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January/Februaty 2018
 
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Up the Ladder of Gold, by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1931)

"Switch off the wireless—it's an Oppenheim" reads a front-cover blurb for E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), one of the British fast-fiction greats of the early to mid-twentieth century. Mainly famous for snobbish mysteries set on the French Riviera, "Oppy" also turned his dreadfully fluent pen to writing science fiction, e.g. Mr. Mirakel (1943). Up the Ladder of Gold can be seen as a proto-politico/low-techno thriller.

Warren Rand—"the human riddle of two hemispheres"—is an American billionaire newspaper proprietor and financial wizard, with an international cable-communications network. His ambition is to establish a forty-year period of world peace—by sabotaging a League of Nations Disarmament Treaty through bribery, coercion, and whatever else it takes. Rand is a member of the Benevolent Dictators Appreciation Society. The ends will justify the means—and we'll all thank him for it later, right? "No one can read inside my mind," Rand declares, "nor shall I take anyone into my confidence. I do this because I choose to do it."

Rand's most cunning plan is to corner the market in gold. Unlike Auric Goldfinger, however, this methodical madman wants to buy Fort Knox, not rob it. Ian Fleming admitted to being an Oppy fan when he was a lad, and it shows. Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself was an amalgam of Warren Rand and other Oppian world-domination types, from Mysterious Mr. Sabin (1898) onward. M would have taken a dim view, though there is more than a touch of the old bulldog in the ultimately rather likeable rogue trader.

Researching this article has been a nostalgic, not to say guilty, pleasure. I haven't switched on the wireless in weeks!

—Graham Andrews

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