Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Mahatma's world view

Mahatma Gandhi peers through a microscope
in 1940. Photo: http://www.gandhifoundation.org/

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Operation Valkyrie: The hit that missed Hitler

Colonel Claus Stauffenberg in real life
What do Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Tom Cruise have in common? Operation Valkyrie—the audacious, albeit failed, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, in the dying days of the Nazi regime. One real, the other reel. In 2008, Cruise essayed the role of the one-eyed Colonel Stauffenberg, who led the German resistance movement within the Wehrmacht, the three-wing defence force, to near perfection. The German dictator would have most certainly perished in the explosion in the war room if a senior army officer hadn't, unknowingly, moved the bomb-laden briefcase away from Hitler. A day later Stauffenberg and his conspirators were rounded up and shot for high treason.

Operation Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (of Battlestar Gallactica, Superman Returns and X-Men fame), is a well-made film that tells more than the story of the attempt to kill Hitler. It also tells the story of one man's enormous courage and conviction in the face of overwhelming odds: to destroy the dictator and liberate Germany before the US-led Allied Forces did. Stauffenberg actually believed that he could do it though somewhere in the back of his mind he knew, more than anyone else, that it was all over, one way or the other.

Tom Cruise as the brave colonel on reel.
If Stauffenberg, who was incidentally born in an aristocratic family, had succeeded in his deadly mission, history might have been just a little different. Hitler was destined to die, be it from a bomb or a bullet. The warlord chose the latter.

Here's an aside: William L. Shirer, the well-known American journalist, war correspondent and historian who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, also wrote, quite necessarily, The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler which contains a chapter on the 1944 plot to kill the dictator.

In my opinion, Operation Valkyrie, which, in Norse mythology means "chooser of the slain" or something to that effect, rates high among films on World War II. If you are a war buff, watch the film and, while you are at it, read the book too.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ghostwriting: A novel idea

Carolyn Keene is a "collective
pseudonym" for various writers.
Yesterday, I wrote about Don Pendleton’s The Executioner action adventure series featuring the war machine, Mack Bolan. Pendleton himself wrote fewer than 40 of these racy novels. But, Gold Eagle Worldwide, to whom the creator sold his rights to, has published more than 600 books in the series as well as offshoots—none written by Pendleton, nonetheless attributed to him. They are ghostwritten by a number of very talented writers whose contributions are acknowledged on the copyright page. The covers still belong to Don Pendleton.

The Executioner isn’t the only one to be ghostwritten. Hundreds and thousands of book titles and series have been penned by writers other than the creators themselves. Even good fiction has been ghostwritten, a literary process that is both challenging and lucrative for the nameless writer. For the reader, it means a continuance of his or her favourite series—never mind if the books are no longer authored by the original writers.

So if you are unfamiliar with all the works of your best-loved author, you might be reading a book that’s probably been ghostwritten. You won’t lose the plot, though.

To give you some idea of the deceptiveness of ghostwritten books, here’s a link to an informative article by Julie-Ann Amos of Gloucestershire, UK, at www.hubpages.com, where she writes about “fifty certifiably good books, that just happen to have been ghostwritten.” Read Ghostwriting Exposed - The Top 50 Ghostwritten Books at www.hubpages.com/hub/Ghostwriting-Exposed---The-Top-50-Ghostwritten-Books This one’s not ghostwritten!

The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
was, apparently, penned by Robert Markham
who was none other than author Kingsley Amis.

Mack Bolan: The Executioner

It’s always nice once in a while to go back to fiction you read in your teenage years—a devil-may-care period when you read all kinds of stuff.

A few days ago, I picked up three first-edition mint copies of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner from a roadside vendor for Rs 20 a piece (44 cents each), and stepped back in time. As a collegian, I read nearly all the 37 novels written by Pendleton whose legendary fictional character Mack Bolan fought against evil, from mafia to terrorism, all over the world. In 1980, Pendleton sold his rights to The Executioner to Gold Eagle Worldwide, a division of Harlequin Books.

One of the titles I bought was #150 Death Load, one of over 600 novels written by ghostwriters but credited to Pendleton (though the work is attributed to the actual authors on the copyright page). In this novel Mack Bolan, the super-soldier who is working on his own, is hired by the intelligence division of the US Department of State to rescue a former spy-turned-activist, Katherine May, from the clutches of the dreaded Khmer Rouge in the jungles of Cambodia. Her father is a rich and influential businessman with deep ties in the American government. In the end Bolan, a veteran of the Vietnam War, brings her back but not without experiencing the political intrigues and chilling encounters in the region where the Vietnamese, the Thai and the Chinese are fighting for dominance.

Bolan rarely flinches when he shoots, and he shoots to kill, in cold blood. Like that other fictional spy Nick Carter, the Killmaster, who is Agent N3 of AXE, a US intelligence agency; it doesn’t exist, of course. Big man Bolan’s lethal intent and action are evident from his numerous kills, many of which are executed as an expert sniper. For all his cold-bloodedness, Bolan has a heart and often goes out of his way to help innocent civilians. He is also called the Warrior, perhaps, an allusion to his just and principled approach.

Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan is to America, what Ian Fleming’s James Bond is to Britain, minus much of the glitz, gadgets and glamour associated with the man with a license to kill. As long as one-man armies like Bolan and Bond are around, our world is safe.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Horst Buchholz & Maxwell Caulfield

Neither is an American, both made it big in Hollywood, and are best remembered for their stellar roles in a western and a musical film, respectively.

Horst Buchholz and Yul Brynner brace for action.
German actor Horst Buchholz was 27 when he acted in the 1960 western classic The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). He is Chico, the youngest and most impulsive, of seven cowboys led by Yul Brynner to defend a poor Mexican village from armed bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach). Chico and his mates are caught in a fierce end-battle with the bandits but he lives to see another day, along with Brynner and Steve McQueen, and decides to stay back in the village to be with the girl he has fallen in love with.

Although Buchholz starred alongside Hollywood greats like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and Eli Wallach, he carried the eminently watchable The Magnificent Seven with his exuberant performance.

Buchholz, who acted in more than 60 films, died in March 2003 at the age of 74.

Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer.
English actor Maxwell Caulfield, like Buchholz, was only 23 when he played the part of Michael Carrington in the 1982 hit musical comedy Grease 2, the sequel to the memorable John Travolta-Olivia Newton John starrer Grease.

In Grease 2, his first major film role, Caulfield plays a British exchange student at Rydell High School and is paired opposite Michelle Pfeiffer who, as Stephanie Zinone, is now the leader of the Pink Ladies. Stephanie and her friends move around with the T-Birds, the boys-who-would-be-men from her class, led by Johnny Nogerelli (played by Adrian Zmed). Michael, predictably, falls in love with Stephanie who refuses to date him till he is a T-Bird and rides a bike. He eventually becomes a Cool Rider (catch the song), albeit an elusive and mysterious biker in black disguise, and helps the T-Bird defeat a rival gang.

Caulfied, who, according to IMDB, was chosen from among thousands of applicants to appear as Michael Carrington, has since acted in a number of films, plays and television shows.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sudden: Outlawed and out of print

Last week I hit the literary jackpot. I did not win a literary prize, in case you think I did. But it was close enough. I am referring to the acquisition of two rare western novels, both Sudden, by Oliver Strange. The Sudden series were published by Corgi Books of London, UK, in the middle of the last century. Strange wrote 10 novels and no more; though, the Sudden legacy was continued by writer Frederick Nolan who penned five more books under the pseudonym Frederick H. Christian. He did a fine job on the character created by Strange.

Now Sudden, as you know, refers to Oliver Strange’s hero James Green, the Texas outlaw, who earns the nickname because of the quick draw of his twin guns. Green is branded for crimes he did not commit while on his travels through the Wild West in search of two men who, he believes, cheated the man who raised him. With only his horse for company, the gunfighter moves from one dusty town to another, to fulfill the promise he made to the dying old man.

Predictably, Sudden’s journey is not without adventure: he makes lasting friends and forgettable enemies—the former stick by him, the latter want to stick it into him. He rescues ordinary and peace-loving ranch owners and their families and their cattle from being preyed upon by crooked gamblers, sheriffs and landowners. He’s also “wanted” in nearly every town in Texas and beyond, where gunslingers challenge him to the draw, if only to prove they are quicker than Sudden.

But no one, not even his friends, know that Green carries an ace up his sleeve, rather wears a badge on his vest—he is Deputy Marshal United States working directly under the authority of Governor Bleke of Arizona for whom he runs many an anti-crime errand, a modern-day James Bond. It’s an irony that he fights on the side of the very law that wants to string him up. Green rarely flashes his badge and never misuses it.

An interesting titbit about Oliver Strange is that he was born in England and, apparently, never travelled to the Wild West, and yet his graphic description of the American landscape is close to the real thing.

Coming back to my prize catch, I picked up Sudden: Goldseeker by Oliver Strange and Sudden at Bay by Frederick H. Christian for Rs 50 (a little over a dollar) and Rs 180 (around $4), respectively, from the pavements of south Bombay. Although out of print since the early 1980s, Sudden continues to be in great demand, and readers and collectors of western novels, especially of the rare kind, will fork out any money to buy them. I have often wondered why Corgi never reintroduced them with snazzier jackets and printing, like the present-day Louis L'Amour novels.

Hopefully, Sudden hasn't drifted into the setting sun and will be back someday, with both guns blazing.

Sudden in Sequence

By Oliver Strange

  1. Sudden - Outlawed (1935)
  2. Sudden (1933)
  3. The Marshal of Lawless (1933)
  4. Sudden - Goldseeker (1937)
  5. Sudden Rides Again (1938)
  6. Sudden Takes the Trail (1940)
  7. Sudden Makes War (1942)
  8. Sudden Plays a Hand (1950)
  9. The Range Robbers (1930)
10. The Law O' The Lariat (1931)

By Frederick H. Christian

1. Sudden Strikes Back (1966)
2. Sudden - Troubleshooter (1967)
3. Sudden at Bay (1968)
4. Sudden - Apache Fighter (1969)
5. Sudden - Dead or Alive! (1970)