Hijack by Edward Wellen
Beagle Books, 1971
Price I paid: none
Big deal at Cape Canaveral. Nobody knew what it was, but it was big―and college-trained Nick Tallant drew the assignment of finding out what was in it for the Mafia. He gathered in all the information he had, put a statistical genius to work on it, and got the answer…the end of the world. But Nick was an angle player―and he knew there must be one somewhere, if only he could find it in time…
It’s a new year! Not only is 2016 finally dead, this is yet another blogoversary for me. I’ve been at this for four years!
People who started high school the year I started this blog will be graduating this year.
I need a moment.
Okay, so happy 2017. I’ve got a good feeling about this year. (And since that’s in writing now everybody can point back to it and laugh at me when the Grey Goo scenario starts.)
This book was, like so many great reads (using the Schlock Value definition of great) Tweetered at me by Joachim Boaz. He thought it was something I’d enjoy reading and, as usual, he was right, and I could tell before I even opened up the book. I mean, look at that cover! It’s figuratively literally the best cover.
I suppose it’s appropriate that this book is the first of this year and coinciding with my blogoversary since it contains two of the topics that show up most in the books I read: space and the Mafia. What is up with that? Obviously, the space part makes a lot of sense. I like my science fiction. But the Mafia? How many books have I read that involve them?
google.com —> “site:schlock-value.com the penetrator OR the executioner OR the enforcer”
I guess I need to talk about this book. Up front, I wanna say I liked it. This was an enjoyable book and the one person who gave it one star on Goodreads is wrong. This book is worth more stars than one. I don’t know how many more. Just some. Not all, but some.
Reading about the author, Edward Wellen, makes me want to read more of his stuff. This is his only science fiction novel, but he’s got a lot of sf short stories and some “fake nonfiction” pieces that definitely interest me, things with titles like “Origins of Galactic Slang” and so forth. I love things like that and I hope they’re good.
Wellen also wrote a lot of mysteries. That seems to have been his main genre. I found an audiobook one on Amazon called Mind Slash Matter, read by Rene Auberjonois, that I want to listen to for the narration alone.
Hijack was a fun Mafia romp. The book has several points of view, but the main guy is Nick Tallant, a younger Mafioso who’s trying to make his name in the Families. I was afraid he’d be one of those characters who’s actually a good guy stuck in an evil organization for some reason or another, the kind of character who brings an evil organization down from the inside while pretending to work for it or whatever, but that’s not the case at all. Nick is a Mafia man and he takes it very seriously.
Nick gets a tip-off that something big is happening down at Cape Canaveral. He’s told to figure out what it is. He’s introduced to a scientist named Buglewicz and the two of them find out what NASA’s up to and whether the Mafia can get a cut of that action.
There are several other stories floating around in this narrative that didn’t really interest me or contribute to the main story, some B-plots that I didn’t follow all that well but did at least give a sense of place and feeling to the story. The Mafia guys in this book were professionals, but they all had grudges and conflicting desires and all that kind of stuff that makes for a good tale except that I would occasionally lose track of who was doing what and then breathe a sigh of relief when the story got back to Nick.
Several times Nick does things that are not the kinds of things you’d expect from a good guy. For instance, at one point he needs to bring Buglewicz some critical information and is told about a guy to get the info from. Nick and his pals go to this guy and try several angles to get the information from him. They finally figure out the proper way to do it and they find the guy’s biggest scientific rival and straight-up murder him. This turns out to be Nick’s first murder, and several of his Mafia buddies comment on that fact, but there’s no regret or second-guessing or rumination on Nick’s part. He’s just doing his job.
I appreciate that. Nick has some pretty inhuman moments like that one, but they make his human moments seem a little more powerful when they happen. For instance, Nick cares deeply about his mom, has a girlfriend that he also cares about, and so forth. Likewise, he wants revenge on the two Mafiosos that put out a hit on his father some years before.
I might be making it seem like this book has a very serious tone, but it doesn’t. The tone of this book is pretty satirical. There’s even a one-off character named Al Dente at one point. I think that says a lot.
Buglewicz takes this information and uses it confirm something he’d already suspected. NASA is building a space ark that can send 5000 people to Proxima Centauri. A thing that took me by surprise is the offhand mention that this ship is powered by a tachyon drive that will accelerate the ship to an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.
When does this book take place? It’s never said. I assumed for the most part that it was largely set in the present, namely 1971 or so. But then we have this giant space ark assembled in orbit that also has an engine powered by magic and I don’t know where to stand anymore.
Oh, loading up the ship with people will take place over the course of forty launches, all set off in 90-minute intervals from Cape Canaveral. I’m not going to say “What the crap, author, Canaveral has only two working launch facilities and it takes a long time to set up a rocket” since, apparently, this book takes place in the year 2525. The rockets used are called Saturn VIIIs, so that’s cool.
Oh, and there’s a reason this ship is launching so soon and with such secrecy. It turns out that the sun is about to explode. Specifically, it’ll go nova. Now, I know what you might be thinking. I thought it too: the sun is too small to go nova. Current scientific consensus tells us that it isn’t massive enough to have this kind of fate. It’ll go red giant and gobble up the inner planets, and that’s in a few billion-with-a-b years. I was about to roll my eyes at the book but then Buglewicz or somebody was like “I know, this is supposed to be impossible. Nobody knows why it’s happening, and we don’t have time to figure it out.” (I’m paraphrasing.) So at least our author was well aware that what he was proposing was unlikely. I respect that.
Honestly, excepting the tachyon drive thing, the science in this book was fairly hard.
A thing I liked: the chapter titles were all counting down to “H-Day.” I don’t think that we were ever told what the H stood for, but the idea of using chapter titles to countdown to the big event is a nice touch. From the get-go, we know that there’s a timer on this book so there’s a sense of urgency, even when we don’t even know what it’s counting down to.
Knowing what’s about to happen, Nick informs the higher-ups in the Mafia and things start rolling. It’s decided that loading the spaceship with politicians and scientists and entrepreneurs and all that jazz is dumb. What actually needs to happen is to send the Mafia into space and start a Space Mafia Colony and play fizzbin all day.
I absolutely love this premise.
A large chunk of the rest of the book involves Nick convincing various people he loves that they need to be on this spaceship. Sometimes he has to trick them into getting to Florida (I think he tells his mom that he bought her a vacation on the beach or something). Other times he flat-out tells them what’s happening and there’s your standard disbelief-you-better-believe-me scene. It’s pretty well done.
Nick also has some other loose ends to wrap up. He wants to make sure that the only people headed to Proxima Centauri are people he likes. People who have dissed him in the past are not welcome. Of course, it’s not up to Nick to decide who goes and who stays, so he’s got to come up with other ways of ensuring that his enemies don’t survive. Jumping ahead a bit, he does end up destroying an entire rocket just to kill the two guys he thinks killed his dad.
The book ticks down. The Mafia takes over Cape Canaveral and steals all the rocket ships. A load of tough guys make it to the colony ship and take it over. Things are going very well. Perhaps…too well.
Near the end of the book Buglewicz drops the bomb. It turns out that this has all been a huge scheme on the part of the US government. A huge, goofy, ridiculous scheme that I can’t help but love because of all those reasons.
The sun’s not going to explode at all.
He was hired by the government to “leak” this information to the Mafia because the government figured the Maf would do exactly what it did.
This was all an enormous scheme to get rid of the American Mafia for good.
I can’t help but love this.
Seeing as how this entire book has felt very tongue-in-cheek, I don’t think this is stupid. Or, well, I do, but in that good way. This is a book about a ridiculous-never-could-possibly-work-super-expensive plan to get rid of the Mafia by shooting them into space. I think the book even states that this entire project has cost something like twenty billion dollars.
And to make it all better, the Mafia bites.
As a person who didn’t grow up with this weird specter of Mafia activity hovering over my head, I don’t know how well somebody from the seventies would have accepted this book. Living in the time I do with the culture I do, however, it’s pretty normal to see lampooned versions of the Maf.
I guess what I’m saying here is that I’m not entirely sure how to react to this book. The writing was quite enjoyable to read. To be fair, the narration had a lot more character than most of the characters, but quite often it was a joy to read. The dialogue was pretty good, too.
But I just can’t get over this whole Mafia thing. It’s such an alien concept to me, even though I’ve seen The Godfather and Goodfellas and basically every Scorsese movie.
The thing is, nothing from those movies makes me think about a Mafia that would likely buy a story about the sun exploding and then using that information to hijack a colony ship to Alpha Centauri.
I also don’t see the American government using this kind of scheme to rid itself of a single element of organized crime.
I know this book is satire, I get that, but I don’t get what it’s satirizing. The whole concept is just so out there that I’m not sure why I thought it was so funny while I was reading it. I still think it’s funny. I just don’t know why.
I’m going to have to think about this for a little while. This is a very readable book and I hope that you’ll take a look at it and get back to me on this.
Anyway, Happy New Year! I look forward to another fifty or so books in 2017. And thanks for reading! I wouldn’t keep doing this if not for the dozen or so hits I get whenever a new review goes up. Y’all make it worthwhile!