Thursday, 9 December 2010

Lucy’s Blade (John Lambshead)

Lucy’s Blade
-John Lambshead

I have mixed feelings about this book.

The plot will not be unexpected to anyone familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To summarise, a magical ritual involving John Dee and Sir Francis Walsingham goes spectacularly wrong and accidentally binds his niece, Lucy, to a demon. (Well, kind of a demon.) Lucy finds herself taking on responsibilities that good women were not expected to perform in Elizabethan England, such as fighting demons and a rogue sorceress. There’s a merry cast of clerks, old sea dogs (including a dashing ship’s Captain who made my teeth clench) and the Queen herself, target of an assassination plot.

There is a great deal to love in this book. The time period is well-described, along with the treatment of women in England, which while superior to modern-day Saudi Arabia was still barbaric, not least because Elizabeth was more than capable of ruling the entire country. There are few slips, although one does wonder how many changes might have occurred in history if magic – as was implied – was actually real all along. Of course, with the exact nature of Lilith as defined in the book, magic might not be the right word.

There is also a great deal to be annoyed about. Lucy doesn’t set out to overthrow the sexist and downright irrational barriers, or, for that matter, to use what she’s given to change the world. Granted medical knowledge far superior to anything in that time, among other things, she doesn’t attempt to introduce changes, such as fresh fruit to tackle scurvy. I’m sure her handsome Captain would be delighted to have such a boon! The flashbacks and the intersections with modern-day Britain are just annoying. The main body of the plot stands well on its own.

And then…just what was the overall plot? I expected Lucy standing in defence of the Queen, not…well, that would be spoiling it.

Let’s just say that this book had considerable promise, but fails to quite live up to it. It’s not a bad read, but really needed a rewrite.

One Second After (William R. Forstchen)

One Second After
-William R. Forstchen

One Second After was recommended to me by a person who read my The Living Will Envy The Dead and is set in a small American town, moments after terrorists (or perhaps the Chinese) detonate a nuke high overhead, causing an EMP that sends the United States back a hundred years. Vast amounts of electrical equipment stop working, cars come to a screeching halt, computers are rendered useless…in short, and it’s the end of the world as we know it. (I think that he overstates the sheer totality of the effects quite badly, but I can work with it.) People who are familiar with Dies the Fire and some of Stirling’s other works will not find much to surprise them in this book.

The story revolves around a main character (John Matherson) who is/was a former army officer who moved to the town to take care of his dying wife and bring up his two daughters. His wife died before the book opens, leaving him a single parent although he does have the help of his wife’s mother. He finds himself at the heart of the town’s response to the crisis and struggles to sort out what they have to do to survive.

It’s not pretty (and not just because John is curiously ineffectual at times.) The modern-day cities have far more people than they can handle, forcing them to expel people or be torn apart by massive food riots. Smaller towns declare martial law and try to keep back hordes of refugees who are convinced that the farmers have food they need. John’s daughter, who is a diabetic, needs insulin and the stocks run out…his other daughter, whose boyfriend seems to abandon his family and move in with his girlfriend, runs out of birth control supplies and gets pregnant. Forstchen doesn’t hesitate to keep hitting them with tragedy after tragedy. They are forced to discuss possibilities like deliberately starving some people to save others, or looting survivalists to feed the rest of the town, or…they actually come up with some quite neat solutions to their problems.

(One I rather liked was an announcement that anyone who wanted a ration card had to have his home and property searched to ensure that they were not concealing food.)

They also discover just how selfish some people can be. A nearby larger town has enough food to feed them all for quite some time, yet the town leaders are driving out refugees to make their stock last longer, trying to force the hero’s town to take lots of people. (They refuse.) Druggies attack an old folks home and take drugs – when captured, they scream for a lawyer. The hero kills them publicly and makes a moving speech about it. There are some moments of genuine amusement and some of pain. The hero sees thousands of people who need help, but helping even a handful of them would exhaust their merger supplies quickly.

And then there’s the traditional attack from fanatic cannibals. My main gripe is that this starts and ends very quickly towards the end of the book. It really needed more build-up and suchlike before the war actually began. As it is, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on – which, given that the hero is the CO of the defenders, rather worrying. Forstchen spends more time dwelling on the agonies than the adventure.

The post-war world is odd, to say the least. The US is effectively destroyed. Parts of it are ruled by religious fanatics like the ones John destroyed. Iran and North Korea got blasted. China has a large presence in the western USA…which makes little sense. The Chinese Navy couldn’t stand up to the USN and most of the USN escaped the pulse. They could easily move a few subs into the area and sink all the Chinese transports until they get the idea. I’d have expected a Mexican intrusion, although the Mexicans probably got hit by the pulse as well. I’d have liked to see more of the post-war world.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book. One thing that did nag at me is that the characters kept telling each other how stupid some people could be. A college that didn’t have a ROTC training program for kids, or people who think that the end of technology makes the world much better. I quite agree with Forstchen that such people deserve everything they get in a post-holocaust world, but he repeats this point time and time again, including lines about how stupid they all were to have ignored the threat. Rather less importantly, the book needed a good editor. There were quite a few grammar errors in the text.

Maybe not an instant classic, but it stands up well compared to DTF.

At least its not as hopeless.

Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion

What if they held a secret invasion and no one came?

Marvel, to give it its due, is generally better at producing massive crossover events than DC. DC’s stories are always more dependent on making you buy spin-offs and tie-in events than Marvels, forcing you to either buy more comics or miss out parts of the story. The reason I don’t like Infinitive Crisis and Final Crisis is because the story is too dependent on the tie-ins and it’s difficult to get some idea of everything that’s going on. Civil War and World War Hulk, by contrast, managed to keep a coherent storyline and most of the tie-ins could be read or not, as you liked.

But Secret Invasion is little more than a vast disappointment.

Regular readers were introduced to the concept of the Skulls (shape-changing aliens from outer space) infiltrating the Marvel universe a few years ago, shaping the universe to weaken the heroes in preparation for a massive invasion. They started the Civil War (although at least they avoided making Tony Stark a skull), shattered the Avengers and laid the groundwork for the invasion. When a handful of Skulls were discovered, Tony Stark (Iron Man) started to try to prepare for the invasion, but it was too late. The Skulls were on their way.

So far, so good.

SWORD detects a Skull ship entering Earth’s atmosphere and Stark sends the Mighty Avengers to investigate, encountering the New Avengers, their on-the-run former allies, in the Savage Land. The ship opens, revealing heroes from a kinder, gentler era, while the Skulls put their plan into operation. The world communications and defence networks go down. SWORD is taken out. Prisons are busted open. A mighty fleet of skull ships attack New York City. The new heroes are revealed to be skulls. The real heroes return to New York. They fight the skulls and beat them. That’s it. Oh, and the Wasp dies as well.

Bah, Humbug.

It took eight issues and a day, comic book time, to end the invasion. I am not impressed. The skulls were an overwhelming threat, but now…now, they were just swept aside. There are so many problems with this series that it’s hard to believe that the early promise was swept aside to be replaced with this. There was so much promise here, but now it just looks as if the universe has been rebooted yet again.

Questions: why weren't the originals (the people the skulls replaced) simply killed? Why didn’t the ship that crashed in the Savage Land have a mighty bomb onboard? Why did the Wasp die? What happened to the President and the rest of the world’s governments? Where was the military? All that lead-up and that’s all that Nick Fury did?

Grr.

Conclusion; good artwork, great lead-up, poor storytelling and flawed execution. It was nice to see Maria Hill having such a good role for once, and the new Captain Britain series is well worth a read, but everything else…meh. Next time, Marvel, get Warren Ellis to write it.

Terror Terror Terror: The Solution to Muslim Terror (Anon)

Terror Terror Terror: The Solution to Muslim Terror

One of the downsides of my departure from AH.COM and the sheer volume of shit pushed out by my detractors about me is that I get emails from people who have views that make John Ringo and Tom Kratman look far-left. One of them – mentioning no names here – mentioned a rather odd book entitled Terror Terror Terror, written by a collaborative group under the name of V. Igilante. (Very cute, I don’t think.) The book’s own blurb says that this book was an email internet collaboration by over 60 authors and editors. The authors have a wide range of backgrounds and had a great time sharing and collaborating with each other.

It is complete and utter tripe.

The basic idea is simple. A moderate Muslim believes that Islam is in danger from radical Muslim terrorists, who want to impose their beliefs, not only on their own societies, but also on the entire world. He assembles a group of American and Russian terrorists to terrorize the terrorists, which they do by crashing a plane into Mecca and blowing up an entire city in Iran. Somehow, this convinces most terrorist leaders to stop fighting…what?

The book had, I will agree, an interesting core concept. The problem was that it fell apart quickly, because the book was very badly edited. We are treated to several discourses on the roots of Islamic terror – not always particularly accurate ones either – and too much attention is paid to details that are simply unimportant to the story. It also ignores other issues. Bombing Mecca would almost certainly trigger riots right across the world; bombing Iran would certainly cause suspicions that the US had provided the nuke, or even carried out the bombing raid itself.

And terrorists don’t break that easily. The root causes of what the book describes as ‘Muslim terror’ aren’t so easy to deal with. OBL and his fellow terrorists don’t give a shit about anything, but their own power; they will quite happily shit over their religion to win, kill their own people, commit vile acts and atrocities…let us not forget that the people who have suffered the most at the hands of AQ have been their so-called fellow Muslims.

There is much serious food for thought in this book, but it really needed a better editor and someone with a sense of perspective. It also needed less of the ‘all Muslims are bastards,’ particularly when one of the main characters was a Muslim.

No Expenses Spared (Robert Winnett & Gordon Rayner)

No Expenses Spared
-Robert Winnett & Gordon Rayner

Why do we pay taxes again?

It is one of the ironies of Britain that despite frequent complaints about bad government from all sides of the political spectrum, the UK is actually reasonably well-governed. Certainly, there are exceptions and balls-ups aplenty, but by and large Britain is a far nicer place to live than…say, pretty much anywhere outside the First World. Just ask those nice protesters who throng through our major cities every time something happens outside Britain’s control – if they lived in Iran, or Zimbabwe, they would be dead.

And then the whole expenses scandal broke.

The elected leaders of the country – the MPs – receive a certain amount of money as a spending allowance. The idea was that poorer MPs would require assistance from public funds to handle their role. (Politics is an expensive business.) The whole problem was that the system suffered from incredibly limited oversight and it was almost tailor-made for abuse, and it was abused. The story presented by The Daily Telegraph was almost beyond belief. MPs were claiming expenses for almost anything you could imagine and defrauding the taxpayer of millions of pounds.

No Expenses Spared starts with a nod to Labour’s botched Freedom of Information Act – watered down to make it surprisingly hard to use – and the handful of campaigners who tried to learn the innermost secrets of MPs finances. Their successes were comparatively limited until a whistleblower – his name remains unknown – sent the Telegraph a CD containing the innermost details of expenses, implicating almost all of the Honourable Members, including Gordon Brown. The agonies the newspaper went through as it checked the data, worried constantly about legal repression and injunctions that might have buried the story, are depicted before the newspaper finally ran with the story. It was a bombshell.

Over the next few weeks and months, the British population was treated to discovery after discovery, from the criminal to the absurd. (One MP claimed a phantom mortgage, another claimed for a duck house and a third claimed for female sanitary supplies.) It may have started with Labour, yet all of the major parties were rapidly implicated. The Tories may have been the party of the wealthy, yet they had many MPs just as obnoxious as Labour MPs. The only party that seemed to be spared was the BNP!

There are villains aplenty in this book, starting with the Speaker, who was forced to resign, the Prime Minister and hundreds of MPs who seemed to have lost all touch with reality. There were a handful of MPs who were ‘saints’ with surprisingly clean hands. Gordon Brown had lost control so badly that his leadership was seriously challenged and had a prospective candidate come forward, he might have been voted out of the Labour party. His Cabinet seemed to be in a state of permanent disintegration ever since the scandal broke. MPs were walking around shell-shocked, wondering who would be the next to incur the public’s anger.

[The former Speaker was then shamefully granted a peerage and allowed to take a seat in the House of Lords.]

The major politician who came out of it best was unquestionably David Cameron. He reacted with speed, decisiveness and ruthlessness, coming down hard on any Tory MPs who were caught red-handed. (Cameron’s claims made boring reading.) Tory MPs would face a ‘Star Chamber’ in addition to the normal tests and any who refused would be expelled from the Party. It was, as some commenters remarked, the moment when Cameron first showed that he had PM potential. A number of Tory MPs were caught and decided that they would not stand for re-election, or left at once.

The book reads, at times, like a fantasy novel. The claims are just unbelievable. Shahid Malik, the UK's first Muslim to be a Government Minister, accused the newspaper of being racist, in printing a picture of him beside an image of a man who looked (just slightly) like Bin Laden. The man was actually a rather questionable businessman who was implicitly involved in Malik’s activities and Malik’s attempts at legal action went nowhere. Malik, while one of the villains of the piece, was luckier than most. He was allowed to rejoin the government after being whitewashed (hah) and cleared by a second inquiry into his conduct.

And yet he was far from the worst. What about the wealthy-as-Midas Tory who ordered a Duck House? The MPs who kept altering their second homes to claim expenses for needless repairs? The MPs who allowed their relatives to work in their offices, or live in their homes without rent, or…the list goes on and on. It’s sickening.

I tend to dislike books published immediately after – or even during – an event. They tend to lack the perspective of more balanced works, yet No Expenses Spared is surprisingly well-balanced and focused. The authors are clearly more at home in the newsroom than writing factual manuscripts, but the book – after a slightly clumsy start – gets going with a roar. It is, and remains, a very through review of the whole affair – at least until the book was published!

I would advise every Briton, of every political stripe, to read this book before the next election in 2010. Not only is it good reading, but it is of vital political importance to the British political landscape. The rot at the core of the House of Commons threatens the very heart of British democracy. No major Party escaped the taint.



Read it and pray.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Out of the Dark (David Weber)

Out of the Dark
-David Weber

WARNING: Major Spoilers!

I’m going to be up-front about this. I found Out of the Dark to be a huge disappointment. This is all the more galling when David Weber is the genius who wrote such books as Mutineer’s Moon, On Basilisk Station, The Honour of the Queen and many others. I love Weber’s science-fiction, but I have never been so keen on his fantasy. This book shows all of David Weber’s weaknesses and few of his strengths. Worst of all, it ends with a Deus Ex Machina that came right out of left field.

Anyway…back when the English were fighting the French, Earth was visited by a scoutship from the Hegemony, an alien federation composed of (mostly) vegetarian alien races. The aliens, properly horrified at human vileness, eventually assigned the conquest of Earth to a meat-eating race called the Shongairi. The Shongairi, who have their own plans to eventually overthrow their superiors, decide that humans would make a perfect slave race and launch the invasion. Unluckily for them, the human race has advanced far faster than they believed possible and the world they are invading is the modern-day Earth. (Shades of Harry Turtledove’s WorldWar here.)

The aliens attack the Earth, starting their invasion with a massive bombardment that – just incidentally – kills off everyone who can offer to surrender. After a series of battles between organised human forces and the alien invaders – to be fair, those battles, particularly the F-22 encounters with the enemy, are very good – the fighting degenerates into an insurgency against an alien force. While the Shongairi struggle desperately to understand why the human race is just so damn weird, the humans keep pressing their attacks. The Shongairi are finally driven to the point where they retreat from the planet and intend to bombard the human race out of existence, only to discover that their ships have been boarded by…vampires! The poor aliens don’t stand a chance.

I would have found the idea much more believable if the vampires had been mentioned right from the start. The possibilities of a secret other race living on Earth are endless, if handled properly. David Weber could have done it very well, yet instead we get the vampires suddenly appearing and kicking butt.

That isn’t the only problem in the book. David Weber has a habit of including massive – and I mean massive – infodumps in his books. In most books, that is at least kept reasonably relevant to the plot. Here, the vast mountain of information is often unrelated to the plot. For example, there is a large section of the book based on how the survivalists created their secret lair. Later, the book digresses into how determined the women survivalists are to keep their children safe and how they would lay down their lives in order to save them. All very interesting, yet the survivalists aren’t even attacked!

This book really needed a rewrite. It came across as clunky. I think it would have worked better if it had been expanded into a WorldWar-sized series or perhaps condensed into a neater plot. There are true moments of greatness in this book, yet they fit together poorly.

Overall, it’s worth a read, but only in paperback.

(Sample chapters can be found here - http://jiltanith.thefifthimperium.com/site/book/OutoftheDark/-/)

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and only Liberals – Can Win The War On Terror and Make America Great Again (Peter Beinart)

The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and only Liberals – Can Win The War On Terror and Make America Great Again
-Peter Beinart

‘Liberal’ is something of a dirty word these days, as Peter Beinart ruefully notes; ‘Liberals’ are blamed for having caused, at least in part, the chaos of the War on Terror that we face today. The charge has a certain element of truth to it; liberals pushed through immigration compromises that were not compromises, liberals opposed the war on Iraq to the point where they half-convinced the enemy that they were stronger than they were, and liberals have often opposed security measures designed to make the world safer. Regardless, Peter Beinart, journalist and editor-at-large for The New Republic, believes that only liberals can win the War on Terror.

Beinart begins with a short history of post-WW2 liberalism in the United States, covering the Civil Rights era, the McCarthy period and the self-destruction of American liberalism. Liberals, according to Beinart, found themselves caught between the demands of their belief system – a theory that the US should always act with pure intentions – and the dictates of the real world. Internally, liberals opposed segregation and pushed for rights for blacks; externally, liberals found themselves caught between the belief that ‘Uncle Joe Stalin’ was a good guy, and the truth of soviet occupation of most of Europe. As Beinart puts it…

“Liberals like Pepper and Gahagan Douglas did not want Greece and Turkey to fall to Soviet aggression. Yet they could not bear to see the US back faulty governments.” (Page 7)

Or, perhaps, they did want to watch the countries fall, as long as it allowed them a chance to play at being morally superior to everyone else.


As the Cold War grew darker, it didn’t get much better. The liberal movement was fracturing and demands for ideological correctness became much more important than facts, facts, and more facts, while opposition to the government became a requirement. Parts of the liberal movement saw themselves as always cast in the role of opponent to the government, whatever was really happening.

“[Paul Berman’s (left-wing journalist)] article called the Sardinists Leninists and condemned their humans rights abuses…but [his] editor tried to kill the story, saying that it would play into the Regan administrations hands. It was an old argument; Berman was saying that liberals should oppose any denial of freedom. For [the editor], liberalism’s only struggle was against the right” (Page 71)

The editor’s name? Michael Moore.

A point that was not made by Beinart, although pretty important to his theory, lies in the distinction between the academic and the real world. Those who opposed civil rights didn’t just operate from racism; they thought that the government would be giving money – their money – to black men, in compensation for actions they personally had nothing to do with. Yes, racism is always wrong, but many – hell, almost all – of the people alive in 1960-70 had nothing to do with forming the conditions that the slaves and the former slaves lived under, and they were not prepared to pay, personally, for repairing the damage. Ideals are one thing, but on the real world, I would not be prepared to pay half my salary to help people who need it, not with my own family at stake.

“At its core, doughface liberalism offers an escape from the choices the real world requires.” (Page 172)

The end of the cold war allowed the liberals their own chance at governing. Many of the wounds within the body politic had healed, others had been allowed to fester, but liberalism failed to learn from experience. Liberals placed their faith in international institutions, failing to grasp that they depended upon almost universal agreement; there was no logical reason, for example, for North Korea or Iran to vote in favour of sanctioning Saddam, despite the evil nature of his regime. In effect…

“From Henry Wallace…to Michael Moore after September 11th, some liberals have preferred inaction to the tragic reality that America must shed its moral innocence to act meaningfully in the world.” (Page xi)

Liberals – as a general rule – failed to grasp the simple fact that the world was not perfect and never would be perfect, regardless of how much money was poured down the drain of trying to help the remainder of the world. The net result was that the liberals lost touch with the working classes of America, and to some extent, their support in other areas was bleeding away as well.

And then came 9/11.

In a very real sense, liberals should have taken the War on Terror as a golden opportunity to re-examine and revitalise their beliefs. Although Beinart noted that “Today, however, there is no totalitarian superpower to put America’s actions in flattering context” (Page 195), he was incorrect; the world is full of states that put America in flattering context. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq…all of them acted in ways that should have horrified the liberal mind. Women are treated as second-class citizens at best – cattle at worst – homosexuals are stoned to death, non-Muslims or the wrong kind of Muslim face horrifying persecution, the schools are crammed with teachers who blame everything on the Great Satan and it’s motley collection of Jews, Homos and…you’ve guessed it, liberals. But liberals do not. As Beinart puts it…

“If today’s liberals cannot rouse as much passion for fighting a movement that flings acid at unveiled women as they do for taking back the Senate in 2006, they have strayed far from liberalism’s best traditions.” (Page xii)

Beinart, who supported the Iraq War, recognises that the War on Terror must be fought. But, for many liberals, the term ‘the War on Terror is the war that must be fought’ translates as ‘we must fight the War on Terror.’ Liberals, particularly the hardcore left, found themselves in the trap of believing that military action never solves anything, missing the simple fact that many Americans believed just that…and they were right. Liberals found themselves out in the cold.

“The premise that America could best fight terrorism by fighting its own imperialist impulses made it difficult [for liberals] to endorse a military response to 9/11.” (Page 171)

The net result of liberal actions is that liberals are often regarded as ivory-tower intellectuals at best, or outright traitors at worst. Liberals may be able to rise above the very human desire to just hit back – although I doubt it – but that is not true for the vast silent majority. The legal system that liberals are so fond of was never designed to handle an international terrorist organisation with no strong links to a government that was actually willing to help. Regardless of the deeper causes of problems, liberals – who have every incentive to get behind the War on Terror and push – ended up smearing themselves as enemies. Beinart may have supported the Iraq War, but he criticizes it heavily, apparently unaware of the simple fact that there were elements that were beyond the US’s ability to control.

“Had the Bush administration realised before the war that Iraqi democracy had to be built and not simply unleashed, the occupation would have gone better. But that does not mean that it would have gone well.” (Page 158)

It is in proposing alternatives that Beinart’s plan falls down. The main set of proposals cover international involvement and a long-term project of social work that might alter the face of the Middle East, perhaps based on the Marshall Plan. It is an interesting concept, but both of them fail; the international community simply could not provide any large-scale unified help for Iraq, regardless of how much the US offered for the help. French interests – not the same as American interests – dictated opposition. Russian interests dictated opposition. Turkish interests dictated opposition. There was nothing – literally – that America could have offered to make their support worthwhile…and as for states like Libya or North Korea, which had good reason to fear American military actions…well, would you expect them to vote in favour? They’d be signing their own death warrants.

And as for reshaping the face of the region? It is, I concede, a better suggestion, but again, it possesses fatal flaws. What Beinart fails to grasp – what most liberals fail to grasp – is that there is much about the liberal agenda (homosexual rights, female rights, religious freedom, to name, but three) that is anthemia to many of the people who live in the Middle East. Anyone trying to teach girls that they could be equal to a man would have to cope with the fact that the girls would probably be beaten back into submission, or that they would have no chance to actually use their education, or that…there would be no protection for them. The liberal vision of law and order misses the point that there is no law and order in the Middle East…and that no one will protect those who take his aid. If the price of accepting American aid is being killed by insurgents, no one is going to take American aid. The region needs law, order, and justice…and the only way of actually ensuring that is to take over, crush resistance, and rebuild the area. This is what we did in Germany and Japan…and it worked.

Dreams are interesting, Mr Beinart, but they have to be practical as well.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Ministry of Defeat - Richard North

Ministry of Defeat
-Richard North

The odd thing about the American defeat – if such a word can be used – in Vietnam is that it came about through internal problems, not military defeat. The Viet Cong were beaten. The North Vietnamese Army was beaten. The bombing of North Vietnam was shockingly effective (although this was not appreciated at the time.) The US effectively won the war. It was defeated by the home front and an astonishingly effective propaganda campaign. Not for the first time, the communists probably didn’t believe their own success.

The odd thing about the British ‘victory’ in Southern Iraq is…well, it was a defeat. Worse, it was a defeat that came about because of flawed political and military decisions, taken not by the men on the spot, but men in Whitehall. The scale of the disaster was never understood by the home front – even I didn’t know the half of it, and I am as well-informed as any civilian could reasonably hope to be – due to a compliant media and a sheer lack of comprehension. The British government preferred to believe it’s own ‘spin’ rather than the truth. In doing so, they betrayed the British soldiers who went to war without the right equipment and no clear plan, and the country itself. Charges of treason would not be inappropriate.

That is the conclusion, one I strongly endorse, of this remarkable book. There are actually relatively few British writings on the subject of Iraq, although Sniper One and Eight Lives Down provide some insight into the lives of the soldiers there. It should be noted that Sniper One paints a picture of Basra – and Iraq – that was at variance with the official government-promoted version of events. Ministry of Defeat provides an overall history of the occupation – something that has been sorely lacking – and details, in a very ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, just went wrong in Iraq.

[EDIT - since writing this, many other books have been written on UK involvement in Iraq.]

The core of the matter, North writes, is that the British Government refused to recognise that it had a serious problem on its hands. As the militias gained power in Basra, the government preferred to believe that it wasn’t a serious issue – little more than a public order issue – and convinced itself that Britain’s expertise from Northern Ireland gave it an advantage over the US. That might have been true if the expertise had actually been used (it wasn’t)…but in any case, Basra was not Northern Ireland. This little piece of self-delusion cost lives, Mr Blair! The troops in Ireland had far better intelligence and much higher troop levels. Much has been made of the shortage of American troops after the Fall of Baghdad, but the British had the same problem and, unlike the US, the MOD learned fuck-all from the experience.

If that wasn't bad enough, the equipment procurement process was badly screwed up. When the RAF was being allowed to spend billions on the Eurofighter, the Army had to make do with the Snatch Land Rover – which Northern Ireland experience had shown was badly under-armoured – which caused the deaths of many British soldiers. The issue was not that the British Army was under-funded – although soldiers were being underpaid for their role – but that the money was being spent on long-term programs that would not provide useful equipment (if that) in time to be useful.

It is quite typical, as Donald Rumsfield pointed out years ago, that countries go to war with an army that is unprepared for the task. It is rather less typical that a country would go to war, find itself in serious shit…and then continue blithely developing technology that was effectively useless, prepared for the wrong war. Instead of fighting the last war, the UK was looking towards a hypothetical European RRF, one of Tony Blair’s pet projects. Billions have been spent – for nothing. Common sense would tell someone of Blair’s intelligence – surely – that a European force wasn't on the cards. When has the EU ever agreed on an enemy?

The British media also comes in for bashing. Not, it should be noted, for the largely American left-wing media army bashing, but for being the dog that didn’t bark. The MOD generally tried to spoon-feed propaganda to the British TV, which largely ate it up and came back and begged for more. Early signs of trouble were ignored, or taken out of context, and even when the media did pick up on signs of trouble, they never understood the underlying factors behind the war. The media did pick up on problems with the Snatch vehicles, but took the ‘under-funded military’ line rather than realising the truth. Reporters who questioned the army line, such as Christina Lamb in Afghanistan, found themselves blacklisted.

The core reason for British ‘success’ in Iraq, North notes, was that the UK never really had control over Basra. The Shia inhabitants of the area, after the events of 1991, preferred to organise themselves rather than trust the coalition. Iran was seen as a better ally by some, a deadly threat by others, but always as a far more significant player than the coalition. Under constant attack, the British forces were slowly withdrawn from the area, conceding control to the militias, who started to loot, rape and slaughter at will. The inglorious end to the story – the retaking of Basra by Iraqi forces with American support in 2008 – was barely a footnote in the British media.

The contrast between Iraq and the Falklands is staggering. The Falklands were another ‘come as you are’ war, one fought by a far more determined PM for limited goals…and one that Britain came closer to losing than anyone would like to admit. After that war, the lessons were learned and incorporated into new developments. Iraq seems, instead, to be the forgotten war. If that wasn't bad enough, most of the mistakes are already being repeated in Afghanistan.

This is an angry book, written by an angry man. It isn’t pleasant reading for anyone with a British heritage, but it is necessary reading. God help us.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

After America - John Birmingham

After America
-John Birmingham

A world without America, five years on…

In the remarkably good Without Warning, John Birmingham introduced us to a whole new disaster novel, one where (in 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq) a wave of energy of unknown origin destroyed the continental United States overnight. The world went mad; global economies tanked, civil war and ethnic cleansing spread across Europe, all-out war in the Middle East led to the nuclear destruction of much of the Arab world, China fell into civil war and Russia started to reassert itself as a global power. The remains of the United States – the once-proud military machine and a handful of surviving locations – found itself struggling to survive in a demented world. It was a story where real-like characters such as Tommy Franks and Linda Lingle interacted with a fascinating cast of fictional characters.

A year after the Wave appeared; it vanished, leaving a devastated – and depopulated – United States behind. The American Government – under President Kipper – has moved to repossess its old territory, but powerful forces are preparing to strangle the reborn United States in its cradle. Four years after resettlement began, New York and much of the eastern seaboard is a battleground between different factions of illegal immigrants and the American military, while ethnic and racial strife threaten to shatter a fragile peace in Texas. The President of the United States goes to New York and barely escapes with his life, giving the order for a Fallujah-like push against terrorists and bandits within the remains of the once-great city.

In the meantime, a secret agent in Europe discovers a conspiracy to bring down the United States, one directed by a shadowy figure from her past. Caitlin (who is married to Bret, with one child) embarks on a tour through post-Wave Europe, from the fascist British state to the far too permissive Germany. Jules and the Rhino embark on a daring mission to recover a valuable item from the remains of New York before the American military destroys it. And other newer characters find themselves exploring the post-Wave world.

I should state at the start that After America suffers from being the second book in a trilogy. Some of the action seems largely pointless. Other action seems intensely focused on one particular battleground. Caitlin’s exploration of Germany is interesting, but Jules’s adventure seems completely pointless, particularly when the secret is finally revealed. All they do, it seems, is meet other characters. The story ends on a semi-cliffhanger with no clear resolution. The book is also wordy in the wrong places, with considerable attention being paid to irrelevant details. In short, the overall storyline is not much advanced.

Where the book shines is in its vivid description of the post-wave world. The image of a world without the one and only superpower – ‘oppressive everyone into behaving themselves,’ as one character points out in the first book – is sharp and depressing. Europe has fractured into a nightmare of multiple states, while Russia is growing more powerful and India and Pakistan have exchanged nuclear attacks. Some bits of the book are less believable than others, yet the overall effect is interesting and fascinating. Australia, it seems, has become considerably more powerful, while China simmers in constant ferment.

The descriptions of the various locations within the book shine; New York, the site of a complex battle between American soldiers and various fanatics, comes across as a ruined city. London and a German city come across as darker, warped by the post-wave world. I wished, however, that the author had looked at other locations in his work.

The characters have also grown and changed. Kipper, now President of the United States, comes across as slightly daunted by his new responsibilities. Caitlin combines motherhood with secret intelligence and commando work. Miguel seems to have grown the most, although part of me wondered at his sudden adoption of right-wing beliefs, contrasted oddly with his nemesis, the former CO of Seattle.

There are, however, a number of minor issues. One is the presence of jihadi fighters in New York, seemingly thousands of them. Just how did they get there with the USN covering the waters? Texas, it seems, is on the road to independence, something that is a little bit overdone in the AH world. The presence of green political factions makes little sense in the post-wave world, particularly when there is an obvious need to get as much food produced as possible. They come across as complete fools; quite rightly, IMHO. And, finally, what happened in the Caribbean, after Cuba had been occupied by Venezuela?

Most of the book is quite readable, but IMHO the entire Texas subplot should have been junked. It struck me as boring compared to the New York storyline. A subplot set in Russia or China might have been far more interesting.

Overall a good read, but not a great one.

Watch on the Rhine - Tom Kratman

Watch on the Rhine (Posleen War)
Tom Kratman, John Ringo


A few months ago, I was trapped on a train for several hours (owing to REALLY bad weather on the line.) Having run out of my own books to read, I was lucky enough to be sitting next to a Star Trek fan who loaned me his copies of Star Trek: Destiny, a three-book novel that brought together heroes from many Star Trek franchises. I have never been much of a Star Trek fan, but they featured the Borg and so I read them. The Borg have finally launched an all-out invasion of Federation space and billions of humans and humanoids are being slaughtered mercilessly.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with WOTR? The answer is quite simple; towards the end of the third book in the series, Captain Picard approaches the blind engineer (whose name I have forgotten and I can't be bothered looking up) and orders him to build a superweapon to use against the Borg. The blind engineer refuses on moral grounds and declares his willingness to go to the brig rather than build the hellish weapon. And my reaction, basically, was WTF?

Let’s put this in perspective. The Borg are the single most dangerous race in the entire Star Trek universe. Their ships are effectively invincible. One Cube chopped its way through an entire Federation fleet; another did the same, and then tried to rewrite time so humanity would no longer exist. They assimilate anyone they come across and (unless you have a patriotic scriptwriter) this isn’t just death, but permanent slavery as part of the hive mind. Defeat means the end of the world. Against such an enemy, there is no such thing as an immoral weapon. Picard should have thrown his idiot of a chief engineer out of an airlock, instead of forgiving him, which he does in an emotional scene at the end.

Watch on the Rhine is a spin-off of John Ringo’s famous Posleen War series, in which the Earth (around 2001) is contacted by the Galactic Federation. The Federation warns that Earth is in the path of a rampaging race of alien centaurs who will kill us, eat us and turn our world into yet another spawning ground for the Posleen. Owing to the nature of the Posleen, the war against them will be fought out on the ground (rather than having them throwing rocks at us until we submit) and every country on Earth starts building up a massive army. As of the opening pages of WOTR, Ringo’s Gust Front has concluded, with Washington lying in ruins after the first Posleen landings.

Unfortunately for the Chancellor of Germany, there aren’t actually that many veterans of Germany’s wars left alive. (One of the Federation’s gifts to Earth is rejuvenation technology, which can literally turn an old man into a teenage kid, complete with overcharged hormones.) Facing the certainty of an invasion that will devastate Germany, he makes the very brave (and very politically incorrect) decision to rejuvenate the surviving SS soldiers. Yes, you read that right; the SS. Hitler’s Black Knights. The Order of the Death’s Head. Naturally, this decision provokes massive resistance among the liberal side of Germany, some of whom are in the pay of one of the Galactic Federation races.

I must admit that when I first heard of this idea, I wasn't intending to read the book. The SS are a repulsive historical nightmare, a warning of just how low the human race can sink. Yes, there is no doubting that the SS fought bravely and very well, but they also carried out the orders of some of the worst mass-murderers in human history. The only modern army that comes close to the level of atrocities they committed was the Japanese Army of the same era. Even the Red Army’s horrific march through Germany in 1945 doesn’t come close. The second objection is more practical, than moral; in the words of Basil Faulty, who won the damn war anyway? The SS didn’t win the war for Germany. That may have been because Hitler literally bit off much more than he could chew. Yet, at the same time, Germany didn’t lose the war in spite of the SS, but because of it. The atrocities they visited on their victims were repaid upon Germany itself.

But I had enjoyed reading Tom Kratman’s first book and I decided to give Watch on the Rhine a try. I must admit that I enjoyed it more than I expected.

The book can be effectively divided up into two sections; the prelude to war and the war itself. Tom takes us from the early meeting between the Chancellor and the senior surviving SS officer, to the political manoeuvrings and outright treachery carried out by the Left in hopes of stopping the SS. Sometimes this has its amusing moments. Sometimes this descends into farce.

"Were this true," said the chancellor, mildly, "then equally guilty would be Heinz Guderian, Erich Manstein, Erwin Rommel, or Gerd von Rundstedt. They actually did the higher level planning for that war. The people I propose to bring back were low-level players indeed compared to those famous and admired German soldiers."

"They murdered prisoners!" shrieked another legislator.

"In that war everyone murdered prisoners."


Well yes, in that war everyone did murder prisoners, but how many murdered six million people while following a nutty racial theory? Further, none of the Field Marshals the Chancellor mentions were SS.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that Tom was writing after 9/11. It is hard to see how that fits into the Posleen Universe, not least because 9/11 hadn’t taken place by the time John wrote the first two books in the series. Furthermore, WOTR takes place after the Posleen have torn Washington to shreds and made their presence indisputably known to the world. The level of denial is unbelievable. There might be a few nuts who don’t believe in the Posleen, but after Washington it would be impossible to convince the world that they don’t exist. Europe is painted as a completely insular society. The Posleen War is nothing like the Iraq War, yet the politics are the same. It makes little sense. WOTR Germany doesn’t feel like a society at war.

The book picks up rapidly as the first wave of invaders land in Germany. The German Army and the SS go into action against the invaders, hobbled by manipulations by the Federation – which secretly fears what humanity will do after the war. Tom’s military skill shows itself as the Germans contain and then drive back the Posleen. The harsh discipline of the SS comes to the fore as they deal with lines that were demoralised and broke. The traitors get swept up and jailed, while Germany goes onto a full war footing. The SS – now including French, Polish and Jewish units – makes a final stand as thousands of Germans flee to Norway and the redoubts prepared there.

Where Tom shines lies in the training and war-fighting experience of the young Germans who find themselves called to battle the alien enemy. Tom is an expert at training young soldiers (a theme he returns to in A Desert Called Peace) and the training sequences read out realistically. Once the war actually starts, Tom does an excellent job of portraying the fighting, although there are some odd points. The Posleen seem considerably more intelligent than Ringo depicts them in the original series, more than willing to comment on the absurdities of human nature and use our own weaknesses – such as human shields – against us. Human shields are a favoured tactic of the barbarians we fight these days, but I doubt that the Posleen could conceive of the tactic, let alone use it.

The portrayal of the SS does strike me as a slightly skewed, even though that may be because of my preconceptions and historical knowledge getting in the way. To the best of my knowledge, the SS never told Hitler and his goons to fuck off; in fact, the SS enforced Hitler’s increasingly foolish orders and certainly had a hand in prolonging the war. The assertion that the SS would have – eventually – had a Jewish formation within its ranks is almost certainly absurd. If there were any Jews serving within the SS, they were never identified as Jews. Furthermore, while the SS was good at incorporating non-Germans into their ranks, those units didn’t always perform very well. On the other hand, Tom is quite right to state that many in the SS – the early SS, at least – regarded Himmler’s devotion to racial purity and propagating the Aryan race as stupid.

(That said, even those who loathe WOTR for its politics have admitted to enjoying the battles.)

And yet, while the book is an enjoyable read, its political message is diluted by its own premise. The threat is overwhelmingly powerful; defeat means extermination. There are no rational grounds for opposing anything to help defeat the Posleen…

Yet are the SS the answer? As I said above, the Germans lost the war…and they lost it, in large part, because of the SS. The SS Himmler and his men created could not be separated from their nutty beliefs in racial destiny and the atrocities they carried out helped destroy Germany’s chance of winning the war. What if, one might ask, if the Germans had treated the Russians decently in 1941? Even as a tactical manoeuvre, with every intention of revenging on it after the war, it would have changed history.

WOTR is exciting, thought-provoking and provocative.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1 - Garth Ennis

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1
(Garth Ennis)

The problem with The Boys, at least in my opinion, is that it attempts to bridge the gap between a genuine comic book series and a work of satire commenting on the many absurdities of the comic book world. Therefore we have a mixture of serious issues Рwhat really happens in a world where superheroes exist Рand sarcastic takes on the clich̩s of the genre. In a series of stories exploring the different aspects of The Boys, we see superheroes created to look after a particular demographic (Get Some), superheroes attempting Рand failing miserably Рto prevent a disaster (I Tell You No Lie) and a set of three unbelievable origin stories for three of the team.

The problem with Garth Ennis, on the other hand, is that Ennis is largely incapable of writing a comic book series without inserting a thoroughly anal sense of humour into the work. Sometimes this is amusing or even fitting; at other times, it is just disgusting. This has become an increasing problem for The Boys, spoiling the story for me – and, I believe – quite a few other readers. I did not particularly want to see what happens when Wee Hughie performs oral sex on his girlfriend while she is menstruating, or any number of other disgusting scenes that fail to advance the plot. When people laugh, Ennis, they are laughing at you, not with you.

That is something of a shame, because Wee Hughie has the making of a genuine hero. He stands up for people who need help, something that is clear in both the G-Men arc and the more recent ‘what I know’ storyline. It’s a shame because Hughie is pretty much treated as an idiot by the writer; he makes dumb mistakes, asks dumb questions and – in a properly run spy team – would either have been trained to carry out his duties or unceremoniously shown the door. The shortage of proper training actually leads us to question Butcher; Ennis told us, right from the start, that Butcher doesn’t fuck up, yet Butcher has done little but fuck up. I really hate plots that require someone to be an idiot to make them work. The last two arcs in the storyline have demanded just that.

Anyway, following the events of ‘Believe’ – a as-yet unfinished story arc – Wee Hughie has decided that he needs to take a break and returned home to the tiny Scottish village of Auchterladle. So far so good. The story goes off the rails almost at once, with the bus driver offering Hughie some drugs before he gets off the bus. In what weird part of Scotland – my stomping ground – does that happen? It turns out that Hughie was adopted as a kid – raising the question of just who his father actually was – and his adopted parents are genuinely decent folk. (Shades of Clark Kent here, I wonder?) Hughie meets up with two of his old friends – a transvestite who looks thoroughly gruesome and a boy with such an awful body odour that he and his family have to wear gas masks at all times. Quite what’s wrong with him isn’t spelled out, although personally I’m guessing that the Ennis Syndrome has struck again and he’s inserted something disgusting into the plot for the hell of it.

As the plot thickens like (insert something disgusting here) we discover that Hughie and his three friends used to be part of a junior detective league or something equally stupid. Apparently they foiled someone doing something. That’s right – a guy who was portrayed for 50odd issues as a complete moron somehow used to be like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. The conversation between two of the bad guys is so retarded that the plot seems to be fighting back against the writer, even to the point where one of them points out that it is retarded. What’s Hughie when they should be worrying about the police? This would only make sense if Hughie’s role in The Boys was well known, but it isn’t – is it? The Boys have always been portrayed as a covert operation, unknown to the general public.

We do actually get some nice moments of flashbacks (flash-forwards?) to the end of ‘Believe.’ Hughie leaves his hamster with The Female and asks Butcher a single question. We don’t get to hear Butcher’s answer.

In other words, I will not be picking up the remainder of this miniseries.

To be blunt, Highland Laddie annoyed the hell out of me. First, there was the stereotypical Scottish village and the attempt to present Scottish accents. It reads more like Oor Wullie or The Broons. (The comic’s cover, with Hughie sitting on a bucket, is a direct reference to Oor Wullie.) And then there was the disgusting characters and absurd plot. If this is satire, I don’t want any more of it.

The artwork is not, alas, up to the excellent standard of Darick Robertson, although it is considerably better than the artwork presented during Herogasm. (The last Boys miniseries.)

Overall…don’t bother.

Chris

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Von Neumann's War - John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor

Von Neumann's War
-John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor

Mad scientist rednecks, super-soldiers and Hooters waitresses save the world. Yes; really.

“"We now have a clearer understanding of the threat. They're definitely Von Neumann machines and they're definitely consuming the surface of the rocky bodies in the solar system one by one. There is no indication that they will ignore the Earth. At present, no model that we have shows survival of the human race, or at least civilization, in the face of this threat. We're looking at end game for the ten-thousand year history of post-hunter-gatherer society, ladies and gentlemen."” (From CH12)

On the whole, this is a very strong book with a handful of minor nits, although I have mixed feelings about this book; it would have been a great deal better as a longer book, with the ideas present being much better developed. I am reminded of Priam’s Lens, by Jack L. Chalker; a book that would have been much better with all of the ideas being much more developed. The plot builds up…and then it ends; the effects might be global and worldwide, but we don’t really see them. In many ways, it is considerably less moving than Moonseed, which has a similar theme.

The basic plot involves an attack from outer space, this time in the form of small machines working to reform the entire solar system to their specifications. Naturally, these specifications don’t happen to include human life; as the quote above shows, humans are going to have to be very lucky to survive…

It’s quite a good book, although there are some minor nits; starting with the impossible level of secrecy that is maintained for ten chapters. Come on – this is a massive effect affecting (lol) ALL of Mars, which is one of the planets under fairly constant observation. There is NO WAY that this will a) pass unnoticed by the general world (as opposed to call-in shows), and b) remain unidentified as alien activity. Not only is Mars a dead world, in the public eye, but this is not some super-secret science, but something that has been discussed in open source for years. Even without the data from the probe, deducing the outline should be possible for anyone with a fair knowledge of sci-fi.

This leads to another point; governments have to seem to be in control and to be Doing Something, no matter how ineffective such action would really be. The Bush Administration has taken a lot of stick over its actions in the months after 9/11, but the truth was that they had to be seen to be Doing Something. With general knowledge of an alien attack, or at least a presence in the Solar System, something will have to be done.

(I’ve said a lot about my opinion on secrecy, vis-à-vis the opinions held by Doctor Taylor, in other places. There is a point where that becomes actively dangerous – in this case, it was when Mars was first detected to have been infected.)

“Project Asymmetric Soldier was put into play because it was decided that any invasion from space by the phenomenon would be extremely one-sided in the invaders' favor. Asymmetric Soldier was based on the concept of "asymmetric warfare." The general idea was to try to fight battles using your strengths against an enemy's weakness.” (CH8)

There are a lot of concepts I hope will be explored in later books, starting with the way-cool Asymmetric Soldier concept, something that is largely wasted here. It would have made more sense to use it against a more conventional threat (and you know you’ve read too much sci-fi when you start dismissing an alien invasion as a ‘conventional’ threat) rather than the machines, although it does provide part of the answer to defeating them. I have a feeling that part of the book was intended to showcase ideas from An Introduction to Planetary Defense (Travis Taylor et al); but in this circumstance few of the ideas can be really showcased. (A Operation Roswell, Operation Thunder Child/Operation Lightning Strike or a Footfall would serve this purpose much better.)

To conclude, this is a good book, but it builds up and ends way too quickly. The threat is simply too powerful to be handled in a detailed manner; it is not the Posleen Invasion, where we can fight them on the hills, the dales, and up and down the cities. It just seems to come screaming to a halt; there was a great deal of room for further development, much of which was passed over.

(And I would dearly like to know where the machines came from.)

Overall – eight out of ten.

Invasion - DC Alden

Invasion
-DC Alden

It is a curious and long-standing tradition that people are always writing stories about the next military threat to face their countries. From The Tale of the Next Great War, 1871-1914: Fictions of Future Warfare and of Battles Still-to-Come, collecting stories from before 1914, to the more recent Invasion (different book altogether), the possible variations on future threats are explored, dissected, and either defeated or defeat the opposing force. Britain (and, to some extent, Germany) enjoyed a remarkable series of such books in the years before the Great War, from the serious Invasion of 1910, to The Swoop, or how Clarence saved England, which was a massive piss-take from one end to the other.

[England is invaded by nine armies; the Germans, the Russians, the Mad Mullah, the Swiss, the Chinese, Monaco, the Young Turks, Moroccan brigands (?) and ‘dark-skinned warriors from the distant isle of Bollygolla.’ Enough said.]

The Germans (or enemies of choice) invaded…and were either defeated or defeat the British. (For those interested, a short overview can be found in Norman Longmate’s Island Fortress: The Defence of Great Britain, 1603-1945.)

The United States has not been short of such books itself, most notably Eric L. Harry’s Invasion and dozens of others, from the semi-serious The Next War to A State of Disobedience, from outside threats to internal problems. Perhaps this is a natural outcome of having achieved superpower status; you start worrying about who’s going to take it away from you. I do not know if China has books detailing the collapse of Chinese power – or if the regime would agree to allow them to be distributed if it did – but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

One thing that most of the books have in common, it should be noted, is a general trend to make the threat as overwhelming as possible. Eric L. Harry, in Invasion, creates a Chinese Empire that has overwhelmed most of East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Cuba…and has now set its sights on America itself! Cue the starring role – in more ways than one – of the movie-star American president, his cute-as-buttons daughter who just happens to be a real combat soldier, the series of coincidences that keeps the plot charging along…and the unresolved conclusion. Let us ignore the impossibility of the plot; the story is good, right?

And now, the latest threat to global harmony and peace has been revealed – and its not George Bush! No, the real threat is the RIFs, who have somehow managed to unite Iran and Iraq – after the American occupation fell apart – and then gobbled up much of the Middle East and – apparently – North Africa and Israel as well. We shall ignore the fact that Israel would be more likely to start a nuclear war than accept a status within a super-state of Arabia…but it is one of the more jarring moments of the book. One of the more irritating aspects of the writing is that the author seems to have been updating his world as he moved along, with the net result that there are some major elements left in confusion. (Is Scotland independent? If not, why does it get to do what it does? If yes, why is it being used in the way it is?)

Anyway…America has more or less separated itself from the rest of the world, cracking down on its immigration problems and developing technology that allows it to do without oil – and not sharing it with Europe, despite the fact that that would blow Arabia’s entire basis for power, oil wealth, out of the water – and has basically left the rest of the world to its own devices. Arabia, which has somehow united, despite the fact that most of the RIF factions hate each other more than they hate Israel, has finally prepared the invasion of Europe, including Britain…

If you can suspend your disbelief that far, then…it’s not that bad a book. The decline in global terrorism – one imagines that AQ got the chop – has allowed the bad guys to slip thousands of covert agents into Europe. As the minutes tick away toward six pm, to use the blurb, commuters stream out of central London a truck idles by the pavement in Whitehall, its cargo bay packed with powerful explosives. A British Airways Airbus, on final approach into Heathrow, is tracked by surface-to-air missiles. In Downing Street, recently-elected Prime Minister Harry Beecham is preparing notes for a diplomatic engagement when he is summoned to an urgent meeting. He's informed by worried security officials that a large number of surveillance targets have suddenly disappeared off the grid. Something is happening, but what? Even as the meeting takes place, thousands of Islamic fighters are quietly taking up positions near military barracks, police stations, government buildings, airports, train stations and hundreds of other targets. They have already received the 'go' signal - now they wait only for the seconds to countdown and the hour to arrive.

Not all the attacks, as one might expect, succeed. They do a great deal of damage, enough to seriously disrupt the UK’s military, forcing it back towards Scotland while troops land in the south, staking a claim to control. As the PM runs for his life, towards a secret command and control bunker, the Arabian forces secure their control over the south, before heading up towards Scotland for the final battle. (Europe falls rather quickly to a joint Arabian-Russian offensive; America remains aloof.) The book builds up to the final conclusion, with some genuinely heart-rending moments, ending with a bang.

The book does have strong characters, something that saves it from the classic right-wing rant. One feels sorry for Henry, the PM, and weeps with Kristy at…well, that would be telling. The story, to be fair, is never boring; the viewpoint characters seem everything, from the ranks of the enemy to those who have to suffer under Arabian domination.

Every generation, we seem to assume, gets the invasion that it deserves. Alden points out endless flaws in British society, from multiculturalism and the failure to back up the police, to our complacency over our borders and low spending on defence. The problems with the government, as often bemoaned by myself, are certainly causing a snarl-up of the democratic process; one would imagine that any sensible government would try to start again. Can all of these be used by a future invader? Perhaps, I say, but not in the way that Alden suggests.

In many ways, the Arabian Invasion is a repeat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, starring Britain as the target. It is not, however, that simple to pull off such a strike, despite the apparent (and unexplained) Arabian supremacy in electronic warfare – and indeed much military technology. The US faced an opponent who had dozens of problems, from low morale to no ability to contest the air at all, and still had problems. A strong and competent defence could have cost the US much more than the actual OIF open combat phase actually did. The Arabians, in Invasion, have much longer supply lines – they can hardly gamble on France falling as fast as it does – and the RAF should be able to hammer them, as the Arabians seem to have no carriers to support their aircraft. (A submarine is mentioned as surviving the first battles – what, only one? – and it is not put to work interdicting the supply lines. WTF?) Of course, given what a total f***-up Tony Blair’s defence policy has been, there might be no RAF aircraft left by that time.

To conclude, after all that commenting, Alden doesn’t seem to wear his politics on his sleeve, unlike…say, Eric L. Harry. At the same time, there is little cheery about his book, from the American withdrawal to the scenes as the shadow falls over the UK. Is this a possible outcome for the War on Terror? I don’t believe so…and I hope to God I’m right.

The Foresight War

The Foresight War

In order to write a great alternate history novel, you need a good Alternate History scenario, a good plot and a good story. AH has many examples of great AH, such as 'The Guns of the South'. It has a good premise, a good plot and a great story. At worst, it can be read as a simple thriller. Bad examples are rarer - mediocre examples are far more common - and the prime example is the Stars and Stripes series. The series had a bad POD, a bad plot and flat writing. The final one was the killer.

As a part-time writer myself, its easy to understand the problem. An alternate world requires some understanding of OTL by the reader. Big ‘as you know bob’ sections can detract from the story, particularly if there’s no clear reason to have them. There is no clear reason for the characters in 1945 to speculate on what might have happened in 1941 if Hitler had declared war.

Of the AH styles, time travel is the hardest to do. It reduces the problem of informing the reader of what’s going differently by providing a ‘legit’ reason to discuss OTL, but also requires the writer to have a really strong grasp of what was possible at the time. It is nonsense, for example, to suggest that the CSA could have built an atomic bomb, although one could have been brought through time.

The Foresight War is based around the plot of two technological-savvy men somehow being sent back to 1934. One of them is British, the other German, and they both start meddling with time using their knowledge. Williams avoids the clinch of rapid empire-fanatics and neo-nazis to give good reasons for the German’s interference. One might not share his ideals, but one can understand them.

This book is well written and an easy read. The combat scenes are good and the effects well described. The ending is shocking and realistic under the circumstances.

Read the first chapter at http://www.authorsonline.co.uk/New/Sample.asp?eBookID=385

Right, that’s the basics. Everything under this is discussion of the plot and includes spoilers. If you don’t want it spoilt, go away.

The Foresight War is fairly detailed on the changes both sides make to their forces. The German side makes a fair attempt at correcting some of their most vexing mistakes, such as standardising tanks and making more submarines, but is hampered by Hitler and the constant competition between the nazi elite. This is probably realistic, particularly with the refusal of Goring to share control over the airforce, but I did think it was odd that Hitler did not simply decree that that be done. I would expect the Germans to have greater success as there have been countless analysis done of what they did wrong the first time around.

The book has a wealth of technical and strategic detail. The author clearly knows his field and it shows, from small personnel weapons to radar. Just a few hints would have helped the defenders of Britain enormously, while the laptop must have seemed like a gift from God. Williams avoids the utterly impossible clinch of the British duplicating the laptop.

The butterfly effect is used to great effect here, although I do question pearl harbour occurring if the Japanese knew that the British have a stronger air force and navy. The Japanese expected that they would kick the stuffing out of the allies and then cut a deal – a stronger UK makes that less likely. Few other minor points; if Hitler knew that the Italians would go for Egypt and lose, would he not sit on them to stop them? If Finland is attacked by Russia and surrenders, might Stalin not try for Norway?

Then, of course, would the British be so willing to aid the Russians if they know that they’ll take most of Eastern Europe? That’s easier to stomach without having guaranteed Poland, but it’s still dangerous. Russia without lend lease would be far less of a menace.

Finally, making France more active in the war following its fall changes far more than in implied. French troops in Indochina would prevent the Japanese from using it as a base, which changes their campaign against Singapore. The absence of a working French government would tend to bring more Frenchmen into Algeria, which would DeGaulle a stronger hand.

The greatest problem with the book is that the British have very limited resources at that point in time. Could they have managed all the changes they made in that period of time? If Churchill knew everything about the economic situation, he too might have been willing to cut a deal with Hitler. Alternatively, if Don understood the reasons why Japan gambled on attacking the US, he might convince the British to offer to supply them in exchange for the use of the Japanese navy. That said, even knowing what works and what does not would be very helpful.

The other slight problem is a throwaway line in which the Japanese navy is effectively destroyed by the Americans. That is somewhat unrealistic – the Japanese were unquestionably better at naval combat at the time and held a vast advantage in numbers. They should have won any such battle, assuming that the stung Americans risked one. Whatever they lost at Pearl could not have been sufficient to really limit them without other effects as well.

On the whole, this is a very good book and deserves to be far wider known.

Chris

Torchwood – A Season Review

Torchwood – A Season Review

When Russell T. Davies is good, he’s very good. When he’s bad – and Doctor Who fans will neither forget nor forgive Love & Monsters very quickly – he’s appallingly bad. Unfortunately, Torchwood – itself an anagram of Doctor Who – falls into the bad category. The series, staring John Barrowman and Eve Myles, has real problems right from the start, ranging from an inability to decide what the show is to a number of production and logic glitches. If the fictional Torchwood Institute was intended to be the new UNIT, it has failed badly.

But enough doom and gloom – its Doctor Who, right?

Well, no. We were introduced to the Torchwood Institute in the second season of the relaunched Doctor Who, starting with David Tennent’s very first episode, where the massive space alien battleship – commanded by creatures that bear more than a passing reassemblence to Klingons – was blown away by an alien-designed death ray, fired by something called Torchwood. The name follows the Doctor through history until the 2-parter Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, which took the Doctor directly into the heart of Torchwood One. A show based around the charmingly eccentric Yvonne Hartman might have worked, but as Yvonne Hartman was turned into a cyberman in the second part, that was clearly impossible. Instead, the action moves to Cardiff, scene of several encounters with the Doctor, and the lead role is taken by Captain Jack Harkness, who was introduced to us inThe Empty Child.

Now, I’ll be blunt; I never liked Jack. He was an ass, basically, and I was expecting him to suffer the same fate as that instantly forgettable character from Dalek who rode in the TARDIS for one episode. Like Mickey – although Mickey at least managed to redeem himself – Jack simply threw the Rose-Doctor relationship out of phase. As we know, Jack was left behind on the Game Station when the Doctor regenerated – and since somehow found his way to Cardiff and Torchwood Three, where the action takes place. The Doctor might be mentioned, but he takes no role at all in Season One of Torchwood. The characters have to stand or fall on their own merits.

I could go through Torchwood episode by episode, but I’m only going to touch on a few episodes. We are introduced to Jack and his crew in the first show, which takes on a very X-Files style, almost Men in Black; Gwen tries to track down Jack and his merry men. Although there are a few twists, the show is basically predictable – and episode two puts the team into conflict with a sex-demanding alien entity. Anyone see a problem here? It gets worse; the team encounter a cyber-woman (no, not Hartman), cannibals (this show starts off surprisingly well, but hits the ground as soon as the dramatic ending flops), fairies (actually, this one isn’t bad; bit creepy, but not bad), time-lost travellers, a lesbian alien (WTF?) and a demon. In between, the most dysfunctional team on TV argue, cheat, fight, threaten one another with weapons, sleep together, cheat on each other, have massive gaysexual orgies…

Torchwood is a show that cannot decide what it is supposed to be. Davis’s insistence that all members of the show are bisexual just creates even more confusion. Torchwood lacks the instant chemistry between Mulder and Scully from their first few seasons – and the logical inconsistencies start grating pretty quickly. Mulder and Scully were two individuals, part of the FBI; in its first appearance, Torchwood was on the same size and scale as the Stargate team. In Everything Changes, Torchwood is living in a sewer and seems to have no discipline at all. Jack is a bastard, Owen is a stereotype tough-guy, Ianto is the eternal straight man (who later ends up sleeping with Jack), Tosh (ok, she’s hot) is a nerd and Gwen…well, she just comes across as stupid and naive.

Perhaps I’m being harsh.

But, speaking as a Doctor Who fan, Torchwood is just not in the same league.

Secrets and Lies: The Planning, Conduct and Aftermath of Blair and Bush's War - Dilip Hiro

Secrets and Lies: The Planning, Conduct and Aftermath of Blair and Bush's War
-Dilip Hiro

It is always a shame to watch a fine mind go to waste. Dilip Hiro, known for his almost-unique history of the Iran-Iraq War (The Longest War) and for his research into Iraq and the Middle East, has finally turned his attention to the Iraq War of 2003. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Bart Simpson, this book is so anti-American – it fairly drips of rancour – that it’s not even funny anymore.

Reading the book, one gets the feeling that the Americans lost the war – it comes as a shock to discover that they won! Hiro chronicles what seems like defeat after defeat, followed by vast incompetence and skulduggery, leaving the reader confused and baffled. Every incident that can be used to blacken America’s name is used with great effect to do just that.

As an example, Hiro refers to the delay in re-establishing the electrical grid in Baghdad, pointing out rather patronisingly that Saddam’s people had it done in a day after the 1991 war. He fails to point out that if there were attacks on Saddam’s people – who also knew Baghdad far better than Americans – Saddam would shrug and order a few dozen people shot. Even the Bush of the left’s nightmares could not do that.

Hiro also makes a far greater fuss about the WMD issue than it deserves. Although he is correct to note that there have been fewer discoveries than expected, he fails to note that the inspectors found a dissembled gun, rather than a smoking gun. He also fails to point out that Saddam had engaged in constant attempts to hide his WMD from US, UN and other inspectors. As both Elkus and Butler point out, Saddam fought bitterly to hold onto what he had, only destroying WMD after it was discovered by the inspectors. While Saddam might have genuinely destroyed his remaining supplies of WMD, in effect the US was no longer inclined to accept his assurances. If you lie more than once, you should not be surprised if you are no longer believed, even if you are telling the truth.

He also fails to discuss the other good reasons for launching the invasion. This is particularly disappointing given his work on the effects of the Gulf Wars on Iraq, where large numbers of the population suffered through sanctions and repression; Hiro makes it sound as if Saddam’s rule was a golden age. Removing Saddam’s regime was a good act in itself; a successful transition to democracy would be even better. Expecting instant prosperity was unreasonable; Germany, Japan and Taiwan took at least fifteen years before they could become democratic – establishing law and order was the first priority.

Finally, Hiro notes that Saddam and Bin Ladin apparently had no connection. While this – as far as the 9/11 commission can discover – is true, he ignores the presence of other terror groups within the country, including Ansar Al Islam, which did have ties to Al Qaida. Iraq has provided support to terror groups in the past; perhaps it would have done so again, if only to keep it’s tattered Islamic credentials.

It is a great pity that Hiro should have chosen to sing the anti-American dirge, but those who have enjoyed his books before can hope that he will one day return to his formerly-fine standard of scholarship.

The Prometheus Project - Steve White

The Prometheus Project
-Steve White


There have been many books that were, quite frankly, crap. There have been many books that promised what they then failed to deliver. There have been many books that started badly and then became great. There are very few books that are great all the way through.

Why that monologue? I honestly don’t know how to rate The Prometheus Project, by Steve White. It starts off extremely well, with a meeting between an American President and his successor – a man who embodies the worst of the Left. The President explains to his successor about the Project – a secret American effort to convince extraterrestrials that Earth is advanced enough to be left alone. In the course of his explanation, the President outlines a story about the Project.

Told in the first person, the main story involves a private detective unwillingly recruited onto the Project by the mysterious Mr Inconnu. Mr. Inconnu had arrived in a damaged but highly advanced craft in the 1940s with the information that he had escaped from a group of humans whom aliens had been studying. Earth had to convince them that it was united under American leadership – or it would become enslaved. Bob Devaney, the hero, becomes involved in a bid to catch a traitor who was selling humanity’s secrets to alien criminals.

So far so good. The story falls from then on. Instead of exploring the events in 1960 – only alluded to by the President – the story goes off on a tangent, one that is completely predicable. Halfway through the book, I knew how it would end – and I was right. This sort of plot has been done better.

The book picks up slightly towards the end, when the president and his successor, react to the news about the Project. The irony of the situation is never explicably pointed out, but the ending to that subplot is also predicable.

In short, The Prometheus Project had promise, but failed to live up to it. Buy paperback.

Chris

Project Saucer (Projekt Saucer) - W. A. Harbinson

Project Saucer (Projekt Saucer)
-W. A. Harbinson


#1 - Inception
#2 - Phoenix
#3 – Genesis
#4 - Millennium
#5 – Resurrection
Fact – Projekt UFO


The Projekt Saucer series has become a cult favourite, rather like the Illuminati books; there is something about them that won’t die. Curiously enough, while the books have become somewhat worn over the years – I first read them in my teens, nearly ten years ago – they still hold up very well, apart from the final book. Resurrection. Resurrection was published around 1999, but it fails to live up to the first four; in effect, the first four were all that were intended to be written.

The core idea of Projekt Saucer, which were not written in the order presented above, revolves around an Earth-based source for flying saucers, or UFOs. Rather than blaming them on aliens, the flying saucers are created by an awesome conspiracy, created by a Doctor Wilson. (Someone called Wilson, BTW, featured in some of the first reports of unknown airships in America.) Through the first book, Wilson takes his ideas to Nazi Germany – incidentally creating the Foo Fighters along the way – and then into a colony in the frozen continent – Antarctica. In the years that follow, Wilson’s flying saucers give rise to the entire UFO phenomenon – apart from much more primitive saucers flown by the US and the USSR - including alien abductions, UFO bases, UFO theories, UFO encounters, UFO dangers…

Noticing a through line here?

Harbinson ties in every known UFO rumour, attributing it to Wilson or to one of the American saucers. Quite apart from Roswell, or any of a dozen other encounters that were widely reported at the time, the books include political dirty-dealing between the world powers on one hand and Wilson’s colony on the other. There have always been rumours that elements in the global powers have made deals with aliens – Harbinson has them trading with people who make Himmler and co look like amateurs. This is actually overdone in places, to the degree that logical inconsistencies start to appear. In particular, the USAF seems to have a split-personality; why encourage UFO investigations if you also want to discourage them? If they’re so determined to keep Wilson a secret, why not just ask the officers to help?

But I digress. The second and third book, incidentally the third and first to be written, include investigations into UFOs by researchers, discouraged, threatened…all of which eventually end badly. The fourth book tends to have thematic similarities to the second and third book, but in the end it seems much more hopeful – and ends fairly well. As much as I hate to admit it, the fifth book feels far too much like it was tacked on to the end, but never mind; it has its moments.

Harbinson has a blocky, clunky, way of writing from time to time. Although his action scenes are superb, with alien-like saucers floating through the clouds, some of his writing takes on the same repetitiveness as Turtledove’s endless reminders that “My name’s Sam Carsten. I have very pale skin and I sunburn very easily. Zinc oxide ointment doesn’t help at all, because I sunburn very easily as my skin’s very pale. Did I mention that I sunburn very easily because my skin’s very pale and zinc oxide doesn’t help…?” His research is massive and very well detailed, but there is no need to pad the books with endless recitals of weapons, encounters and details. At least twice in the final book, a character recites a list of advanced weapons that Wilson has developed; perhaps he didn’t take a breath… In almost all of his books, Harbinson discusses the success the Nazis had in building vast underground complexes; we picked that up from the first book.

Harbinson describes vast concepts of technology, some of them seemingly far advanced – and this leads to one of the logical inconsistencies in the series. Wilson’s success, he claims, is caused by his own total ruthlessness; Doctor Mengle could hardly have done better. HOWEVER, the US has thousands of possible scientists working on any given science – do they have no chance of producing a breakthrough? One could argue, at the end of Millennium, that that is exactly what they have done; even so, it seems odd that we don’t get to see much of the official opposition.

But those are minor problems. Part of the problems come from the odd publishing order and history. The first book to be written, Genesis, actually became the third book in the series, Inception and Phoenix ended up taking their lead from the story. In some ways, Millennium suffers from far fewer problems – and, in the end, provides a genuinely fitting ending to the series. We shall say little about Resurrection, save only that some of the plot strands from Millennium would have been much simpler to follow than what actually happened. Oddly enough – and something simulating to the conspiracy-minded mind – Phoenix and Millennium were never published in the US, at least as far as 1999. One of Resurrection’s less clever features is much reference to this – somehow adding Harbinson himself, the previous books in the series and much else into the plot. One might as well have Travis Taylor writing about a warp-drive researcher called Travis Taylor! It kills the suspension of disbelief.

Harbinson also published Projekt UFO, which was supposed to be a compendium of the background information to the series. Although it makes interesting reading, some of the concepts it discusses make little sense – except in their relation to the series. Harbinson warns of some of the dangers of science, but, in the end, all science has its dangers. (So does living in a cave, so yar boo sucks to the luddites). Harbinson might not have a political agenda, but he is scathing when it comes to the USAF’s research programs into UFOs; throughout the books, they are branded as little more than obvious cover-ups. Admittedly, the ‘snigger-factor’ makes it hard to do any form of serious study, but…

Still, the books are very interesting and well worth a read. They have aged very well.

(The series has an overview page at http://www.inkdigital.org/harbinson/project.htm and a complete free PDF of Phoenix can be found online at http://www.inkdigital.org/harbinson/download.htm)

Master Race: the Lebensborn experiment in Nazi Germany - Catrine Clay and Michael Leapman

Master Race: the Lebensborn experiment in Nazi Germany
-Catrine Clay and Michael Leapman


Every so often, I browse a section of the library shelves where I would normally never be seen, unless I was doing research for a library user or another. This sometimes leads to be discovering a hidden book that actually interests me, although this is pretty rare. Master Race: the Lebensborn experiment in Nazi Germany was in a curious section of the library, which may explain why I never saw it before; personally, I would have classed it under WW2 with the holocaust and the other Nazi war crimes.

Speaking of which, there are times when it just hits you…just how evil the Nazis actually were. One of the reasons why holocaust-deniers are occasionally successful is that the sheer scale of the crime – six million Jews – is beyond easy comprehension. Himmler’s experiments in expanding the Aryan population of the world have the same cold dispassionate attempt to improve the race, heedless of how many ordinary humans are trampled underfoot. In strong terms, the book talks about how German women were effectively used as breeding cows for the SS; sometimes, perhaps even to the point of being introduced to SS men and invited to have their children. German social mores, mainly Catholic, were trampled on by the SS, leaving a trail of shattered lives and abandoned children behind when the war came to an end.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Himmler’s obsessive quest for Aryan blood led to the kidnapping of children from Poland and Norway, maybe even other countries, and fostering them with the right kind of parents, i.e. ideological nazis. Many of the parents knew nothing about their true origin, leading to heartbreaking scenes after the war, when some of the children were tracked down by their natural parents from Poland. Other children, the illegitimate children of German soldiers in occupied countries, were treated like dirt by their companions; one wonders how many of the isolated terrorists during that period can be traced to such treatment.

There were even stranger details. Himmler looked for a homosexual gene, believing that one had to exist; he might not have regarded homosexuals as inherently evil, but he certainly regarded them as a waste of breeding stock. The SS worked hard to turn itself into a semi-mystical organisation, with it’s own ceremonies and rituals; it is tempting to wonder if Himmler saw it as a substitute for a faith that had rejected him. Those who didn’t match up to the Nazi expectations of racial purity (something that, ironically, included most of the Nazi leaders) were sterilised, or worse.

It does make you wonder, however; what sort of long-term effect would this have had on a German Victory timeline? It is possible to speculate that Germany would have indeed undergone a population explosion, although it is also possible that expanding the breeding program could have led to widespread resistance. Certainly, there were some dissenters recorded, both among the mothers and the doctors who were charged with taking care of them. Would Himmler have literally have tried to impose the SS breeding standards on everyone? Would it have become illegal for non-approved children to be born? Every so often, one is reminded just how lucky the world has been…

Well-written, pulls no punches…four out of five.

Telling lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial - Richard J Evans

Telling lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial
-Richard J Evans

How do we know that ‘history’, as read in the history books, is real? How do we know when historians are being honest with the truth, or if they are subtly pushing their own agenda? The trial of David Irving, the controversial historian of WW2, exposed such questions to public scrutiny for the first time. Richard Evans, an expert witness for the defence, has written this account of the issues behind the trial and what happened in the court.

The book begins with an overview of the work of Irving. Irving began his career as an ‘amateur historian’ and conducted extensive research in the German achieves. Author of over thirty books, Irving’s work slowly degenerated into pushing a more positive view of Hitler, who Irving clearly admired. The author makes the very good point that it was Irving who brought the libel suit, but most people consider it his trial, not the authoress, Deborah Lipstadt, of the book he wanted removed.

The next few chapters discuss the ‘reality’, as compared with Irving’s books. It becomes clear to the person who can be bothered to wade through them (Evans’ is not the best writer, even though its clear he knows his history), that Irving has constantly made ‘mistakes’ that always benefited Hitler. Whenever there was a shadow of a doubt, Irving gave it to Hitler, commenting in court that ‘a man is innocent until proven guilty’. Evans notes that people had to pinch themselves to remember that it was Hitler Irving was talking about. Irving also reduced the numbers of Jews killed by the Nazis, while increasing the number of Germans killed at Dresden, attempting to press the view that the war crimes of both sides in the war were roughly equivalent. Evans convincingly debunks his claims.

Evans them discusses Irving’s membership – although it’s not clear if Irving is a member or a guest lecturer – of various right-wing/anti-Semitic groups. Irving was clearly an important spokesperson for them and the whole cause of holocaust denial, representing their best chance to alter the historical record, and he was clearly involved with them. Evans is hesitant about detailing how involved he was, perhaps because of obstructionism, or perhaps he was never sure himself.

The final two chapters discuss the trial and its aftermath. Irving was a determined and impressive prosecutor at first glance, but faced with constant, probing, questions, he crumbled. Irving won minor points, but lost on almost all of the major points – and he accidentally addressed the judge as ‘mein furhur’! Irving lost the trial and was ordered to pay costs, although, as he was bankrupt, that might not have been a real issue. The aftermath of the trial saw Irving vilified and soundly trashed, most of his interviews saw him being mocked and degraded, while he had little prospect of recovering. Those two chapters are the most readable of the book.

The trial does raise some important points though. Is there too much holocaust-reminding going on? The holocaust was tragic and barbaric, but it does not compare with the extermination of the Cathars, or with the rampages of Genesis Khan. With Israel’s behaviour in Palestine, do they have any rights to claim special treatment any longer? As Germany becomes more assertive, they might return to Jew-hating, simply because they are reminded of their grandfathers crimes at every step. (Those who watch Faulty Towers will know what I mean.) There were other victims of Hitler and his cronies, blacks, Russians, homosexuals, not to mention many Germans whose only crime was hating Hitler, so why are the Jews so important?

As a supreme irony, this book has been withdrawn in some places. Why? Because Irving has threatened legal action!