The Rat Race
By Jay Franklin
Published by Librivox.org
Read by Nick Bulka
Every so often I will download something by an author of whom I have never heard. I looked him up and it turned out that he was a fellow SE Massachusetts boy who wrote an impressive number of politically-based novels and some works that are considered valuable historical resources for the New Deal Era under the pen name “Diplomat” and “Unofficial Observer.” It sounded interesting enough, then I read the synopsis.
This is the story of one Lt. Commander Frank Jacklin, an office aboard the secret battleship USS Alaska. When the ship is destroyed by the atomic explosion of a top-secret “Thorium Bomb,” Jacklin wakes up in the body of stockbroker, Winnie Tompkins, a determined womanizer and wife-swapper. Unlike in many such stories, Jacklin does not attempt to tell anyone who he really is, but instead starts attempting to live as Tompkins, claiming he has amnesia. One thing leads to another and between the women in his life, his knowledge of the fate of the Alaska, and various other top-secret matters, he gets in trouble with the government. It was here that I realized that Franklin was not attempting to write science fiction. In fact, aside from an atomic bomb there is precious little sciences involved, although he does seem to believe that mysticism and psychic powers are all valid.
Instead this is commentary on who various governmental departments and organizations work and from what I can see, nothing has really changed… well, except for the nature of the man in the oval office who in this novel is FDR and, soon after Harry Truman. One can only imagine how Franklin would have handled, say, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Donald Trump. That might have been wildly different, but the government functionaries probably would have been the same.
I don’t consider the story very well written, however. Pacing is bad and it drags terribly on several occasions and none of the characters are three dimensional. In fact, even to call them two-dimensional is generous. However, as commentary as to how government agencies work, I will admit that Franklin would know far better than I. Sadly the end is somewhat abrupt, disappointing, but also telegraphed well in advance. So, no real surprises.
However, if you what a cynical insider’s view of WW II era government, this is probably a very good way to get it wrapped up in a fictional setting.
It took me at least two hours of listening to get used to Nick Bulka’s reading style this time. In fact, I think it took him that long to get used to reading this story too. At first, he sounded incredibly bored with the whole project, making me wonder why he was bothering to read it for Librivox.
Further in, he starts to sound a bit more interested and is, by extension, a bit more interesting to listen to, but I still did not find him an engaging reader to listen to. Still, it might have simply been this book since I thought he was pretty good when he read Preferred Risk by Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey. Not this time, though. Perhaps it was the slow story pace, but whatever it was, I was ready for the end, however disappointing, buy the time it came.
So, I’m sorry but my verdict is that the story could have been a lot better and the reading was possibly all it deserved.