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 – what really happens in a world where superheroes exist – and sarcastic takes on the clichés 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 – and failing miserably – to 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.


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

-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

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.


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.


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 and a complete free PDF of Phoenix can be found online at

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!

The Man With The Iron Heart - Harry Turtledove

The Man With The Iron Heart
-Harry Turtledove

What if the Germans had resisted Occupation after WW2?

Harry Turtledove’s single-volume books are generally better than his massive multi-volume sets. Ruled Britannia, The Guns of the South and In the Presence of Mine Enemies are all excellent reads, although the last one has rather more verbiage than is actually required. The same cannot be said for his massive endless series; the Darkness, Great War and even WorldWar often bogged down into repetitiveness and were just plain boring. They highlight a major flaw in Turtledove’s work; he uses real history as a guide to alternate history. ITPOME has a Soviet-style crisis for the Third Reich, GW has a Hitler-alternate and a mirror image of the Barbarossa Campaign in America (totally unrealistic). With that in mind, I was not particularly hopeful of The Man With The Iron Heart and only bought a copy because it was being sold for £1.50 at Oxfam.

It’s Iraq. In Germany, 1945.

(If that puts you off, don’t bother to read any further.)

The OTL Nazi Werewolves never amounted to very much; indeed, their only major success was the death of a pro-Allied Mayor in an occupied German city. (Paratroopers, not sleeper teams) In ATL, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich survives and organises a resistance movement in Germany, which launches an insurgency campaign within weeks of the Fall of Berlin. Instead of a reasonably peaceful occupation, the Allies find themselves fighting an invisible foe, while back home a woman called Mrs Diana McGuire, the mother of a soldier killed after the end of hostilities – and a thinly veiled image of Cindy Sheehan – starts a major campaign to bring the soldiers home from Iraq…sorry, I meant Germany. Easy mistake to make…

Or at least it is in Turtledove’s universe.

(Oh, and she cheats on her husband as well. I don’t know if Turtledove was making a point…)

The problem is that the world of 1945 is very different from the world of 2003. Germany was occupied by four powers (not two, as in Iraq) and one of the powers (the USSR) had little compunction about using the most unpleasant methods to get information. The US (and British and French) soldiers weren't the soldiers of 2003; the Germans had started the war, the Germans were striking from ambush – they weren’t going to waste time arguing about morality and the Geneva Convention. It isn’t very likely that the public opinion in ANY of the Allies would hesitate over using extreme measures to get information, let alone reprisals and other brutality. The strikes against Britain and France (they knock down the Eiffel Tower) won’t scare politicians out of Germany, but fuel a demand for revenge, even if it is indiscriminate revenge.

And there are plenty of people in Germany who know very well that they were defeated. If the insurgency just made the lives of the ordinary Germans worse – and it would, just because of the problems with food supplies – why would they support it? What about all the German officers from the Wemerchet who wouldn’t want to go through a Nazi Government again? What about all the horrible things the Russians did in their Zone? The West could just point out that if they withdrew, the Russians might decide to move in and take West Germany as well. What happens when the supplies run out…?

I’m not sure what was going through Turtledove’s mind when he was writing. I don’t think, somehow, that it was concerned with realism. Iraq is (would have been) a far different case than Germany, a war fought with different attitudes and tactics, in a very different field. I doubt that the Allies would act as portrayed by Turtledove; insurgencies rarely work without strong outside support and none of the powers that might support one side of the insurgency has a good motive for doing so. The US fought it out in Vietnam, under far worse conditions, for much longer than Turtledove portrayed – I’m not spoiling much to tell you that the book ends with an American withdrawal and the Nazis slipping back into power – and was never really defeated in the field. If the book was intended to portray Nazism and Islamic Fundamentalism as two sides of the same coin, it succeeds…but only barely. Germany might have had thousands of experienced soldiers, but it doesn’t have the tradition of suicide bombers or knee-jerk respect for religious authority.

Overall, an unconvincing book. If it’s intended as a take on the War on Terror, Tom Kratman does a much better job of it.

Two out of Five.

The General's President - John Dalmas

The General's President
-John Dalmas

At last the generals were going to get their kind of President. At least that's what they thought...

The stock market crash of 1994 made 1929 look like a minor market adjustment...the rioters of the '90s made the Wobblies look like country-club Republicans...the Vice President of the U.S. resigns in a cloud of scandal - and when the military hints that they may let the lynch mobs through anyway, the President resigns as well. But the President must first propose a new chief executive to succeed him - one approved by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thus the generals get to pick a President. Imagine their surprise when the President they pick turns out to be his own man...Baen Books – 1990

The plot of this book reassembled Executive Orders (Tom Clancy), although it predates that by some years. The basic plot is similar; the United States is having a large financial and social crisis. Because of the extremity of the crisis Congress decides to allow the president complete authority. Shortly thereafter the president resigns and a new, non-political man becomes president. He then goes on, throughout the rest of the book, to exercise his new dictatorial powers to re-engineer all aspects of American government.

Underneath all of this is a plot by the Soviet government to attack the United States with new technology that allows them to do things like change the weather or cause earthquakes. The Soviet-United States conflict seems to be very secondary to the book. Other conflicts in the book (South Africa, the Archons) also seem to be secondary. So much so that the resolution of the conflict seems like an afterthought rather than a climax in the book. In essence, Dalmas appears to have picked up ideas, tossed them around, and put them down again.

I was rather expecting a military coup from the blurb at the back, but no, that never even comes close to happening.

I encountered the book pretty much by accident. It’s not a bad read in most places. It suffers from having too many different ideas in the plot – soviet movements, aliens, and power generation technology – to do it justice. Coving only the American aspects of the crisis would have made the book simpler and more together. Much of the book consists of transcripts from speeches the new president makes to various organizations outlining the new plan, which can be distracting.

It’s full of interesting ideas. Some you might agree with, others you might hate, but it would make an interesting study-book on changes to government.

Star Trek: Q & A - Keith R. A. DeCandido

Star Trek: Q & A
-Keith R. A. DeCandido

Q – the omnipotent trickster who was introduced to us in ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ and rapidly became one of the most enduring characters in Star Trek – is not an easy character to use in a novel. Like Sideshow Bob, when he appears, he dominates the entire show…or he should. Some of the comics, in which Q is used as little more than a plot device or handy ASB, are frankly terrible; Q is meant to be light-hearted, but playfully serious, and treated with just a dash of menace and sophistication. Alara Rogers - - does such great Q-fic that it’s hard to understand why she doesn’t get paid for it…particularly when Keith R. A. DeCandido...does.

Let me be open here; I have never read anything else by him – at least that I can recall – and I do not think that I will ever pick up another book by him. He’s a fanboy, which is great…except when it’s not. This book is littered with cameos and references to all of the Trek shows, enough to take up valuable dead tree. This book had to be about Q; instead, Q seems to be determined to play nothing more than a puppeteer role. An entire chunk of the book is taken up by fan-wanking references; irritating at the best of times, at their worse, just useless.

But never mind. Picard, still in command of the Enterprise-E, but minus Will Riker, Troi and Data, is faced with a mystery involving a world called Gorsach III. (As Q complains, who came up with that name?) For reasons that are only vaguely stated, seemingly revolving around beings more omnipotent than the omnipotent Q – and, again, Alara Rogers does a much better version of Q and his people – what happens at Gorsach III will determine the fate of the universe. There is really very little new here; the interplay between the old crewmembers and the new ones, while well handled, was of little importance to the overall plot. The plot just builds up…and then it ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a laugh.

Boring. Just like everything else in the book.

It’s not the best Trek-fic ever, not by a long shot. Q is handled much better in Q-in-Law, or Q-Squared, perhaps even the three-book series by Greg Cox. It does have it’s moments, but, in the end, it’s not worth it.

Don’t bother.

Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam (And Why It Will Fail) - Don Oakley

Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam (And Why It Will Fail)
-Don Oakley

In which a noted pro-smoker misses the point.

Hey, kids, a curious thing happened to me the day after I finished reading this book! I got on a bus! Twenty minutes into the journey, I was assailed by the smell of…you’ve guessed it, fag smoke! (That’s British slang for cigarettes, for US readers.) I looked up! I saw…a fairly well dressed young man! He had no cigarette in his mouth! He carried none in his hands! And yet…phew blimey, the sink! I dunno if Oakley is in fact correct about us having been conditioned to smell cigarette smoke when there is the faintest hint of one in the vicinity, but damn! That’s some good conditioning!

All right, I’ll be serious now.

Slow Burn is nothing less than an assault on the antismoking lobby, which causes such distress to smokers and great annoyance to many non-smokers, giving us decent non-smokers a bad reputation. Oakley’s attack is centred on hysteria surrounding smoking, including exaggerated reports of just how deadly cigarette smoking is, and how the antismoking lobby has a major effect on people’s lives. It is interesting to read some of the reviews on Amazon of Slow Burn; of 22 reviews, all, but one of them were 1star or 5star – the single 3star review was written in such a way as to cause me to suspect that the book was not, in fact, read by the reviewer.

But never mind that. Oakley has gathered a vast amount of evidence to suggest that the antismokers are engaged in a vast assault on civil liberties. Based on flimsy evidence, the antismokers have attempted to drive smokers away from themselves, including forcing them to face discrimination, such as a suggestion that fag smoke is harmful to wherever they work. I’m sorry to break this to Mr Oakley, but in some cases that is actually true; I work in a library and some of the rare books there would be damaged by such smoke, along with many other hazards that could be shrugged off by a modern-day edition of whatever book it actually was. In other places I have worked, smoking would have posed a very real danger to people…and the smokers, many of whom were inconsiderate, had to lurk outside. Smoke responsibly, Mr Oakley?

And there is a second point. Why should people make allowances for smokers? If smoking is indeed an addiction, why should they be coddled. Why should a business, which is often operating close to the margins, make room for smokers?

Have I been conditioned? I should admit that I grew up in a non-smoking home and the people I met until I was 16 who smoked were also b******s in my view. The first positive role model I met who smoked came when I was sixteen; he, at least, had the decency to only smoke in his own home. Was that an issue for me? I didn’t have to go to his home, did I? Many smokers I have met since then, I must add, were hardly the souls of decency; one, who moved into a non-smoking dorm with his fags, admitted that he had deliberately chosen to move into a non-smoking flat, despite smoking at least ten a day. With only a handful of exceptions, the smokers I met were very – very – inconsiderate of non-smokers.

The health hazards caused by smoking, either directly or second-hand, have been overstated, according to Oakley. I am no medical professional (neither, apparently, were some people giving evidence for one side or the other), but I see little good in breathing in such smoke. I do not suffer from asthma or hay fever, but if I did, I would have problems breathing in smoke. Perhaps Oakley was lucky enough to have all of the smokers in his family live long and happy lives, or maybe not; that is not licence for him to stink out my room. Yes, there are other smells in the air besides fag smoke, but smoking does not actually have to happen. Just because someone lives next to a polluting gas station is no excuse for someone to light up and add to the smells.

And now, he misses the point. There are plenty of people, like myself, who would be quite prepared to allow – allow? I can hear him saying now – smokers to light up as much as they like in privacy. Maybe his claims about how smoking helps people to socialise are accurate and many people will find their soul mates over a cig. But we do not like breathing in such smoke ourselves, we do not like finding butts scattered everywhere and we do not like the way the smell lingers around clothes and rooms. Most of us consider smokers to be inconsiderate and would be delighted if smoking was banned, even though, as Oakley concedes, it would be a godsend to criminal organisations. We are not Mrs Grundy-type people who consider other peoples’ business to be our own, peering into houses and windows in hopes of catching people doing something wrong, but people who have had enough of smokers. If Oakley – and indeed many of the pro-smokers – realised that point and insisted that smokers behave responsibly, much of the support for anti-smoking measures would vanish.

He writes with a wry sense of humour, and sometimes with his tongue firmly in cheek, but he misses that point. Conditioned or not, we find the smell to be disgusting…and consider smokers to be responsible. It’s not enough to be against something, Mr Oakley, but you have to be for something better, something that everyone can compromise with and accept. If not, the antismoking lobby will hold sway, because its better than the alternative.

Three out of five.

Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse - James Wesley Rawles

Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse
James Wesley Rawles

When I was a little bit younger, I read a book written by a friend of mine who is a dedicated canoeist. I’m talking about the kind of guy who will spend hours happily boring you with details about his canoe and his crazy adventures where he canoes right off the edge of a waterfall and survives the experience. It was packed with details about canoes and could almost serve as a manual for a canoeist, but the story was very one-dimensional.

I see something of the same vibe in Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse. In some ways, it is impossible to dismiss the book because the author clearly knows his stuff and the book is jam-packed with survival tips and other useful thoughts that might be required if society actually did break down. In other ways, the level of info-dumping is so profound that it neglects the writing and leaves reading chunks of the novel a deeply frustrating experience. It reads more like a fictionalised manual than anything else.

This need not be a bad thing. Robert Heinlein wrote a manual on politics entitled Take Back Your Government which is charming and amusing and a joy to read. James Wesley Rawles has not. The author is determined to show off everything he knows and does that very well, but it comes at the expense of the characters or the situation. The book stretches plausibility well beyond the breaking point.

The basic plot is simple. America has finally entered a massive credit crunch (sound familiar?) and society is crumbling. Think Atlas Shrugged combined with some of the other depressing scenarios discussed in the global news. Money is rapidly becoming worthless, law and order is breaking down and the government is quite unable to fix the problem. Luckily, a small group of dedicated survivalists (mainly dedicated Christians, often very sanctimonious) has holed up well beyond the reach of any serious tide of refugees and manage to hold out long enough to start building up civilisation again. The second part of the book revolves around a UN-led occupation force that has teamed up with the remains of the federal government, which is – naturally – violently opposed by our heroes. Umm…what?

I think that the story would have been considerably more believable if it had been set after a limited nuclear exchange between Russia and the US. As it is, there are plenty of glitches that make reading it – if you have any knowledge of the underlying structure of society – tricky and suspension of disbelief impossible. The US Armed Forces, apparently, have largely melted away, despite the fact that the tendency would be towards the opposite. Soldiers have just vanished taking much of their hardware with them. What? The UN involvement in a post-crunch America is ridiculous; the UN could not have done that, even if it had survived the crunch.

America’s economy is tied in to that of the entire world; in a sense, America is the linchpin of the entire world. If America was hit so hard by the crunch, the rest of the world would go straight into the toilet. They’d be eating each other in Japan, China would be in the midst of a civil war, Europe would probably be having its own crunch problems and Latin America would have gone splat. No one is going to be thinking about invading anyone for a very long time.

The book also has its jarring moments. A pair of communist refugees are painted as cannibals – eating children, no less. The characters are all Christians – with a pair of exceptions – and all Christian sects are lumped together. This actually provides a set of ironic lines and – I suspect – unintentional humour. Two characters discussing a third character’s possible attraction to a fourth discuss marriage and dismiss the thought of them having a pre-martial relationship under the leader’s roof. They only just met! The characters study their bible in the evening, blatantly commit illegal acts even before the crunch, and can’t resist showing off how smart they are. The book’s conflicts are between purist white – almost literally – and utter darkness.

The author also has little understanding of interpersonal dynamics. The characters refuse to eat someone else’s food because it would be wrong, despite being starving, hungry and willing to break into their homes to escape the cold. The refuge has more males than females, yet the author doesn’t even nod to the possible conflicts.

Finally, the author starts giving voice to conspiracy theories that make Roswell look mundane and sane. I highly doubt that there has been a long-term plan to disarm America just so that the Evil UN could recoup what America owes the world – huh? There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Oklahoma Bombing, yet I doubt that it was the work of the OWG – One World Government. I think it’s a great deal more likely that the entire world blundered into the mess, but it’s a lot easier to take anything if you believe that someone set you up for a fall and there’s someone to blame.

I wish, seriously, that the author had written a survival handbook instead. It would have been much more readable and made the author a great deal more credible. And, probably, more money as well. I give the book three out of five for the survival tips, but without them, the book doesn’t rate more than one out of five. It needed a competent editor.

Live Free or Die - John Ringo

Live Free or Die
-John Ringo

While I am a great John Ringo fan, I have to admit that his previous novel – Eye of the Storm – left me feeling rather cold. It wasn't a bad story, IMHO, but it wasn't the one I expected. Live Free or Die (the state motto of New Hampshire) is far more satisfactory, although it represents the opening of yet another series. (Don’t worry; it reads fairly well on its own.) The story stands completely separate from anything else.

In the near future (the US President is clearly BO, so very near future) a mysterious alien race opens an interstellar gate in humanity’s solar system. The first group of traders (the Glatun) to arrive at Earth find little to interest them and Earth remains a backwater until a much nastier race (the Horvath) arrive and start extorting tribute at gunpoint. The hero of the story – Tyler Vernon – discovers, more or less by accident, something Earth has that is actually of value to the Glatun. Unluckily for Earth, the Horvath demand that Earth hand over all the maple syrup – or else. The President, under threat of bombardment, sends in the troops. What follows is a nasty stand-off that is finally resolved by intervention from the Glatun. The remainder of the story – don’t worry, it doesn’t end there – tracks Vernon’s desperate program to build an Earth Defence Force and eventually force the Horvath out of Earth’s solar system.

I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, but there are some genuinely funny moments running through the story. There are also a lot of odd points made more for political point-scoring than anything else. The Glatun come across as completely stupid – apart from a handful of lucky visionaries – and are basically a culture in complete decline, running the risk of destruction at the hands of barbarians they built up themselves. The human race apparently doesn’t rate help; the Horvath do (did) because the Horvath have successfully convinced public opinion that they’re the good guys. (Or at least needy.) There’s nothing particularly subtle about his points and while I cannot disagree with many of them, they had an annoying tendency to grate.

The President comes across as more of a sympathetic figure than Ringo (I suspect) intended. He honestly has no choice, but to give the Horvath what they want – or see American cities burn. (And he makes a good show of it.) Vernon’s frank opinion of him may be accurate, but he was placed in an impossible position. I don’t think that I would have done anything different. Other politics are just as weird. A company makes a suicidal decision to try to exploit Vernon for their own ends. The alien politics are an odd mix of present-day Europe and Europe in 1936, during the Ethiopian Crisis.

But the underlying theme of the novel is simple enough. One man can make a difference. History shows us plenty of cases where a great man (good or bad) has taken on the world and changed it, for better or worse. Tyler Vernon is such a man…

I do have one quibble, apart from the politics. The space combat scenes are too short.

Hitting Back: The Autobiography - Andy Murray

Hitting Back: The Autobiography
-Andy Murray

You have got to be kidding me.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

Let me get this straight. Andy Murray, as anyone who cannot avoid the sports pages, no matter how hard they try, knows is a twenty-one year old tennis star whose face has been splashed over various newspapers in expressions that, if I saw them on someone coming in my direction, I would seriously consider hitting him first. The publisher of this book, at least, has had the common sense to use a decent picture of Murray for the cover; that is, I think, the only common sense decision in the entire history of this book.

What – exactly – was the point of this? I cannot deny Murray’s achievements, although I would be a great deal more impressed if he had cured cancer or written the next Night’s Dawn trilogy, but I fail to see how this automatically qualifies Murray to write a book detailing his life…or, indeed, the right to have it published. I read slush as a volunteer and I have seen some real howlers of books in the list, and many of them have been far better works than this book. What does Murray, at 21, have to tell us? He’s certainly not the kind of world-shaker that General Franks was, and even Franks was criticized for putting a favourable gloss on his record of what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Franks cannot be blamed for that, but he was very definitely a significant personage…unlike Murray, whose sole claim to fame is being a sports star. His desperate attempts to improve or expand the book by including a section on Dumblaine are, far from being interesting insights into how his mind was shaped, merely an attempt to benefit from one of the most shocking crimes in living memory.

I don’t know if Murray actually wrote the book. I wouldn’t put money on it, even though the quality of the writing is unbelievably awful. To cite a few examples…

Kipling’s wrong, by the way. You can’t treat them exactly the same. Triumph and disaster. I don’t. Triumph is clearly better. I have never liked losing. (p.1)

I didn’t want to train at one of the national centres in the UK because of the attitude of the players and some of the coaches…they’re spoiled and pretty lazy. Not every single player, but most. (p.50)

My mum is to blame for the state of British tennis…[he] said she should have had more children. (p.85)

The other issue in British tennis is how much people like to put you down. (p.91)

It wasn’t reported like that. The gist of the conversation was that I hated the English. They made up stories about me buying a Paraguay shirt. I never said that. It was a complete lie. (p.127)

To be honest, I think bananas are pathetic fruit. They don’t look great for a start. They’re not straight and I don’t like the black bit at the bottom…I’m more of a peaches and plums sort of guy. (p.155 – for God’s sake, all he had to do was say that he didn’t like bananas.)

I shouldn’t be the only player that can win matches for Britain (p.182)

Many things have been written and said about me that I wasn’t happy with because they didn’t reflect the kind of person I am (p.270 – God help him if THIS book reflects the kind of person he is)

I think I am still pretty young at twenty-one (p.289 – well, DUH!)

We think sport is so great in this country and yet we do so little to promote it to kids (p.289 – then perhaps you should make it FUN for ALL, instead of an hour or two of suffering for everyone, but the jocks.)

He comes across as a whiny brat or an incredibly conceited man.

Let me explore something of the events that catapulted Murray to stardom – or indeed anyone else like him. A young man with a remarkable talent is found by a talent spotter, trained, pushed harder, and keeps rising up. In the process, he is pushed into the public sphere and finds his life being scrutinized by journalists, reporters, and people keen to make money off him. (Such as the publishers of this book.) He will court controversy – Murray once was terrifyingly rude to a referee – and risk losing everything because of a stroke of bad temper. At some point, some newer, sexier star arrives on the screen, kicks the former star out of the limelight, and takes his place. Repeat ad infinitum. It will not be long before someone eclipses Murray and that, one hopes, will be the last we hear from him.

(David Beckham, to be fair, is an exception to this rule. But only because he married Posh Spice.)

This book is insulting to the readers, the entire British publishing industry, and everyone who has actually put effort into their writing. In ten years, no one will remember Andy Murray, and let us hope that this book vanishes without trace.

Galactica 1980: The Comic Miniseries

Galactica 1980: The Comic Miniseries

Cover: Lucio Parrillo
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciller/Inker: Cezar Razek
Colorist: TBD
Awards: N/A
Publication Date: DECEMBER, 2009
Format: Comic Book
Rights: WW
Age range: 16+

We have at last found Earth…

I wasn't even born when Glen Larson created the original Battlestar Galactica – a movie/TV series about the last surviving Battlestar – the Galactica – leading a ragtag fleet of refugees in flight from the evil Cylons. Under the command of the original Adama, the fleet is in search of Earth and the lost Thirteenth Tribe, who may be humanity’s only hope. The series lasted for one season and developed a remarkable fan base, despite poor special effects. It may have been because of the great actors; with a single exception, Glen Larson chose very good people to play their roles.

And then Battlestar Galactica vanished from our screens. This provoked considerable fan protest and demands for a sequel. The network liked the idea of gaining more ratings and hired Glen Larson to produce a second series, on the cheap. Larson – who must have been considerably disappointed – decided to produce a series revolving around Earth, the Earth of 1980. The Battlestar Galactica and its fleet stumbled across the planet, only to discover that Earth was primitive and unprepared for the oncoming enemy. Adama decided to lead the Cylons away from Earth while sending in teams to boost forward Earth’s progress. On the surface, it sounded like a great idea. It had considerable promise.

And then disaster struck.

The Network Executives of that time period were restrictive in ways we can barely imagine today. (They would have had a heart attack at some scenes in Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica.) It rapidly became clear that the Network Executives had no intention of actually allowing Glen Larson to create a great show. They decreed that it had to be non-violent – so no real laser battles – educational – forcing the characters to sprout off dialogue that was meant to be educational and was probably stupid – and include childish interests, forcing the addition of a child genius who led the fleet – yes, really – and a bunch of brats from the starship who somehow developed superpowers under Earth’s gravity field. All in all, ratings dropped so sharply that it was cancelled after a handful of episodes and everyone involved tried to pretend that it had never happened. The Battlestar Galactica Curse – as everyone had come to think of it – had struck again.

It struck time and time again. Richard Hatch’s attempts to create a new series floundered and his first book (I never read the others) was worse than James Doohan/SM Stirling’s Flight Engineer series, a quite considerable achievement. The comics weren’t allowed to use details from the original series from time to time, producing a break between the two canons, and most of the other books just vanished. It wasn't until Ron Moore was allowed to create a new Battlestar Galactica in 2003 that the Curse was seriously challenged, yet even that series started to go downhill in Season 3 and had major problems in Season 4. At least Moore didn’t attempt to redo Galactica 1980.

But Dynamite Entertainment did.

Dynamite is probably my favourite comic book producer, even though they’d not one of the Big Boys. They picked up the rights to The Boys, Jungle Girl, Project Superpowers and several TV franchises, including Battlestar Galactica. I was flabbergasted when they announced that they were going to produce a four-issue limited series based on Galactica 1980, but I decided to give them a chance. It could hardly be worse than the original.

I was wrong.

The basic plot of the four-issue miniseries is so bad as to actually cast the TV series in a good light. Galactica discovers Earth, after encountering the Voyager space probe drifting away from the planet. So far so good. Adama then decides to take Galactica into the planet’s atmosphere (!) and fly directly to the White House. The locals panic and launch nukes at the battlestar, blowing it out of the sky (!). Doctor Zee declares a ‘cerebralcracy’ and takes command, launching Vipers from the other ships (!) to invade Earth, declaring Adama dead. He’s wrong. Adama and a cast of instantly forgettable locals set off to NORAD to prevent all-out war. They succeed, just in time for the Cylons (and Balter, who didn’t actually appear in G1980) to arrive and start laying waste to the planet. With Galactica destroyed, the only option is to use the remaining colonial craft to deliver nukes to the basestars, blowing them all to pieces. The remaining colonials settle on Earth in preparation for the coming Galactica 1981…

The miniseries fails on so many levels that it’s hard to count them all. The Galactica never had the ability to fly within the atmosphere of a planet. It’s hard to imagine Adama, who had a pretty cynical view of the universe, taking the risk even if it were possible. I can’t believe that nukes would be so devastating to either of the space-faring powers. (Nukes are actually common in the new BSG.) No one in their right mind would fire on a massive starship over the nation’s capital. If it was intended to serve as a comment about how suspicious and paranoid eighties humans were, it failed. And then there’s the pitiful attempt at humour that pops up from time to time.

There are some good points. Doctor Zee, who was a super-intelligent brat in the first series, becomes an elderly scientist who transplants his brain into the body of a child. (Child actors, IMHO, are proof of the doctrine of Original Sin.) Balter’s motive for betraying the colonies and then leading the Cylons against Galactica and her fleet is explored and, for once, it is actually realistic. The effects of such a long travel through space are explored, with Adama on the verge of suicide and women in the fleet choosing to sterilise themselves rather than bring more children into the hopeless search. (A theme also explored in the new series.)

The story should have been great. It wasn't. There were so many other possibilities. What if the Colonials took over Earth – for their own good, of course – to build a new society and a defence against the Cylons? What if elements of Colonial tech fell into enemy hands during the Cold War? What if…what if…what if…? I am half-convinced that the writer was drunk and the editor was asleep. This is so much of a letdown that part of me wonders if they intended to lay Galactica 1980 to rest, once and for all.

The artwork is pretty much a mixed bag. The characters are recognisable in their own rights, although honesty compels me to add that I barely remember them from the original, apart from bearded Adama. (Balter has changed into the Phantom of the Opera, complete with cyborg implants.) The battle scenes are pathetic. One is left wondering how the Colonials could be so incompetent as to lose to the Cylons. The covers are actually pretty good, although they don’t quite reflect what goes on within the series. Irritatingly, some of the devices and images reflect the new series, rather than the traditional look. It could have been much better.

Overall, a great opportunity, shamefully squandered. If someone from DE is reading this, I am quite happy to script out far superior stories, for free! Anyone from the actual…you know, FANS, could do it.

One out of Five

An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion - Various

An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion
-Travis S. Taylor, Bob Boan, R.C. Anding, T. Conley Powell

Doc Travis and co tell us how to defeat an alien invasion. It’s not hopeful.

A textbook has to be interesting for students to read it. A lot of textbooks miss this point – although, to be fair, how does one made advanced accountancy interesting? This highly unusual textbook, an attempt to define the possible alien invasion threat and counters to said threat, makes interesting reading. There are bits that will puzzle readers, bits that will amuse them, bits that will make them think – and bits that will make the blood boil.

Aliens may or may not exist, but many people seem to think that they will be benevolent. The authors, however, warn us that we cannot count on such an issue; we ourselves have tended to advance faster when engaged in direct competition with other nations. Many of the greatest advances (nuclear power, electronics, the internet) have been developed under war or the threat of war. If aliens are anything like us, and they would have to be to be interested in Earth, they will regard us as potential conquests or competition. It would, as the authors advise, be very unwise to make no preparations for an invasion.

In the first section of the book, the authors attempt to define the likelihood of an alien encounter. Given the lack of data on the subject, it is hard to say anything about their conclusions – hindsight may prove them right or wrong. What I think can be said with some certainty is that if there is a race with 100LY of us, and at the same technological level, they know about us. The authors note that the wise course of action would be to stop sending out radio transmissions…but even if we stopped tomorrow, which is unlikely, the signals are already rushing out there. If ET is within range, ET knows that we are here. To this extent, the authors take a dim view of SETI’s faith in ET.

“For some strange reason the majority of the SETI community believes that a civilization that is advanced enough to conduct interstellar travel would be beyond such things as war or malicious intent.” (Page 30, ebook version)

The authors are entirely correct – and in fact…the odds are far more likely that we will encounter someone who, deliberately or not, will do us harm. From directly stamping on competition, to alien cultural ideas, we will be at considerable risk from ET. From our own history, have we really improved as a race…or have we simply reached the point where we dare not engage in all-out thermonuclear war? Further, if space travel could be made easy…far more of us would go to space. If ET has our level of tech, such as the aliens from FOOTFALL, they can get to us. Warp drive and other FTL systems merely make Earth more vulnerable.

(On a side note, handling an alien invasion would depend on how much support the aliens could expect from home. Are they dependent upon a single mothership, or do they have rapid communications with home?)

On a different point, Doctor Taylor highlights a problem; the belief that somehow preparing for war in space is wrong, through recounting a meeting with Doctor Sagan. The world at large doesn’t take alien threats seriously…and many feel that the aliens are good guys, better than the Government, et al. If aliens do show up, how many will, in the words of Kent Brockman, welcome our new overlords? Even if the aliens mean us no direct harm, their culture might try to override us.

Having considered the possibilities of an invasion, the authors consider the problems of fighting one. Unfortunately, they are formidable – they predict, as in The Resistance, that we will have to fight as an underground force. The problem, as I suggested in The Resistance, is that the alien attack – assuming Star Trek-level tech – will be as much of a surprise as 9/11 was. In hindsight, doubtless people will claim that the US government has known about it since Roswell…but it may not be humans writing the history books. An attack that came out of nowhere, if the enemy knew where our bases were, would almost certainly cripple the combined forces of the world in the first few hours. In fact, the aliens could just sit in orbit and drop rocks on our bases.

The authors paint a very grim picture; invasion forces on Earth, mass slaughter of civilians as a by-effect of the fighting…we don’t have any preparations in line for this. How can we? The last Civil Defence drill in the UK took place in 1960 (?). Past that…uncharted waters. We might be in the realm of Dies The Fire, or worse. Could even one nuclear detonation be handled? I think not.

If we have proof that aliens exist, the only hope for long-term victory lies in meeting them in space. While an underground war – the authors cite the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan – might hold out some hope, it would depend on a) our ability to hold out, b) our ability to get around alien defences, and c) our sources of supply. We cannot count on some version of the CIA supplying us with Stinger missiles; would we be able to produce the weapons we will need under alien occupation?

Which leads to a different point. If there were an alien religion, how many people would accept it? Would alien culture seem superior enough to our own – which many people who have never lived under anything else are dissatisfied with – for them to win the culture war? Would we end up with a fifth column in our cities?

Further, and finally for this section, ET will probably understand our technology, if not our minds. He will know what our capabilities are and he will understand what we can do with anything of his that falls into our hands. Assuming that he thinks like us, like Cortez we can expect him to be using humans as sepoys – would Saddam have refused alien plasma rifles in exchange for conquering the Middle East for ET? There will be those who like the alien viewpoint or religion. There may be those who want to stick it to the US. There will be those who will fight for money.

I won’t go into detail on the suggestions that the authors put forward for developing technologies. Suffice it to say that they have the right ideas…and in fact many of them, including spaceplanes, could be developed fairly quickly with the right kind of support. Perhaps putting the actual building of spaceplanes under an ‘at your own risk’ clause, rather than any EPS and OSHA rules. All of that could be done without activating the ‘snigger factor’ that always appears when aliens are mentioned.

The authors discuss possible aliens motives for visiting Earth, from the possible (eliminating competition) to the unlikely (interbreeding). One thought, of course, is that if an alien turns up seeking asylum – and a large alien battleship arrives and demands his return – what are we going to do?

“[Chapter Four] is difficult to handle emotionally. It requires great responsibility from the readers to understand it.” (Page 125, ebook)

Fair Warning – this is the bit that will make everyone’s blood boil. Jihads and flame wars have been declared over less. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that I suspect that one part of the argument is seriously flawed.

“As it stands now, there is no scientifically accepted evidence available to the public that we know about any alien threat, so the aliens cannot be certain that we know about them and are preparing for them.” (Page 130, ebook)

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the US Government knows about aliens. How might they know? Transmissions from space are unlikely to remain unnoticed by others, such as SETI (see above), while radar contacts…bah, everyone gets radar contacts, lol. A sufficiently advanced ET is likely to have some degree of stealth technology – if they even come within range of our radars. No…the only absolute proof is a crashed UFO, which it might be possible to keep hidden. According to the book, the world at large should not be told…and the UFO studied. However…

If an alien UFO crashes on Earth, it seems to me to be highly unlikely that the mothership will somehow be unaware that the ship has crashed. Even if they don’t maintain anything like an ongoing transmission of telemetry from the UFO, they will know that it was lost. If the USS George Washington were to lose an aircraft over Iran, I don’t think that the Captain would shrug and say “oh dear, it must have exploded in midair,” or something like that that leaves no possible clues for the enemy. On the contrary, there would be a search for the crashed aircraft and any surviving pilots – as even a live pilot could be devastating to the US.

Simple logic, therefore, dictates that the aliens will not only suspect – they will have to assume – that the UFO has fallen into our hands, but they will also have a far better idea of what we could learn from the craft. We don’t lose anything by telling the world about the UFO – we never had the advantage that we might think we have – and in fact we will be putting the world on alert. Might the aliens, knowing that we have the craft, not launch the invasion at once – just to prevent us from learning anything useful?

If we want to prepare for an alien encounter, we will need more than a token effort. At some point, the government is going to have to tell everyone everything, just to ensure that there is total support for the preparations. Take America’s entry into WW2; before Pearl Harbour, there was little support for war, after Pearl Harbour there was near-total support. Japan could not mount a surprise attack that destroyed the US’s capability to resist in one blow; ET can, simply by dropping asteroids on us. Do we have time to wait for a Pearl Harbour?

“If the public were told of the existence of the spacecraft, then other governments would claim that they had rights to see the technology and this could cause a political and diplomatic nightmare. Who should be in control of the technology? Who should benefit? Would you want Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden to have the magic alien death ray at their disposal. What about the Russians, Chinese, Germans, North Koreans, and the French? Would these governments invite us to the party or keep the technology to themselves?” (Page 132, ebook)

This is, of course, entirely correct. I submit, that in the event of a UFO landing in France, the US would be EXTREMELY put out if the French tried to keep the technology to themselves. Is it such a surprise, then, to discover that the rest of the world would think the same about the US? The US operates within a global system; the mere presence of alien technology, which everyone assumes will be better than human technology, will destabilise this system. The longer the US has kept this secret, the more upset the governments will be…and, of course, they won’t be making preparations to resist an alien attack.

Bad movies aside, the aliens won’t be coming just for the US, or Australia, or one single nation…they will be coming for us all. Does anyone seriously think that Saddam (pre-Invasion Iraq), or North Korea, or Iran, could offer any serious chance of learning anything useful from the technology? No – it is the developed nations that will offer the first-line of resistance, and who knows who will make the breakthrough? At the same time, there will be impeachments, demands for full disclosure from everyone in the US. The secrecy might become actively harmful – but only to the global defence effort. The aliens, who will know exactly what we can learn from the craft, won’t be put out.

(In correspondence with Doc Travis, one of the authors, he points out that US law supports keeping such matters a secret. I respectfully submit that few people will take any notice of that. This is such an emotive matter that legality will take a back burner.)

“Apparently [President Clinton] had an investigation into both the Roswell incident and who shot John F. Kennedy. He was also “stonewalled” on both incidents. History has now shown us that President Clinton had particular quirks of his personal life that could make him a prime target for blackmail. From the definitions of being able to gain proper access and security clearances as discussed above, Bill Clinton would not have qualified. This is not a politically motivated statement; it is merely a fact.” (Page 134, ebook)

This is, as the authors point out, a disturbing fact. They go on to say that the disturbing part about it was that Clinton, the President of the United States of America, was effectively untrustworthy. Irony of ironies; my opinion of Clinton is best summed up by the concept that Eccles from the Goon Show would have made a better President than he did. However…he was the President, he was the Commander in Chief…and he was stonewalled. Was there any point to the whole ‘no taxation without representation’ fuss if the elected leader of the nation cannot find out about something that might have had a disastrous effect during his administration? Yes – the authors are correct to suggest that all politicians should be subject to severe background checks – but it is not the place of the military to determine who should be President!

What if…Roswell really happened, but Bill knows nothing about it. An alien starship arrives, demanding the return of the ship…or Earth gets turned into a radioactive cinder? They know perfectly well that the UFO is in America, but Clinton doesn’t. He says, “What ship?” The aliens promptly destroy the planet. What happens…if that contract is discreet? Instead of a massive battleship visible to all, Clinton gets beamed into the starship from long distance. He still doesn’t know anything about Roswell…and those who do know never know about the contact. Earth still gets blown up.

Conspiracies are illegal – say the authors. If the US wants honest presidents, then elect them. They have only themselves to blame if they don’t like him. There is a reason why shows like the X-Files are so popular…and no amount of hiding things will make that better. Time and time again – as in the case of the atomic spies – security clearances have been proven to be insufficient to ensure that there are no disclosures.

Anyway, that’s the end of the blood-boiling bit. Direct any death threats to Mr Bin Ladin, CO the House of Saud.

The authors suggest a series of precautions, including drawing up basic contingency plans. (Hiding from the aliens is impractical – see above.) One piece of advice (Page 144) involves opening fire at once…something I am forced to regard as deadly dangerous. WE KNOW NOTHING about ET, a point that the authors make, and greeting them with a hail of fire might start a war, one that would be un-winnable. Like it or not, ET will be here – and our only course of action is to learn as much as we can about them. If they’re openly hostile, then we have nothing left to lose anyway – then we can open fire.

(Opening fire might also reveal what weapons we have, perhaps convincing ET that we are weaker than he might have thought – and prompting the invasion that he was thinking about.)

The authors are quick to dismiss the thought of global cooperation. While that is probably likely (who in their right mind would share nuclear tech with North Korea?) I feel that a lot could be done, even without open acknowledgement of the alien threat. What if…the US announced that it was going to build an ABM shield, so yar boo sucks to global opinion…but offered to extend the shield to Europe in exchange for the Europeans contributing funds to the project? The tech secrets of the US remain in American hands, the EU gets defended…and the world is a little bit safer. Hell, why not offer the same to nations that are at threat; China and Russia are every bit as much at threat from Rogue States as the US and Europe. This avoids many of the unpleasant outcomes suggested by Page 150-151, most of which are overrated.

The main suggestion of the book involves germinating a small government body (the sixth column) to prepare options for handling an alien contact. This is a reasonable approach, although in the event of CLEAR knowledge of an incoming threat it will have to go public, simply to have everyone working on defence. Relaxing the rules on space enterprises, as suggested above, would hopefully encourage space development – the only possible route to success. The 6th Column will operate in secret for several reasons; some good, some bad. I won’t comment on those, except one.

“Global security and stability of governments could be compromised if the wrong rogue nations were suddenly given access to weapons much more powerful than any previous WMD.” (Page 157)

Making WMD is tricky. If it were not tricky, then Iran, Iraq, Argentina, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, to say nothing of the ex-USSR states, would already have WMD. Saddam operated under considerable disadvantages and failed; so far, North Korea (which is believed by some analysts to have some nukes) and Iran have failed to detonate a weapon. The information on how to build nukes is in the public domain – college kids have built them, they just had no material, THANK GOD – and if it were easy, the problem states would have done it. To imagine that they could build plasma rifles and antimatter bombs from scratch within a short space of time is…rather unlikely.

Some of the ideas are amusing, such as publishing books (I’d volunteer to write them) and putting scenarios forward in novel (pun not intended) form. That does not make the ideas silly; there is quite a lot to be said for placing such problems before the public, although how many of the public would see them? (Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with that idea.) There are some minor problems with the concept, but I won’t go into them. The idea is workable…its just not enough.

The book makes harrowing reading if you have an active imagination. One basic point comes through clearly; we don’t have a snowballs chance in hell unless we get into space before ET turns up! There has to be an active program to kick-start space exploration, one that does not depend on NASA – which has played fast and loose with world security ever since Challenger – but instead on commercial competition. Have the US Government offer some start-up funds to private space programs, within the US, and offer to forgive those debts if a workable result appears within five years. Have an absolute ban on monopolies; if a workable design appears, share it…and at the same time offer a prize to each new spaceplane/SSTO design that works.

So…having read the book, what can I say? It doesn’t rant and rave like many books on the subject of alien encounters do, and it takes a prudent attitude towards ET contact. I cannot say that I approve of the condescending attitude towards the ‘right to know’ that is adopted. I think that there are two different; ‘rights to know’ here; the right to know that something exists and the right to know how it works. They cite the case of the F-117, but there was no way that the development of radar was going to pause simply because no one knew about the F-117. Apart from the US, the UK and the USSR had stealth programs…so why would anyone assume that there would be no other stealth aircraft? Arguing from hindsight is deadly dangerous – at least in history.

(A thought – exactly why is the US spending megabucks on new fighter aircraft…when we are not going to meet OBL in a fighter jet, nor is there any nation that a) is likely to be a threat, and b) matches the US in aircraft design? It’s things like that that make people paranoid about the government.) Oversight, through elected representatives, is the only way to make sure that money is not wasted.

Overall, buy it, read it. It’s a very interesting read.

Afterthought – Doc Travis has said that I do not ‘get’ the bit on security in his book. I felt, I suspect, pretty much the same way as the Young Travis did when facing Carl Sagen. How bloody ironic that I should share many of Doc’s views.