Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This is a companion book to Wein’s book Code Name Verity, which I loved, and which was one of several things that inspired me to take up flying. Apparently I’m not the only one to start taking lessons after reading it, but I’m the only one the author knows of who’s gone on to get my licence, and she was quite tickled over it.

Anyway, as a companion book, and not a true sequel, it has a different main character, and can be read without having read the previous one. There are a few recurring characters, and it takes place chronologically after Code Name Verity, but it contains minimal spoilers.

In this one, Rose is another ATA pilot, who gets intercepted over france and taken to germany. She ends up in one of the concentration camps, Ravensbruck.

The story begins with Rose writing down her story, much like Code Name Verity did. One of the weaknesses of that format is that you know the character is going to live. In the opening, she’s back in Paris, shortly after her escape. (This wasn’t the case in CNV, as the characters were writing things down more or less as they happened, and there was still uncertainty on their survivability.) The suspense still there was whether her friends escaped. These friends are people you haven’t met yet, but as the story goes on, you do, and then the reminder that the main character doesn’t know what happened to them or if they survived means more and more.

The description of the conditions in Ravensbruck are suitably horrifying. One of the things mentioned early on is the fact that the information coming out of the camps is so horrifying that western Europeans and Americans don’t believe it. They literally didn’t believe it. The stories about the women who were experimented on, the starvation, mass executions, etc. And the Nazis, of course, are trying to hide it, by killing these women they experimented on before the allies can rescue them.

Rose, as she writes, is suffering some pretty severe PTSD. In some ways it made it even harder to read than CNV because I get the PTSD. Maybe nowhere near as severe as Rose would have to have suffered from it, but I understand. I’ve been there, with the nightmares and the waking up not sure where I am, and the panic attacks when someone calls my name or opens the door, or pulls into the driveway. So I get why she’s reluctant to testify in the war crimes trials, which, reading other reviews, seems to be one of the things people have complained about being disappointed by.

Another thing that made me think as I read it, is having just finished the Hunger Games trilogy, and comparing it to Rose Under Fire. In the Hunger Games, Katniss’ suffering and mental breakdown gets a little tiresome and boring. So I had to think to figure out why that doesn’t happen in Rose Under Fire. Rose goes through likely more trauma, sees more death, than Katniss. Why is Rose not annoying in an endless train of poor me‘s? And I think it’s because Rose is constantly reminding herself that she’s not one of the women who got experimented on (the experiments had stopped before she was taken prisoner.) She has people around her who have suffered more and longer than she has, so a lot of her descriptions of suffering are not “poor me”, but poor them. The times when she’s so badly hurt she can’t actually do anything but lay there and feel sorry for herself are mostly glossed over.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was cathartic.

B-17

Yesterday I went out to the Western Canada Aviation Museum, where one of the few B-17 bombers still flying in North America is on display for the week. They used to call the B-17 flying Fortress the Queen of the Air. Between the Flying Fortress and the Lancaster (which I saw when it came to Winnipeg three years ago.) There’s nothing quite like seeing those old war birds all chromed up. Elegant old ladies.

There was an hour long lineup to go inside the bomber, but I went early enough to stay in line. One of the crew members read us a poem as we waited, and I found a copy of it:

Tribute to the Queen

From Guadalcanal and the Phillipines at the start of WW2

to the hostile skies of Europe, thru miles of flak she flew.

At home at thirty thousand, majestic as a Queen,

a silver bird flown by men, many in their teens.

She carried war to the tyrants lair, to keep all nations free;

she flew thru flak and flame, as far as eye could see.

She slugged it out with Hitler’s best, brought her dead and wounded home.

Damaged and with engines out, it was often times alone.

Born of war but seeking peace, she carried valiant men

into the very jaws of death, and brought them home again.

Berlin, Frankfurt and countless others, courageous daylight raids,

and only God in Heaven knows the awesome price she paid.

She met death at 30,000, or on a tree top run.

A victim of ack-ack shell or Luftwaffe fighters gun.

Like all the men who flew her, for peace and hope she yearned.

But too often mission boards would read, “Failure to Return.”

Often plane and crew went down in a hostile place.

Others were missing in action and lost without a trace.

Her era’s in the past but the history that she’s made

must always be remembered and never be betrayed.

Generations have come and gone; enjoyed their hopes and dreams,

yet never paused in gratitude to this aging Silver Queen.

And the men who flew her, Heroes everyone,

Who stood between our nations shores and the tyrants mighty guns.

Yes, she’s tired and weary, a little aged and worn,

but she fought and bought their freedom, before most of them were born.

And we who still remember Tojo and Hitler’s dreams

Stand a little prouder…..
In the presence of the Queen.

Ivan Fail

She then went on to tell us some stories about the young men who flew these planes into combat. The awesome price she paid referred in particular to one day when one hundred B-17′s left England for Germany, each with a ten man crew, and one plane came back.

Another story she told was of a family who found a notebook in the bottom of a toolbox, written by an elderly family member who had been a crew member on a B-17. It began with details on how many bombs they left with on a particular day, and their target, and sometimes comments like “We really gave old Hitler hell today!” in lovely handwriting. As the pages went on though, the handwriting grew more careless, and there were notes like “We lost the new guy today – didn’t even know his name.” The family member who had written it had never spoken about his experiences – this was before PTSD was recognized as an issue with war vets.

The last story she told was about what they called “The Phantom Bomber.” Some farmers in a field, watched as a B-17 approached, dangerously low. They could see it was in trouble, descending to land in a field, probably damaged so badly it couldn’t hold altitude. They were sure the thing was going to crash horribly, but somehow it landed softly in a field nearby. They went to go help whatever crew was left alive in the plane, but when they got there, there was no one in the plane. The crew had jettisoned everything they could, but their parachutes were still there. The farmers supposed that the crew had bailed over the channel, and the plane had somehow just settled on the ground on it’s own. The crew was never found. I can’t help thinking myself that the plane was probably full of Gerry spies that buggered off as soon as they were on the ground, but who knows? Maybe the crew did bail, and maybe they made it out of the water and just never reported back to duty, knowing they’d only be sent back out again. After that story got out to other bomber crews though, they started telling one another, never bail out of a B-17, she’ll always get you home.

Anyway, here’s some pictures I took:

http://lindenfoxcub.tumblr.com/post/58521072240/pics-of-my-visit-to-the-b-17-at-the-aviation

Steampunk vs Dieselpunk

Dieselpunk

Full disclosure: The reason I thought to write this is one of the search terms that brings the most random traffic to my site is “Steampunk vs Dieselpunk”. So apparently there is an audience for such a post.

Short version: Steampunk is Victorian/Edwardian level tech with mainly steam powered engines, and Deiselpunk is allowed to have internal combustion. You don’t use Victorian slang, you use WWI/WWII slang. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is Steampunk, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (terrible movie that it is, don’t watch it) is Dieselpunk. “The Book of Eli” is Post Apocalyptic Dieselpunk.

That’s really all it is. But from there, you extrapolate what effect that tech level has on your society. At that point, war is mechanized, you’re looking at WWI and WWII level tech, with planes, tanks and machine guns. And machines guns were one of the reasons the first great war was so frelling bloody. People have more ways of killing larger numbers of people faster than ever had before, and this tends to mean that Dieselpunk is less often about discovery and invention, and more often about social struggle.

Also, the tech in Steampunk is more often a new thing, or if not new, something wonderous that few people have access to, while in Dieselpunk, the tech is frequently ever-present, and the average person is likely to have ridden on some form of mass transit at some point in their lives. The technology is no longer new, and mass production increases accessibility. You have trams and subways, trains, and other public transportation. You can have cars and motorcycles, and snowmobiles, and jetskis (“Waterworld”) if you want. The horse has been, or is in the process of being replaced in all but the most, shall we say, traditional communities.

That last one’s pretty huge. The horse has been around as transportation for a long time, and that shift is a major turning point in history.

Post Apocalyptic stuff is often Dieselpunk, and I can tell you why it usually ends up Dieselpunk and not Steampunk. It’s because why would we get thrown back to steam level tech, if we had internal combustion? If there’s a loss of tech, it’s likely to go back to the last level where the average person had access to the technology and could do routine maintenance on it, and find someone who can fix it if it breaks down. Computers, it’s completely plausible that computers wouldn’t make it far into a Post Apocalyptic world. That processor – if it burns out – and they burn out eventually, and not infrequently either – the average person can’t fix it, and can’t produce a replacement without sophisticated equipment.

Here, I’m defining sophisticated as anything that the average person has no understanding of, and no picture of what it looks like or how it works. I have a mental picture of a monkey wrench, and an idea of how it’s used. I’ve seen a car jacked up to replace the brake pads – that’s not that complex, and looking at the actual brake mechanism, it makes sense. I do technical support for computers, so I have a general idea of what most computer parts look like – I’ve replaced parts in my computers and my husband’s, and done it myself, without having to take it in to a computer surgeon. But I could not have created the replacement, or, in the case of a broken part as opposed to an upgrade, I could not have repaired the part, or found anyone locally who could.

And I think that’s part of the fascination with Dieselpunk. The technology level is assumed to be around that last level where you can take your vehicle in to a local shop to have it fixed, and not need to have parts shipped in from someplace else in the world where they make new parts. Granted, sometimes these days we do still have to have parts shipped in for our cars, but that’s because we’re moving away from that local based ability to maintain our technology. I had the opportunity to talk to S. M. Sterling at Keycon, a few years ago, and he said the best places to find information on how to build things, is the encyclopedias from those years, because, unlike the encyclopedias these days, they had full instructions on how to build anything you wanted.

That’s all I can think of right now, though. I hope this is helpful to those googling “Steampunk vs Dieselpunk.”