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Onyx reviews: Mutually Assured Destruction by Nancy MacLean
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 2000
An intruder alert at Volk Field, Wisconsin, in the midst of the Cuban Missile
Crisis, erroneously caused fighter jets armed with nuclear missiles to prepare
to take off. In our timeline, a commanding officer was able to stop the launch.
In Nancy MacLean's alternate history, the planes take off, precipitating a
nuclear conflict. The Soviet Union and most of the eastern North America are
destroyed. China steps in to become the sole world power in the aftermath. The
weakened New America is on the brink of collapse from China's blockade.
In 2011, a group of desperate American scientists acquires time travel
technology from Japan. Their inaugural mission is to send someone back in time
to prevent the events that led to nuclear war. The Chinese, learning of the
American plan, send assassin Kuon Ko back to preserve the timeline.
When Agent Ken O'Neil arrives in 1962, the first thing he encounters is a car
sinking to the bottom of a river. After his attempt to rescue the driver fails,
he awakens in a hospital with a profound case of amnesia. He knows that he is on
an important mission, but can remember none of the details.
Ken finds money and an ad for a history teacher position in Mauston,
Wisconsin hidden in the lining of his jacket. With this as his only guide, he
boards a bus for Mauston, a quaint Midwestern town where news travels faster
than electricity and a stranger in town immediately becomes the center of
attention. Ken takes a boarding room with an acerbic widow, Mrs. Lacey, and
interviews for the teaching position. Partly because he has gained the trust of
Mrs. Lacey, the school principal hires him conditionally, in spite of the fact
that he has no resume, only one reference and no recollection of his own
Ken meets fellow teacher, Lou Jensen, who lost her husband in the Korean War,
and the two begin a tentative relationship. Her brother-in-law, Steve, the town
sheriff, takes an immediate and strong disliking to Ken, regarding him with the
deep suspicion of an overprotective relative, as well as that of a law
enforcement officer. Lou's son, Matt, is also concerned about his mother and
wary of Ken.
Ken's memory returns to him only in small chunks. He knows that he is out of
his normal time element -- his first indication of this is the absurdly low cost
for lunch at a local diner. He remembers things like microwaves that have not
yet been invented and he knows the words to a song the first time it is ever
played on the radio. His mission, though, continues to elude him.
Kuon Ko, on the other hand, arrives in the past without any memory
impairment. He knows what Ken is trying to do even though Ken does not. Ko
intends to keep Ken from stopping the air launch at Volk Field.
The prologue of "M.A.D." reads like heavy science fiction,
describing the events of a failed time travel experiment, but from chapter one
onward, the book is a charming suspense story. The developing relationship
between Lou and Ken is sweet, funny and romantic. MacLean builds the suspense
carefully, creating multi-centered tension involving Ken, Lou, Sheriff Jensen
and the Chinese assassin. Ken's anachronistic memories, a cornerstone of any
time travel novel, are handled with wit and creativity. The climax is taut and
Nancy MacLean, a member of the Woodlands Writers Guild, self-published
"Mutually Assured Destruction." The book can be purchased via her web
site at www.macleanbooks.com or via amazon.com.
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