SS-GB

SS-GB

The BBC’s television adaption of Len Deighton’s SS-GB (1978) sees Britain under German occupation. Operation Sea Lion has been a success. Winston Churchill is dead. An ailing King George is held prisoner by the Nazis. His wife and daughters have escaped to New Zealand. Neither the Soviets nor the United States have entered the war. A British government-in-exile is struggling to win diplomatic recognition.

The plot focuses on a Scotland Yard detective, Douglas Archer (Sam Riley), who is caught up in a rivalry between his two SS supervisors as well as a British Resistance plot to exploit competition between the Germany Army and the SS. (The title refers to the branch of the Nazi SS that controls Great Britain.)

Continue reading “SS-GB”

Topaz

Topaz

Topaz has a lot to work with. Based on the real-life Martel affair, in which a Soviet defection triggered a crisis in American-French relations, it has a good spy story, believable characters and exotic locations.

Alfred Hitchcock does a competent job weaving it all together, but the end result somehow lacks momentum.

The story sounds exciting on paper. A high KGB official defects to the United States and reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. The CIA recruit a French secret agent, André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), to get proof from a member of the Cuban delegation — who would not cooperate with an American — that is visiting New York for the United Nations.

Continue reading “Topaz”
1944 Germany map

How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans

The way Germany was divided into Western- and Soviet-aligned republics after the Second World War was hardly a straightforward process. The Allies started thinking about whether and how to dismember Germany in the middle of the war and considered several options.

Some, like the Dutch request for territorial compensation, were ignored. Others, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suggestion of a north-south split, would morph into the east-west divide of the Cold War. Continue reading “How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans”

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century cover

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have created in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the most ambitious and inspiring steampunk franchise. Volumes 1 and 2 will top many steampunks’ list of favorite books and deservedly so. They are rich stories with intricate plot lines and sympathetic characters.

The in-between Black Dossier was a bit of a letdown story-wise and I’m afraid things have gone further downhill.

Continue reading “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century”
Paul von Hindenburg Oskar of Prussia

What If Germany Had Won the First World War?

Many a what-if has been written about a German victory in World War II. Alternate histories of a German victory in World War I are less popular, but they exist. Indeed, people started thinking about the consequences of a German victory during the war itself and feared it might give way to a German empire spanning nearly the whole of Europe.

Here is a look at some of the maps that were produced to show a German victory in what was at the time called simply “the Great War”. Continue reading “What If Germany Had Won the First World War?”

Low Countries map

What If Belgium and the Netherlands Had Remained One Country?

450 years ago this year, the Dutch Revolt against the Catholic king of Spain started. For eighty years, the largely Protestant provinces of the Netherlands fought for their independence. They got it in 1648, when the Peace of Münster (part of the Peace of Westphalia) recognized the Northern Netherlands as an independent republic.

But the largely Catholic South remained Spanish until 1714, when it became Austrian. It was briefly joined with the Netherlands after the defeat of Napoleon, but by then the two had grown apart culturally, economically and linguistically. Belgium seceded from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830.

This separation was not preordained. In 1581, Brabant (which is now split between Belgium and the Netherlands), Flanders as well as Mechelen had joined the Northern provinces in their declaration of independence, the Act of Abjuration. But they were quickly reconquered by Spanish forces. Antwerp and Brussels had been the centers of economic and political life in the Low Countries. They too fell under Spanish rule. The North continued as a republic, centered on Amsterdam.

What if the rebels had succeeded in holding the South? What could a United Netherlands have looked like?

Continue reading “What If Belgium and the Netherlands Had Remained One Country?”

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

Christine is a beautiful retro-style gal, living all alone in a house that wouldn’t look amiss in the latest incarnation of the horror classic The House on Haunted Hill.

She doesn’t live alone, however, sharing her home with a variety of monsters (literally) ranging from Rankle, the mummified cat; Rose, who is assumed to be mostly a raccoon; and Edgar, who looks like he could be a retro-style werewolf.

Top that off with ghostly roommate Vivienne, played by none other than Dita von Teese and several other wacky characters.

Continue reading “The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell”

Infernal Devices

Infernal Devices
Infernal Devices

K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices is a classic steampunk novel worth reading. Having been published in the early 1980s, it is was on of the earliest works of steampunk and has a lot of the themes that would connect steampunk works.

The author, Jeter, is considered a founding father of steampunk. He is famously credited with coining the term steampunk in an interview. Almost as an afterthought he said you might call the new movement something like “steampunk”. The term ended up sticking even if Infernal Devices faded into relative obscurity. Continue reading “Infernal Devices”

A Very British Coup

A Very British Coup

In 1988, Channel 4 adapted Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel A Very British Coup for television. Although the country was well in the middle of the Thatcher boom at the time, the three-part miniseries harkened back to the 1970s and early 80s and its post-industrial gloom.

Under the last Labour government before Margaret Thatcher came to power, Britain had been plagued by strikes and energy blackouts, culminating in the humiliation of the world’s former superpower requiring a bailout from the IMF.

In Mullin’s story, it wasn’t Thatcher who won the election but the socialist Harry Perkins. The character is loosely based on Tony Benn, the real-world leader of the Labour left.

Perkins (played in the miniseries by Ray McAnally) is determined to make good on his election promises: (re)nationalizing industries, breaking up big media, withdrawing from NATO and scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent. His program spooks the British establishment. Spymasters, business tycoons and career civil servants conspire to bring Perkins down.

Continue reading “A Very British Coup”