This highly unlikely comic novel about a fictional nuclear weapons research establishment which bears no resemblence whatsoever to AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked, no sirree, is one of the little-known gems of British humourous writing. Sadly, its publishing history shows why it remains a little-known gem. Its UK paperback edition was difficult to find, and the copy I ordered through W.H.Smith on publication never materialised; a further incarnation, as a trade paperback from a UK small publisher, was marred by that publisher promptly going out of business. Fortunately, another small publisher acquired it and it has been in print from them continuously since 2003. Take a bow, Cosmos Books! And of course, the advent of eBooks has meant that it is now available in that format for those who like that sort of thing.
Dave Langford’s comic writing deserves to be better known outside the circle of enthusiasts who have known about his talent for years. This novel was built out of a number of articles Langford wrote over a number of years relating funny stories from his time in the British nuclear weapons community, and indeed Langford complains that the episodes that people think are the most ridiculous, farcical and unlikely incidents are the ones that are actually true – and as a one-time career bureaucrat in the British Civil Service, I can confirm their likeliness, as I had similar, though generally less funny, experiences myself in a far less critical area of Government business…
The plot is simple; a nuclear scientist buys a surplus filing cabinet from his workplace, only to find that a colleague has popped a nuclear warhead core into the bottom drawer for safe keeping whilst he goes to the pub. The problem then is how to smuggle a nuclear warhead INTO a high-security base. Eventually, the solution involves the ultimate piece of swords-into-ploughshares alternative technology..
In case anyone worries about national security, this novel was, of necessity, vetted by Ministry of Defence security staff before publication. Their opinions are not recorded.