dioxide which, if released in the cabin, would pollute their breathing air and removal would use up part of a CO₂ scrubber cartridge, of which they had a limited supply on board. Lovell finally figured out what to do. After being helped out of the vest, he took it down to the urine dump station in the lower equipment bay and vented it into a reservoir which could be dumped out into space. One problem solved, but in space you never know what the next surprise might be.

The astronauts wouldn’t have much time to admire the Earth through those big windows. Over Australia, just short of three hours after launch, they would re-light the engine on the third stage of the Saturn V for the “trans-lunar injection” (TLI) burn of 318 seconds, which would accelerate the spacecraft to just slightly less than escape velocity, raising its apogee so it would be captured by the Moon’s gravity. After housekeeping (presumably including the rest of the crew taking off those pesky life jackets, since there weren’t any wet oceans where they were going) and reconfiguring the spacecraft and its computer for the maneuver, they got the call from Houston, “You are go for TLI.” They were bound for the Moon.

The third stage, which had failed to re-light on its last outing, worked as advertised this time, with a flawless burn. Its job was done; from here on the astronauts and spacecraft were on their own. The booster had placed them on a free-return trajectory. If they did nothing (apart from minor “trajectory correction maneuvers” easily accomplished by the spacecraft’s thrusters) they would fly out to the Moon, swing around its far side, and use its gravity to slingshot back to the Earth (as Lovell would do two years later when he commanded Apollo 13, although there the crew had to use the engine of the LM to get back onto a free-return trajectory after the accident).

Apollo 8 rapidly climbed out of the Earth’s gravity well, trading speed for altitude, and before long the astronauts beheld a spectacle no human eyes had glimpsed before: an entire hemisphere of Earth at once, floating in the inky black void. On board, there were other concerns: Frank Borman was puking his guts out and having difficulties with the other end of the tubing as well. Borman had logged more than six thousand flight hours in his career as a fighter and test pilot, most of it in high-performance jet aircraft, and fourteen days in space on Gemini 7 without any motion sickness. Many people feel queasy when they experience weightlessness the first time, but this was something entirely different and new in the American space program. And it was very worrisome. The astronauts discussed the problem on private tapes they could downlink to Mission Control without broadcasting to the public, and when NASA got around to playing the tapes, the chief flight surgeon, Dr. Charles Berry, became alarmed.

As he saw it, there were three possibilities: motion sickness, a virus of some kind, or radiation sickness. On its way to the Moon, Apollo 8 passed directly through the Van Allen radiation belts, spending two hours in this high radiation environment, the first humans to do so. The total radiation dose was estimated as roughly the same as one would receive from a chest X-ray, but the composition of the radiation was different and the exposure was over an extended time, so nobody could be sure it was safe. The fact that Lovell and Anders had experienced no symptoms argued against the radiation explanation. Berry concluded that a virus was the most probable cause and, based upon the mission rules said, “I’m recommending that we consider canceling the mission.” The risk of proceeding with the commander unable to keep food down and possibly carrying a virus which the other astronauts might contract was too great in his opinion. This recommendation was passed up to the crew. Borman, usually calm and collected even by astronaut standards, exclaimed, “What? That is pure, unadulterated horseshit.” The mission would proceed, and within a day his stomach had settled.

This was the first case of space adaptation syndrome to afflict an American astronaut. (Apparently some Soviet cosmonauts had been affected, but this was covered up to preserve their image as invincible exemplars of the New Soviet Man.) It is now known to affect around a third of people experiencing weightlessness in environments large enough to move around, and spontaneously clears up in two to four (miserable) days.

The two most dramatic and critical events in Apollo 8’s voyage would occur on the far side of the Moon, with 3500 km of rock between the spacecraft and the Earth totally cutting off all communications. The crew would be on their own, aided by the computer and guidance system and calculations performed on the Earth and sent up before passing behind the Moon. The first would be lunar orbit insertion (LOI), scheduled for 69 hours and 8 minutes after launch. The big Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine (it was so big—twice as large as required for Apollo missions as flown—because it was designed to be able to launch the entire Apollo spacecraft from the Moon if a “direct ascent” mission mode had been selected) would burn for exactly four minutes and seven seconds to bend the spacecraft’s trajectory around the Moon into a closed orbit around that world.

If the SPS failed to fire for the LOI burn, it would be a huge disappointment but survivable. Apollo 8 would simply continue on its free-return trajectory, swing around the Moon, and fall back to Earth where it would perform a normal re-entry and splashdown. But if the engine fired and cut off too soon, the spacecraft would be placed into an orbit which would not return them to Earth, marooning the crew in space to die when their supplies ran out. If it burned just a little too long, the spacecraft’s trajectory would intersect the surface of the Moon—lithobraking is no way to land on the Moon.

When the SPS engine shut down precisely on time and the computer confirmed the velocity change of the burn and orbital parameters, the three astronauts were elated, but they were the only people in the solar system aware of the success. Apollo 8 was still behind the Moon, cut off from communications. The first clue Mission Control would have of the success or failure of the burn would be when Apollo 8’s telemetry signal was reacquired as it swung around the limb of the Moon. If too early, it meant the burn had failed and the spacecraft was coming back to Earth; that moment passed with no signal. Now tension mounted as the clock ticked off the seconds to the time expected for a successful burn. If that time came and went with no word from Apollo 8, it would be a really bad day. Just on time, the telemetry signal locked up and Jim Lovell reported, “Go ahead, Houston, this is Apollo 8. Burn complete. Our orbit 160.9 by 60.5.” (Lovell was using NASA’s preferred measure of nautical miles; in proper units it was 311 by 112 km. The orbit would subsequently be circularised by another SPS burn to 112.7 by 114.7 km.) The Mission Control room erupted into an un-NASA-like pandemonium of cheering.

Apollo 8 would orbit the Moon ten times, spending twenty hours in a retrograde orbit with an inclination of 12 degrees to the lunar equator, which would allow it to perform high-resolution photography of candidate sites for early landing missions under lighting conditions similar to those expected at the time of landing. In addition, precision tracking of the spacecraft’s trajectory in lunar orbit would allow mapping of the Moon’s gravitational field, including the “mascons” which perturb the orbits of objects in low lunar orbits and would be important for longer duration Apollo orbital missions in the future.

During the mission, the crew were treated to amazing sights and, in particular, the dramatic difference between the near side, with its many flat “seas”, and the rugged highlands of the far side. Coming around the Moon they saw the spectacle of earthrise for the first time and, hastily grabbing a magazine of colour film and setting aside the planned photography schedule, Bill Anders snapped the photo of the Earth rising above the lunar horizon which became one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century. Here is a reconstruction of the moment that photo was taken.

On the ninth and next-to-last orbit, the crew conducted a second television transmission which was broadcast worldwide. It was Christmas Eve on much of the Earth, and, coming at the end of the chaotic, turbulent, and often tragic year of 1968, it was a magical event, remembered fondly by almost everybody who witnessed it and felt pride for what the human species had just accomplished.

You have probably heard this broadcast from the Moon, often with the audio overlaid on imagery of the Moon from later missions, with much higher resolution than was actually seen in that broadcast. Here, in three parts, is what people, including this scrivener, actually saw on their televisions that enchanted night. The famous reading from Genesis is in the third part. This description is eerily similar to that in Jules Verne’s 1870 Autour de la lune.

After the end of the broadcast, it was time to prepare for the next and absolutely crucial maneuver, also performed on the far side of the Moon: trans-Earth injection, or TEI. This would boost the spacecraft out of lunar orbit and send it back on a trajectory to Earth. This time the SPS engine had to work, and perfectly. If it failed to fire, the crew would be trapped in orbit around the Moon with no hope of rescue. If it cut off too soon or burned too long, or the spacecraft was pointed in the wrong direction when it fired, Apollo 8 would miss the Earth and orbit forever far from its home planet or come in too steep and burn up when it hit the atmosphere. Once again the tension rose to a high pitch in Mission Control as the clock counted down to the two fateful times: this time they’d hear from the spacecraft earlier if it was on its way home and later or not at all if things had gone tragically awry. Exactly when expected, the telemetry screens came to life and a second later Jim Lovell called, “Houston, Apollo 8. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”

Now it was just a matter of falling the 375,000 kilometres from the Moon, hitting the precise re-entry corridor in the Earth’s atmosphere, executing the intricate “double dip” re-entry trajectory, and splashing down near the aircraft carrier which would retrieve the Command Module and crew. Earlier unmanned tests gave confidence it would all work, but this was the first time men would be trying it.

There was some unexpected and embarrassing excitement on the way home. Mission Control had called up a new set of co-ordinates for the “barbecue roll” which the spacecraft executed to even out temperature. Lovell was asked to enter “verb 3723, noun 501” into the computer. But, weary and short on sleep, he fat-fingered the commands and entered “verb 37, noun 01”. This told the computer the spacecraft was back on the launch pad, pointing straight up, and it immediately slewed to what it thought was that orientation. Lovell quickly figured out what he’d done, “It was my goof”, but by this time he’d “lost the platform”: the stable reference the guidance system used to determine in which direction the spacecraft was pointing in space. He had to perform a manual alignment, taking sightings on a number of stars, to recover the correct orientation of the stable platform. This was completely unplanned but, as it happens, in doing so Lovell acquired experience that would prove valuable when he had to perform the same operation in much more dire circumstances on Apollo 13 after an explosion disabled the computer and guidance system in the Command Module. Here is the author of the book, Jeffrey Kluger, discussing Jim Lovell’s goof.

The re-entry went completely as planned, flown entirely under computer control, with the spacecraft splashing into the Pacific Ocean just 6 km from the aircraft carrier Yorktown. But because the splashdown occurred before dawn, it was decided to wait until the sky brightened to recover the crew and spacecraft. Forty-three minutes after splashdown, divers from the Yorktown arrived at the scene, and forty-five minutes after that the crew was back on the ship. Apollo 8 was over, a total success. This milestone in the space race had been won definitively by the U.S., and shortly thereafter the Soviets abandoned their Zond circumlunar project, judging it an anticlimax and admission of defeat to fly by the Moon after the Americans had already successfully orbited it.

This is the official NASA contemporary documentary about Apollo 8.

Here is an evening with the Apollo 8 astronauts recorded at the National Air and Space Museum on 2008-11-13 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the flight.

This is a reunion of the Apollo 8 astronauts on 2009-04-23.

As of this writing, all of the crew of Apollo 8 are alive, and, in a business where divorce was common, remain married to the women they wed as young military officers.

Kluger, Jeffrey. Apollo 8. New York: Picador, 2017. ISBN 978-1-250-18251-7.


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This Week’s Book Review – The Story of Greece and Rome

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

‘The Story of Greece and Rome’ an entertaining history lesson

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 20, 2018

“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth, Yale University Press, 2018, 392 pages $30

Modern western civilization sits atop a foundation built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. How much do you know of these civilizations?

“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth offers a short, one-volume introduction to ancient Greece and Rome.

Spawforth starts at the beginning and carries the story to the present. He opens at the dawn of Greek history, and shows the influence these civilizations continue to have today.

The book starts by examining ancient Minoan and Mycenaean societies. Spawforth shows how they grew from societies into civilizations. This includes examination of how they gained, lost, and regained literacy, as well as the development of political systems and art forms.

He also shows how as Greek civilization grew, it impinged on neighbors to the west, east, and south. This includes showing how they borrowed from neighboring civilizations and fought with them. This section includes the conflict between Sparta and Athens, and how these two city-states eventually involved their neighbors.

This included the Macedonians, who eventually swallowed the Greek peninsula, the surrounding civilizations south and east (including Egypt and Persia) and then thrust east into modern Afghanistan and India. He also shows the results of the Macedonian empire fracturing after Alexander the Great’s death.

As Alexander is moving east, a new civilization was developing in the Italian peninsula: Rome. Spawforth presents the emergence of Rome and its struggles with its Etruscan, Greek, and Carthaginian neighbors. He also presents a factor allowing them to gain power – the willingness to let outsiders become Roman citizens. It was a previously untried innovation, and proved decisive.

Chapters follow showing Rome’s growth to regional domination. More importantly, he shows how Rome borrowed from Greece, and how Rome “Romanized” its territories. Rome’s arts, engineering and culture became fused with Greece.

Spawforth, emeritus professor of ancient history at Newcastle University (UK), presents the story in engaging language, mixing history with his personal experiences over the course of his career. His tales illuminate the historical discussion, humanizing the discussion.

“The Story of Greece and Rome” is entertaining and informative. Although short, it offers a succinct concentration of information.

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


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An Expose of a “Big Lie”

Like many, I found a few shiny nuggets of value in Peterson’s evocative ramblings and dismissed the rest as meaningless bafflegarb, never stepping back to appreciate the deeper meaning and motivation in Peterson’s overall philosophic system. Fortunately, Vox Day did. What he finds there is shocking – the gyrations of an intellectual con artist tying together strands from Jungian psychology and occult “wisdom” to weave a tapestry of deception disguised as a self-help guide and intended to be a foundational text for a postmodern secular religion. Vox Day exposes Peterson’s rejection of truth and reality in favor of a gnostic gospel of “balance” – a middle way between truth and falsehood, between good and evil. This short but clear and helpful text provides an essential inoculation against some of the most dangerous and virulent intellectual fallacies of our times. Check out Jordanetics.


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This Week’s Book Review – The Eighth Arrow

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

‘The Eighth Arrow’, a brilliant mix of wit, Homer and Dante

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 13, 2018

”The Eighth Arrow: Odysseus in the Underworld, A Novel,” by J. Augustine Wetta, Ignatius Press, 2018, 347 pages, $17.95

Dante placed Odysseus, hero of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in the Eighth Circle of Hell, encased in a bubble of fire with his comrade-in-arms Diomedes.

“The Eighth Arrow: Odysseus in the Underworld, A Novel,” by J. Augustine Wetta, uses this as a launch pad.

The novel starts with Odysseus’s encounter with Dante and Virgil in the Eighth Circle, where Odysseus and Diomedes are condemned as liars for devising and using the Trojan Horse.

The encounter shakes Odysseus out of his lethargy. He calls on Athena, the bright-eyed virgin, to rescue him.

She does, taking Odysseus and Diomedes to the vestibule of hell. They also have bodies and weight, something they lacked earlier. Appearing before them she asks why Odysseus didn’t call on her sooner (by the time of Dante’s visit Odysseus would have been in the circle of liars for nearly 2,600 years). It’s a question to which Odysseus has no good answer.

She presents the two with their armor, weapons and some supplies, and directs them to fight their own way out of hell, traveling through it to the bottom. Odysseus receives seven arrows, all different, and is told by Athena he must discover and use the eighth arrow to complete his escape. Athena councils Odysseus to trust his wit over his sword, his armor over his arms, and mercy over justice before disappearing.

From there, the two heroes seek their escape to heaven. The advice given Odysseus is alien. He’s in a Christian afterworld, but comes from a time over one millennium before Christ. After a brief attempt to escape through the forbidden outer door, Odysseus with Diomedes head down.

The result is a marvelous adventure mixing Homer and Dante. Wetta presents a clash of value systems and theologies. This adds to the entertainment as Odysseus slowly puzzles out how the rules have changed, even as he encounters people from his past. The book also contains a rich mix of literary references and allusions to amuse and tantalize.

“The Eighth Arrow” is a book of rare wit. Wetta blends an entertaining story with an enlightening message.

 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: People’s Republic

“People's Republic” by Kurt SchlichterAs the third decade of the twenty-first century progressed, the Cold Civil War which had been escalating in the United States since before the turn of the century turned hot when a Democrat administration decided to impose their full agenda—gun confiscation, amnesty for all illegal aliens, restrictions on fossil fuels—all at once by executive order. The heartland defied the power grab and militias of the left and right began to clash openly. Although the senior officer corps were largely converged to the leftist agenda, the military rank and file which hailed largely from the heartland defied them, and could not be trusted to act against their fellow citizens. Much the same was the case with police in the big cities: they began to ignore the orders of their political bosses and migrate to jobs in more congenial jurisdictions.

With a low-level shooting war breaking out, the opposing sides decided that the only way to avert general conflict was, if not the “amicable divorce” advocated by Jesse Kelly, then a more bitter and contentious end to a union which was not working. The Treaty of Saint Louis split the country in two, with the east and west coasts and upper midwest calling itself the “People’s Republic of North America” (PRNA) and the remaining territory (including portions of some states like Washington, Oregon, and Indiana with a strong regional divide) continuing to call itself the United States, but with some changes: the capital was now Dallas, and the constitution had been amended to require any person not resident on its territory at the time of the Split (including children born thereafter) who wished full citizenship and voting rights to serve two years in the military with no “alternative service” for the privileged or connected.

The PRNA quickly implemented the complete progressive agenda wherever its rainbow flag (frequently revised as different victim groups clawed their way to the top of the grievance pyramid) flew. As police forces collapsed with good cops quitting and moving out, they were replaced by a national police force initially called the “People’s Internal Security Squads” (later the “People’s Security Force” when the acronym for the original name was deemed infelicitous), staffed with thugs and diversity hires attracted by the shakedown potential of carrying weapons among a disarmed population.

Life in the PRNA was pretty good for the coastal élites in their walled communities, but as with collectivism whenever and wherever it is tried, for most of the population life was a grey existence of collapsing services, food shortages, ration cards, abuse by the powerful, and constant fear of being denounced for violating the latest intellectual fad or using an incorrect pronoun. And, inevitably, it wasn’t long before the PRNA slammed the door shut to keep the remaining competent people from fleeing to where they were free to use their skills and keep what they’d earned. Mexico built a “big, beautiful wall” to keep hordes of PRNA subjects from fleeing to freedom and opportunity south of the border.

Several years after the Split, Kelly Turnbull, retired military and veteran of the border conflicts around the Split paid the upkeep of his 500 acre non-working ranch by spiriting people out of the PRNA to liberty in the middle of the continent. After completing a harrowing mission which almost ended in disaster, he is approached by a wealthy and politically-connected Dallas businessman who offers him enough money to retire if he’ll rescue his daughter who, indoctrinated by the leftist infestation still remaining at the university in Austin, defected to the PRNA and is being used in propaganda campaigns there at the behest of the regional boss of the secret police. In addition, a spymaster tasks him with bringing out evidence which will allow rolling up the PRNAs informer and spy networks. Against his self-preservation instinct which counsels laying low until the dust settles from the last mission, he opts for the money and prospect of early retirement and undertakes the mission.

As Turnbull covertly enters the People’s Republic, makes his way to Los Angeles, and seeks his target, there is a superbly-sketched view of an America in which the progressive agenda has come to fruition, and one which people there may well be living at the end of the next two Democrat-dominated administrations. It is often funny, as the author skewers the hypocrisy of the slavers mouthing platitudes they don’t believe for a femtosecond. (If you think it improper to make fun of human misery, recall the mordant humour in the Soviet Union as workers mocked the reality of the “workers’ paradise”.) There’s plenty of tension and action, and sometimes following Turnbull on his mission seems like looking over the shoulder of a first-person-shooter. He’s big on countdowns and tends to view “blues” obstructing him as NPCs to be dealt with quickly and permanently: “I don’t much like blues. You kill them or they kill you.”

This is a satisfying thriller which is probably a more realistic view of the situation in a former United States than an amicable divorce with both sides going their separate ways. The blue model is doomed to collapse, as it already has begun to in the big cites and states where it is in power, and with that inevitable collapse will come chaos and desperation which spreads beyond its borders. With Democrat politicians such as Occasional-Cortex who, a few years ago, hid behind such soothing labels as “liberal” or “progressive” now openly calling themselves “democratic socialists”, this is not just a page-turning adventure but a cautionary tale of the future should they win (or steal) power.

A prequel, Indian Country, which chronicles insurgency on the border immediately after the Split as guerrilla bands of the sane rise to resist the slavers, is now available.

Schlichter, Kurt. People’s Republic. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5390-1895-7.

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This Week’s Book Review – Shadow Warriors

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. Last week’s got bumped, due to space limitations (election returns) so this week’s review is original – a book I felt worth reading, but had not had a chance to previously.

Book Review

‘Shadow Warriors’ offers enjoyable science fiction reading

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 11, 2018

Shadow Warriors, by Nathan B. Dodge, Wordfire Press, 2018, 394 pages, $18.99 paper, $5.99 e-book (kindle)

They are five teens with family problems. Cal’s dad is a drunk. Letty’s parents are too busy fighting to care about her. Tony is homeless after his drug-addict mother died. Sasha’s foster parents see him as a payday. Opi’s stepmother wants Opi’s inheritance – even if that means killing Opi.

Shadow Warriors, a science fiction novel by Nathan B. Dodge opens showing these five’s family situations. The teens soon have bigger problems. They have been secretly drafted to fight in an interstellar war.

If their side loses the other side, The Horde, will colonize Earth – after destroying all life on Earth, and remodeling the planet for them.  What is more, they cannot defeat The Horde. No one has in several millennia. Instead their force is intended to turn The Horde away from Earth, before The Horde learns of it.

Cal, Letty, Tony, Sasha, and Opi are only a few of those chosen by another non-human race that is also fighting The Horde. They have picked thousands of teens that will not be missed, and spirited them off Earth for training. Our five protagonists have never met before. They dislike each other, yet they must meld together as a team, to crew a Shadow Warrior: a stealth, interplanetary war craft designed to fight The Horde’s space navy.

The novel is space opera mixed with war story, coming-of-age tale, and space adventure.  Dodge updates the classic World War II training camp and aircraft carrier battle story to a near-future space story, The protagonists are young, with strengths and weaknesses. The battle scenes are well-thought out. Logistics proves as important as tactics.

Dodge reveals his secrets – the backstory behind why these teens were recruited, how the Horde really works, and the deep secret of the recruiting aliens – with impeccable timing. It keeps the plot moving, and draws readers into the story.  He shows the five becoming the recruiting class’s crack team while avoiding entering Mary Sue and Marty Stu territory.

Shadow Warriors is marvelously entertaining reading. An updated Heinlein juvenile – an exciting science fiction story featuring teen protagonists – it ends making you want more.

 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: Blue Collar Space

“Blue Collar Space” by Martin L. ShoemakerThis book is a collection of short stories, set in three different locales. The first part, “Old Town Tales”, are set on the Moon and revolve around yarns told at the best bar on Luna. The second part, “The Planet Next Door”, are stories set on Mars, while the third, “The Pournelle Settlements”, take place in mining settlements in the Jupiter system.

Most of the stories take place in established settlements; they are not tales of square-jawed pioneers opening up the frontier, but rather ordinary people doing the work that needs to be done in environments alien to humanity’s home. On the Moon, we go on a mission with a rescue worker responding to a crash; hear a sanitation (“Eco Services”) technician regale a rookie with the story of “The Night We Flushed the Old Town”; accompany a father and daughter on a work day Outside that turns into a crisis; learn why breathing vacuum may not be the only thing that can go wrong on the Moon; and see how even for those in the most mundane of jobs, on the Moon wonders may await just over the nearby horizon.

At Mars, the greatest problem facing an ambitious international crewed landing mission may be…ambition, a doctor on a Mars-bound mission must deal with the technophobe boss’s son while keeping him alive, and a schoolteacher taking her Mars survival class on a field trip finds that doing things by the book may pay off in discovering something which isn’t in the book.

The Jupiter system is home to the Pournelle Settlements, a loosely affiliated group of settlers, many of whom came to escape the “government squeeze” and “corporate squeeze” that held the Inner System in their grip. And like the Wild West, it can be a bit wild. When sabotage disables the refinery that processes ore for the Settlements, its new boss must find a way to use the unique properties of the environment to keep his people fed and avoid the most hostile of takeovers. Where there are vast distances, long travel times, and cargoes with great value, there will be pirates, and the long journey from Jupiter to the Inner System is no exception. An investigator seeking evidence in a murder case must learn the ways of the Trust Economy in the Settlements and follow the trail far into the void.

These stories bring back the spirit of science fiction magazine stories in the decades before the dawn of the Big Government space age when we just assumed that before long space would be filled with people like ourselves living their lives and pursuing their careers where freedom was just a few steps away from any settlement and individual merit was rewarded. They are an excellent example of “hard” science fiction, not in being difficult but that the author makes a serious effort to get the facts right and make the plots plausible. (I am, however, dubious that the trick used in “Unrefined” would work.) All of the stories stand by themselves and can be read in any order. This is another example of how independent authors and publishing are making this a new golden age of science fiction.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

This book was previously reviewed here on 2018-07-22 by @Seawriter.  I don’t mean to “step on” his review, with which I entirely agree.  I happened to be reading the book when his review appeared, and when I finally got around to writing my own review (I review every book I read), I’m happy to second his recommendation.

Shoemaker, Martin L. Blue Collar Space. Seattle: CreateSpace [Old Town Press], 2018. ISBN 978-1-7170-5188-2.


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This Week’s Book Review – Uncompromising Honor

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

‘Uncompromising Honor’ regains focus of early books

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 30, 2018

“Uncompromising Honor,” by David Weber, Baen, 2018, 784 pages, $28

David Weber started the Honor Harrington series in 1992 with On Basilisk Station. The series now contains 14 mainline novels, six anthologies and 15 spinoff novels. Enormously popular, series books have occasionally threatened to become an unconscious parody of the series, through Weber ending each novel with a battle bigger and more destructive than the climactic battle of the previous book.

“Uncompromising Honor,” by David Weber, is the 14th and latest novel in the mainline of the series. Instead, it may be one of the series’ most original books since the first three.

During the series, Honor Harrington has grown from the junior captain of On Basilisk Station to the senior fleet commander of the Star Empire of Manticore. Manticore is on the galaxy’s outer fringe from the core human worlds of the Solarian League of which Earth is the capitol. Manticore had been fighting with another frontier power, the Republic of Haven, until both nations discovered their war was triggered by the genetic slavers of the mysterious Mesa Alignment.

Haven and Manticore are now allied against Mesa, but Mesa maneuvered the Solarian League into war against this Grand Alliance. Everyone believed the Solarian League invincible, but during the last few hundred years of its 900-year existence, the Solarians have grown corrupt and inept.

“Uncompromising Honor” picks up after Alliance victories reveal Solarian weaknesses. The unelected bureaucrats running the Solarian League, thinking themselves safe behind Earth’s defenses unleash barbaric retaliation against both Alliance member and neutral star nations alike, violating interstellar rules against targeting civilian populations. The book charts the Alliance’s response.

The book (thankfully) lacks the ever-larger and ever-bloodier final battle of earlier books, yet contains the stuff to delights Weber fans. There’s the battle-against-great odds (framed plausibly). Old enemies become new allies, a satisfactory end to the Solarian War occurs, and clues left for the series’ next book. The book regains the focus of the series’ early books, and is a ripping good space opera to those who have not previously encountered the series.

“Uncompromising Honor” illustrates what makes David Weber a best-selling author. It’s worth a read.

 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 – Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society

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

‘Inspector Oldfield’ explores breaking the Black Hand

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 24, 2018

“Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought them to Justice,” by William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce, Touchstone, 2018, 336 pages, $26

Before the 1920s, the United States had little way to combat interstate crime. In some states law enforcement was purely local. Leave a city or county for the next one and you left the law behind. It was a perfect environment in which organized crime could grow — and organized crime existed before the 20th century, even in the United States.

“Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought them to Justice,” by William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce tells the tale of one of the federal government’s first attack on organized crime.

The Black Hand was a Sicilian crime syndicate that moved to the United States. It was unsophisticated; a protection racket. It blackmailed other Italian immigrants threatening victims with death if they failed to pay the demanded money, failed to do what the gang wanted (generally forwarding blackmail letters, but including joining), or if they reported the threats to the police.

It was astonishingly effective. Their targets, honest and successful Italian-American businessmen or professionals, mistrusted the local police. Gang members were ruthless, willing to kill anyone refusing their demands to make them examples. They shrouded their activities with anonymity, sending threats by mail and collecting through cutouts. Local law enforcement was not up to solving these crimes.

One of the few federal law agencies at that time was the U.S. Post Office. Any crimes involving the mails could be investigated by Post Office Inspectors. In 1899, Frank Oldfield was one — the 156th inspector appointed.

Oldfield loved solving crimes; the more spectacular the better. After learning of this blackmail scheme, which used the U.S. mails, he wanted to break it. It was the biggest crime he had encountered. This book explores how he went after and dismantled the Black Hand.

The book is co-written by one of Oldfield’s descendants who inherited his great-grandfather’s surviving records. The result is a fascinating and fast-paced story, revealing a complex and unorthodox man’s strengths and weaknesses. “Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society” explores one of the take-downs of organized crime by the federal government.

 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: The Brave and the Bold

“The Brave and the Bold” by Hans G. SchantzThis the third 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. In the second, A Rambling Wreck, Pete and Amit, now freshmen at Georgia Tech, delve deeper into the suppressed mysteries of electromagnetism and the secrets of the shadowy group Amit dubbed the Electromagnetic Villains International League (EVIL), while simultaneously infiltrating and disrupting forces trying to implant the social justice agenda in one of the last bastions of rationality in academia.

The present volume begins in the summer after the pair’s freshman year. Both Pete and Amit are planning, along different paths, to infiltrate back-to-back meetings of the Civic Circle’s Social Justice Leadership Forum on Jekyll Island, Georgia (the scene of notable conspiratorial skullduggery in the early 20th century) and the G-8 summit of world leaders on nearby Sea Island. Master of Game Amit has maneuvered himself into an internship with the Civic Circle and an invitation to the Forum as a promising candidate for the cause. Pete wasn’t so fortunate (or persuasive), and used family connections to land a job with a company contracted to install computer infrastructure for the Civic Circle conference. The latest apparent “social justice” goal was to involve the developed world in a costly and useless war in Iraq, and Pete and Amit hoped to do what they could to derail those plans while collecting information on the plotters from inside.

Working in a loose and uneasy alliance with others they’ve encountered in the earlier books, they uncover information which suggests a bold strike at the very heart of the conspiracy might be possible, and they set their plans in motion. They learn that the Civic Circle is even more ancient, pervasive in its malign influence, and formidable than they had imagined.

This is one of the most intricately crafted conspiracy tales I’ve read since the Illuminatus! trilogy, yet entirely grounded in real events or plausible ones in its story line, as opposed to Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s zany tale. The alternative universe in which it is set is artfully grounded in our own, and readers will delight in how events they recall and those with which they may not be familiar are woven into the story. There is delightful skewering of the social justice agenda and those who espouse its absurd but destructive nostrums. The forbidden science aspect of the story is advanced as well, imaginatively stirring the de Broglie-Bohm “pilot wave” interpretation of quantum mechanics and the history of FM broadcasting into the mix.

The story builds to a conclusion which is both shocking and satisfying and confronts the pair with an even greater challenge for their next adventure. This book continues the Hidden Truth saga in the best tradition of Golden Age science fiction and, like the work of the grandmasters of yore, both entertains and leaves the reader eager to find out what happens next. You should read the books in order; if you jump in the middle, you’ll miss a great deal of back story and character development essential to enjoying the adventure.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Schantz, Hans G. The Brave and the Bold. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2018. ISBN 978-1-7287-2274-0.


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Book Review: Savrola

“Savrola” by Winston S. ChurchillIn 1897, the young (23 year old) Winston Churchill, on an ocean voyage from Britain to India to rejoin the army in the Malakand campaign of 1897, turned his pen to fiction and began this, his first and only novel. He set the work aside to write The Story of the Malakand Field Force, an account of the fighting and his first published work of non-fiction, then returned to the novel, completing it in 1898. It was serialised in Macmillan’s Magazine in that year. (Churchill’s working title, Affairs of State, was changed by the magazine’s editors to Savrola, the name of a major character in the story.) The novel was subsequently published as book under that title in 1900.

The story takes place in the fictional Mediterranean country of Laurania, where five years before the events chronicled here, a destructive civil war had ended with General Antonio Molara taking power as President and ruling as a dictator with the support of the military forces he commanded in the war. Prior to the conflict, Laurania had a long history as a self-governing republic, and unrest was growing as more and more of the population demanded a return to parliamentary rule. Molara announced that elections would be held for a restored parliament under the original constitution.

Then, on the day the writ ordering the election was to be issued, it was revealed that the names of more than half of the citizens on the electoral rolls had been struck by Molara’s order. A crowd gathered in the public square, on hearing this news, became an agitated mob and threatened to storm the President’s carriage. The officer commanding the garrison commanded his troops to fire on the crowd.

All was now over. The spirit of the mob was broken and the wide expanse of Constitution Square was soon nearly empty. Forty bodies and some expended cartridges lay on the ground. Both had played their part in the history of human development and passed out of the considerations of living men. Nevertheless, the soldiers picked up the empty cases, and presently some police came with carts and took the other things away, and all was quiet again in Laurania.

The massacre, as it was called even by the popular newspaper The Diurnal Gusher which nominally supported the Government, not to mention the opposition press, only compounded the troubles Molara saw in every direction he looked. While the countryside was with him, sentiment in the capital was strongly with the pro-democracy opposition. Among the army, only the élite Republican Guard could be counted on as reliably loyal, and their numbers were small. A diplomatic crisis was brewing with the British over Laurania’s colony in Africa which might require sending the Fleet, also loyal, away to defend it. A rebel force, camped right across the border, threatens invasion at any sign of Molara’s grip on the nation weakening. And then there is Savrola.

Savrola (we never learn his first name), is the young (32 years), charismatic, intellectual, and persuasive voice of the opposition. While never stepping across the line sufficiently to justify retaliation, he manages to keep the motley groups of anti-Government forces in a loose coalition and is a constant thorn in the side of the authorities. He was not immune from introspection.

Was it worth it? The struggle, the labour, the constant rush of affairs, the sacrifice of so many things that make life easy, or pleasant—for what? A people’s good! That, he could not disguise from himself, was rather the direction than the cause of his efforts. Ambition was the motive force, and he was powerless to resist it.

This is a character one imagines the young Churchill having little difficulty writing. With the seemingly incorruptible Savrola gaining influence and almost certain to obtain a political platform in the coming elections, Molara’s secretary, the amoral but effective Miguel, suggests a stratagem: introduce Savrola to the President’s stunningly beautiful wife Lucile and use the relationship to compromise him.

“You are a scoundrel—an infernal scoundrel” said the President quietly.

Miguel smiled, as one who receives a compliment. “The matter,” he said, “is too serious for the ordinary rules of decency and honour. Special cases demand special remedies.”

The President wants to hear no more of the matter, but does not forbid Miguel from proceeding. An introduction is arranged, and Lucile rapidly moves from fascination with Savrola to infatuation. Then events rapidly spin out of anybody’s control. The rebel forces cross the border; Molara’s army is proved unreliable and disloyal; the Fleet, en route to defend the colony, is absent; Savrola raises a popular rebellion in the capital; and open fighting erupts.

This is a story of intrigue, adventure, and conflict in the “Ruritanian” genre popularised by the 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda. Churchill, building on his experience of war reportage, excels in and was praised for the realism of the battle scenes. The depiction of politicians, functionaries, and soldiers seems to veer back and forth between cynicism and admiration for their efforts in trying to make the best of a bad situation. The characters are cardboard figures and the love interest is clumsily described.

Still, this is an entertaining read and provides a window on how the young Churchill viewed the antics of colourful foreigners and their unstable countries, even if Laurania seems to have a strong veneer of Victorian Britain about it. The ultimate message is that history is often driven not by the plans of leaders, whether corrupt or noble, but by events over which they have little control. Churchill never again attempted a novel and thought little of this effort. In his 1930 autobiography covering the years 1874 through 1902 he writes of Savrola, “I have consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it.” But then, Churchill was not always right—don’t let his advice deter you; I enjoyed it.

This work is available for free as a Project Gutenberg electronic book in a variety of formats. There are a number of print and Kindle editions of this public domain text; I have cited the least expensive print edition available at the time I wrote this review. I read this Kindle edition, which has a few typographical errors due to having been prepared by optical character recognition (for example, “stem” where “stern” was intended), but is otherwise fine.

One factlet I learned while researching this review is that “Winston S. Churchill” is actually a nom de plume. Churchill’s full name is Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, and he signed his early writings as “Winston Churchill”. Then, he discovered there was a well-known American novelist with the same name. The British Churchill wrote to the American Churchill and suggested using the name “Winston Spencer Churchill” (no hyphen) to distinguish his work. The American agreed, noting that he would also be willing to use a middle name, except that he didn’t have one. The British Churchill’s publishers abbreviated his name to “Winston S. Churchill”, which he continued to use for the rest of his writing career.

Churchill, Winston S. Savrola. Seattle: CreateSpace, [1898, 1900] 2018. ISBN 978-1-7271-2358-6.


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This Week’s Book Review – The Spy and the Traitor

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. (This week it was Friday.) When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

A spectacular tale of espionage during the Cold War

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 18, 2018

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, Crown, 2018, 368 pages, $28

The Soviet Union was renowned for its ability to penetrate Western intelligence services during the Cold War. Less known are Western intelligence agencies penetrating the Soviet Union’s services.

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, relates one penetration, perhaps the most spectacular. It tells of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who turned against his masters.

Gordievsky was second generation KGB. His father and older brother both served in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, and the Soviet Union’s primary espionage service. He entered the KGB because he was expected to.

Yet Gordievsky held reservations about the Soviet Union’s brutal dictatorship. He finally decided it best for everyone — even Russians — if it were brought down. Gordievsky offered his services to Great Britain; and serving as a mole for MI6, Britain’s intelligence service, near the end of the Soviet Union’s existence.

“The Spy and the Traitor” explores his life, showing the reasons for his decision to serve the West. It also follows his career as a KGB agent (eventually rising to head the KGB’s station in London) and his service to Great Britain during that career.

Gordievsky is shown to have played a critical role preventing a nuclear exchange in the early 1980s. He helped convince Margaret Thatcher that Mikael Gorbachev was someone she could do business with and coached her on how best to negotiate with Russia to gain their trust.

Just as Gordievsky was about to be promoted from acting station chief at London to its permanent chief, he was betrayed to the Soviets by Aldrich Ames, a CIA employee working for the KGB. (The CIA had covertly learned Gordievsky’s identity.) Gordiesvsky was recalled to Moscow. Britain successfully spirited Gordiesvsky out of Russia in an operation described by Macintyre — a plan that could have been the plot of a John le Carre novel.

This makes “The Spy and the Traitor” worth reading. If it were fiction it would be rejected as too improbable to believe. Yet Macintyre describes history — events that actually happened and changed the world for the better.

 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: Red War

“Red War” by Kyle MillsThis is the fourth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author), but Kyle Mills demonstrates here that he’s a worthy successor who is taking Rapp and the series in new directions.

In the previous novel, Enemy of the State, Rapp went totally off the radar, resigning from the CIA, recruiting a band of blackguards, many former adversaries, to mount an operation aimed at a nominal U.S. ally. This time, the circumstances are very different. Rapp is back at the CIA, working with his original team headed by Scott Coleman, who has now more or less recovered from the severe injuries he sustained in the earlier novel Order to Kill, with Claudia Gould, now sharing a house with Rapp, running logistics for their missions.

Vladimir Krupin, President/autocrat of Russia, is ailing. Having climbed to the top of the pyramid in that deeply corrupt country, he now fears his body is failing him, with bouts of incapacitating headaches, blurred vision, and disorientation coming more and more frequently. He and his physician have carefully kept the condition secret, as any hint of weakness at the top would likely invite one or more of his rivals to make a move to unseat him. Worse, under the screwed-down lid of the Russian pressure cooker, popular dissatisfaction with the dismal economy, lack of freedom, and dearth of opportunity is growing, with popular demonstrations reaching Red Square.

The CIA knows nothing of Krupin’s illness, but has been observing what seems to be increasingly erratic behaviour. In the past, Krupin has been ambitious and willing to commit outrages, but has always drawn his plans carefully and acted deliberately, but now he seemed to be doing things almost at random, sometimes against his own interests. Russian hackers launch an attack that takes down a large part of the power grid in Costa Rica. A Russian strike team launches an assault on Krupin’s retired assassin and Rapp’s former nemesis and recent ally, Grisha Azarov. Military maneuvers in the Ukraine seem to foreshadow open confrontation should that country move toward NATO membership.

Krupin, well aware of the fate of dictators who lose their grip on power, and knowing that nothing rallies support behind a leader like a bold move on the international stage, devises a grand plan to re-assert Russian greatness, right a wrong inflicted by the West, and drive a stake into the heart of NATO. Rapp and Azarov, continuing their uneasy alliance, driven by entirely different motives, undertake a desperate mission in the very belly of the bear to avert what could all too easily end in World War III.

There are a number of goofs, which I can’t discuss without risk of spoilers, so I’ll take them behind the curtain.

This is a well-crafted thriller which broadens the scope of the Rapp saga into Tom Clancy territory. Things happen, which will leave the world in a different place after they occur. It blends Rapp and Azarov’s barely restrained loose cannon operations with high-level diplomacy and intrigue, plus an interesting strategic approach to pledges of defence which the will and resources of those who made them may not be equal to the challenge when the balloon goes up and the tanks start to roll. And Grisha Azarov’s devotion to his girlfriend is truly visceral.

Mills, Kyle. Red War. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-9059-9.

Here is an Author Stories interview (audio only) with the author about the novel and process of crafting a thriller.


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