This third volume in the Pax Britannica series picks up the story following Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee on June 22 1897 and takes it forward to the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. Of course, it didn't immediately seem that the British Empire was in any sort of decline. Following World War I, the empire was larger than it had ever been with the additions of Iraq and Palestine and Arabia.
However, the carnage of the Great War (as it was then known) had sapped all the confidence from the English people and their conviction that they had the right to rule other people. Not all of them, as the ones living in the colonial possessions in India and Southeast Asia and Africa - but the conviction that powers an imperialism had gone away.
As always Jan Morris moves this wonderful history along with many personal observations from those who had actually been in India and Singapore and Port Siad. The sights, smells, prejudices, and actions of empire are beautifully documented. After World War II (or as this history calls it "the last great imperial war') the British subdivided India and skedaddled in 73 short days in 1947 leaving carnage behind as India's peoples killed each other with ferocity. And from then on they gave away their empire just as quickly as they could. Even Churchill couldn't stop the tide, and by the time of his death empire and colonialism were considered anachronistic.
This wonderful and compelling story is superbly narrated by Roy McMillan. His work on this trilogy has made me look for other things he has narrated simply because of his terrific work.
Brutha is a novitiate - the lowest of the low - in the citadel of the Great God Om. There are tens of thousands in the citadel and millions in the empire, but Brutha is also the only person in all these throngs who actually believes in Om. There are deacons, and preists, and bishops, and archbishops, and iams, and even the Cenobiarch - but when the God Om appears in physical form he can only find that he has one believer.
The fact that the Great God Om (Sign of the Holy Horns) appears as a one-eyed tortoise who is literally dropped into the citadel by an eagle is very confusing to everyone including Brutha. However, as Brutha is the only one who can hear Om, his internal dialogues with his god reflect against the actions of Om's supposed believers.
The conflict between belief and non-belief are highlighted in many humorous and interesting ways in this wonderful and fast-moving story. In many ways I believe this might be the best of the Discworld novels - Terry Pratchett at the height of his powers. It is certainly the most angry of the Discworld stories. There is something almost inevitable about English novelists and their hostility to organized religion and Christianity especially. But, Mr. Pratchett uses the substitution of Om worship to make his criticisms of religion still valid without completely alienating everyone.
This is one of the "must have" Discworld stories that should be in your library. And as always, Nigel Planer's narration is a perfect grace note which makes listening to this audiobook a wonderful experience
Night Watch is the Discworld story at its finest. Watch Commander His Grace the Duke of Ankh Sir Samuel Vimes is literally up a tower arresting a psychopathic murderer when he is shoved 30 years back in time. His adventures and experiences fill in a lot of the history of Ankh-Morpork and the effect Sam Vimes has had on the city.
This story is Terry Prachett at his story-telling best. The only distraction is the seriously poor quality of the audio. It isn't the narration itself - just the tinny sound throughout. I certainly hope this can be remastered so that it gives this great story the audio quality it deserves.
Set at Christmas time, this story shows Holmes as the master of observation and inference as well as setting himself above the law in letting a thief go free.
Watson comes to visit Holmes the day after Christmas and finds him with a big goose and a black bowler hat. Holmes delivers a masterful number of deductions and inferences from his observation of the hat - including the major one that the owner's wife "no longer loves him". The goose delivers up its own big blue surprise, and Holmes within a day lays his hands upon a jewel thief.
This is a very convincing tale of Holmes at the height of his detective powers. The only thing that doesn't ring true is Holmes's decision to allow the thief to go free in the end.
In this follow up to the masterpiece I, Claudius, we go through the subsequent history of Claudius as he was essentially appointed Emperor of Rome by the Praetorian Guards. Claudius is apparently the one person in Rome who didn't want to become Emperor. However, the political class in Rome had already been yoked to the loss of the Republic and no one actually had the guts to stand up and say no. The only message from the Senate was one asking him not to take the title until they had voted to give it to him.
Claudius had survived his murderous kin by always staying in the background and acting the idiot. However, he turned out to be a very conscientious and capable ruler. He completed two new aqueducts into the city of Rome and under his personal command the Island of Britain was actually brought into the Roman Empire. Although Julius Caesar had visited the place, Claudius conquered it and began the Romanization process which lasted for almost 400 years.
A lot of the story is how his wife Messalina plotted behind his back, slept with practically everyone in Rome, and eventually launched a comically absurd coup against him. Claudius eventually realized that if the Romans were to have their Republic back, they would need to be ruled by the completely incompetent. Thus he appointed his grand nephew Nero to be his successor, and once this was done his niece (who he had married) had him assassinated.
Robert Graves continues his masterful storytelling with this historical novel. Of course, this one seems a little smaller than I, Claudius because it focuses on the one person and his actions, but this is certainly a great addition to anyone's library.
Most people now know the basic premise behind the Laundry - the super secret British agency that was setup to fight the jibbering horrors that exist in another dimension. This episode finds Bob Howard sent on a mission to Colorado to supervise two field agents who are investigating a charismatic evangelical preacher who has suddenly become a friend of the British Prime Minister. Of course, the Christian preacher is really a worshiper of some alien diety and is putting mind-controlling bugs inside the bodes of his minions. After a rather straightforward mission Bob and his friends foil the evil one and end up isolating the preacher on another world with his possibly awakened deity.
As always with Charles Stross, lots and lots of denigration of Christianity and Americans. Just what kind of culture produces someone who would call a minister a "God botherer"?
Of interest to me, most of the action is set in Colorado. The village of Palmer Lake is where the evil Christians setup their compound, and I live 3 miles from there. Either Mr. Stross has actually visited Colorado, or his research is pretty accurate. There actually is a New Life church in Colorado Springs with associated World Prayer Center. Of course, they are not actually secret demon worshipers, their leaders are not trying to dominate the world, and they are simply living their lives according to their chosen faith, but its part of the setup for the whole Laundry series.
As for the story, it never really felt like Bob was ever in any real danger and the conclusion was obvious almost from the beginning. Let's hope that Mr. Stross goes back to concentrating on an exciting story and stops bashing his favorite strawmen in future stories in this series.
The one excellent part of this audio book is Gideon Emery's narration. It was outstanding and really kept me listening.
The demon dimensions exist. Scary things from your nightmares are real. And Bob Howard- a computer geek - works for the Laundry. An MI-6/MI-5 type agency with all the bureaucratic ISO nightmares, created to control the demons and other horrible things that no one else believes really exist.
In 1975, the CIA used Howard Hughes's Glomar Explorer in a bungled attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in order to access the Jennifer Morgue, an occult device that allows communication with the dead. Now a ruthless billionaire intends to try again, even if by doing so he awakens the Great Old Ones, who thwarted the earlier expedition. It's up to Bob to stop the bad guy and save the world, while getting receipts for all expenditures or else face the most dreaded menace of all: the Laundry's own auditors.
This third in the Laundry series move Bob along in his life, his relationship with his significant other- Mo, his next ina series of matrix management bosses, his father-son relationship with his true mentor in an entertaining story that makes Bob into the James Bond-like damsel in distress.
The snark factor has gone down as the Laundry series has continued. And we know that while Charles Stross has a problem with religion. What he really, really, really hates is American-style, pro-life, evangelical Christianity. However, you can get past this bias and just enjoy the story.
This is the history of how the lunar penal colony - the only prison that didn't need guards - and how it revolted against the combined might of Earth and became a free nation. The recollections of Manuel Garcia O'Kelly tell the story of how the Lunar Authority's computer, who he nicknamed Mike, became self-aware and developed a sense of humor. And how Mike and Manny and Wyoming Knott and Professor Bernado DeLaPaz started the revolution that freed the Moon.
This is Heinlein at his best. A wonderful story, a self-aware computer (remember this was written in early 1960's when computers were huge boxes with less memory than your phone has today), a very recognizable future based on assumptions that still might be possible today, and characters that you can recognize and empathize with.
And it has one of the most plaintive lines in all of science fiction. "Are you listening Bog? Is a computer one of your creatures?"
The narrator is wonderful and is able to capture the essence of a variety of different characters. However, I must pick one little nit. In all the times I read this story (and they are too many to count) I always heard the line "no hu-hu" as sounding like an owl (hoo, hoo). It is always done as laughter in this version (ha ha) and it just didn't seem correct.
You won't find a better science fiction story, so hurry to add this to your library.
In this, the second volume of Jan Morris's history of the British Empire, we are given a masterful overview of the British Empire on one specific day. That day is June 22, 1897 - the date of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (the 60th anniversary of her reign). Mr. Morris chooses this date as the ascendant point of the British Empire.
This book is a tour-De-force of history as it surveys almost every conceivable angle of the Empire as it stood on this one day. This covers not just the physical condition of the people in England, imperialists at work in the Empire, and the people who were being ruled - but their attitudes, literature, music, arts, military capabilities, and more.
There are so many things to recommend about this trilogy, but one of the most impressive is how many places Mr. Morris physically visited while putting it together. This gives its descriptions, which are lavish and highly evocative, a "been there" authority. Of course, we only know when an empire is at its peak when its decline is in view, but given that this book was originally written in the late 1960's Mr. Morris's choice of this date seems very prescient.
And it must be noted that the narrator - Roy McMillan - is simply brilliant in his performance.
A must add to your library.
Other than hearing the Yugo jokes, and occasionally glimpsing on of these trophies of Serbian and Baltic engineering and craftsmanship, I had no idea how these cars showed up in the United States. This is a highly entertaining story of the process that brought Yugos to America and how they failed ignominiously.
But mostly this is a story of Malcom Bricklin - the serially failed entrepreneur - and how he was able to get millions of dollars and take over the company. As presented in this history, apparently the only person who ever makes a nickel from Malcom Bricklin companies (starting in the 1960's until today) is Malcom Bricklin. The shenanigans and outright deceptions are laid out in horrifying detail.
About half of this book really involves the Yugo, the rest is the story of Mr. Bricklin. But it is all very entertaining.
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