All posts by uzor chinukwue

Science Fiction Author. The Mind that Father Made is a collection of short stories by Nigerian SF author, Uzor Chinukwue. The African Mist is his new book. Both are available on amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

The Way of the World by Ron Suskind (Book Review)

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With all the competition from modern news outlets like twitter where information is doled out piecemeal and with such breathtaking pace as to make it almost impossible to verify the validity of sources traditional journalism has suffered and would seem a dead craft but for investigative journalists like Ron Suskind who seem to have carried on where legendary Watergate investigators Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein left off.

The Way of the World is Suskind’s 2008 book, which looks particularly at the Bush administration’s alleged reckless machinations as they made a case for going to war in Iraq. Amongst the allegations are two that if proven would most likely have led to the President’s impeachment, and they both involve Iraq’s then head of Intelligence, General Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.

Allegation 1: Bush Knew There Were No WMD Before Going to War

In his book Suskind claims that the Bush administration, obsessed with going to war with Saddam Hussein, recklessly forged ahead with preparing for a military campaign even though a high-value informant MI6, Habbush, had informed the British that there were no WMD in Iraq.

According to Suskind the British, more adept at this kind of clandestine operation, had cultivated a relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence chief despite the obvious risks involved to both the informant, Habbush, and the spook who’d made contact.

Robert Richer, a CIA man and close to the Jordanian royal family, helped set up a meeting in Jordan with Habbush where he is said to have told his handlers that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor the capabilities or resources to acquire them.

There was reason to believe his claims: Saddam, feared in the region for using chemical weapons against his own people, was anxious to keep up the façade of a ruthless dictator with access to nuclear power who’d stop at nothing to gain dominance in the region.

Saddam was fearful of his neighbours Iran and knew how dangerous it would be for them to discover he was only blowing hot air, that he had no WMD, hence, he continued to play his deadly games with the United Nations and the United States all in a bid to cover his deception. It turns out there was nothing to the Wizard of Oz after all.

Suskind says that MI6 went to the White House with Habbush’s claims, but Bush didn’t believe their source. They wanted him to prove there were no WMD. But that is to prove a negative, something that you cannot do.

Meanwhile, the CIA was following up on another lead – that Saddam was attempting to acquire 500 tons of yellowcake Uranium from Niger’s mines – and made contact with an American diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson via their National Relations (NR) department.

 Allegation 2: The Forged Habbush Letter

The NR will make contact with Americans in the public or business sectors if they need something that would be much easier to acquire in the contact’s field of operations. Wilson was thus approached, as he was a former Ambassador to Gabon and still frequented the region for business.

Also a policy adviser for President Clinton in his role as Senior Director for African Affairs in the NSC (National Security Council), Wilson had vast experience in Africa, and so he agreed to help the CIA find out if the Iraqis had indeed attempted to buy any nuclear material from Niger.

Wilson’s investigations confirmed that there was no such purchase and that the claims were bogus for the very fact that Iraq already had huge amounts of unprocessed Uranium, but that also they just didn’t have the resources to pursue a nuclear program.

The White House and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) at this time were looking only for evidence to help them make their case for war, and Wilson’s findings were discounted. Afterwards they would out his wife, Mrs Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA case officer and claim she helped her husband get the Niger job, in an attempt to discredit his report as one made by an unqualified person who only went to Africa on the behest of a nepotistic wife.

Things were not looking good for war. Suskind claims the CIA was pressured by the OVP into bringing proof that Saddam had WMD. But there was no indisputable proof that would give the Bush administration their case for war. But the administration forged ahead in their preparations, and after the President’s 2003 State of the Union Address in which he included the 16 words that probably sent his nation into war: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” there was no turning back. And so this led to the second damning allegation in Suskind’s book: that a letter was forged to show a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Any links between Saddam and al-Qaeda had always been tenuous, but a December 13 2003 (incidentally also the date of Saddam Hussein’s capture) article in the Daily Telegraph of London seemed to show indisputable proof that Saddam’s regime had not only had contact with but had also aided the September 11 New York attackers.

The author of the article, the Telegraph’s Foreign Editor, Con Coughlin, claimed to have received a document from a “senior member of the Iraqi interim government.” The document in question, a letter apparently written by Habbush in July 2001, contained the following incriminating lines:

 Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer and we hosted him in Abu Nidal‘s house at al-Dora under our direct supervision.

We arranged a work program for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him… He displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy.

The timing of this document’s release was seen as somewhat fortuitous for the Bush administration who, after invading the country in March 2003, were yet to provide any WMD caches.

Conservatives quickly heralded the letter as proof the White House had been right all along, but it didn’t take long before the doubters stated emerging. A Newsweek article a few days afterward chronicled Mohammed Atta’s whereabouts in the period of 2001, according to FBI reports, and showed the 9/11 planner had been in the United States and not Iraq at the time.

Con Coughlin, while dismissive of Suskind’s claims, has gone on to admit that Ayad Allawi (then Iraqi interim Prime Minister) was his “senior member” source. Ayad Allawi is alleged to have visited CIA at Langley a few days before leaking the letter to Coughlin, according to reports by Joe Conason of

Suskind claims the letter was a forgery by the CIA on the behest of the OVP, though former CIA man, Phillip Giraldi, says this is incorrect and that the forgery was made by the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon outfit created on the orders of then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, to provide the White House with Intelligence on Iraq.

 Reactions to the Book

Amongst Suskind’s sources are Rob Richer (former CIA Deputy Director for Clandestine Operations), John Maguire, and Nigel Inkster of MI6. All men, while initially major contributors to the book, have since gone on to deny the books findings. Nigel Inkster called the book’s allegations “inaccurate and misleading”, and Rob Richer denied he ever received any orders from George Tenet to “fabricate a document… as outlined in Mr Suskind’s book.”

Meanwhile Tenet, the former Director of Central Intelligence, while initially stating of the alleged forgeries: “there was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort”, adding: “The notion that I would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous.” – [Source from Wikipedia] – then went on to be severely critical of the Bush administrations handling of pre-war Intelligence in his 2007 published memoirs titled, At the Centre of the Storm: My Years at the CIA.

Suskind has since gone on to release partial transcripts of some of his conversations with Rob Richer that contradict the former deputy director’s denials. It seems to be telling that no legal action has been brought against Mr Suskind to date.

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the way of the world ron suskind

  • The Way of the World – A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism, by Ron Suskind
  • Wikipedia
  • Fair Game – My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, by Valerie Plame Wilson
  • Feature image from



The Story of African Independence – French Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia

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Our story on African independence continues with a look at the French colonies that make up the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. You can see previous articles on Ghana and Egypt.

The Maghreb

France ruled Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as part of their Maghreb, the Arabic name for North-West Africa and which means Land of the Setting Sun. But while Algerian territories (déparetments) were seen as a part of France, so that the northern territories of Algeria – Algiers, Constantine, and Oran – had equal standing with any city in mainland France, Tunisia and Morocco were instead governed as protectorates and were obliged by signed International treaties to actually act on behalf of indigenous rulers. So while the French Caucasian population of Tunisia and Morocco were just as vociferous as their Algerian counterparts they could not by law hold any real political power as the Algerian colons or, as they were also known, pieds noirs.

Inhabitants of the Maghreb are Maghrebis and are also known as Moors
Inhabitants of the Maghreb are Maghrebis and are also known as Moors

While France was proud of its Algerian colony and considered it a part of France the truth was that after 120 years of French occupation it was only a third of the population – the white pieds noirs class – who held all the power. They had a total grip on politics, agriculture, and employment and relegated the Muslim underclass, who made up a majority of the country, to extreme poverty. Of 864 senior administrative posts in the country only 8 were held by Muslims.

After World War 2 and during a grueling war in Indo-China with Vietnam the French government was unstable and prone to constant change between warring factions. No one wanted to risk alienating the support of the powerful Algerian colons and so little was done to bring political reform to Algeria. The polls were rigged constantly and for those seats that Muslims were allowed to win the colons made sure that the winners were always sympathetic to their causes.


The gulf between local indigenes and the pieds noirs was very large with the locals living in tin-can shantytowns called bidonvilles. The colons considered the local populace to be an inferior race and were extremely concerned at the way they grew in numbers with souring birth rates so that the population had nearly doubled in 50 years. There was mass unemployment and even those Algerians who could make it to France herself found that there were very little opportunities, and there they were mostly employed as unskilled labour.

A bidonville. Image from
A bidonville. Image from

With no economic and political power available to them the ground soon became ripe for political revolution:

Ahmed Ben Bella was a 29-year-old former warrant officer in the French army, and had received various awards for bravery in WW 2. He became a founding member of the militarist FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), and was dedicated to armed struggle.

Ahmed Ben Bella. Image from the Telegraph
Ahmed Ben Bella. Image from the Telegraph

In 1949 he would target the post office in a raid that would net his organisation up to 3 million Francs. But security within the FLN was lax and very soon the secret police infiltrated and tore them apart.

Ben Bella himself was captured and sentenced to 8 years in prison, but in 1952 he escaped by sawing off the prison bars on his window with a file that had been smuggled in a loaf of bread. He then escaped to Cairo under the protection of Nasser of Egypt.

Now free, he led the reorganization of the FLN. They formed a committee of 9 leaders, known as chefs historiques – 6 of these leaders were based in Algeria and 3, including Ben Bella, were based in Cairo.

Despite all the rhetoric coming out of Cairo radio about Nasser being a force for Arab struggle Nasser did very little before the war in arming the Algerians. They thus found themselves very ill-equipped in 1954 on All Saints day when they organised several raids on important government structures.

The raids were badly planned and very little damage was done, leaving the authorities to conclude the separate events were unrelated and not part of one big terrorist plot.

However, France’s reply was swift – troops were deployed from France and very soon the Muslim population was subjected to recriminations with Muslims being arrested indiscriminately.

French soldiers in Algeria during the civil war. Image from
French soldiers in Algeria during the civil war. Image from

Within a few weeks the FLN network had been broken up and many fled to a last stronghold in the mountains. With winter coming things soon cooled down and the colons went back to business as usual.

In the spring of 1955 the FLN renewed its offensive against the Algerian government, attacking what it called soft targets: Muslim collaborators. Hundreds were killed, tortured or mutilated, and again the French government sent in reinforcements so that the numbers of French soldiers swelled to 100,000, double their size at the start of the rebellion. The raids on Muslim areas became even more brutal.

In response the FLN announced a new rule of engagement – prior to the brutal recriminations in the bidonvilles (called ratissages) the FLN had opted not to hurt the white pieds noirs, electing instead to attack structures: buildings, installations, infrastructure – but now they would also attack the white populace.

Violence was now being carried out against whites: they were snatched from their motorcycles and slashed to death; in another incident grenades were thrown into a pieds noirs café; and in another FLN groups went from house to house killing everyone including women and children.

The pieds noirs themselves formed their own vigilante groups and went out killing Muslims. Official reports said over a thousand were killed by these groups though FLN figures give an even larger number: 12,000.

The middle ground was fast shrinking and even former moderates like Ferhat Abbas, known for advocating for peace and even married to a Frenchwoman, soon cast their lot with the FLN, believing that the French government was not listening to the plight of the average Algerian.

Ratissage is an exceptionally violent raid. Literally means to rake over
Ratissage is an exceptionally violent raid. Literally means to rake over

The unrest in Algeria forced the French to rethink their policy in the rest of the Maghreb – that is Tunisia and Morocco. Next time we’ll take a look at both countries and consider their fights for independence.

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The Story of African Independence – Egypt

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Obese and the arrogant nominal ruler of Egypt, King Farouk had all the trappings of wealth and then some with sprawling palaces, yachts, and a huge pornographic art collection.

King Farouk of Egypt, 1948
King Farouk of Egypt, 1948. Image from


Playing poker in his palace on the night an alleged coup was supposed to take place, he brushed the speculation off calling the plotters a “bunch of pimps.” By morning he’d started recriminations in the army and chosen a new prime minister and his brother-in-law as new minister of war tasked with overseeing the capture of the plotters.

The opposition,  the Society of Free Officers Dhobat el-Ahrar, was led by 34-year-old Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser was handsome, taciturn, and a natural strategist. The Free Officers, though, chose as their nominal head and the face of their organisation, General Mohammed Neguib, a 54-year-old respected war veteran.

Nasser on cover of TIME magazine
Nasser on cover of TIME magazine

The real purpose of the Free Officers was to get rid of the British and their imperial forces. At the time there were only 3 recognised independent states in Africa – Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The British had allowed Farouk’s dynasty to continue and Nasser saw this as an affront to true Egyptian nationalism. For the first time since Persian conquest 2,500 years ago Egyptians would rule Egypt. Farouk was himself part of the latest dynasty to find itself in power, started by his great-great-grandfather Mohammed Ali 140 years earlier.

Farouk’s army generals decided to set up a meeting to plan the capture of this new threat to the king – Cairo at the time was always full of plotting and assassination and Farouk had removed himself from here and spent a lot of time in his palaces in other parts of the country so that he was far removed from the kind of danger he was in.

When the Free Officers got wind of the meeting Nasser decided to capture them all in one place. At the time there were just about 100 officers in the society.

On the day of the scheduled attack Nasser drove around in his civvies and at one point was even stopped by traffic police, and at another he was nearly shot by his own men who mistook him for someone else.

When they did attack the government building where the army generals had gathered there was only token resistance before the generals all gave up.

Next Nasser and his men got control of the telegraph office, the radio station, and several police stations and government buildings. They also set up roadblocks in case the British tried to step in to help Farouk.

Now they had the king all that was left to do was determine what to do with him. Nasser had sometime earlier been involved in another plot where their target was to be assassinated – this would leave a bitter experience for him, and he would later say that he had nightmares of screaming children and crying women.

It was with relief then when the intended victim actually survived. With Farouk Nasser argued for the king’s life. He wrote to his co-conspirators: Their objective, he said, was to wrest control from a corrupt government and give justice back to the people. Killing Farouk then would clearly be unjust without a trial, and if they were to set up a trial the whole thing would distract them from setting up a new government.

So Farouk’s life was ultimately spared, and he hastily packed some trunks filled with money and gold and departed for Europe.

King Farouk of Egypt
King Farouk of Egypt

At the start the Free Officers really had no great plans for the country. They were all from the military and inexperienced at ruling. They’d all wanted to get rid of British occupation and their figurehead Farouk and they’d achieved this. They now started a comprehensive land reform that would redistribute land from the rich who owned over half of the nation’s cultivatable land.

6 months afterward though and the Free Officers found that they had to consolidate their power. They duly got rid of all opposition, from student and trade unions to communists and organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands were arrested and Nasser more and more would rely on the services of his ruthless secret police. In 1954, after inner conflict in the Free Officers who had now changed their name to the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Nasser emerged as the sole leader, ousting the distinguished Neguib. He thus set up himself to become president, giving himself massive powers.

General Neguib
General Neguib. Image from

At this stage Nasser began to see himself as an Arab leader, and took seriously opposing the influence of the West in the Arab world. He would do this by first seeking independence for Sudan and then pushing for a British withdrawal from Egypt’s Canal Zone.

For starters Egypt had always seen Sudan as a part of their country – Mohammed Ali (Farouk’s great-great-grandfather) had conquered them in 1819 and its capital, Khartoum, which stood at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile, had originally been an Egyptian army outpost. Technically they were supposed to rule Sudan alongside the British, but in practise only the British ruled.

Nasser and the Free Officers would always want to unite the White and Blue sides of the Nile together, and he fought for their independence from colonial rule, believing privately that when the time came the Sudanese would chose to unite with the Egyptians into one country. He even proclaimed himself “King of Sudan” in propaganda.

Britain could not argue with this rising tide of resentment in both Egypt and Sudan whose nationalism parties were pushing more and more for self-determination. In the end, to try to still have some influence in the region, Britain agreed to give Sudan independence.

Sudanese independence, thus, wasn’t based on the country’s readiness for self-determination but on the interests of 2 rival powers. Both sides had neglected to see the warning signs already showing themselves when you considered the difference between the Northern and Southern parts of the country.

Sudan. Image from

The northern part of Sudan, dry and hot, comprised a homogeneous Arab-speaking populace while the southern part of the country, with much fertile land, was made up of disparate black tribes with different languages and different traditional religions. There was also a Christian minority in the south who had been educated in mission schools. The south of Sudan was therefore very underdeveloped and unready for independence.

Sudanese pyramids
Sudanese pyramids. Courtesy the BBC. Like her Egyptian neighbour Sudan also has her pyramids

Further more, historically the north had always been contemptuous of the south and referred to southerners by the disparaging abid, which means slaves, as in the past northern slave traders would capture slaves from the south for their use. So while the north may have welcomed self-determination the south was anxious as to just how much power they would get from the deal, sensing they would be overrun quickly by the more sophisticated northern part of the country.

Village in South Sudan
The much more underdeveloped than her Northern counterpart, Southern Sudan

The second thing Nasser and the RCC wanted was for Britain to pull out of the Canal Zone. For Britain this was one of the most important parts of their empire with the Zone being a hub for Middle East, Europe and African trade. A previous 1936 treaty should have limited the number of men in the British garrison to 10,000 men, but there were more like 80,000 on ground. This was due to the fact that resentment for the British in that region (Egyptians saw it as an affront to their sovereignty) was always high and large numbers of troops were needed on ground to protect the administrative workers actually needed to run the base. You thus had the ridiculous scenario where 50,000 troops were needed to protect 30,000 men on the base.

Egyptian Canal Zone
Suez Canal. Image from

By the early 50’s Britain’s continued presence in the Canal Zone became untenable as politicians in White Hall debated the wisdom in remaining in so hostile a region, especially as they wanted to exact more of an influence in Middle Eastern politics and Nasser’s anti-Western rhetoric in the region was doing more damage than any good from remaining in the Canal Zone would do.

The British thus secured an exit from the Canal Zone by 18 June 1956, withdrawing all troops and leaving only a few technicians and administrators to run the place and manage British ordnance for 7 years after, and with a clause in the treaty that would leave the door open for Britain to come back in case of trouble in the region involving the Soviet Union or some other “outside power”.

Nasser’s star in the Middle East only rose after he’d successfully got the Imperialists out and a sort of personality cult soon developed around him with radio stations continually singing his praise in the region. This was a far cry from the failure he’d felt during the Arab-Israeli war, a loss he’d blamed on Farouk’s failing to adequately equip the Egyptian army.

At this point Nasser saw himself and Egypt as fighting for the region’s development and soon had plans for building a dam, which would be one of the biggest engineering projects in the world. He turned early on to the Americans and British for support, and at first the Americans had agreed though Britain had refused from the outset. But his continued anti-Western rhetoric wasn’t winning him any friends in Washington, and matters were made even more complex when a British advisor to the Jordanian royal family, Sir John Glubb, was fired.

The British Prime Minister at the time, Anthony Eden, blamed King Hussein’s sudden dismissal of Glubb on Nasser’s influence and this put further strain on British-Egypt relations. It is even said that Eden at this point was strongly considering his assassination.

When America withdrew its support for his High Dam project, and when in response to anti-British sentiment in the region Britain cut its military support for Egypt’s army, relations became even more strained. Then Israel attacked 3 Egyptian army posts in the Gaza Strip in 1955, blowing up their army headquarters there. Nasser saw this as part of a Western plot and when he would get no military assistance from the west he took to getting whatever support he could to reequip the ill-equipped Egyptian army. He got help from the Soviets, which sent shock waves around Western governments.

Port Said
Port Said at the Suez Canal opening from the Mediterranean. Image from wikipedia

Another event would nearly lead the West to war and it was when Nasser announced plans to nationalize the Suez Canal Company an Egyptian registered private company with both British and French shareholders who had run the company since completion of the canal in 1866.

This move was a response to Nasser not getting support for his High Dam from the west. The canal was also the world’s most important waterway with 12,000 ships from 45 countries and the main route for British oil at the time, carrying more than 20 million tons of oil a year for Britain. Nasser intended that revenue from the canal would go straight to his High Dam project, but Eden had finally had enough. He was eager for war, and so was Guy Mollet, the PM of France.

But Washington did not agree with Eden and Mollet, thinking that the only reason for going to war would be if traffic on the canal slowed down due to its nationalization. But traffic and business had actually increased since the company’s nationalization.

With British support the Israelis then staged an attack, crossing the Sinai and intending to take the canal. Britain and France then issued an ultimatum under pretext to separate the combatants – Egypt was supposed to remove its troops west of the canal. But Nasser did not meet the ultimatum and instead sunk some ships to block the canal.

When the Americans learned of the whole conspiracy they were livid and insisted on Britain’s full withdrawal. Saudi Arabia stopped trading oil, and even the Soviets threatened a missile strike. Nasser was vindicated and the whole incident only added to Nasser’s status and power in the Middle East. At one fell swoop, after the canal incident of 1956, he would reduce foreign influence in Egyptian commercial, academic and social life, sequestering all foreign banks and companies and passing laws that required all companies operating in the area to be Egyptian registered with majority Egyptian ownership and management.

For Britain the Suez Canal crisis effectively ended their imperial stranglehold in the Middle East as both their power and influence became undermined. But this would also be the case in the rest of Africa who now saw that independence from British rule was possible.

For the French though, they still considered their African colonies to be very much a part of French plans. Next time round we’ll look at French Africa. Till then hope you enjoyed this and if so please don’t forget to share on social media channels

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Also See

  • The State of Africa, Martin Meredith
  • The Story of African Independence – Ghana
  • The Story of African Independence – French Maghreb

Star Wars 1313 – Death of a Franchise

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By Uzor Chinukwue

Seems those boys at Disney are determined to bury what might have been a promising franchise. In an era of gaming that focused on rehashing well-worn stories and gaming mechanics Star Wars 1313 looked to be a potential gem that may just have revived sci-fi shooters.

But alas any dreams of having a post Mass Affect 3 resurgence of action-adventure gaming were blown out the water when the Walt Disney Company, after having acquired Lucasfilm in a deal said to be worth over $4 billion, went on to close down LucasArts, the studio behind the Star Wars 1313 game.

What this means is Star Wars games like the 1313 title are no longer in development, though there may be a slight glimmer of hope with Lucas Arts retaining licensing powers.

Conceivably, they could sell the rights to a third party to develop, but Disney has announced it will be concentrating on Star Wars movies. And while this may be welcome news for JJ Abrams it should be treated with a generous degree of cynicism by everyone else.

Why you may ask? Well for years while the Lucas team have been mostly known for all things Star Wars they’ve also been involved in some of the most technologically impressive breakthroughs in recent film history. Why Pixar was one such success. And remember the liquid metal Terminator from Terminator 2, which still manages to catch the eye even after all these years? Well that groundbreaking marvel was down to them as well.

And while stopping production of a video game is not the same as closing down the special effects arm of the Lucas companies, namely Industrial Light and Magic the point was for Star Wars 1313 all 3 companies were involved: ILM, Lucasfilm Animation and Skywalker Sound.

This move would undoubtedly have created advancements in video gaming, which history tells us would probably translate well into technology used in film. In short Disney’s shortsightedness may earn the big bucks at the box office but may stunt the progress of both the video gaming and film industry.

Don’t agree with me? OK. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems they are going the way of Microsoft: rather than admitting to themselves they are anti innovation they’ll instead shell out ridiculous sums of money to buy competitors and true innovators only to go right ahead and strip anything that looks like innovation from acquired companies until they’re just clones of the Parent company, which will only lead observers to ask, what was the point in buying said companies anyway? Was it to inject much needed creativity in a  stagnant bureaucracy or  was it just to kill Moses before he grows muscles enough to challenge Pharaoh? I guess only time will tell on this one guys.

The Gunslinger

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Roland Deschain the Last Gunslinger

Roland Deschain of Gilead is the enigmatic title character in this, the first of King’s 7 novels in his Dark Tower series. The Gunslinger combines science fiction with the fantasy genre. According to King, the idea for the story came after seeing Sergio Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly – the first in a trilogy of spaghetti Westerns, and starring Clint Eastwood. Roland then, like Eastwood, has his guns as his primary weapon, and shows an almost supernatural ability in the way he uses them, whether it’s to draw them from their holsters or reload them when the bullets are spent. Here Stephen King draws parallels with the fantastic characters of King Arthur’s roundtable, and like the knights Roland supposedly belongs to an order of skilled killers, the gunslingers.

 Story of The Gunslinger

We follow the gunslinger as he embarks on a journey in pursuit of the man in black, a mythic creature that appears to be able to take on any form he wants. In one incarnation the man in black goes by the name Walter O’ Dim and seems hell-bent on making the hero’s path hard and full of troubles. Along the way he sets traps for Roland: in a town with a mad preacher who’s pregnant with a devil and who incites the whole town to murder him, and also with a boy who Roland becomes taken with and who arrests the warrior’s soul.


Roland will also encounter other colourful characters in his pursuit of his nemesis, like Zoltan, a talking bird, subterranean luminous creatures, pitiful in their existence but terrifying in that they seem to want Roland and Jake around for dinner, with those two being on the menu, or course, and a salacious oracle who will prophesy to the gunslinger only if he gives the lustful spirit the warmth of his flesh.


The boy who Walter O’ Dim sets on Roland’s path is Jake Chambers and he lived in the 20th Century in our time until he was killed by Walter O’ Dim, only to find himself trapped in Roland’s own reality. Roland’s not sure how the mischievous warlock will use Jake against him, but he’s unable to send him away because of his love for the boy. In the end he discovers the man in black intends for Jake to be Roland’s “Isaac,” and he must make a choice whether to sacrifice him or save him. If he sacrifices him then Roland will be given what he’s been searching for since his journey began and that is knowledge, knowledge of the tower. The series continues with The Drawing of the Three.

The Revised Edition of The Gunslinger

According to King in his introduction for the revised editions he had been approached by several people, not least an old woman who wanted to see the end of the series before she died. After he survived a horrible accident he decided it was time to get back to his series – one he has remarked is his magnum opus. But there was a need to revisit the original stories, mainly to ensure uniformity across the books. It’s for this reason The Gunslinger has had changes. In the foreword (2003) he wrote, “What I did want to do – and before the final volumes of the book came out, if possible – was to give newcomers to the tale of the Tower (and old readers who want to refresh their memories) a clearer start and a slightly easier entry into Roland’s world. I also wanted them to have a volume that more effectively foreshadowed coming events.”

So Which Edition Should You Buy?

This, of course, will be a matter of choice. The older editions may be cheaper and this may inform your choice. But if you can spare the extra buck or two I’d say get this one. Like Matthew Peckham observed in his 2003 article The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger on “If you’ve never read The Gunslinger, this is the edition you should get. Is it better than the original? Without question, though as noted above, primarily because the story integrates better with the latter volumes. If on the other hand you’ve already read the original, you will still find the revised edition indispensable for its new revelations which affect the continuity of the latter books.”

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The Gunslinger by Stephen Kind (copyright by Mercury Press for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This edition 2003.), The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (directed by Sergio Leone, and starring Clint Eastwood, 1966), The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Matthew Peckham (

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

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Outer Dark, a Cormac McCarthy Novel

The second novel in a distinguished career, Outer Dark was published in 1968 and is everything you’d expect from a Cormac McCarthy novel. The language used in the dialogue is rural and laidback – something I can appreciate being Igbo myself and from a pastoral part of the world with similar tastes in linguistic wit and poetry.

The scenes of the novel I also recognise: rustic, placid, somnolent fields at times, wild, untamed, eerie woodlands at others. There’s also that trademark violence that appears jauntily in scenes, seemingly at home in otherwise ordinary settings. This lends something of the unexpected to the story.

For me the pacing of the novel was faultless and the violence kept to a minimum, unlike in his other novel Blood Meridian where someone seems to die every other page or so.


Outer Dark by Cormac MacCarthy
Outer Dark by Cormac MacCarthy

Like Hemingway Mr McCarthy doesn’t waste words, no needless adjectives here. There’s economy albeit rich in complexity, the ease of the language of the American South sitting in stark contrast with his seductive prose.

McCarthy opts for showing his characters not through their thoughts or by describing their characteristics, but by their habits and their dialogue. Often with fiction a writer can find himself stuck on facial expressions having nothing left in a steadily depleting repertoire of phrases like “he smiled” or “she frowned” and so forth, but Mr McCarthy isn’t deficient in his understanding and use of gestures, something borne, no doubt, out of practised observation of his fellow man. Like Mr Guy Davenport said in his article in the New York Times (29 September 1968):

“…Mr. McCarthy waste a single word on his character’s thoughts. With total objectivity he describes what they do and records their speech. Such discipline comes not only from mastery over words but from an understanding wise enough and compassionate enough to dare tell so abysmally dark a story.”

From Tennessee, Georgia himself Mr McCarthy succeeds in capturing the allure of the Deep South in his style. Indeed there are few novelists who’ve managed to capture the contradictions of the land as successfully as he has, right down to the showing of wickedness living right next to religiosity.  As in one scene where the protagonist Culla Holme is wrongly accused of murder. A preacher appears as tensions rise in the mob, but he isn’t the source of succour one would expect from one of his profession, and instead he engages in an inane debate over the right way to dispose of Holme for his perceived crimes.

The theme of religion resonates throughout the entire novel. Guy Davenport again:

“Though it pays its homage to Faulkner’s rhetoric and imagery, it is not a Faulknerian novel. It is much leaner, closer in pace and spareness of line to the Gothic masters Gertrud Le Fort and her disciple Isak Dinesen, and lacks Faulkner’s sociological dimension. Mr. McCarthy is unashamedly an allegorist. His responsibility as a storyteller includes believing with his characters in the devil, or at least in the absolute destructiveness of evil.”

There’s no escaping that the protagonists are being judged for their sins. And while Culla has a hard time of it right from the start, his sister Rinthy seems to be treated more kindly by people until she meets the tinker, a spectral eldritch character who took her baby, and has to face her own transgressions. 

Plot Summary

Culla Holme of Jackson County in Appalachia has a baby boy with his sister Rinthy. Ashamed of his incest and afraid of how the world will judge him Culla takes the baby as soon as it’s born and steals away in the middle of the night while his sister recovers from childbirth and lays the child out in the woods. A mysterious tinker has been following him through the dark and takes up the child.

Rinthy wakes up and asks for her baby and doesn’t believe her brother when he informs her of the child’s death. Rinthy goes looking for the grave and digs it to find it empty. She then sets out on a journey to recover the babe after confronting her brother for his actions.

Her journey will lead her to many dangerous eerie places where she meets weird locals, but they all treat her well and offer her food and board, unlike her brother, who sets out on his own journey after her: Culla finds bad luck everywhere he goes. His arrested, and at one point threatened with a lynching. And through it all he’s stalked by 3 mysterious otherworldly men who in the end will pronounce a terrifying judgement on him for his sin and bring the story to its unsettling conclusion.

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