A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-
THE LEAKY ESTABLISHMENT
Big Engine pb, 209pp, £7.99
Big Engine is a new independent publisher looking to promote talented new writers, rescue popular works from out-of-print ignominy and challenge the accepted wisdom that ‘anthologies don’t sell’. Their list of titles for 2001 is a promisingly eclectic mix, one that will whet the appetites of most SF fans. This 1984 novel by Langford, complete with an introduction by Terry Pratchett, is their launch publication, and it’s an auspicious start.
Roy Tappen works at Robinson Heath, a top secret nuclear research facility run by the Ministry of Defence. One day on a dare he smuggles out a surplus to requirement filing cabinet, only to discover it contains the plutonium core from a nuclear warhead, put there for safekeeping by one of the cleaners. Unfortunately getting a warhead back into Robinson Heath isn’t as easy as getting one out, taxing all of Tappen’s considerable ingenuity, the situation deteriorating with each new attempt.
This is a lively book, one that deftly satirises the excesses and paranoia of the security community. It has some memorable characters and grand comic set pieces, taking well aimed pot shots at bureaucratic muddle-headedness and red tape, like a modern and more purposeful equivalent of P. G. Wodehouse. Tappen could easily be Bertie Wooster with a science O-level and Robinson Heath some little known annex of the Drones Club, patrolled by security guards in lieu of draconian maiden aunts. Only the reality hinted at behind the text (Langford used to work in the nuclear industry, so presumably knows what he’s talking about) seems to offer more in the way of absurdity, but really that’s not funny at all.