Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Matt Welch on Bernard Henri-Levy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn


“So there was never a question of whether this narcissist millionaire shirt-unbuttoner would manfully rise to the defense of his poor, underprivileged pal Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but just how thoroughly he would soil himself, his country, and his alleged professions in the course of the apologetics. Well, thanks to the editing genius of Tina Brown, we now have an answer.”




Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Recently viewed: "The Eagle Has Landed"

Filmed in 1976, this is the movie version of the Jack Higgins novel.  Directed by John Stuges (his last film), it has some strengths, though it isn't as good as some of his other movies (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven).  As with the novel, it concerns the German's plan to land paratroopers in a remote English village, which is due a visit from Winston Churchill.  I really liked Robert Duvall as Col. Stadl, and Donald Pleasance gives a nicely chilling performance as Himmler.  There's a ton of familiar faces here (Larry Hagman in what is almost a comic role as the blustery American Ranger, Jennay Agutter, Jean Marsh and a young Treat Williams).  I didn't like Donald Sutherland's Liam Devlin, though that's really more an issue with the character than the actor I think.  Michael Cain is fine, though his accent is a bit of a problem (though his character was supposed to be educated in England).

The English village gives some great scenery, and Stuges handles the action well.  As with the book, most of the plot is told through the German's eyes.

Differences between the book and movie include: 
the book has a framing device (with the author finding out about the incidence)
there's no mention of Stiener's father being held by the Gestapo
there's no doublcross of Devlin by the black marketeers (and thus no mention of Scotland's Yard Special Branch tracking Devlin down)
in the movie Molly (the lass that falls in love with Devlin) shoots the villager Aurthur Seymour
Cain's Stiener actually succeeds by shooting "Churchill" in the movie before he is killed (the "surprise" revelation is handled after the shooting in the movie, whereas it's handled in the framing story in the book)

Recently read: "Yellow Medicine" by Anthony Neil Smith

Yellow Medicine

Yellow Medicine

I'm blaming this one on Bill Crider.  He is often pointing out interesting, odd, mystery/crime novels, and this is one (here, and here).  Billy Lafitte is a cop with a bad side, and has relocated to Yellow Medicine county in Minnesota from Gulfport, Mississippi in the aftermath of Katrina.  Separated from his wife (who is living with their two kids with her very religious parents) Lafitte is now working for his brother-in-law, who is Sheriff of Yellow Medicine.  Drew, a young singer who Lafitte might be in love with, asks for his help with her boyfriend Ian, who has become involved with a new set of drug dealers in the area.  Lafitte, who views the local dealers as his own money source, gets involved.  Soon, there's multiple deaths, the Feds and even terrorists in the Minnesota heartland.

Lafitte spends most of the book beaten up and wounded, careening from one bad spot to another.  He also seems to have more friends than he deserves.  Smith pulls it off, and makes me wonder what will happens next.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recently read: "Rocket Girls: The Last Planet" by Housuke Nojiri

Rocket Girls: The Last Planet

Rocket Girls: The Last Planet (Novel-Paperback)

Second book, following Rocket Girls, by Nojiri about Yukari Morita and her experiences as an astronaut for the Solomon Space Association (SAS).  The book opens with Yukari and her half-sister/co-pilot aboard the SAS capsule (about the size of an American Gemini) in orbit.  A problem with landing causes the capsule to come down in a pool at Yukari's old school.  Quick thinking by one student, Akane, saves the science experiment.  Akane is then recruited by Yukari to join the SAS astronaut corps.  The middle section of the book covers the difficulty that Akane has in passing the training (she tends to pass out at moderately high g levels).  At the same time, the NASA shuttle is in orbit, attempting to launch a probe to Pluto.  When the American astronauts have a mishap, and can't fix the probe, SAS launches Yuakri and Akane to come to their rescue since the young girls, with their more advanced skintight spacesuits, are able to get into the tight quarters needed to get the probe ready for launch.

*** Slight spoilers***

Things seem to go well, until the probe's engines fire too early, putting it into a higher orbit.The solution that SAS along with NASA come up with is clever (putting the SAS capsule in the shuttle cargo bay before starting boosting to a higher orbit, then boosting the capsule even higher), and the sort of "gung-ho, let's succeed" thinking that is fun to see in a (relatively) realistic space novel.  There's some nail biting at the end, as the SAS capsule sees higher re-entry temperatures, but we get a happy ending (though another coincidence with the landing site!).

***Spoilers over***

These two novels are light, fun reading, with fairly realistic technology.  The major "fantastic" element is the behavior of SAS, in how they are willing to use these young girls as their astronauts.  There's also the landing at the begining of the book, at Yuakir's former school, which stretches coincidence  to the breaking point.

I followed Housuke Nojiri from the first Rocket Girl book to his more serious SF novel Usurper of the Sun, which I though was marvelous.  These books, with others, are being published in the US by Haikasoru, which is rapidly becoming a welcome source of entertaining, interesting SF.  James Nicoll has been pushing the Haikasoru books hard (partially to try and get editor Nick Mamatas a Hugo), and I'm glad, since I would love to see more of them, and to see the ones already published get more attention.

Recently read: "The Eagle has Landed" by Jack Higgins

The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed

For years, in my head, I had trouble keeping Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed seperate from Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal (both were thrillerish books written in the '70s with movie adaptaions).  That was a shame, since both books have a lot to offer of themselves (and aren't really similiar in any way).  I was able to read Jackal several months ago (and watch the niffy movie adaption), so I finally got around to reading the Higgins book.

Eagle, set in 1943, concerns a German plot to capture Winston Churchill on British soil.  Set in motion with comments from Hitler (following the rescue of Benito Mussolini by a team of German special forces), it starts out as just a planning exercise (with the hope that Hitler will forget it) but takes on a will of its own as the planner (Colonel Max Radl) begins to believe that the plan could work.  Radl finds that Churchill is planning to visit the samll isolated town of  Studley Constable, and there is already a German agent in place (Joanna Grey , a South Africian who moved to England after the Boer War). Radl finds the perfect head of the mission in Lt. Col. Kurt Steiner (who has an American mother and was educated in England), and decides that IRA operative Liam Devlin would be the right person to lay the groundwork.


The paratroopers infiltrate the villiage (posing as a Polish squad on manevers) and for a time the plan seems as if it might succeed.  While watching the manevers, there's an accident involving children and a waterwheel, and the German's cover is blown.  What follows is a siege of the villiage, as American Rangers (led by a colonel desparate for action) make a foolish frontal attack.  As the Germans try to hold out, Devlin must deal with the English lass Molly that he has fallen in love with.

The book is told primarily from the German viewpoint, and at times you find yourself almost rooting for the paratroopers to pull off the mission.  I'm sure this raised some eyebrows in 1975, but for me the characters of Joanna Grey and Liam Devlin are harder to like though both have reasons to hate the British (only Grey "likes" the Germans...Devlin is much more in the vein of "...the enemy of my enemy...").  The character of Steiner and Radl are well drawn, I think, as are some of the Studley Constable villiagers.

If you enjoy thrillers, especially set during WWII, then I think this is a fine example, and well worth picking up.