CONELRAD READ ALERT: Selected Books and Miscellenous Tracts
The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles by Robert Moore Williams
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THE DAY THEY H-BOMBED LOS ANGELES

THE COMING OF THE ZOMBIES

The bombs that hit Los Angeles on that peaceful day unleashed a terror greater than any calculated by man. Far worse than the instantaneous destruction and mass deaths was the sudden appearance of human beings transformed into howling zombies who attacked the survivors unmercifully. Even the terrible fall-out could not account for such barbarism.

Tom Watkins and his crew watched hopelessly as men turned into beasts all around them; desperately they tried to defend their tiny hideaway. But even more puzzling was the fact that escape from the devastated area was under penalty of death. Was it really possible that the onslaught of bombs was sent, not by an enemy nation, but by the government of the United States itself?

-- Transcribed from The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles teaser page

The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles by Robert Moore Williams (1907-1977) takes place in 1970 but there is no effort to modernize the trappings of the story beyond the book’s publication year of 1961. This suits CONELRAD just fine because Williams’ writing has a cool late fifties/early sixties, end-of-the-world movie feel to it like PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH which were both novel adaptations themselves ("Lot" and "Lot's Daughter" by Ward Moore and "I am Legend" by Richard Matheson, respectively).

The action of the book is set in motion immediately when several of the main characters find refuge from the titular H-bomb (and several more) in a public fallout shelter. The following is a summary of the key players:

Tom Watkins is a self-described "all American" guy who roots for the Rams and the Dodgers. Watkins, a former Marine sergeant and a current sales manager who works for a company that manufactures power pumps, emerges as the hero of the novel.

Ted Kissell is an FBI man who knows about a piece of the top secret government puzzle that leads to the H-bombing of Los Angeles.

Eric Bloor is a childhood friend of Watkins' who coincidentally stumbles into the same fallout shelter.

Rena Stark is a self-absorbed Oscar-winning starlet who runs into the shelter from her limousine after her panicked driver parks in the middle of the street and runs away (he is later found crushed by a collapsed billboard). Rena is to this book what Ginger is to Gilligan’s Island.

Cissie Jones is an assistant to a doctor we meet later. Cissie is a pleasant, easygoing girl-next-door and, essentially, "Mary Ann" to Rena Stark's "Ginger."

Hardin is a ham radio operator (post-apocalyptic novels always seem to have ham radio operators!)

Jerry is a teenager who obeys everything Watkins tells him to do.

The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles - inside blurb page
The early scenes inside the fallout shelter are among the most entertaining passages in the book because of the contrasts between occupants. Interspersed between Tom Watkins' gung ho, take-charge shelter organizing and his patriotic admiration for civil defense ("CD had done a good job," he says approvingly of the stocking of the shelter) are the diva-ish pronouncements of Rena Stark. Rena, who it must be noted predates the TV character of Ginger Grant, by at least a year*, is a truly inspired literary invention. She stands out from the other, more traditional sci-fi pulp novel archetypal players that populate Mr. Williams' book.

Rena's clueless self-centered comments and haughty declarations are a delight to read, so herewith are a few examples:

When the star is confident that she has been “recognized,” by the commoners in the shelter, she asks "Did you see my picture CAUGHT IN THE RAIN? It ran for six months at the Pantages."

When it is explained to the oblivious Rena (she thinks it is just a freak thunderstorm and wants to get back to Beverly Hills) that Los Angeles has been hit by the "big bomb," she exclaims:

"Do you mean one of those horrible, horrible atom bombs they used in my picture DOOMSDAY EVE? Do you mean those dirty Commies have actually started shooting those things at us? I fought them in every studio in Hollywood but I didn’t think they would do this to get even with me."

For the readers out there with only a passing acquaintance with the work of Robert Moore Williams, it falls to CONELRAD to point out that the title of the atomic picture she references above is a bit of an inside joke. Mr. Williams published an earlier sci-fi pulp titled Doomsday Eve.

At another point in the shelter, Rena, "a member in good standing in a nudist colony," drops a blanket she had been wearing since changing out of her drenched clothes. She responds to the shocked shelterees by saying: "What is wrong with the body beautiful? It is much better to be in the beautiful nude than to be wearing this heavy, sticky thing." She is convinced to cover up by threat of a spanking by Watkins. This is about as racy as it gets.

And, finally, this howler of diva despair: "Me, with a shelf full of Oscars, dying in a hole like this!"

The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles - back cover
Rena's antics are so fun and over-the-top that they may cause the contemporary reader to ponder what it might be like to get stuck in a FEMA trailer with Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts.

Later, when the action moves outside of the shelter and into a barricaded doctor's lab / warehouse, we meet several more characters that propel the story forward including Dr. Homer Smith, Cissie's employer, and his colleague Dr. Randall Murk, a specialist in marine biology. These two scientists and the G-man, Kissell, reveal that the United States government nuked Los Angeles deliberately because of an insidious molecule present in the harbor waters of the city.

In an effort to reduce the panic around the world and conceal the true purpose of the attack, the President of the United States gets word out over the airwaves that the Los Angeles bombing was not an enemy action, but rather a "mistake" and that the persons responsible would be dealt with harshly.

It is soon learned that what the government had hoped to eradicate with H-bombs has taken a new form in a race of super-evolving, howling zombies! At one point the character of Eph, a Tennessee mountain man who joins the human resistance confesses, "I don’t seem to grasp the zombie thing." Eph, who has no trouble believing the worst about the "Commies," does not seem to realize that zombies seldom have much of a backstory; they usually just appear with the flimsiest of excuses.

In this case, the cause is the dreaded "protein molecules" most likely mutated by atomic tests in the Pacific that have washed up from the sea. We are told that the molecule "goes mad" when it finds its way into a human's bloodstream. In the film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD the presumed cause of the re-animation of the deceased is radiation in the earth's atmosphere from an exploded Venus probe. Whatever the outlandish cause, a good rule of thumb with zombies is to not expect too much rationality and simply go with the premise.

Discussion of the logic, behavior and even nicknames of the undead contribute to some of the novel’s most ridiculous lines:

On zombies ignoring their own mass slaughter when they attempt to overtake the humans’ hideout: "The attack was pressed home with the complete disregard for safety that was characteristic of the zombies."

On the physical transformation observed when a human becomes a zombie: "Murk's face was becoming a distorted thing that dimly resembled some monster out of the sea."

On the behavior of some women who become zombies and how to deal with them: "Some are cats, all claws and teeth. When they become zombies, all they want to do is use their claws. Just as soon as I can get this one in my sights, I’m going to put a bullet through her."

On nicknames for zombies: the character of Crail elucidates on his colorful nickname for the new inhabitants of Los Angeles: "They walk around all bent over. I call 'em stoopies." Watkins responds with the unintentionally hilarious deadpan line, "Oh, we call them zombies..."

The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles devotes its last third to the usual cliches of the zombie genre: Scientist works on a critical vaccine to save the human race; certain members of the inner circle of heroes are suddenly discovered to be infected with the molecule; the military may or may not come to the rescue in time, etc., etc.

Thankfully, the book does provide the reader with some closure on the "movie star," Rena Stark. "As time had passed, some of the glamour had rubbed off of her and she had become almost human." For a story set in Los Angeles, this is perhaps the most dramatic, transformational character resolution that could possible be offered. We’ll end here but not before letting you know that Williams destroys Los Angeles all over again in The Second Atlantis (Ace Books F-335, 1965).
The Second Atlantis by Robert Moore Williams
* According to IMdB, the original pilot episode of the Sherwood Schwartz-created series Gilligan’s Island, "Marooned" written by Austin Kalish and Elroy Schwartz and featuring Kit Smythe as Ginger Grant, aired on October 16, 1962.

Tina Louise, of course, embodied the soon-to-be iconic role of the shipwrecked actress (celebrated in the show’s theme song as the "the movie star") when the series kicked off its first season with the broadcast of its partially re-cast second pilot episode "Two on a Raft" on September 26, 1964 on CBS.

ROBERT MOORE WILLIAMS BIOGRAPHY

Robert Moore WilliamsThe prolific author Robert Moore Williams published more than 150 novels and short stories under his given name as well as a variety of pseudonyms including John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Robert Moore, Russell Storm and E.K. Jarvis.

Williams was born on June 19, 1907 in Farmington, Missouri and earned a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He had a full-time writing career from 1937 through 1972 and cut his teeth on such publications as Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures, Astounding, Thrilling Wonder and Startling.

Love Is Forever- We Are For Tonight by Robert Moore WilliamsIn 1955 Williams cranked out The Chaos Fighters, the first of 30 novels he would write over the next 15 years. These novels include the "Jongor" and "Zanthar" series. His most unusual book, however, is one that is labeled as fiction, but is actually an autobiography: Love is Forever - We Are for Tonight (Curtis 06101, 1970). In this short, 141-page work Williams presents a description of his childhood and then discusses his experimentation with hallucinogenic gasses, Dianetics and 1950s-era communes.

Williams married Margaret Jelley in 1938 and they had one child. The couple divorced in 1958. According to the Social Security Death Index, Williams died in May of 1977 in Dateland, Arizona.

Source for biography (except where noted): Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002
THE DAY THEY H-BOMBED LOS ANGELES
By Robert Moore Williams
Copyright 1961 by Robert Moore Williams; Published by Ace Books, New York
Ace D-530
128 Pages

[ 1 | COMMENTS | Jun 30, 09 | 6:55 pm ]
CATEGORY: Pulp Fiction

I read Williams' autobiography. It is a sort of On the Road without the hopelessness. The author tried all the current fads as they came along, searching for meaning in his life. The book is a good way to capture the zeitgesist of his times.
[ Posted by: A Williams reader on Jun 30, 09 | 6:55 pm ]

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