Technopolitana -- Synopsis of two books

Two tales of Technopolitana:

What She Did First -- synopsis & notes on What She Did Next:

 

            September 28, 1938, drizzle, sun pushing through, a London bus stop, a man drably dressed raincoat gets off. He is one of the richer men in the world, oil investor, Sacheverell Wessler. An almost country road, above London, Highgate. He waits for another man, also comes by bus, anonymous, tall, hawk-like, the second man.

            Clayton Rutland, American columnist and writer on science and its dark side in the strikes and depths of depression years. 'Posh' cars come by. The road leads to the country house in London of the banker Bernard Bernstein. Bernstein and his mathematician wife.

            They are hosting a recital and fund raising event for Jewish scientists still stuck in Nazi Germany and surrounding Europe. Others are here and in the USA, possibly crucial to allied war effort, via new discoveries, radar, uranium fission, the one that is to prove the odd man out, penicillin.

            Bernstein says he has someone for the two men They want to improve the coordination of British war science. To put in front of Churchill.

            Science is a subject the British establishment is bland about. Wessler and Rutland think that a 'private spy' could help bring information that is dispersed around the British scientific establishment to Churchill who is already interested.

            They pray Churchill will get power. Who knows? The British prime minister thinks he can trust Herr Hitler, is bland about the need for American help, and not interested in the new science of war.

            Get Churchill, already with a group of scientists around him, even better briefed? The right private spy to penetrate secret establishments. German refugee scientists already give the west an edge over Germany. Wessler and Rutland want to make sure the British are aware of what they have. Bernard Bernstein the host thinks he has someone for them.

            The someone is, to their surprise, a female, the recently married and recently graduated in biochemistry Mrs. Nathalie Armstrong --Dr were awards actually given to women.
            She startles them by her sartorial self confidence. When other women at the do are dressed in organza and pink, she wears a simple red dress, has a frown and an intensity of listening, is with a newly wed husband, twice her age, Oxford historian and travel writer, man of urbane good looks. The private spy?

 

            Seven autumns later, Stockholm, dark October 1945. One Nobel prize has been given for one strain of science important in the war. Now there are others, the prize for medicine.

            'Did you know,' the reporter Rutland asks, 'that after the work on the A bombs, the biggest science grant for the war period was for penicillin and that it came from impossible to make to possible and the US army got a grant for $30 million dollars? Do you know that the woman who was the catalyst for this -- yes, a woman -- I first met at a reception in Highgate, London in September 1938?

            'That she has had to change her identity and nationality? That she is being hunted by the British secret service? That they think the Americans getting patent rights to penicillin worth billions while the British win the Nobel Prize is thanks to her disloyalty? That I,  Clay Rutland, am part of a plot to use her as a decoy to lure her detractor, British secret service agent, Felix Hampson to Stockholm? So as to kill him -- the man who may have raped her and forced her change of identity?'

            Her name? Good question. Nathalie Armstrong, Swiss & English, or Sonia Smithson, junior officer US medical corps, American.

            Her very real understanding of the biochemistry and the politics and the commercial frauds concerning penicillin? Considerable.

            Six foot tall, frowning, red dress, blind ambition, trouble. Yet an exceptionally nice person. Yes? A victim or a fool? Still on FBI books as missing and wanted in 2014 when she would have been a hundred.

 

            Now 2016: 71 years after the Nobel Prize ceremony and the disappearance of the body of the British 'diplomat', Felix Hampson from the Stockholm police morgue…..

north of San Francisco, a young widow, Francine Smithson, is told by phone by her upset mother, Juliette Smithson, that Francine's grandmother is 'not who she says she is'. Francine, mother of two young teenagers,  guilty about the circumstances of her husband's death, is fascinated.

            Juliette, the mother, never liked Sonia the grandmother. Francine adored her grandmother who brought her up to the age of ten when she died. What is this 'is not who she says she is'?

            The purveyor of the news is a war reporter, Spy Nielsen. And who is he? And why does he have a picture of Francine's grandmother when younger captioned as 'Nathalie Armstrong'? Shown with two of the three British scientists who were in Stockholm for the Nobel Prize in 1945.

            What does Spy want of this? And what does Francine the widow with two children want?

            Two stories of Nathalie, the private spy of science, evolved though the eyes of her granddaughter, Francine. A serious woman of the 1930s and 1940s evolved through the eyes of another serious woman, of the 2016-17 period.

 

            Mainly the narratives are Nathalie's. And mainly Nathalie is concerned with understanding how the US is sidestepping, 'duping' the UK, the journalist Rutland says -- 'duping' the British in war science.

            Much of the narrative is to do with the 'theft' by the USA of British penicillin work.

            What She Did First ends with Nathalie's abject failure to prevent the British giving all their unpatented work to the USA who then patent it.

            Caught in a scam and a trap she escapes rape and survives.

            What She Did Next sees her as the underground messenger who understands the huge potential of the still impossible to extract penicillin. She is once again caught in a scam and jailed, escapes on bail and changes her identity.

            The on/off relationship between Francine and the war-stressed Spy ends in a strange contention. Spy's father is Francine's grand father. Spy's father is therefore Francine's grandfather? True or not true?

            And these two, lonesome war reporter and widowed clothes designer, are in love and out of love and in love.

 

            Two novels as explained by Nathalie's hidden archive to Francine and as explained to the 'author', JFGladstone, by Francine.

            Each about 85,000 words, one ready for editing, one well along.

 

What She Did Third will concern Nathalie, now Sonia in the cold war period. Again it deals with the underbelly of science.

 

            These are books with serious women at their heart -- Nathalie a scientist at a time when there were almost no women in that profession, Francine coping with a professional life, issues of her identity and the teenage children she loves and who are left without a father.

 

My Planet Technopolitana concept is concerned with the human drive for progress (penicillin to save 10,000 lives of wounded allied troops) versus the downside of such progress. Human population has increased 2.5 times approx, 2.5 billion to 7.3 since the Nobel prize for penicillin flagged the antibiotic era.

            The relationship between antibiotics and increase in numbers is, of course, exact. Yet it's edgy and worrying and Francine is worried and she wants to make sense of it, to love Spy and to form a sound foundation for her children. Not easy. Serious, working women.

NOTE on approach: while science may seem an usual subject for fiction, it is what drives this civilization -- progress -- and the 'underbelly' or dark side offers rich possibilities. Models I envy in non-fiction, yet strongly told as stories, are Rachel Carson's masterpiece on chemical pollution, full of anecdotes, Silent Spring and James Watson's Double Helix, the story of a major discovery told in an active, scurrilous and highly readable way -- also more recent versions of the story of the one woman in the 'double helix', the individual they duped, Rosiland Franklin.
           There were not so many women in early twentieth century science. Among those there were, many were forgotten or had their reputations stolen. In 1945 a key Nobel prize was awarded to Otto Hahn for work on uranium fission. His arguably more important colleague Lisa Meitner was not considered.