Reduction in Arms — Tom Purdom (1971)


Publisher: Berkley Medallion

First Berkley Medallion Edition, 1971

Cover Art: Paul Lehr

Plot Synopsis (of cover): It was a warmer than usual Saturday for a Stalingrad April, and it seemed that the gloom of spring would yield to a pleasant, though perhaps rainy, summer for 1971. Light showers outside were rivaled, however, by the storm clouds forming in the office of Soviet Major General Alexi Simonova. He was faced with a bizarre proposition from KGB agent Pyotr Krolikvich, and had just been informed that, though the plans proposed here today were being submitted for approval, they were already well underway and ready for implementation. The Major General, punctuating his unrest with a slap of his desk, shouted, “Krolikvich, you have exceeded your authority in this! Clearly, technology of this scope needs to be strictly under control of the military. And, frankly, I don’t understand what the hell it is you’re talking about regarding the use of these… whatever you called them!” Agent Krolikvich replied, “They are confinement orbs, Comrade General, though that’s a bit of a misnomer given their oblong shape. Similar to a gelatin, they will capture and store any number of dissidents that might fit inside their volume until such time as we extract them for interrogation. They can further be made to roll about the countryside via radio control, absorbing anyone they encounter. It is a triumph of Soviet materials science! I should think you would be pleased.” The General fumed, “Look, I understand the concept. But your plan to capture spies, line them up like soldiers, and then roll over them with these giant eggs of goo etched with the hammer and sickle? And you must do it tomorrow?” The KGB man smiled. “Oh, well, you see, that’s my own brain child. Symbolism is so important these days, especially in the realm of intelligence. Certainly you’ve heard the tale of British and German soldiers coming to truce over the singing of Christmas songs in 1914?” The General nodded, and Krolikvich continued, “Yes, the holiday spirit. Even if it is not true, it is a powerful, unifying symbol. I seek to use a similar unification to propagate a message of Soviet superiority. By rolling over a symbolic American army, flag-bearing and militaristically-garbed, and by transmitting the spectacle on Easter Sunday on every wavelength we can, I believe the message will be understood loud and clear by any seeking to enter our lands with nefarious purpose.” The General, now more curious than angry, asked, “And what, Pyotr, is that message?” Agent Krolikvich replied, “Simple, Alexi. In Soviet Russia, Easter Eggs hunt you.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag. Purdom ruined it for everybody. Yes, science fiction in the 1970s often tackled issues related to the Cold War. I KNOW, RIGHT? This may be the most Cold War-y sci fi I’ve read, and though I may eat those words upon further reflection, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a novel so brazen about it. Yes, it takes place in a near-future, but it’s a very near future, and there’s no attempt to mask the politics under the guise of alien influence or what-have-you. There’s not a lot of punch-pulling, and the novel takes swings at both American and Soviet governments, though the Soviet swings are more frequent. Insofar as setting is concerned, it takes place largely upon one stage—a Russian mental hospital—and would fit well into the framework of a small-scale play for that reason. Another reason it would fit into a play is because everyone talks and talks and talks and talks and talks until they’re Red in the face. On one hand, this demonstrates in a very visceral way the bureaucracies of the time, and how endless negotiation could often prevent direct action from taking place (sometimes a good thing, with nukes, obvs). On the other hand, it makes the novel feel a bit constipated, and left me wishing that someone would just blow up the world already. The ending was pretty satisfying in relieving that constipation, however, and I feel a lot lighter after finishing it. Yes, that was a poop joke.

Rating: 7.2 Voight-Kampff Knockoffs

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Do you think maybe this book might have something to do with the Cold War?
  • Had anyone used this much red ink since the Depression?
  • Does Russia grow its chickens this big, or its people this small? Follow-up: In either case, how could they possibly have had a food shortage?

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2 thoughts on “Reduction in Arms — Tom Purdom (1971)

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