The Leaky Establishment, by David Langford

The Leaky Establishment was originally published back in 1984, but was reissued a few years ago with a new foreword by Terry Pratchett, which says “This was the book I meant to write,” and, more worryingly, “The book is practically a documentary.” (Pratchett, author of the Discworld books, was once a press officer for the British atomic power industry.) Anyway, Pratchett praises it: you have fair warning, then, that this is a book both humorous and intelligent. The setting is a British nuclear research facility in the Thatcher era, the hero, Roy Tappen, a young scientist drowning in a sea of bureaucracy. The plot involves Tappen’s ever-more complicated efforts to return a warhead core of which he inadvertently finds himself possessed after smuggling home an unused filing cabinet. Unfortunately, although nobody seems to notice it’s missing, smuggling the core back becomes rather more difficult as security measures are increased prior to a royal visit. Anyone who has ever worked in a university science lab, anyone suffering the toils of bureaucracy in any form, will find something familiar in the labs and office-huts of the Nuclear-Utilization Technology Centre. No one does satire like the British and this portrayal of the lunatic impersonality of a government facility is a prime example.