I feel like there were 3 or more books here that all needed to be fleshed-out.
First, we have a biography of Ian Fleming's war-time years and the roleI feel like there were 3 or more books here that all needed to be fleshed-out.
First, we have a biography of Ian Fleming's war-time years and the role of the NID. This would be a good stand-alone work (see Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 for a comparable look at SOE's code-school). This is where the footnotes and asides linking to various Bond novels belong (I admit to not having read most of the Bond books and therefore not resonating with these).
The second book is a general history of the British, particularly but not exclusively naval, involvement in WWII. This would be the hardest book to create since it is so general. However, Ian Rankin has a bunch of insights and new research on the war that he wants to put somewhere and he seems intent to shoehorn it in. The bit on the "scientific" bombing of Pantelleria or Patton's anti-Semitic remark immediately after the shell-shock slapping incident were new to me, but not particularly relevant to any other portion of the book.
There are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history affiThere are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history afficianado I was woefully ignorant of the specifics of the Norwegian campaign before reading this book. As with so many bits of WWII, I was surprised by the low-percetage chances and absurd coincidences that seem to crop-up with disturbing regularity in the period. The fact that both the Germans and British independently had invasion forces prepped and even sailing for various Norwegian ports is just odd - I can get that certain days present the best invasion conditions, but if the Brits hadn't disembarked their force bound for Trondheim, the two invasion fleets would have met in the fjord and the Norwegians would have had to choose who to welcome and who to fight.
The British unpreparedness for modern warfare in Norways and the contempt they portrayed towards their Norwegian allies is particularly illustritive of the Brits views of themselves as a Great Power. It also serves as a good background to understand the later power struggles between British and US forces for leadership in coalition as described in An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 among other sources.
I read this as an e-book and I would NOT suggest doing so to anyone else. Yes it meant that I was not lugging around a relative tome and could easily read on the subway. However, I did not encounter the maps until the end of the text and these were not well rendered on my e-reader screen. Without an easy way to refer to maps (and flip between them and the text), much of the nitty-gritty of operational histories became a list of interesting sounding small towns, mountains, and lakes in Norway. I resorted to Google Maps just to give myself some orientation, but the text tended to be more detailed and I didn't have internet connection on those subway rides.
That relates to a larger point. Even after seeing the maps, I feel like there should have 2-3 times as many. This book is amazingly detailed, breaking down the action to company and at times platoon level - especially in the Narvik campaign. I feel like there was an opportunity here to really glean some tactical as well as strategic knowledge from the study of the campaign, but without clear visual aides, this was impossible.
In many ways I feel like Lunde was trying to write a much more academic military analysis limited to the Narvik campaign and his editor talked him into trying to write a more general audience history of the whole Norwegian invasion. I'm not the best judge of the success in writing an academic/military analysis, but I can say he missed the mark on the general audience history. This book clearly assumes the reader is familiar with the broader campaign, the personalities involved, and previous works written from British, Norwegian, and German perspectives.
All told, I think I likely would have abandoned this book if a) I hadn't had such a gap in my knowledge of the campaign, and b) didn't have limited access to other books due to construction on my apartment....more
So I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (CaptainSo I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (Captain America 2) and Operation paperclip gets a shout-out from Black Widow. That's how Hydra infiltrated SHIELD. 2) Get a company presentation on all the other places we staff with contractors and high on the list is the former Paperclip-staffed former-bioweapons lab at Plum Island, NY. 3) Rent a movie at home (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and former war-criminal Khan Noonian Singh has been recruited by the Federation to design weapons to defeat the Klingons. 4) Amanda asks about "chemtrails" after seeing them used as an example of insane conspiracy theories - and yet here's a passage about former Nazis spraying US fields with "harmless" bacteria to see how they would spread.
So, yes, these ideas resonate now.
I enjoyed the first sections first. There was much more of a detective-story aspect as multiple teams of Allied scientists and investigators descend on a dying Nazi Germany to secure all the loose scientific equipment and personnel. It seemed a better-funded if more secret compliment to .The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. But the various teams' agendas don't all match. Some are coming to get tools and weapons to fight Japan and soon the Soviet Union. Others are trying to stop, document, and punish atrocities.
The the war-crimes trials and the real Operation Paperclip begin. It almost looks like a flip-of-the-coin to see who will end up on trial and in prison (or hanged) and who gets to move to America to restart their lives. And it isn't a one-time flip either. people move back and forth - one day on an Air Force Base in Ohio, then in the dock at Nuremburg, then prdoned and back out in a US-run lab in Heidelberg.
Annie Jacobsen clearly intends the reader to be horrified at the compromises US officials make in the name of National Security. For a reason I can't quite nail-down, I couldn't quite get raging angry. Part of it is a bit of fatigue - in comparison to concentration camps, how bad is hiring some Nazi scientists. Part of it is distance in time - the closed doors of archives did their intended job and kept those who were in or ran these programs from facing questions in their life-times and the anger wanes when the culprits are dead. Part of it is transitive - is a Nazi scientist who researched biological weapons and wanted to use concentration camp victims as test subjects worse than a US CIA experimenter who doses his own colleagues with LSD without their knowledge (leading to suicide - or at least that's the best case interpretation).
It's all awful.
In many ways I guess this book bridges the WWII era and the Cold War to show how the over-the-top operatic villains of the first era were replaced by the banality-and-ubiquity-of-evil villans of the second era, even when they were sometimes the same people....more
Ken Hite is always fun. I'm more than a little bit of a WWII buff, but I consistently couldn't identify the line between history and fiction in this bKen Hite is always fun. I'm more than a little bit of a WWII buff, but I consistently couldn't identify the line between history and fiction in this book....more
Not Alan Furst's finest outing. Like many of his other works, this is a slim volume heavy on the atmosphere and light on resolution. However, he is muNot Alan Furst's finest outing. Like many of his other works, this is a slim volume heavy on the atmosphere and light on resolution. However, he is much spread-out with his POV then in most other volumes. Iguess the idea is to give a broader feel for the movements of the awakening French Communist Resistance, but that fact that several of the narrative threads are so very tenuously connected left my wanting a clearer picture.
There was a point where one of these side-thread characters is serving as a radio-operator in a garret apartment with an intense young female liason officer a floor below. the setup and imagery was almost exactly the same as a similar set-up in Declare. The commonalities are such that I suspect there is some diary/primary source of an actual radio-operator and his liason-girl out there somewhere that both Furst and Tim Powers drew on for inspiration....more
Hey, you got spy novel in my supernatural pulp. You got supernatural pulp in my spy novel!
Are they good together?
Actually, they're bit jarring togetheHey, you got spy novel in my supernatural pulp. You got supernatural pulp in my spy novel!
Are they good together?
Actually, they're bit jarring together. In places the supernatural swirl is a nice flavor in what feels like an Alan Furst novel. But then the supernatural becomes more explicit, and (like in Wise Child) the lose of ambiguity lessens the power a bit. Tim Powers however is very good at describing the sheer weight and alieness of his supernatural, so the shift from one flavor to another is not a negative one.
A was a little concerned what almost halfway through, the POV suddenly shifted from Hale to Philby. I was afraid Book 2 would be from Philby's perspective exclusively. I was happy to see the POV jump back to Hale and even to expand to Elena. I think I just didn't lilke Philby's character, which may have been the point....more
I'm tempted to follow this up with an old biography of Montgomery from my grandfather's collection to see if he really was as mThe final of 3 volumes.
I'm tempted to follow this up with an old biography of Montgomery from my grandfather's collection to see if he really was as much of a self-centered ass as he comes through as in this volume.
Atkinson has been particularly good in this series in showing how WWII was the birth of the "American Century" without a sense of predestination. The Americans are astoundingly provincial and inexperienced in both warefare and international intrigue at the start of the war. Even as the US armies become the dominant force in western Europe, there is none of the inherent deference to American power and decision-making that I grew-up steeping in. It's a good reminder that the rise of American power was not scripted, universally applauded, or without major bumps....more
This is a beautiful coffetable book I received fro my birthday. I grabbed it to fill in gaps in reading time between school reading assignments and waThis is a beautiful coffetable book I received fro my birthday. I grabbed it to fill in gaps in reading time between school reading assignments and was quite surprised.
I expected lots of pretty plane porn and boilerplate discussions of the Battle of Britain and maybe some pre-war history, schematics, and later operational history. But this is not a history book (eventhough I have shelved it as such). This is much more of an art-theory book. When the subtitle says "Icon of a Nation" that is really what they are talking about - the role that the Spitfire holds in the culture and subconscience of the British nation. yes, the book is arranged mostly chronologically, and it does cover all the points above that I expected it to, but the lens the author sees this history through is one of design and culture. The famous ellipital wing of the Spitfire is lauded for it's instant recognition and connection to the streamlined shapes of Art Deco architecture. There is no discussion of the benefits of of an ellipse vs. a squared-off wing (though the book does show Spitfires with clipped wings - a successful attempt to reduce the planes turning radius further to out maneuver the Fw 190).
Reading the paragraph above, a WWII historical buff (like myself) might be turned-off from this book, dismissing it as artistic fluff. It is not. The design, improvement, financing, and manufacture of the Spitfire (as well as the Schneider Cup racers that pre-dated it) is covered in detail. But this is all presented in a way that looks at how those processes shaped the plane and the society around it. In this way, the Spitfire is presented less as another weapon of war, and more as a mythological symbol of the country - a pulp trope of Britain - a modern-day Excalibur....more
Another enjoyable outing from Alan Furst. I had to take a big pause in the middle of this story due to class work, but the outline of the story is sufAnother enjoyable outing from Alan Furst. I had to take a big pause in the middle of this story due to class work, but the outline of the story is sufficiently well-worn as to not cause confusion picking it up weeks later.
Very few moments really jump out at me from this book until near the end. The character of Count Polanyi, the Hungarian diplomat who takes it upon himself to recover the production's stolen cameras really did jump fully-formed into my head when he said the local gendarmie could not be expected to move quickly, but he had some old cavalry buddies who could help.
Oh, and the names. Our hero's two love interests have the best names: Kiki de Saint-Ange - the "girl you knew in Paris" - almost more 20's flapper than late-30s character. And Renate Steiner - the almost spinsterish emigre costume tailor.
I do love that Furst is willing to have sensual characters, especially female characters, in their late 30s, 40s, and even 50s. It gives me hope as I stare-down the big 4 O myself....more
**spoiler alert** This is the first of Alan Furst's novels where the narrative never makes it to the start of the war. This is a tight little story, b**spoiler alert** This is the first of Alan Furst's novels where the narrative never makes it to the start of the war. This is a tight little story, but fundamentally, the espionage story is much ado about nothing. No matter what our hero does, the history is already written and the ability of those with power to deceive themselves is nearly endless....more
In this case, noone is expected to read a travel guide cover-to-cover.
I chose a few of the big geopolitical hot-sAnother case of not finishing a book.
In this case, noone is expected to read a travel guide cover-to-cover.
I chose a few of the big geopolitical hot-spots of the time to get a better feel for the pre-WWII era - Germany, Austria, the Soviet Union, and Spain. Throughout reading about hotels and cafes I kept wondering how many of these locations and the communities that revolved around them survived the following decade....more
I apparently was one of the few folks to be truly sad that the GURPS WWII line was cancelled. I'm a WWII aficianado and a bit of GURPS booster. That sI apparently was one of the few folks to be truly sad that the GURPS WWII line was cancelled. I'm a WWII aficianado and a bit of GURPS booster. That said, the one WWII-set game I have been in (a GURPS Supers game set in WWII ran into all kinds of trouble with differing levels of knowledge, assumptions, and ethics of war among players - it may have just been the group though).
Red Tide specifically: It shows that this volume was never truly finished for publication (instead being released just as a PDF). Typos are too common and the flow feels a little rough. Also, as subject area, the Soviet side of the Eastern Front is just plain a tough sell as a place to game. I could see having a British Lancaster crew have to move through Russia after a secret mission to Murmansk, or even start a herioc Polish campaign with characters escaping from the gulags in the 1939-1941 period. Mostly though, this book is background. The prospects for the average (or extraordinary) Soviet soldier just tend to be too bleak to constitute escapist entertainment for almost any gamer.
Oh, and I would have appreciated two additions - a bit of Weird War II focused on Soviet specialties, and a alternate history/more focus on the Far East/Mongolian/Manchurian/Chinese front.
Sad that I will probably never see a Japanese or Chinese source book....more
I picked this up for cheap at a Borders going-out-of-business sale. I had hoped that this was the unit my grandfather served in as a staff-sergeant meI picked this up for cheap at a Borders going-out-of-business sale. I had hoped that this was the unit my grandfather served in as a staff-sergeant mechanic. Alas, no such luck.
Perhaps it is from my grandfather that I developed my love for the P-38 Lightning. The plane is one of the most easily recognized of the war. I was interested in the section comparing the Lightning with the P-51 Mustang. The Mustang is often considered the best piston-powered fighter even made. I was happy to see the assessments from some aces who flew both give comparable plaudits to moth models.
That said, this volume dragged quite a bit and I found that I just wasn't getting through it. I've finally admitted that its an abandoned book...maybe I'll finish it when I don't have such a large backlog of more interesting or higher priority fare....more
Miranda Corbie is a tough broad. Stanley's second book with this character delves a little deeper into her character. She continues to explore the livMiranda Corbie is a tough broad. Stanley's second book with this character delves a little deeper into her character. She continues to explore the lives of the people of San Francisco who not welcome in the Greatest Generation. I look forward to where this character is going in future books....more
I generally enjoy the heck out of Alan Furst's novels. The atmosphere he creates is very immersive, and even when the main character is a bit inscrutaI generally enjoy the heck out of Alan Furst's novels. The atmosphere he creates is very immersive, and even when the main character is a bit inscrutable, supporting characters can just send your brain spinning off into the possibilities of their backgrounds and futures.
This volume is one of the most disjointed of Furst's novels I've read. The narrative can jump several days, then backtracking as our PoV character thinks back to how they survived the last cliffhanger. The role of S. Kolb feels a bit like a red-herring, never truly panning out. The ship-board setting feels a bit thinner than wartime Paris common in other volumes.
For all those complaints, I still recommend the book. It was a fun read and a nice break between denser fair....more
This was a deal book I found prowling through the local Borders that was in its final death throws. I thuink I have found that I like the Osprey PubliThis was a deal book I found prowling through the local Borders that was in its final death throws. I thuink I have found that I like the Osprey Publishing books and may breakdown and buy more in the future. They seems a little "lite" and are therefore more likely to get you a querolous look from a guest who sees it on your bookshelf than the latest Ian Kershaw.
I enjoyed the coverage of all the military airship models, complete with contemporay photos and color plates of most classes. It was only mildly dissapointing not to something more deep-steampunk.
So many people have tried to populate a world with airships, blaming the Hindenberg for destroying such an elegant way of flying. But reading about the crash of the R101 reminded me that Hindenburg was just the last of the air behemoths to die a fiery death, not the only one....more
Upon reading the subtitle, I thought "Most Incredible Rescue Mission"? Those are fighting words, especially if youMore unbelievable stories from WWII.
Upon reading the subtitle, I thought "Most Incredible Rescue Mission"? Those are fighting words, especially if you have read Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission. But that book's author, Hampton Sides was willing to write a blurb for the back cover. The difference between these two missions does focus on the "incredible" aspect. The Alamo Scouts' rescue mission in the Phillipines was amazingly well executed and very lucky. The accident and airlift from Shagri-La in New Guniea was a matter of "really, who writes this stuff?"
So well before Gilligan's Island every aired, the Army Air Corps ran a "three-hour tour" sight-seeing flight over an isolated stone-age valley deep in the mountains. This wasn't the first fly-by, but this flight was mainly a morale-builder for WACs based in Hollandia. Mistake number one? Picking a plane called the 'Gremlin Special' - really!
After the inevitable crash, we have a set-up from a bad Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novel. Two men and one woman trapped in a land time forgot - with cannibals! The survivors even knew the tropes and joked about having to swing on vines to cross streams and debating which of the men would inevitably have to marry Maggie the WAC once they were rescued.
Oh, no, that's not good enough. We have to meet the young-go-getting officer of the rescue party, an Anglo officer of a unit of Fillino-American guerilla-trained paratroopers. He aso has MAJOR daddy-issues as his father is stayed in the Phillipines to run a partisan movement and has asked the Army brass to bench his son's unit since his son can't possibly measure up. Serious guy-shit!
And the rescue? Gathering a rag-tag band of experts and equipment from across the Pacific to try and land a glider and then snatch it back into the air. All this while reporters circle the valley conducting interviews by radio and a former actor/jewel thief/sailor parachutes in (drunk) to catch the whole thing on film for the propaganda value.
OK, so this is all very American pulpy. But this is not the real strength of the book. Mitchell Zuckoff has travelled to Shangri-La to interview the locals who remember the crash and rescue effort. Seeing the whole first-contact aspects through the locals eyes really does help show how strong the pulp-stories were in the minds of the Americans and colored everything they saw around them....more
All throughout this book I kept thinking "where do they find these people!" At times WWII feels like it was a play populated with the most absurd, andAll throughout this book I kept thinking "where do they find these people!" At times WWII feels like it was a play populated with the most absurd, and yet stock, characters from all the bad pulp stories. Of course our British Intelligence hero is jewish - ah, but not just jewish, a second son from a prominent banking family - the Montagus! And don't forget that his younger brother renounces the family fortune to pursue his twin loves for communism and ping-pong (with his wife - nicknamed Hell).
But wait, that's not British enough, we need a real stiff-upper-lip type - we'll call him Charles Chemondeley and make sure he has one of thos crazy handle-bar moustaces. He'll be Montagu's partner. And hey, didn't Ian Fleming work from British Intelligence in the war? Lets bring him in too - oh heck, bring in every hack spy novelist you can find!
Ooh! And make the Nazi spy master in Spain be "cadaverous" and his boss in Madrid is secretly 1/4 jewish and so feeding bad intel to Berlin to pump-up his reputation to avoid the concentration camps. And we need a Good German too! The intelligence analyst in Berlin! We'll make him be an anti-Hitler conspirator who is lying about Allied troop levels to try and get German to lose faster!
Any thing else? Yeah, the sub that delivers the body, it isn't just some random sub. It also smugged Gen, Mark Clark into Algeria, smuggled a French general out of France (while pretending to be an American sub) and gets to be a pathfinder/beacon for the actual Husky invasion forces!
If this was a novel, any reviewer worth their salt would go nuts at the stereotypes and coincidences. And just think, this is the more heavily researched, less censored and propagandized version!...more
In the 1930s, the world was becoming increasingly dominated by totalitarian states, and these were not just the banana republics that we have grown acIn the 1930s, the world was becoming increasingly dominated by totalitarian states, and these were not just the banana republics that we have grown accustomed to seeing in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Totalitarianism, whether in the form of fascism or communism, seemed to have a monopoly on new thinking and revolution. It was far from unthinkable that this was the new way of the world.
It was into this world thatSinclair Lewis injected It Can't Happen Here. The fictional rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip is rapid and shocking, showing just how fragile America's constitutional balance of power is. I found that rise to be a bit precipitous (vs. similar fictional American fascist movements laid out in The Plot Against America or The Center Cannot Hold and [The Victorious Opposition]. Sinclair is a better author than either Roth or Turtledove, but the later books take things slower. Those feel more plausible, but Sinclair's history is amazingly possible.
Another place where Sinclair seems to skip a cylinder is in the brutality of the Windrip Corpo regime. The repression is brutal and torture is always awful, but Sinclair did not have a conception of the mechanized murder and evil that was to come in the Holocaust. Turtledove does not flinch from a proposed Confederate Holocaust and the threat of the Holocaust is ever-present in Roth's book. But I can in no way blame Lewis for failing to foresee the twists that the mind of Adolf Hitler would take (even if Japanese behavior in Nanking and other Chinese cities had given a taste of what was to come).
And don't rest on your laurels America, thinking that the age of totalitarianism is past and so is the threat that Lewis wrote of. I worry about the claims made by an imperial presidency, regardless of party. Always question those who have all the answers. ...more
Miranda Corbie, PI in 1940 San Francisco, a detective in the mold of Sam Spade, but trading on her face, her legs, andI'm a sucker for pulp sometimes.
Miranda Corbie, PI in 1940 San Francisco, a detective in the mold of Sam Spade, but trading on her face, her legs, and her knowledge of the club and escort scene to handle divorce cases. She's a former escort, former Spanish Civil War nurse, and owes a lot to connections to burlesque dancer ,a href="http://www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/sa... Rand.
Most importantly in my mind, she's nobody's damsel in distress. Miranda is a self-destructive, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, emotionally isolated heroine. But she is very adamant that these are her choices, and any of the (several) romantic interests in the book will have to accept that. She will not be rescued, from her own choices, or the mechanations of mob bosses, smugglers, murderers or thieves. I couldn't help but to compare this PI to Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, who bounces between paramours to rescue her.
There's also a point to be made in how a female PI sees people and information where police homicide detectives see only window-dressing and cardboard cut-outs. I'm still not sure where the title came from and I wish the publisher had found a 1940 picture of Chinatown for the cover instead of an obvious '50's shot. What can you do?...more
I went into this book expecting to dislike it. I'm not certain why. Maybe it was the fact that I remember gushing reviews talking about how Roth had cI went into this book expecting to dislike it. I'm not certain why. Maybe it was the fact that I remember gushing reviews talking about how Roth had created a 'whole new literary genre'.
The genre exists. It's called alternate history. It sells millions of books.
As alt-history goes, this isn't too bad. The memoir aspect is a little different, but does fit well with the focus on day-to-day life of ordinary people instead of movers-and-shakers. As for alt-history tropes, we h=get the seemingly ever-present Jews (nothing against Judaism, it just that Jews are way over-represented in nearly all alt-history series for reasons that I have yet to ascertain), we have a roughly defined point-of-departure (why did Lindy suddenly decide to run for president?), but a real failing on what Terry Pratchett has termed the 'trousers of time' problem. Basically, Roth gives us two years of alternate history, but then has the world snap back into the same basic shape as before (victory in Europe a little late, RFK still assassinated in the 60's). I don't buy it. Once history comes off the rails of what we have been taught, it cannot be forced back on. Would RFK have run for president if JFK hadn't been killed? Would JFK have been president if his big brother Joe Jr. hadn't died in a B-25 bomber/drone accident? Would the US Air Corps have used the same plan to take out V1 sites if they had 2 extra years of aviation development under Lindy before entering the war? Everything goes all quantum on you.
Outside of the discussion of alt-history tropes, well, I'm not sure if I see what makes Roth so admired. Some scenes were very effective. Many others felt like bad filler. The main character, Philip Roth at age 9 or so, comes off as a self-absorbed little snot.
Maybe I'm not cultured enough to understand....more
**spoiler alert** This not one of Turtledove's better works.
The initial idea is interesting. Why did Nazi Germany accept Allied occupation when so ma**spoiler alert** This not one of Turtledove's better works.
The initial idea is interesting. Why did Nazi Germany accept Allied occupation when so many other countries have fought long guerrilla wars against occupying forces? How is 1946 Germany different than 1979 Afghanistan or 1960s Vietnam? How is it like the former Confederate States in the 1860s?
These are important and valid questions that I feel were swept under the rug. Instead, the narrative seems strongly linked to the US experience in Iraq circa 2006 (before the Sunni Awakening and troop surge). However, if this book is a veiled commentary on Iraq, then Turtledove missed a perfect opportunity to weigh-in on one of the major debates in policy regarding the War on Terror - namely the use of extralegal force (torture, detention without rights, rendition, etc.). The division of post-war Germany into Western Allied and Soviet zones creates a opportunity to contrast the effectiveness of different tactics in counter-insurgency - between a buy 'em off/win hearts and minds plan used by the Americans and unbridled force used by the Russians. In our own history, these are the tactics that those two regimes did use. Instead, Turtledove shows us that the Soviet NKVD is certainly ruthless, but he never even mentions the Marshall Plan (which, in his defense was discussed but not yet implemented within the time-frame of the book.
Instead of answering deep military/historical questions or addressing the policy and moral arguments of the war he is modeling off of, Turtledove instead gives huge benefits of the doubt to the Nazi partisans. Heydrich's organization is presented as monolithic, with no internal power struggles. While their tactics are often taken from the al-Qaida playbook, Heydrich's men also succeed in multiple truck bombings of national monuments (proposed but only rarely completed by al-Qaida) and a dirty bomb attack. Competence at this level is not seen now and was not seen in 1940s Germany (Just read up on the many attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler to see just how large the logistical and pure luck challenges of such campaigns can be). The most annoying benefit given to Heydrich though is in the surprising backbone given to Republican opposition to Truman's prosecution of the war in Germany. Although Congress does control the purse-strings, and progressives did argue strongly for cutting-off funding for the Iraq War after the 2006 mid-term elections, a successful recall of troops from an overseas war due to Congressional budget-writing never saw a chance of happening. In Turtledove's world it sailed through entirely too easily.
In all, I feel like this book was forced. Ideas were not well thought-out and our heroes were hamstrung by an author who failed to properly research their options.
The body of the book covers the First and Second World Wars when the relatively isolated harbor served as the primary port for Great Britain's main fleet (the Grand Fleet in WWI and the Home Fleet in WWII). The position of Scapa Flow gave the fleet the best staging ground for intercepting any German warships attempting to break out into the Atlantic or shipping attempting to break the British naval blockade applied in both wars.
The book does not cover the various missions and encounters that the Royal Navy engaged in with much detail. Instead, the focus is on activities in the harbor itself. The two most dramatic incidents both involved German warships in the Flow. First, Scapa Flow hosted the German High Seas Fleet when it was interred after the end of WWI. On the summer solstice in 1919, two days before the Versailles Treaty would have ordered the ships of the German fleet distributed to the various victorious allies, the German admiral in charge ordered the whole fleet scuttled.
The next dramatic moment came in the early days of WWII when a German U-Boat penetrated the insufficient defenses of the harbor to sink the British battleship Royal Oak. This incident lead to a major build-up of defenses and forces in the Orkneys, and listing these defenses and emplacements is where this little volume shows its greatest value.
Hewison assumes that his reader already knows a fair deal about the two world wars, the Royal Navy, and the general geography of Great Britain and the Orkneys. The strength of the volume is in the details and the point of view of a native Orkadian....more
I am beginning to become a serious fan of Furst's work. [Dark Star:] is definitely a darker work than the last Furst I read The Polish Officer, and thI am beginning to become a serious fan of Furst's work. [Dark Star:] is definitely a darker work than the last Furst I read The Polish Officer, and that really is saying something. I'm really not sure how accurately Furst portrays the thinking of a Soviet citizen living through Stalin's purges, but it is certainly believable. Furst proposes several theories for the purges as his main character, Andre Szara, tries to navigate the pitfalls of pre-war Europe. I wish I could measure the believability of these theories that Furst puts in the mouths of his characters. Unfortunately, When I treid to read the the seminal history of the Purges, Robert Conquest's The Great Terror, I just couldn't drag myself through it.
The most interesting contrast I felt in the book was between the terror regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. In both countries, a knock on the door in the middle of the night usually meant a visit from the secret police and the disappearance of at least one family member, usually forever. However, in Germany, you had a pretty good idea of why you being arrested and on whose authority that arrest was happening. In Russia, the Terror was much less predictable. The state apparatus turned on minorities, dissidents, rivals, and even itself. Sometimes it seems clear that Stalin was targeting those he felt were a threat to him, at other times, he seemed to be terrorizing the whole country. Furst surmises that some portions of the purge were factional infighting within the government, with no clear hand from above.
All of this is buffered in the book by having Szara, spend most of his time in Paris, Berlin, or Poland, working as a semi-reluctant spy-master for the NKVD under the cover of his previous life as a journalist from ,a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pravda&q.... This plethora of settings hurts the pacing a bit. Dark Star is over twice as long as The Polish Officer, and it certainly felt it. Still, this novel felt a bit more solid than the very impressionistic and almost ethereal detachment of The Polish Officer....more
Furst's style is the most noticeableI had read one Furst novel before, The Foreign Correspondent. I was happy to find this volume as good as that one.
Furst's style is the most noticeable part of his work. Many scenes feel more like an impressionist painting than a photograph of historical events. A times this works very well, as in a scene describing a duel between a British Beaufighter and German anti-aircraft gunners over a Belgian port. At other times it feels a bit overly lyrical, like the repeated invocation of the blue-painted streetlights of wartime Paris. On at least on occasion, I found myself completely lost as to the meaning of a scene because of Furst's elliptical prose.
I've always been interested in WWII, but for the past few years, I've found myself increasingly drawn to the plight of Poland and her soldiers in the war. This has even gone so far as portraying one such character in a role-playing game. I'm not sure what this says about me, but I now wish I had read about Furst's Captain DeMilja before I had tried to portray a character with much the same background.
Interestingly enough, both my 'Captain Poland' and Furst's Captain DeMilja faced the same literary threat. What end can a hero have when facing such unsurmountable odds as Poland faced throughout WWII? Furst leaves the question unanswered, leaving his character adrift in a hostile world on the borders of Poland, Ukraine, and Byelorussia still fighting what we can only hope is the good fight....more
I've written before that I am easily annoyed by Tom Brokaw's assertion of the GI Generation as "The Greatest Generation" especially when applied selecI've written before that I am easily annoyed by Tom Brokaw's assertion of the GI Generation as "The Greatest Generation" especially when applied selectively to only Americans. I in no way mean to demean WWII vets (quite the opposite), but I feel like today's young men and women would make the same sacrafices if called upon.
The story of Taffy Three is the first time in a WWII history that I have found myself this amazed at the courage under fire of American servicemen. The courage of Army Rangers at Cabanatuan isn't to be questioned. Neither are the sacrifices of Polish patisans in Warsaw or British paratroops at Arnhem. But either this is what they trained for, or they really had no choice but to fight.
For the pilots from Taffy 3's escort carriers and the sailors on the destroyers and escort carriers, it was a bit different. Yes, they trained to fight, but no one trained them to go after the the main battle line of the Imperial Japanese Navy. They were supposed to be support, ground support, sub chasing, nothing glamorous. Yes, it was their duty to attack...the first time. But once your bombs or torpedos are gone, most folks would turn around and high-tail it for safety. This was clearly an option for the pilots and probably an option for the DDs and DEs too.
It wasn't an option for the escort carriers (or jeep carriers as Hornfischer refers to them). Nobody would blame those pilots or sailors for getting out of Dodge. WWII Army Air Corps pilots used to say they were flying for Uncle Sam until they dropped their bombs; then they were flying for themselves. Not these men. They went back, again and again, flying dry runs at Japanese battleships in the hopes that the big ships would swerve and give the carriers another few minutes. One pilot figured he made more than 19 torpedo runs in a plane that only carries one torpedo. The destroyers did the same, running in against heavy cruisers with their 5-inch guns blazing away. It never should have made a bit of difference.
But it did. The Japanese commander, already spooked by having one ship shot out from under him the day before, became convinced he was casing fast carriers he could never hope to catch, and facing elite pilots in great numbers, and reciving fire from enemy cruisers instead of tin cans with pop-guns. Kurita retreated.