British Spy Stories Go Off The Rails

The modern spy genre has been a staple of mainstream fiction since at least 1900, which was the year that Rudyard Kipling serialized his espionage novel Kim.

cover of the novel kim by rudyard kipling

There are many things to recommend the novel, as Kipling drew up0n experiences gained while he worked as a journalist in India.  It does great service to impart the impressions of a British citizen thrust into the bustling, overcrowded, wildly diverse and exotic East.

The novel also was a seminal work in the spy genre as it depicts a secret government effort to recruit, train, and deploy otherwise average people in what is known in the British Empire as The Great Game, a deadly serious rivalry between Russia and the United Kingdom to advance their agendas and gain an advantage over the other.  The novel Kim might have some overly dramatic moments, but in general it was a thoughtful and realistic portrayal of what a seasoned journalist turned fiction writer might imagine efforts to gather intelligence would entail.

The title character of Kim was a teenaged boy who grew up on the streets.  His main talent besides confidence and self reliance was to be able to blend in with the teeming millions that thronged India, passing unnoticed and invisibly in the crowd.

The spy novel advanced closer towards what modern audiences appreciate with the publication of The 39 Steps in 1915.  The plot concerns an everyman who is accused of a murder committed by spies to cover up their nefarious work, with the protagonist then forced to go on the run in a desperate effort to both clear his name and foil the enemy operatives.

cover of the spy novel the 39 steps

The description of the plot will have many of my readers rolling their eyes.  Aren’t stories concerning some average and innocent Joe who has to evade the authorities and bring the true evil plot to light a cliche in action literature?  That is very true, but this is where it all started.  Worth a read for that alone, I would say.

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Coming Apart

I recently wrote an essay where I discussed the popular impression that hollowpoint ammunition can not overpenetrate, or punch completely through a target with enough velocity to still be dangerous.

expanded hollowpoint bullets

The answer, of course, is that anything which is intended to borrow deeply enough into a human body to reach the vital organs can also come out the other side at speed.  Hollowpoint rounds might reduce this possibility, even reduce it a great deal, but it doesn’t eliminate it completely.

a variety of hollowpoint calibers fired into ballistic gel

So we have to wonder: Are there types of lethal ammunition which reduce the chance of overpenetration even further?

There are, and they are known under the blanket term of “frangible ammunition“.

Sounds pretty exotic, doesn’t it?  But it just means that the bullets are designed to break up into itty bitty pieces, instead of staying in one lump like all the other bullets out there.

Why would anyone want that?  The idea was to reduce unintended casualties and ricochets if the police or military had to shoot at someone in an urban environment.  It is all well and good if a SWAT marksman takes down a desperate criminal who is holding hostages, but it wouldn’t be acceptable if innocent people got hurt when the bullet bounces off of concrete walls and zips around a bit.


(I chose the image above solely due to the “Bullet From Nowhere” story, which I thought was topical.)

(No, really!  I did!)

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An Expensive Way To Be An Annoying Twat

We might have had primitive technology not much better than fire-hardened spears to hunt wooly mammoth back in my youth, but there were model airplanes available for the enthusiast even back then.

control line model airplane

Some of them were even controlled by radio.  Hence the name “RC model airplane“.

vintage radio control flying boat model

All that is old is constantly new again.  Repackaged for the Internet age, we are now supposed to refer to RC model aircraft as “drones“.  The most popular appear to be multi-rotor helicopter designs.

radio controlled drone with camera

The development of digital cameras that are cheap, durable, and lightweight have meant that these drones are now usually equipped with what would have been seen as sophisticated surveillance technology even a decade ago.

rc drone equipped with a camera

Sophisticated spy equipment or not, most people who buy this sort of thing are mostly interested in buzzing the neighboring backyards in order to get shots of their teenage daughters as they sunbathe.

sunbathers on a rocky and uncomfortable beach

cat sleeping on a hot tin roof

But not all uses of these toys are purposed to stoke some prurient interests.  Another trend is to take video of your hometown, edit the footage for dramatic effect while setting it to inspiring music, and uploading the end result to YouTube.

Long time reader Greg was kind enough to send me a link to this website.  It features a map of the world, with links to the aforementioned YouTube videos.   Judging by the number of videos posted, it would appear that Europe has a great many more drone enthusiasts than The United States.  Or perhaps we just don’t like to share.

I checked out the video for Detroit and found it to be interesting.  Lots of crumbling buildings and empty streets.  Reminded me of those cheap movies that came out in the 1980’s which depicted a world smashed by nuclear war, with cannibalistic mutants lurking in the rubble.

Anyway, check out the website.  Maybe someone has made a video of your own hometown.

Do Hollowpoints Overpenetrate?

Interesting question.  But first we have to define some terms.  What are these hollowpoints of which I speak?

Most people are familiar with standard ball ammo.  That means the bullet, the part of the ammunition that comes flying out of the gun at a really high rate of speed, is shaped like a fire plug.  (Please click on all pictures for a larger version.)

standard 9mm lead ammo

The picture above shows entire cartridges with lead bullets at the tip.  When I was reloading my own ammo, I would buy large boxes of copper jacketed bullets.

standard 9mm ball bullets waiting to be reloaded

They don’t look like little round balls, which can throw you a curve when people start talking about “ball ammo“.  What they mean by that is just standard ammo, nothing special, totally boring stuff.

Hollowpoint ammo use bullets that have the tip scooped out.  There is one on the right in the picture below, standing next to a ball cartridge.

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