Sunday Book Reviews – July 29, 2018

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

The Deception Game by Ladislav Bittman (Syracuse University Research Corporation, 1972)

Ladislav Bittman was an officer in Department D of the Czechoslovakian intelligence service in the 1960s.  He worked hard and was idealistic, even as other officers worked to train his idealism out of him.  As part of the Soviet bloc, he was a party loyalist, but his loyalty ultimately lay to the principles and ideals the party propounded instead of merely to the government.

When he rose through the ranks and took charge of the Department, he saw constant violations of the supposed principles in favor of enriching the leadership.  Worse, he saw demonstrations that when the principles were, rarely, acted upon, they only made life worse for the very people they were supposed to benefit.

In the early 1970s, he defected to America.  And after providing information to the government, he wrote this book.

The book covers, in detail, the mechanics of the operations in Department D – the Czech arm of Soviet anti-American and anti-capitalist propaganda.  For anyone curious about exactly how such activities are played out, the book provides a comprehensive view of them in pre-internet days.  And, though the mediums have changed, the ideas behind them have not.  The mailer effort, for example, where “pro-American / pro-Goldwater” flyers were “accidentally” sent to leaders of African nations so as to spread the idea that Goldwater was racist: flyers were printed in English that included things Goldwater had never said or done, but were very close to actual statements and events; the nations were left to decide if they wanted to translate them.  Of course, most of them did, and of course, most of them decided they disliked Americans and preferred the communists.

This sort of thing can be done today, far more cheaply and efficiently, with e-mail.  And there are other examples.  Dozens of other examples.  The reader gets a crash course in what actual propaganda operations are like (as opposed to movie versions) and a first-hand account of what life was like for an idealist in the Soviet bloc government.

I strongly recommend this book.


In Re: Sherlock Holmes  / The Adventures of Solar Pons by August Derleth (Mycroft & Moran, 1945)

Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes.  Far fewer people know Solar Pons, although most devoted Holmesians know him quite well.

Pons is generally considered to be the best of the Holmes pastiches.  Set a couple of decades after Holmes’ heyday, Pons is an only slightly skewed reflection of Holmes, and his assistant, Dr. Lyndon Parker, holds most of the traits of Watson.  The stories came about after a young August Derleth wrote to Sir Arthur Conany Doyle asking if there would be any more Holmes stories, and Doyle was noncommittal.  Derleth, already interested in being an author, set aside a note reading, “In Re: Sherlock Holmes” on his desk.

About a decade later, Derleth was being published regularly in the pulp magazines and even some of the pricier, more respectable “slicks”… but there were no more Holmes stories.  A member of the “Lovecraft Circle”, Derleth was writing some stories with an eye toward imitating Lovecraft’s style.  Finding the note on his desk and having it remind him of his love for Holmes, he decided to do the same with the Doyle stories.  Solar Pons was born.

The stories are uneven, but that is not the criticism that word typically implies.  Some are fantastic, and some are average; few, if any, are bad.  They developed such a following that, following Derleth’s death in 1971, another successful author, Basil Copper, stepped in and wrote more than a dozen Pons stories to help satisfy the demand for them.

For those who have read the canon of Sherlock Holmes and are a bit tired of the novels that seem to deviate a little too much from the classic Doyle works, there is Pons.  If you’re unfamiliar with him, I’m delighted to be able to introduce you.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.