When this starts blaring, you know you’re going to have a bad day.
The time: 1955. The place: a dry lakebed in southern Nevada called Frenchman Flat. An explosion equivalent to 22,000 tons of TNT creates a roiling mass of superheated, low-density gas. This fireball rises and collides with the surrounding air, creating turbulent vortices that suck smoke and debris up from the ground into a column. The “stem” rises into cooler, thinner air, where the ascent slows, debris disperses, and moisture condenses to form a “cap.” Over days and even months, nuclear fallout spreads and drifts to Earth.
Meanwhile, on the beach….
This is one of those novels that brings me to tears no matter how many times I read it — a powerful and moving piece of minatory fiction that really does the heavy lifting of science fiction with utter brilliance. The comic strip carries some of that freight (as does the 1959 classic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck), but the novel really is the best version by far.
I’m a sucker for old Cold War memorabilia. I love the whole aesthetic of a post-nuclear-apocalyptic survival story. Nuclear energy fascinates me as does the silent and invisible radiation that surrounds it. I love reading stories about near-misses: The Able-Archer Exercise and The Cuban Missile Crisis among them. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite movies, and Ronald Reagan will probably be my favourite president because he was ready, willing, and able to fight if the War ever got hot (and spent his time poking fun at the Russians and mirthfully provoking Gorbachev before just beating the living daylights out of them economically). The EBS frightened me because I understood what it was for, but couldn’t wrap my young mind around the fact that it was “just a test.”
That being said, I’ve had this pamphlet nearly memorised–mostly for entertainment, but also in the remote possibility that we suddenly move into DEFCON 2. Browse its pages, satiate your curiosity, and the next time we get in an elevated conflict, you’ll be ready!