“The Little Sailboat”

I’m not resuming my James Gunn series yet, but I happen to come across this story in a recent issue of Analog.

Review: “The Little Sailboat”, James Gunn, 2019.


This is a “Probability Zero” story. That’s an Analog feature of short-short stories. Many are humorous. Some, like this one, are fabalistic or outside of Analog‘ usual scope of hard science fiction.

Gunn, in Crisis!, was operating in science fiction guru mode. This is Gunn operating in, unfortunately, in sort of an Elijah mode.

A man builds a sailboat in his driveway. However, the driveway is “hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean”.

Since this story is sort of a combination of “The Little Engine That Could” and the building of Noah’s Ark, the sailboat is personified as “the Little Sailboat”, and neighborhood boys mock the Little Sailboat as they pass.

As men, these boys do all sorts of reprehensible things. They “cooked large slabs of meat on charcoal grills, drank cold beer, and ran their air conditioners”. Continue reading ““The Little Sailboat””

George Washington’s Secret Six

This one came to me as a gift. If I had known it was published before Spies, Patriots, and Traitors, I would have read and reviewed it first.

Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, 2013.51jjYdZGXJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

This is a popular history – no footnotes but a brief bibliography and index – and it’s tightly focused on the Culper Spy Ring operating in British occupied New York City. It covers much the same territory as Chapter Nine, “American Intelligence Activities Reach Maturity” of Kenneth A. Daigler’s Spies, Patriots, and Traitors. It even relies on the same histories of the Culper Spy Ring as Daigler: John Edwin Bakeless’s Turncoats, Traitors, and Heroes (1998), John A. Nagy’s Invisible Ink: Spycraft in the American Revolution (2010), and Morton Pennypacker’s General Washington’s Spies (1939).

That focus allows a couple of things missing from Daigler’s account: an in-depth profile of the six spies (well, five actually because the identity of No. 355, as she was known to Washington, is not definitively known), a greater sense of what it was like to live in occupied New York, and quotes from the correspondence of the spy ring.

Kilmeade and Yaeger, to make the story more vivid, provide dialogue at certain points based on written documents. Continue reading “George Washington’s Secret Six”

“In Amundsen’s Tent”

This one I came to after reading The Last Place on Earth about Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole. I thought it interesting enough to nominate for discussion over at the Deep Ones group at LibraryThing where we are talking about it this week.

Review: “In Amundsen’s Tent”, John Martin Leahy, 1928.c0784b1ee007467637647527351434b41716b42

Leahy’s story is interesting for three reasons. First, its main action starts at aprecise place and time: the South Pole, Jan. 4, 1912. Second, it takes place in historical lacunae between Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole on Dec. 16, 1911 and Robert F. Scott’s arrival there on Jan. 17, 1912. Third, it is the first installment in a sort of trilogy of Antarctica terror written in the early 20th century. The later installments would be H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?”

On its own merits, it’s a disappointingly vague story at times with some clumsy dialogue, but it has several themes and ideas that Lovecraft and Campbell would use much more effectively.

There is a horror in the Antarctic, a horror that men don’t want to speak of, a horror possibly from space. Continue reading ““In Amundsen’s Tent””

Spies, Patriots, and Traitors

No, no I’m not guilty that it took me almost five years to review this book which I got through LibraryThing.

Review: Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War, Kenneth A. Daigler, 2014.Daigler_RGB_72dpi

There seemed to be a bunch of books about intelligence operations conducted by the insurgents of the American Revolution in the last 15 years. Most, though, concentrate on George Washington’s work as America’s first spymaster. Daigler’s book, as a cover blurb by historian Steven Spiry says, is “the most comprehensive book yet on American intelligence activities in the War of Independence.”

Daigler is an ex-CIA case officer and senior manager of intelligence operations. The book came out of a pamphlet he wrote in his CIA days to remind foreign intelligence liaison officers that, while America now has sophisticated photo and electronic intelligence capabilities, it also has a history in more traditional spycraft. Daigler brings not only an historian’s eye to the book, but his own professional evaluation of the operations in this book.

It’s also a readable book. This is an academic book that rewards reading cover to cover. Daigler doesn’t repeat himself much chapter to chapter unlike, say, the authors you find in an Oxford University Press books. He fully sources his book, presents his story roughly chronologically, and has some wry asides on the eternal truths of intelligence operations. That includes the intimate relationship between agent and case officer – the need to provide specific instructions and sometimes sooth frayed nerves, express the appreciation of the consumer of the intelligence, and bolster moral so that the agent will continue to put his life at risk for more information. Continue reading “Spies, Patriots, and Traitors”

“The Night Wire”

This week’s weird fiction selection . . .

Review: “The Night Wire”, H. F. Arnold, 1926.The Weird

A unique and classic tale of what could be termed cosmic horror, a brush with mysterious forces.

This 1926 story uses the then relatively new technology of radio to good effect though, in this case, it is not commercial broadcasting but news wire services.

The narrator monitors the night wires in a west coast American city, perhaps San Francisco. The night wires are international broadcasts with news stories. The broadcasts are transcribed and used by newspapers.

One peculiarity of this story is that it seems very modern in the sense that we are presented with sort of a virtual community.

New York, London, Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore – they’re your next-door neighbors after the street lights go dim and the world has gone to sleep.

But it’s bad news heard in the night:

You’ve heard of some one you knew in Singapore, Halifax or Paris, long ago. Maybe they’ve been promoted but more probably they’ve been murdered or drowned.

The usual news is fires, suicides, murders, crowds, and catastrophe. Continue reading ““The Night Wire””

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

This week’s weird fiction …

Review: “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1843.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Since this is one of the most read stories in all the English language, I’m going to dispense with a lot of plot synopsis.

You know the story. A crazy man, the story’s narrator, kills an old man because of his “evil eye”, buries the body under some floorboards, and, when the police come to investigate, confesses because he hears the beating of the man’s heart.

The opening sentence,

“TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been, and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

and the closing sentences,

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

is justly famous.

Stephen Peithman’s annotations and notes are quite useful with this story. Continue reading ““The Tell-Tale Heart””

The Good Spy

Since I reviewed Gray Day, I decided to fulfill – however late – my reviewer duties for a couple of other titles on espionage history before returning to William Hope Hodgson.

Review: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, Kai Bird, 2014.Good Spy

Books about Israeli-Palestinian strife are way down on my list of interests. However, this was a book about a CIA agent who, while unknown to the world, was a major player in Middle Eastern politics for a while, so I was mildly interested.

It’s possible this book may incite some strong feelings for those who do care about those politics.

For the record, my own biases are that Israel has way too much influence in American affairs. It is not the 51st state. It has not been a staunch ally. It is capable of taking care of itself. On the other hand, I really don’t care what Israel does with their Palestinian or Arab neighbors. The necessity for America to insert itself in this conflict is non-existent in a post-Cold War era where America produces so much of its own oil.

Robert Ames, a CIA employee from 1960 to his violent death on April 18, 1983 when the United States embassy in Lebanon was bombed, was not a neutral in that conflict. He sympathized with the Palestinians. He was a romantic Arabist, a lover of the Arab street though, in his later days, he did empathize with Israeli concerns too. Continue reading “The Good Spy”

“The Dark”

This was last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Dark”, Karen Joy Fowler, 1991.The Weird

Despite one of my interests, the bubonic plague, playing a significant role in this story, I don’t think it quite manages to meld its plot elements together successfully.

Our narrator is an epidemiologist, and the story will take us from 1954 and California to 1967 and Vietnam and back to California.

In the summer of 1954, in Yosemite Park, the Becker family disappears while camping.

In the spring of 1960, two campers will have their food and beer stolen.

In August 1962, Caroline Crosby, a teenage girl, and her family go on a camping trip. Surly and not happy with the trip, things get worse for Caroline when she’s hospitalized for septicemic plague, the form the plague takes when the infection enters the bloodstream. Continue reading ““The Dark””

Gray Day

This one came to me through Amazon’s Vine program.

Review: Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy, Eric O’Neill, 2019.Gray Day

Since I followed the Robert Hanssen espionage case when it broke and have seen Breach (where O’Neill is played by actor Ryan Phillippe), I was hoping to learn something new about Hanssen the man and the details of the secrets he passed.

This book succeeds on those accounts.

The secrets Hanssen passed, starting in November 1979 and continuing through 1999, included FBI and CIA assets in Soviet and Russian intelligence, nuclear weapon information (though how he got a hold of those is not revealed), continuity-of-government plans by the US government (essentially plans to prevent a “decapitation” of leadership in a nuclear war), methods and operations, and the existence of a secret FBI and NSA tunnel under the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Hanssen, a CPA and holder of an MBA, joined the FBI in 1976. He had a life-long interest in spying. But, though “smart, technically proficient, and analytical” and good with computers, the FBI bureaucracy shunted him aside. As O’Neil says, Hanssen joined the FBI to become a spy. They made him a librarian. Continue reading “Gray Day”