Book Reviews

To home page


The many benefits of having no friends, by Miraya Hartley.

The voice of Fukushima – a cry from the heart, by Yogan Baum.

Comments on Jonathon Keats review of: The Spinster and the Prophet, by AB McKillop.

2016 comment on Australian radio Science commemorative of HG Wells.

Odette C Bell: Soap Opera star.

Galileo’s Lost Message by D Allen Henry.

The Peace Proxy by Cyril Adams.

The Wandering Island Factory by TR Nowry.


The many benefits of having no friends

by

Miraya Hartley

2014


The reader is never far from the authors thoughts, judging by the continual references to dear reader, gentle reader, my literary companion, and so forth. This is a conversation then or chit-chat, tho formally organised into chapters about the social round.

Hence, the style is suitably simple. There are no literary allusions to authorities. The only authority is the authors personal experience. This is all well and good, because that is what we crave. Tho a fellow countrymen to the author, I still could be taken aback by the odd example of reckless crookedness, exposed by these confidences.

Never mind, her observations rang true enough. This country seems to have thrown out the baby of good manners with the bath-water of etiquet.

On occasion, such as the folly of co-renting, her distaste for her companion amounted to pure passion. Not of the sort I would recommend, despite an acute sympathy for her predicament.
At this point, I was tempted to make a literary allusion to my favorite author, but, following Hartleys good example, I desist.

Instead, I offer my most useful critical comment on this title. It is actually not about friends at all. It is much about the death, to esteem for ones companions, by a thousand cuts of more or less inconsiderate behaviour or slovenly disrespect, as well as confidence trickery and predatory scheming.

Those companions, however, are not so much bad friends, as merely bad companions. The abject failures, in shared pleasure-seeking, dubious or down-right repulsive, which the book is largely about, is not friendship. The author seems to have no idea of friendship, as a sharing of interests, as is held by an author, more authoritative than we are.

I would say the main interest, of the authors researches, are in finding what bores are everyone she has met. But she should know that is the whole point of friendship, in finding just those people, who share our interests and enliven our lives.

And this reviewer speaks as an unexampled expert on isolation. I have been much helped by the cultural desert of so-called society, of which this book is perhaps an unintended satire. Its author may be not so much a hermit, as an all too typical sample of insular British sub-urban middle class aloofness, in their little boxes, as Madam de Stael wrote, long before Pete Seeger sang it of America.

The voice of Fukushima – a cry from the heart

by

Yogan Baum

To top.

This free e-book is the first, in a series, that ends moments before the Japanese tsunami of March 2011. This is as if the author himself was one of its nearly twenty thousand victims. In his rush home, after the mega-quake, he very nearly was. The scene is set, from the point of view of a globe-trotter, who just happened to land in a little fishing village, some twenty or so miles south of the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

The story is indeed a cry from the heart, drawing breath in asides about incidentals of Japan, and its family and working life, in which he came to share. The author plainly states that he wants the reader to appreciate the feelings behind the words. But this is really one persons journey thru life, to which the nuclear-power folly is just an outrageous political intrusion.

The personal story kept me reading, more than could a worthy text on the “hubris” of atomic power, however much I might sympathise. Yet, the author has an intelligent awareness that supposed human destiny is more like fate, perhaps terrible, yet not here over-stated.

For me, the most moving passage in the book (it moved me to tears, to tell you the truth) is how the author honors the leadership of the then Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, later to be ousted, for business as usual:

“Think of the more than 10,000 fuel rods in cooling tanks and you have over 14,000 fuel rods in Dai-ichi alone, all ready to run wild if not constantly cooled. Add the thousands in Dai-ni to gain a more complete picture. March 11 brought the world much, much closer to unspeakable horrors than most people realise. Only by a certain amount of good luck, the courage of some good men and the grace of the gods, as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a recent speech, were we saved.”

“… This self-effacing truly honorable Naoto Kan himself saved his own country from ruin, and the whole world from catastrophe. We were saved by the courage of two men, the other being plant manager Masao Yoshida…

Kan was not to be bent: for that one time in his life he stood his ground in the face of overwhelming adversity and ordered TEPCO to continue cooling efforts…

Yoshida testified he felt he was sure to die, but even though, he did not give up his post. Through his own personal example he got enough men to stay inside the ruined plant, literally crawling in the dark, to somehow save us all. These men plus two or three scores of firefighters from Tokyo,…”

Business as usual makes for an enduring tragedy of the nuclear madness, not only in Japan.

The British government (in league with the French) practises the death-worship of renewing its Trident totem of planetary life-threatening nuclear weapons and their nuclear-power accessory.

The sequel books by Yogan Baum are likely to be at least as enlightening on this dreadfully under-rated issue. The way in which he re-lived the events of the earthquake are the mark of a real writer.

The Voice of Fukushima: A Cry from the Heart - Ground Zero 02: Tsunami and Worse.

by Yogan Baum.

The first (and free) book of this trilogy looks back on the authors travels and settlement in Japan. He married and joined that hive of activity. But like a hive, it has an over-all tranquility. And the landscape of the authors past is one of peaceful remembrance. Until the mega-quake, when even the framework of that landscape is shaken.

After a lively button-holing preface, we are back to the day the earth stood still – not! This beginning is the part of the book, like some Robinson Crusoe, I most identify with. Because the dislocation is not only of land and sea but of man from society, which remains more an English than a Japanese condition.

The author puts it down to a general state of shock, which he was not aware of, at the time. The numbness wears off and my English stand-offishness envies the reassertion of social cohesion between extended family and friends.

Above all, this is a human story, peppered with witty associations and rambling but compulsive asides, written as fluidly as a fugue, of the flight of the author and his wife from Fukushima, even as three reactor housings explode, one after the other.

I didn’t know what that was about, till the author explained each of them.
Outrageous, how blandly the British media covered them. The Guardian news-paper received leaked emails from the Energy Department, to nip in the bud, bad publicity from the Japanese nuclear disaster.

I read a Guardian Comment Is Free conversation, part of which went something like this: Yes, the BBC was definitely on message. After a power-plant explosion, a studio comment went: Oh that’s all right then.

Adolf Hitler said: If you tell a lie, make it a big one. Richard Feynman said: Nature cannot be fooled. Days after Fukushima nuclear under-went explosive destruction, when they could not possibly know, journalists, right and left, in a hysterical defiance of nature having made fools of them, proclaimed that Fukushima proved that nuclear is safe.

This second account, in the trilogy, is not a catalog of catastrophes from the tsunami. We are not reminded, in much detail, of the reducing of towns to trash heaps, as if the ocean had fallen into the mental state of those hoarders, shown on TV, in the chaotic decay of their homes. There is no mention of the lonely tower bloc, left standing, surreally topped by a flat-based cargo ship.

Tho living only 20 miles south of the nuclear power stations, which took a direct hit, the authors village was behind a somewhat sheltered promontory. When he prudently decamped to the hillside, with Japanese-like politeness, he did not intrude himself in front of the onlookers, from their vantage point. There was not much to see, anyway.

With regard to all the tsunami videos on the Internet, he admits to not wanting to see the human tragedies. However, he does discuss his own psychological shortcomings of disregard for the danger, not immediately seen. He relates this, to videos showing people, on high ground, warning, those below, of the coming wall of water. But they don’t start to run, till they can see it themselves, when it is usually too late.

This is a parable of the human condition. In particular, the author likens some 450 nuclear power stations, to colossal tops that have to be kept spinning, lest they crash down – meltdown.

This, of course, is bad engineering practise. You don’t build an inherently dangerous structure and then add safety constraints, as an after-thought. You build a reasonably safe structure, in the first place. You don’t take over the ultimate weapon development of uranium fission and make do with it, for civilians, as “a hell of a way to boil water.” Instead, if there is any not too offensive form of nuclear fission, it might have some limited use as a niche technology.

As one might expect, from a nearby resident, on his toes, the author has some disturbing revelations about the three nuclear meltdowns. Half a world away, they point up the arrogant infallibility, or infallible arrogance, of the British establishment in pursuit of a nuclear renaissance, that most of the public don’t want.

This is all to do with the reassertion of government, here and there, as an instrument of domination rather than representation. Humanity is more likely to flounder, in its own deceit, than anything else.


Comment on Jonathon Keats review of: The Spinster and the Prophet, by AB McKillop.

To top.

As a lifelong Wells fan, with over seventy of his books, many of them double volumes, in my book-case, I was shocked by Wells supposed part in the ill-usage of Miss Florence Deeks. It turns out that what McKillop believes, a former Dean of Law does not.

I partly agree with the judgment of Jonathon Keats, in his review of the book, “The Spinster and the Prophet” by AB McKillop. In particular, this:

‘Likewise, the greatness to be found in “The Outline of History” exists in its trajectory, the way in which it sets the progress of society as a function of democracy. Wells has often been called prophetic, and that is the virtue of his book: The failure of the League of Nations — the rejection of his notion of progress — led to another century of butchery.’

The alleged dishonesty of Wells is that he did not acknowledge Deeks as a source, possibly a main source, tho her own work be a patchwork of secondary sources.

It would be, at least, disappointing, if so intelligent a man as Wells allowed himself to be compromised in this way. The pressure of work, he was under, offers a specious explanation. For, I do not believe that Wells was essentially a dishonest man, much less “a liar and a thief.” On the contrary, perhaps you know of a more out-standingly honest writer of relevance to the world, or as wide-ranging and gifted. I don’t.

Even on the prosecutions own terms, Wells is not “the villain of the piece” that first impressions convey. Reflection on the complaint would suggest him the least of the villains of the piece, not excluding Deeks herself, even if her claim were true.

In the first place, Wells could not have received the Deeks typescript, if the publisher did not hand it over to him, after posting it on from Canada to London! The publisher had no business to use her work, other than the purpose for which it was sent, without so much as even asking her consent, which she had no reason to give, unless under an understanding that her own work would be published.
This is perhaps why no such transfer took place. Where is the evidence?

It was supposed that Wells unscrupulous sexual adventures rendered plagiarism more plausible. However, his writings suggest that wilful women did not sway his sense of social justice. He did not allow a pretty face to harbor a prejudice.

I was occasionly astonished, when his novels mention a famous author, perhaps decades before they were public names. It turns out that Wells paid readers to assess new books by unknown authors. So, it would be out of character for Wells the early recogniser and promoter of unknown new talent, to have used and given no recognition to Deeks.

It is also something of a fundamental misconception of Wells to see him as a library sojourner like Deeks. Wells was not a scholar. That is to say, he was not scholastic but a scientist by training and temperament. In his preface to a late literary masterpiece, A Propos of Dolores, he explains that novels are not the piecing together of other books, but of primary experience of life.

Books were tremendously important, how could they not be, to so accomplished an author, but perhaps not his primary source of information or inspiration. Personal experience, his own and other peoples, was. The world was Wellses library. And when he wasn't traveling the world, he brought the world to him, by inviting dinner guest conversations, at his London club, on every conceivable topic. At week-ends, his home was a hub of society.

The idea that Wells was desperately grasping for some-one elses script, like a drowning man clutching at a parchment, just displays an entire ignorance of the nature of the man.

With the wisdom of hindsight, Miss Deeks might have done better than start a litigation war, of which, truth would be the first casualty.
If you’re going to whack someone with half $1 million lawsuit (in 1920s terms!) the Deeks way is hardly the way to solicit any admission of scholarly indebtedness.

Miss Deeks lost more than she sought: three quarters of $1 million. These are the wages of blind avarice, or possibly the unwisdom of allowing herself to be seduced by enterprising prosecutors, who levied a kings ransom at her expense. (Not to mention at Wells expense.)

During this same period, Jerome K Jerome fought a lawsuit, which ended up costing him 20,000. By which time, he was ready to shake hands with his adversary, both of them heartily wishing a plague on both their law houses.

If the McKillop detection is to be believed, the legal profession still didn’t find out the truth!
Wikipedia: "Florence Deeks" records a different assesment:

"A 2001 book by A. B. McKillop, a Canadian historian, explores the case in detail. Although the author clearly believes that Wells plagiarized Deeks' work, he presents no definitive proof.[19] Three years after McKillop's book appeared, Denis Magnusson, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Law at Queen's University, Kingston, wrote an article responding to McKillop's thesis. Magnusson concluded that while Deeks may have received some discriminatory treatment from lawyers in the case, she was treated fairly by the courts. He concludes she had a weak case, and the courts would give a similar result if the case came forward at the present time.[20]"

If the evidence were so damning, one wonders why, instead of blowing a fortune on lawyers fees, this feminist didn’t stand on her own two feet, and strike a blow for freedom, from the middle-man publisher, by self-publishing thru a printer and distributor, as Bernard Shaw did.

Hiring scholars to ferret out plagiarisms shows presumption rather than proof. A presumption, no doubt borne of the fact that she felt the need to check with a publisher, whether she had crossed the line of plagiarism from the historian, Green. That explains the way her mind was running. And why her suspicions were aroused, by the coincidence that someone else thought of a world history, when she did. Not that Wells could have got the idea from her.

Conflicting evidence against the Wells history invites scepticism. It is regarded as miraculous that he wrote so much in so little time, insinuating the possibility of wholesale plagiarism of a feminist history of civilising womanhood. Yet, at the same time, he is criticised for leaving out the role of women in history.
As far as I’m aware, until very recent times, it has been the standard practice to write histories with the unspoken assumption that it is a mans world.

As to a miracle of production, Wells whole writing life was just that, tho The Outline Of History was exceptional, even by his standards. The Telegraph review on Deeks, as "The case of the invisible woman," allows, of Wells industry, a book a year.

For, the author of more than a hundred books in fifty years, that estimate is obviously wrong. Also, rate of production fell off with age, lowering the average books per year, in his hey-day. It does not take into account a mass of minor and ephemeral writings.

Nearer the truth is Wells own cockney vernacular on himself, in his prime, as being fed and kept, so he turns out three or four books a year. One of his "picshuas," in his autobiography, draws himself as a laureled rooster, incubating an egg, that hatches as "Kipps." He was a good layer.

McKillop, the Deeks champion suggested that when Wells approached a publisher, about a world history, he didn't have much of an idea of what he was going to write about. As if Miss Deeks was needed to help this lame literary dog over a stile. Those unfamiliar with Wells writings over-look what this fan knows, namely he had a wonderful gift for social history. This was the way he primed the pump of his writing flow, starting-off many a fiction.

A contemporary biographer and sometime guest of Wells noted that he joined in his games. Then you’d notice he wasn’t there any more. He had gone off to do more writing.

Arnold Bennett was a prolific disciplinarian of a writer. Yet when he was a guest, he noted, almost with dismay, that you get up in the morning, only to find that Wells has been writing thru-out the night. This was a life-time practice. Bennett was a generous proof-reader of Wells manuscripts.

Also in the Bennett-Wells correspondence, we learn that Wells, on the Outline, over-worked himself into a serious illness. He was literally killing himself to meet the dead-line. By the time he was finished, he was finished, a basket-case, having to take a long holiday to recuperate.

Richard Lung,

23, 24, 25 April; 13, 14 june 2016.

2016 comment on Australian radio Science commemorative of HG Wells.

The World Set Free did not just prophesy the atomic bomb but also the Single Transferable Vote (and the Recall) whose threat to their careers, with elections that actually elect, politicians fear more than global extinction.

You only have to look at the class system introduced into Australian Senate elections, with its above and below the line voting, making partisans a cut above.

On my Democracy Science website, I celebrate the anniversary of both the birth and death of HG Wells, and Centenary of the 1916 UK Speakers Conference on Electoral Reform. The government promised to implement the conference proposals, while they got on with fighting the Great War. Then they broke their contract, by allowing the usual safe-seats parliament to reject STV.

HG Wells began his condemnation (In The Fourth Year): British political life resists cleansing with all the vigour of a dirty little boy.

Wells knew that true unity is only possible in individual liberty. He knew that STV (the quota-preferential method) uniquely guarantees this amongst elections. And that all the other methods are fatally enfeebling and ineffective frauds. (The Elements Of Reconstruction.)

To top.


Odette C Bell: Soap Opera star.


The Lost Star, Episode One, in setting, reminded me of the original low-budget Star Trek series, re-written with a low-budget imagination, where the office lifts and ventilation shafts were made to moonlight as a "spaceship." And “Report to sickbay” meant a recliner couch in an alcove.

However, the Star Trek creator, Pacific bomber veteran, Gene Roddenberry originally set out to make The Enterprise crew an assembly of universal peace. And while Odette C Bell has written less a space opera than a soap opera, she is perhaps as sympathetic a writer, revealing a mature and humane personality, that is most attractive.

The legal standards of judging character by evidence, rather than hear-say from ones favorites, is truer to the timeless method of science, than typical SF technobabble. The author builds it into high drama, where secrecy obstructs the peace.


To top.


Galileo’s Lost Message.

D Allen Henry.


The author peppers this fictional cuisine with Italian exclamations, so that you enter the spirit of being Italian! It’s surprisingly effective.
Italy has the greatest density of UN World Heritage sites in the world. And the hero of this novel has a heroic knowledge of them, as he conducts us about the peninsula, with his Contessa companion.

The obvious intellectual qualifications of the author do not inhibit his portraying a male-female rapport between the two main characters.
The plot is that she has found a hidden poem by Galileo and has called on an American expert in Galilean science to track down the meaning of its riddle.
They are not alone.

The riddle of humanity itself is writ large in this depiction of the Italian character, with a history of incredible genius, shadowed by incredible cruelty.
The half Italian narrative character and the Contessa stand for civilised humanity, with intelligence and optimism, as does the author himself in his restraint from the usual blood and thunder thriller.
I was not able to suspend disbelief, in the eventual unfolding of events.

Galileo’s lost message ends by shading into science fiction, as it was bound to do. Not a bad speculation at all, legitimate historical possibilities included. Altogether, tho, the effect was somewhat over-whelming in its cleverness.
The author does not neglect the real message of Galileo, greater even than his scientific prowess, which is his enduring importance for freedom of thought.


To top.

The Peace Proxy

by Cyril Adams.

This is good old-fashioned future fiction. It is like a 1950s vision of the space age. The narrative character takes us thru the authors technological projections. The science is well enough informed to make the journey interesting. He also makes it exciting by subjecting the hero to a primeval hunt in ultra-modern guise.

Without giving away the secret of the plot, I can tell you that it has already been done, in an episode from the original series of The Outer Limits. This, by the way, was much better than the re-make, as is usually the case. The episode probably was based on a short story. I don’t think the idea is credible enough to stretch to a book, let alone a series, which Cyril Adams seems to have contemplated. Tho, I admit that the authors story-telling abilities are good enough to sustain his writing, even if one doesn’t really believe the basic story-line.

In conventional fiction, the characters are more important than the settings. But in science-fiction or speculative fiction, the settings are more important than the characters. Or, to put it another way, the back-ground takes over from the fore-ground.

The SF genre strips down the characters to the basic human condition. Man must have his mate: So says the song “As Time Goes By.”
Not all of us have. It makes me wonder just what more is there to existence beyond the survival imperative, and things remaining.
It is perhaps not giving too much away, or too far out, to say that peace and progress is the theme of this book.

I once asked my mother what is the meaning of life. I wanted to know what kept her going.
She replied: to go on, to continue.

The poor woman could not do more than keep her head above water, all her life, in adverse circumstances.
That is why it is our duty, given, and taking, a little more freedom, to do the best we can with it.
Perhaps one day we will come across a book that attempts to tell us more, while remaining an entertaining fictional narrative, not deadened with abstractions.


To top.


The Wandering Island Factory

by TR Nowry.

The title has shades of Roald Dahl about it, that deceive the inner eye. In the grand science-fiction tradition of Jules Verne, the hero of the story is a new technological marvel, conceivably just round the corner, if not completely round the bend, from present engineering capabilities. The 21st-century Propeller Island, to which the title alludes, is a manufactured floating island of lava piped into solid interlocking blocks of pumice, lighter than water but immensely strong.

Eventually, even pumice will sink and break up, unless somehow impregnably water-proofed and reinforced against hundred foot waves. Like every good science-fiction writer, he knows how to sweep past the main practical objection, in a sentence, buried amongst all the plausible circumstantial construction details of this prestige project.

The story takes its time, thru a long slow development of man trying to get by, and get along with a mate. Will patient devotion pay off? Will the jobs and the money and the relationship run out? Jules Verne would never get us down with such mundane considerations.

Like TR Nowry, Verne (From The Earth To The Moon) was aware of the shortcomings of the solar science of his day, before solar fusion was understood. Whereas Nowry picks up on the respectable alternative science hypothesis that climate change is mainly dependent on fluctuations in solar radiation, connected with sunspot activity. (Veteran popular science writer, Nigel Calder co-wrote a book with one of its leading scientists.)

As the seas rise, under global warming, a sort of Swiss family Robinson embark on a miniature version of floating volcanic island, in a basalt block of a boat. In this way, they seek to avert the worst effects of the solar apocalypse. They are perhaps as much a danger to themselves as global warming. The heroine has a “morning cough.” All of them are more or less heavy smokers of “cancer sticks,” as cigarettes are aptly described in the story. It will transpire that the author is as addicted to those cancer sticks for the planet, of nuclear fuel rods.

The heat from the volcanic rock of an artificial island can be harnessed (with steam turbines) to generate electricity. More permanently, geothermal (or hydrothermal) energy can be created by the difference in heat between surface water and cool ocean depths. (The thermodynamics of the Carnot heat engine.)
The author suggests that the resulting surface cooling effect might prevent the onshore devastation of hurricanes.

However, the author or narrative character deprecates wave power. Wind turbines, he insists on calling “unsightly” “windmills,” like any propagandist for nuclear power.
Of a rising sea level, drowning nuclear power reactors, needing water cooling by sea or river, all the narrator can say is that he doesn’t see any three-eyed fish.

While politicians are regarded as totally unscrupulous as money sharks, and no cynicism is spared for human folly, the narrator promotes uranium reactors - forever poisoning the planet to drive turbines a few decades - instead of allowing the wind to drive turbines for free. People are indeed strange.


To top.