Red Alert

Red Alert - Peter Bryant This may be the last review I write. I am told by a semi-reliable source that this is the eve of the end of the world. Tomorrow, May 22nd, 2011, the earth will be destroyed. I was offered a spiritual ticket on something called the S. S. Rapture. However I doubt that I am destined for sainthood and will remain on planet Earth to watch the rest of us perish. My one and only hope is that the end of the world is not nearly as boring as Red Alert.

A little background may be needed here. Red Alert was just one, albeit one of the earliest, of a number of novels about nuclear holocaust in the 50s and 60s. Of these books, the Trifecta of nuclear holocaust novels include On The Beach, Alas Babylon, and Fail Safe. These three novels dealt with the consequences of nuclear war with different perspectives but they all tend to touch a personal note in most of the readers that wondered if we were going to make it past the Cold War of the 60s. However, Red Alert, published in 1958, didn't make much of a splash except as the basis for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove in which the director takes the very serious story and turns it into a dark comedy.

The reason Red Alert is mostly forgotten is quite obvious. It isn't very good. The writing is stiff. The characters are even stiffer and the dialogue borders on the nauseatingly melodramatic. While it is clear the author has expertise in military matters he doesn't have the ability to create scenarios and characters that bring the issue alive.

Four years later comes Fail Safe, a much superior book that treads much of the same ground. Many think that Burdick and Wheeler stole a good portion of their novel from Bryant. In fact, Bryant sued and the case was settled out of court. There is certainly some disturbing parallels but, to be kind to the authors, any book that wishes to deal with Cold War doomsday scenarios have to deal with rather narrow scenarios. Nonetheless, Fail Safe manages to deliver complex emotions and make tough choices more understandable and moving. For instance, one particularly tough choice that is taken in both books is trite and over-calculated in Red Alert while the same tough choice exists in Fail Safe as moving and heart-breaking precisely because the authors allow us to become invested in the emotions of the characters. I would recommend anyone who is interested in this sub-genre to read Fail Safe rather than Red Alert, an interesting failure.