The first 15 hours of World War III--in a long nuclear-nightmare scenario that mixes, with more energy than discipline,...



The first 15 hours of World War III--in a long nuclear-nightmare scenario that mixes, with more energy than discipline, technological data, talky debates, countdown melodrama, black comedy, and (least successfully) a hate/love story between two incompatible B-52 pilots. The USSR's premier, trying to defuse a Kremlin move toward all-out war, unleashes a limited nuclear attack, ""not an act of aggression"": sub/missile assaults on all US bomber bases, with only a few million casualties. The Prez, caught without his top staff, makes the decision to respond exactly in kind, not with all-out force--despite urgings from his generals. So about half of Prochnau's novel follows one B-52 on its fallout-endangered mission to bomb Irkutsk and its wanderings thereafter--with one crew-member dropping dead, another going bananas (his family is among the casualties back home), and longwinded, issue-heavy tension between the two mission leaders: pilot Kazaklis is ""the ultimate SAC jet jockey oozing. . . near-perfect animal instincts""; and co-pilot Moreau is the skeptical daughter of a disillusioned general. (In one of several overdone flashbacks, father tells daughter: ""I want you to get rid of those gray phalluses you pack around with you and find one life-giving one of your own."") Meanwhile, however, the attempt at limited nuclear war fails, of course: the Prez is presumed dead in a D.C. attack; his good-old-boy successor, the trigger-happy Secretary of the Interior, hears arguments from dove/hawk strategists but moves toward all-out war (""anthropocide,"" says a sane general who commits suicide); devastation escalates around the world. (""For New Orleans, we took Odessa."") And finally the real Prez surfaces, establishes contact with the Dexadrine-popping USSR premier, takes inspiration from Kazaklis & Moreau (who ultimately turn back from another carnage-mission). . . and desperately tries to avert the very final clash between US subs and USSR missiles. Washington reporter Prochnau's anti-nuke, anti-military anger is on constant display here, all too often backfiring--as heavy sarcasm (à la Tom Wolfe) and cartoon theatrics (à la Kubrick) undermine the overall quad-documentary approach. Detrimental, too, are the repetitious issue-airing and the pretentious dialogue for the wearisome pilot-couple. But, if far less frightening on the life-sized, On the Beach level than Luke Rhinehart's recent Long Voyage Back, this is packed with acronyms, moment-by-moment military decisions, and doomsday-blueprints--all of them convincing enough to offer intermittent horror/fascination amid the overlong, uneven melodramatics.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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