A fictional reconstruction of the worst nuclear accident in history--dramatized with nonchalant skill by the veteran science-fiction writer and editor. On Saturday, April 16, 1986, the incompetent yes-man Director of the Chernobytl nuclear reactor complex is off duck-hunting with Moscow bigwigs, while Deputy Director Simyon Smin--he does all the real work, often despite the system--visits his mother. At #4 reactor, the Chief Engineer, attended by the plant KGB boss, begins to run an unauthorized experiment that involves shutting down the reactor's automatic safety systems. Hydrological engineer ""Comrade Plumber"" Leonid Sheranchuk protests and is brushed off. Moments later the reactor goes critical; a hydrogen explosion blows the roof off the containment building, exposing the reactor's core. No meltdown occurs (there's nothing much to melt)--instead, the graphite core (designed to moderate the nuclear reaction) catches fire and, for several days, defies all attempts to extinguish it. Still to come in the following days and weeks: heroic rescues, fleeing cowardS, mass evacuations, the creeping, invisible terror of fallout, and the profound effect the disaster will have on Soviet political thought. Along with a splendid cast in a gripping and vivid narrative, Pohl presents as balanced and insightful a picture of the USSR as may be found. A pro's pro in top form, tackling an inherently fascinating subject: the combination is irresistible.