Cozy Catastrophes, Or Stay Calm and Carry On, Apocalyptic Science Fiction in Post-War Britain


My latest up at New Myths Magazine online.



Book Review: The Women of the Cousins War by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones

The Women of the Cousins’ War tries to illuminate the three most important women of the Wars of the Roses, or as the conflict has lately been called, The Cousins’ War.

Philippa Gregory writes the introduction in which she discusses the dearth of information about women in this time period. The sources sometimes give dates of birth and of death. Some more information may be teased out about the women based on battles in which their husbands fought and maybe their husbands’ travel itineraries, but little else usually exists.

Gregory goes on to write the first part of the book about the Duchess, Jaquetta of Luxembourg. Jaquetta was a minor French noble woman who married John, Duke of Bedford who was the third son of Henry IV and a staunch Lancastrian. After John’s death, Jacquetta flouts the conventions of the time and marries Richard Woodville, a commoner and her first husband’s servant. The lack of information affects Gregory’s part of the book. In talking about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the writing is full of “maybes” and “might haves.” This is followed by a rundown of the Wars of the Roses themselves. The last part centers more on Jacquetta, her family and her heritage. Also there is the part about the Duchess being a witch. She survived the trial and is found not guilty. The second part of the book is about Queen Elizabeth Woodville, written by David Baldwin. Elizabeth is the daughter of Jacquetta from her second marriage and is mother of the two lost princes of the tower. She ends up being the mother-in-law to Henry VII after Henry defeats Richard III, who was her brother-in-law. This part is much less of a slog than the first part; Baldwin’s style is light without being frivolous. He recounts Elizabeth’s actions during her marriage to Edward IV. Elizabeth endured much examination when she married the younger Edward. The marriage also infuriated the old nobility by allowing the huge family of upstart Woodvilles close to the king. Elizabeth had more than her share of enemies including the conniving Warwick the Kingmaker and the king’s brothers, including the Duke of Clarence, and the later king, Richard III.

The third part by Michael Jones is about Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII. Margaret might be seen as the ultimate survivor of the three, eventually becoming the Queen Mother without actually having been queen. Jones has an accessible style covering the details without being bogged down by them. Jones stresses Margaret’s political expertise, of which her very survival during those dangerous times is the highest example. Margaret’s eventually sees her son crowned King of England, and also sees her grandson succeeding to that position, which was no doubt gratifying. Further the book has a wealth of family trees, images, notes and sources included for those interested in such things. In short The Women of the Cousins’ War is a good read about little-covered historical figures and is not smothered in the fine points of the cross and double cross of the Wars of the Roses.

Book Review: 100 Years of Motorcycles by Ammonite Press

The motorcycle’s story begins when Gottlieb Daimler strapped a small gasoline powered engine to a wooden bicycle frame in 1885. From this small beginning, the motorcycle was soon a specially designed means of transportation, meant to be an inexpensive every-day conveyance. It easily negotiated the crowded streets of the city and could also go for the long distance and even cruising the back roads on vacation.

Some motors as they soon became known, were also test vehicles for refining the motorized and thrill sports at race tracks and off road as well, all over the world. Vintage motors of the early years of the century, to the biker subculture of the 40s with the infamous Hells Angels”to the Café Racers of the mid century, to the 1960s with the Mods and Rockers to the ultra high tech super sport cycles of the later 20th century 100 Years of Motorcycles by Ammonite Press celebrates in pictures all those aspects of the motorcycle and more.

Books about motorcycle are usually written or edited by fans; therefore the pictures used are, as a rule, taken by the motorcycle specialists. The problem with that is that being so caught up in a subject does not allow for self editing or for taking an outsider’s view of the subject. But then take away that fanatical interest and look to the professional photographer looking for something news worthy and what happens is a shot that is not interesting to the fan. But Ammonite Press has fixed that issue in this new book. Essentially, they have make use of photos from the Press Association to relate the chronicle of the motorcycle and it riders right through the 20th century, letting the picture to tell the story while backing up each image with a short, but informative, caption. The result is as much a social history of the riders as well as the story of the progress of the motorcycle over time. With over 300 images, many not published before in a book format. There are a number of racing shots, but the reader also gets shots of regular people with their motors. Celebrity riders of all stripes are shown as well. The publication house has spared no expense with the book using high quality glossy pages. The photos range from early black and white stills, to the early days of color photography even to the early digital aged photos of the later 20th century. All the photos are well done and very sharp.

100 Years of Motorcycles is a first-rate effort that is well worth the money of anyone interested in the history of motorcycles.

Book Review: “Margaret Thatcher: Not for Turning, Volume One” by Charles Moore

Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher will do little to change peoples’ opinions of Britain’s “Iron Lady” but does add a great deal to the general public’s knowledge of Baroness Thatcher’s life.

Margaret Thatcher: Not for Turning, Volume One is the first book in a two-volume biography of the first woman prime minister of Great Britain. This first book covers Lady Thatcher’s life from birth to the end of the 1982 Falkland’s War with Argentina. As an authorized biographer Moore had access not only to all the public documents of Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister (1979 to 1990) but also to the secret papers. He also has unfettered access to the Thatcher family as well as the Baroness’ help in arranging interviews with political allies and co-workers.

In this book the reader learns perhaps more than they might have wanted to know about Thatcher’s early life, family relationships and career. Using a set of 150 letters between Lady Thatcher and her older sister, Muriel, the reader finds out that Margaret was almost a good time girl before she met and married Denis Thatcher. She dated often with a goodly number of different men and was not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get what she felt was her due.

Nor was the Thatcher’s picture-perfect marriage actually so picture-perfect. Denis Thatcher had a nervous breakdown in late sixties and ran off to South Africa for awhile. Moore reports that many of the Thatcher’s family friends felt this event was caused by Margaret’s single-minded focus on her growing political career.

After dealing with this, Moore starts to focus on Thatcher’s political life and times. He opines that there was nothing particularly special or inevitable about Lady Thatcher’s rise to power. Rather it was, like many historical events, made up of a series of accidents and unforeseen circumstances. If there is one theme that Moore brings to the front of Thatcher’s career, it is that her political enemies nearly always underestimated her as a politician and a leader.

Moore passes rather rapidly over Thatcher’s turmoil-filled, first term of rioting and high unemployment. But he does go into some detail on the inner workings of the War Cabinet during the Falkland’s War and Lady Thatcher’s determination to see the conflict through.

Moore’s prose can be a bit dense at times, but is precise and full of wry wit and good humor. “Margaret Thatcher: Not for Turning” is a required read for anyone interested in Margaret Thatcher as a person, politician and world leader.


An Overview of the Major Characters in Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill

“Cloud Nine” is a two-act play by British playwright Caryl Churchill, first performed at Dartington College of Arts in 1979. Act one of the play is set in Victorian times in a British colony in Africa. Act two is set in a London in 1979. Yet, unexplainably, only twenty-five years have passed for the characters.

Clive is the first act’s protagonist. He is, seemingly, the very model of a British aristocrat. He puts his duty to Queen and country first and assumes that those that rely on him will obey him. Clive accepts as true that gender-roles are well defined and expects his son, Edward, to be a man’s man, like him. Clive is an overt racist who believes the Africans are “savages” who can only be civilized by British discipline. Ironically, Clive has an affair with Mrs. Saunders, ignoring the infidelity that he imposes on his wife, Betty.

Betty is Clive’s wife and in the first act is played by a man. She spends almost the whole first act being confused and indecisive. She is totally reliant on Clive to provide her guidance and direction. Betty, however, has a sense of adventure. She thinks of a relationship with Harry, the explorer, and wonders about what another kind of life would be like. In Act Two, a new Betty, portrayed by another actor, has gotten a feeling of independence and has evolves into the play’s main protagonist. The second act Betty is older, gives long lectures and offers spontaneous comments.

Edward is Clive’s and Betty’s son. From a young age, he finds he is attracted to men and likes girly things. In Act One, this role is played by a woman. Edward keeps his true feelings hidden in fear of disturbing his conservative father. Over time those qualms fade, but do not vanish. In Act Two the older Edward, now played by a man, discovers that he is well adapted to the role of wife and mother, rather than husband and father. He prefers a steady relationship to sleeping around and often has a hard time getting what he wants.

Victoria is Clive’s and Betty’s daughter. In the first act, Victoria is played by a manikin. But in the second act she becomes a central figure. Victoria tends to depend on others but sometimes is strongly self-reliance. She is non-confrontational and prefers to be the peace-maker.

Harry Bagley is a British explorer and symbolizes the British ideals of courage and discovery. But his fame as an adventurer hides his sexual deviantcy. His presence begins to bring out the deep sexual yearnings of Clive’s family. Finally, Harry is a victim of own his action. He gives up his freedom to avoid persecution for homosexual acts.

Mrs. Saunders is a widow and is independent. She is fearless in wielding her sexuality, and she demands respect from men.

Lin is a brash and open lesbian. She is fearless in letting others know what she thinks. Beneath her bellicose exterior, Lin is unsure she is a good mother. She is openly crass and crude.