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Monday, April 23, 2018

Emma Orczy and the Goddess of Reason Part 2

Christianity was founded on strongly held beliefs. The theological divides between Christian denominations can be huge. As in centuries past, people still regularly wage theological wars not just between denominations, but within their own to suppress a given practice, or impose a new belief. New churches spring up every day, and if they are successful, and give birth to others, eventually form new denominations. Yet the townspeople of Loddon, England have chosen to put all those differences aside, so they could worship together. They enjoy a richer, and more united religious community as a result.

A burial marker in the aisle of Holy Trinity, Loddon

Henry VIII is often seen as a villain. As an American, it would be inappropriate for me to either criticize him or to sing his praises. But after robbing the Catholic Church of the power it wielded over all aspects of English life, he didn't try to create his own religion. While he made significant changes to religious practice and belief, he still allowed his subjects to worship in a way they recognized as Christian. 

Three hundred years later, in their zeal to empower the common people, French reformers like Robespierre did not follow Henry VIII's example. After bringing down the religious authority of the Catholic Church, they went on to rob the country of the entire basis of its secular government. Then they set up an entirely new calendar, and established not one, but two new state religions. The people embraced neither the calendar nor the new religions. Eventually, they returned to the Catholic Church. As they had eradicated the aristocracy, France today lacks the rich history and cultural diversity England enjoys as a modern republic which also has a monarch.

As bloody and as terrible as Henry VIII's reign was, one wonders what might have occurred had the English king not broken with the Catholic Church. Might the number of the common people who hungered for change have grown, until centuries later, they rose up and brought down the entire secular and the religious leadership of Britain? What might the United Kingdom look like today had that happened? Would it have an American style President and Congress? Would all its churches be barren rooms, without a trace of ornamentation or memorials, their painted rood screens destroyed, plaster board covering aging frescos on old stone walls, and their historic stain glass windows replaced with triple insulated glass? Or would Catholicism have returned, stronger than before, like it did in France?

In merging their separate communities, the townspeople of Loddon may have lost some of the beliefs and practices particular to their respective denominations. But unlike the people of France during their revolution, as popularized by Baroness Emma Orczy in her novel The Elusive Pimpernel, they are not beheading anyone, either by a republican guillotine, or a royal executioner. They may not worship a goddess of their own design, but they employ reason in sharing a true community spirit, and generosity of spirit in merging their differences in belief and opinion. 

Imagine that.

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 16, 2018

Emma Orczy and the Goddess of Reason Part 1

An altar in Holy Trinity, Loddon

In Baroness Emma Orczy's novel The Elusive Pimpernel, Chauvelin, the former French Ambassador to England, tricks Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife Marguerite into traveling to Boulogne, a small coastal town in northern France. When Chauvelin captures Marguerite, he forces Sir Percy to write a letter explaining that all his brave exploits in rescuing the French aristocracy from the guillotine were really only done for money. Yet, when Chauvelin writes to his superiors in Paris, telling them of his triumph, Robespierre and his fellow reformers grow annoyed with Chauvelin. They wonder if he has fully embraced their Republican ideals, as he has dated his letter as (I believe, September), instead of Fructidor, a month in the newly imposed French Republican Calendar.

In order to celebrate his triumph, Chauvelin then organizes a celebration in Boulogne. As a condition of Sir Percy finishing the letter on this day, Chauvelin agrees to ring the church bells as part of an evening service. So while the townspeople rejoice with forced gaiety, and herald an actress attired as the newly created French goddess of Reason, Sir Percy manages another stunning escape. In the process, he takes with him the incriminating letter and his wife Marguerite. He leaves Chauvelin tied up in the prison, where the former ambassador hears the old church bells ring.

A painted wooden screen in Holy Trinity

Like any Church of England, Holy Trinity Church in Loddon is steeped in centuries of history. Yet the townspeople only worship there from May to November. For the rest of the year, they worship in St. John's Methodist Church.

After visiting Holy Trinity Church (and enjoying their fine book sale), my wife and I visited St. John's in Loddon. Unlike many Methodist churches we have visited in the United States, which could easily rival an ornate Lutheran or Episcopal church, the sanctuary of St. John in Loddon was barren. No ornamentation, no carvings, no burial or memorial markers. Just a hall with a modern interior of bare walls, windows, and a platform. 

Most Protestants in the United States are used to worshipping in such sparse surroundings. But I was intrigued why a Church of English congregation would trade a sanctuary so rich in history and beautiful for one so barren for six months of the year. I asked a man working in the St. John Methodist church office why the two churches had decided to share everything, from their worship service location to (presumably) the style of the services themselves. He explained that, as it was a small town, they had merged the congregations for two reasons: 1) to enhance the worship experience by increasing the size of the congregation, and 2) so the Holy Trinity members could save money. Apparently, it much more to heat the immense stone Holy Trinity building in the winter than it did the smaller, better insulated St. John. 

The Methodists broke away from the Church of England in earlier centuries for profound religious reasons. When worshippers have a choice of congregations, they usually chose the one which best conforms to their religious beliefs. Yet the people of Loddon have chosen to say, "Our beliefs don't matter so much as the fact that we worship and fellowship together." 

A community where the people's faith unites them, rather than divides them? Imagine that.

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 9, 2018

Nevil Shute on Changing Currency

When I read an old book, I'm always curious about how much things cost, and how much money would be worth in today's terms. For example, when Sherlock Holmes pays his child Irregulars a few shillings or pounds to scour the streets of London in search of a person or a vital clue to a mystery, I'm curious how much he's paying all the children in today's money. Of course, there are different ways of evaluating the value of money, and a given sum will always be worth more to a poor person than to a rich one. Nevertheless, understanding how much things cost in a society gives an insight in the culture of the times. 

I'm also curious as to how much my old paperback of Nevil Shute's novel So Disdained originally cost. It believe it was a UK edition. The inside says it was printed in Bungay, Suffolk, England by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press), Ltd. On the front, someone applied a sticker (at some time in the past) for 3'6. The back of the 1966 paperback edition shows 60c Australia 6'- as a price. 

(My apologies for the blurry photo)

So how do I translate all these different prices?

These days, a book printed in England, but sent to the United States, would list a dollar symbol next to price and the letter U.S. It would probably give the price in Canadian dollars, and maybe even the Australian price. No U.S. price is listed here. But then, the novel was printed and sold with a different title in the United States, so that would be a completely different edition..

My first question is about the 60c symbol. The pre-decimilisation currency in England in 1966 had twenty shillings and two hundred-and-forty pence in a pound. The symbol for shillings was "s", and the symbol for pence was "d." Australia followed Britain's example with their currency, with their pounds, shillings, and pence.

Canada, as best I can tell, adopted the United States' model in the mid 19th Century, and uses their own quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. So a guess on my part would be that the "c" symbol is for Canadian cents. The thing is, I believe Canada followed the U.S. convention, with the "cents" symbol as a small c with a vertical line struck through it. 

According to Wikipedia, the "c" symbol (without a vertical line struck through it) can refer to cents in former English Empire countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. But pre-decimalisation Australia would have followed England's model, with shillings "s" and pence "d". 

Perhaps the 6' on the back refers both to Australia and England. That would mean the price in both countries was six shillings, or 72 pence (again, with 240 pence in the pound). But it seems odd that the same price would be charged in two different countries, doesn't it?

Or maybe UK editions didn't have prices marked on the books, and booksellers had to apply stickers? 

As to that sticker on the front, I pealed it back carefully, and there's no UK price printed underneath. If the 6' refers to the original Australian price, the 3'6 sticker would mean the original UK price was three shillings and six pence. If 6' was the original UK sale price, the sticker would be a pre-1971 sale, which would represent nearly fifty percent discount off the book's original cost.

Isn't deciphering old currency symbols fun? I almost feel like Indiana Jones. Only he knew much more about the world than I did. Oh, and he wasn't afraid to have a monomaniac dictator like Adolf Hitler sign his book for him. Me, that's one book signing I wouldn't attend.

Holy Trinity Church
Loddon, Suffolk, UK

During our tour of the English county of Suffolk last year, we visited a charming town called Loddon. It located in the Broads, with boats parked along the river. It charming architecture, interesting World War II history, and several charity shops that offered inexpensive books. Their beautiful Holy Trinity Church also had tables laden with books for sale. I found some real treasures there, including a Lovejoy mystery (a series that takes place largely in Suffolk, and neighboring Norfolk and Essex counties), as well as the Nevil Shute novel. I paid fifty pence in last year's UK currency for the paperback at a church sale. That's 50p for my friends in the United States, not fifty cents. 

Book shopping in Holy Trinity Church
If I ever return to Loddon, I may have to visit Bungay too. According to Google, the town is just ten miles away from Loddon. It looks to be another charming town along the Broads, with a historic market and the ruins of an old castle. I could talk to the locals, and see if anyone remembers the company Richard Clay Limited. I wonder if anyone might recall the name The Chaucer Press on any buildings. Maybe someone could give me a hint as to the book's original cost, as well as how affordable a purchase it would have been for the average person fifty years ago.

In any case, given the current exchange rate, I estimate the equivalent cost for my copy of So Disdained at seven-five to eighty cents in U.S. currency. You can find paperbacks for less in this country, but usually they cost more. When you consider that I've wanted to read a Nevil Shute novel for some time, but most of his work is out-of-print in this country, I'd declare myself happy with my purchase. When I add that it gave me hours of enjoyment, and I found the novel a really crackin' read (as they say in England), I'd say I found a real bargain. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nevil Shute on Inflation

Cromer Pier, England

By writing in his spare time, Nevil Shute eventually finished his second novel So Disdained. One of the reasons it took the author three years to complete it was that he was working for the Airship Guarantee Company at the time. He worked as a senior stress engineer on the rigid-bodied His Majesty's Airship R100 to service the British Empire travel routes. 

In addition to airships, Nevil Shute knew about the practicalities of flying airplanes. His novel is packed with details about how Lenden's airplanes worked, as well as the way he flew them. Knowing all those details, I'm sure Nevil Shute knew how much the planes cost to operate as well. He built those into every facet of his novel, including the scheme of Lenden and his WWI pilots, to travel around Britain in their seaplane, and offer ten minute joyrides for a guinea (one pound and one shilling).

You are probably asking "How could his character Lenden have believed he could charge customers so little? Surely, if he and his partners had charged his customers more, he could have made a go of his seaside tourist business!" But according to the website, one guinea in 1919 was equivalent to 44.28 pounds in purchasing power today. That's what they call the real price. They also calculate the labor value of a guinea in 1919 as over one hundred-and-sixty-seven pounds, and the income value at over two hundred-and-fifty-two pounds. 

If you raise the price to thirty shillings, as Lenden and his friends later did, the real price rises to 63 pounds, while the labor and income values climbs into the mid two hundred and three hundred pound range. That's in today's England currency. If you want to translate that into what an American tourist would pay in U.S. money, if he were to travel to the UK today, increase those figures by fifty percent.

I'm not sure how to factor all those different values to figure out how expensive it would have been for someone one hundred years ago to take a ten minute pleasure flight. English reader Joppy kindly shared with us that his father earned just over seven pounds in his first year working as an apprentice pharmacist. In this case, his father began work eleven years later, in 1931.  

Consider the English TV series Downton Abbey, which portrays life at an English manor house (such as Moran worked at) beginning before World War I, in 1912. By the time the series finishes, in 1925, the Earl of Grantham is struggling to run the house with a fraction of his former staff. Wages, as well as other costs, have multiplied several times since World War I. It seems safe to assume wages continued to rise between 1925 and 1931. 

We can assume that, had a young man like Joppy's father started as an apprentice pharmacist in 1919, he would have earned significantly less than seven pounds in his first year. Perhaps, let us say, four pounds? And that's for a man. Given the gender limitations back then, a woman of similar age and skills would likely earn less, perhaps three pounds a year? 

Enjoying a drink at Cromer Pier

Whatever the amount, you get the idea. For most working class people during their first few years in the job market, they might be able to afford a drink on Cromer Pier with their friends. (I wonder what that cost in 1919? A couple pence?) But to spend a guinea (a pound-and-a-shilling) for a ten minute jaunt in Lenden's little Avro seaplane would have represented a major portion of whatever they had in the bank.

Assuming, that is, that they weren't living from payday to payday. 

For someone like Moran, the business agent of a manor lord, who had his own automobile, and drove up to London regularly for a black tie dinner with his friends and business associates, the situation would, naturally, be different.

As for the numbers I mentioned earlier, I can't help wondering how they might compare to a cheap flight from England to some sunny holiday spot today. Of course, cheap flights to sunny holiday spots didn't exist in 1919, so you have to take that into consideration too. A ten minute jaunt in Lenden's Avro might represent, for most tourists of that period, their one and only chance to ever fly in an airplane!

In any case, one guinea, or thirty shillings, was hardly an insignificant sum. A successful business operates on repeat customers, and that's something Lenden and his pals couldn't generate. The first time they went to a seaside town, they would do okay. But if they tried to return a few months, or a year later, few people wanted to fly with them. So the people who would invest that sum on a novelty didn't want (or couldn't afford) a repeat experience. The people who hadn't flown with them the first time still wouldn't fly again. I guess they figured the money was better spent elsewhere. 

The English like their seaside towns. Even if the towns are quiet during the week, towns like Cromer bustle on weekends. In the summer, some seaside towns operate amusement park rides and attractions. The larger ones, such as Great Yarmouth, located south of Cromer, may well have them going year round. I wonder if Lenden and his friends could make such airplane rides pay now in these towns. I suspect the towns would not allow them, given modern safety restrictions. But if Lenden and his pals could offer such flights, one thing's for sure. A ten minute ride would cost you a lot more than a pound-and-a-half. 

Then again, if you were interested in listening to a short presentation on the joys of timeshare ownership...

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 26, 2018

Nevil Shute on the Value of the English Pound

A quiet day in Cromer, England

Nevil Shute's 1928 novel So Disdained (published as The Mysterious Aviator in the United States) introduces us to a former World War I pilot named Lenden. In the novel, he tells the narrator, Moran, of a seaside flying venture he and his fellow pilots ran. They traveled around England, and spent weekends in seaside tourist towns. They offered people there short ten minute rides in their Avro seaplane. For 1919, such an opportunity would be a radical change of pace for your average tourist. Aviation was in its infancy then, and the idea of affordable long distance travel aboard airplanes little more than a fantasy.

For Lenden and his partners, getting close enough to the beach to load and unload passengers at a seaside town like Cromer would mean battling those strong winds and ocean currents with the Avro's engine running. If the wooden beach walls were there a hundred years ago, Lenden and his pilot friends would have had to factor those barriers into their approach. All those difficulties limited their efficiency, and Lenden tells Moran that he and his partners never managed more than three flights per hour. 

As if the normal difficulties of running the business weren't enough, consider what happened when an accident occurred. Battling the strong winds and ocean currents, and getting a lightweight airplane onto and off the shingle beach, meant regularly breaking one of the plane's floats, which shut down operations until they could buy and fit a new one. And it wasn't like airplane parts were readily available back then. While I'm sure Lenden and his associates would keep a certain amount of spares on hand, each time something broke, it took time to be fixed, which prevented customers from flying during that time. And then, another replacement part would need to be sent for.

After awhile, Lenden and his pals found that charging a guinea (one pound and one shilling) per person wasn't enough to recoup their costs, they upped the charge to thirty shillings (one-and-a-half pounds). Still, the work wasn't regular enough for them to make the business a going concern.

Nevil Shute worked as an engineer and a designer in the aviation industry. I'm assuming Shute knew the realities of such tourist airplane operations back then, and built those into Lenden's backstory. So I'm treating the fictional Lenden's description of the physical and financial plight of a seaside holiday plane operator as realistic. I'm assuming Lenden and his fellows charged a fair price, one that most holiday-makers could pay. Still, it wasn't enough to make their little airplane business a success.

I wonder what a guinea, or thirty shillings, was really worth back then. It certainly was worth more than a pound or one pound-fifty today. Then again, you can get a lot for a pound at a grocery store like Tesco's or Morrison's. For example, you could get a pack of chocolate digestive biscuits for a pound. Or you could get a roll of Jammie Dodgers for a pound. You could probably even get two Scotch Eggs for a pound--they make a great alternative to sandwiches! So even though I'm only an occasional visitor to England, I'd say the British pound still retains a good amount of purchasing power, in my opinion. 

And then of course, there are always even more affordable stores like Poundland, where everything they stock is for a pound. Don't even get me started on everything I could buy there!

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 19, 2018

Nevil Shute on Fun at the Seaside

Nevil Shute's 1928 novel So Disdained (published as The Mysterious Aviator in the United States), gives us a view of life in England after World War I. On a rainy night, Moran is driving his Morris automobile down an isolated country road when he spies a solitary figure trudging along. He invites him into his car, and as it is late, takes him back to his cottage rented to him by the local lord of the manor. Moran discovers the man is a fellow Royal Air Force pilot he flew with during WWI. While Moran left flying to act as a business agent for the lord of the manor, this other man, Lenden, has been flying for a living since the war. 

Lenden has had an up-and-down career since WWI, as aviation was in its infancy in that era. At times he's worked as a mail carrier, or did survey missions in other countries. But each time, the venture hit trouble, and what seemed like a sure thing faltered. This forced him to send his wife away to live with her family, and sent him searching for another flying job that offered enough security for him to afford an apartment or a home in which they could comfortably live. But whatever he tried, it only worked well for a time, and soon he had to send her back to her family again, while he...

One of the jobs Lenden enjoyed, but could never make pay, was giving holiday makers short flights. He and his partners, all former RAF pilots, would travel to seaside towns all over England, such as Brighton or Cromer, and charge money for a ten minute flight. As he recounts to Moran, one of Lenden's first ventures started immediately after WWI, in 1919. He and his partners bought an Avro seaplane and used it to take tourists for a quick ten minute flight. The flight itself wasn't the problem, it was getting on- and offshore. The process of landing on the water, getting ashore, loading and unloading passengers, just too too much time to make the venture profitable. 

Having spent a week in and around Cromer last year, I can understand some of the trouble Lenden might encounter. One of the town's claims to fame is a Life Boat Museum. The building is packed with photos, memorabilia, and even an old ship. There visitors learn how their local version of a Coast Guard has saved the lives of countless unfortunates who got into trouble at sea. 

Inside the Cromer Lifeboat Museum

On our first day in Cromer, we found a bench by the sea and sat down to eat our lunch. Even though it was sunny, we needed a jacket to ward off the cool breeze. I had to set my can of soda between my legs, or it would blow over. I had to cradle my arm around what little food I had on my lap, and place our backpacks and other items nearby, to keep the wind from blowing away our food. Still, an unexpected gust of wind was liable to blow away a small item of food, or send my napkins fluttering off.

Even though it was a summer month, when tourists could pack the town on a weekend, it was always windy there. Wooden walls act as dividers lining the beach, to combat beach erosion from strong tides. Tractors lined the beach, awaiting the need to tow a boat over the hard shingle, to either launch it into the water, or reclaim the vessel from the breaking surf. 

It's hard to imagine navigating a small seaplane on and off such a windswept beach. It's even harder to imagine a small seaplane parked on the beach. I imagine, unless it was tied down securely, it would blow over or away. Given the construction methods and materials of such small planes one hundred years ago, storm winds might well have ripped apart the best secured airplanes.

Then again, given modern safety restrictions, and society's readiness to serve a lawsuit against anyone for any perceived wrong, I wonder if such seaside tourist flights could even be offered today. If they were, I wonder if they'd be any more profitable than Lenden's.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Rise of Buck Rogers and Norman Clegg

Holmfirth, England 2012

I've resisted updating the statistics on My Ten Most Popular Posts page. It's always nice to be able to look back, and see how things have changed. But it's been six months since I updated them last, and I thought the list should reflect current reader interest. 

On the side of stability, the top six posts remain unchanged in position. This means they all remain relevant, despite having been written four to six years ago. The two posts on author Steven Brust were early favorites, but garnered most of their interest around the time they were written. Other posts have since assailed their once indomitable positions. Perhaps interest in them will renew at some point, for Steven Brust continues to write novels in his popular Vlad Taltos series. Additionally, it's good to see he's stretching by writing original books, and collaborating with other writers. 

Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg and Jean And Lionel's House in "As Time Goes By" remain popular, due in no small part to how the characters became alive to us in their TV series. It makes sense that we would want to know where they lived, look around the neighborhood, and for a brief moment at least, inhabit their world. Likewise, James Herriot Trivia II informs us not only about the life and places where the popular veterinarian lived and worked, and how significant members of the cast and crew brought his stories and characters to life. It's always nice to learn of similarities between Herriot's world, and the director and actors' lives.

The sole hold out from the comics' genre is Pride And Prejudice And Pictures, which suggests that, while Stan Lee and his Marvel-ous characters will continue to entertain people, the immortal Jane Austen contributed more to literature than hundreds of superhero stories ever could. I'm not sure if I agree with this conclusion. It must be argued that, since I set up my blog on Valiant Comic's character X-O Manowar, I've written no new comics-related posts, so I'm not exactly driving superhero readers to The Dragon's Cache. Still, it's worth noting that many of the classic superhero writers were inspired in their youth by classic literature written by authors like Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and of course, Jane Austen. 

A Harrod's Bell & Jingle Shells, along with The Sacred Retreat: Part 1, were two reflections on life that found an unexpectedly wide audience. Along with the posts on Stan Lee and She-Hulk (or, more accurately, Spider-Man), they've been superseded by 2017 posts on Buck Rogers and Norman Clegg. Perhaps this is because all of us see a little of ourselves in the two kind-hearted heroes. 

In their own way, Buck Rogers and Norman Clegg represent the Everyman. (Or, if you prefer, Every Person). I may lack the training and experience to be a NASA astronaut, but I can imagine how much of a fish-out-of-water I would be if I were suddenly transported five hundred years into the future. Likewise, if I were transported to a secluded rural village, I can imagine wanting to retain my independence, while at the same time recognizing the importance of forging strong friendships. I can imagine wanting to protect Earth against dangers only I, with my unique twenty-first century insights, could see. Likewise, I can imagine wanting to spend as much time as I could amid strolling around the countryside, and soaking in the beauty of England's largely undeveloped Peak District. 

Concern and sacrifice for others. The need for independence. Striving for friends, and for what we feel is right (even when beset by strong-willed women). A love for the world around us, even if we feel it has lost its way. That's the power of Buck Rogers and Norman Clegg.

Dragon Dave

P.S. For those of you who may never have read them, or would like one last look at my formerly popular posts, here they are. Perhaps you can spur them on to new heights of popularity...

  She-Hulk's Favorite Superhero
  A Harrods' Bell & Jingle Shells  
  The Sacred Retreat: Part 1
  Everyone Wants to See Stan Lee  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

2017 In Review Part 2

Last week, I listed all the novels I read in 2017 on the right. Here's the final post on those I felt compelled to tell you about.

Jeffrey Archer's house:
 the Old Vicarage, Grantchester 2017

Shall We Tell The President by Jeffrey Archer
A taut political thriller set in Washington DC, written by a former politician who worked at the highest levels of British government. I found it interesting how he knows so much about the workings of the American government and its law enforcement agencies. I visited the author's house in Cambridge last year. 

St. Edmundsbury Cathedral 2017

In Mary's Reign by Emma Orczy
A romance involving renowned Protestant-hater Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII, a young man at court, and two women who look startlingly similar. I visited Bury St. Edmunds this year. It was a rainy day, so we had little time to explore the town. So we spent it largely inside the cathedral. Had I read the novel before I visited the town, I might have ventured out to nearby St. Mary's Church, where she was buried.

Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond
The answer, in case you are wondering, is No. One can never get enough of Paddington Bear.

Five Hundred Years After by Steven Brust
I'm most familiar with Brust's stories about Vlad, the former assassin and underworld figure, who is on the run from his fantasy-world equivalent of organized crime. He drops lots of hints about how his world came to be, with it's mix of witchcraft and sorcery. This one leads up to a pivotal event in the world's history, and involves the ancestors of Vlad and his friends (and perhaps a few of his longer lived friends). 

The War in the Air by H.G. Wells
A bicycle repairman helps extricate a man and a woman from a downed air balloon on a windswept beach. Then the air balloon takes off again, and whisks him off to Germany. The army finds him, along with plans for a proposed airplane. He is brought on board a zeppelin, and transported across the ocean to the United States, where the fleet of German zeppelins devastate New York. A strangely prophetic novel, written three decades before World War II.

Big Ben 2011

The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards
While I'm a Doctor Who fan, I've never really liked the TV versions of the Ninth Doctor and his companion Rose. But I liked their characterization in this book, as they investigate attacks on people in early twentieth century London. The story featured displaced European aristocrats, who had to flee to England for their lives, much like Baroness Emma Orczy. And the climax occurs inside Big Ben, an English landmark I'd very much like to tour, but probably would never be allowed inside. 

The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle
Unlike his Sherlock Holmes adventures, this is a 14th Century historical novel based partly in Minstead, England. It's really a series of misadventures featuring a young man who grows up believing he will become a monk, but falls in love with a noblewoman, becomes a squire, and eventually a knight and a landowner. As it happens, Minstead sits roughly halfway between Brighton (which I visited in 2013), and Lyme Regis (which I visited in 2015). Arthur Conan Doyle must have liked the town, as he was buried there.

E. F. Benson's House in London 2013

The English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts
An adventure in 1930s England, featuring the 4th Doctor and favorite companions Romana and K-9. There's some interesting nods to the Mapp and Lucia series by E. F. Benson. It takes place near the Victoria and Albert museum, where E. F. Benson lived, and also out on an English beach, where a strange brick bathing hut serves as an entry portal to another dimension. 

Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne
A fond look back at childhood stories, and a reminder that an important and beloved novel can be whimsical and lighthearted.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Global warming has left many of the world's coastal cities underwater. Large swathes of New York City now stand in the intertidal zone. Skyscrapers have been fortified to withstand the conditions, and life goes on as usual, with intrigues, big business, and disasters. Homeless people live in boats on the water, scavenging to get by. Others who can't afford housing stay in tents atop the skyscrapers. The novel features a woman who travels around the world in a blimp, transplanting endangered animals to  regions where climate shift will allow them to survive. Another thread involves a search for buried treasure from a ship that sank off the coast during America's Revolutionary War. There are references aplenty to Herman Melville, including a lost story or novel which might also be recovered. But mostly it's a story about the centuries-old history of the city, and a thoughtful vision of its potential future.

A Mississippi River Boat in England?
Horning 2017

The Confidence Man by Herman Melville
The Canterbury Tales on a Mississippi River Boat. The theme is how much are you willing to trust, and believe in, your neighbor. Will you choose to believe in a good cause, based only upon a stranger's word? This is a tiresome read, and most of the time I was plodding through it. I don't recommend it. Nonetheless, it is one that challenged my outlook regarding the "good causes" people ask me to help, whether they be legally organized charities, or the scruffy, unwashed person on the street.

A Son of the People by Emma Orczy
A Hungarian Lord of the Manor tries to build a modern mill, using principles he's read about in England. But the local serfs are fearful that his advancements will leave them out of work, and they rebel by setting fire to the fields. While the rich lord is foreword-thinking, he's stupid about money, and ends up owing everything to a greedy Jewish moneylender. A peasant, who has worked hard and invested wisely, comes to his aid, and asks for his daughter's hand in return. This semi-autobiographical novel makes for an interesting study of life at the time in Europe, the interaction of the classes, racism, and the inevitable march of technological progress.

I'd be honored if any of my (eventual) published novels were to prove as noteworthy as the above listed titles.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2017 In Review Part 1

Last year I read some wonderful stories by some amazing authors. You can peruse the entire list off to the right. I'll touch on a few of the more meaningful journeys in this post.

The Highlanders by Gerry Davis
The novelization of a 1960s Doctor Who TV serial. It takes place in an era when the English fought the Scottish for who would be king of the United Kingdom. It's where the 2nd Doctor meets Jamie, a Scottish Highlander who is fighting the English Redcoats. As an American, it's a reminder of the time when the British and the colonies didn't agree who should rule part of Britain. The story aired on TV during the 1960s, when the British were in the process of disbanding their empire. It seems equally relevant today, given Britain's desire to abandon the European Union via Brexit, and with Scotland recently voting over whether or not to leave the U.K.

King Soloman's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
The Bible records the lavish extent to which Soloman built the Jewish temple. Other verses say that he built equally lavish temples for the gods of other lands, such as those his foreign wives worshipped. While Soloman is revered for building the first Jewish temple, the money he spent on it, and the labor he demanded of his people, led to the breakup of the Jewish kingdom. The novel's hero Allan Quartermain has become a cult hero, the subject of books, movies, and comics. Haggard wrote more novels about him, but this was his first: the search for the fabled diamond mines in Africa that Soloman used to fund his lavish building program. What I found most interesting are 1) how he kills so many animals for sport (or, in the case of elephants, for their ivory), and 2) how he convinces thousands of people to go to war in order to save the life of himself and his friends.

Cambridge 2017

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I discovered detective Jackson Brody via the TV adaptations. Atkinson's novel is very different from the TV versions. For one thing it's set in Cambridge, as opposed to the TV version, which is set in Scotland. Another interesting features involves the highly sexualized nature of Atkinson's story. There's nudists bathing in the River Cam, a woman who sells her soul (and body) to find her place in society, and another woman who decides to become a lesbian. The main plot involves the identity of a dead girl, with the culprit being a child molester. Even more startling is Jackson's fear that his young daughter will be corrupted by an increasingly sexualized society. This was a polished, literary work, as much a novel of character as a mystery. Agatha Christie it is not.

Lovejoy & Lady Jane Felsham punting on the River Cam

The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash
The first Lovejoy novel set in the English county of East Anglia, which itself is made up of the smaller counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. (This makes East Anglia a super county to live in, I guess. Ask Jonathan Gash--he lives there). The Lovejoy of the novels is very different from the TV version. He isn't afraid to use violence to get what he wants. He's also less averse to stealing, if he deems the situation warrants it. Yet the book focuses even more on antiques, and the peculiarities there of, than the TV show. The Judas Pair is a set of flintlock dueling pistols, and the novel covers the complexities of the guns in far greater detail. The story, likewise, is far more complex and layered. I'm not sure Lovejoy of the books could ever be called the James Bond of antiques, but it would be interesting to compare Gash's novels with Fleming's. Intriguingly, the TV version also has Lovejoy visiting Cambridge, and punting on the River Cam, which doesn't take place in the novel.

The beach in Aldeburgh, a popular seaside destination.
Suffolk 2017

In the Days of the Comet by H. G. Wells
Europe is poised on the brink of war. The coast of the English county of Suffolk is being bought up by property developers. English industry is run entirely by corporations and property developers. Then a comet passes through Earth's atmosphere without destroying the planet. The exchange of gases change how people regard their place in the world, and sets them on a path to treat others in a more equitable fashion. While the story is clearly idealistic and utopian, it does suggest that Wells foresaw the labor union movement. 

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E. Steele
Did I really read this novel last year? Hm. Can't remember anything about it. Sorry.

Hospital Station by James White
An entertaining novel about a Human medical doctor on a space station. He treats more aliens than humans, and each has biological, gravity, and atmospheric requirements that make coexistence difficult. A very entertaining precursor to S.L. Viehl's recent Stardoc series.

The Trouble with Tribbles by David Gerrold
The author tells how he sold his first story to television, from his original story proposal, to his pitch session, to story development, and finally to the filmed version of the beloved Star Trek episode. It covers his interaction with the Star Trek cast and production staff, from Leonard Nimoy to Gene Roddenberry. It's an inspiring book, when you consider that Gerrold sent the production team his story idea as an unpublished author. Through Star Trek, he went on to have a successful career in TV and as a literary author.  

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
A murder takes place during World War II in an English Manor. Something fans of "Downton Abbey" might enjoy.

Annie of Albert Mews by Dee Williams
This novel also takes place in WW2, in an area of London called Rotherhithe. Annie grows up in a conservative, nonreligious household. Her friend is less moral, becomes a nightclub singer, and inevitably pays the consequences for her actions. Annie's first love dies in the war. She joins the Salvation Army, much to her parents' chagrin. She is almost raped, she nearly dies amid the bombing, and eventually is evacuated to the countryside. An involving historical novel of how life changed in Britain during WW2. (Some Sherlock Holmes adventures take place in Rotherhithe. I'd be interested in visited the area some day).

The god Amun protects the Egyptian King Tarharqa.
The British Museum 2013.

The Gates of Kamt by Emma Orczy
Explorers discover a lost civilization of ancient Egyptians, untouched by the modern world. A fun romp by the author of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, written in the style of H. Rider Haggard.

More About Paddington by Michael Bond
One can't get enough of Paddington Bear, right?

Given an abundance of time, I'd write more about all the books I read last year, not just the ones I noted. I'll finish this list of last year's most notable books in my next post.

Dragon Dave

Monday, February 12, 2018

American Indians, Jewish Leaders, and Giant Sloths

Some places you visit, you wonder at the history of the land, and how it came to be that way. This is especially true at Joshua Tree National Park in California, USA. 

The rocks seem to be jumbled all together, with larger ones atop smaller ones. It's as if God played Jenga with boulders. Maybe he did. Or maybe these strange formations came about through the process of erosion. Imagine the wind and the rain eating away at the land over millions of years. 

Wait! That can't be true. The Earth is only four thousand years old, right? So it's got to be God making artistic creations with rocks. Yep. That's the explanation.

We know all good things come from God. But how many of us knew Jenga was 4,000 years old?

The scientists will tell you that giant sloths roamed this land ten thousand years ago or more. They ate the needles, fronds, and seeds of the Joshua trees. When they roamed around, they dropped their little droppings all over, which helped the propagation of the trees. 

Personally, I think the idea of the giant sloths are cool, even if animals are extinct. But obviously, the so-called giant sloth skeletons we see in museums are little more than fanciful creations. The animals are no more than a myth created by scientists. Remember, the Bible says our world is only 4,000 years old. 

Most likely the Joshua trees were always there since the creation of the world. Either that, or the American Indians who lived here hundreds of years ago planted the trees. After all, they had a practical use for them. They used the fronds and needles to weave baskets and other household items. 

American Indians versus giant sloths. I mean, really: what are you going to believe in?

I'm not a Mormon, so I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is they see themselves as one of the lost Jewish tribes. Or the inheritors of the promises God made to Abraham, all those years ago. Either way, when Mormon pioneers rolled across this land in their covered wagons hundreds of years ago, they saw these strange trees raising their arms to heaven. The sight made them think of Joshua, the ancient Jewish leader, who unlike Moses, actually led his people into the Promised Land. 

Personally, I'm not sure I'd want to settle here, and try to make a go at life in the desert. It hardly seems to be flowing with milk and honey. But everyone is different, and gets inspired by different things. For example, some people get inspired by these jumbled-up piles of boulders and want to climb them. Some people see these weird trees and imagine Biblical figures, or mythical giant sloths. 

I'm not completely sure what I believe in these days. Nor am I always certain what inspires me. But I know one thing. There's no way I'm sitting down at a picnic bench and eating my lunch with a whacking great boulder hanging over my head. That, my friends, is the absolute, unquestionable truth.

Dragon Dave