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The Leaky Establishment
David Langford
Big Engine, 209 pages

The Leaky Establishment
David Langford
David Langford says: "Born 10 April 1953 in Newport, Gwent, South Wales. Studied at Newport High School and (1971-4) Brasenose College, Oxford. BA (Hons) in Physics 1974, MA 1978. Weapons physicist at Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston, Berkshire, from 1975 to 1980. Freelance author, editor and consultant ever since-main fields: science, technology, science fiction (both fiction and criticism), humour, small-system computing and futurology. Sideline in software marketing/consultancy (as Ansible Information, in partnership with fellow author Christopher Priest) since 1985. Married since 12 June 1976 to Hazel Langford -- no children but some 30,000 books. Most work published under own name; one admitted pseudonym, William Robert Loosley. Hobbies include real beer, antique hearing aids and the destruction of human civilization as we know it today."

David Langford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Ansible Web Site
Big Engine

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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David Langford is justly famous in the SF world for his critical writing and his fan writing, much of the latter done for his fanzine Ansible. Both Ansible and Langford have won multiple Hugos in the fan categories. But an odd side-effect of Langford's many fan writing awards is that people often seem unaware that he is a very accomplished "pro" writer. He has published several novels and quite a number of short stories, many of them very good, like his wonderful G. K. Chesterton pastiche of a few years ago, "The Spear of the Sun". But we can't say any more that Langford's pro writing goes unnoticed, for he won the 2001 Hugo for Best Short Story for "Different Kinds of Darkness".

Some time ago I decided to rectify my own failings in appreciating Mr. Langford's fiction-writing side by searching out one of his novels, and the first one I chose was The Leaky Establishment. This novel intrigued me because I've worked my whole life in places which have points of resemblance with the nuclear research center where the novel is set. (Especially over college summers, when I worked at both Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.) At the time it was out of print, and in fact I got my copy directly from the author, but happily it has been made available in a nice new edition from Big Engine, a new English small press which has begun a rather intriguing line of SF, some reprints and some new novels and story collections.

This novel, it should be mentioned, is not strictly speaking SF, though it is fiction about science. It is more generally in the comic tradition of Kingsley Amis, to name just one writer. The novel features Roy Tappen, a cynical scientist at NUTC, a fictional British nuclear center. By mistake, he manages to smuggle a warhead out of the place, and takes it home. When he finds it he realizes he needs to take it back, but security has been tightened, and he can't just waltz back in with it.

The story follows his constantly foiled attempts to sneak it back in, unwillingly abetted by his computer programmer friend, annoyed by his wife walking out (not too pleased at sleeping in the same house with a nuclear warhead), by a suspicious but stupid security officer, by his nutty neighbor, an active anti-Nuclear campaigner and alternative energy enthusiast, by a moronic newsman who keeps swallowing his hoax stories whole, and of course by a parade of silly bosses. Page by page the book is hilarious: almost too densely so, in that as a novel it loses momentum. Still, it's neatly plotted, with a particularly nice resolution. And the bureaucratic tics of a government facility, exacerbated by nuclear security requirements, ring very true indeed.

Langford's writing is very fine in general, and this particular novel is a delightful example of his abilities with fiction. Definitely recommended.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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