Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Rad Decision' by James Aach
(Remembering Three Mile Island: 30 years later)

3/5 Stars

‘Rad Decision’ (2006; 348 pp.) is a self-published novel about an accident at a fictional nuclear power plant (‘Fairview Station’) in Indiana in May, 1986, just a few weeks after the real-life Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union. Author James Aach worked at a nuke plant as an engineer for more than 20 years, so he certainly knows the ins and outs of nuclear power plant operation.

The main character is an engineer and plant manager named Steve Borden; his adversary is an undercover KGB agent named Vitally Kruchinkin, who has procured a job at the plant under the alias ‘John Donner’. There is a rather large cast of supporting characters.

The first half of the novel is basically concerned with familiarizing the reader with the operation of the power plant; the point of view continuously shifts from one character to another as a narrative device to expound on the function of various components of the reactor . A number of diagrams are used, in sequentially labeled fashion, to help teach the reader about the plant design and operation. A chart of radiation dosages is also provided. These are among the book’s strongest features, and indicates a real desire on the part of the author to avoid losing the reader through an overly technical description of the Fairview Station plant. Thus, by the mid-way point of the narrative, even readers who opened the book with only a limited knowledge of how nuclear reactors work should be suitably enlightened. 

This is good, because from this point on the narrative arc shifts to an act of sabotage and the increasingly dire consequences for the plant, its workers, and the population of the surrounding area. The book’s final 100 pages are genuinely suspenseful as Steve Borden and his co-workers try to halt a meltdown and saboteur Kruchinkin attempts to escape.

As a self-published book, ‘Rad Decision’ has its share of problems that would have been corrected by a commercial publishing house editor. A major problem is the book’s layout; it provides too few, and too loosely defined, Parts and Chapters. Most of the text is divided and subdivided and sub-subdivided into sections demarcated by rows of asterisks. Many of these subsections are only a page or two in length; some are simply a single paragraph. Some are set in a particular time and represent flashbacks, while others are set in the present.

To further complicate things, many of the subsections deal with characters and individual plot lines that may or may not intersect with those of the main characters. The continuous jumping from one character to another, one scene to another, makes it difficult for the reader to grasp any continuity of plot. Maintaining so many narrative lines, tenses, and dialogue sections would strain the abilities of even seasoned writers.

A commercial editor would have combined many of these overly parsed sections into unified, discrete chapters featuring a consolidated group of characters, thus making the narrative more comprehensible and polished.

In summary, ‘Rad Decision’ is worth a look from readers who are interested in a nuclear disaster novel that may not have the polished writing of, for example, Scortia and Robinson’s ‘The Prometheus Crisis’ (1975), but does offer a learned overview of just how and why a catastrophic accident could take place.

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