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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Just Finished Reading: The Demon in Democracy – Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Ryszard Legutko (FP: 2016) [182pp] 

I seem to be getting good at picking unexpected books these days – or at least books that turned out quite different from my expectations of them. From the title I had presumed that this would be an insightful look at the authoritarian drift in some democracies seen around the world seen from the knowing perspective of someone with experience of the uber-authoritarian Soviet Union. There was ‘something’ in that here but only something. The author had other thoughts in mind and other perspectives to put forward. 

Active in the anti-communist movement in Poland the author was, understandably, delighted both with the collapse of the Soviet Union and his countries entry into the European Union – at least at first. It seems, though, that he was under two misapprehensions – that his country would immediately move significantly to the Right (as it would be difficult to move much further to the Left) and that the EU was far more politically ‘Right’ than it turned out to be. Unfortunately for the author the EU turned out to be very different from both expectations and (probably) Soviet propaganda said it would be. Politically, whilst the US is (from a European perspective anyway) centre Right (Democrat) to further Right (Republican) the EU is largely centre Left with a predominance of Social Democratic voices both across the continent and in the European parliament. Whilst there are Right and indeed far-Right voices in many countries these are, by and large, in the minority. Without reading between the lines too much it appears that the author expected and wanted the US and instead got the EU – and was not happy about it at all. 

Despite the often-annoying background noise of axes being ground into dust, the author did make some interesting and indeed valid points. It is the case that Liberal-democracies use persuasion, propaganda and the law to restrict elements of free speech - ‘hate-speech’ laws and so on. Likewise, they mandate the way minority groups are treated and will step in if they are abused or discriminated against – often overriding people’s contradictory personal or religious views (for example on abortion or Gay marriage). The author repeatedly points to the fact that the Soviet authorities used similar tactics to enforce its own ideology on their populations and tars both regimes with the same brush throughout the book. Seeing both the Soviets and the Liberal-democrats using methods to convince their citizens of the superiority of their belief systems (to the exclusion of all others) thereby gaining their loyalty and convincing them that liberal-democratic nature is simply human nature by another name. Opposition to this liberal viewpoint is then seen as perverse, wrong-headed and out of step with both history and reality itself. In this way liberal-democracies slowly eliminate the very diversity they supposedly hold as a central tenant of their ideology. The author does have a point – if a slight one – and its interesting seeing something I’ve grown up with seen (in effect) from the outside. The problem I had throughout this slim volume was the author’s obvious right-wing bias and the pervasive feeling that he wasn’t being allowed to be as illiberal as he really wanted and expected he would be in the ‘Free West’. Whilst ‘interesting’ in some senses this really didn’t appeal to me and not just because it wasn’t the book I was expecting. 

Translated from the Polish by Teresa Adelson.   

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Reading Plans for 2022 and Beyond! 

To the casual observer (or casual reader/visitor in this case) my reading can see a little chaotic, unstructured or just plain bizarre. But, deep, deep down there is something approaching a plan or at least some sort of structure to my reading. Part of that can be divined by the list of Labels over on the right-hand side. These are topic areas that keep coming up time and again or – for those closely observing – topics that I anticipate will be appearing more often in future. Then, of course, we have the years long ‘staples’ that I’ve been working on for a while and am honing ever closer to ‘perfection’ - before I change my mind completely and dash off in another direction. So... 

Following the Labels 

My grand ‘World Tour’ of my labels has stalled in Greece (I can think of worse places!) but will be moving along again as soon as things have settled down a bit. Two more books to come from there before moving onto India and Ireland. If things go really well, I might get as far as Italy this year. 

The ‘Knowledge Streams’ 

Although the three knowledge streams are still a definite focus for me - ‘England Alone’, ‘World War to Cold War’ and ‘USA:WTF’ - last year was a bit of a bust in all three areas. I ‘started’ the England Alone pile and have another one in the area coming up but it’s off to a slow start. ‘World War/Cold War’ hasn’t really got off at all so far but will start this year with the D-Day landings and the Liberation of France. Gotta start ‘somewhere’, right? ‘USA:WTF’ is a much more, non-linear, target to pin down and I’d had a few scattershot entries in that area. There will be a somewhat more focused set of books – roughly 6-8 – coming up this year. 

Wild Cards 

I’m still enjoying the ‘wild card’ feature I introduced a while back and this will continue. The ‘probabilistic’ side of things – where I essentially role a dice each time I finish a book to see if I will insert a random read – is on hold for a while due to other constraints (explained below) but will be coming back later in the year. 

Finishing/Progressing Series 

I’m still working on this and am coming to the end of the Sharpe series of books and will also be finishing off a few more trilogies shortly. I’m planning on reading the rest of the first Dune trilogy this year as well as finally starting a re-read of the Foundation series. I’ll be progressing as many other unfinished series as I can including a few more in the Agatha Christie ‘Miss Marple’ series of books.  

Bigger Books & reducing the Review Pile 

I’ve been making an effort both to read bigger books (my aim was for an overall average page count of 350pp) and of getting the review pile down to a reasonable size. I have been so successful that I’m suspending reading particularly large books for a while before my review pile crashes into the floor and I have nothing to review. Presently holding at 4 books – or 2 weeks of reviews – I'm working on pushing this back up to 6-7 so that I have some ‘fat’ in there to allow me to take a week to read a large book or really concentrate on a difficult read without the ‘danger’ of having nothing to report on for a while. That being so, I’m presently concentrating on shorter or faster reads for a few months. Things will appear to be somewhat more chaotic than usual! 


I’m enjoying reading Award Winning books so this will definitely continue especially as it's introducing me to new authors and books that I might not have picked up to try. 

Continuing as Usual 

Naturally on top of all of the above I’ll be read my usual eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction from a whole host of genres and sub-genres as fancy takes me. I’m aiming to read 5 classics this year which should be easily achieved. I’m trying to read books – both fiction and non-fiction – based before the 19th Century which is challenging me. I am, being me, ‘playing’ with my reading by coupling fiction/non-fiction combinations which look like fun. Plus, I still haven’t quite finished my ‘Man Vs Machine’ set but should be mid-year at the very latest before moving onto a set of novels based in and around WW1. It’s going slower than expected but it is going... If I get HALF of this done, I’ll be both pleased and impressed. I guess that we’ll see.  

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Cosy and easy to park, great mileage too... [grin]

Just Finished Reading: Seashaken Houses – A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet by Tom Nancollas (FP: 2018) [226pp] 

For centuries the coast around the UK and Ireland were renowned for being treacherous. Countless ships, from the early Greeks in search of tin from Cornwall to the Spanish Armada and beyond founded on rocks – both known and unknown – within sight of safe harbour. With only rudimentary navigational aids resulting in only roughly knowing where a ship actually was at any given moment it was only the volatile mixture of luck and experience that saved (or doomed) ships, crews and cargoes. As Britain’s maritime trade and power increased something needed to be done to make the transport of goods, people and the projection of growing Imperial might safer. Part of that process was the improvement of navigation and the building of lighthouses on shore to alert sailors to hazards further out to sea. But shore-based lighthouses can only do so much. What was really needed were lighthouses close to (or actually on!) the hazardous rocks themselves. Starting in the late 17th century and culminating in the early 20th a string of lighthouses were constructed in some of the least hospitable places imaginable. With only hours between tides groups of braze men dug foundations in unforgiving rock to construct towers of granite (having learnt the HARD way that wood and iron stood little chance against the fury of the sea) that needed to stand against the furious assault of towering waves. They had to be constructed in such a way that they could be supplier with men and material to sustain them and the all-important light that shone across the troubled waters to sailors and ship captains trying to bring their charges home safe to port. This excellent little book is their story covering the early attempts at lighthouse (or simply lights on poles!) design, construction and technological progress from candle power to LED and from manpower to automation. It’s a hell of a story. 

Told by someone who has both a fascination and love for these odd dwellings – essentially ‘houses’ designed to be built in the sea and survive for decades or longer as the oceans try to take the land back to its own domain – this was a lovely little book and an honestly riveting read. I knew a little about lighthouses going in and have seen a few (at a distance) but had no idea who built/designed them – including the family of R L Stephenson – nor the effort that went into their construction and all in a time, remember, when buildings went up without any aid from or knowledge of the data sets present day designers and engineers take for granted. This is a marvelous look at an aspect of maritime history that is far too often overlooked or sidelined. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the sea or slightly ‘odd-ball’ architecture. More to come on this subject! 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

100 Questions: Part 1 (‘borrowed’ from Marianne @ Let’s Read).  

1. Do you sleep with your closet doors open or closed?  

Open. They used to be closed to stop my cat sleeping in there. 

2. Do you take the shampoos and conditioner bottles from hotels?  

I used to – I paid for the room, right? But I haven’t been in a hotel room for YEARS, so...  

3. Do you sleep with your sheets tucked in or out?  

I use a duvet, so..  

4. Have you stolen a street sign before?  

Nope, but I know people who have... 

 5. Do you like to use post-it notes?  

I used to LIVE on them in work. My desk was often COVERED in them to remind me to do stuff. 

6. Do you cut out coupons but then never use them? 

I think that’s an American thing really.  

 7. Would you rather be attacked by a big bear or a swarm of bees? 

In an ideal world neither. My younger self MIGHT have been able to outrun a bear – a little one maybe – and bees have never really bothered me (because I never bother them). 

8. Do you have freckles? 


9. Do you always smile for pictures? 

I do my very best not to be IN pictures, so... No. 

10. What is your biggest pet peeve?  

Willful ignorance coupled with overbearing confidence. 

11. Do you ever count your steps when you walk? 

I used to have one of those devices you wear on your belt to count steps. I even had a spreadsheet and weekly goals. I gave that up when the battery ran out. 

 12. Have you peed in the woods? 


13. Have you ever pooped in the woods? 


14. Do you ever dance even if there’s no music playing? 

Music is almost always playing in my house. When I’m out it’s usually playing in my head – either with headphones or without. Dancing? Not so much! 

15. Do you chew your pens and pencils? 


16. How many people have you slept with this week? 

This WEEK? Oh, to be YOUNG [lol] Less than 10. 

17. What size is your bed? 

Standard double – however big THAT is. 

18. What is your song of the week? 

Songs don’t last that long in my life. But probably something from the 1980’s or from MTV when they actually played music videos.  

19. Is it ok for guys to wear pink? 

People can, and do, wear whatever suits them. 

20. Do you still watch cartoons? 

Yes. Love ‘em. 

21. What is your least favourite movie? 

Any soppy Romance flick. 

22. Where would you bury hidden treasure, if you had some? 

In the LAST place anyone would look, naturally. 

23. What do you drink with dinner? 

Probably something fizzy & orange. Or, if I'm eating out a Diet Coke/Pepsi. 

24. What do you dip a chicken nugget in? 

As a veggie of 20+ years I wouldn’t even touch a chicken nugget never mind dip it in something. Plus, I’ve just read a book on the fast-food industry. Do you know what's IN them?     

25. What is your favourite food? 

Pasta, Pizza & Curry. 

26. What movies could you watch over and over again and still love? 

Where Eagles Dare and Zulu. 

27. Last person you kissed/kissed you? 

A proper kiss? Not a ‘peck’ or ‘air kissing’? Probably Carol... Probably.... [muses] 

28. Were you ever a boy/girl scout? 

I was VERY briefly a Cub Scout. 

29. Would you ever strip or pose nude in a magazine? 

Only if I wanted to destroy the magazine... 

30. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper? 

Well over a decade ago, I think.  

31. Can you change the oil on a car? 

I’ve seen it done, so probably. I might have to watch it a few times on YouTube first though. 

32. Ever gotten a speeding ticket? 

Nope. Don’t drive. 

33. Ever ran out of gas? 

My gas meter ran out of money once. Does that count? 

34. What’s your favourite kind of sandwich? 

Fried egg and tomato ketchup or a Chip butty. 

35. Best thing to eat for breakfast? 

‘Best’? If I was going anywhere and I needed ‘fuel’ to keep going for a while I’d probably go for a ‘Full English’ minus the Black Pudding and with veggie sausages – and no mushrooms (so extra baked beans). 

36. What is your usual bedtime? 

Somewhere better 11PM to Midnight 

37. Are you lazy? 

At times. Aren’t we all? 

38. When you were a kid, what did you dress up as for Halloween? 

Halloween wasn’t a bit thing when I was growing up, so no. 

39. What is your Chinese astrological sign? 

Silver Rat. 

40. How many languages can you speak? 

Fluently? One – English. But I have a smattering of a few others – probably enough to get a beer at least. 

41. Do you have any magazine subscriptions? 

No, not for a LONG time. Probably not since my teens, maybe. Although I only really stopped buying monthly magazines a few years ago. 

42. Which are better: Legos or Lincoln logs? 

I had to Google Lincoln logs (yet more evidence of an American survey!) as I’d never heard of them. But Lego anyway. Always Lego – just watch where you step! 

43. Are you stubborn? 

Oh, yes. As a MULE in the right circumstance. Runs DEEP in my family.  

44. Who is better: Kimmel or Fallon? 

Colbert, actually. LOVE that guy. 

45. Ever watch soap operas? 

No. Cured of that time vampire after sitting through far too many growing up. 

46. Are you afraid of heights? 

Not in the least. Moderately bothered by falling though. 

47. Do you sing in the car? 

Sometimes, much to the amusement of the driver. 

48. Do you sing in the shower? 

No, I’m in and out and done. 

49. Do you dance in the car? 

Presumably you mean shuffle to the music being played? Possibly, if its good music and it makes the driver snigger a little. 

50. Ever used a gun? 

‘Used’? I’ve fired a rifle on a range. The instructor said I was a ‘natural’ but he probably said that to everyone who could hit the target. I was a pretty good shot though! Probably comes from YEARS of FPS games [grin]  

Monday, January 24, 2022

Alien: Just an everyday story of a girl and her flamethrower.....

Just Finished Reading: Victory by Julian Stockwin (FP: 2010) [339pp] 

England, 1805. After losing his beloved ship HMS Teazer to a French ambush, Commander Thomas Kydd is anxious to get back to sea at a time of England’s greatest need. With invasion in the air and Napoleon’s apparently unbeatable army ready to leap across the Channel it is only the Royal Navy’s ability to keep the enemy blockaded in their ports that keeps England safe. If any of the divided fleets can escape and join with the other blockaded forces the British would be seriously outnumbered and overwhelmed. Once that happened the way would be open and the Channel, Britain’s last defence, would be breached. When news arrives that he will be back in the fight soon enough Kydd, now the captain of a captured French frigate, is delighted to join Nelson’s fleet based in the Mediterranean. With everything resting on the great man’s shoulders and the stakes as high as they could be, Nelson needs the French to breakout so that he can catch them in the open sea. But when they do so and quickly disappear into the Atlantic vastness Nelson has a choice – does he go after them with the possibility of being led on a wild goose chase whilst England is being invaded or does he play it safe by protecting the entrance to the Channel. On his decision alone rests the fate of England and at the very heart of is the newly promoted Captain Thomas Kydd. Can he repay the Admiral’s confidence in him? Does he really have a choice with so much at stake? 

The Battle of Trafalger in 1805 is rightly regarded as one of the most important battles in British history. If it was lost the whole history of western Europe, indeed the world, might have been very different with Napoleon victorious in Europe and England defeated. Told through the viewpoints of Kydd in the frigate HMS L’Aurore as well as new Midshipman Charles Bowden on HMS Victory herself this is a very accomplished tale of some of the most exciting, most exacting and most important naval encounters in the 19th century. Despite this being 11th book in the Kydd sequence it is my first encounter with him. After reading this excellent novel it certainly won’t be my last – but I think I’ll go back to the start and work my way through them! The text isn’t quite as full of the naval terminology of the time as Patrick O'Brian's books but it still helps to know the difference between port and starboard and stern chasers might make all the difference in a close fight. The action is very well done – indeed often heart-pumping/palm sweating in intensity – and, as with all such books it’s often wise not to get too attached to minor characters who just might lose life or limb from a passing cannon ball or hail of wood splinters. This is definitely one of those books where you can taste the salt in the air, hear the decks creak under you and smell the gunpowder blowing across the ship after a broadside. I enjoyed this a lot and will be looking out for more. Definitely recommended for all Age of Sail enthusiasts.  

Saturday, January 22, 2022

2021 – A Year of Reasonable Influence 

As my regular readership will be aware I have somewhat of a ‘chip’ on my shoulder concerning my education in the State system. Whilst as good as or better than a great many countries I do feel somewhat ‘disadvantaged’ compared to those who had a much better education – especially in their early lives. Part of the way I’ve been trying to make up for this is in my reading. Now I’ve been voraciously reading anything I could get my hands on since my early teens but have only been focusing on what I’m called ‘significant’ or influential’ works in more recent times. My definition of these terms is somewhat flexible, but essentially what I’m going for is a work that expanded knowledge, changed opinion or in other ways – both direct and subtle – changed things (though not always for the better!). Some of what I’ll be reading, or have already read, are famous/infamous works whilst others are obscure but still punched well above their weight. Most will, inevitably, be non-fiction but there’s a few novels in the list too. I try for at least a handful of such books per year – 3 to 5 seems reasonable – but 2021 was a lower hit year than I had hoped for which is disappointing considering it was a bumper review year. We’ll see what I can accomplish in 2022. So, here’s the list so far with the latest additions (as usual) in BOLD

The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon 

Dune by Frank Herbert 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown 

Rock of Ages – Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould 

How Children Fail by John Holt 

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard 

Suffragette – My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst 

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer 

The Old Straight Track - Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones by Alfred Watkins 

The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama 

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson 

All The President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward 

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence 

The True Believer – Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer 

The Rights of Man by H G Wells 

The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes 

The Two Cultures by C P Snow 

The City by Max Weber 

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell 

The War of the Flea – A Study of Guerrilla Warfare Theory & Practice by Robert Taber 

Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton 

Seize the Time – The Story of The Black Panther Party and Huey P Newton by Bobby Searle 

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X with the assistance of Alex Haley 

Achtung Panzer! – The Development of Tank Warfare by Heinz Guderian 

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell 

The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore 

About Looking by John Berger 

A Vindication of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft 

War on Wheels – The Evolution of an Idea by C R Kutz 

Ways of Seeing by John Berger 

Design as Art by Bruno Munari 

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli 

Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell 

The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz 

The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud 

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus 

The Rebel by Albert Camus 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 

A Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men by Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara 

RIP - Meatloaf!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Just Finished Reading: One Summer – America 1927 by Bill Bryson (FP: 2013) [600pp] 

Using the first successful solo flight across the Atlantic by the young, photogenic and previously unknown pilot Charles Lindbergh as the core story to one amazing summer, the author presents a highly entertaining look at the strange, but strangely familiar world of late 1920’s USA. Looking at the very beginnings of transcontinental flight, organised crime, Prohibition (two things that where most definitely linked at the hip flask), the 1927 World Series baseball winners – the New York Yankees – the birth of the talkies (and the origins of television), the devastating floods in the Mississippi basin, the rise and rise of boxing as a respectable sport and so much else this was a HIGHLY entertaining look at an America starting to figure out its place on the world stage – and whether it wanted that place to begin with! 

The first thing I really have to say is that this was my first Bryson book (yes, I know I’m always late to the party) and I’m regretting waiting so long to take the plunge. Not only did I feel that I learnt a whole lot of interesting facts about the time and place – May to September 1927 – but that I was extremely entertaining along the way. About the only (very minor) niggle I had along the journey was a drip-drip feeling of anything Lindburgh related which, to be honest, was understandable given the way that his achievement was the glue that held the books narrative together! Although I did find the focus on the trials and tribulations of the trans-Atlantic flight attempts very interesting, I was surprised to discover that I derived most of my fun throughout the book whenever the topic turned to Baseball. Now, I’ll be the very first to admit that I have very little – or at least had very little – interest in sport of any kind but the authors description of the 1927 World(s) Series (a title that always makes me smile to be honest) and the great players involved: ‘Babe’ Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others, not only made me wish I could have been in those ballparks watching the homers or at least put on ‘The Natural’ or ‘League of Their Own’ on DVD but made me want to know more, much more about interwar baseball. I mean, how weird is THAT! Needless to say, I have added several titles to my Amazon Wish List on the subject [lol] 

This was a delight to read and, despite being only 2/3 of the way through January, this has already made it into my Best Books of 2022. It certainly didn’t feel like 600 pages, never felt like an effort to pick up (despite its wrist aching size!) and never disappointed. As with all the best history books it left me wanted to know more and had a handy bibliography to help me do just that. I did appreciate that the author looked at both the good and bad during that summer and didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of 1920’s American culture. This certainly wasn’t an example of US jingoistic propaganda I’m come across previously which I’m grateful for. Although this was my first Bryson, I have a feeling it won’t be my last – though I’m not sure I want to find out what he thought of us ‘Brits’ in some of his other books! Most definitely recommended even to my American readers.  

New High Score (since records began 22nd October 2020) 

Average Page Count: 341pp (+2p) 

Previous Record Duration: 10 days. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022


The End is Nigh?

From The BBC today:

The prime minister has announced that England's Covid rules will end from next week, weeks after they were introduced to slow the spread of the Omicron variant in December. In Scotland, most remaining restrictions are being lifted from Monday, and in Wales some rules are also being relaxed.

About 5.3% of the population had the virus in the UK last week, compared to 6.7% the week before, equating to roughly one in 20 people, the ONS says.

Across the UK, the percentage of people testing positive were:

England: 5.5% (previously 6.9%)

Wales: 3.7% (previously 5.6%)

Northern Ireland: 5.7% (previously 5.4%)

Scotland: 4.5% (previously 5.7%)

In England, Covid infections decreased in all regions except in the North East and the South West, where there was less certainty about the trend. Infections fell most quickly among people aged 16-24 but they stayed flat in the over 70s (around 3% infected) and rose in primary school-age children (to 8% infected).

[So it looks like, barring yet another variant that can circumvent the vaccines, that the UK at least has entered the end phase of the Pandemic. Here's hoping so and that these figures can be replicated across the globe as soon as possible. Then its just getting better prepared for the NEXT one!]


Monday, January 17, 2022


Just Finished Reading: Nightrider by David Mace (FP: 1985) [242pp] 

They knew they had been hand-picked for a dangerous mission. A resurgent Earth, slowly recovering from decades of internal fighting and political instability, was moving deeper into the Solar System again. But the Outers, the rag-tag survivors holding on to Mars and the Belt region, had to be put in their place. For far too long they had been left to their own devices. Thankfully, for Earth, they had been unable to use their resources to threaten the home world – until now. The discovery of a dead twin star, complete with planets, within reach of the outer planets changed everything. With those resources, and the planets as a future base, the Outers could finally challenge Earth as to who would ultimately control space. The ship ‘Nightrider’ was the answer. Originally designed for deep space exploration she was repurposed to investigate the new star and to destroy any Outer facility discovered. Fitted with the latest AI learning computer mission success was of the highest priority. Although every effort would be made to bring the crew back alive and unharmed the mission was the focus and casualties, if suffered, were secondary. As Nightrider approached its destination a mistake was made. At first the AI was happy to offer advice – if sometimes unsolicited. Soon, it began to argue with the crew although always eventually taking orders from them. But when human decisions began to threaten the mission, a decision needed to be made... The mission took priority – the crew... Expendable. 

First (to get it out of the way) this had zero to do with talking cars, questionable dialogue or more questionable hairstyles. I read it as part of an intermittent set of SF novels in the vague area of Man Vs Machine. Given the blurb on the back of the book I was actually surprised at how little role the AI – which honestly reminded me of HAL 9000 more than a little – played in the plot. It did play a role – and a reasonably vital one – but only for a short time and only towards the end of the book. But saying that didn’t distract too much from the book itself. The start was unfortunately rather slow – building character development and dropping hints about the various Inner societies that the crew came from. A lot of effort was expended trying to make things as realistic as possible with talk of thrust vectors and acceleration tolerances etc.. This was a world without ‘inertial dampeners’ or anything else Star Trek. If required you strapped in a took the G forces you could cope with without blacking out. Likewise, with combat on the airless low-G surface, a bullet that didn’t kill you could still damage your suit enough to result in explosive decompression – long before you ran out of air! Overall though this wasn’t that bad. There was some sex (occasionally moderately explicit) and some rather cinematic violent episodes but these were interwoven with some interesting political and social speculation and some interesting interpretations of space combat – never attempted before by either side. Worth a read if you can find a copy.  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A Shift in Time 

I’m very conscious of reading both historical fiction and history mostly within my comfort zone of the 19th and 20th centuries. As I’ve already alluded to, I’m going to try to do something about that and you should, hopefully, see a generally drift deeper into the past. However, much like a giant oil tanker, it will take both time and effort to change direction. There will no sudden changes of direction, but you should notice a few more pre-19th century books – both fiction and non-fiction showing up here. Partially inspired by Helen over @ She Reads Novels I’ll use 2021 as a baseline to see how I’m doing by the end of the year. So, here it is... 


Ancient Greece - 2 

17th Century - 1 

19th Century – 11 

20th Century – 5 

Of which... 

WW1 – 2 

WW2 – 1 


Ancient Greece – 1 

11th Century – 1 

15th Century – 1 

18th Century - 1 

19th Century – 6 

20th Century – 19 

Of which... 

WW2 – 5 

As predicted the list is VERY top heavy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Looks like I have a job to do... [lol] 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Our local buses run on gas... as in Methane...

"It is also typical of our time that the growth of the state does not go along with the belief - as exhibited in the past - in its miraculous power. The state has ceased to be associated with great hopes and is no longer viewed as a political object of worship. Rather, it appears that with its growing influence and progressive taking on of new responsibilities, the state has lost the respect of its citizens. Demands directed at the state are nowadays expressed in a tone of exasperation and angry impatience rather than with belief in its charitable omnipotence. It can be considered a paradox that a liberal-democratic man expects more and more from the state that he values less and less."

The Demon in Democracy by Ryszard Legutko, 2016.

Thursday, January 13, 2022


Just Finished Reading: The Woman’s Hour – The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss (FP: 2018) [340pp] 

Just one more State would do it. Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was only, so they thought, weeks away. But Tennessee was going to be a hard nut the crack. Most of the prior States had been Northern and the last few States had voted not to ratify. If Tennessee failed to vote in favour of the woman’s vote that could be the end of things for years – if not forever. It was all or nothing. With the stakes being so high the pro-vote camp brought in their biggest hitters. They were opposed, likewise, by the most famous (or infamous) and most dangerous in the anti-vote camp: other women. The site of Nashville, that August 1920, was going to be the location of an epic fight between the irresistible force on one side and an immovable object on the other. Tempers would flare, accusations made of bribery, threats and intimidation, calls to honour, history and God would be made publicly, in the Press and in private. Finally, after years of work in the background, months of preparation and days of haranguing local politicians in all came down to a handful of votes in the Tennessee state house.  

Although I knew something of the women's fight for the right to vote in the UK around World War One, I wasn’t too familiar with the fight in the US. This book certainly filled that hole in my knowledge and then some. Not having much more than a passing knowledge of the American political system (and even more so how it was constituted in the 1920’s) I was unaware at just how difficult it was for women to get the vote – first an Amendment to the US Constitution would need to be arranged through Congress – this took YEARS to even get this far – and then two thirds of the States would need to ratify it before it became Federal law. As you can imagine this was a long drawn out and complex thing to accomplish – and that was without an active and growing opposition to the very idea of women voting which is one thing that actually really confuses me. 

In many ways I am a simple (or simplistic) thinker. To me a democracy is where voters cast their ballot for the person they wish to represent them in whatever flavour of representative government they have decided on. For it to be an actual democracy the vote should be available to everyone who resides in that country over a certain age (18 seems reasonable in most cases) and without any other qualification – with very few and very specific exceptions. Essentially if you’re an adult you get a vote – end of story. The idea that a system can call itself a democracy and, at the same time, restrict the vote to a sub-set of the population seems to me on the face of it nonsensical. To deny the vote to half the adult population calls into question the legitimacy of the entire system. But as ratification crept ever nearer (or so it seemed) arguments against the female vote became ever more strident – especially from women themselves (something I have never, and still do not having read this book, understood). Of course, all of the old arguments were raised in Tennessee – that women were not emotionally or intellectually fitted to political discourse or debate, that politics would in some way ‘sully’ women, that voting would make women barren (I kid you not) and that politically inclined women would leave their husbands and families or never start them in the first place and that ultimately allowing women the vote would inevitably lead to the downfall of civilisation.  

Interestingly (for me at least) was a southern ‘twist’ on the whole debate. It was put forward that allowing women to vote would call into question the honour of southern manhood and result in a petticoat government (hilariously some of the more outrageous proponents for the vote demonstrated that they were no longer wearing petticoats), furthermore there was the explosive issue of ‘States Rights’ and the imposition of unwished for laws and restrictions from the Federal government which carried the unpleasant reminder of imposed Reconstruction after the Civil War (something else that confounds me), finally the argument was put forward by the anti-vote faction that allowing women to vote would, by implication, allow BLACK women to vote and that the inevitable backlash across the South would force Washington to intervene. Better for everyone simply to let the Amendment die and for everyone to forget about it! 

To say that I learnt a lot from this detailed account of the final days to ratification of the 19th Amendment would be an understatement. Although I knew (or at least recognised) a few names – mostly on the pro-vote side and some leading politicians of the age – most of the people presented in this book were new to me as was the lengthy and convoluted process to get anything done. I was struck by the similar, often underhand, methods and tactics used in the fight to the present debacle in American politics we see on our TV screens (or on YouTube in my case) that would not be out of place in either the 1920’s or 2020’s. There’s a LOT pack into these pages and the only slight criticism I would have was that it was a little TOO detailed (or just maybe a little too unfamiliar to a non-American) for a light read, so I did struggle with it at times. But if you want to know how women finally got the vote in the USA this is most definitely a good place to start. Recommended.  

Monday, January 10, 2022


True, dat!

Just Finished Reading: In The Woods by Tana French (FP: 2007) [592pp] 

It was just like a dream. He knew he shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be involved but he had to be. So much was as he remembered it from 20 years ago. The houses, the people and especially the woods – much reduced since his childhood adventures in them but still there. What surprised him most though was that no one recognised him. He stared into their faces, seeing them as they were so long ago, and they looked back without a flicker of recollection – nothing. Of course, much had changed since that defining moment so long ago when he and his friends went into the woods for the last time together and he came out alone, unresponsive and caked in blood. He was older, bigger and had lost his local accent after years in English boarding schools. Still, he shouldn’t be there. It was wrong. Now a detective in Dublin’s Murder Squad he should have told his boss about the link between himself and the latest case to drop on their desks. But he couldn’t bring himself to speak the words. He needed to know if the latest killing, of a young child, had ANYTHING to do with the disappearance of his two friends twenty years ago. He wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if someone else had missed a clue, failed to pick up on the piece of evidence, failed to interview someone in the right way. His partner, Cassie Maddox, knew he had to do this and covered for him. But it still felt like a dream. Unfortunately for Detective Rob Ryan, AKA Adam Ryan, this was not going to be a happy dream, quite the opposite... 

I picked this up in my local supermarket a few years back because, as always, it looked interesting. I don’t often read ‘modern’ crime novels so, I thought, it’d make a nice change of pace. I only knew that it had ‘inspired’ a BBC crime series from the cover blurb and have never watched the actual TV show to this date (though no doubt my Mum has!). For once the oft repeated phrase ‘grabs from the very first page’ had something to it. Related from Detective Ryan’s perspective and told throughout in his ‘voice’ this was an absolute master class in the crafting of a police procedural narrative. ALL of the characters were real and totally believable. Ryan himself was a great construction, thoughtful, intelligent and haunted by his past (most of which remained suppressed throughout the investigation with leaks emerging from time to time). His partner, Maddox, was the gem of the novel for me though. She was an amazing creation and I loved every scene she was in. Their relationship – both in and out of work – was very realistic and their dialogue together was both believable and naturalistic to the highest degree. It was honestly like being a literal ‘fly on the wall’ watching and listening to them just being real. At the center of everything is the murder of a young girl with a bright future ahead of her. The investigation, just as with the characterisation throughout, feels real, grounded and solid. It flows just as we’ve seen countless times in newspapers and media reports – breakthroughs, disappointments, arrests, accusations.  

This certainly didn’t feel like an almost 600-page novel. Whilst not exactly a breeze of a read – it was too involved and often too intense for that – I fell into the narrative and loved every minute of the time spent there. What truly amazed me, for such an accomplished work, was that this was the author’s first published work. That fact alone is pretty stunning. It came as no surprise at all to discover also that it had won numerous awards soon after publication. Definitely a highlight of the year and, therefore, highly recommended for all crime lovers. Much more of this author to come, I think. 


Anthony Awards - Best First Novel 

Barry Awards - Best First Novel 

Edgar Awards - Best First Novel 

Macavity Awards - Best First Novel 

New High Score (since records began 22nd October 2020) 

Average Page Count: 339pp (+1p) 

Previous Record Duration: 151 days. 

Always interesting..... Vox.