Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Code Three

Book Review: 'Code Three' by Rick Raphael


3 / 5 Stars

‘Code Three’ (176 pp) was published by Berkeley Books in April, 1967. This book is a fixup of two stories originally published in Analog magazine in the interval from 1963 – 1964. One of those two stories, ‘Once a Cop’, won the 1965 Hugo for short fiction.

If you grew up at all in the 70s, then you may remember watching at one time or another a TV show titled Emergency. It ran on NBC from 1972 – 1977, and chronicled the adventures of two paramedics in the LA County Fire Department: John Gage (played by Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe). Each episode saw our heroes deal with, naturally enough, an Emergency – car crashes, building and brush fires, plane crashes, earthquakes, etc. 



Gage and DeSoto and the crew of Station 51 responded to these events with professional detachment and, sometime, a bit of humor. 




‘Code Three’ is basically a sci-fi version of Emergency. The novel is set in the future, when the North American continent is crossed horizontally and vertically by a series of enormous throughways, one mile in width. Each highway is divided into half-mile portions for east-west or north-south traffic, and these half-mile portions are in turn divided in multiple lanes – green, white, red, yellow, etc. for traffic traveling at different speeds.

And these are very high speeds. Auto technology has progressed to the point where vehicles use a sort of hover-drive to reach speeds in excess of 600 mph (!) although most vehicles make do with speeds of ‘only’ 100 – 300 mph.

The highway system is administered by the North American Continental Thruway System (NorCon), with whom lies responsible for law enforcement.

The novel follows the exploits of a team of two police and one paramedic aboard the patrol vehicle car 56 – nicknamed ‘Beulah’. This is a 250 ton, 60-feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet tall behemoth capable of reaching speeds of 600 mph.

In charge of Beulah is Patrol Sergeant Ben Martin, a veteran traffic cop who is starting to contemplate advancement to a desk job. Second in command is Patrol Trooper Clay Ferguson, and Kelly Lightfoot, an attractive, spunky redhead, serves as Medical-Surgical Officer.

As ‘Code Three’ opens, Beulah and her crew embark on a two week-long patrol of North American Thruway 26-West, the major highway connecting the USA’s east and west coasts. During their tour they will deal with accidents large and small, homicidal felons, and bad weather. Hit the sirens, turn on the red lights, and woo-woo-woo nee-ner nee-ner nee-ner prepare for action……

I can’t say that ‘Code Three’ is gripping entertainment or great, genre-transcending sf, but it is a reasonably entertaining read. Author Raphael writes with a clipped, declarative style that serves this sort of procedural narrative well. 


The ongoing repartee between the two cops and nurse Kelly, if it were to take place in contemporary times, would undoubtedly lead to sexual harassment charges at the very least, but during the Mad Men era when this novel was written, societal attitudes about workplace conversations were less …….evolved.

If you are interested in the sub-sub genre of sf devoted to Emergency Response, then ‘Code Three’ may be worth picking up.

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