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T. D. Welsh (Basingstoke, Hampshire UK)

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Team Yankee
Team Yankee
by Harold Coyle
Edition: Paperback

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly told tank battle scenario from World War III, 24 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Team Yankee (Paperback)
If you are not a lover of war stories, this is one to avoid. If, on the other hand, you are fascinated by the intricate details of tanks, guns and missiles, helicopters, combined-arms strategy and everything to do with modern armoured warfare - grab it! Like Tom Clancy's brilliant "Red Storm Rising" and Ralph Peters' equally good "Red Army", this book describes a fictional Soviet assault on Western Europe some time in the 1990s. It differs from them in focussing tightly on a single tank unit - the Team Yankee of the title. From the defensive positions in which they weather the frightful onslaught of Warsaw Pact armies, to their breakout into the fast mobile warfare for which they were designed, we follow the men of Team Yankee and their M1 Abrams main battle tanks through thick and thin.
Harold Coyle's debut novel reveals him to be fully conversant with all aspects of the US and Soviet armies, with a detailed grasp of the technology, the fog of war and the ways of men in battle. Within the rather narrow set of circumstances within which the action is played out, he keeps the tension high and makes it hard to put the book down, even for a moment. About the only criticism that comes to mind is that the US forces, while not having it all their own way, do seem to keep the upper hand rather consistently. Highly recommended.


This Immortal (Gollancz SF collectors' editions)
This Immortal (Gollancz SF collectors' editions)
by Roger Zelazny
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Zelazny's slighter novels - but still unmissable, 26 April 2014
Conrad Nomikos, the protagonist of "This Immortal", is Commissioner of the Earthoffice Department of Arts, Monuments, and Archives - which effectively makes him supreme on what remains of the planet after a nuclear war has wrecked it. Most of the human race has fled across space to the planets of the Vegan empire, where they risk being gradually assimilated and reduced to little more than amusing pets. Long ago, a violent movement led by the legendary Konstantin Karaghiosis fought bitterly to prevent the Vegans taking over the ruins of Earth, and to induce the exiles to return home. Of course, Conrad can't possibly be Karaghiosis himself - he died long ago - but why does the hardened Arab killer Hasan insist on calling him "Karagee"? (The novel was originally entitled "...And Call Me Conrad", Zelazny's own choice). As well as possibly being arbitrarily old, with a long trail of previous identities behind him, Conrad is very big, immensely strong, and telepathic in a limited but sometimes useful way. He has accepted the mission of keeping a key Vegan VIP, Cort Myshtigo, alive during his visit to Earth - but should he kill Myshtigo instead of protecting him? There certainly is plenty to protect him against, including but not limited to boadiles, Kouretes, the Dead Man, and the Black Beast.

The sheer imaginative power and range of "This Immortal" are amazing. It's easy to be deceived by the apparent simplicity, even the deliberately contrived naivety in places, of Roger Zelazny's prose. Under the surface, though, everything is meticulously worked out; which is why everyone remarks on how good it feels to read. Reading a Zelazny novel is somehow like spending a long evening in enjoyable conversation, in the most attractive surroundings, with a good friend. When it's over, you feel a pang of deprivation; fortunately, he left us plenty of novels and short stories.

"This Immortal" was written at the beginning of Zelazny's 30-year long career, and it shows. Mind you, it closely followed the short story "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", and only narrowly preceded "The Dream Master", "Lord of Light", and "Creatures of Light and Darkness", all of which are among Zelazny's very best accomplishments. You have to bear in mind that average Zelazny is equivalent to the top one percent (or better) of science fiction.


Flare
Flare
by Roger Zelazny
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense, absorbing hard SF, 26 April 2014
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This review is from: Flare (Paperback)
It's the year 2081, and humanity has colonized most of the Solar System. Populations have surged repeatedly, and elaborate administrative systems have evolved to keep everything running smoothly - from catching 7.5 billion cubic metres of methane falling inwards from Titan and firing heavy loads into space with a linear accelerator to showing tourists around the Moon and maintaining retirement homes in low-earth orbit. Everywhere and always, the main drivers are financial, and the accountants are thus in control. So, when there have been no sunspot cycles, with their associated flares, for the best part of a century, the accountants decree that no precautions need be taken against that particular risk. Meanwhile inside the Sun, however, plasma physics is working in ways that science does not yet understand - one day, soon, there will be a truly immense flare. And what will happen then to the billions of human beings whose lives depend on the smooth operation of intricate electronic and telecommunication networks?

This collaborative novel appeared only three years before Roger Zelazny's death, so it is logical to assume that a lot of the writing and plot detail was done by Thomas T Thomas. The overall idea sounds like Zelazny's, as do some characteristic touches such as the periodic (and very apposite) quotations from the Pharaoh Ikhnaton's "Hymn to the Sun". It must be said that the book shows no obvious signs of having been written by two very different authors, except for what some readers may consider its somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. That, too, shows the Zelazny touch - perhaps suffering only from a lack of detailed working out. All in all, this is hardly a masterpiece - but it is a thoroughly satisfying piece of hard science fiction. Hence the four stars.


Unicorn Variations
Unicorn Variations
by Roger Zelazny
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating collection of short SF and fantasy stories, 8 April 2014
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This review is from: Unicorn Variations (Hardcover)
First published in 1983, this collection includes 21 of Roger Zelazny's short stories written between 1964 and 1982. That still leaves quite a long period uncovered, between 1983 and Zelazny's death in 1995. By 1983, however, most of his best work had been done, including the major novels and the first five Amber books (the five later novels about Merlin were yet to come). Named for the first story, "Unicorn Variation", the book runs to 252 pages, so the average story is a little over 10 pages. Although I am a keen Zelazny fan, the only story that I remembered having read before was the Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella "Home Is The Hangman". The others are fairly typical of Zelazny's astonishingly wide range, from the two-page "mood piece" "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" (1964) to the much more substantial "Dismal Light" (1968), written as a piece of deep background for "Isle Of The Dead" (1969), and "Home Is The Hangman" (1975). My personal favourite (although it's very hard to make such a choice) might be "The Horses Of Lir" (1981), which offers a deeply touching, as well as completely original and unprecedented, explanation of the Loch Ness Monster.

As a marvellous bonus, each story has a short introduction by Zelazny, explaining how he came to write it, what went through his mind in the process, and sometimes who else contributed ideas. The background of "Unicorn Variation" is typically whimsical. At various times, Zelazny was asked to consider writing a story about a unicorn, a story about chess, and a story set in a bar. While enjoying a drink and a chat with George R R Martin (of A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones fame), he was amused when Martin suggested combining the three topics. '"Why don't you," he said, "write a story involving a unicorn and a chess game, set it in a barroom and sell it to everybody?" We chuckled and sipped'. And then Zelazny went and did exactly that!

Any Roger Zelazny fan is bound to love this collection. And if you haven't met Zelazny yet, come on in - the water is lovely!


A Brief History of the Samurai (Brief Histories)
A Brief History of the Samurai (Brief Histories)
by Jonathan Clements
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and vivid overview, 1 April 2014
Jonathan Clements has done a fine job of packing a fairly complete history of the samurai into 318 pages (plus a 27-page introduction). The last 35 pages contain a surprisingly detailed list of further reading, notes on the chapters, and a fairly basic index. This may seem like rather a bulky book at first glance, until you realize that it gives you an overview of Japanese history from 645 to the present day! That's about 4 years to the page, which is pretty brisk. That's mainly because Mr Clements sticks to the role of the samurai, keeping a tight rein on any digression - so, if you are looking for a more complete history of Japan, you will naturally need to dip into the recommended further reading. What you do get includes at least three things: a rounded description of samurai culture and values, an easy-to-follow historical timeline so you know who did what and when, and last but not least a great deal of interesting story telling. There are also two maps (a big geographic one, and a smaller one showing the homes of the various clans), and a three-page set of family trees showing imperial and shogunate dynasties.


Panasonic SC-PM200EB-S 20W Micro System
Panasonic SC-PM200EB-S 20W Micro System

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good basic system with some weaknesses, 1 April 2014
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I agree with previous reviewers that this is a nice little compact sound system, with good audio quality (especially considering its small speakers). At this price level, however, there are a few features that I miss badly. It is perhaps not surprising that there is no CD changer, so you can play only one CD at a time. But the display is not very bright, and what visibility it has drops off very rapidly if your eyes are not exactly at the same height as the display. Infuriatingly, while playing a CD it shows only "CD" and the elapsed time within the current track - but not which track it is. You can find out this important information by pushing the "Sound Menu" button on the remote two or three times; but then it resets to showing "CD" at the end of each track! This is the sort of design decision that's impossible to understand: I do know when I am playing a CD, but I often very much want to see at a glance which track is being played. So why on earth show "CD" instead of the track number?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2014 8:24 PM BST


A Night in the Lonesome October
A Night in the Lonesome October
by Roger Zelazny
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight, fantastic, oddball... but it's Zelazny!!!, 14 Mar. 2014
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Think of all the criticisms you could level at a book like this. It runs to 280 small pages of fairly large type; so it's not very long. Any brief description makes it sound like a bunch of fantastic tripe thrown together in a fever dream or under the influence of some drug. Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, the Wolfman, Holmes (in drag) and Watson, a druid, a crazed satanic vicar... come ON! Then add the finishing touch: the narrator is Jack's DOG, Snuff (a little in-joke there). How can such a book be even readable? Well, the special ingredient I haven't mentioned yet makes all the difference, turning lead to gold as it were: ROGER ZELAZNY! I don't know quite what is the secret of his elusive, cultured charm; all I know is that I could go on soaking up the experiences and thoughts of his protagonists indefinitely, or as long as they last. Noticing that I hadn't yet read this book, I hastened to snap up a copy. When it was delivered, I gazed at the cover with its illustration by James Warhola, depicting most of the main characters in full glowing colour, and wondered if this was going to be a big disappointment. Then I glanced inside... the best part of a day later, I reluctantly closed the book and heaved a big sigh. I felt like an addict who has just enjoyed his last dram, drag or fix. Don't concern yourself about the weird setting or the chaotic dramatis personae. If you liked the Amber and Chaos books, you'll love "A Night In The Lonesome October".


The Things that Nobody Knows: 501 Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything
The Things that Nobody Knows: 501 Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything
by William Hartston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something (quite a lot, actually) for everyone, 27 Feb. 2014
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For goodness' sake don't read this book if you fancy yourself as an encyclopaedic expert or repository of general knowledge! Within a dozen pages you will be grinding your teeth in fury, wondering how William Hartston can know so much about so many things - and make sensible suggestions about them too. If, on the other hand, you are open-minded, interested in most things, and keen to learn... you will simply love this book! As other reviewers have rightly noted, all the 500 topics are things that nobody knows at all; yet they are mostly fascinating, often amusing, and in some cases very important.

I know that, apart from having been an exceptionally strong chess master - who really deserved the grandmaster title - Hartston studied mathematics and psychology. He seems to have gone on to take a strong interest in practically everything, but this book contains quite a lot of good mathematics and science as well as history, music, geography, literature and many other subjects. The first topic examined is "Aardvarks": a single page that tells you everything you really need to know about these engaging creatures, including the fact that they may be closely related to the very first placental mammals. The last (well, the 499th to be strictly accurate) is "Zymology", the study of fermentation. In this connection the author poses the seemingly foolish question "Can Yeast Think?" (no jokes about specific living politicians, please) and reveals the amazing fact that, in some ways, apparently it can.

You may be inclined to think of this book as a lightweight way of passing the time - an amusing collection of facts and non-facts in the style of Beachcomber. While true, that would be to underestimate its value seriously. Whatever your interests - and the more diverse they are, the better - you will be sure to find many stimulating, tantalizing ideas that you will want to follow up and find out more about. In that sense, "The Things That Nobody Knows" is a useful educational tool as well as an entertainment.


The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy
The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy
by John Kenneth Galbraith
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sardonic insider's view of US diplomacy in Latin America, 27 Feb. 2014
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John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the world's leading - and certainly most famous - economists for many decades. Although Canadian by birth, he also played several important roles in US politics. During WW2 he was in charge of keeping US prices down in spite of the inflationary war production effort; then he helped plan the recovery of postwar Europe, before advising John F Kennedy and serving as US ambassador to India. A highly intelligent observer of the political scene, he maintained credibility at the highest levels in spite of his often amused contrarianism. In this novel, first published in 1968, Galbraith takes a sabbatical from economics and statesmanship to give a delightfully barbed insider's view of how American diplomacy is managed. Although his thoughts were drawn to Vietnam, where so much blood was being spilt - quite unnecessarily, from Galbraith's point of view - he chose to set "The Triumph" in a small, fictional Latin American country where it would be easier to bring out the latent humour of revolutionary turmoil. (With benefit of hindsight, I don't think the Latin American experience has been in any way less bloody and brutal than that of South-East Asia).

In "The Triumph", Galbraith tells the tale of how the dictator of Puerto Santos is overthrown essentially because everyone has become sick of him and his corrupt regime. He is replaced by an assortment of idealists, socialists and practical men hoping for a better future, supported (as so often) by the army. Because the old regime left the nation completely bankrupt, little can be accomplished without help from the USA - above all a loan and diplomatic recognition. Neither of these is forthcoming, however, because the responsible Assistant Secretary of State is worried about creeping Communism. We see, with growing incredulity and horror, how the rising shoots of freedom and decency are crushed back into the ground, and how even the US President is powerless to reverse decisions made - and, critically, announced to the media - by one of his underlings. Although they fail to recognise the fact, the ultimate outcome is almost exactly the opposite of what they were trying to achieve.

This is a book that should be read for insight and understanding, and also for mild amusement. If you take it too seriously, it could raise your blood pressure dangerously. But as an explanation of how huge powerful bureaucracies work, and how counterproductive their workings can be, it is unbeatable.


Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action Korea, Spring, 1953
Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action Korea, Spring, 1953
by S. L. A. Marshall
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsparingly truthful realistic account of trench warfare, 17 Feb. 2014
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Two years after the famous Battle of the Imjin River (where the British and Belgian 29th Infantry Brigade, including the "Glorious Glosters", so distinguished themselves) the communist Chinese made several energetic attacks during the early days of the negotiations which eventually led to an armistice. In this book S.L.A. Marshall, an experienced journalist who had previously been a military officer during WW2, gives an extremely detailed blow-by-blow account of the fierce fighting around Pork Chop Hill. Marshall pulls no punches, passing on the exact and unexpurgated story of the fighting as he heard it from interviews with scores of soldiers immediately after they had been in action. There is no better way of getting to understand the exact nature of the trench warfare, punctuated by sudden fierce raids and offensives, that characterized the final deadlocked period of the Korean War.

In his Preface, Marshall explains how he was asked by the military high command to talk to the soldiers and officers who had been involved in fighting the Chinese, in order to establish what was being done right and what was going wrong. His introductory remarks are upbeat, praising the fighting spirit and initiative of the young American soldiers whom he met. However a thorough reading of the book itself reveals that there was immense scope for improvement. Perhaps the worst problem Marshall confirmed was the short time each US soldier spent on the front line, compared to their Chinese enemies. Due to the system of rotation, troops went back to the USA just as they were beginning to get the hang of what they were doing. The Chinese, however, had been fighting for over two years non-stop, and as Marshall points out they got steadily more experienced and cunning. From start to finish we read about incompetent and inconsistent commanders, green troops who panic when (or indeed before) the fighting begins, and a general failure to make the best use of the superior American weapons, equipment, communications, and fire support. In stark contrast, the Chinese are shown to have adapted quickly and made the most of their superior numbers, clever tactics, and - although this is rarely mentioned - great bravery. Time after time, they infiltrated the American lines without being detected, and occasionally they pulled off a set piece such as the cold-blooded execution of an entire US patrol who were all shot at the same moment without warning. One is strongly reminded of the age-old Chinese military tradition of clever strategy, as laid down (for example) in Sun Tzu's famous "The Art of War".

Only one UN outfit is depicted as being clearly superior to the Chinese, outclassing them at their own game of stealth and deception - the single Ethiopian battalion in Korea. As Marshall declares, the Ethiopians were alone among the UN forces in never having any of their men taken prisoner, and never even leaving a dead or wounded soldier on the battle field. On several occasions they melted into the Chinese lines and danced around them in the night or fog, out-manoeuvring and decisively defeating the enemy whom they met. Yet most of the Ethiopians were illiterate, and none of them had fought in a war before.

This suggests one of the big problems the Americans had: too much sophisticated equipment, and not nearly enough experience. During one attack, we hear how the sergeant in command of an outpost never had time to tell the soldiers defending the same trench and command post that they were about to be attacked. He was too busy on his field telephone, talking to senior officers and outposts. Often, soldiers milled around in confusion unless given direct, specific orders - and sometimes even then. There seems to have been little outright cowardice, and many men demonstrated remarkable courage and endurance. But one cannot read this book without getting a penetrating insight into the sheer confusion and disorder of modern warfare.


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