In Thomas Yeggy’s Mushroom Cloud, Dr. Caleb Young is determined to unravel the untold secrets of the Cold War. Book 1 in Yeggy’s First Strike trilogy, the work of historical fiction chronicles how the atomic bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II planted the seeds for a future conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Mushroom Cloud follows Young as he earns a doctorate from Princeton University at age 18, becomes a staff scientist for the U.S. State Department in 1940, and works with other Hungarian-born scientists on the Manhattan Project until 1945. Two years later, Young becomes the chief science officer for the newly minted CIA.
“When I started working on Mushroom Cloud, I knew I wanted to do a frame story similar in format to Conrad's Heart of Darkness,” Yeggy says. “And I wanted a protagonist who would be in the know about the United States’ military capabilities during the early Cold War.”
Mushroom Cloud intertwines historical events from the era with Young's attempts to thwart a nuclear strike. “I wrote about the Cold War era because I was amazed that the U.S. military and its political leaders—and to a lesser extent Russia’s leaders—could not extrapolate the amount of damage 10,000 megatons of nuclear bombs would do to our world,” Yeggy says. “They didn't have a clue, even though Hiroshima, which was hit with only 15 kilotons, and Nagasaki, just 20 kilotons, should have been fresh in their minds.”
Combining historical events with fictitious scenes proved demanding. “I had to constantly ask myself: Do the made-up events fit with history?” Yeggy says. “If not, I had to go back to the drawing board.”
The author’s interest in the Cold War and the development and control of nuclear weapons stems from images he saw of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “The United States had this new super weapon and did not have enough experience with it to know how deadly it truly was, despite the plain lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Yeggy says. “U.S. military leaders became desensitized to the estimated hundreds of millions of Soviet and Chinese fatalities this super weapon would bring about. On October 27, 1962, a Russian submarine called the B-59 nearly fired a nuclear-tipped torpedo that would have sunk the USS Essex, killed its 3,000 sailors, and started World War III. Vasily Arkhipov, a Soviet naval officer, prevented the strike and is the reason you are still here, reading this today.”
Initially, Yeggy wrote one 270,000-word novel, but eventually, at his editor’s suggestion, he divided the work into three books. A good portion of the five years he spent revising the manuscript into the First Strike trilogy was dedicated to extensive research. “Not only did I need to get the U.S. side of the equation correct, but I also had to give an accurate account of the Soviet side,” he says. “For every source cited in the books’ bibliographies, I discarded two other sources that didn’t fit the narrative.”
The most challenging aspect of writing the historical fiction trilogy? “Extrapolating from historical events what must have occurred but for which I could find no credible verification, especially on the Soviet side,” Yeggy says. He is hopeful that after reading Mushroom Cloud and the two other novels in the series, readers will come away with a sense of “where we've come from and where we might be going,” he says. “Today America is split in half. Unfortunately, I see that divide growing wider. My intent in the First Strike series is to open readers’ eyes to what could be and how we might work together to stop it.”