Review: Ronald Reagan's Brilliant Bullet by Frederick Gero Heimbach
Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet is a fun alternate history story set in the Cold War era and featuring such bizarre elements as rocket powered flying suits, singing Mount Rushmore heads, and cloning via supernatural powers.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
Ronald Reagan's Brilliant Bullet Publisher Description:
It’s Ronald Reagan in a jet pack! The author of The Devil’s Dictum returns with another novel that shreds the history books.
The setting is the Cold War and Ronald Reagan has a shiny new toy to play with: a rocket powered suit. He’ll need it to battle the terrifying monstrosity Leonid Brezhnev is building on a secret base in Siberia.
Standing with Reagan are Margaret Thatcher and Billy Graham, each wielding super powers. (If Thatcher in an eye patch won’t turn you on, nothing will.)
Reagan insists on piloting the rocket himself—but the hardware is experimental and just might kill him. Threats are everywhere: a treacherous Congressman, a wide-eyed nun from the Tudor era, an enigmatic boy genius called R2, talking heads on Mount Rushmore, punks in back alleys and missiles in the skies. All while signs of a literal Armageddon unfold before Reagan’s steely eyes.
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More Parody Than Twisted History
I loved the tone of The Devil’s Dictum, which I described in my review as, “delightfully original and pleasingly unpredictable.” That certainly applies to this story, as well, although the setting is very different. This leads me to suggest it is more parody than “twisted” history.
However, readers will still find the tone similar, with many silly and exciting elements: the all-star cast of historical figures, the impractical and comedic use of monuments, and the anything-goes technology.
The setting of the story, the United States during Reagan’s presidency, is not one that I am too familiar with, but this was hardly a detriment to my enjoyment of the story. Indeed, the scrambled figures and events threw off my confidence on many historical factoids. Eventually, I resigned to simply enjoying the familiar name drops, like recognizing actors in a new film!
The fantastic elements are where Heimbach’s alternate histories really shine. They keep the political nature of the characters and plot from becoming ho-hum by introducing a sense that anything can happen. A flying suit piloted by the president himself, a political antagonist with an addiction to pills that give him special abilities, and a demonic rhetoric surrounding a secret Soviet project maintain the intrigue without the soul-sucking boredom of real political deals.
I appreciate a world-wide threat, and Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet delivers one through the role of the Soviets. However, the Soviets are still a distant threat in this novel, appearing for phone calls, but doing nothing more proactive than their sinister secret project. It seems likely they will come into any sequels more.
For Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet, the main antagonist is much closer to home, both literally and figuratively, in the career politician Congressman Cookingham. “Cook” is simultaneously fumbling and corrupt, working to undermine the president’s agenda and build his own reputation.
The wonderful thing about this world, however, is that even this congressman has redeeming qualities. He has a genuine sense of loyalty to his district and noblesse oblige towards the people he represents. Obviously, his methods are less than upright, and his strange addiction to a supernatural pill of dubious origin undermines his integrity. But his genuine desire to connect with “his people” makes him sympathetic as an antagonist without compromising the conviction that he deserves what he gets.
More villainous villains exist in the story, of course. They help to keep up the momentum of the tale, complicating mysteries and forcing Reagan to stay on his toes. There are no useless characters here!
Small-scale, High-impact Action
The action is driving without being on the level of “save the world,” despite the Soviets.
The military purpose behind the “Brilliant Bullet” is to intercept missiles. While highly important, the actual chasing of missiles is less than compelling over a novel-length story. Heimbach skillfully keeps his readers engaged with Reagan’s project by introducing a smaller, but urgent, problem: teenagers.
The question of how to manipulate an overpowered machine against delinquents is far more complicated than chasing missiles, and a series of clumsy confrontations put me on the edge of my seat in a way that the military exercises would not.
Politics and Religion
Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet does not go out of its way to make social commentary, explicitly or thematically. But, as I have said before, a theme is always present by default, whether intentional or not. I think in this case, the interplay of religion and politics is the most prominent, although I’d love to hear what other readers thought!
It certainly brings to mind how politics can become a religion for people like Congressman Cookingham, who stepped brazenly into a messiah role and justified all his actions through that lens. And it cannot be denied that evil can hijack political movements for its own ends, as it plays out with the Soviets.
The importance of religious figures in investigating the Soviet threat, combined with the televangelist’s frequent appearances to proclaim doom in the form of Revelation imagery, makes the religious element in this story about a political figure quite important. It perhaps most strongly suggests a commentary beyond the mere identification of truth: that Christians have a role to play in the political sphere. Perhaps that role is to provide wisdom and guidance, or to work within politics to protect against evil.
Check Out Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet!
Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet is an exciting alternate history adventure. A wonderful Cold Warriors novel and a great next read for fans of The Devil’s Dictum.
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