[Author's Note: Hah! I've read the ARC and you haven't! Which must suck. Don't worry, you'll get to read it in March, and you should.]
It’s been three...more[Author's Note: Hah! I've read the ARC and you haven't! Which must suck. Don't worry, you'll get to read it in March, and you should.]
It’s been three long, cold years since last we saw Sir Robert Carey, that Elizabethan courtier who buckles better than Scaramouche and swashes better than all three Musketeers put together. Last time (A Murder of Crows, Sir Robert Carey #5) we saw Sir Robert’s redoubtable Sergeant Henry Dodd matching wits with Sir Robert's mother, the darling but deadly Lady Hunsdon. This time around we get to hang out with Sir Robert’s father, Lord Hunsdon and illegitimate brother to Queen Elizabeth. Not that he’s bothered by his illegitimacy:
He was profoundly grateful that Mary Boleyn had been so much less determined than her sister, that she had been married off to the complaisant William Carey while pregnant with him, the King’s bastard. If she had hung on to her virtue the way her younger sister Ann had done, well, he might have been King Henry the IX and had a much worse life, his sons would have been Princes of the Blood Royal and even more trouble than they were anyway…Thank God for bastardy, that was all he could say.
So now I’m in love with two generations of Carey men.
This time around the Queen employs Sir Robert on a secret mission to investigate the dubious death of Amy Robsart, that lady unfortunate enough to have been married to Robert Dudley twenty years before, and who died in a way that proved most fortunate for those who had no wish to see Dudley married to Elizabeth. Which was pretty much everyone except possibly Elizabeth herself. [Another Author’s note: I can argue against her having any such thought in her head, but that’s another conversation.]
But old murderers don’t fade away, especially if they think they've gotten away with it, and an attempt on Sir Robert's life leaves him ill and temporarily blinded, listening to his father and his aunt bellow at each other from his sickbed:
”My son! you put my son in danger of poisoning…?” “I had to do it!” roared the Queen, “I have to find out…” …His father had his arms around the Queen and she was…good Lord, she must be crying into his chest, from the snuffling sounds. Carey was too weak and dry even to moan. Ask her for my fee and my warrant as Deputy Warden, he thought as forcibly as he could. Go on, Father! Fee! Warrant! Ask!… “Eliza, may I beg a favour?”… Thank God, Carey thought, Come on, Father, you know how to do it. “Of course.” “Please, Eliza, for God’s sake, will you make sure the boy’s mother doesn’t get to hear of this?” Arrgh, thought Carey. Then after a moment’s thought—well, yes, all right. Sensible.
As anyone acquainted with Lady Hunsdon would agree.
Sergeant Henry Dodd forms the other arm of the investigation, albeit unwittingly. Sergeant Dodd is one of those endearing supporting characters who one suspects was constructed originally to prop up his protagonist but who with every scene takes up more and more narrative space for himself. He begins by riding hell for leather for the north and along the way burns down another building, is kidnapped, turns the tables on the kidnappers, a formidable one of whom rejoices deservedly in the name of Harry Hunks, is finally reunited with his employer, and gives excellent advice to Lord Hunsdon:
The lady-in-waiting smiled. “Thank you for your advice, Sergeant Dodd. My lord Hunsdon, I think we are done here.” Hunsdon harrumphed. “Indeed, I shall indict him on a charge of high treason…” “Och for God’s sake,” groaned Dodd, goaded beyond endurance by this stupid Southron way of doing things, “He’s said hisself the bill’s foul, ye have him, string him up now and be done wi’ it. Ah’ll dae it for ye if ye’re too…” “Sergeant, the laws of the Border and the laws of England are different. We can’t simply string a man up here without trying him first…” “A’right, give me a crossbow and five minutes and…” The lady-in-waiting was almost laughing again. “Sergeant, then we would have to arrest you for murder.” “What? Och, no, see, I took a shot at a deer in the forest and what a pity, I missed and hit…”
That lady is no lady, and Sergeant Henry Dodd is proved right yet again. All of the usual historical suspects are present, Lettice Knollys, Sir Robert Cecil, the idiot Earl of Essex, but the principals, Lord Hunsdon and the Queen, like Lady Hunsdon before them, radiate so much charisma they eclipse everyone else in every scene they’re in. A lovely addition to the series. Highly recommended.(less)
Opportunity or threat? That's what this book boils down to, an examination of just what the government-driven and -financed economic boom in China mea...moreOpportunity or threat? That's what this book boils down to, an examination of just what the government-driven and -financed economic boom in China means to the West. I warn you, there is no pat answer to the question by the end of the book, but your bewilderment will be much better informed.
Fallows writes for the Atlantic Monthly and spent six years in China "not" reporting on it (they wouldn't give him a journalist's visa so he just said he was there as a consultant). He's a private pilot and has written a lot about aviation, including a book called Free Flight, about an American aviation company that built a better plane and were then bought out by the Chinese. Here, he examines the Chinese economy through the lens of China's nascent aviation industry.
The introduction will raise the hair right up off your head, as he climbs into an airplane prefatory to flying from one Chinese town to an air show in another and serially suffers through pretty much all the problems heir to aviators in China. First no government permission to take off, then there is no fuel available, when it's found it's old Soviet fuel, which is very possibly bad fuel. Fallows writes
In pilot school, you're taught to be hyperconscious of the quality of the fuel going into the gas tank...Claeys and I rationalized that if the fuel was bad enough--who knows how long it had been in those Soviet-airplane tanks, or where else it might have been--the engine wouldn't start at all.
It does and they take off. Then their air controllers disappear on descent into their destination. And in weather, too. Yeah. That's a more interesting flight than I ever want to take, but it's pretty much the norm for private flights in China.
Because in China the PLA or People's Liberation Army has dominion over the air, with only narrow, torturous, sidewindery exceptions carved into air lanes for commercial carriers. I visited China in 2005 and I remember one approach to an airport (it might have been Turfan) (maybe) where we corkscrewed into a landing bad enough to give me a crick in my neck. The topography was flat as a pancake, mountains only a distant presence on the horizon and it was clear and calm and broad daylight, but there was no long, straight approach for us. When we flew into Beijing it was night and the approach was absolutely dark right up until we touched down, no long strips of motels and chain restaurants and car parks. Nothing like Seatac, that's for sure, and it has to be deliberate. If anyone attacks, China is hoping they get lost on the way there.
This military domination over the air has all the attendant problems one might expect (imagine if the Pentagon ruled American air space), but that's only one of the many problems Chinese aviation faces.
...building a certified commercial aircraft is much more difficult than going to the moon," [Tedjarati] said. "A moon shot is a single mission. You're sending four or five people. If the people die they become national heroes. This is so much more complicated, because you're making something for the public that they're going to be using around the world, and nothing can go wrong."
"Perhaps," Fallows writes
...the strongest and most important of these general trends in China is the sense that things are possible."
But, like building a certified commercial aircraft, it ain't gonna be easy.
[China] has yet to show comparable sophistication with the "soft" ingredients necessary for a full functioning, world-leading aerospace establishment. These include standards that apply consistently across the country, rather than depending on the whim and favor of local potentates. Or smooth, quick coordination among civil, military, and commercial organizations. Or sustaining the conditions--intellectual-property protection, reliable contract enforcement and rule of law, freedom in inquiry and expression--that allow first-rate research-and-developments institutions to thrive and to attract talent from around the world...If China can succeed fully in aerospace, then in principle there is very little it cannot do.
There are many, very well-informed doubts that it will be able to do so. But that air of possibility is infectious, and you understand why Fallows found Western pilots and mechanics crowding every airfield in China, convinced that China was the place to go to make their fortune. Everyone alive to the possibility of doing future business in China, Boeing, Airbus, the FAA, the American Chamber of Commerce, they're all in China going full throttle, doing their best to bring China into the world's aviation community.
My favorite story is of course the one about the Alaska Airline pilot who invented required navigation performance (RNP), a GPS-generated waypoint method of landing in bad weather in rough terrain. He proved it worked in Juneau, Alaska (anyone who has ever suffered through the dogleg on approach to Juneau can relate) and then sold his company. To the Chinese, of course. In China, Naverus (Navigation R Us?) plotted an approach into Linzhi, Tibet, where no other airliner or cargo plane had ever landed before. Here's the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdSMk0... You should watch it.
About as damning an indictment of the all-consuming effect on small towns of high school sports as I've ever read, with some acerbic asides on anti-Se...moreAbout as damning an indictment of the all-consuming effect on small towns of high school sports as I've ever read, with some acerbic asides on anti-Semitism, too. But my favorite quote is this one
Because a teacher, let's face it, because a teacher is filed with the iddities and oddities of a community; because most people respect the name, but not the reality, of learning.
Emphasis mine. Moore is an exemplar of the art of small towns writ large. You'll recognize everyone here.(less)
There is a great story to be told about the wives of our first astronauts. This isn't it.
This was my book's club's selection for this month, and we ar...moreThere is a great story to be told about the wives of our first astronauts. This isn't it.
This was my book's club's selection for this month, and we are as one in wondering where Koppel got her citations, because there are no foot- or endnotes, nor is there any bibliography. It reads like the Life magazine stories cribbed together with a few original quotations from the wives themselves, most of which are unattributed by name or source. The writing is exhaustingly repetitive and painfully ungrammatical. Koppel will change characters in the middle of a paragraph without signifying the change, so all too often you're left wondering which wife she's writing about now. It's a book written in a hurry and not edited at all.
In re content, I'm wondering if Koppel let the wives dictate terms; if, like the Life reporter who practically lived in their homes during the Mercury and Gemini and Apollo missions Koppel gained what access she got (and it wasn't much) by promising not to write anything they didn't like (in Life's case it would have been anything NASA didn't like). I'm guessing here, as I have no special knowledge, but that's how the book reads. It's a piece of anecdotal puffery with no real attempt made at getting to any kind of truth. Koppel makes a few ineffectual stabs at comparing their lives to the chaotic times in which they lived but most of these attempts are, well, I’m sorry, but they’re laughable, as in
In the summer of 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed, just around the time of the first official meeting of the Astronaut Wives Club.
You’d have to have read the book to understand just how outrageous that juxtaposition is. While I didn't love what Tom Wolfe wrote about the wives in The Right Stuff, as macho and as gender-biased as it was that book was more insightful about them than this one isn’t.
Still, I'll say here what I said in book club, that I'm not sorry I read it, because it made me think a lot about that time and place and how much the role of women has changed in my lifetime. These women were all of them expected to look like they were married to Don Draper and act like Stepford wives--perfectly coiffed, perfectly dressed, with the perfect children and the perfect home perfectly cleaned. Never a hair out of place or an intemperate word spoken in public, or for that matter in private. NASA leaned on the wives to support their husbands at all costs and in any situation, on earth or in orbit, without offering any support to the wives in return. When LBJ orchestrated NASA Mission Control in Houston, Texas, his home state, their houses were built with no windows facing the street so the press couldn't peer inside. NASA couldn't pay for a couple of lousy security guards, even during a launch?
Appalling, the way these women were used. Their husbands were literally never home, so what difference did it make if they were on planet or off? Here is Betty Grissom after husband astronaut Gus died in the Apollo 8 fire
People would call up worried that she was alone now, but Betty had to admit that things weren't all that different. "Well, I'm going to miss the phone calls," she said. "That's mostly what I had of him. The phone calls."
An astronaut son playing house with his kid sister was overheard by a Life reporter a saying, “I’m going to work, I’ll be back in a week.”
And then there were the Cape Cookies, as NASA sequestered the wives in Togethersville (!) in Houston, while the astronauts worked at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy and tooled around in their dollar-a-year Corvettes
As the husbands escorted them in, the women were alarmed to see a crowd of astronaut groupies waiting in the lobby. Stewardesses with flexible flying schedules, hotel clerks, and diner waitresses seemed to magically appear wherever an astronaut was to be found. Two of these Cape Cookies, as the boys [note the author's use of "boys" here, certainly these weren't grown-up men responsible for their own actions, oh no] called them, dropped to their knees as the group entered, prostrating themselves before the astronauts.
Virtually every astronaut with the possible exception of John Glenn exploited the fawning attentions of the Cape Cookies, and the worst thing is that all the wives knew it and put up with it, because to have made a fuss or, horrors, gotten a divorce would have screwed with their husbands' chances at going into space, not to mention lost the wives all those lovely perks like free designer clothes. The hypocrisy is unbelievably pervasive. Alan Shepard was an adulterous byword in the space community and finally the other wives asked Louise how she put up with it, because surely she knew. She says, “Because I’m the one he really loves."
Maybe he did, but all I wanted to do was puke right there on the page. I know I'm bringing Oughts' sensibilities to a '60s and 70's time, but, I mean, really? With very few exceptions, Rene Carpenter, Betty Grissom and Trudy Cooper among them, Koppel writes about these women as if they thought they were marooned in the 1880’s and were venal simpletons to boot. I don’t buy that for a New York second.
It will surprise no one to hear that of all the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo marriages, only seven survived the program. I bet the spouses of the shuttle astronauts looked at the Mercury and the Gemini wives and thought, "I'm so glad we weren't first."