“93” A short story, by Edward Eaton

In 2010, I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest for the second time. We were given a genre and a subject: sic-fi and a day care center.

I was living in Oman at the time. I remember coming home from work (1 1/2 hours away) and trying to figure out a hook to the story. I could not. Then, on Thursday, I came up with an idea: a television program running a puff piece on a day care center. As you can see, I wrote it in script (or, rather, teleplay) format. One of the criticism of the piece was that it was written mostly in dialogue. In my defense, so was Hamlet.

‘USE IT’ by Edward Eaton SYNOPSIS – A government-sanctioned news program investigates a privately run Child Care Center in 2141 – a Center that is dedicated to making the children useful to society.

For the record, I have tweaked it a little since then. The original version probably exists somewhere in cyberspace. The datight revisit it. The dates (years) are different. The title is better now. In any case, here is a sample of my writing or a teaser of what is to come.



The Canamerexican News Program

Int. The 93 Studio – EVENING

The camera fades in on Martin Ryle, the Anchor for 93.  Martin is a respectable looking man in his early 50s.


Good evening, Canamerexicans.  Welcome to 93 — the official news show for Canamerexica that brings you all the truth worth knowing to make for a better tomorrow.

Good evening, I am Martin Ryle your host for the evening.

Later this evening, I will be speaking with Minister of Public Opinion Rodham about the recent talks in Beijing with Greater Chinese Commonwealth Foreign Minister Chen-Wu on opening Hawaii to visiting CAM warships for next month’s 100th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Heather McAllister is also here to give us some insight into the Colonial Secretary’s recent negotiations with the European Dictate over payments for exports from the Gulf Colonies.

But first, here is Special Correspondent, Anjelica Juarez, who recently paid a visit to the Archangel Children’s Center in Baja California.


The camera picks up on Anjelica Juarez, a strikingly pretty young woman in her late 20s.


Good evening, Martin.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Archangel Children’s Center with a camera crew.  The administration was most helpful.


Archangel Children’s Center.  That’s one of the new private care centers…


Yes it is.

Even though the Mandatory Child Care Act of 2033 set up centers in all 93 states, the number of children being born, especially in the mid-latitude states, was beginning to overwhelm the state-supported centers.

The 2038 Presidential Amendment to the Act allowed for Private Organizations to set up centers to try and relieve some of the congestion.


Hasn’t there been some concern that private centers would simply exacerbate preexisting socio-economic disparities?


The current counter argument is that with the population of Canamerexico poised to break 1.5 Billion in the next year, trying to find a life track for members of the younger generation will do more to promote comparability than imposing social programs on the more mature generations.

Remember, the 2034 class at the state centers, will be voting in ten years…


If they are passed as Eligible by the Ministry of Voting and Civil Privileges…


Remember, the Act of ’33 does not guarantee equal rights; it mandates that all children be made useful.


I am looking forward to your report.


Thank you, Martin.

EXT. The Archangel Children’s Center, Baja California

The ACC is located on Isla Ángel de la Guarda in the Sea of Cortez.  The main building, in front of which Anjelica Juarez is standing, is a large building built somewhat in the style of a hacienda.


We were flown over to Isla Ángel de la Guarda by helicopters owned by the Valentine Trust, the main benefactor of the ACC.  There we were met by Miriam Beauchamps, the Administrative Director for the ACC and the government liaison from Mexicali, and Frank Speer, the Head Teacher.

Miriam Beauchamps is an attractive but over-dressed woman in her mid 30s; she clearly considers herself to be important.  Frank Speers is slightly overweight and clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera.


Good afternoon, Ms. Beauchamps.  Doctor Speer.


Good afternoon, Anjelica.




Am I right is seeing that your compound is fortified?


All part of letting the children grow up in a realistic and practical atmosphere.


I do not recall ever seeing anything more than local security at the public centers.


One of the many areas where the private sector is far in advance of the public sector.  When the Act of ’33 was passed, the state governments had done almost no preparation.  There was no bureaucracy.  There was no organization to speak of.

The private sector lobbied and prepared for the ’38 Amendment.
Frank here was part of the team that developed the curriculum.


Yes, that’s right.


“All children must be made useful.”  That was the rallying cry that got the Act of ’33 passed.  That is also our motto.


But as a private organization, aren’t you just catering to children of an elite few?




…at all, Anjelica.

To begin with, and to set the record straight, 75% of our children are supplied by the state.  We have no say in how they are selected.  They arrive when they are three and stay until they reach seven, at which time they are processed into, perhaps, the private elementary schools.

We do not concern ourselves with where they come from or where they are going.

Our role is to determine and develop their greatest potential.


How can you determine that without the input from the state?


That is one of the problems with the state run system.

Frank will explain it to you.

The state makes training decisions based only on the information gathered through genetic testing.

Objectivity has its value, but raising a child that way is almost as bad as having its parents raise the child.


I was raised by my parents.  I think they did a pretty good job.


I was raised by my parents, too.  Frank was raised by his parents.


My Aunt Rose, actually.


Research has shown that parents are precisely the last sort of person who should raise their children.

For one reason, the lack of consistency.  Generosity conflicting with stinginess on a daily basis.  Extreme forms of discipline and affection alternating by the hour. Emotional extortion.  Instead of being punished for being naughty, a child is condemned to hating his mother or father simply for misbehaving.  That is certainly unhealthy for the child as well as for the parent.

Of course, I’m not a doctor, but research has shown that since children started being sent to the state-run care centers in late ’34, the heart-attack rate among parents under 50 has dropped a staggering 17%.

Parents also have a completely unrealistic towards their children’s potentials.  Would you believe that my parents wanted me to be a ballerina?  My mother had me in dance classes for years.  She was clearly projecting her own dreams and inadequacies on me.  No one in my family had been a dancer of any sort; we were not genetically inclined towards any kind of athleticism — at least professionally so.  Furthermore, I hated the ballet; resented going.

What was she thinking?

I went into the law, something all my aptitude tests indicated I would thrive at and something several members of my extended family had done quite successfully.  I’m sure you went through quite a similar upbringing.


My parents expected me to be a farmer like they were.  I would’ve hated it.


My father wanted me to go into—


So, you see, parents are little concerned with their children’s wants and needs; rather, they are obsessed with their own.

They are also completely blind to their children’s faults.  No doubt you have met many parents during your life who barraged you with glowing descriptions of children whom anyone with a modicum of objectivity could tell were stupid, ugly, and obnoxious.  Useless.

Parents are clearly the last people who should raise children.

However, unlike the state-run schools, we do care about the family relationship and regularly send reports on the children to their parents on the approved request of the parents.

Anyway, we study the genetic testing and use that as a leap-off point.  The new students are then given a battery of aptitude tests to try and weed out those who will certainly be unable to function in the modern world.

You asked why we have fortifications.  I suppose that is because you see the machine guns. With wars happening on four continents as well as government- and privately-driven paramilitary and terrorist groups all over the place, a little military presence serves to remind the children of some of the realities of life today.  Many of these children will leave here for service elementary schools.  The government’s need for a capable and educated military is well documented and a high priority even in the private sector.

Stuffing the ranks—all ranks—of the military with offal from the lower classes simply increases the need and cost of coffins.  It does not make the army a stronger force or the conscripts useful.

“All children must be made useful.”


So, you a feeder system for the military?


Not at all.  The ACC is a strong supporter of the arts and encouraging and training children to participate in all levels of society.  We have well-born and well-connected children who we have determined are capable of little more than manual labor.  We will send them to the appropriate school to train them for a useful future.


Surely their parents can afford–


Their parents can give them as much money as they want.  We do not care if a child becomes the richest convenience store clerk in the world.  We are concerned that they are prepared to be useful.  No doubt you have read about the slew of ‘celebutants’ in the first two decades of the century. That type of person interferes with the development of society just as much, perhaps even more so, than homeless children or drug addicts.

In fact, one little boy here is the son of a drug addict from Los Angeles.  He was a significant disciplinary problem in L.A.  We put him through a battery of tests which suggested he would be perfect as a human crew member on the Colonial Explorer Space Flight scheduled for 2055.  Indeed, the Government testing took account of his personality issues and labeled him as “Probably Not Useful.”


Personality disorders strike me as de rigueur for the CAM Space Force.


Of course.

The three walk through several rooms in the hacienda.


As you can see, we encourage music…

A group of children plays a multi-key discordant version of Beethoven’s 9th.



The camera shows a gallery filled with scribbles and splotches.



Two four-year-olds sit at a small desk dispensing “money” to little children.

Two little children sell snacks and juice to other children.


And fiscal responsibility.

One five-year-old holds a little girl while another beats her up and takes her ‘money.’


Part of being useful to society is being prepared to cope with society.


But there is a focus on the military….


To some degree, yes.  Most of us served our country somehow in the last few decades.  My father died when I was a child during the War of European Aggression in 2012 and my husband served several years on the Russian Coalition Frontier in the Iranian Colony.

If the CAM needs to defend itself, it needs to develop the most capable and intelligent force we can.  It is no secret that we don’t have the numbers of the Chinese or the Russians or the militarism of the Europeans. But we have the brains and the talent.

Take a look at these two children.

We see Johnny and Manal.  Johnny is a little blond boy, while Manal is clearly of Middle-Eastern descent.  They are about five years old and are sitting together on a bench holding hands.


Hello, young man.




What’s your name?




Who’s your friend?




She’s very pretty.


I’m gonna marry her.


You want to marry him?


Yeah.  But he is a devil-worshipping heathen, so I might kill him instead.


You two run along and play.

They skip off holding hands.


Sometimes the genetic testing gets it wrong.  If you recall, the Nobel Prize for Physics a few years ago was won by someone the government had labeled a laborer.

Johnny there scored off the charts for creativity.  His mother is a dancer.  His father a writer.  He plays the violin as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. According to his genetics and aptitude, he should….


His training will focus on the arts.


That was the plan…until the field test.


Field test?


We do have to look to the needs of the state, so we have set up a field test to determine if there is any inherent inclination for military duty.  Johnny was able to eliminate four rivals well inside the three-day limit.


What sorts of weapons are used.  Laser tagging?  Paint guns?


Fake weaponry would invalidate the results.

Manal was also a star of the games.  She was able to make a bomb using the supplies we left and even set it to explode when one of the first aid teams was trying to bring in an injured child.  She was caught, but we were pleased enough to forward her record to the Espionage and Reconnaissance elementary school run by the Harvard Corporation.  Actually, it was Johnny who captured her.


She seemed to have survived the interrogation.


We aren’t barbarians, Angelica.  There are no torture exercises until junior high school.  The program wants to minimize the psychological damage.  Not much use for a girl who didn’t pass torture—unless she can get hired as stand in for someone drafted by the military brothels.


I could have used one of them.  Worst two years of my life.

(laughs sympathetically)

Anyway, the students who pass the aptitude tests are educated as well as possible.  They are taught the basics in at least four different languages; some sort of creative art, even if it is cooking; basic math; and any child who cannot read by the time he or she is old enough to leave is placed in the lower 25%.


What happens to them?


Fatten them up and sell them to abattoir on Tiburon.


“All children must be made useful.”



A very interesting report, Anjelica.


We had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the ACC and watch part of one of the field tests.  Videos of the rest of my stay can be found on http://www.93newsshow.gov.


I will certainly check that out.


It is nice that the private sector is working well with the government on important issues like childcare.



And now a word from the good people at Smith and Wesson.  The makers of truly useful gifts.


If you enjoyed this story, please check out my other posts and follow the links for more information about some of my published books.


Short Story Contest


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A few weeks ago, I participated in the first round of a short story contest. NYC Midnight (www.nycmidnight.com). This is a fun contest that has been running for a few years and growing each year. The contest divides each round into a separate heats. Each heat is given a genre, a plot device, and a character. Each contestant in that heat must right a 2500 word (max) story that uses all three. There is a week for the first round. This year, I was given “Science Fiction – Retirement – a Computer Programmer.” Each heat has roughly 30 participants. The top five in each heat continue on to the next round. My story was third in my heat. I am going to the next round. Tomorrow night at 11:59, I will be sent instructions and will have three days to write a 1500 word (max) short story. Part of the fun of this contest is that there is no way that contestants can get a leg up. I suppose it is possible that I have been working on a short sci-fi story about a retiring computer programmer and have it sitting around in my file, but it would be highly unlikely. This is the third time I have entered this contest. The first time was about five years ago. The contest was fairly small and only the top story in each each moved on to the next level–I was second in my heat. The next year was bigger; the top two from each heat moved on–I was third. This time I take another step forward. Perhaps next week I will post my earlier stories. I though I might post my current one tonight. Keep your fingers crossed over the next few days and hope that I draw something fun.

John 2.0(s)

By Edward Eaton

Sci-Fi/Retirement/Computer Programmer

2497 words.

Synopsis: When John takes early retirement, he learns that there is a lot less to retirement than he had expected. Banned from the company he started and cut off from his friends, he figures out a way to return to his old life.


 “HOW much longer will you be?” The soft voice said.

99%, John thought. “Just a few more lines of code, Francis. Just finishing.”

Francis’ head hovered just to the left of John’s virtual screen. Francis clucked. He looked and sounded like the Chairman’s uncle, but his mannerisms and expressions were pure Flora, John’s great aunt. “You with your typing and keyboards. You think it’s romantically old school, but it is just backwards.”

John sighed. He whipped off a few dozen lines of code at 175 wpm. “Shakespeare wrote with paper and pen,” he said.

“He would have used a neural-reader,” Francis replied. It was an old argument. “If you were linked, you might be Chairman, or at least VP.”

“Aye, but then there’d be no party for me.”

John tapped a few more keys. ‘Cat 8.4’ materialized next to Francis and purred.

“Very nice, John,” the gray-haired avatar said.

“The shell is ready for when the cat is scanned tomorrow. Shame about the little kitten, though. I’ve gotten quite used to it. I hope it doesn’t hurt. The girls will all cry.”

“Yes, John. But they’ll love the new friend on their monitors. I’ll send you a copy. You deserve that much.”

“Thanks,” John grunted. “Look, finish up with my personal files, email them to me, and then delete them from the hard drives. I’d better get there before they eat all the hors devours.”

“Yes, John.”

John flicked off his screen and looked around the dimly lit bullpen. Most of the computers were still on, humming softly. No one else was there. They had all gone to early. Who would pass up on free food? Perhaps they were also hoping to surprise him with the turnout. He waved his hand. His station went dark, and Francis blinked out. He grabbed a few pens out of a habit born when this was still a start-up funded by Federal grants, and shoved them in his overstuffed bag.

One last look at the large electronically buzzing room.

He tossed his keys to the guard in the lobby and waved as he stepped outside.


 AS Project Leader, John’s retirement party merited a third floor ballroom at The Ritz, his favorite watering hole. He took a deep breath before bursting into the brightly lit room.

“Good morning, you sons of bitches,” he cried out with a laugh. It was his usual morning greeting.

“John!” they all cried back.

Champagne flowed.

Jenny, the cute new programmer John liked to flirt with, was very attentive, sitting on his lap for much of the evening and even kissing him a few times behind the screen by the dumb waiter.

There were spontaneous speeches. Humorous anecdotes. A few raunchy stories from some of the older guys. Even John’s eyes watered when Max gave his heartfelt farewell toast, though John could see the telltale signs that Max was reading from a script fed to him through his neural link.

“Mary would be proud of what you’ve done,” Max said later, as things got quieter. They had both been part of the start-up team. Max was now a Senior VP. Mary had been Max’s cousin.

“Thanks,” John said.

“She’d want you to enjoy your early retirement,” Max went on. “Go to Hawaii. I hear New Atlantis has repaired their ski resort. Try that out.”

“Why ski five thousand feet below sea level when you can ski five thousand feet above it in Switzerland,” John replied. He did not trust the Ski Dome, which was prone to pressure cracks.

“Or ski on the Neurals,” Max suggested, tapping the hookup right behind his right ear. He glanced at Jenny, who was half asleep with her head in John’s lap. “All sorts of things happen on the Neurals…. We’re going to miss you, John. You were a pioneer.”

“If you need real help,” John said. “Let me know. You can always count on me. But I have plans. Moss won’t grow on this rolling stone.”

“I know and I will,” Max said. “We wouldn’t be here without you, John. You’re one of the best, even if you use these old things.” He wiggled his fingers in the air. “Hey, Ted!” he called over to a younger man by the bar. “Come over and say goodbye to John. They confirmed his appointment just a few minutes ago.” Max’s hand gave John’s shoulder a friendly squeeze, but his gaze pulled in on itself. He was interacting on the Neurals.


 “GOOD morning, John,” the pleasant voice said. Mary’s voice.

John took a moment for the haze to clear. He’d had a few too many last night.

He’d had a few too many the past several nights.

He combed his hair.

He could smell the coffee even before he hit the stairs. By the time he reached the kitchen, he could hear the sizzle of eggs and bacon.

“What will you do today?” Mary’s voice asked. The voice made him miss his late wife even more than he usually did. He has not programmed a face, though. That would be too painful.

John shrugged. He was waging a WWII campaign on the ’net. He was doing well, though his opponents could react faster, being linked. There were a few shows he was following. Maybe he would write a book. Start painting again.

He drank his coffee and ate his breakfast. He looked around the apartment. Did he really need so much space?

Maybe a walk in the park would be nice.


“GOOD morning, John,” Mary’s avatar said. “Will you be sleeping this late every day?”

John looked at the clock. 10:13. With a sigh, he sat up. He rubbed his face. His beard was coming in nicely. Growing a beard was his project this week. He got up, stepped over his slippers, and walked down to the kitchen, where his eggs and coffee sat, going cold. He glanced over to the mural he he had begun on the living room wall. He would have to get back to that.

He scratched his cheek. He was not a beard person. He could tell.

“Francis….” Mary started.


“Francis from work.”


“Sent you something.”

John waved his hand at a sensor and the virtual screen opened. ‘Cat 8.4(s)’ ran around on the desktop, chewing on the icons. “Stop that!” John shooed the cat away. It sat on the ‘trash’. “Y’see that?” he crowed. “99% cat.”

“99% cat?”

“With the neuroimagers and bioscanners, and some clever programming by yours truly, we have 99% cat here. All the cat, even his awareness, memories, personality, or most of them, anyway. Everything but the DNA.”

“Does it need to be fed?” Mary’s voice asked.

John had not really thought about that. “I suppose so. Set something up. And put up a firewall around my personal files.”




“It’s John. From work. John Wilson!”

“Oh, hi Mr. Wilson.”

“Please. John. After the party….Heh, heh.”


“So…would you like to…you know…get together.”


“Y’know. After all…we….”


“Yeah. So?”

“Wow! I mean. Look Mr. Wilson—”


“Yeah. We would all like to see you. Hear about…your adventures. We miss your friendly ‘Good morning, you sons of bitches!’ That was great! Why don’t you come over for a drink after work. We’d all like to see you, I’m sure.”

“I was there last night. Didn’t….”

“Yeah. We’re going to The Great Wall, now. Ted—”


“Ted Carlson. Your replacement.”

“Oh. Ted.”

“Yeah. He likes to go to The Great Wall.

“Not The Ritz?”

“No. So, anyway, come on by someday. It’d be great to see you.”

“You see, I have—“

“Look, uh. Right now we have that deadline…. You know. For the….”


“Thanks for calling, Mr. Wilson.”

“Yeah. Bye.”


“GOOD morning, John,” Mary said. “It’s 10:30.”

John yawned. His head hurt. He looked at the bedside table and saw the empty bottle.

“Are you going to work on your novel today?” Mary asked.

“Stop reminding me about that!”

“But you told me to remind you.”

“Now I’m telling you to stop!”

“Sorry, John.”

“I’m sorry, Mary. I shouldn’t snap. Geez. I had some pretty good ideas last night. I just didn’t want to spend the time typing them in”

“There are ways—”

“I will not be linked! Don’t bring it up again. It isn’t that good a story idea anyway. Best if I don’t write it.”

He scratched his cheek. He wished that he had not shaved the beard. If only he would give it time. More time.


There had to be something to watch.


 THEY made him wait at security.

What the hell? He had hired two of the three guards himself. Knew them. Knew their kids.

“Sorry, Mr. Wilson,” one of them had said politely. “You’ll have to wait while we get approval. Rules.”

They eventually let him through to the elevators.

He stood just outside the doors to the programming room and listened to the soft murmuring of the programmers, the clinking of their coffee cups, and the cheerful quips from the Avatars executing commands.

John adjusted his collar then strode into the room. “Good morning, you sons of bitches!”

Twenty-some heads turned to look at him. One or two nodded. The others simply turned back and continued mumbling.

He saw Jenny sitting on the edge of his desk—the new guy’s desk

“Hey,” he said going over.

She smiled brightly, but then her gaze retreated. “Yes. Yes. Right away, Francis.” Her gaze turned back to him. “I’m sorry. It’s the Peterson deadline. You really must come by the Great Wall one evening. We’d all really like to know how things are going.” She shook his outstretched arm. “Sometimes I feel like I spend more time with the damn avatar than I do my boyfriend. Do come by.”

As she left, her hand gently caressed Ted Carlson’s shoulder. It should have been his!

Boyfriend? But just a few weeks ago….

“John, John, Johnny!” It was Max. He must have started from his office before John got on the elevator. “How the hell are you? Look, these kids are busy. Let’s go upstairs. There’s prime rib in the Executive Dining Room.”


 “AND there’s no central monitor?” John exploded at the end of his tirade. He was sure Max had only heard about half of it. Max had spent the other half fading in and out of communication with his avatar through his neural link.

Max smiled. “Ted has a lot of new ideas about compartmentalization. I know. I know. But we’ve come a long way since we were kids. Besides, it’s his department. And it seems to be working. Look. John. We are so glad that you decided to drop by. Really, and I mean it, you should drop by whenever you want. Really. But you have to call ahead. We have deadlines. New policies. Oversight. Love to see you. Look. Look. I have a friend on the New Atlantis board. I hear it’s overbooked, but I can get you in. You might as well spend some of your buyout money. And enjoy yourself while you’re still young. Why take early retirement if you’re not going to enjoy it? I’ll have my car take you home. The reservation will be in your box before you open your front door. The stories I hear. Well…I wish I could be going with you…but…I have a company to run. Maybe next year.”


“HOW was the trip?” Mary asked.

John tossed his back towards the laundry door and plopped down onto the couch. “Old couples and young families,” he scowled. He waved his hand to turn on the virtual monitor. No messages. He had not checked in a week! “Anyone try to get me here? Did you forget to forward anything?”

“No, John.”

He heard a crash and saw something rush across the screen. Two cats were fighting. “What’s that?”

“Francis sent it this morning. I forgot to tell you.”

John waved at Francis’ icon.

“Good morning, John. Hope your trip was fun. This is ‘Cat 8.5(s)’. 99.9% cat. Minimal pain on the scan, and the girls all squealed when they saw him. He’ll be happier here that he was in the kennel.”

John waved his hand to turn off the virtual monitor. He flicked open the television and scrolled through his recorded shows.

Nothing really interesting.

Maybe that one.


“ARE you going to go out today?” Mary asked.

John scratched his new beard.

“I’m gonna catch up on my shows. Order some Chinese for me, and have them add on a twelve of beer.”


JOHN pushed the empty pizza box to one side with his food. The cleaning woman would pick it up tomorrow. Or the next day.

He opened the blinds. It was afternoon! All those people, sheep, going about their dull working lives.

He closed the blinds.

He sat in front of the television screen. There had to be something on.


 “I’M sorry, John,” Max said. “There isn’t anything. Yes, we all miss you, but the new board has established all sort of rules There’s also government oversight. Just about everyone has a doctorate these days. If I couldn’t vote my stock, I might be out of a job. Look, there’s a reception at the end of September for ‘Cat 8.5(s)’. Why don’t you come? I’ll get you a seat on the stage. I’m really sorry, John….”


 JOHN lay on his bed, watching the ceiling fan spin.

“Mary, open my monitor and keyboard.”

“What is the new project, John?”

“I’m writing a book.”

“About what?”

“About a cat.”


THE presentation had been cloyingly dull. John had done the nest he could not to fall asleep. Everyone else on the stage had retreated into Neurals. John did not have that luxury.

After the applause had died down and he had shaken everyone’s hands two or three times, including those of the noticeably pregnant Jenny and the looking-not-very-happy-about-it Ted, John had drifted towards the older single-person offices used mostly for storage now. The party died down. The janitorial robots drifted across the floors and then powered down.

John called up a remote virtual monitor.

Francis materialized. “What are you doing, John? What are you loading onto our…? You can’t be serious. This is a breach of….”

John snapped out a string of numbers. “I built this place, Francis. Don’t think I don’t know of a few backdoors I did not lock. Let the program download and install. Power up the machine.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Nearly. Nearly.”


THE pain was a lot more intense that he had feared it would be. But it was over so quickly, that it barely had time to register before it was over.

The machine powered down.

The dust settled.


 HE waited until almost 9:30. Everyone was there.

They were going to love this!

John 2.0(s) materialized on the monitors.

“Good morning, you sons of bitches!”

Review of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol


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Review of The Lost Symbol

By Dan Brown

Date of Publication: 2009

Genre: Potboiler, Mystery, Thriller


NB – I wrote this review shortly after the book was published. I made some changes and revisions to the original when I prepared it for this blog. I am putting it on my blog in anticipation of Brown’s upcoming novel, Inferno.

2009 saw the release of The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s third installment in his successful series about Robert Langdon, following Angels and Demons (2000) and The Da Vinci Code (2004).  The story follows the Harvard symbologist on an adventure that takes him across Washington, DC, from the highest pinnacles to the lowest depths to just about every main point of interest that can be found in any tourist guide to the city.  On Langdon’s night-long journey, he must figure out a sequence of increasingly complicated Masonic codes, pictorial and architectural mysteries, and historical misunderstandings to save the life of his mentor, billionaire Peter Solomon, from the esoterically evil Mal’akh, all while being chased by the CIA’s Office of Security.  Langdon is aided and abetted for much of the book by Solomon’s brilliant noetic scientist sister, Katherine.

Brown has peopled his book with the usual assortment of interchangeable characters that can be found in his previous books.  Robert Langdon is still brilliant, rugged, handsome, witty, and completely devoid of any real personality.  This smug and somewhat precious university professor is both an unusual and clichéd choice to be the central character in an adventure thriller.  He is the classic unwilling hero. He has been tricked into coming to Washington, DC, and told that his friend will die unless he (Langdon) can figure out the messages and codes hidden around the city.  He must find the location to the hidden Masonic treasure, a secret to unlimited power over man and god that was hidden in Washington because the great minds of the 18th and 19th centuries realized that American democracy was a really good thing.  Not only can he find the treasure, but he is the only person who can unravel the Gordian knot of coded clues that leads to it.  At least, that is what the readers are led to believe.  However, Brown fails in 500 pages to demonstrate why Langdon should be the one chosen by the villain to decipher the secrets and why no one else can do it.  

It is amply and frequently shown that Langdon is not the only one who can solve the various mysteries.  Indeed, when Langdon finally goes to see the Masonic treasure, he is taken by someone who knew the location long before the action of the book started; Langdon does not discover it, or much of anything else, on his own.  Langdon does little more than stop everyone in the middle of whatever mini-puzzle or brief adventure they are in and drag down the narrative flow of the novel with a long-winded lecture intended to surprise and intrigue the others, or at least the readers.  Brown frequently reminds us that Langdon’s dollops of brilliance are impressive for they awe his Harvard students.  It must be noted that Langdon’s students are easily impressed by revelations that are neither profound nor new (cannibalistic aspects of Christianity or Masonic influences in the design and architecture of Washington, DC, for example).  Considering one of his best friends is in mortal danger throughout much of the book, Langdon spends an inordinate amount of time being distracted by his own erudition.

Mal’akh is the villain of the piece.  His real name and origins are part of his mystery.  He is tattooed from head to toe, with the exception of one small spot on the top of his head—also part of his mystery. Mal’akh has studied, bullied, and bribed his way to be a 33rd level Mason, so that he can ascertain the whereabouts of the legendary Masonic treasure that will give him power.  During his life, Mal’akh has turned himself from wretched inmate to gazillionaire philanthropist, from nobody to one of the intellectual and cultured elite.  Men want to be him; women want to be with him.  Pick your cliché.  What the wealthy, influential, and powerful Mal’akh wants to do with the power, influence, and wealth of the treasure is never fully explained.  Mal’akh is ruthless, sociopathic, brilliant, immensely wealthy, and wickedly evil.  All Mal’akh needs to do to be more wickedly evil is to twirl his mustache and make poor Nell (er…Katherine) pay the rent before Dudley Do Right (Langdon) can save the day.  Even more melodramatically, he dismembers Peter Solomon and tattoos cryptic messages on parts of Solomon’s body, elaborately tricks Langdon into coming to Washington, and sends Langdon on a nocturnal wild-goose chase to find the Masons’ treasure; at the same time, he sidetracks to dispose of sister Katherine before her research blows the lid off our spiritually complacent society.

The best thing about noetic scientist/billionaire’s sister/female lead Katherine Solomon is that there is no romantic connection between her and Langdon.  Perhaps Brown (or his editors) realized that the witty flirtatious banter that he produced in his previous books was lame.  Perhaps Brown (or film director Ron Howard—The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons films) realized that attaching an aging Tom Hanks romantically with yet another vapid starlet half his age would stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, however willing it might be.  Other than her lack of romantic appeal, Katherine serves little purpose other than to distract Mal’akh and the readers.  For a red herring, Brown gives her a lot of ink.  She is a scientist who has developed, without too much influence from the Masons, scientific proof that, among other things, the soul exists, mysticism is actually science, and that the mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Mal’akh has to eliminate her, or her research will change the world in ways for which he does not think the world is prepared.  For Mal’akh, Katherine and her research are unnecessary distractions.  Simply put: her findings are neither conclusive (if we trust Brown’s descriptions), profound, nor even scientifically valid (they have no method or control and have ethical issues); they might impress some people—the type of person whose faith would be profoundly shaken by books like…well…The Da Vinci Code.  She is not building orgone boxes, but she is only a few steps ahead of that.  Katherine serves a purpose for Langdon, however, being a font of scientific trivia when Langdon cannot answer the riddles with his encyclopedic recall of historical and symbolical minutia. 

The rest of Brown’s characters are simplistically drawn static contrivances.  Everyone is hearty and resilient.  None of the pain, torture, and near-death experiences has any physical or psychological impact of any of the characters—like Weebles, they simply bounce back up and into the next phase of the adventure.  Some are so thinly drawn that they approach stereotypes: the Asian CIA director is inscrutable and, at under 5’ tall, has a clear Napoleon complex.  No one ever seems to be concerned that someone else might be in danger; if they were, they might not spend so much time talking around each and every point.  Furthermore, everyone knows too much; the novel could have been ended before it began if Solomon had simply told Mal’akh the secret—under torture, he tells Mal’akh everything else.  Even when Langdon is confronted with a riddle to solve, inevitably, there is someone sitting next to him who nods; says, ‘You’re right.  I was wondering how long it would take you to figure it out’; then points him and towards the next clue.  Mal’akh does not even bother to tell Langdon what the professor is supposed to do; he simply deposits the first clue and stays in touch by cell phone.  Much of the plot of resembles that of a bad sitcom: everything could be resolved in a simple conversation, but for some reason, no one is saying what clearly needs to be said.

Apparently, Dan Brown has never met a conspiracy theory he did not like or a Wikipedia article he did not believe (and, yes, he does take a poke at Wikipedia).  The Lost Symbol is filled with weak history and bad linguistics. For example, much is made of the word temple (the part of the body and the religious building) and the reasons for the use of the same word.  Indeed, much of the ‘secret’ in the book relies on the connection between the two.  However, the two words merely sound the same; there is no linguistic connection—they have different roots.

There is an old saying: the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  That is, if the payoff is worth it, we might overlook some of the flaws in the novel.  There are three moments of resolution in the book: the revelation of Mal’akh’s reasons for pursuing the treasure and trying to destroy the Solomon family; the location of the Masonic treasure; and, the nature of said treasure.  In all three cases, they are predictable.  In Mal’akh’s case, his indignation is petty and his final confrontation with his demons is silly at best.  As for the location of the secret, Langdon spends so much time denying that there is a Masonic secret (one would think that after his encounters with the Illuminati and the Priory of Sion he might not be quite so skeptical) that he is the only one who does not seem to know where it is located – the average reader certainly will.  By the time Langdon figures out the secret, the reader will have been bludgeoned with it so many times that he/she might have bruises; at best, the feeling is, “Who cares?”  The Lost Symbol reads like a 500-page shaggy-dog story—full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The book has some merit.  It is a fast journey that carries Langdon and the reader from one cliffhanger to the next.  There is rarely enough down time for anyone to stop and think about what he/she is reading.  This is to the book’s advantage.  Brown tells us that what we are reading is important and profound; as long as we don’t question him, we can simply hold on for the ride and enjoy the scenery.  Brown is certainly not a great writer, but he keeps his prose simple and to the point.  No one is moved by his turn of phrase, but no one will be confused by clever turns of phrases, obscure passages, or complicated metaphors.  Brown is the artistic heir to the likes of Clive Cussler.   The Lost Symbol is, at best, a bit of harmless fluff.  At worst, it is a bit of harmless fluff.    

This book was a huge bestseller.  But it did not have the same impact that its predecessors had.  One reason is location.  Paris and Rome are cities with history, romance, and mystery.  Readers want to be transported to those cities and soak them up.  Nobody really cares about Washington, DC—a fact Langdon tells his students in an extended flashback—unless, of course, you are looking for the Ark of the Covenant or The Book of Secrets.  Another reason is that while there may be a few hysterics who will latch on to the Masonic ‘treasure’ we are presented with at the end, most simply will not really care.  

Reading The Lost Symbol is not a waste of time, if only because there is something to be said about actually being able to discuss a book with other people.  Go to the library and read their copy, read an electronic version, buy the  paperback (where it should have been published in the first place).  Books like this should be tolerated, but they should not be encouraged.  If enough people buy this book, then Brown might write more. 

Grade: C-
(for all its flaws, it is a diverting, often frustrating, read)


Guest Blogs to Check Out


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The Great Minds Think Aloud Literary Community recently posted a guest blog by yours truly.

It can be found at:



I recently gave…


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I recently gave an interview about Rosi’s Castle for the GreatMinds LiteraryCommunity. Check it out and tell your friends



Other links are:


GMTA EXCOBOARD: http://s3.excoboard.com/exco/thread.php?forumid=90002&threadid=910407&page=1#7553416

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/groups/gmtabookclub/doc/381182915267850/

BLOGSPOT: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.blogspot.com/2012/05/interview-with-author-edward-eaton.html

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/#!/GMTALITERARY/status/202137279689523200

TUMBLR: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.tumblr.com/post/23055854090/interview-with-author-of-rosis-castle-edward

WORDPRESS: http://greatmindsliterarycommunity.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/interview-with-author-edward-eaton/

THOUGHTS: http://www.thoughts.com/GreatMindsLiteraryCommunity/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

POSTEROUS: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.posterous.com/interview-with-author-edward-eaton#

XANGA: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.xanga.com/762830835/interview-with-author-edward-eaton/

BOOK BLOGS NING: http://bookblogs.ning.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

SHEWRITES: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

MINDSEYE NING: http://minds-eye.ning.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

DIGG: http://digg.com/news/entertainment/great_minds_interview_with_author_edward_eaton

STUMBLE UPON: http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/gbookclub

NETLOG: http://en.netlog.com/go/logs/shouts/view=friends


I recently gave…

I recently gave an interview about Rosi’s Castle for the GreatMinds LiteraryCommunity. Check it out and tell your friends



Other links are:


GMTA EXCOBOARD: http://s3.excoboard.com/exco/thread.php?forumid=90002&threadid=910407&page=1#7553416

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/groups/gmtabookclub/doc/381182915267850/

BLOGSPOT: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.blogspot.com/2012/05/interview-with-author-edward-eaton.html

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/#!/GMTALITERARY/status/202137279689523200

TUMBLR: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.tumblr.com/post/23055854090/interview-with-author-of-rosis-castle-edward

WORDPRESS: http://greatmindsliterarycommunity.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/interview-with-author-edward-eaton/

THOUGHTS: http://www.thoughts.com/GreatMindsLiteraryCommunity/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

POSTEROUS: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.posterous.com/interview-with-author-edward-eaton#

XANGA: http://greatmindsthinkaloud.xanga.com/762830835/interview-with-author-edward-eaton/

BOOK BLOGS NING: http://bookblogs.ning.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

SHEWRITES: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

MINDSEYE NING: http://minds-eye.ning.com/profiles/blogs/interview-with-author-edward-eaton

DIGG: http://digg.com/news/entertainment/great_minds_interview_with_author_edward_eaton

STUMBLE UPON: http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/gbookclub

NETLOG: http://en.netlog.com/go/logs/shouts/view=friends

Review of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance


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The Winds of War and War and Remembrance

by Herman Wouk


Titles:     The Winds of War and War and Remembrance

Author:     Herman Wouk

Dates:     1971 and 1978

Genre:     Historical Fiction


Titles:     The Winds of War

War and Remembrance

Dates:     1983 and 1988

Director:     Dan Curtis

Written by:     Wouk, Curtis, and others

This duology explores the lives and relationships of the Henries.

Victor ‘Pug’ Henry is a strict and sturdy naval officer who is the American Naval Attaché to Nazi Germany and a trusted messenger for President Roosevelt. While on his various missions, Pug becomes involved in the lives and affairs of a popular British radio journalist, Alistair ‘Talky’ Tudsbury and his daughter Pamela.

Pug’s middle child, Byron Henry, is also a central character in the duology. Byron in name and nature, he drops out of graduate school and wanders aimlessly through Europe until he becomes involved with notable author Aaron Jastrow, a Polish-American Jew, and, more importantly, Jastrow’s headstrong niece Nathalie, who leads Byron on a merry chase through fascist Italy, Poland during the German invasion, Nazi Germany, an o’er hasty marriage in Lisbon, Vichy France, and into the submarine service in the Pacific.

The Winds of Wars covers the period from mid 1939 to just after Pearl Harbor. War and Remembrance covers the war, the growing relationships, Pug’s continued brushes with the key figures of the period, Byron’s experiences as a submariner, and Nathalie and Aaron’s incarceration at Terezin. Each book is a massive work over a thousand pages long. They are by the author of 1951’s The Caine Mutiny, which won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1952.

Near the end of The Caine Mutiny, Barney Greenwald puts the case in a certain perspective when he points out that the Queegs of the world, unimaginative and unintellectual as they might be, were the ones standing guard against the onslaught of fascism while the rest of America was playing in university quads, reading Proust, enjoying art, and ignoring the cloud of tyranny that was fast approaching these shores. Victor Henry is one of the Queegs of the world. Or, rather, he is the flipside of the same coin. There are differences, of course. Henry is a World War I veteran, but most of his career has been in peacetime. His lucky prediction on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that brings him to FDR’s attention (he himself chalks it up to math: someone was bound to get it right; it just happened to be him), a smattering of foreign languages (during the course of the books, we learn that he speaks German, Italian, and Russian), and a group of loyal friends and family propel him forward and support him when he has doubts or falters—unlike Queeg, who is immediately disliked by his subordinates for his by-the-book sternness and stolidity (in this, he is much like Henry, but Henry has had a career surrounded mostly by professional sailors and officers who expect, respect, and demand the rigid rules; Queeg, however, is surrounded by wartime dilettantes who see war as an inconvenient game) and has no emotional support.

The Pamela-Pug relationship is core of Pug’s story. It is an unusual relationship in that Pug is at least twenty years Pamela’s senior. Pug tries to remain faithful to his wife, Rhoda, who does not return the favor. It is Henry’s conservative and American senses of propriety, loyalty, and obedience that make him a character who is attractive to the readers and to young Pamela Tudsbury. It is these same characteristics that drive a wedge between him and his wife Rhoda.

Pamela has lived a life of dissolution. She has wandered the world with her father and never set down roots. She has never followed the conventional rules. (Her past indiscretions are referred to, but almost never detailed. Her insane driving, with its complete disregard for the safety of herself, her passengers, or other drivers, is an oft-repeated joke throughout the duology).

Rhoda, on the other hand, long ago gave up her dreams of excitement (she wanted to be an actress) to be a long-suffering naval wife and mother. When given a taste of life outside the confines of the naval base, she rushes headlong into the the fray.

Pug Henry, loyal husband, might overlook Rhoda’s indiscretion, but he does so in the same manner he has overlooked his wife for their entire married life: he pushes it to the back of his mind and pretends that there is no problem that might need to be fixed. On a personal and emotional level, he rejects his wife for failing to stand up to his own standards of perfection. He overlooks the fact that while she may have been physically unfaithful, he was emotionally unfaithful. Indeed, the only reason he does not divorce his wife to marry twenty-something Pamela is because he feels that the relationship might be unseemly and interfere with his career. (Spoilers) When Pug finally does marry Pamela, he is happy to overlook the past of a self-confessed ‘slut’ who brings him a taste of the sexual adventure he never really experienced as a young man (poor Rhoda, by the way — during her affair, we learn that she has a bit of a wild streak to her and is clearly open to experimentation, but when she ultimately remarries, it is to a renowned Lothario who pursues her because he is looking for the same dull relationship that neither Pug nor Rhoda could tolerate). Of course, Pamela is twenty years younger than Pug.

Pug is an American everyman. He is not a professional highflyer, but he accepts promotion and acclamation when they are handed to him. He works hard, but is above playing political games and maneuvering for position or advancement. His is not an ‘Horatio-Algerian’ rags-to-riches success story. He is a plodding professional. He finds himself surrounded by exceptional people. We, as readers, are reminded that those once-in-a-generation personalities would not get very far in life and history were it not for the grind-away-at-the-job Pug-Henry types.

Pug and Rhoda’s children fit the traditional mold. Warren, the navy pilot, is the eldest child. He is the child whom everyone looks on to carry on the family tradition of boring responsibility. He certainly sows his wild oats, but his sense of duty, his navy training, and his highly appropriate wife (her father, ever the politician and war profiteer, turns from isolationist congressman to Army general is a matter of months—pinning on his star years before Pug Henry does his), ground him. Warren is also the potential high flyer. A natural leader, a natural pilot, well liked, everyone expects great things from Warren. He meets every expectation, until his untimely, and rather disappointing, death on the last day of the Battle of Midway.

Byron, the novels’ truly dynamic character, is a traditional middle son. No one knows what to do with him. He does not know what to do with himself. He is appropriately Byronic, angry, and ready to lash out at everyone and blame them for his failings—especially his father. Byron is in desperate need of a controlling hand in his life. He enters an ill-advised affair with Nathalie Jastrow, a liberally educated intellectual Jewess (this is central to books) with a past every bit as disreputable as Pamela’s (they ran in the same crowd as students in Paris). His father’s son, he is perfectly willing to forgive moral failings in a love interest, even though he holds everyone else he meets to almost impossibly rigid and high standards—including his father.

When he does return to the States to join the Navy, he enters the submarine service, a service, his father points out, filled with weird individualists such as Byron. As far as Byron is concerned, his father is responsible for most of the negative occurrences in his life: the Navy’s insistence that Byron enroll in the submarine school on time; Nathalie’s return to Europe to help her Uncle; her refusal to return to the States, even after several rather scary run ins with Nazi officials and after she becomes pregnant with Byron’s child (they did, of course, get married before conception – indeed, their wedding is a remarkably amusing section in the first book, something of a comic relief before Nathalie and Jastrow’s lives quickly go from bad to worse when they are interned by the Germans and finally sent to Terezin [Teresienstadt], the ‘Model Ghetto’); Byron’s assignments as a submariner; and just about any obstacle to Byron’s personal happiness.

Eventually, of course, he comes to terms with his father. The discipline he encounters and the responsibility he earns in the Navy have a lot to do with his growth. Ironically, even though he is strongly opposed to a life in service, it is the only life that he truly succeeds in. As a student, he was barely mediocre; he admits that he only got into Columbia by charming a woman in the admissions office and graduated because he became friends with a professor. His ability to catch and keep Nathalie are more a testament to her need for stability than his skill as a wooer—his strategy is limited to mooning around, complaining about how hard his life is, storming off in a funk whenever they have a disagreement (saying that he thinks his time in the besieged city of Warsaw is fun does not earn him many points, either). As a naval officer, he rises to be one of the first reservists given command of a fleet submarine. Throughout the novels, it is often said, usually by his father, that when Byron wants something he can move at the speed of light in a vacuum. Most of the time, though, he is a bit of a slacker. This makes him something of a disappointment to his driven and self-disciplined father.

Madeline is the youngest child. When her parents move to Germany, she drops out of school and begins a successful and lucrative career in show business. In the end, though, she quits her experiment as an independent woman, marries, and moves off to be the housewife of an underpaid naval officer her father approves of. It is convenient that when Warren plays around, he is being a guy, Madeline’s indiscretions are youthful dalliances, Byron’s mistakes are indicative of character flaws—at least as far as the family seems to think. The resolution of her story is a bit too pat and offhand. She all but disappears in the last part of the second book.

Nathalie and Aaron Jastrow become more central characters in the second book. Much of War and Remembrance is told through Aaron Jastrow’s diaries, which recount his journeys from fascist Italy, through Vichy France, occupied France, Terezin, and ultimately Auschwitz. Aaron goes from being a somewhat arch and cynical scholar to rediscovering his Jewish heritage and coming to terms with God, all while the noose of Nazism is being lowered around his neck. The Nathalie and Aaron Jastrow sections of the books, especially the second book, are intense and often heartrending.  They are also somewhat frustrating. Throughout both books, the two are told to leave Europe. They are given opportunities to leave legally and illegally. Some of these opportunities come not only from their allies, but their enemies as well. Perversely, they persist in finding reasons to stay. Of course, this was not uncommon. Many Jews, American and European, who had the resources to leave found excuses not to believe the mounting evidence that the Nazi’s anti-Semitic policies were resulting in mass deportations and murders. By the end, the two cease to become actors in their drama and become victims, and the reader is left emotionally exhausted by their plight. Perhaps this is a result of Wouk simply being too effective as a writer.

Nathalie’s erstwhile fiancé, and Byron’s sometime competitor, Lesley Slote is the character who raises the battle standard and tries to get the United States government to take action in response to the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews. He is driven, in part, by guilt over having dropped Nathalie in the first place—because her Jewishness might affect his career as a diplomat. He is also trying to make up for his own cowardice when he was obliged to go to the front lines during the German’s assault on Warsaw. Slote, another philanderer, is our moral conscience. Like us, he chose to overlook what was going on in Europe—he does so by over-intellectualizing it. When he does take action, he is blocked at every turn by career opportunists and politicians who are more concerned with avoiding controversy than doing the right thing.

Wouk has peopled this massive work with compelling and human characters. Even historical figures, who have often become caricatures and stereotypes or even icons in literature and film, come across as flesh and blood. Although Pug is disgusted by Hitler, he is also impressed by the man. Roosevelt is not only friendly and personable; he is also manipulative and petty. At one point, when given a choice of assignments—one a dream assignment, the other a rather dull bureaucratic job—Pug is left with the clear impression that any favor he might have curried would be lost if he chooses the wrong (dream) one. Stalin, a monster on par with Hitler, is personable with Pug and treats him politely, remembering obscure details about Pug’s life even though they only meet once or twice. Churchill, who spends a fair amount of time with Pug, fails to recognize him from one time to the next. Pug even meets Mussolini, though Il Duce is explored more amusingly with the Jastrows.

Not all of Wouk’s characters are of world-historical importance, but they are all engaging and many of them are memorable. Branch Hoban, Byron’s first submarine skipper, has the misfortune of being the duology’s clear reflection of Queeg. He is competent as a peacetime officer, but unable to handle the stresses of combat. Hoban is replaced by ‘Lady’ Aster, another career officer, but one who has more personality than most of the other characters in the novels. That is not to say that Wouk’s characters are flat, but many are rather dull as people. Those who lead interesting lives proactively seek out quiet ones. Aster is an unabashed skirt-chaser (his target is the recently widowed Janice Henry—those Henry girls are certainly magnets for womanizers) and Halsey wannabe. He reminds us, when he has his men gun down defenseless Japanese sailors in the water, that our moral superiority was not so much more moral or superior. Aster is the new breed of Americans. Pug and his generation might speak softly and carry a big stick; Aster and his generation still have the big stick, but want to hoot and holler as they smash heads in with it. Aster is a good foil for both Pug and Byron. His aggressive personality shows us that the military does not have to be filled with professional sticks in the mud like Pug. Perhaps if he were of Pug’s generation, he would be Halsey to Pug’s Spruance. Of course, Halsey blustered his way through the Pacific making splashy headlines but having little real military impact while Spruance quietly did more to win the war than any other commander except, arguably, Patton. Aster also shows us, and Byron, that a headstrong personality needs to be reigned in and focused on the issue at hand. Aster’s fate—part result of his overweening pride and part karma for his sins as a leader and a lover—serve as a wake-up call to Byron. The needs of his country do little to force Byron to grow up; being a husband and father only make matters worse; seeing his friend and mentor gunned down and then being thrust into command of a submarine in enemy waters do the trick—for the most part (Byron still has father issues).

Interspersed throughout both novels are chapters that explore the politics and the war from a German point of view in the form of memoirs by a former German general, Armin von Roon, an acquaintance of Pug Henry’s. Roon is neither a monstrous Hans Landa, nor a craven Colonel Klink. He is simply a German soldier who admires and follows his leader, and only has doubts when his side starts losing. Von Roon’s arguments and shifting loyalties remind us that just a few years after the war, Germany became our ally. The language of World War II was changed, ex post facto. It became a war that we fought against the Nazis, rather than the Germans. This is a distinction that continues to this day. It may have been politically expedient and it may make some people feel better about themselves, but it is simply wrong. The citizens of a victorious Germany would have had no qualms about idolizing their Fuhrer. Von Roon goes so far as practically to accuse the Allies of winning through unfair means: by having more men, more tanks, more supplies, and tricking Germany into a two-front war. Von Roon also serves to give some of the clearest most concise descriptions of some of World War II’s most important campaigns. His—or rather, Wouk’s—discussions on Midway and Leyte Gulf should be used in textbooks. Indeed, one historian in a book on Leyte Gulf singles out Wouk’s section on the battle as being one of the best for general-interest readers.

Wouk has been a best-selling author for decades. He has a Pulitzer Prize as well as an enduring reputation. He is an author whose work is interesting to read. The reader is drawn to the story. World War II is the watershed of the twentieth century. It is America’s greatest moment. It is central to any number of films and books during and since. That war and the associated horrors still resonate in hearts minds across all borders: temporal, physical, and political. Wouk plops us into these grand global events in medias res. Perhaps, from time to time, Wouk gets bogged down with a bit too much history, but that is understandable and forgivable. Moreover, he always returns to what matters in literature: the stories of people who have run up against obstacles and need to overcome them. The personal obstacles are those that we all face from time to time, if not in detail at least in spirit: love, hate, family, work, despair. The historical, global obstacles are so vivid and so compelling that we want to be there, helping the characters mount their assaults on them. In the end, Wouk tells us, assures us, that the world is saved and preserved, not by the great figures of history like FDR or Churchill but by the everymen who drag their sorry asses through the mundane pitfalls of real life, unencumbered by the trappings of power and greatness. Pug and Byron may be great. However, they are great not because they are heroes who strive for greatness, but because they are people who have to be great, if only for a moment, so that they can return to their cherished anonymity.

If there are any drawbacks to these books, only two stand out. The first is that they are so long. For over two thousand pages, the reader lives through the six years of World War II, feeling as if he or she has experienced all the upheavals, all the pain, all the joy. It is an draining experience. The second is that it ends. There is a sequel there, even if Wouk does not write it. He later wrote the Hope and the Glory duology about the founding of Israel, and one half expects and hopes to see Byron Henry somewhere in it with his family.

For those of you who do not want to read the books, there are also three miniseries that were made on them in the 1980s. The miniseries are available on DVD. With about forty hours to watch, they are well worth the money. They stray slightly from the novels, but that is to be expected. Television is a different medium than literature. WoW was shown as one 883 minute long miniseries of seven episodes. WaR was divided into two miniseries totaling 1620 minutes and twelve episodes.

Robert Mitchum, in his mid to late 60s, is a bit old to be playing a 50-year-old Pug Henry. While the age difference in the books is unusual, in the miniseries, a geriatric Pug pursuing a Pamela (Victoria Tennant) half his age is unseemly.

Jan-Michael Vincent plays the brooding Byron. He was recast between The Winds of War and the first part of War and Remembrance. The official word is that he was busy making Airwolf, though scuttlebutt has it that he partied too much and was difficult to work with. Whatever the truth may be, he was replaced with the eminently less interesting Hart Bochner.

The much-too-old Ali McGraw was replaced by Jane Seymour as Nathalie. John Houseman was too ill to repeat his performance as Aaron Jastrow. John Gielgud was a acceptable replacement, but he pales in comparison with Houseman’s polished cynic. There are some other cast changes from WoW to WaR, but the only other one that is notable is that they put the much prettier Sharon Stone in for Deborah Winters as Janice, Warren’s debutante wife. Of course, Janice becomes a major player in the second book, especially after her husband dies, so the actress has to be prettier and more of a match for the young Aster (Barry Bostwick, taking over for Joseph Hacker). Jeremy Kemp, stern and forbidding, is von Roon, a much larger role in the miniseries than in the books. Typically, to make him sympathetic, the writers of the miniseries (which included Wouk) make von Roon part of the 20 of July Plot to assassinate Hitler. Ralph Bellamy as FDR is a delight. Günter Meisner (WoW) and Stephen Berkoff (WaR), make Hitler come alive in all his charismatic creepiness. Berkoff is given a much more interesting role: Hitler’s decline.

Both the duology and the miniseries serve as landmarks in their respective media. The books are compelling. They are epic. To my mind, they are the best fictional books on World War II. Perhaps Pug Henry is the truly American epic hero: the everyman who is forced to take center stage because everyone else who wants to be there is mucking it up so badly. The miniseries is one of the finest miniseries ever made—and it does not even have Richard Chamberlain in it.


The Books

Winds of War     A+

War and Remembrance     A+

The Miniseries

WoW     A

(Mitchum is just too old, so it cannot have the +)

WaR (both)     A

(Mitchum keeps getting older. And the Holocaust scenes make The Passion seem cheerful)

(posted: 22 December 2011; reposted/revised 7 may 2012)

Some New Reviews have been Published

Good afternoon. I am quite pleased with a couple of reviews that I received just this week.

The other day, I awakened to find a glowing Five-Star review on Amazon. Check the the entire review, which closes with:

“Rosi’s Castle is a wonderful tale set in a New England background sure to captivate any reader. But being a local to the area I am biased and I love a good New England ghost story. Having often traveled the trails of New Hampshire woods, I could picture the family castle perched high on a woody hill with the White Mountains as a backdrop. I was taken by the author’s ability to inspire me to follow Rosi on her quest and lose myself in her world, which, to me, is the sign of a great story and why I feel is deserves 5 stars. I would recommend this book to any parent to pass on to their teenager.”

A few hours later, I received an email from Readers Favorite informing me that I had been awarded a Five-Star Review on their site.

I found the process of soliciting a review from Readers’ Favorite to be interesting. Some months ago, when Rosi’s Castle first came out, I submitted the manuscript to Readers’ Favorite along with a short plot description (pretty much the description on the back of the book). Just over a week ago, Readers’ Favorite wrote me back saying that no one had picked up the book to review. Because this was my first book, I was welcome to resubmit it. They recommended that I change the blurb, so that potential reviewers would know it was a different listing. I tossed my teaser back at the website. five days later — a five-star review.