Having lots of fun, seriously.

Unknown

You know you’re into a good groove when you sit down to write at 0530, and by 0900 or so you’ve got 3500 words. This makes for a good way to start your day. It’s been like this for me since I started this unnamed project- without forcing anything the words simply seem to drop onto the page of the alternate history project I’m tinkering with.

It’s a lot of fun, and it’s killed the funk I was in for a while there. You guys know about it- when I wanted to do some form of violence to my Mac.

Between this alt history and the collaborations that are out there, 2019 should be pretty darn good. I don’t think the unnamed alt history will be published this year, but I will certainly have a manuscript ready by September, my deadline. Of course, a lot depends on how busy I get, so we’ll see.

In any case, I have made a serious start on this little book. Can’t say the name, because it will give away part of the game. But if you want to hazard a guess… shoot me an email through the contact link above, and I’ll say “hot” or “cold.”

Here’s another small, non-spoilerific snippet.

In the next hastily dug hole was Lance Corporal Tom Bailey. He was dreaming of home, again. His mother’s apple pies. His girl, Lucy. Her caresses. Everything that he missed. As usual, he cursed himself for a fool that he had volunteered for this shit. If he would have waited to finish University, maybe this stupid war would have been over and he wouldn’t have this responsibility, this madness.

His little bit of University time had earned him the stupid stripe on his sleeve. But what good Plato and plane geometry did him in the trenches, he didn’t know. At first he had been dazzled by military service, and he had let that puny stripe go to his head. Men like that old salt Joe had noticed, and they hung his hated nickname around his neck. Medals. He had grown used to it, but it still stung a little. These days he could give two shits about some piece of ribbon and silver. Too often he had seen men die, good fellows who didn’t deserve what they got.

As he looked over the flaxen field, he knew more men would die tonight. Tom was resigned to the bullet that would take his life, a bullet if he was lucky. Maybe a choking mouthful of mustard or chlorine. A whizzing patch of steel. A shovel. He had seen it all.

He would take deep breaths, and let them out slowly. He checked his pistol, a captured Luger, again and again. Tom felt the handle of the trench knife that stuck from his belt, he made sure it would draw easily. His little trench shovel was stuck in his belt as well, along with Mills bombs. He looked back across the field, he felt an electric pulse when he saw the shadowed houses.

Death was there, waiting. He knew it. And he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the dying, the screaming. The assault would go in and Medals was ready. What good was his mastery of Latin now, he wondered.

The lessons of plain steel were the only ones that mattered.

In other news, Go SpaceX! Check out the article about the successful docking of the Crew Dragon with the ISS, a pretty awesome feat for a private company.

 

 

 

Spearhead- a review

Unknown

I recently did some writing in the shoes of a tanker, and I wanted to square that writing with a first-person account of a real tanker in WW2. I did my best to source and interview an armored crewman for my writing, but I didn’t have a lot of luck.

So I was pretty happy to find the book “Spearhead,” although it came along a few months too late for the writing.

Finished the book up just now, and I’m jotting down my impressions while its memory is still fresh.

First, I was pretty pleased that my research in regard to the life of an armored crewman was pretty decent. Spearhead really didn’t have any big surprises for me, that was good. Plus, I have a fair bit of combat experience running guns in an armored vehicle, just not a tank. That helped.

But I digress. Let’s talk about the book, and why you should buy it, because you should. Especially if you’re interested in an accessible, very realistic and cross-verified account of armored warfare, or warfare in general.

I’m not interested in memoirs by generals. Don’t care much for people with agendas, either. If I read about war, I want to hear from the grunts who did the thing, not some shithead in the rear.

Well, Spearhead was told from the perspectives of the men who fought. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they died. It was very well written and meticulously researched. As a real bonus, this book features the perspective of an M26 Pershing crew, a very rare viewpoint as the Pershing was only committed to battle in limited numbers in the last months of the war.

This book gets down into the weeds of life on the front lines during the push into Germany in 1945. A false impression that some people have is that there wasn’t much fighting after the Ardennes Offensive, this is simply untrue. There was plenty, Spearhead makes this very clear.

The war shuddered to a halt, dragging countless lives down to ruin in its wake. The book discusses these people and brings them into heartbreaking focus, such as a German girl shot up by an intersection. It’s enough to make you want to weep at the waste.

This was another strong point of the book. What actually interests me far more than the combat is the aftermath- what happened to all of these people after the war? Spearhead does an excellent job of telling this story in poignant fashion.

The 3rd Armored Division, known as “Spearhead” after which the book is named, was not a glamorous outfit. But guess what- 95% of the units that bore the brunt of the fighting weren’t, either. This is what makes this such an important account- the experiences of the average fighting man are often glossed over, and we are watching the closing of a window in terms of being able to capture these stories before the last old soldier is laid to rest.

So for that reason, “Spearhead” is an important book, and a must-read not only for civilians with an interest in military history, but for staff colleges and required reading in military schools. Well, in my opinion, at least.

But knowing the Army, they’ll probably still have people reading about Douglas Fucking McArthur.

They should read “Spearhead,” instead.

Dixie the dog

90rh

It’s been a busy February. Lots of moving pieces with me right now, there are several writing projects ongoing.

The latest, a side-job, is the fault of Dixie the dog.

How.

OK, I get writing ideas at the strangest of times. This latest episode happened during a trip to the vet, it seemed that Dixie the crazy Australian cattle dog needed a rabies shot. So I gathered her up, got in the car and went. Along the way was a deserted highway, the perfect place for my head to go into neutral.

A hypothetical popped into my skull, I worried at it like gristle in the teeth. By the time I got home, had a formed idea. Sat down and started typing.

Within 48 hours there was a complete outline and “beat sheet,” and I started to write.

I won’t divulge the working name of the book or its premise.

All I’ll say is that it’s an alternate history, and here’s a small taste of the opener.

Bill held out a Mills bomb. “Get down, sir.” The Lieutenant wasted no time ducking behind some sand bags. Bill primed the grenade and threw it underhand into the trench and squatted. As soon as it went off, he rolled into the trench and squeezed off a burst to the right.

He should have aimed left, instead. A German came hurtling out of the smoke, bayonet first. There was no time to swing the BAR, Bill did the only thing he could. With his left hand he drew the tomahawk from his belt and cast it in a flat whirl, hard.

The two men locked gazes for an instant. The German rifleman’s eyes lost focus, he staggered then slumped, his rifle hit the ground before he did. As Bill was pulling his tomahawk from the man’s throat, the Lieutenant landed in the trench. He looked at the bloody tomahawk, the dead German, and Bill. The officer nodded, then pointed along the trench. Bill led off with the BAR, every few steps he would fire a burst while the Lieutenant watched his back.

Once he almost shot a Welshman. With much unintelligible cursing, the man joined their clearing party.

After some nameless length of time, the acrid smoke cleared. There was no-one left but the dead. Bill spotted movement; he fired and missed. A shit-scared German threw up his hands, he couldn’t have been a day over eighteen. He said something in a high-pitched voice; he dropped to his knees. Both the Lieutenant and Bill prepared to fire. A tear ran down the kid’s cheek.

“Ah hell, sir, this is too goddamn much.”

Enough for now. Just want to let you all know that I am writing, and at the moment it’s working out pretty well.

Now, it’ll be a while before this gets out there, but unlike “Demons” (which totally kicked my butt), this one is happening right now alongside the collaborations.

I have fair confidence this one will make it to print.

Some technical help

Unknown

So what has started as a bleak and boring winter has started to pick up. There are a number of projects coming up in the near, middle and far term. Pretty cool stuff.

I need some technical help from my UK and Commonwealth readers.

Specifically, how Commonwealth/Empire Regiments are/were named.

I can’t be specific without letting a cat out of the bag, but I need to know how a Commonwealth/BE unit would be named when it had distinguished itself, for example the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

For instance, would the title change to “Queen’s Own Rifles” when by means of example Queen Victoria would ascend the throne? Or would they still be named after King George regardless of who was on the throne at the time?

Curious how this works.

The US system is quite different, where there is a number assigned and then a nickname. For example, the 28th Infantry Division, “The Bloody Bucket.”

Alright, if anyone can clue me in on this, I’d appreciate it!

J

 

 

Clean power

Unknown

Yeah, I’ve been on a posting streak lately, but I couldn’t pass this one up. It seems that the Chinese are seriously considering placing a power plant in orbit that would collect energy from the sun and beam it down to Earth.

What a coincidence that I came across this article today, as of late my posts have diverged somewhat from this site’s concept.

This is fascinating, and it overlaps several interests of mine. Space exploitation and exploration, of course. A better future, with desirable outcomes for people. And plain high-tech cool factor.

Just yesterday I was hanging out with my bud Paul, we were tearing apart a bathroom and talking in between noise from a belt sander about just this subject- an orbital power station that would collect energy directly from the sun without worries about weather, storage and the day/night cycles that limit solar power here on Earth.

It’s a great idea, and it looks as if the Chinese are serious about this. I hope they are, Lord knows they have serious problems with smog and pollution from coal-fired energy sources and industry. If anyone needs this, it’s the Chinese.

Kind of floored that our idle chat of yesterday is in the news today. We really do live in a time where science fiction is coming to life. All you have to do to see this is to look at your cellphone; it can barely be compared to the bricks of fifteen years ago.

The changes are coming fast, and accelerating. My childhood can’t be compared to that of my kids, let alone their potential offspring. A fact that still astonishes me is that my recently departed and ancient grandmother rode to school on a horse-drawn wagon, and electricity and indoor plumbing was for city folks when she was a girl. Before she died it seemed that all she did was tell tales, I’m glad I listened.

Yeah, it seems at times that the future is full of threats. But concurrently it’s full of wonders, real no-bullshit cool stuff. There is no way I could have predicted in 1982, standing in a cornfield, that decades later I would be able to communicate and collaborate daily with people on different continents. That I would see the birth of private spaceflight. That a powerful computer would fit in the palm of my hand, and using it to make calls would be the least of its many functions.

I don’t know about you, friend, but a part of me is filled with delight to see these changes. Another part is trepidation, of course, as the unknown is always daunting.

It all comes down to the ancient question; is the glass half full, or half empty?

I say good luck to the Chinese with this orbital power station. Hope they can get it to work.

 

Brown Bess

IMG_20190217_082541

I’m not fascinated by weapons. Especially the new ones. They do have their uses, even on civvie street. Firearms can be used to hunt, or to defend one’s person and home. When I was a boy, I enjoyed hunting. Not anymore. It’d have to be pretty desperate times around here for me to shoot an animal, at the moment it’s a lot easier to go to the grocery store. If I never hunt again it’ll be fine.

I’m going to duck the whole discussion about the 2nd Amendment, etc. Suffice it to say that most US citizens have the right to buy anything short of a machine gun or grenade launchers, etc, and the law changes from state to state and even in different cities.

As a civilian, I’ve personally seen weapons used for the good as well as the bad.

The sword cuts both ways. I made a living by handling and using firearms, they are merely tools to me. If I pick up an M4 carbine or an M9 pistol, it feels like work. Nothing more.

But some weapons are different. They feel like history.

I’m a bit of a history buff, so I’m a sucker for this type of thing. Well, over the course of this long and boring winter, I came across an ad on a website, International Military Antiques.

It seems they bought a mountain of antique weapons from the Government of Nepal, to the tune of 50,000 antique firearms and edged weapons.

Nepal is where the famed Gurkha Regiments come from, some of the best soldiers on the planet.

So I was interested on two fronts- here was some serious military history, and some honest-to-God historical weaponry. Most of the stuff didn’t interest me, but the Brown Bess, more properly known as the Land Pattern Musket, did.

Why? When I was a kid my dad took me to a Revolution era re-enactment, I was fascinated by all of the 18th century stuff. Especially the long muskets, and the billowing clouds of smoke that drifted across the fields during battle reenactments. For an eight year old, pretty cool. I really wanted one of those muskets, but my dad laughed. Those things were expensive, and he wasn’t about to spend that kind of dough.

Later on I received a surplus Lee-Enfield to hunt with, but what I really wanted was a Bess. I grew up, went into the service, handled an endless series of firearms, but I never forgot the Brown Bess.

One problem. A reproduction costs over a grand, and the real thing in piss-poor shape about eight.

So I forgot about it. Kind of.

And then I saw the ad from IMA while web surfing one day this winter. A real, no-kidding Bess, in relic condition. Expensive still, but barely doable.

I said the hell with it and whipped out the credit card. One week later and a very long box was on my porch while the snow drifted down. Unboxed it, and it was a pile of rust, just like the ad stated. Came with a new stock because the old one had turned to dust. I looked at what I had, a two hundred odd year old pile of apparent junk, breathed deeply, refused to be intimidated, and went to work after watching about a million YouTube videos. (NOTE: It seems that it’s legal to own a Bess in Australia and the UK, and a lot of enthusiasts live there.)

Soaked the rusty steel in white vinegar, scrubbed and scrubbed at the rust. Slowly but surely the old honest steel came through and I learned a few things.

One thing that was immediately clear was that this ancient piece had seen a lot of hard use. It was probably retired when it couldn’t be reliably fired anymore. Also, the original wood (a few dry-rotted chunks were still stuck to the barrel) was walnut. Not a tree that grows in Nepal, so at least some of the weapon once upon a time was English.

It was a mystery, and now that the project is complete, it still is.

But by God, it’s a Brown Bess, of a similar type to what my ancestors used on whatever side they fought. It’s a connection with history, real and tangible in my hands. My first thought upon completing it and feeling its weight (heavy) was “hey, it’s a pirate gun!”

It was a fun project to tinker with while the snow fell.

Would I ever shoot it? No, nor do I think it could be reliably fired.

I’m happy with the Bess as a historical artifact, an echo of the distant past, preserved for the future.

Shame they can’t all be relics. But they’re not, and it does no good to wish otherwise.

 

Nothing to complain about, really.

images

No, this isn’t the weather channel. It’s just been on my mind a lot recently.

It’s easy to see how the weather is one thing that affects all of us, and it’s something you don’t really think about when it’s nice outside. When it gets bad is when you’re confronted by the fickle nature of our Earth, and how dependent we are on pleasant, or at least bearable, circumstances.

Well, this isn’t news to my Australian friends, but for those of us up north, they are getting hammered right now. A years-long drought in Queensland has just ended in a disastrous fashion, flooding has swept through the countryside and an estimated 500,000 head of cattle have perished in the torrential rains.

This is a weather disaster, and it makes my griping about a typical cold Ohio winter seem stupid. Yeah, the cold saps my spirit and the short winter days get me down. But I have nothing to complain about, really.

Thousands of Australian farmers who have lost their livelihood do. It’s the difference between crying over a splinter in your finger and having your hand violently amputated.

I do wonder what role the heating of our oceans and atmosphere are having on the above calamity. It’s certainly having an effect on the phenomenon below.

This would be the potential brewing disaster of the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets, I’ve been tracking this story for a little while. It seems the ice sheets down there are coming apart, slowly but surely. Why should we care? Because if the ice actually melts, a lot of coastal real estate is in trouble. And the majority of human population lives close to the coast.

Look, the Earth has gone through changes in climate over and over again, some in recorded history. An excellent example is the warm climate in Europe during the Middle Ages, followed by the Little Ice Age. So to believe in an absolutely stable climate on Earth is akin to believing that the moon really is made of cheese.

Much like friendships, family, and a good life, our weather and climate really aren’t things to be taken for granted.

Unfortunately, we only realize in retrospect how nice life was before those fine things were altered or removed.

For the foreseeable future, the Earth is our home.

We can’t take anything for granted.

The weather especially.

 

The White Curse

IMG_3246

Sharp eyed readers will recognize this photo from 2017. Well, it looks the same now but without any sun. Snow is pouring down and my spirits are at the seasonal low ebb.

You all have tracked the progress of the Somme Offensive of my budding writing career, the now completed but still inadequate outline of “Demons.”

And Lord knows you’ve heard me cry about the weather. Move, some would say. Trust me, I’ve thought about it. Where? California? Sky high housing prices, earthquakes and wildfires. Alabama? Hurricanes and snakes. Florida? Ditto on hurricanes, and even bigger snakes. New England? Worse weather than here, and way more expensive. The Plains? Flat, and I like my hills. The Pacific Northwest? Rain nearly every day, weather that’s actually gloomier than the Ohio Valley. Texas? Shades of brown for eight hours.

No, I think I’ll stick it out, best the devil you know.

The good thing about this being February is that it’s followed by March, which leads into April. Eventually this morphs into May through July, which can be glorious weather in these parts.

Sooo… things will be looking up after this rough patch.

I’m confident that I’ll eventually conquer the “demon” (pun borrowed from a friend) of a problem I’m having with my book, and I’ll scrape together the funds to see it published at some point.

While I figure out the Rubik’s Cube of putting something together that I don’t mind showing to you all, there are the collaborations out there that hold the primary slot. I’ve shown you all a few samples of that work, if you scroll down through the archives you’ll find them.

So I don’t know why “Demons” has my tail in a twist, it’s meant as a mental exercise and a secondary focus.

I think it’s the snow. Can’t remember who wrote it or exactly what it was about, but I read a short story once called “Terminator Dust,” a phrase for the white crap, which featured prominently in the story. I like the phrase. When the white stuff comes down, everything grinds to a halt. Get enough of it, and you are completely housebound.

For my readers in Australia, imagine deep volcanic ash that covers everything, gets into everything, and melts in your living room, making cold little puddles just waiting for the careless to put their stocking feet into. It forms dirty mountains in parking lots, and makes driving treacherous. Just walking the dog becomes a chore. Unless you feel like freezing your butt off, you have to layer up. Then put on boots. And of course the dog feels like playing, so you stand there and hope the mutt does her business so you can go back in to where it doesn’t hurt to breathe.

Of course, a week or two ago when it was -21C she didn’t feel like playing, so that was good. But hey, -21C without the wind chill factored in. Need I say more.

But spring is coming. Kind of the opposite of the famous phrase from Game of Thrones, which I’m happy of.

“Winter is coming.” The hell with that. It’s here.

I think sometimes that The Wall is right over the next hill, the Black Watch recruits down at the high school, I saw Gilly and Sam at the gas station, and Jon Snow’s stabbing was on News 9.

Soon it will be green again.

Praise be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monster

220px-Vassily_Blokhin

Looks like a pretty standard photo of a Soviet flag-grade soldier, approximately World War Two era.  Just goes to show you what horrors lurk beneath seemingly prosaic images. Today’s piece was inspired by the reading I did in “Bloodlands,” a book I discuss in the post below.

The man illustrated in the photo above is Vasily Blokhin, history’s most prolific mass murderer via direct involvement, i.e. pulling a trigger or tightening a noose. In his case, it was usually pulling a trigger, although I am sure he got more creative on occasion.

This guy makes Jeffery Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy look like pikers, kids at play. In one night on just another day he killed more people than those two sickos combined and multiplied. Blokhin is an indictment of the Stalinist era, the embodiment of tyranny run amok.

He would look more in character if his official image showed him dressed in his working garb, a blood splattered leather apron, long leather gloves and a leather hat.

I’ll throw a statistic out there that gives the magnitude of exactly how big of a sociopath and freak this guy was.

In April of 1940, a decision was reached by Stalin that all of the Polish officer POWs in Soviet hands should be liquidated. Blokhin got his orders. He packed some sandwiches and vodka, and a suitcase full of German Walther pistols. Over the course of the next 28 days, he averaged one execution per three minutes with a self-imposed quota of 300 per night. When the last shot rang out in the specially insulated execution chamber, Blokhin had personally shot in excess of 7000 prisoners. Doing the math, he must have run short on quota on one or two nights. Wonder if he was tired, or just ran out of ammo. In any case, I’ll bet he was pissed when he ran out of victims.

And this is just his most famous and well documented killing spree. Who knows what lurks in the state archives of the former USSR.

Unbelievable.

To add insult to injury, he lived to old age and eventually succumbed to “psychosis.” His official death certificate says he committed suicide. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, really.

This gentleman holds a Guinness World Record for killing, and post-mortem he has a small measure of notoriety. I know of at least one work of fiction where he was a minor character, John Birmingham‘s Axis of Time books where he made a true-to-life cameo as Stalin’s head executioner.

Blokhin was a denizen of the Bloodlands, a ghoul that haunted its ruins. The Nazis deserve their murderous, hideous reputation, and the Soviet NKVD should be spoken of in the same breath.

Seriously, where do they find these people? Do their historical eras make them? Do they find the “job,” or does the job find them? If you’re looking for a Blokhin, what do you do, place an ad in the Sunday paper? What? “Soulless psychopath wanted, must look like an ordinary Joe. Interesting and rewarding work.”

Probably the most frightening part is that I’ll bet Blokhins are probably easily found and cultivated, and they’re on the payroll of numerous entities and governments. Mostly I suspect they’re usually kept on a tight leash, unlike in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

The good news? They are mortal, just like all of their victims. The Walther he loved could have been turned against him.

Eventually, it was. And he pulled the trigger. Probably. One never knows with official Soviet documents. I wonder if he took his own life with the same equanimity that he displayed on so many other occasions.

Who knows, who cares. He’s gone.

But what monster will break his record?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough chewing

Unknown-1

I’m not really surprised by the evil that men do, but occasionally I get confronted by it all the same. It’s important that we realize what horrors have plagued our past so that we can try not to duplicate them going forward. Well, I’ve encountered a work that is excellent and sickening at the same time. If you really want to know the depths of depravity that people are capable of, read “Bloodlands,” by Timothy Snyder.

This book, while not new, popped up as a related subject while I was busy purchasing books for a different research project. The Eastern Front in World War Two is an area of interest for me, so when I read over the premise for the book, I decided I had to read it.

Well, I was in for it. I’ve only read one other book that was as bad as this one, “Gevangenen en Gedeporteerden” (Translation: The Imprisoned and Deported). It is Chapter 8 of Dr. L. De Jong’s excellent Dutch language series about the history of the Netherlands in the Second World War.

And I don’t mean bad as in poorly written or researched. No, both books are a wealth of knowledge, painstakingly documented.

No, these books are both gut-wrenching, harrowing and full of first-hand horror. They derive from letters, archive material, and survivor testimony.

“Bloodlands” starts out with some light reading over the artificial famine in the Ukraine, which killed an unknown amount of people in 1932-34. The most reliable estimates say that about three to four million people died as a direct result of Stalin’s policies. It really says something when historians can’t nail down a death figure to the nearest million.

And that’s just the opening of the book.

By the end you should have no doubt that Iosef Stalin and Adolph Hitler were some of history’s greatest monsters.

From the expedited, professional slaughter of Stalin’s purges to Hitler’s industrial liquidation of Europe’s Jews, it seems that nearly every square meter of Eastern Europe was covered in blood during the twelve-year period of 1933-1945. Most shockingly, this book focusses on civilian deaths- not military losses during the same period.

This is an important book. It illustrates that the greatest mass murders in human history were perpetrated by seemingly normal people who wanted to pursue either social or racial utopias; they wanted to achieve societal perfection at the cost of undesirable, “impure” or counter-revolutionary elements.

The executioners were literally willing to stack the bodies sky-high to attain their master’s bidding, and they did it all under the mask of the “greater good.”

By all means, read this book.

And then thank God that you didn’t have to suffer under Hitler or Stalin’s lash.