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M. W. Stone (peterborough, cambs england)
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The Outward Urge by Wyndham, John, Parkes, Lucas (1970) Paperback
The Outward Urge by Wyndham, John, Parkes, Lucas (1970) Paperback
by John, Parkes, Lucas Wyndham
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "There Once Was A Family Named Troon, Determined To Go To The Moon", Aug. 20 2014
These five stories were written in the 1950s, and cover the conquest of space through the eyes of a single family, British-Officer-Class in origin, named Troon, which manages to be always at the leading edge of it.

The first story covers the building of the space station, and the intrusion of Cold War politics on a timeline where the Soviet Union didn't fall. The second is on the Moon when the Cold War has turned hot.

The third portrays the first, Brazilian, Mars expedition (fortunately, the destruction of the northern hemisphere in WW3 hasn't slowed down the conquest of space by more than a hiccup), while the fourth covers Brazil's effort to keep space as a monopoly, and the resistance which this generates. .

The fifth story is (for me at least) unintentionally humorous. Without giving away too much, it focuses on one particular Troon, who has developed a psychological problem which disqualifies him from being given command of a spaceship. Unfortunately, this means he is effectively barred from space (a fate worse than death for one of his family background) because "you can't ship a Troon as crew". Evidently, for one of this eminent race to go up as anything less than skipper is as unthinkable as putting Prince Charles into the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman. Space has been conquered, the northern hemisphere blasted into radioactive desert, yet the British class system - or at least this space age variant of it - has come through without a scratch. Wyndham was very much a man of his time, and this is mentioned in a throwaway line without any explanation being thought necessary. It is just assumed that the (British) readership would understand.

Still, don't let that put you off. They are nice, unpretentious stories and make a good read. Enjoy.

Presidential Succession
Presidential Succession
by Ruth Caridad Silva
Edition: Hardcover
2 used & new from CDN$ 39.53

5.0 out of 5 stars After 60 Years, Still the Definitive Work on its Subject., June 20 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Presidential Succession (Hardcover)
As a long-standing American History buff, I know of no book coming even close to this on its particular subject.

Professor Silva packs a detailed study into a short space, and comes to a number of valid conclusions. In particular, she is firmly (and probably rightly) convinced that John Tyler was wrong to call himself "President" after Harrison's death in 1841, as only the powers and duties, not the office itself, had devolved upon him. While not hugely important in the case of succession through death, this has had pernicious consequences in cases of temporary inability, since while powers and duties can be given back when a President recovers, the office itself, if it is considered to have changed hands, cannot. So Chester Arthur and Thomas R Marshall were obliged to sit on the sidelines for months, waiting for their situations to be resolved either by a President's recovery or by his death. In Marshall's case, neither of these ever really happened, so that he was left waiting in the wings for 17 months until the expiry of Wilson's term.

One point. Reading Silva has convinced me that the widespread criticism of Marshall, for refusing to claim presidential power, is wholly wrong. Since Wilson would not have stepped down willingly, Marshall would in effect have had to stage a legal coup d'etat. Even as a temporary expedient, this would have had dangers. If it involved the permanent deposition of the President, it would have set a frightfully dangerous precedent which could still be causing trouble a century later. In these circumstances, Marshall was surely right to stay out of such dangerous constitutional waters. He was not weak, but wise, and the Republic owes him much.

Silva also makes a strong case against the constitutionality of the 1792 and 1947 Succession Acts, as it is highly doubtful whether either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore of the Senate are "officers", as understood by the Constitution. These acts also compromise the constitutional separation of powers by letting legislative figures exercise the executive power. The 1792 Act was particularly defective given that a Pres Pro Tem was often chosen for only one session at a time, so that the Acting President could be arbitrarily replaced by a single chamber of Congress, or put under improper pressure by the threat to do so. The 1947 Act is somewhat better, as it provides for a Speaker to resign before taking up Presidential duties, but that raises constitutional issues of its own, and also the possibility of a Cabinet Officer becoming Acting President and then being displaced when a new Speaker of PPT is chosen. In short, it's a mess.

At the risk of rushing in where Angels with degrees in Constitutional Law might fear to tread, I am less convinced by Silva's insistence that the Framers never intended the Vice-President to succeed to the entire Presidential term, but only pending a new election. Even if they did, they failed to make this at all clear, given their flat statement that the Vice President is chosen for the same four-year term as the President. And after all, the States which ratified the Constitution (and so who were, in this context, the real lawgivers) only ratified what the Framers had actually put on paper, not things they may have vaguely intended but didn't, or at least didn't clearly, write down.

One thing, though, Silva definitely gets right. She correctly notes that this would not have been a "special" election, as it is often casually called in discussion of this subject. The Constitution makes no provision for election of President and Vice President to any term other than four years, so there is no way for a new President to be elected for the unexpired term only. The election would start a new term. Thus if the vacancy arose in an odd-numbered year (as seven out of nine have in fact done) you would no longer have one Congress elected with the President, and another at mid-term. All Congressional elections would for better or worse be "off year" ones. Whatever the desirability of such a situation (which I suspect most Presidents wouldn't like) it at least deserves to be kept in mind.

Also, this would have infringed the separation of powers in other ways. As the Constitution (by Silva's reading) only allows but doesn't compel such an election, this gives Congress an improper hold over an Acting President , either to blackmail him by the threat to cut short his tenure by calling one, or to bribe him by offering to keep him in office by not doing so. Neither is at all in the Spirit of the Constitution. If the Framers wanted such an election they should surely have mandated it - or else expressly forbidden it. Leaving it as an option (if indeed they did so) was getting the worst of both worlds.

This also makes the question of Tyler's title less moot than at first glance. The Constitution requires the Vice-President to step aside for a President Pro Tem "when he shall exercise the office [not the powers and duties] of President". So if he is exercising only the powers and duties, but not the office itself, he can presumably continue to preside over the Senate - yet another encroachment on the separation of powers. Perhaps, despite the problems noted above, Tyler acted for the best when he "cut the Gordian knot" by claiming the Presidential office , and his contemporaries chose the lesser evil by going along with this.

Still, despite such nitpicks, I repeat that this book is easily the best thing available on the subject. And one thing I'm sure of is that future readers will be flabbergasted that it took till 1965 before the 25th Amendment would finally do something about it.

Survivors: The Complete Original Series
Survivors: The Complete Original Series
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 72.42
23 used & new from CDN$ 71.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Post-Apocalypse SF Comes Of Age On TV., May 16 2014
The "post apocalypse" theme is an old staple of sf, and has been attempted every so often on tv. This series marks its coming of age.

It is unashamedly derivative from similar written sf, but is none the worse for that, as it follows the best examples, George R Stewart's "Earth Abides" and John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids" . Its beginning follows Wyndham, giving more glimpse than Stewart of the actual disaster, though the disaster itself, a virus plague, is closer to Stewart's. However, it doesn't waste much time getting down to business and showing how its characters cope with the aftermath. The early episodes recall "Triffids" with a wannabe dictator distinctly reminiscent of Torrance. OTOH, "The Future Hour" and "Something of Value" illustrate all too well that the absence of government has its problems too. They also bring out the frightful vulnerability, both to human attack and the vagaries of nature, of a tiny farming community with no wider world to fall back on. One sees all too clearly why the Tribe in "Earth Abides" finished up as hunters and not as farmers. As the latter, a single hailstorm could condemn the lot of them to starve.

"Law and Order" is clearly based on the trial of Charlie in EA (as also perhaps the opening scene with the rabbit) , though with a twist of its own, while "The Future Hour" presents moral choices of a different sort, as do "Genesis" , "Revenge" and "A Beginning".

That last episode raises another point, unmentioned, iirc, in either book - how a tiny group, isolated for years with no one else to talk to, can get thoroughly brassed off with one another. The Tribe of "Earth Abides" is often criticised as overly passive and unenterprising, but might a less placid group have driven each other barking mad?

To my mind, the series really gets into swing with the survivors' adoption of two orphaned children, who both give them a responsibility and offer a hint of hope for the future. Indeed, they rather "steal the show" especially Stephen Pedler who takes a wonderful part as 7yo John. Their dog, Ben, also deserves an honourable mention, having more personality than many human characters. He can say an unbelievable amount with just one low growl, and his distrust of that barber shows through long before he is called upon to act. The same cannot be said of those "wild" dogs, who don't convince at all, sitting peacefully around the Land Rover and all too clearly expecting the humans to provide a meal rather than become one.

Almost equally engaging (I hate to say) is Talfryn Thomas as the revolting Tom Price. And of course the leading characters are great. Ian McCulloch takes an excellent part as Greg Preston, the hardboiled leader who knows what survival requires, with Carolyn Seymour nicely balancing him as the more principled (or squeamish) Abby Grant. Abby herself is beautifully portrayed as a woman desperately torn between trying to build a life with her companions, and her reluctance to abandon the increasingly unpromising search for her young son.

One memorable scene is the chilling conversation between Abby and her son's old teacher, who starkly depicts the future (or lack of one) that the survivors face. Not only unable to make light bulbs, or generate the power for them, 99% of them can't even fall back on candles - they won't know how to make those either. Nor something as simple as a table knife (or for that matter a table) or such basic tools as hammers. The best he, an educated man, could do would probably be a crude stone tool of some sort, and most are less knowledgeable than he. In short, when the leftovers of the old world run out, Mankind (especially in what were the advanced countries) is in dead lumber.

Some incidents are absurd but all too believable. The man Jenny meets in the country, fleeing The End of the World with a sackful of banknotes - just waste paper now - and the eloping couple who run off with a bag of equally worthless gold coins, are credible as examples of how obsolete ways of thinking linger on. Less so is the trader who raids disease-ridden towns for goods - to trade for gold! Far simpler, Shirley, to just raid the jewellers' shops and take the gold direct? And while I quite accept that outdoor survivalist or "back to nature" types are better fitted than most for this world, to meet three such - Charles Vaughan, Jim Garland, Paul Pitman - in as many episodes, perhaps stretches credibility just a mite.

But this is quibbling. "Survivors" is a magnificent series, doing for post-apocalypse sf on television what Stewart and Wyndham did on the printed page. Not to mention being up there with Dr Who as a worthy memorial to its creator, the late Terry Nation. Don't miss it, whatever you do.

AFTER DOOMSDAY
AFTER DOOMSDAY
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
2 used & new from CDN$ 39.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Good "SF Detective" Story., March 10 2014
The late Poul Anderson was always one of my favourite sf writers, and this is an absolutely vintage specimen.

Human explorers come back to find the Earth destroyed, and badly need to find out whodunit, if only to assure that the killers aren't also a danger tot hem. While doing so, they also have to find ways to go on living in a not particularly human-friendly galaxy. It's beautifully done, the alien races are well drawn as only Anderson could, and problem is ingeniously solved.

Perhaps one very minor gripe. I always preferred the title used for the magazine version in Galaxy - "The Day After Doomsday". Somehow the shorter title loses some of the oomph - but it's not important. Don't miss it.

See How They Ran: Th British Retreat of 1918
See How They Ran: Th British Retreat of 1918
by William Moore
Edition: Paperback
9 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Account of a "Darned Near-Run Thing"., Jan. 20 2014
I rediscovered this book after last reading it donkeys' years ago. It was a good reunion.

It extends from mid-1917 (its description of Passchendaele is unforgettable) through to mid-1918, but its main focus is on "Michael", the German assault on the BEF in March 1918. Moore provides about the best account that I have so far read, and above all starkly conveys just what a close call it was.

While not singling out the British generals for condemnation (in places Marshal Foch emerges hardly better, and Petain comes over as frightfully short-sighted) Moore is decidedly not one of the John Terraine school of "rehabilitators". One thing that comes out strongly is that the BEF owed its survival in that crucial month far more to German mistakes than to anything in particular that its own commanders did. The British officers who really counted seem to have been the junior ones, who again and again prevented a unit's retreat from turning into rout. This of course had its downside when the Germans "struck it lucky" and the officer was killed, which all too often was followed by the men surrendering. But overall the officers in the trenches counted for far more than those in the Chateaux. Now why am I not surprised?

From time to time I've heard the 1918 offensives dismissed as a "desperate throw" with little chance of success. Don't believe it. Despite his mediocrity, Ludendorff came within an ace of winning, in which event Pershing's "Seventh Cavalry" would almost certainly have been too late to save the Allies from catastrophic defeat. And like I say, Moore paints a great picture of it. If you're interested in World War One, this is a "must read".

Nationality and the war / by Arnold J. Toynbee
Nationality and the war / by Arnold J. Toynbee
by Arnold Joseph (1889-1975) Toynbee
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Maiden Work of a Brilliant (If Opinionated) Young Man, Nov. 12 2013
I discovered this book in my local library at around age 16. It aroused in me a lifelong interest in the First World War (and especially its politics) and for many years coloured my attitude to the Peace Treaties. It was Toynbee's first book, written when he was 25, so predictably did not get all matters right, but from this distance in time it hardly matters, as the things he got wrong are at least as interesting as those he got right.

This shows at times in his attitude to religion. At the time of writing, Toynbee wasn't all that religious (though he changed later) and whilst he includes "a common religion" as one of the factors bringing a nationality together, about the only time he invokes it in practice is in relation to the boundary of Northern Ireland. Thus neither Israel nor Pakistan features anywhere on his fascinating maps. This attitude leads him even further astray in relation to the South Slavs, where he confidently predicts that the Bosnian Moslems, after not only losing the ascendancy they enjoy under Habsburg rule, but also being impoverished by land reform for the benefit of their Serb neighbours, would soon be reconciled to the latter by - wait for it - going to the village school with them! After Srebrenica, one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry.

Not that he was always wrong by any means. He cautioned against any attempt to depose the Hohenzollerns, and predicted that if a German democracy were seen as something imposed by a foreign conqueror, it probably wouldn't last, and even that the Germans might "give it a militaristic turn, and disconcert us by aping the [Prussian] drill sergeant from whom we had delivered [them]". He also suggested that West Prussia (what would later be called "The Polish Corridor") might all too easily be the occasion for a future war. Not bad guesses at how things turned out twenty years later. In the final chapter, he also seems to envisage something like the League of Nations.

For all his brains, though, he could not totally escape the passions of his time. This shows particularly in his attitude toward Russia. As AJP Taylor might have put it, he was one of those intellectuals for whom "scepticism stopped at the Russian frontier", and his take on its future is often optimistic to the point of absurdity. He even calls it "Holy Russia", though one wonders what he could have thought holy about the regime of Nicholas II. So Southern Slavs and others have a clear right to independence from Austria, and Alsatians from Germany, but Poles, Lithuanians and other non-Russian subjects of the Tsar must be content with "Home Rule" of the sort being offered to Ireland - though an awful lot of Irishmen weren't - because "liberalism is in the ascendant [in Tsarist Russia!] and will prevail". So that's all right then.

His attitude to the Ukrainians is even worse. He explains at length why, for the greater good of the Russian Empire, they cannot be allowed even so much as Home Rule, let alone independence, and must "abandon their particularism, and allow themselves to be reabsorbed in the indivisible body of Holy Russia" [1]. He even urges them to also abandon their language, as it consists only of "a few peasant ballads" in favour of Russian [2], and adds insult to injury by consistently referring to them as "Little Russians". Rereading this, I found myself wondering what the Ukrainian was for "Patronising prat".

One more goof. In the chapters on the Middle East, Toynbee touches on an unstable, multi-ethnic state which is "obviously" doomed to disintegration, and whose duty it is of the Powers to sort out how to divvy up when the inevitable collapse takes place. He is talking about - Afghanistan! It tickled me when reading "Between Oxus and Jumna" which he wrote some four decades later, how he praises the heroic stands of the Afghans against the British Empire (to whom he had blithely awarded most of it in the earlier book). In the later one, he makes no reference to his youthful predictions, which saddens me a bit. I would have loved to read his retrospections on this matter, and can't help wishing he at least had had the grace to blush.

Still, this was the first book of a young man not long out of College, so a little Christian charity is in order. This book gives a fascinating overview of the ethnic complexities of 1914 Europe, as seen by a super-intelligent young Englishman of the day. It really gripped me as a teenager and I still keep a copy half a century on. If you are interested in its themes, it is well worth a read as we come up to the its centenary, and that of the war which inspired it. Get a copy.

[1] The word "must" appears again and again in this book, and elsewhere in Toynbee. But rarely, after using it, does he follow up by even asking, let alone answering, the question of "Who's going to make them?" In this he reminds me forcefully of Woodrow Wilson and his "The Senate must take its medicine". All in all, though a great lover of Toynbee's books, I think it fortunate that he never held any political power, as I fear he could all too easily have joined Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Emperor Joseph II on history's long roll call of well-meaning disasters.

[2] In fairness to Toynbee, let it be said that he modifies this to some degree in a slightly later book "The New Europe", where he accepts that the Russian government "must" grant recognition to the Ukrainian language - once again without any indication of what could be done about it if they didn't - but still rejects any idea of independence, as it is unthinkable for Russia to lose Odessa and Kieff and be cut off from the Black Sea - though in an earlier chapter he is perfectly ok with Austria-Hungary losing access to the Adriatic, even though it has no other coastline, while Russia does. The principle of nationality can apparently be sacrosanct or not depending on whose ox is being gored.

LONDON GOES TO HEAVEN
LONDON GOES TO HEAVEN
by JANE LANE
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Read About an Unfunny Time, Sept. 27 2012
Ce commentaire est de: LONDON GOES TO HEAVEN (Hardcover)
London Goes to Heaven is the story of a very average 17th Century Londoner, living through the years from the execution of Charles I to the Restoration.

Samuel Guffin is a tavern-keeper, entirely conventional about religion and with no interest in politics, but who finds his life turned upside down by them. In particular, his family is divided every which way, with one son a Cromwellian soldier, another working as secretary to a Republican politician, and a third - - oh well, read it for yourself. In addition, his elder daughter goes from embarrassing him by her unfortunate choice of lovers, to embarrassing him even more by attaching herself to one religous weirdo after another. I understand that all the nutjobs appearing in the novel actually existed, though whether any single individual was ever attached to all of them in turn is less certain. They make a good fun read, until the real world forces its way in, her latest guru falls foul of the authorities, and the joke turns altogether sour.

Jane Lane was a prolific writer, and a devotee of the Stuart cause, and makes no pretence of impartiality. So Drogheda gets a mention, but Bolton and Dundee do not. However, it probably doesn't matter too much. The truth was bad enough. This also perhaps explains why she opens where she does, as Samuel Guffin is a very loyal freeman of the City of London, so must have been at least moderately Roundhead, as his City was, during the years of the Civil War itself. However, this novel has a fair claim to be her best, so I'm not too fussed about such details.

In addition to his domestic troubles, Guffin has continual bother with the authorities, who take exception to his trade sign, outlaw his favourite songs as "Papist" or otherwise objectionable, and take pot-shots at him and his family when he presumes to take his morning constitutional on the Sabbath. They also encourage his apprentice to spy on him. No doubt that's the way it is during revolutions, and his sufferings are mild enough compared with those of Scarlett O'Hara or Doctor Zhivago, but under such conditions he finds it ever harder to stay non-political, especially as the politics of the time threatens to involve and endanger members of his family.

All ends happily, of course, with the return of Charles II - or so it seems. But just as he is starting to unwind, poor Guffin receives a final bombshell from the one child who has never caused him any concern. But you'll have to read the book to find out what. Go on, you won't be sorry.

THE HERETICS
THE HERETICS
by Alison MACLEOD
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from CDN$ 17.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Historical Novel, Sept. 12 2012
Ce commentaire est de: THE HERETICS (Hardcover)
I can't recommend this novel too highly.

It is based on the life of the Protestant Martyr Anne Askew, burned at the stake under Henry VIII. We get close ups of the ghastly politics of the day, but as the story is told from the viewpoint of Askew's maidservant, we also get some fascinating glimpses of life "below stairs" in the Sixteenth Century.

There's also a "proto-feminist" angle which may irritate some, but this doesn't get in the way of the main plot, and provides its own interesting sidelights on Tudor society. This is about the best novel I've ever read about the Tudor Age. If you're interested in the period and haven't read it, you have really missed something. Grab it.

Brigham Young: Frontiersman (Bilingual)
Brigham Young: Frontiersman (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Tyrone Power
Price: CDN$ 10.49
17 used & new from CDN$ 5.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Film about a Remarkable Chapter of American History, July 2 2012
This film tells the story of the Mormon exodus to the west in the face of unremitting persecution, seen through the eyes of a participant (Tyrone Power). Dean Jagger plays a good Brigham Young, if perhaps a little less forceful than the real one, while Vincent Price is an excellent Joseph Smith.

Hollywood being Hollywood, there are places where dramatic effect is allowed to take precedence over historical accuracy. In particular, the murder of Joseph Smith is shown as coming after a jury has been terrorised by the mob into finding him guilty, when in fact it came before any trial could take place, so that the entire courtroom scene is fictitious. This, of course, was precisely why Joseph's enemies lynched him rather than permitting the law to take its course. They knew they could not convict him of anything serious enough to end his career.

Polygamy is not altogether ignored, but on the whole is rather played down, with only one of Brigham's wives appearing on screen, though the existence of others is mentioned. Presumably, going further than that would have been inappropriate for Hollywood family entertainment.

Later, Brigham Young is shown as leading the Saints across the frozen Mississippi (true thus far) just one jump ahead of the mob, and they all look back to see Nauvoo burning behind them. In fact, the evacuation took place over more than six months, with Brigham leading the first party out in February 1846, and the last not going until September. As far as I know, the City of Nauvoo was never burned (though the Temple was) but just gradually looted after its abandonment. It is however true that the Saints remained subject to vicious attacks long after they were clearly in process of leaving, and posed no possible threat or danger to anyone.

The hardships of the Pioneer Trail are well portrayed, and, perhaps in a sign of changing attitudes, the Indians are shown in an entirely favourable light. The film ends on a really dramatic note, when the Saints are fighting desperately to save their first harvest from the crickets, and are saved at the last minute as the crickets in turn are eaten by seagulls. I understand that the cast had to perform this scene for real, there being no way to fake it with the special effects available in 1940, and found it every bit as unpleasant as it probably was first time round.

All in all, an excellent movie portrayal of one of the greatest pioneer epics of the American West. Shame it's only available in Region 1, as it deserves a wider audience. Still, multi region players aren't too expensive these days. Enjoy it.

Needle
Needle
by Hal Clement
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 31.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Good SF Detective Story, June 14 2012
Ce commentaire est de: Needle (Paperback)
"Needle" features an alien detective who pursues his quarry to Earth in 1949. Both of them are evolved from viruses and normally live inside the bodies of larger creatures with whom they have a symbiotic relationship. They come down in the lagoon of a Pacific island, and the "Hunter" takes up residence in the body of a teenage boy. After an initial hiccup due to his host getting sent to boarding school, they return to the island and the hunt gets under way. The hunter has by now revealed his existence to the boy, who, once he gets over the shock, co-operates in this venture.

There are of course a few doubtful points. The teenager seems remarkably unconcerned about having a being inside him who can observe everything he does - which at his age could include some quite embarrassing things. And the ending is a bit daft. Why allow himself to be punished when they are all together at the Doctor's surgery - and the Doctor is in on the secret? Bob's story could be proved to his father just as easily as it was to the doc. However, I suspect this was meant to be a little bit tongue in cheek, so it doesn't really bother me.

In short, it's a nice easy read if you're into either sf or detective fiction. Enjoy.

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