4 July, 2002: Something day

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I just finished reading `Warday', by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka. It's a novel about, roughly, the effects upon the United States of a limited nuclear war in 1988, in the form of a travelogue written by two writers touring the country five years later. It's frightening, though the underlying premises are somewhat implausible.

Its most significant deficiency, as in Brendan Dubois's Cuban-missile-crisis-goes-horribly-wrong novel `Resurrection Day', is that Europe is not directly affected by the war, despite the fact that typical USSR war plans throughout the Cold War were of the form ``nuke 'em 'til they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark''. And would the Russians really want a resurgent Europe on their doorsteps whilst they clamber out from under the rubble and set about the task of rebuilding socialism? This is explained away in the book by suggesting that the European nations have a secret treaty with the USSR whereby they disarm United States forces based on their territories and then sit around looking sweet and innocent saying `we're nice people, please don't bomb us'. Which is fine, except that I'm sure it wouldn't have worked. After all, those missiles weren't going to justify themselves....

Anyway, the suspension of disbelief is probably necessary in order to introduce the plot elements which make Warday work: we discover, for instance, that the United States is swarming with medical relief teams from Britain and agricultural specialists from Japan. If the rest of the world was gently glowing toast, there wouldn't be much to write about. (Or on.) For the same reason, the authors have the Russians bomb only three cities: Washington, DC, New York, and their own home town, San Antonio in Texas; I suppose that the urge to do this when writing post-apocalyptic fiction may be overwhelming....

As with many novels of this genre, much of its strength derives from passing references which hint at how things have changed. Oil, for instance, is sold in the United States through `British and Israeli agents'; we are intended, I think, to assume that the other Middle Eastern countries have been subordinated to Israeli interests. (Of course, the problem here is that there's no reason to suppose that Israel, with the United States shattered, would be able to do this. Suspension of disbelief again, I suppose.) A huge report on the state of US agriculture `may be purchased for $0.25 from the Department of Agriculture, Los Angeles, California'. Families toil with Geiger counters and lead-lined vacuum cleaners to dispose of `hot' fallout particles in areas downwind of bombed missile bases. Etc.

Another problem is the notion that the outside world, despite being in an economic depression because of the collapse of trade with the US, is much more technologically advanced than the world of 1988. Now, admittedly, they did write the thing in 1984, and perhaps they would be reasonable to expect that by 1993 there would be magnetic-levitation trains running scheduled services in Japan -- perhaps within the realms of possibility -- and in Britain -- which is ridiculous: they haven't even figured out how to bolt the rails together here yet. But the idea that all this would have happened with the economy in the toilet seems completely unreasonable. However, I think that the authors have a bit of a thing about `big technology', since the original cause of the war is the deployment by the United States of parts of a working missile defence system. I suppose in 1984 missile defence probably still looked sort of vaguely plausible....

Anyway, it's well written, and there's good attention to detail and numerous passages written as interviews with survivors of the war, which are good.

I'd give a link to buy the thing, but it's out of print. You could try Ebay, I suppose.

Copyright (c) 2002 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.