Saturday, January 18, 2014

Triumph: Review

Triumph by Philip Wylie is a terrible book.  No--I don't mean the writing.  Or the way Wylie tells his story.  Or anything to do with Wylie's craft as an author.  That is all top-notch.  Five-star reading material.  What I mean is...this is the most horrific rendering of World War III, of nuclear holocaust, that I've read.  To think that any member of the human race could possibly commit themselves to the wholesale slaughter of the entire Northern Hemisphere just so they could say that they "won."  I can't imagine.  Or, rather--now, thanks to Philip Wylie, I can.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Triumph is about.  It is the 1960s and the height of the Cold War.  The Russians have long been plotting the ultimate assault that will lead to control of whatever remains of the earth.  Russia's Red army marches into Yugoslavia to "liberate" its people and an ultimatum is given to the President of United States and the leaders of England and France telling them they have two hours to confirm with Russia that they will not interfere.  The President barters for time to negotiate, but it really doesn't matter if he has two hours or six.  Because at the appointed time, Russia begins attacking the U.S. with everything they've got.  

No one ever believed that either of the superpowers would go all-out.  If nuclear war came, only certain strategic targets would be hit in order bring surrender.  Russia isn't interested in surrender--they want to remove any possibility of any Americans (or any countries in the Northern Hemisphere) interfering with a plan for world domination.  So, they play dirty.  Literally.  Using dirty bombs loaded to the gills with material that is hundreds of times more radioactive than necessary and then setting off special bombs that will send radioactive salt into the atmosphere to clean out anyone the missiles might have missed.  

Russia's plan also includes secret, hidden bomb shelters specially designed to preserve a few thousand of the elite, super-Russians (sound familiar? master race anyone?) who will come forth to take over the earth once all phases of the war plan have been carried out.  But Russia doesn't reckon on a few specialized submarines that the U.S. navy had managed to keep hidden up its sleeve...or a bomb shelter fortress prepared by a Connecticut millionaire which saves the lives of fourteen Americans.

It's not just the idea that anyone could be so hell-bent on power that they would systematically eradicate everyone in the Northern Hemisphere (including, through what retaliation the US and its allies can muster, their own people).  And, of course, the U.S. is not portrayed as the white-hatted hero.  There is plenty about how our stock-piling of weapons and contributions to the Cold War made this event possible.  All adding to the horror of the nuclear onslaught.  What is also horrific about Wylie's story is the detailed descriptions of what happened on the surface of the northern part of the earth during the missile strikes and their aftermath.  Realistic and terrible.  And even knowing that we are no longer living in the Cold War Era doesn't prevent the shivers and the question...what if? What if another Hitler-like madman seizes power in a country with nuclear capability?  Would that person be willing to go all-out just for the chance to say, however briefly, "I'm the winner!  I rule the world!"  It's a very sobering thought.

It is also very interesting to read Wylie's 1960s take on race relations and gender.  Yes, it's dated. Yes, there are a few stereotypes that will bother modern sensibilities.  But it very much represents the time it was written while allowing Wylie to examine those stereotypes and give them a bit of shake. He allows his characters to learn and change and grow through this horrible experience. Is it realistic to expect that all fourteen of the survivors would miraculously break through whatever hangups they brought with them to the shelter?  Perhaps not.  But it does provide an excellent character study.  As mentioned--five stars for every thought-provoking moment and every horrific shudder at the thought of all-out nuclear war.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Fantastic review, though I think it might be too real for me.