1984’s I, Martha Adams is a standalone Cold War thriller by Pauline Glen Winslow.
Former president Ronald Reagan is dead, as is George H. W. Bush; they have been slain by a terrorist bomb. The current President Carmody has allowed Reagan’s visionary defence programs to languish. Now America will pay the price.
Carmody’s 7:30 AM broadcast informs Americans that while they slept, America was defeated. Two and a half hours earlier, Soviet missiles based in Panama and Cuba annihilated America’s nuclear defenses. The attack was followed with an ultimatum: total surrender of the United States to the New Order or total annihilation of the civil population with dirty nuclear bombs. One half hour before his broadcast, the US surrenders.
The immediate consequence for Martha is widowhood. Her husband Josh was incinerated (along with the rest of Grand Forks) when Russian warheads destroyed the nearby ICBM silos. Worse is to come.
The attack may have seemed like a bolt out of the blue to Americans, but following events make it clear that the Reds have been preparing for some time. Warsaw Pact troops descend on the US almost as soon as Carmody announces defeat. They immediately begin reshaping America to suit Moscow’s grand plan.
Not being idiots, the Russians make a point of arresting anyone who could be the seed of an effective resistance. They also replace Americans in critical bureaucratic positions with loyal Warsaw Pact minions, drawn from foreign lands. Martha should have been sent to a prison camp because she is an American and the relict of a man who had worked for the defence industry. A paperwork error identifies her as British, which allows her to avoid arrest.
While Carmody and the rest of his craven cabal saw no alternative but surrender, true-blue American Martha Adams is made of sterner stuff. Allying with hunky Israeli man of international mystery “Bar-Lev,” Martha sets out to free America from its communist overlords. But what can one woman do if she is armed only with cunning, pluck, and Ronald Reagan’s top-secret nuclear super-weapon?
While I have started the review by showing the cover of the book which I do own and am now reviewing, I feel I must let readers thrill to the understated subtlety of the cover of the mass market paperback.
Of course, the first question the cosmopolitan reader will ask on perusing a novel like this is, of course, “What of Canada?” Often Canada is overlooked in US-centered thrillers. I, Martha Adams distinguishes itself by actually noting the existence of Canada, as this passage makes clear:
Manitoba. Close to North Dakota and Grand Forks.
Unlike Britain (which had converted to a single party republic before the novel opens) and America itself. Canada is still free. Like China, it is on Moscow’s to-do list. Canada does not seem to be slated for the nuclear genocide the Russians have planned for China (which is good, because Canada’s population is mostly urban and it would only take a couple of MIRVs to eliminate most of our cities). That status could change, because the Russians are increasingly annoyed by Pierre Trudeau’s liberalization of Canada’s immigration policies:
New reports of huge numbers of Chinese agents and saboteurs at large in the Canadian population now infuriated him, especially since up until recent years it would have been impossible for this to have happened. Any Oriental in British or French Canada had been conspicuous. Then that fool of a Prime Minister had filled the nation with so many Orientals that it was beyond the resources of any intelligence service to check each and every one.
The Russian perception of mid-1980s Canada as overrun with Asians is somewhat overstated (although it does not help matters that many of the European Reds cannot tell Japanese from Chinese or Laotian from Burmese.). Even today, when most new Canadians-by-choice come from Asia, Asians (whether born here or abroad) comprise only 18% of the population.
Speaking of visible minorities, while the Communists expect America’s blacks to be their natural allies, this does not prevent the Reds from ethnically cleansing American cities. This is a side effect of a city-clearing policy.
“the general plan, agreed on in council more than a year ago, that after the taking of the United States the cities would be cleared of their non-working populations and the workers brought in, to save the decaying transport systems. It should have begun in Washington, but things are a little behind there. It’s no different than the policy for Moscow. I expect the Americans themselves might have liked to use such a policy but of course, they did not have the means.”
Aside from the occasional exception like Martha’s cleaning lady Rose and her son Luthor, the novel appears to assume that most African Americans would fall into the non-working class.
It is best not to dwell on the treatment of America’s Indians beyond the phrase “ghost dance.”
I don’t know much about the author aside from the fact that she, like her protagonist, was born in the UK. One wonders if Winslow’s parents were Americans, as were Adams’. The plot point re mistaken citizenship seems as if it could have been drawn from real life.
The plot, on the other hand, seems like it could have been drawn from Cyril Kornbluth’s Not This August. Rather than the orbiting nuclear fortress of Not This August, Magnanimity is a cobalt bomb built by a brilliant Israeli. If properly deployed, this bomb could wipe out all life from “Smolensk to the Kolyma range.” We are assured that this would not affect the rest of the planet (which might be true, but the bomb’s inventor was generally seen as a bit of a lunatic). As in Not This August, a looming threat sends the Russians scuttling back to their nest. The novel ends there; we are not shown how the US deals with post-New-Order reconstruction.
Some authors might have softened the adventure with moments of ambiguity; Kornbluth, for example, acknowledges that the advent of orbiting fortresses is good for America in the short run but bad for humanity in the long run. Not so Winslow, whose plot is unsullied by nuance. Americans like Martha, and son Buzz are stalwarts who quickly realize what their one true course of action should be. Americans who disagree are weak fools who do not prosper. The Communists are quite clear (at least in their own minds) that each of them is in the game for power and the luxuries power affords. Many are perverts. Some are visibly deformed. Readers will not have to worry that they will lose track of which side wears the white hats. The novel has a clarity that reminds one of Orson Scott Card’s 2006 Empire1.
I, Martha Adams is long, long out of print. I blame world communism.
1: A novel whose plot also featured a tragically slain, underappreciated Bush: George W., son of H. W.