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The Leaky Establishment
Reviewed by Candace L. Myers, © 2002

Format: Book
By:   David Langford
Genre:   Science Fiction
Review Date:   November 19, 2002
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)
If you read my Terry Pratchett review, and I hope you did, you are already aware that I have a serious weakness for British humorists (and that crazy decorating show, Changing Rooms, which is an insight into my sad life you probably didn't need). Unfortunately, except for Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt, I am not aware of many modern British humorists. Lucky me, I found the place to fill in my lack, http://www.bigengine.co.uk/. The Big Engine website is just chock full of British authors, both funny and scary, I am salivating to try. Even more lucky for me, my first pick was a resounding success. The British gave us the Beatles, Red Dwarf, and mushy peas. Now they've given us David Langford, which almost makes up for the peas. Langford is the writer of the hilarious novel The Leaky Establishment.

The Leaky Establishment is the most normal Science-Fiction novel I have ever read. By normal I mean its definite lack of space aliens, space ships, other planets in space, or really anything to do with space and its exploration. It also lacked mutations, deadly plagues, time-travel, alternate realities of any kind, and anything often associated with Science-fiction. (At this point, I sense some frowns and definite worries about my ability to classify a novel, but I promise it is sci-fi (at least I hope it is sci-fi and not a thinly disguised memoir . . . ).

Instead, David Langford used his experience working for British nuclear research to write an absolutely gut-busting what-if novel. As in, what if a Senior Science Officer, Roy Tappen, made a bar bet with a fellow employee to smuggle some office furniture past security? Better yet, what if he succeeded and incidentally managed to sneak out a pit, the plutonium core used for nuclear tests and warheads? And, what if he couldn't sneak it back in? The answer to these questions is a hysterical read that's what.

David Langford's characterization, plot, and humor all combine to make the book exceptional. (Plus, as Americans, we have the comfort of pretending that the book could only be set in England. Obviously, American nuclear research is much more normal and not funny in any way . . . ). The development of the main character Roy Tappen, his coworkers, wife, and even the bit players is dead on. You don't just read about these people, you get to know them. The plot is also wonderful in that it never grows stale or predictable, not even at the end. Although the story and characters are great, it's the humor that makes this book worth buying and keeping. It touches on everything from the rampant idiocy that abounds in cubicle land, such as the man who stops by the offices to make sure the government issued calculator -- worth less than a dollar -- is still around, as well as the kind of merciless humor only experienced by workers who have been permeated by the bleak idiocy surrounding their job. One of my favorite examples of idiots-at-work in the novel is the security tapes which warn NUTC (Nuclear-Utilization Technology Center, pronounced nuts) scientists against hanging out in low bars due to the large number of Russian temptresses waiting to get naive scientists drunk and seduce away their secrets. Needless to say, the scientists subsequently spend a lot of time in a bar, the Mushroom Cloud.

I could go on for days about my favorite bits, but I'll contain myself. What I will tell you is this, if you don't read this book you are missing the best time you can have without being arrested. Go to http://www.bigengine.co.uk/ and buy the book, Terry Pratchett says so (No, really he did. He wrote the introduction, I promise).
Candace Myers has never been to England and doesn't like Earl Gray Tea. As a longtime fan of Pratchett, Red Dwarf, and Coupling (stop laughing, it's a British sitcom you gutter-mind), she finds it strange that the British are known for their tea, mushy peas, and folk-dancing but not for their sense of humor. The folk-dancing alone should educate the many foreigners as to their deep and abiding ability to create and enjoy a good joke. She feels strongly that the stereotypes need a good updating.

 
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