C.G. Edmondson and C. M. Kotlan’s 1984 novel The Takeover is a near-future thriller, written in those long-forgotten days when Americans were terrified that the Russians might somehow subvert America’s most basic institutions. Of course, these days we can look back and laugh at such ludicrous fears.
The Russian military adventure code named Cassandra was intended to exploit a moment of American vulnerability and win concessions for the Soviet Union. Even Cassandra’s architect, Undersecretary of Agriculture and Commerce Pikusky, didn’t expect his little project to succeed to the extent it did. The Soviets wanted trade concessions. They got total conquest!
Or so it seemed.
Step one was easy enough: convince left-leaning Canada and Mexico to stop selling oil to the US1. That, and the troubles in the Middle East,turned the US into an oil-poor nation, in which shortages and rationing were daily realities.
Step two was bolder: detonate a small nuclear device in troubled Flyville, one of the Caribbean’s many political hot spots.
Step three: send two terminally-ill diplomats to meet with US President Cannon. The diplomats will claim that several American cities,including the one in which Cannon stands, have been seeded with concealed atom bombs. Cannon is given a choice: accept immediate incineration for himself and thousands of Americans or accept Soviet advisors to assist the US with the crisis.
By“assist”, they of course mean “liquidate anyone willing and able to oppose the Red takeover and pillage of the United States.”
It would have been all over save for the mass arrests and executions …but for one man. Admiral Conyers learned of the coming ultimatum in time to take a small fleet of Trident submarines out to sea. The Russians can nuke a dozen American cities. If Conyers retaliates, he can end civilization in the Northern Hemisphere.
Conyers is beyond the reach of the Commie Rat Bastards What Took Over America but his daughter Angel and her husband Rex Tolliver are not. Or at least they wouldn’t be if Conyers hadn’t sent an agent to keep an eye on Tolliver and Angel. And if Tolliver himself were not a much harder target than he appeared.
Now the narrative jumps to Mariano, an illegal immigrant with false papers. He is not interested in politics; he just wants to keep his head down while earning enough at Tolliver’s factory to support his American-born wife Meche and their son Carlitos. When Meche and Carlitos are summarily deported to Mexico, an observant Red political officer notices Tolliver’s name on a slip of paper in Meche’s purse. The reclusive immigrant and his family are now key pieces in a game of power politics.
There are not many recently published books published in which the main African American character2 is named something like T. O. Kenn. I wonder why that is?
It’s always interesting to see Canada through American eyes. Edmondson and Kotlan depict the Canada of the 1980s as a ramshackle nation whose untrustworthiness as an ally is only matched by its total lack of national unity. Mind you, the United States does not come off much better: Canada (and the rest of America’s allies) may have been bribed by the Russians into turning their back on the US, but the US (thanks to its poor choice of President) does worse: it is occupied by Soviet advisors.
This is a disappointing book — which is something I did not expect from an author (Edmondson) whom I remember fondly. The narrative is just one thing after another, none of which cohere into a reasonable plot.There’s a meandering subplot involving an oil tanker captain that probably should have been cut (or published as another book). The sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire following its moment of overreach is strangely unconvincing — even though the Soviets did in fact vanish in a puff of logic within a decade of this novel’s publication.
In retrospect, it’s not clear to me why “we’ve mined a dozen American cities” is more effective than “we have several thousand nuclear weapons aimed at the US,” which historically was not enough to get Americans to allow Russian troops on US soil. Nuclear blackmail of this sort was a popular trope back in this era (it also shows up in books like Alongside Night and Ecotopia) but its effectiveness, particularly in a Cold War context, seems oversold.
Although The Takeover sticks pretty closely to the standard script for books like this — see also Not This August and The Ayes of Texas— the novel is not without one singular virtue. The authors take an unusualview of American race relations (although not of gender relations3). Their perspective is not that of a white man angry that he suddenly has to treat minorities like real people. Perhaps the explanation may lie in the facts that author Edmondson’s full name was José Mario Garry Ordoñez Edmondson y Cotton and that he was born in Mexico. Perhaps as a result of his own background, he seems to have been aware of the sad history ando n‑going practice of racism. In the book, the character Mariano and his family are subjected to continual harassment by the police thanks to the colour of their skin; Meche and her son are kicked over the border regardless of the fact both are American citizens. It is not coincidental that this recalls the so-called Mexican Repatriation ‚because the authors themselves make a point of drawing the readers’ attention to the Repatriation.
This book has had just the one printing (so far as I can tell). I’d blame this on the lamentable fact that the book is, well, not very good, but then a clunker like I, Martha Adams was worse and it got at least three editions.
The Takeover is wildly out of print but used copies may be available here (Amazon). Or in your local used bookstore; print runs in the1980s were huge.
1: It may sound like I am laughing hysterically at the idea Russia could offer Canada anything that would compensate for the loss of the US market. That is because I am.
2:The other significant African American character, also likely one of Conyers’ agents, does not seem to have a name beyond “the black.”He’s not like that poor African character in Footfall, though, whose only role was to die of terror. “The black” does not make it to the end credits, but he does get to go out in a blaze of glory.
3:There’s nothing in this book to offend a hypothetical white dude angry at feminists. The role of women in this book is to stand by their men. Meche stays on mission for the whole book, but spoiled Angel is somewhat less perfect. In part this is because she’s worried her dad will be killed and in part because her husband Tolliver is kind of a dick.