Espying the Infinite Folly of Cold War : “WALKING THE CAT BY TOMMY ‘TIP’ PAINE”, <i> by John Calvin Batchelor,</i> Linden Press/Simon & Shuster, $19.95, 300 pages
It’s wonderful news for every intelligent reader that John Calvin Batchelor has decided to write a “red-baiting quartet,” that is, a “sci-fi/spy guy” tetralogy on the infinite folly and silliness of the Cold War.
Volume I featured G. Gordon Liddy as a major character. This new specimen, “Walking the Cat by Tommy ‘Tip’ Paine” peels the clothes off yet another emperor of our Cold War imagination, and gives us the “wild East” to ponder: ". . . The Pacific Rim,” some financier, addled with American greed, remarks to Mr. Paine, “It’s a boomtown, like the Klondike. There’s gold in them thar’ hills.”
The post-Cold War situation in which sci-fi/spy-guy Tip Paine finds himself is disconcerting: “The dollar was up, the pound was down, the yen sideways, the Germans were petting the commies, the commies were tendering more laughingstock. Out east, China was pouting, Mongolia was rearming, Vietnam was panhandling, Burma was still changing the name on the stationery, North Korea was backfilling mass graves and tunnels. Welcome, red boys to the land of the disenchanted.”
Movie writer/sci-fi/spy-guy Tip Paine has had it with the recent past, public and personal. He lives alone, like a medieval hermit, at the penultimate top of a Manhattan skyscraper, pecking fretfully at video war games on his laptop computer. By “chance” he meets an extremely likable, middle-aged Korean governess, Rosemary Yip, who spends most of her time holding together the complex family that lives upstairs in the penthouse.
The Purcell menage includes a flock of American and Korean children (the Korean ones adopted), a pretty blond mom, a red-haired “spinster” aunt who’s been to bed with high-rollers all across the world, and, as paterfamilias, Charlie Purcell, world-class financier, scavenger, tantrum-thrower, opium-smoker, crybaby, blabber and all-round poor personality.
As soon as he gets to know Tip, Charlie throws himself on the sci-fi guy’s mercy. Someone’s been blackmailing him, Purcell sobs, lies, brags, swaggers, and so on. It’s a terrible thing. It started all the way back in 1974, in Korea, where Purcell was in the occupying U.S. Army. Only Tip can get Purcell free of this messy business.
Which gives the real author, here, John Calvin Batchelor, a chance to twirl his fictional globe and take us on a particularly unattractive time-trip back to the Korean War. What was the point? What was the story on that?
“War is a stupid crime,” our sci/fi guy considers, “and the Korean civil war was a massacre that was armed by the reds and us for famously stupid reasons called the Cold War.” Several results came of that pointless melee: Plenty of U.S. servicemen still cool their heels in Seoul as an occupying force. Plenty of spies still hang out on the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, paying each other to spy on each other, and South Korea has become “the Asian Miracle,” while North Korea remains a glum mudhole, or so the author would have us believe.
(Can you imagine the wonderful fun in all this--those money-grubbing financiers, the giant jets landing with new carpetbaggers from the Western world every hour or so, the side trips to Singapore, which someone built “during a long weekend in 1972,” another side trip up the Malayan Peninsula, where everything is still grubby jungle, cardboard shacks, and mud, except for an occasional Pepsi bottle from the 1950s?)
What in the Cold War World ever possessed us to do it? To send over men and materiel by the planeload to Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and so on and so forth? Batchelor’s fictional author, that sci-fi/spy-guy, postulates one of two basic motives: Family and/or greed, for every project on Earth that ever happens. But then another couple of motives factor in that seem more believable if more discouraging. What if America sent all those guys over to the wild East for drugs and sex? What if, instead of us conquering them with our “democracy,” they conquered us, with pretty, compliant ladies, and all the hard drugs we could absorb, and we fell, as a nation, madly in love with that vision of vice?
This is a superb book. We ought to elect John Calvin Batchelor as President. Or at the very least, we should buy his book, and scrounge around for that first one on G. Gordon Liddy.
Next: Constance Casey reviews “Paris Dreambook” by Lawrence Osborne (Pantheon).