Profile for Brian Flange > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Brian Flange
Top Reviewer Ranking: 14,333
Helpful Votes: 733

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Brian Flange "qflestrin" (Penge.)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
pixel
Quartered Safe Out Here
Quartered Safe Out Here
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As close as you or I are ever likely to get, 4 July 2010
Where WW1 yielded the greatest war poetry ever written, WW2 yielded great memoirs, and 'Quartered Safe Out Here' can hold its head up with the very best of those memoirs. This book probably does as much as any book possibly can to bring home to the modern reader what it might have been like to fight in the jungle campaigns of WW2.
Mainly, the book describes George MacDonald Fraser's experiences in Burma 1944/5 and offers some of the best descriptions of training, combat and camaraderie I have ever seen. Fraser also pays tribute to the military genius of General Slim, while offering vivid glimpses of the mind-sets of his comrades and several (often unsettling) thoughts about war in general and WW2 in particular. Be warned though: some of the attitudes that Fraser describes (although without endorsing them) might startle the modern reader.
This next risks spoiling what may be one of the book's main surprises, but Fraser offers an unusual sidelight on the vexed ethics of the atomic raids on Japan. Fraser says that had the men in his unit been able to choose the course they would follow, they would almost certainly have chosen to carry on fighting Japan with conventional means, even at great cost to themselves, rather than be brought home early by raids like those on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whether you agree with Fraser's conclusions or not, they offer a bracing reminder that the decision to drop the atomic bomb rested with politicians and military 'top brass' , and not with private soldiers and NCO's.
'Quartered Safe Out Here' drew praise from historians of the Burma Campaign and at its frequent best is as vivid, poignant and funny as anything in Spike Milligan's war memoirs.


Certain Personal Matters
Certain Personal Matters
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.64

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the lighter side of Wells (mostly), 9 Jun 2010
H. G. Wells didn't write many books like this 1897 volume - in fact, books of light essays only came from Wells' pen twice, including this volume and its 1895 predecessor 'Select Conversations With An Uncle (Now Extinct)'. In these books, Wells writes for the most part lightly and humorously about life in general, hobbies, wives, writing and well-observed characters. On the whole, these two books find Wells sounding rather like the Jerome K. Jerome of 'Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow', and the best essays in here ('The Veteran Cricketer' or 'The Mode in Monuments' for two) stand the Jerome comparison well. But then there's the occasional note of a less light-hearted Wells - more Wells the scientific prophet and moulder of Apocalypses. In particular, see the essay 'The Extinction of Man', where Wells speculates on our long-term prospects as a species and outlines some reasons for thinking we might evolve into something not a million miles away from the Martians he went on to depict unforgettably in 'The War of the Worlds'.
This edition is print-on-demand and a good sample of its kind, giving a fair facsimile text with the original pictures. Recommended for the Wells enthusiast - entertaining and thought-provoking throughout.


Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics)
Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.60

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bend those genres, Mr. Wells, 9 Jun 2010
Critics like to categorise Wells' novels under neat headings like 'Social Comedy', 'Problem Novel' or 'Scientific Romance'. Wells himself often didn't give a hoot for such distinctions and 'Tono-Bungay' sees him trample splendidly all over the neat genre-boundaries critics love, since it's got social comedy, financial problems and even a smattering of science fiction in the mix too.
'Tono-Bungay' is notionally the autobiography of George Ponderevo, who describes a very Wellsian ascent from son of belowstairs servants to financial mastermind (and weapons-monger). The first part of the book, where George describes his early life as servant's child at Bladesover House, is one of Wells' best sustained pieces of writing and an unforgettable picture of England in his day.
George largely grows up under the erratically brilliant care of his Uncle Edward, inventor of the patent medicine that seals their fortunes and gives the book its title. Buoyed up by Uncle Edward's quackery, George rises to such heights that he can fund his own flying-machines and destroyers. (En route, he tries to corner the world market in a curious substance called 'quap', which seems to be radioactive, and which Wells uses as a symbol of some deep disorder in the physical world itself.)
Although notionally George's autobiography, 'Tono-Bungay' has its real centre in the irrepressible Uncle Edward, and the story flags a bit when he isn't on stage. 'Tono-Bungay' fizzes with ideas and situations but yields a deep feeling of sadness for its central character - who never quite translates all his plans into happiness or love. The range of genres Wells attempts is really impressive but also means the book doesn't always quite gel - sometimes Wells sticks his head out from behind the mask of Ponderevo and starts badgering the reader about the State of Things in his own person. (You suspect Mr. Wells and Mr. Ponderevo the younger shared not just a meteoric rise from obscurity but also similar romantic and social frustrations.) With that said, 'Tono-Bungay' is one of Wells' finest novels.
This edition, like all Penguin's recent Wells reprints, comes with a helpful introduction (in this case by Edward Mendelson) and notes.


The World Set Free
The World Set Free
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.17

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From the Bomb to the new order, 9 Jun 2010
This review is from: The World Set Free (Paperback)
Wells still bears a reputation as a prophet and this book sees him score a few remarkable bull's-eyes with a depiction of atomic warfare first published in 1914. Wells coined the phrase 'atomic bomb' in this book, and nuclear pioneers like Fermi read Wells and feared that what he imagined would come true. And of course it did - more or less. The atomic bomb Wells imagined isn't quite like the reality but it involves explosions of ferocious energy that render their target-sites uninhabitable for months or years afterwards. Wells got his atomic chemistry (as it was then called) from Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, and his extrapolations were pretty much scientifically sound at the time.
'The World Set Free' Part One describes the discovery of a new power-source based on atomic disintegration and the ushering-in of a seemingly boundless new age of cheap energy and prosperity. Unfortunately the new energy-source can be adapted to yield bombs and a catastrophic war follows. Part Two describes the world rebuilt after the war. Part One is a late flowering of the apocalyptic Wells of 'The War of the Worlds' or 'The War in the Air', and still makes fairly good reading. Alas, Part Two is another of Wells' thinly-disguised pamphlets about the need for a scientifically-organised World State. Too much of Part Two is devoted to technocrats explaining how they took over the management of the world from the misguided masses. (Subsequent history has made us a bit less enthusiastic about technical elites telling us what to do ...) So alas, one of Wells' most successful bits of scientific prophecy is joined to one of his more didactic rants.
Karel Capek's novel 'The Absolute At Large' made a similarly striking prophecy of the atomic age but embedded it in much better fiction.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2010 4:50 PM BST


The Island of Dr Moreau (Penguin Classics)
The Island of Dr Moreau (Penguin Classics)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The aimless torture in creation ...", 8 Jun 2010
I wish some of Wells' books had never been filmed and this is the chief of them - a dazzling grim satire on Victorian complacency about the beast within. The story is straightforward - Edward Prendick, Victorian gentleman-at-large, is rescued from shipwreck and taken to an island where animals are painfully rendered into the shapes of human beings by one of English literature's few genuinely mad scientists. Inevitably, the remade animals are pitiful things, neither fully beast nor fully human, and gradually their resentment of their "maker" builds.
Contrary to popular belief, Doctor Moreau is not a genetic engineer - instead, he's a refugee vivisectionist who creates parodies of people using a mixture of pain, surgery and conditioning. In one of those horrible cases where Wells inadvertently made a successful prophecy when he would have been luckier to have been wrong, Moreau seems a dreadful emblem of the worst of the 20th century - an utterly amoral experimentalist one part Mengele to one part Pavlov.
Amongst the details that make the book unforgettable is the clinical spirit in which Moreau explains and 'justifies' his experiments to Prendick - making Moreau a satire on Victorian ideas of evolution as a pro-human force that steadily (if slowly) makes the better out of the worse. Having learned his Darwin from no less a Darwinian than Thomas Huxley, Wells knew better than to equate evolution with progress, and saw more clearly than many of his contemporaries that evolution has no especial care for humanity as such but will reshape any form that comes along. Wells called the book "an exercise in youthful blasphemy" and said it was written in one of his moods when "the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace". Just as in Swift, the strange island reflects the greater world in miniature. While Prendick escapes from the island physically, its taint stays with him and the closing description of his living exiled from humanity, even while in its midst, offers a horribly convincing picture of depression and alienation.
This Penguin edition has a useful introduction from the great Margaret Atwood, herself no stranger to well-wrought scientific nightmares.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2010 8:29 PM BST


A Train of Powder
A Train of Powder
by Rebecca West
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reckoning up the hell they made, 8 Jun 2010
This review is from: A Train of Powder (Paperback)
'A Train of Powder' began with a commission to Rebecca West from 'The Daily Telegraph' to cover the Nuremburg trials in 1946 and is truly a book which demands to be read - not least in conjunction with Dame Rebecca's ground-breaking dissection of Left- and Right-wing traitors in 'The Meaning of Treason'.
The three main chapters of this book cover not just the events of the Nuremburg trials but the arguments before (and during) about their scope and legitimacy. West argues forcefully and with a wealth of supporting detail that the Nuremburg Trials were a necessary reckoning, necessary not merely for the Nazis' victims or for the victorious Allies, but for Germany too. (Little fuel here for any revisionist bleats about the Nuremburg proceedings representing only 'victors' justice'.) Dame Rebecca's unfailing eye for detail leaves the reader with unforgettable pen-portraits that sum up brilliantly the mixture of horror, futility and self-serving bombast that still clung about the likes of Göring in their defeat. The sections on Nuremburg end with meditations on the then-ongoing occupation of Berlin and the hope that the city's Communist occupation too will pass in time. Beyond the Nuremburg chapters, this book also offers Dame Rebecca as crime reporter in less historically-charged circumstances - covering a macabre murder trial from Austerity Britain, a grotesque lynching in the Southern U. S. and a sadly farcical spy drama.
Only George Orwell at his very best came close to rivalling Rebecca West as the premier British political historian and commentator of the 20th century.


The Meaning Of Treason (Age of Dictators 1920-1945)
The Meaning Of Treason (Age of Dictators 1920-1945)
by Rebecca West
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.07

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spotting the Traitors' Gait, 8 Jun 2010
For all Dame Rebecca's astonishing breadth of interest and learning, she never did better work than can be found in this book and its companion volume 'A Train of Powder'. 'The Meaning of Treason' began as Rebecca West's 1945 reports for 'The New Yorker' on the trial of William Joyce, the former associate of Oswald Mosley's who defected to the Third Reich and became 'Lord Haw-Haw', a notorious propaganda broadcaster on behalf of the Nazis.
West saw Joyce as a frustrated revolutionary and, interestingly, her discussion does not stop with anatomising the mixture of spite, disturbance and maladjustment that drove pro-Nazi traitors like Joyce or John Amery - in painstaking, often distressing but always compelling detail, West also dissects the motivations and pathology of Left-leaning traitors like Klaus Fuchs (the "atom spy") and the whole Burgess-Maclean-Philby circus. (Although subsequent events have revealed the extent of the Burgess gang to be broader than was generally suspected when the book received its last additions on Anthony Blunt in 1981.)
Prophetically, while seeing the Nazis as a unique evil, West saw the Left- and Right-wing traitors she describes as being essentially of the same type, and clearly had no patience with either set of factions. At its level-headed best, this book is one of the few pieces of postwar British political writing that recalls Orwell on his trenchant top form. If Orwell had lived to see the Profumo affair, this is the book he might have written in response.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2010 1:41 PM BST


The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humanity at bay: the best of Wells' best, 8 Jun 2010
This review is from: The War of the Worlds (Paperback)
'The War of the Worlds' is the flower of Wells' most creative period, that astounding five-year stretch that began in 1895 with 'The Time Machine' and included his finest 'scientific romances'. The late 1890's Wells was the best of all possible Wells: Wells the story-teller, (not later Wells who kept going on about the World State).
'The War of the Worlds' is set in the then near future and describes Earth's subjugation by aggressive Martians armed with mechanical transport, energy weapons and poison gases. The narrative starts slowly, with astronomers puzzling at odd gas eruptions on the red planet, but swiftly moves to depicting humanity ground down by an enemy without scruples. Throughout, Wells juggles viewpoints and voices so the book reads like frontline reporting from the strangest of wars. (The scenes where terrified civilians flee London eerily anticipate the world wars Wells lived to experience and hugely influenced later SF.)
'The War of the Worlds' had specific morals for Wells' contemporaries, as Wells uses Martian invasion to bring home to his Victorian readers what wars of extermination might feel like for the victims. Wells' narrator compares Martian treatment of humans with British treatment of Tasmanian aborigines, and the Martians' Heat Ray and Black Smoke do duty for British use of Maxim guns and rockets in Africa. Although not just satirising Empire, Wells definitely wanted to dent rampant Imperial self-satisfaction in the wake of Queen Victoria's 1897 Diamond Jubilee
This Penguin edition comes with tons of editorial material about Wells in general and the making of the book in particular, but is especially recommended for Brian Aldiss' wry and helpful introduction. Check out too Wells' 1897 book of essays, 'Certain Personal Matters', wherein he speculates on evolutionary possibilities that reflect the fears behind 'The War of the Worlds'.


The Man Who Would Be King [DVD] [2010]
The Man Who Would Be King [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Sean Connery
Price: 4.95

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "D'ye forgive me, Peachey?": A Right Carry-On Up the Marwar Junction, 20 May 2010
I've had a steadfast if slightly guilty love of this film all my life. Adapted with some (significant but shrewd) changes from Rudyard Kipling's wonderful short story, 'The Man Who Would Be King' gives Sean Connery and Michael Caine probably the roles of their lives as Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan.
(Director John Huston spent so long planning this film he originally wanted Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart as the two rogues. So imprinted in my mind's eye are Connery's Dravot and Caine's Carnehan that it comes as a shock to go back to the story and find Kipling's Dravot has a bushy red beard and Carnehan a single line of thick black eyebrows.)
Anyway, our heroes are ne'er-do-well army cast-offs in Victorian India who set off to set themselves up as kings of an unexplored Afghan province for reasons of plunder. Against all odds (and probably plausibility too but let that pass), they duly succeed in becoming kings, only for Dravot to succumb to the temptation to be a king in earnest ...
Caine has said this is the only film he's done which will live after him. Now I reckon that for too harsh a self-assessment coming from the man who was the kingpin of 'Get Carter' and 'Zulu', not to mention more recent belters like 'The Quiet American', but this film is definitely one of Caine's best. Good support comes from Christopher Plummer as Kipling and Saeed Jaffrey as the lone Gurkha survivor of a lost expedition. Shakira (i.e. Mrs.) Caine also has a very striking (although silent) role as Dravot's wife-to-be. Forget anything you may have heard about Kipling being an unashamed enthusiast for Empire and try a fun, spectacular but also moving parable about adventure and kingship.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 17, 2010 7:25 PM BST


The Wolfman (2010) - Extended Cut [DVD]
The Wolfman (2010) - Extended Cut [DVD]
Dvd ~ Emily Blunt
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: 2.17

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hairy palms and (alas) heavy hands, 19 May 2010
My Dad saw the Lon Chaney Jr. 'Wolfman' when he was six and couldn't sleep properly for months afterwards. So I'm breaking the family curse in thinking the new 'Wolfman' is okay but needs some serious tweaks. I like werewolves (at least in fiction) and the man who gradually uncovers a taint in himself can be a classic theme. Hard to say why this one didn't quite do the business for me - Benicio Del Toro is great in any role I've ever seen him take on, and he does the whole "Alas touch me not for I am beset with a once-monthly furriness" bit with aplomb. His support is fine too - Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins as Love-Interest of the Beast and Papa of the Beast respectively do fine, although Hopkins seems a bit out-of-focus at points. As the investigating officer, Hugo Weaving staggers in from Whitechapel looking a bit like Wyatt Earp playing roadie to Lemmy Kilmister, (from 'Motörhead' my dears) but he does a fair avenging-lawman turn. I might have liked to see more from Antony Sher as the mad-doctor and Art Malik as the faithful Sikh retainer. The amount of gore is fairly well-judged too - startling when it needs to but not incessant. Something doesn't click though - we get a bit too much of the old stern father/wayward son/dead Mum/oh blimey backstory and the script and direction are clunky too. While the CGI and other effects are okay, the outcome of one Wolf-chap transformation looks more huffy gerbil than blood-spattered lycanthrope.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9