Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of "Peggy Parker: Girl Inventor," by Ruby Lorraine Radford

Review of
Peggy Parker: Girl Inventor, by Ruby Lorraine Radford

Four out of five stars
 When I spotted this book at a used book store, the title intrigued me and that interest rose dramatically when I discovered that it was published in 1946. I grew up devouring the books in the Tom Swift series, but had never before seen a book this old that featured a girl inventor. It was at that point that I decided to read and evaluate it.
 While the story is good for the times, Peggy is indeed a talented girl with tools and does invent some new things, in general they are ill-defined “gadgets.” Furthermore, when Peggy and the rest of her family take up residence on the island of their recently deceased relative that willed it to them, she meets a man. He is a lawyer that generally supports Peggy in her mechanical work but makes comments that are disparaging about her penchant for working with tools and more in line with the standard, “stick to women’s work” principle.
 Therefore, the story becomes more a second rate romance rather than a story about a female that is talented in the areas of developing and testing new mechanical devices. However, given that it was published in 1946 when such a topic was almost non-existent, I ranked it higher than I would a similar book published much later. Giving the book a positive evaluation also requires that you accept the rather disparaging way in which blacks are characterized.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of "Orwell and the Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm," by Andrea Chalupa

Review of
Orwell and the Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm, by Andrea Chalupa 

Five out of five stars
 Immediately after the end of the Second World War in Europe and before the start of the Cold War between the Soviet block and the Allies, there was a period of cooperation.  The allied forces led by the Americans were willing to do what Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wanted, that included the transfer of people originally from the Soviet Union that ended up in other European nations.
 A large block of Ukrainians were in Allied held territory and Stalin wanted them back. Due to the deliberate famine in Ukraine in the 1930’s many of them were strongly anti-Soviet and some had even fought on the side of the Germans. Eager to please Stalin, the Allied forces agreed to send many of them back. Yet, some managed through many means to remain in western Europe and they developed a vibrant culture based on their Ukrainian heritage.
 While many western intellectuals believed in the Soviet propaganda that everything was great in the Soviet Union, George Orwell was one that knew better. Orwell had traveled to Spain to fight fascism and joined the POUM faction. After being wounded, he witnessed the labeling of the POUM as a Trotskyist group and he barely escaped. His experiences in Spain had a lot to do with his writing of his classic political satire, “Animal Farm,” a thinly disguised criticism of the Soviet regime.
 When the book was published shortly after the end of the Second World War in Europe, it was not well received and the Allied forces suppressed it as anti-Soviet. However, it was a big hit among the Ukrainian expatriate people.
 In this book, a great deal of this background material regarding Orwell, his development of “Animal Farm” and the development of the Ukrainian culture outside of the borders of what became the Ukrainian SSR is explained. It is an amazing and extremely informative book, describing a set of events that are a dark stain on the actions of the Allies in their cooperation with Stalin. I strongly recommend it as reading in history courses that delve deeply into the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in Europe and how Stalin played the Allies for his own purposes.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of "Imaginative Tales #4 March 1955"

Review of
Imaginative Tales #4 March 1955

Four out of five stars
 As a general tactic, I occasionally go back and read earlier versions of a specific genre. For example, I read Hardy Boys, adolescent sports fiction and Tom Swift books from the sixties and earlier. It gives me an interesting  perspective on changing social conditions. I also scour bookstores for earlier issues of science fiction magazines, both to look for stories from my favorite authors and to read material that gives me perspective on how the genre has changed.
 When I spotted this issue on a shelf, I immediately grabbed it, for to my knowledge I had never encountered this magazine before. In appearance, it fits the stereotype of the covers of science fiction magazines, it has a topless mermaid holding up a fishing line where the bobber and a lock of her hair are strategically located.
 The main story is “Mr. Margate’s Mermaid” by Robert Bloch. I have read other material by Bloch and consider him a good writer of science fiction. In this story, Mr. Margate is a collector of unusual creatures from myths and legends. He has a werewolf, vampire, centaur, mermaid and a tree nymph. The narrator is a man hired to serve as a basic aid in dealing with the unusual creatures.
 Although he is the proud possessor of some of the most unusual creatures in the world, Mr. Margate wants more, so he send his blind aide to hunt down Medusa, the creature whose sight will turn you to stone. Things go very wrong and a witch is consulted in an attempt to correct things. The narrator is challenged to get things back to what is considered “normal” in the Margate household.
 The second story is “The Man With Two Lives” and involves a new way to deal with murderers rather than simply execute them. They are injected with a new personality and memories and released back into society. In the story, the process does not go as well as it should.
 The third story is “Four Hours to Eternity” and involves an incident in an interstellar war, where the opponent of the humans has targeted a powerful light mine on a human vessel. If the ship is to survive, a member of the crew must go to the mine and somehow defuse it. The captain seeks volunteers for what is clearly a suicide mission and the most unruly member of the crew is selected. His solution is interesting as is the confrontation at the end.
 The last story is “Dream Street” and is a retelling of the classic situation where a boy is growing up dreaming of a career in a very exciting field, in this case being a member of the crew of a spaceship. Replace the career with joining the military, joining the crew of a seagoing ship or being a policeman and the skeleton of the plot is well known.
 The stories are all quick reads and have generally stood the test of time, there have been no scientific advancements that render plot devices completely unrealistic. For the plots are more about humans and how they deal with situations that they are with scientific facts that were updated.

I enjoyed them all, although none was spectacular.