The Zilov Bombs: by D.G. Barron

D.G. Barron's novel of Soviet-occupied Britain was first published by Andre Deutsch in 1962 and then by Pan in paperback in 1965. It has never been subsequently reprinted, perhaps because it falls into an uneasy territory between genre and literary fiction. The book demonstrably fails at both, but its charm is that it never really tries to be either - it is pure headturning pulp, and it is most amusing that the book's cover reviews are quotes from such quaint periodicals as Woman's Journal, Topic and The Listener. Of course, these are the good reviews - I have no idea what the Times Literary Supplement had to say about it, or Analog. If anything.

Following the ban the bomb demonstrations of the late 1950s, governments across Europe opt for nuclear disarmament, hoping the Soviets will reciprocate and withdraw their nuclear deterrent from their satellite states. Instead the Soviets simply roll across Europe, conquering former NATO countries and transforming them into People's Republics. In subjugated Britain, Guy Elliot, former writer and ex-peace campaigner, is now an agricultural commissar, slowly forcing the new rules of collectivisation on reluctant farmers in Norfolk. Guy is also involved with the resistance in a small way, much to the chagrin of his wife, who would rather he did not place them or their two children in danger. One night, while doing his rounds on a country road, Guy is witness to the theft a Soviet lorry and the murder of its driver - he then discovers the lorry carried several limited nuclear weapons, and that these have been hidden on a nearby farm. Guy informs the resistance and is then drafted into securing these bombs for use by the resistance in a country-wide rebellion. The bombs are secured, at great cost; so great, in fact, that Guy wants out. But it is too late - the Soviets have identified him as a key figure, rather than the minor player he so reluctantly allowed himself to become. He turns back to the resistance for help, but they simply make him their prisoner - because he is in possession of valuable information. A sensible enough precaution as it turns out - Elliott is well-remembered as one of those ban the bomb "traitors" who forced Britain to relinquish its deterrent in the first place. Now in a position to hear the plans of the resistance for a rebellion, he is horrified at the prospective loss of life. Sadly, at this point, the book degenerates into a straight will he/won't he thriller, with an unsatisfactory denouement.

Despite its faults The Zilov Bombs is a better than expected novel. It is obviously an anti-peacenik tract and the moral choices set up throughout the novel illustrate the author's intent, all the way to Elliott's final, explosive moments. Still, the characters are often well-drawn, the arguments both for and against are allowed to be made, and the Americans are kept out of it. So too, curiously, are the Russians - it is an all-English affair. And this perhaps is how the novel is so affecting - everyone resists in their own way, from Elliott's boss, who wants to sabotage collective farms by slowing their introduction, to the senior civil servants who find the ultimate use for the Zilov Bombs. It is not a novel about invasion - it is rather a peon to tradition, to the implacable management of British society, which can ameliorate the shock of ideology by simply absorbing it into a class system that looks and feels as solid as landscape.

The cover price states 2/6 - I'm not sure how much that is in roubles, or in new money.

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