A novel of the Cold War by Derek Robinson.
This is a sequel to his novel of Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force in WW2, Damned Good Show. It focuses on the pilots of Britain's nuclear deterrent strike jets during the Cold War.
Mutually Assured Troping might happen here if the projected scenarios are correct:
- Already Met Everyone: Most of the characters here were first encountered in Robinson's previous book on 409 Squadron in WW2, Damned Good Show.
- Apocalypse How: The nuclear option and the people and aircraft who would have delivered it.
- Badass Grandpa: Flying combat aircraft is a young man's game, right? Anyone over twenty-five is seen as too old to do it? Not in 409 squadron. As experience and maturity are seen as desirable qualities in men whose sole function is to nuke Russia, the average age of 409's Vulcan aircrews is over forty. Grandfathers by RAF standards.
- Battle Butler: Stevens, the butler to Mrs Silk MP, is more than he seems and is following a different agenda. He really works for British Intelligence, and has the dual role of bodyguarding Mr and Mrs Silk against blackmail attempts and of reporting back on their activities and compromising weaknesses
- Black Comedy: Pitch-black. This is the possible end of the world we're talking about here.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: The pilots of Britain's nuclear deterrent strike jets are vulnerable to Blackmail. The Russian spy who attempts to compromise Flight-Lieutenant Silk over his affair describes what he does as "working for the Press", the implication being that if Silk does not play nicely, his MP wife will be embarrassed by his affair becoming common knowledge. Especially since Silk is paying cash to the lady for "cello lessons". A local bookie also threatens to go to the CO if another pilot's gambling debts are not paid in full, and "have a concerned discussion as to his little problem. You can't have a man with a gambling problem in charge of nuclear weapons, can you? It's my public duty." . note
- Buzzing the Deck: Silk's crew does this to a Russian spy "trawler" in the Atlantic near Scotland which is eavesdropping on their comms. While they are strictly forbidden from sinking it, they fly over it at mast-top height then stand the plane on its nose to give it the benefit of the back-blast from the engines. The ship stays afloat, just about, but its sensitive and expensive electronic systems are shot to pieces.
- Death by Falling Over: The fate of the bookie. The punch didn't kill him. Being knocked unconscious into a patch of stinging nettles did. The post-mortem discovered a case of urticaria - extreme allergic reaction to nettle stings.
- Eagleland: A sub-theme is the diminuition of Great Britain from superpower to mere power. While the American characters are nice about it, they make it perfectly clear who leads the Western alliance, and it isn't Britain.
- Grey and Gray Morality: The pilots of 409 Squadron try not to deal with the deeper implications of defending freedom by nuking Russia, or of liberating Eastern European nations from Russia by vaporising their cities.
- Hufflepuff House: Great Britain in the post-Suez era: not an equal partner to the United States' Grifindor, but also opposed to the Slytherin of the Soviet Union. this novel is a postscript to the WW2 novels, acknowledging Britain's fall from superpower status.
- Kill 'Em All: The usual resolution of the moral quandary - just get out there, "kick the wheels, and start the fires."
- Kill the Creditor: While not initially intended, this is the eventual solution to the problem of the bookie threatening blackmail over a pilot's gambling debts. While pilots are expelled from the squadron or kicked out of the Service for other moral failings, manslaughter seems not to be actionable; apart from a brief police interview no further action is taken.
- No Name Given: Flight Lieutenant Silk, whose first name is never given. Even his wife calls him "Silk".
- One-Way Trip: read the title. The Vulcans only have four minutes to get into the air and open the throttle for a very good reason.
- Over-the-Top Secret: The pilots of the Vulcan nuclear bomber force are under continuing and unremitting security surveillance. Flight Lieutenant Silk, is under suspicion because his wife is a member of Parliament associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
- Shout-Out: The Christine Keeler scandal is referenced via Silk's affair with ex-model and part-time prostitute Tess Monk.
- During the extended prologue, the character of Air Commodore "Baggy" Bletchley is revisted. It is revealed he went sand-happy in North Africa and in a manner worthy of Graham Chapman's Brigadier in Monty Python's Flying Circus, he apparently took to wearing womens' clothing and calling himself "Florence of Arabia". Chapman's Brigadier was a severely pompous senior British officer from the waist up, who wore women's clothing from the waist down.
- A Spot Of Tea: Of course. This is the British nuclear strike force.
- Teens Are Monsters: Most of the pilots in 409 Squadron are parents of older or adult children and are not spared the usual trials. One pilot is dangerously compromised by the gambling debts his son has built up by fraudulently using his account.
- Unusual Euphemism: Flight-Lieutenant Silk has an affair with a former model who has dropped out of society to live a poor but content life in the country. The relationship occupies a sort of halfway house between a Friends with Benefits situation and outright prostitution. There is something genuine between them. But Silk uses the cover story of "taking cello lessons" to justify his visits to her cottage and the unspoken agreement is that the cello lessons cost him £5 a session. The fact the cello never leaves its case is immaterial. note
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: A long and horrible sequence takes place in an RAF flight simulator where crews of the Vulcan jet bombers, tasked with delivering Britain's nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union, get everything that could go wrong on a mission thrown at them. And that's everything. The bomb arms itself prematurely, or jams in the bomb-bay with the clock ticking down to detonation, they are under attack by Russian countermeasures, they fly too close to nuclear explosions brought about by other missiles or planes, the aircraft itself develops escalating mechanical problems... the test is unwinnable. It is designed to test the aircrews to the limit and weed out those who might panic or freze or simply refuse to go through with it.
- Ultimate Defence of the Realm: The Vulcans and their crews are this.
- World War III: How it might have looked. A detailed scene takes place in a flight simulator in which everything that could go wrong on a mission goes wrong up to and including premature explosion of the nuke and narrowly evading becoming collateral damage to nuclear explosions going on around them. There is a reason why Vulcan aircrew were issued eyepatches and this is graphically explained.