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A Scarier Cold War

Thought the 1950s couldn’t get any scarier? Think again. Imagine communists ruling all over Europe, the Soviet Union stretching from Finland in the northwest to Port Arthur in the southeast, Britain under the sway of “Big Brother”, America ruled by President-for-Life Douglas MacArthur, and East and West vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East.

This atompunk world is on its way to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and, in Britain, could culminate in the events of Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup (1982), in which civil servants, spies and business leaders conspire to bring down a left-wing government (our review of the 1988 television adaptation here).

Other inspirations include Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007) and the Command & Conquer: Red Alert video games.

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The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol

Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol (1984) was turned into a movie, starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, only three years after it was published. Given that the film largely follows the plot of the book, I’ll cover both in this review.

In the novel, it is the infamous British defector Kim Philby who helps draw up a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in Britain and trigger a Labour victory. A left-wing government (Neil Kinnock had yet to defeat far-left Militant entryists at the time) would — the Russians hoped — withdraw the United Kingdom from NATO, kick the Americans out and give up the country’s nuclear deterrent.

To make it seem like an accident, the Soviets plan to smuggle in the nuclear weapon in stages, assemble it in Britain and detonate it near an American military base. This would violate the fictional Fourth Protocol to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which supposedly banned the non-conventional delivery of nuclear weapons.

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1955 nuclear weapons test

World War III Without Missiles

Most World War III scenarios start with a Soviet first strike, but it were the Western Allies who first planned to use nuclear weapons in Europe to offset the Red Army’s numerical superiority.

From Britain’s Operation Unthinkable to America’s Operation Dropshot, these war planes help us imagine a land war in Europe fought only partially with atomic weapons.

When technology progressed in the 1960s — more and bigger atomic bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles — NATO moved away from integrating nuclear weapons in its war planes. It envisaged either a conventional land war or mutually assured destruction with nothing in between.

The Soviets moved in the opposite direction. Joseph Stalin saw little use for nuclear weapons, but the West’s technological edge compelled his successors to integrate them more seriously in their offensive plans. It wasn’t until the 1980s that both sides abandoned the tactical use of nuclear weapons.

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Vincent Di Fate artwork

The Art of Vincent Di Fate

Vincent Di Fate is an American fantasy and science-fiction illustrator. He started his career in the 1960s drawing for pulp magazines and has since produced artwork for IBM, NASA and the National Geographic Society, among others.

He is also the author of some 300 articles and three books and a professor at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

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Red Alert 3 concept art

Weapons of Red Alert

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996), Albert Einstein travels back in time and kills Adolf Hitler. He prevents the emergence of Nazi Germany, but this clears the way for a Soviet invasion of Europe in 1946.

The Soviets are defeated, but they get their revenge three decades later in Red Alert 2 (2000) by attacking the continental United States.

In the third game (2008), it are the Soviets who travel back in time to prevent their defeat at the hand of the Allies. Their trip has unforeseen consequences as well: they inadvertently create a more powerful Japan and trigger a three-way world war.

Throughout these games we get to play with some crazy diesel- and atompunk weapons, from the Soviets’ mighty Apocalypse Tank to Tesla Troopers.

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Topaz

Topaz

Topaz has a lot to work with. Based on the real-life Martel affair, in which a Soviet defection triggered a crisis in American-French relations, it has a good spy story, believable characters and exotic locations.

Alfred Hitchcock does a competent job weaving it all together, but the end result somehow lacks momentum.

The story sounds exciting on paper. A high KGB official defects to the United States and reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. The CIA recruit a French secret agent, AndrĂ© Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), to get proof from a member of the Cuban delegation — who would not cooperate with an American — that is visiting New York for the United Nations.

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1944 Germany map

How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans

The way Germany was divided into Western- and Soviet-aligned republics after the Second World War was hardly a straightforward process. The Allies started thinking about whether and how to dismember Germany in the middle of the war and considered several options.

Some, like the Dutch request for territorial compensation, were ignored. Others, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suggestion of a north-south split, would morph into the east-west divide of the Cold War.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 3: Century cover

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have created in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the most ambitious and inspiring steampunk franchise. Volumes 1 and 2 will top many steampunks’ list of favorite books and deservedly so. They are rich stories with intricate plot lines and sympathetic characters.

The in-between Black Dossier was a bit of a letdown story-wise and I’m afraid things have gone further downhill.

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The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

Christine is a beautiful retro-style gal, living all alone in a house that wouldn’t look amiss in the latest incarnation of the horror classic The House on Haunted Hill.

She doesn’t live alone, however, sharing her home with a variety of monsters (literally) ranging from Rankle, the mummified cat; Rose, who is assumed to be mostly a raccoon; and Edgar, who looks like he could be a retro-style werewolf.

Top that off with ghostly roommate Vivienne, played by none other than Dita von Teese and several other wacky characters.

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