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The Leaky Establishment Paperback – November 15, 2004
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What's scary is it looks so real, so familiar, to those of us who have dealt with government facilities.
It has a surprise resolution that is rather poetical.
Roy Tappen borrows a filing cabinet from work to use at home and unknowingly also takes home a plutonium warhead. He spends the rest of the book trying to infiltrate the warhead back where it belongs without Security or his boss discovering it ever left the facility. Tappen soon explains why his warhead in its aluminum jacket is no more dangerous than a lot of household items. From then on Langford is free to treat the plutonium core like any of the other humorous icons whose appearance at the right moment in the story is good for a chuckle. Jokes are set up and triggered in the deft Langford style, at the pace of about a joke per paragraph.
The Leaky Establishment is invested with all the delightful characteristics of Langford's writing, the flair for lucid prose found in writers from Bob Shaw to C.S. Lewis, lots of sophisticated wordplay, and inspired leaps between high-brow and low-brow humor.
Don't get me wrong: it's a pretty funny book. Set around the aptly-named "Robinson Heath" bomb lab (a blatant send-up of AWRE Aldermaston, where the author once worked), it recounts the exploits of scientist Roy Tappen who accidentally takes the fissile part of his work home one night and struggles to smuggle it back inside the fence. In the process, Langford shines the harsh light of satire on the secretive and cowering creatures of the Scientific Civil Service.
The plot is far-fetched (luckily), and the story mashes in a fair few in-jokes, such as place names, which mean that you can probably knock half a star off the rating if you haven't worked at Aldermaston and another half if you don't know the area. Shame to see the laser getting only one throwaway gag though, since it's such a multi-billion dollar save-the-earth project in the US and France now.
Langford's style a bit glib and teenaged (maybe he was still gloating at his escape?) but it rattles along quite nicely. But the best part has got to be the wonderfully succinct caricatures of inmates in UK Government labs: a must for anyone who's had to deal with them.
What's puzzling is the timing: Aldermaston was privatised in the early 1990s, so this tale isn't really a hard-hitting topical parody any more. In fact, the place is overdue for a sequel: trendy new management styles etc bred new stereotypes, and the funnier old ones, like the industrial-rate smokers, have gone. Also a pity that Langford didn't include some of the more timeless anecdotes from the "old days", such as the day the guards found that a hundred yards of the fence had been stolen, the guard who (while practising quick draws to while the night away) shot himself in the foot, the dreadful hostel "Boundary Hall" with its wing of 1950s originals still in residence (known in the 1980s as "Death Row") and which was double-glazed throughout - the month before it was demolished.
But overall, a good book. Nice to see it back in print!
If you've already got this book, you should get it down from the shelf and re-read it. If you haven't - well, what are you waiting for?
A bet is made at a nuclear power plant. Swipe the filing cabinets. The man takes them home, and find that a misplaced war head is in the files.
He was going take it back,BUT the very next day, the rules for going in and out of the plant have been upgraded and made more stringent.
A really contrived plot.
There are some funny lines, but the characters are so dull and flat that there's no concern for any of them. I watched the ceiling a lot whie reading this title. It was more interesting.
Langford can write, but the whole book is not worth the effort to seek out his good lines.