Tulagihotel.com Blog RSS Tulagi Hotel http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp en 2 <![CDATA[A review of Treasure Islands by N. Shaxson]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=1 I picked up this book (actually its Finnish translation) at a book fair, because it seemed to handle tax evasion and planning, as well as tax havens and offshoring, which have been of interest to me for a while.

It did. I had three questions I hoped it would answer: what are tax havens, what is the effect of offshoring, and how can we start to rectify the appalling financial problems in the world. I am also happy to report this book does indeed answer all three.

Having read some other books on postwar economy, ie. Bretton Woods and after that, I had been under the illusion that the little hot islands in the Caribbean are the root of all evil. That is not at all true. They do contribute to the problem in a massive way, but much more blame is to be put on the politicians who shied away from setting robust rules on financial markets and transactions. The development in the City of London in the 1950s, as well as the Thatcherite Big Bang of the 1980s serve as illustrations on just how clueless, and powerless, politicians have been in the glare of financial empire building.

The modern financial system supplies companies with almost limitless means for hiding profits by moving vast amounts of money between subsidiaries at the click of a mouse. In another source I read that while banks used to hold on to stock for four years on the average, the current time is 22 seconds. If all that stock selling and buying is supposed to create tangible value, I do not see how that would be even possible, and after this book I know it doesn't. It creates money for nothing (I wonder if Dire Straits was right and tricks are for free) and it is all just a big bubble.

The way corruption and use of advanced loopholes in national and international law are used to siphon real assets such as oil and other commodities, not to mention money, out of developing countries, is nothing short of appalling. In the name of fast and efficient transfer of money, it has become possible to fade out any trail of real ownership of money once it enters one of these tax havens. Shaxson brings out some people who used to work in the financial sector but left it, usually due to nausea incurred by the flaunting of rules, regulations and especially the lack of any trace of shame, and the way these people are able to illustrate, first-hand, what goes on behind the scenes is hard to read. You have your eyebrows on the dome of your head from time to time.

And the third thing, the way out, is listed at the end in about ten key actions. All these would spell the doom of the financial world as we know it today, and therefore I am not at all confident they will be picked up any time soon. I definitely hope that the people of all nations, everywhere, would pick up the standard and start yelling out for honesty, transparency, and fairness in trading and financial action in their respective countries. But faced as we all are with local big companies and a financial sector interested plainly and exclusively with the making of more money out of thin air, it will be an uphill battle.

After reading this excellent book, I am more convinced than ever of this: greed will be the ruin of this world.
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Mon, 03 Feb 2014 007:32:00
<![CDATA[A review of "Starlight" by Scott Ely]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=2
Scott Ely's book is one of the better Vietnam narratives. Just like WW2, Vietnam has its own set of cliches, and in a way they all have to be in every book of Vietnam: the landing zones, the Hueys, the Arclight bombings, and what have you.

Ely is much more skillful as an author than many I have read. He relegates the props to the set, where they belong. What he brings out into the foreground is the protagonist Jackson and his intense will to survive, even as clothes rot off his body and the Vietcong repeatedly attack the mountaintop where he has happened to get sent, as radioman to the base commander, Major Hale.

Jackson's descent into the climactic dream-like sequence is told in vivid detail, and often with wonderful similes. The main action happens between Jackson and the shaman-like sniper, Tom Light, whose gunsight gives its name to the book. Tom LIght is a legend among both Vietcong and the US Military for his sniping activity, and even more, for his ability to walk the border between the living and the dead. The development of the relationship between Jackson and Light is very credible, as is the more strained one between the rest of the base soldiers and Light; he is revered and feared, and also, hated.

In many Vietnam books, the absolute fatigue that overcomes all the men as they are deprived of sleep, food, and decent living conditions is pushed to the fore, but Ely handled this side of the war with precision and compassion. In fact, the way he portrays the surreal elements of the jungle war, such as the silk suits a soldier has brought from a R&R session in Hong Kong, is very enjoyable. And the depths of mental confusion that result from lack of sleep and safety are also told with such force that the reader sits still and just reads on. Caustic wit is sprinkled on in carefully controlled amounts.

I can say I enjoyed this book well enough to give it five stars, which is something I reserve for very good books. But Ely has delivered a true-to-life, jarring, and compassionate book, that is true to the men who had to enter that hell of a jungle and watch their friends picked off by snipers or blown to pieces by mortars. If you are into books like that, do not miss this one.

And hey, one of the key characters is a monkey. With hand grenades.]]>
Fri, 31 Jan 2014 20:21:00
<![CDATA[Book review: Commando by James Owen]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=3
This book delivers the complete story of the men who served in Commando units during World War 2. It takes you right from the fledgling units which tested the premise of extremely tough, resourceful, and brave men attempting small team warfare against heavily defended enemy units, and the need for reconnaissance on the ground, to the final days of the war.

You will be amazed by the men who dreamed up the Commando warfare tactics and strategy, as well as their stubborn and non-negotiating approach to their colleagues. Many of the commanders of Commandos simply wanted a unit that would fight the way the leader wanted, and would not want to merge with another unit so as to get a more efficient force. This is evident especially in the first few raids, where the tactics were not yet solid, and losses ran high.

The book is handily divided into chapters on individual raids, the names of which (ARCHERY, FRANKTON, and OVERLORD to mention a few) have entered folklore as feats of bravery. As you read the raid stories, you gain an insight into how the Commando warfare evolved, from armed reconnaissance to high-risk canoe-borne mining operations, and specialist attacks on artillery batteries and other such heavily fortified enemy positions. At the same time you will see how rigid the military is in considering new and unconventional methods of warfare, and will despair when you think of the men who lost theor lives to bureaucracy and leader dissent.

There is no question whatsoever about the bravery of individual Commandos. Some of the stories are unbelievable and harrowing, such as the FRANKTON raid into Bordeaux. You will feel the chill the Commands felt, when they tried to escape after the raid and had to swim in freezing water to avoid capture. The author does a splendid job in taking you along to the raids, and some sequences of this book are real page-turners.

And yet, he makes no effort to exaggerate the results of the raids. So often a raid cost the Commando team half or more of its men, and the results that were brought back were negligible in the big picture. Still, Hitler was so incensed by the Commandos work that he issued a directive to kill on sight every Commando captured, even if this is in direct opposition to the Geneva Conventions. This directive meant that the Commandos gained even more respect from the enemy forces.

Of course, a successful Commando raid (such as the one on the radar installation in Bruneval) could yield substantial rewards, but the win-to-loss ratio of most raids stands definitely in the red. One can only marvel at the willingness of men to volunteer to the Commando forces; probably they felt that in this war of total destruction, it would be better to burn bright and die fighting than to wither away in a massed attack on enemy positions.

The book has some interesting pictures too, and is very well written. I recommend it to any WW2 aficionado.
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Tue, 28 Jan 2014 11:34:00
<![CDATA[A review of Stan and Ollie by S. Louvish]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=4
I am one of the people who became to love the style of the dynamic duo. Stan's desolate weep routine and Ollie's physical being-hit-with-a-barrel-of-bricks gags appealed to my sense of humor, and they still do. One day, as I began to reminisce on the L & H films, I decided to buy a book on them and learn more of my childhood heroes.

This book is a definite four stars' worth of history, not only on Laurel and Hardy, but also on vaudeville, pre-Hollywood comedy, and a veritable compendium of people who starred in such enterprises, either for a brief period of fame, or as a real star that shined for decades. There is also ample references to non-actors, ie. screenwriters,. directors, producers, and even people who wrote the texts in silent films. As such it is very enjoyable.

The author also does a great job in describing the early years of our heroes, with Stan following in his father's footsteps into the footlights of vaudeville in early 20th century England, and with Ollie having to endure a period in military college(!) before he finds his way from movie theater projectionist into the camera eye. Just think of the amount of hazing someone with his physique must have endured as a kid, and you begin to understand why his comedy has such a frail sense of humility in it.

The boys' ventures into marriage proved to be stormy trips indeed, with multiple brides, plentiful alimony cases, and substance abuse providing much hassle in civilian life. In fact, it is incredible how the duo managed to bring out such classics as "Way Out West" and "Sons of the Desert" when their own private lives were in constant turmoil.

The book is rife with anecdotes regarding people whose contribution to comedy was fleeting, and that is one of the problems with it. While the author has collected a vast repository of information regarding the supporting cast and production teams, sometimes the book gets bogged down in these details, and focus shifts a little too far from Stan and Ollie.

The same is true for his depiction of comedy as a human function. I am very interested in the role of the comedian all the way from court jesters to Robin Williams, but in this book, the metaphysical sometimes takes precedence over the realization of comedy by the incomparable Laurel and Hardy. Some of the script snippets are also a little long, as are the descriptions of events that were in films that are lost to posterity.

All in all, I am not saying it is not a good book - on the contrary, I enjoyed it a lot. With some condensing it'd be a great book, because it really manages to bring out the human side of Laurel and Hardy in both the professional and the private aspects of their lives.
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Tue, 05 Nov 2013 007:27:00
<![CDATA[The situation as it now stands]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=5
This is how it all went: in 2010, when I had the Diiarts edition in hand, I went around the magazines and newspapers first, trying to get reviews for it. I was amazed by the lack of interest in the book. Finns read more books in English these days than ever before, but I could only land one review for it, in the English-language weekly, The Helsinki Times, who liked the book. A few scattered mentions in other papers and one interview in my trade union magazine was all I could get.

All other newspapers and magazines expressed lukewarm interest in it, despite the human interest story behind the book, which I thought would be a major asset in getting the word out on the book. My plan was to first get some exposure in media and then go for local publishers.

Alas, that interest never materialized.

Undaunted, I grabbed a copy of the list of members in the Finnish Publishers' Association and started a vigorous email campaign. I sent a cover letter and the Diiarts press release in the message. I also called some copanies by phone. Here, interest was somewhat larger, and I managed to get a copy sent to about a dozen publishers. I also contacted Finnish literature agents, who were not impressed.

But one by one the answers came in, always negative. I did not get a straight reply from them with a clear reason for the negative stance; one publisher did take the time to tell me the story was cliche-ridden and poorly written, but I didn't take that too hard. After all, it had been picked up by a British publisher, albeit small.

At the same time, publishers raced for "50 Shades of Gray" and it was launched in Finland in a very expedited manner. The publisher said Finnish readers had the right to expect a chance to read a "literary phenomenon" in Finnish as soon as possible. Also, many other books came out with authors who were known from other circles, and thus had platforms.

But having spent the time on the book since 1996 I was not in a hurry. I was silently confident there would be one publisher who would take the book at face value and decide on the story itself whether to publish, not by platforms or phenomenons, and one publisher is all one needs.

And yes, in August this year, Sitruuna Kustannus agreed to publish Tulagi in Finnish. The publisher is small, but managed by very talented and experienced people, and they decided it is time to bring Tulagi Hotel out to the Finnish market. Needless to say, I was overjoyed with this offer, and it was easy to clinch a deal with this firm. They are now working on a book by Jeffrey Archer, so I can safely say I am in good company.

Sitruuna has wasted no time in getting the ball rolling, and we are all set for a launch in August 2014, which is just fine by me. If there's anything I have learned from the experience of getting a Finnish publisher, it is the same as I have from the whole project - things take time but they tend to get sorted out in due course.
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Thu, 17 Oct 2013 008:59:00
<![CDATA[Review: Hitler's Scientists by J. Cornwell]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=6
Before the Great War, Germany was a leading country in many fields, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and industrial applications thereof. The war left it crippled and struggling to survive in the economic tumult, but enough of its scientists survived the war to start the new armament industries. The German work ethic was applied to rebuilding industries, and as soon as Hitler took over, the Wehrmacht.

Cornwell lists literally dozens of key players in this rearmament program, scientists and economists alike. Hitler's dictatorship enabled a wholly new way of working towards the reborn supremacy of Germany, and science stood poised for success. But then Hitler's inane racial laws started to bite: Jews were at first made uncomfortable in the universities and other research facilities, as well as important professions such as medicine. Then they were expeller, and later still, persecuted and ultimately herded off to the concentration camps. This was Hitler's first folly.

The second, at least as idiotic, was his megalomaniac and and paranoid way of keeping control of as much as he possibly could. This meant he was shown the results of science and research, and then he decided what would be a good application for any given idea in his plan of world dominance. Hitler is shown to have lacked even the basic scientific understanding, and therefore, many useful ideas and projects were led astray from becoming real tools in his war.

The idea of "German Science" is about as stupid as you can get: leading Aryan scientists declared that any theoretical work, such as quantum mechanics, was un-Aryan, and as such, it was not to be pursued. Only experimental research was fostered (and that very much actually), but if your goal was something like the atom bomb, it was not going to happen without theorists. Werner Heisenberg, he of the uncertainty principle and many other key ideas in nuclear physics, was left alone in Germany, with only a handful of other German scientists, when all the Jews from Einstein down fled the country. Of course, you think of the big issue - could Germany have come up with a real atom bomb during World War 2? The answer in this book is very clearly laid out, and it is 'no'. But the mere idea gives you the creeps...

The same inability to manage hindered the Luftwaffe too. Hermann Goering, that WW1 ace turned aficionado of the good life, was just as idiotic in managing the research that Luftwaffe and the fine aeronautical companies of Junkers, Messerschmitt and others were doing. And the Army research projects which ultimately yielded the V-1 and V-2 rocket technology, was hampered all along by bad management.

But by far the most terrifying facet is this: there was only one Albert Speer. If Hitler could have cloned Speer, and set someone of his abilities to run the research in all of the aforementioned fields, the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, as well as the Navy, would have been much more formidable enemies to the Allies than they were in the actual case. Speer's unrivalled talent kept the German war machine going far beyond the point at which winning the war was still an option, but had he been brought in earlier still, it would have spelt doom to Russia, and to the Allies too.

Only the atomic bomb program lay beyond German grasp. It took the entire wealth of the USA, and lots of assets from Britain, to carry out the Manhattan Project, and in this book, that gets a fair amount of exposure. If Hitler had kept the Jewish scientists at work in Germany, the world today would be very different. Luckily for us, his vision carried him only so far, and then failed him. This book contains a lot of material on the German scientists' attitudes towards application of science in warfare, especially focusing on the nuclear research. Not all scientists were Hitler's pals, but enough of them were to make the concentration camps a terrifying reality, and as effective as possible.

If you are looking for a book on science in Germany before the end of WW2, this is probably your best bet. The final chapters of the book are a little off the mark in my mind, but in all, this is a great book on a subject that is well researched, but not well reported yet.]]>
Wed, 04 Sep 2013 16:24:00
<![CDATA[Recurring dreams]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=7
Given my interest in all machines that fly, I don't think it odd that my dreams contain aircraft. The setting, on the other hand, is always a little weird. For example, I have dreamed of sitting in the window seat of an Airbus 340 (a cross-continental, wide-body airplane), which is pushed back from the gate and then taxies towards the runway. Nothing special there. But the plane then takes a turn on the taxiway and enters a regular road, its wingtips just barely missing the trees on either side.

The huge plane gingerly wends its way down the road until the captain guns the engines when the road is straight for a little stretch. I watch out the window and get a queasy feeling - taking off from a runway is tough enough, but from a road? And the plane accelerates as best it can, only to reach enough speed to leave the ground, but unable to clear the next hill. It impacts the trees and the ground with an almighty bang, and for a while I am sure the entire plane, its crew and passengers must come to a fiery end, but I find myself sitting on the ground in the wreckage and dialing for help on my mobile.

And this is the oddest thing: no one ever dies in my dreams.

I have seen planes shedding wings and falling out of the sky to a nearby field, and while I rush to the scene with a sickening feeling of anticipated carnage, I always find people hurt (lightly) and the plane itself a total write-off. Sometimes military helicopters have flown in formation above Helsinki, only to collide and fall in flames on the railway station - and yet, not one person is taken away in a body bag. Landing mishaps are another staple feature in my dreams, as pilots attempt landing in bad weather or on runways markedly too short for the plane.

Of course I have been checking the Internet for an explanation, and the sites seem to always tell me this sort of stuff, as Dreammood.com: "To dream that a plane crashes signifies that you have set overly high and unrealistic goals for yourself. You are in danger of having those goals come crashing down. Alternatively, the crashing airplane represents your lack of confidence, self-defeating attitude and self-doubt. You do not believe in your own ability to achieve those goals. Loss of power and uncertainty in achieving your goals are also signified. "

This doesn't sound very much like me, but the kitchen psychologist in me does want to associate the dreams with the project called Tulagi Hotel. That sounds a little credible: it's been going on for fifteen years, and some may say it is an over-ambitious and pretentious piece of work. To think I could put together that big a book, in English even (I will never omit mentioning I had three wonderful native editors on it though), and get it published?

But I did, not once, but thrice.

Maybe the reason no one ever dies in the dream is thefact that I never pinned my hopes or my writing life on the success of the book. Had I done so, and the book failed, it would have been a massive blow, and maybe my dreams would have been real slaughterhouses. But as I am still keeping the day job (until mr Spielberg finally returns my call), my subconscious doesn't want to present me with a true disaster.

The reason for bringing this issue of recurring dreams now is this: last night I dreamed of an exceedingly large autogiro (a strange contraption, half helicopter, half plane) flying over my old hometown. As it crossed Lake Tuomiojärvi, it lost a propeller blade and began to lose altitude very fast. I watched it falling and thought, here we go again, but for the first time, when I reached for my mobile to call in a major disaster in the making, I said to myself, "call if you want but it won't make any difference, because this is a dream." That is a big difference to the anguish I have felt in previous dreams. Does that signal to me that something is about to happen to my recurring dream? Will I not see a crash next time I dream of an airplane? As open as I am to the implications regarding Tulagi Hotel, I will leave it up to you to draw your own. I am just interested to see what happens next.]]>
Sat, 24 Aug 2013 14:02:00
<![CDATA[Review: Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=8
What we have today is nothing but the realization of the dreams of people such as John von Neumann, Alan Turing, Stan Ulam, and a wide cast of others who all feature in this book. The dreams were not realistic in the time of the Enigma and the Colossus and the Maniac, due to reasons of materials technology and some vital missing parts such as the transistor. But the ideas are all there, right up to hyperlinked documents and an universal network across the entire globe.

It is not an easy read; you have to bear in mind many details as you go along, otherwise the magic will be lost. But if you read this book with thought and time, you will be breathless by the time you finish it. You will be amazed at the immeasurable intelligence of von Neumann and Alan Turing, and the way engineers were able to take whatever they had and build machines that could simulate the atom bomb going off - never mind if it took 40 days to finish, their machine did billions of computations and not faltered once. Impressive in the extreme!

We all have read about the bombes and the Colossi at Bletchley Park, and how ENIAC came along to spawn MANIAC and JOHNNIAC and a host of other computers. What is interesting is how these machines are projections of the human mind, and how personal features and different mathematical styles were brought together by World War 2 in the race for the ultimate weapon. It is also interesting to see how these fathers of the digital age saw such a wide variety of applications for the computer; it was not just for bombs, but for weather solutions and financial theories as well. Even the Monte Carlo methods have a close tie to the birth of the computer, as well as any system which is built out of non-perfect parts, but works perfectly in any case.

What finally blew me away was Dyson's projections into the future from here. He maintains the Internet is a self-replicating automaton, a gigantic Turing machine, well on its way to fulfilling Turing's dream of the Universal Machine. He points out minute details that are actually of great importance, such as the fact that email is not sent anywhere, instead a copy of the message is made at the destination, and this is an example of replication. None less interesting are the archaic ways to store data in memory, and the distinction between code and data. That division occurred quite early on, and it was just that division which enabled computers to become universal. It is almost impossible to understand how someone can use a pool filled with mercury to store data, but you can, if you are an early computer engineer.

To list the anecdotes of great personalities that are included in this wonderful book would be superfluous. You have to read it to see how John von Neumann catalyzed the entire top echelon of physicist and mathematicians to design the early computers, and how far the human mind is capable of reaching when it is free to range. Von Neumann is the central character by default in this book, but you will make lots of use of the Cast of Characters which is provided at the start of the book.

In a nutshell, I have not found a better book on the early days of computing - and this one takes you into the future too. Read it.]]>
Thu, 22 Aug 2013 009:50:00
<![CDATA[Review swapping and Tinkerbell]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=9
While I have not been able to go out for a couple of beers with Pete, since he lives in Boston and I am in Finland, I have come to appreciate him very much. We met on Authonomy already in 2009 and, like so many other authors of the early days, began a friendship that enabled (hopefully both of) us to develop the craft through constructive criticism. I sent him my short stories and he let me read his own work, and I dare say that along with Greta van der Rol and Pd Allen, Pete's crits were the most valuable.

So when we both published our work, we did leave reviews. However, I am absolutely adamant that Pete never solicited the praise I left for "Diary of a Small Fish" and his words on Tulagi Hotel were not influenced by our knowing each other. I would have left the very same review even if the book was written by John Doe.

But this site, which I am unable to see now because of "internal server error", provides a long trail of supposedly evil behavior by Pete, as evidenced by a bunch of bilateral reviews. These people are hell-bent to prove Pete is one of the sock puppet people who buy and sell reviews.

That is silly. It is idiotic in the extreme, because Pete's writing, and indeed the mutual reviews of people, are up to high standards and there simply is no need to buy reviews.

The people who run this smear site are not out with their real names. Instead, it is run by "Tinkerbell", "Experiment 626", "Athena" and "Peter Pan". These people, who are too scared to have their names on the site, claim to be Goodreads readers who want to eradicate "false reviewing procedure on Goodreads" and "expose review buying and other bad behavior". Well, that's all good and well, but if they do it by smearing people who simply do not engage in those tactics in the first place, they are in error.

Shooting from the bush is of course the first indication that the site is not to be taken seriously, but I was sufficiently irked to write them a comment. It sunk without a trace. So I sent another comment, this time directly to the admins, in which I said some nasty things about the allegations they make, and now I cannot reach the site.

Of course, if you get attacked by Tinkerbell, and not someone honest enough to have their own name and email on the site, the effect is comparable to that of having the little fairy kick your butt from the movie screen. But I was really annoyed by being listed in this farcical blog, and I left this comment twice:

"Well... as one who has the dubious honor of appearing as one of your "exchange students" (I am from Finland) I have to say this:

I am astonished at the stupidity of this post and whoever wrote it. Such Mount Rushmore scale idiocy is rare to come by.

I am an adult, a grown-up, and a fan of good literature wherever I can find some. I can make a distinction between scratching a friend's back and writing a review for a book I enjoyed very much. I know when a friend is fishing for a compliment and when he had produced something I can enjoy and help other people enjoy too.

I have not endorsed any book or any other product by anyone, if I have not felt it deserving of the praise. I have left Robert Harris five star reviews on Amazon, and a two-star one for "The Fear Factor". Because it was not good.

If you think it happens so that I rate Pete well and he rates me well too because we're friends, you're free to have that opinion of course. But I'll tell you something - I know a lot of indie authors, and the most honest and brutal feedback ever has come from these people. And I have told Pete Morin when his writing sucks.

There simply is no point doing it any other way. I will keep my free will in rating, and issue stars and other adornments as per the merits of the book I read. And I thank you for keeping very far from me and my judgment in these issues - you can keep your sandbox free of me.

Thank you for reading this far. It may have been arduous."

It remains to be seen whether Tinkerbell knows how to read feedback. If you are able to see http://www.stopthegrbullies.com/2013/05/19/pete-morin-review-swapping/, read the page and comment. It'd be so good to swamp them with replies.]]>
Fri, 24 May 2013 008:06:00
<![CDATA[Book review: The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=10
The main feature of this book is of course the extraordinary love and affection that Winston Churchill found in Clementine Hozier. There are few couples at the top of the ruling classes in this world who have found a relationship that sees them through the good and the bad times: Margaret and Dennis Thatcher, Ronald Reagan with his Nancy, and Mikhail Gorbachev with Raisa Gorbacheva spring to mind. I do declare though that the Churchills take the cake. Clementine realized early on that Winston was an exceptional man and he would change the world, but only if he had a home to call his own and a balanced life. She set out to provide just that, and she did it so well that Winston was able to steer full steam ahead through times of peace and war.

This is not to say the Churchills did not have their adversities in life, far from it. Besides losing one daughter to sickness at the age of three, their other children provided ample problems all through their lives, and the author is very balanced in her delivery of these events in the Churchills' life. In fact, it is in a way cathartic to see that even if you rule the remains of an empire, you still have to deal with an unruly son whose ego was second only to his father's, and who had such trouble locating his place in the world.

This book also excels in the description of upper-echelon life in the late Victorian period into the Roaring Twenties and the post-war era. It is nothing short of revelatory to see how behind the facades, men are cuckolded with glee and women are thrust into societal sidelights through the unbelievable extramarital affairs of their husbands. It seems that many marriages were entered into for all the wrong reasons such as money, prestige, family ties or simple coercion.

Another feature that gets much air time in the book is the role of money in the said circles. Take Blenheim, the Churchills' family estate, a vast mammoth of a building in dire need of funds for repair and upkeep. The solution by the then Duke? Marry money. It's fine, because the mother of the bride-to-be had long been of the opinion that her daughter should be a Duchess. So, Sunny Marlborough and Consuelo Vanderbilt got married only to find very quickly that they were exact opposites in any issue imaginable. Sure, the next generation heir was produced, but the heart-rending story of these two unhappy people has been delivered by the author in a delicate vein.

WHy read this book? First, because it sheds light on Winston Churchill the man instead of WC the PM. Second, because few books have such a wide cast of characters, and still form a coherent narrative. And third, because this is the best book I have read so far that makes you understand just how the posturing, pomp, and circumstance of Victorian England actually operated, and how the influx of American money princesses changed things. This is a highly entertaining read and you will have much fun picturing people running into their mistresses in the company of another mistress while on the run from their wives. And vice versa.

And you will see that there is such a thing as true love.]]>
Sun, 21 Apr 2013 14:34:00
<![CDATA[8mm and historical fiction]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=11
My father was a home movie buff to the extent of mixing musical scores to his 20 minute movies (Wagner for the movie "To Austria and back by car" etc.) and hammering a hole in a wall between two rooms to be able to project from there, cinema-wise. He would have been crazy about the new way of making digital movies with the limitless editing capabilities and various delivery methods, but he passed away before seeing the old home movies on DVD.

I find it absolutely wonderful that there still are sites where you can buy this film stock and have it developed too. My Bolex projector still runs, I have a spare lamp, and if that one fails, I can buy one online from a small company that makes special lamps like that. The Internet is wonderful.

I have bought a roll a year since 2011. When the movie returns from Wittner, we watch it on the projector, then send it to be scanned. That service is only 20 euros per roll, and then it is very easy to edit the movie into a coherent one.

It is amazing how real 8mm film sends you back in time. Last summer our son was about to leave for the Army to do his national service, and I shot some film of him grilling sausages, and then another scene of him returning for his first furlough. The ambiance is magically transformed into something from the 60s and there's this indefinable sense of peeking into history, merely because the movie is silent and the colors are so full.

But as a historical fiction author, my job is to do exactly the opposite. I should take views and vistas from the past, and deliver them to the modern reader so that they don't seem vignetted and shot in film, complete with light leaks and dust and streaks, but as if they were watching their fellow men and women today, in full personal view.

This is sometimes hard to do, and yet, at other times I get feedback from readers that they saw the scene in their own mind as fresh as if they were there themselves. It is times and comments like that which make it all worthwhile. I was especially touched when a reader of Tulagi Hotel wrote a short review on Amazon, explaining that the book had taken him back to his own memories when he took part in World War 2 in the Pacific.

Of course, when it doesn't work, it's not very good reading. We all have read historical fiction that just doesn't sound right and doesn't deliver the immersive experience, and I am sure I have written such stuff myself. In that case it is back to the writing chambers, to think hard about how to take the saturated colors and Technicolor images and jerky camera movement of age-old films, and transfer that to the high-definition life we live today.

It is a challenge, and I enjoy it almost as much as listening to the spring-driven Bolex whirring and capturing our life on film.]]>
Sun, 07 Apr 2013 009:24:00
<![CDATA[A quick request posing as a blog entry]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=12
If you know someone who might be interested in Tulagi Hotel, ie. someone who goes for meticulously researched historical fiction with a little romance and way too many airplanes in it, please ask them to do this:

1) Go to Amazon, and search the Kindle store for "World War 2 novel"

2) Find Tulagi Hotel in the results, click straight through, and buy it.

Now, this process, if done this way, should push the visibility of Tulagi in search results.

I am in no way against purchasing in via the natural method, of course, but... you know.

End of direct marketing. I will provide a regular blog entry soon. Probably to do with supernatural issues. Or 3D design and books. Or something ... completely... different.]]>
Thu, 28 Mar 2013 19:17:00
<![CDATA[A review of "Chickenhawk" by R. Mason]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=13
Mason used to dream of flying as a kid, and he experimented with jumping off roofs and other high places. It was not until he enrolled in the US Army's Helicopter School in 1964 that he managed any serious time in the air though. He wastes no time in getting to the thick of it, and he takes us through the school in vivid detail. Learning to fly helicopters is not for everyone, but Mason manages the craft and graduates just in time - for Vietnam.

He is deployed with the 1st Cavalry Regiment in August 1965 into the cauldron of war. He decides he wants to fly 'slicks' as opposed to 'guns', which means he flies unarmed troop-carrying Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. He takes troops to battle, evacuates casualties, flies cargo all over the country, and acts as a 3D chauffeur for a major conducting clandestine operations with his grunts.

From the first moment of being shot at while landing troops, to the final flight before his tour of duty expires, he allows us to board his trusty Huey and takes off with us in the back. The invaluable instructions of the more experienced pilots, ranging from how to maintain position while flying in a hundred-ship formation to how to use the Huey as a lawn mower when landing on top of a hill that is sprouting bamboo, keep him safe and sound.

Except that the strain of flying around the clock if need be, and the toll of seeing people shot down, and having to land the Huey in the river so that they can just wash off the blood of evacuated grunts begins to take a terrible toll on him. When he is discharged, he finds it hard to readjust to the civilized world after the madhouse of Vietnam, and in a short epilogue tells us how things went after the war.

What is the enduring legacy of this book? It must be the way Mason frankly and candidly tells us everything that went on during his tour. He doesn't glorify war, or his pilot friends, or what he did when he was there. He merely recounts the life of a man who wanted to fly helicopters and was issued the best of them to fly in war. His tales, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes even incredible, never cease to drive home the message that war is a terrible thing.

This book is not to be missed by anyone who is into history, especially aviation or military history. It is one of the classic books in the genre.]]>
Tue, 26 Feb 2013 12:44:00
<![CDATA[A review of Enemies - a history of the FBI]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=14
The FBI is an iconic organization; even if it is an American feature, it is recognized and remembered around the world. When I grabbed this book, I expected to learn many details of the crime-busting the FBI has done, you know, the Dillingers and the Bonnies & Clydes, and how the Mafia was tackled.

There is some of that in this book. But much, much more this book focuses on the blatant civil rights abuses the FBI has committed all through its existence.

From the very beginning the FBI was designed to be the cutting edge of the law, the final frontier that would maintain peace in the country and protect the American citizen from the threat of communism and organized crime. Well, if the aim was good, the methods used to achieve that were definitely outside the tool box allowed by the law.

I was very surprised to see how J. Edgar Hoover was able to keep his outfit untouchable by such boring people as a succession of Attorney Generals. Some of these condoned his wholly and totally unconstitutional actions, and some just feared him and let him keep attacking the civil rights of the people he deemed to be threats to society. This bunch of people was so heterogeneous that it was really stretching my imagination even to understand who were being targeted by Hoover's FBI.

Then during WW2, the FBI enlarged its operations way beyond its intended purpose and installed agents everywhere. Some of these actually managed to do useful work, but the quality of the agents sent out was not very high; consequently the results were more often negligible. If you want to compare the FBI's operations to those of the CIA, see "Spycraft" by Wallace and Melton. The juxtaposition of FBI and CIA is actually interesting, especially since neither of them have managed to sit comfortably within the framework of the law.

The rest of the book is pretty much taken up by the fight against global terrorism, and even in that part of the book, incompetence and turf wars are much more on the scene than successful operations. Considering the amount of manpower and the sheer torrent of dollars issued to the FBI, I had to collect my eyebrows from my neck many times. Single agents, hard-working, loyal, and true to the law, have produced good results, but bungling chiefs and the incessant inter-departmental squibbling have wasted much of the benefits.

Yet to me, the biggest worry this book raises is this:

I just reviewed "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi, and was appalled by the way any regular citizen can become a target for the Mafia. The society of gangsters has taken on the society of citizens and has become superior to it, rendering judges and politicians corrupt, and financing their way out of any legal consequences.

And now, when I read this book, I saw how the one of the arms of the establishment have attacked the society of citizens from the other direction, stripping ordinary citizens of even basic civil rights based on hearsay and sometimes not even that. It is terrible to read of how the mere hunch of associating with Communists was enough to land one in jail and in serial court cases which were unwinnable, because the FBI had no proof, and the citizen was not told why he was being accused and of what.

As a final comment, I have to say this: I see the freedom so much touted by so many Americans in grave jeopardy from many directions. Maybe it would be good to finally issue a charter for the FBI and see to it that they stick to it.]]>
Mon, 14 Jan 2013 005:26:00
<![CDATA[A review of "Wiseguys" By N. Pileggi]]> http://www.tulagihotel.com/blog.asp?blog=15
Henry Hill fell in love with the Mafia way of life as a kid, and he stuck to it until the bitter end - or rather, until he had two choices. Either join the Federal Witness Protection Program, or face the music with the mobsters he had been living his life since he was twelve. The music would have killed him.

Pileggi's book traces the life of Henry Hill through all his scheming and swindling, from earning a few pennies delivering sandwiches to poker players to stealing cigarette trucks, and on to stealing millions of dollars' worth of cash and other goods from Kennedy Airport. It is sobering to see how anything is stealable in their world, and how little faith these people have in ownership.

It is also hair-raising to read this book and learn how these mobsters would just identify a target, be it Italian scarves, a truck of booze, or a load of mink furs, and they'd just go and grab it. Sometimes there is assistance from the people who have been charged with delivering the truck - they may be in on the hit and get a little bit of the money, but more often they just enter the truck, tell the driver they know where he lives, and drop the hapless guy off the truck by the highway and disappear with his truck.

It is this disregard for other people that makes this such a chilling book. In this world of wiseguys, all is theirs for the taking. In fact, it made me think that if this is still the case, that anything you happen to possess that is of interest to the Mob can be taken away from you, the much-touted American concept of freedom is not very valid. At least you're not free to own things, and if you try to put your case to the law, Hill provides ample examples of how both the police and the judicial system has members on the take.

And when you finally get to the end, and see how Hill escapes a bullet in the head (that was issued to everyone else who knew of the Lufthansa heist) to become a Federal employee, you wonder... is this all okay and correct that this should happen? People are killed en route to this, millions of dollars of property and cash are redistributed among wiseguys, and yet the prime mover becomes another man in lieu of the one he never was. I am not sure.

Read this book to learn about the business of being a wiseguy, but for splatter and flying kidneys, read "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer" instead.
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Thu, 03 Jan 2013 10:40:00