It’s the end of the world as we know it in this fine Dr. Strangelove–ian satire about the mad search for a doomsday device.
Robertson’s (The Siege of Walter Parks, 2012) self-billed “feel good story about the end of the world” may not be completely unique, but it is exceedingly clever and entertaining and, at times, spot-on loony. Thirteen-year-old Alex Graham and his friend Gerald find a thermos-shaped canister labeled “Top Secret” and “Property of the United States Government.” No sooner does Alex put it up for bid on eBay than he finds himself hunted by mercenaries and the CIA. The elusive canister turns out to be a long-lost weapon of ultimate destruction created by a Dr. MacGuffin (likely a sly reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s signature plot device of a desired object that drives a story). The United States, led by an ineffectual president who fancies himself a poet, wants it back, but others, including a stereotypically drawn Islamic terrorist and a German arms dealer, have their own designs on the elusive weapon. CIA agent Charlie Draper, whose own world ended with the deaths of his wife and daughter, takes Alex under his wing as the search becomes more frantic and the body count escalates. Robertson is adept at balancing the story’s farcical and gritty elements. The book’s violence is sudden and punishing, which underscores the high stakes and invests the story with a gravitas that makes its absurdist passages even funnier. That said, the humor is hit-or-miss; all the jokes can’t be good, as Groucho Marx once said, but readers, after wading through an opening disclaimer, a preface, a few words about the book’s science (“There isn’t any”), and a faux introduction that extols the book’s silliness, might be tempted to ask the author to get on with it. The invented quotes (“‘Do I really sound like that?’—R.M. Nixon”) that head most chapters also become increasingly tiresome. That said, there are also some sublimely silly passages whose deadpan musings recall the late Douglas Adams.
Readers will likely be sorry to see this book (and the world) come to a conclusion.