Short Review of “The Frozen Sky,” by Jeff Carlson

The Frozen Sky is set on Jupiter’s Moon Europa, and reads as kind of a companion to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two. Indeed, with some minor changes it could easily take place in the same literary universe as that book. The writing style reminded me of a cross between Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendevous with Rama, and the more contemporary Rama II.

In other words, anyone who loves classic science fiction will love this 99-cent e-book.

What is surprising is how fascinating the story is for anyone familiar with John Boyd — he of fast transients and the air force — will love it too. The speed of observation, orientation [, decision, sometimes], and action is analyzed on multiple levels.

A fantastic short-story. Highly recommended.

Update: The novella is no longer available. The author has since released a novelization of the short story.

Review of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers,” by Richard McGregor

Despite the claims of mythologists from both sides, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were created in their modern form at the same place, at the same time, by the same people. The (re)creation of both parties was sponsored and guided by the Soviets as part of a strategy to throw out the western Empires from the East. As originally intended, the KMT would be the ruling party of a united China that would sustain the national resistance to the encroachments of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and other Empires. The CCP would serve the dual roal of ’tiling’ the internal dynamics of China in the direction of the Soviet Union, while also serving as a mechanism for the Soviet Union to guarantee that restive leftists stay with the KMT, even when their short-term interest would lead them into an alliance with the west against the KMT.

As Lenin wrote in “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination:”

Thirdly, the semi-colonial countries, like China, Persia, Turkey, and all the colonies, which have a combined population amounting to a billion. In these countries the bourgeois-democratic movements have either hardly begun, or are far from having been completed. Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation—and this demand in its political expression signifies nothing more nor less than the recognition of the right to self-determination—but must render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their rebellion—and if need be, their revolutionary war—against the imperialist powers that oppress them.

The establishment of such a free “bourgeois-democratic” China was nearly completed under the benevolent sponsorship of V.I. Lenin and Josef Stalin, the tireless efforts of Zhou Enlai, and the hard-bargaining cooperation of Chiang Kaishek. While the establishment of a Chinese government of China of the people, by the people, and for the people was delayed quite a while because of a librarian, the important point is that the CCP and KMT are purposefully mirror images of each other.

Thus, The Party, about the CCP in the 2000s, could have been written with very few modifications about the KMT in, say, the 1970s. In both cases, the following is oftne overlooked by foreign observers:

  • The Government is an Emanation of the Party. Government officials are not decision makers. They are managers.
  • The Military is an Emanation of the Party, not the State. Thus, the Military can be expected to be more concerned with political threats to the Party’s leadership than international threats to the Government.
  • The Party is run along the Leninist principle of ‘democratic centralism.’ That is, once the ‘center’ makes a decision, all members are expected to support it without question. In practice this is similar to the role of MPs to Ministers in the Westminster Cabinet System.
  • The Party is concerned about private organizations not because they are private, but because they are not infiltrated by the Party.
  • Corruption is a benefit for the Party’s control, by aligning the interests of ambitious officials with the political interests of the Party.
  • Activities that would be considered “criminal” in a western context, because it involves explicit violation of the laws of government, way be wise if they are directed or guided by the Party.
  • The Party cultivates an environment of self-censorship, not out of fear, but out of desire for promotional opportunities within the Party. An individual can leave the Party at any time, but ambitious individuals are more likely to ingratiate themselves to the Party.
  • The Party is secretive and distributed, which provides a form of shadow federalism. Competing bureaus and committee operate without each others knowledge.

The Party’s greatest trick, perhaps, is acting as if it did not exist. In the People’s Republic of China on the Mainland, the [Chinese Communist] Party does not legally exist, it has no property, no income, no employees, and no registration number. In the Republic of China on Taiwan, the [Chinese Nationalist] Party sustains hegemony in a democratic system.

The Parties may well form a United Front in the future, combining their operations under the mandate to bring a government of, by, and for, the people to the China. The ability of the Parties to thrive may well owe a lot to the combination of Confucian Bureaucratic Theory and the National Examinaiton System which has guided China for two thousand years.

Indeed, that combination has been so strong only one man has posed a serous threat to the survival of the Parties since their establishment by Sun Yatsen, Song Qingling, Wang Jingwei, and Mikhail Borodin in 1924.

But that former librarian, and the hell he unleashed in his failed attempt, are the subjects of a post for another time…

I recommend The Party, which is available from Amazon in hardback and kindle editions. Also check out the take from CNReviews.

Review of “Atlantic,” by Simon Winchester

I wish my dad was still alive. I wish I could recommend Simon Winchester’s Atlantic to him. He would enjoy it.

Simon Winchester is best known for The Professor and the Madman, a history of the oxford English Dictionary. His best books, however, are The Man Who Loved China (a human story that is also the history of a far-away land) and Krakatoa (about the human consequences of a natural disaster). So it is fittest that Simon Winchester’s latest work, and one of his best, are the interlocking stories about one of the greatest natural features on Earth, the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories is a thematic biography of the ocean, from youth to death. From before the Phoenecians to his imprisonment during the Falklands War to the far future, Simon Winchester paints a vivid and romantic feature of the ocean that is too often overlooked and ignored.

It is impossible to give a brief synposis of the stories of the Atlantic, but a portion of a paragraph from the epilog gives a flavor:

Parliamentary democracy. A homeland for world Jewry. Long-distance radio communication. The Vinland Map. The supression of slavery. The realization of continental drift and plate tectonics. The Atlantic Charter. The British Empire. The knarr, the curragh, the galleon, the ironclad, and the battleship. The discovery of longitude. Codfish. Erskine Childers. Winslow Homer. The convoy system. St. Helena. Puerto Madryn. Debussy. Monet. Rachel Carson. … The Atlantic telegraph cable. The Writght brothers. Alcock and Brown. Lindbergh…

The story of the Atlantic is the story of Western Civilization. A fantastic overview of western history. Highly recommended.