The leaky establishment
(David Langford, 1984)

This is an entertaining comic novel, giving an interesting if perhaps slightly distorted glimpse into the hilarious world of atomic weapons research. But Langford, whose wit has enlivened sf fandom for years, always seems impelled by a last-minute attack of modesty to disguise his novels behind a thoroughly nondescript title; even as, in the photo on the rear inside cover, he attempts to hide himself behind a copy of his previous book.

The novel displays in full cry his distinctive style of humorous documentary, previously dispensed only in small doses to a select group of victims. Health warning: readers who believe that style should be transparent and unobtrusive may not like this book, from which style oozes from every pore. Descriptive sentences are long and replete with lovingly chosen adjectives; the dialogue seems well-rehearsed. The style has its own validity, it hangs together coherently, but perhaps it's not for everyone.

It would probably be incorrect, and certainly misleading, to classify the book as science fiction: it's set in the present, doesn't seem to rely on any technological innovation, and should appeal to anyone who fancies a comic novel very gently flavoured with anti-nuclear sentiments.

I enjoyed it, and didn't regret laying out £8.95 for the hardback. The author comes over as a nice chap despite his preoccupation with excreta (I exaggerate...), and the ending, probably the most difficult part of a novel, is in this case effective.

Originally published in Thurb 1 in August 1984

Writing now in October 2006, I'd like to add that the book is chiefly memorable for a scene near the end in which the hero discovers something rather impressive. It's one of those fictional scenes that I like to reread occasionally, though if I'm not careful I end up rereading the whole book as a result.