Book Review: “SS-GB” (1978) by Len Deighton

Cover art for the 1978 novel “SS-GB”

Disclosure: I checked the hardback copy of this novel out from the public library.

Just finished Len Deighton’s 1978 alternative history novel SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain 1941. I recall reading it decades ago, but remembered almost none of the content.

This isn’t actually science fiction, just a sort of “What if Nazi Germany won World War 2 and occupied Great Britain?” The tale centers around Scotland Yard Inspector Douglas Archer, a well-educated man who is fluent in German and works with the SS who have headed up Britain’s police agencies. He seems to get along with his superiors, unlike his partner, Sgt Detective Harry Woods, and many other of the nation’s beleaguered citizens, who chafe at the occupation.

While investigating was started out as a murder, Archer is plunged into a world of political intrigue, conspiracy, and assassination. It only gets worse when SS Standertenfuhrer Huth arrives from Berlin to supervise the investigation. Only then, does he learn the Germany’s secret atomic weapons development project is headquartered in Britain, and the dead man was a nuclear scientist. He also falls into a plot to free the King of England from imprisonment and clandestinely transport him to America, which has remained carefully neutral during the war.

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Excerpt From My Latest WIP

vampire verona

Found at “Book More Brides”.

I’ve been editing this one for days and it’s close to being finished. Here’s a sample of my latest short story:

It wasn’t a man and there was nothing average about her. The companion lamp to Leah’s on a table at the other end of the short corridor to her room, shone behind the intruder. It illuminated her diaphanous gown, which draped over her lithe curves like a cloud. Her long hair was almost as white and seemed to float around her head. The woman’s pale skin was offset by ravenous green eyes and luscious ruby lips. Her teeth, when she slightly parted them, were pearls.

“Hold it right there, sister. Who the hell are you and what do you want?” The gun in her right hand shook as she trembled, which caught Leah by surprise. Her breathing became shallow, and a horrible feeling or recognition overwhelmed her, though she knew she’d never seen this person before.

“Surely you remember my kiss, delicious one.” She smiled broadly, exposing twin fangs and confirming the worst possible notion of Reese’s fears. The apparition hissed menacingly like a feral animal.

“Vampire.” It came out as a gasp.

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Book Review: “The Berlin Project”

berlin project

Cover image for Gregory Benford’s novel “The Berlin Project.”

Just finished reading The Berlin Project, a novel by physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford, and it was fabulous. Really top-notch alternate history, which was given enormous depth by the fact that Benford has met many of the people who were involved in the Manhattan Project during World War Two. His father-in-law is Karl Cohen, who is the book’s protagonist and in real life actually was a chemist on the project.

The novel’s premise is that at the Manhattan Project’s beginning, America’s secret effort to produce the Atomic Bomb, Cohen develops an alternate and faster method of producing weapons grade uranium for “the bomb,” allowing us to make a nuclear weapon in time for D-Day.

Not only are the technical details amazingly accurate, but the characterizations of the people involved, particularly Cohen and his family, are absolutely credible and “real.” Small wonder, since by marriage, they are Benford’s family, too.

As I imagine like most readers, I thought the climax of the book would be dropping the bomb on Berlin in 1944, killing Hitler and ending the war, but I was wrong. True, that was a pivotal moment about three-quarters of the way through, but it was the aftermath to that event that made all of the difference in changing the shape of alternate history going forward.

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“The Great Escape” (1963): Why This Film Couldn’t Be Made Today

escape

Promotional poster for the 1963 film “The Great Escape”

This movie is firmly listed under “films we couldn’t make today” or “films we couldn’t make today unless we included a lot more diversity.”

The Great Escape (1963) is one of my all time favorite films. It features an all-star cast which includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, among many, many others. The film is based on a 1950 non-fiction book written by Paul Brickhill chronicling a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland).

The film is a highly fictionalized version of those events and made numerous compromises which departed from fact, including the addition of three Americans to the cast (McQueen, Garner, and Judson Taylor) to accommodate U.S. audiences.

Here’s the plot summary from imdb:

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A Greater Infamy

day of infamy

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his “Day of Infamy” speech to a Joint Session of the US Congress on December 8, 1941, one day after the Empire of Japan’s attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. – Found at Vision Chasers’s YouTube channel

Florence paused at the door, “what the hell did you just say?” The fifty-nine-year-old housewife and mother of three stood in-between the kitchen and the living room in their third floor apartment on Montgomery Street. Her hands were pressed firmly on her hips, with the right one still holding a wooden spoon she’d been using to stir cookie dough in anticipation of the grandchildren’s visit later that evening.

“I said that after President Trump’s terrific speech, Congress still refuses to declare war on Japan.” Her husband Rudy was at the far end of the living room, dressed in his favorite flannel shirt and khaki trousers, light reflecting off of his balding pate, and leaning over the cabinet of their Philco radio which they’d received from their eldest boy Roger for a Christmas present last year. “They’ve been replaying the recording of the President’s speech. It’s just about over. Listen.” The retired chemical engineer turned up the volume just a bit.

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The Sympathizer

“Ander Diaz is a Basque name.”

“Yes, but fear not. I am a proud Basque but also a sympathizer. I have promised, on my life, to see you across safely.”

Robert Norton’s keen blue eyes looked into the night. “Life. An interesting concept.”

“We must wait for your escort.

“Why risk yourself me?”

“My grandmother was like you. She was very beautiful. I even met her once., before they hunted her down and…”

“I understand.”

“Sir, realize I do not sympathize with the Nazis, just you.”

“But only they will welcome me, protect me. I see my contact on the other side.” An ice cold hand patted Ander’s shoulder. “Thank you, my friend. I’d never have survived in England.”

“The underground will always be here. Good luck.”

“Thank you.” The vampire rose from their hiding place and crossed over into Nazi occupied France. There would be good hunting here.

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw challenge. The idea is to use a Google Maps image and/or location as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 150 words long. My word count is 149.

Today, the Pegman takes us to Basque Region, Spain. I had a tough time finding a hook for this, but then, it had been a long time since I’d written a vampire story.

One way for people to get out of Nazi occupied France during World War Two was into neutral Spain, but what if the only way for a vampire to survive was to join the Nazis?

Read other stories based on the prompt at InLinkz.com (The grandchildren came over early, so I have to make this fast).

The Sins of Our Fathers

San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia

Near San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia – © Google 2018

The vintage Beechcraft AT-11 landed eight souls on a little dirt airstrip near San Ignacio de Velasco in Bolivia. Intelligence said he’d be making a stopover in this tiny hamlet to visit an old friend, another German expat.

He’d just founded Transmaritima, Bolivia’s first ocean shipping company and was anxious to brag about it, especially to other war criminals who were still cowering in fear.

The aircraft halted and the pilot killed the engines. “We’ll be returning to La Paz as soon as we refuel. We won’t be coming back unless we get your signal.”

Five of the passengers had already disembarked with their equipment. The sixth approached the cockpit. “If we don’t succeed, there will be no reason to come back.”

“You’ll succeed.”

“We plan to. The sons of Nazi butchers must wipe the blood from our hands. In less than twenty-four hours, Klaus Barbie will be dead.”

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw writing challenge. The idea is to take the Google maps image and location presented and use it to inspire crafting a flash fiction piece no longer than 150 words. My word count is 149.

Today, the Pegman takes us to San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia. According to Wikipedia, there isn’t much information available about the town or José Miguel de Velasco Province. However, both articles mention the area possessing a small population of the descendants of post-World War II German immigrants.

That was the hook.

Looking at this morning’s email notification from Bookbub, I’d seen a title by Tania Crasnianski (translated by Molly Grogan) called Children of Nazis which includes interviews with the children of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele and others.

I also found a 1982 New York Times article about Klaus Barbie, who was the SS commander in Lyons, France between 1942 and 1944. He had fled to Bolivia after the war and unfortunately, did quite well for himself.

In the 1960’s, Barbie really did found Transmaritima, Bolivia’s first ocean shipping company, in a joint venture with the navy. I decided to put all of that together and formed an elite team of assassins, the sons of Nazi war criminals, who had taken on the mission of wiping their bloody legacy from the face of the Earth.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Oh, among other fun facts, San Ignacio de Velasco in the present day does have a dirt strip for an “airport.” Figured they could have one in the 1960s as well. Keep in mind this is fiction, and Barbie was not assassinated. He was eventually captured, tried, convicted, and died in prison in Lyon, France in 1991 at the age of 77.

Flight Girl in Dieselworld

aircraft

© 2017 – Yinglan Z.

“Do you think you can fly it, Keisha?”

“I’m not sure. I trained in a Cessna 152, not some World War Two wannabe.”

The sixteen-year-old was once again in a different universe, the one she had saved last year, only for her friend Josiah Covington, twenty years had passed. She remembered him as a shy, intelligent nine-year-old boy, but now he was nearly thirty. Unfortunately, he also had a broken arm, so escaping Tyson’s heavily guarded aerodrome was in her hands now.

“Remember how our principles of aviation are different.”

“They better not be too different, otherwise, we’ll never get out of here.”

Keisha helped Josiah into the rear seat and then hopped into the cockpit.

“I see the starter. Battery looks good. Plenty of fuel. Barsoonian charge is on standby. Ready.”

The young engineer used his good hand to close the cockpit. “Take her up. We’ll only get one chance to make it out of here. We have to stop Stanley Tyson’s mad plan to use nuclear weapons from your world to conquer Europe.”

I wrote this for the 167th FFfAW Writing Challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction between 100 and 175 words long. My word count is 175.

This is something of a “sequel” to Return to Dieselworld and based on the character Keisha Davis, whose latest steampunk adventure you can find in Prelude to Piracy. I thought it would be fun to have Keisha experience different “sub-genres”.

Fun fact: Not far from where I live, we have something called the Warhawk Air Museum which has aircraft and other exhibits from World War One through the Vietnam War era. I’ve been there with my grandson and it’s a lot of fun.

To read other tales based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

Oh, and don’t worry about what a “Barsoonian charge” is. That’s being revealed in the steampunk story line.

Want to see more of Keisha in Dieselworld? Read The Adventures of Rocket Girl.

The Ancient Sentinel

view town

MorgueFile 4892a52c8a86992fa06093c9776be99d

It was a beautiful morning in early April, and from his position at the old fort, he had a wonderful view of the town below. Although it was overcast, everything seemed so fresh, the trees lush with greenery, the people driving and walking along the streets and byways. It was so peaceful.

He looked at the bell suspended just below and to his left. It had been ages since it rang the alarm. No longer did the people have to fear air raids, and the threat of an invasion was a distant memory that children now studied in their history texts.

There was no reason for him to remain at his station or so it seemed. He had discharged his duty and died at his post decades ago.

But the world was not safe just because the dangers were not obvious. Children were dying in Syria from chemical attacks, and although firearms were largely outlawed there, terrorists had turned to murdering with knives in London.

There was nowhere in the world truly safe, which was why the old sentinel remained on guard. When they came for his people, he would sound the alarm again to save them.

I wrote this for the Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner challenge of week #15. The idea is to use the photo above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 197.

The platform on the left reminded me of the ruins of an old fort, and the town could be in an unspecified area of Europe, perhaps Scandinavia. So my old soldier is a ghost who died during World War Two, and yet who continues to do his due and guard his people. As I’ve suggested in the body of my story, the world is never truly at peace.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

P.S. This photo challenge doesn’t have many participants, so if you have the urge to write, please consider contributing a wee tale. Thanks.

Starving

broken fan

© Yarnspinnerr

“Raven, where am I?

“Jonathan, there’s a terrible famine here. You must save these people.”

“With what? All I have is an old-fashioned camera.”

“The person who was supposed to photograph this tragedy is ill. By the time he recovers, the opportunity to show the world the horrors here in Bengal will be gone. You must take his place.”

Jonathan Cypher, a man out of time, turned away from the bent fan and stepped off the hotel porch. Seeing the three starving and dying children, he raised the camera to his face, focused, and pressed the shutter release.

bengal famine 1943

Victims of the Bengal famine of 1943. Copyright is or was held by The Statesman newspaper of Kolkata, India. According to that country’s Copyright Act of 1957, the image is now in the public domain (photographs are protected for 60 years from the date of publication), but it may still be under copyright in the United States.

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields flash fiction writing challenge. The idea is to take the image above and use it as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is 98.

To the best of my knowledge, the person who provided the photo is from India, so I wanted to start from there. The yellowish cast of the photo made me think of pollution or chemical warfare, so I decided to see about India’s history during World War Two, and if I could devise a fictional Nazi plot in 100 words. What I discovered was much worse.

You can read all about the Bengal Famine of 1943 by clicking the link, but the black and white pimage just above was part of a photo spread published in the Indian English-language newspaper “The Statesman” on 22 August 1943, and those photos, which made world headlines, spurred government action, saving many lives.

I decided to bring back Jonathan Cypher and Raven to illustrate that sometimes you just have to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills or tools in order to be a hero.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.