The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles by Robert Moore Williams (1961)
Robert Moore Williams (1907-1977) was a journeyman science fiction writer who, although he never made it into the top tier of SF authors, provided a large number of eminently readable (but ultimately undistinquished) stories in the 1940s and 1950s pulp magazines before he moved on to write a string of original paperbacks for the Ace science fiction line. He is probably best remembered for his Jongor series about a Tarzan-like hero in the mythic past and his Zanthar series about a scientist with Jongor-like strength in the future.
My wife read The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles while in high school and was suitably impressed aalthough she had not read (nor still reads) much science fiction. She revisited it when I picked up a copy for her year or so ago and -- while not as impressed -- found she still enjoyed it. I decided I should give it a try.
The book's title takes up a third of the cover as it is emblazoned across a painting of a fiery mushroom cloud. Spread across the top of the cover are the words A SCIENCE FICTION SHOCKER and the back cover tells us A REAL SHOCKER! Suitably warned, the reader must be prepared to be shocked.
The story takes place nine years into the future, in 1970. The first H-Bomb falls in the second paragraph and we're off an running. Tom Watkins has just pulled his sports car into a mall parking lot which conveniently happens to be near a bomb shelter. Tom has the presence of mind to make it to the bomb shelter; others are not so lucky. Huddled in the bomb shelter, Tom and a group of survivors begin to wait. Among the survivors is an FBI agent, a dentist's secretary, a movie actress, and an engineer. By the end of chapter one a second bomb explode, and a third at the end of chapter two. This third bomb destroys much of the shelter, killing many of the survivors.
From the FBI agent we learn that the government has been searching the Los Angeles area for several months for an unknown -- but very real -- threat. After heavy rains have washed most of the fallout from the sky, Tom and his group try to get out of Los Angeles, only to find that the city is barrica ded by the army who will shoot anyone who tries to get out. Slowly, the realization comes that the government itself had dropped the bombs on Los Angeles, killing hundreds of thousand -- if not millions -- of its own citizens. What kind of threat would cause the government to do this?
Now here's where coincidence rears its ugly head. Cissy, the dentist's secretary, tells Tom her boss owns the building where his practice is and that he uses its large steel and concrete enforced cellar as his laboratory. They head there seeking shelter. The dentist is old Doctor Smith and he's only a part-time dentist. He's also a world-famous physicist who was hired by the government to help identify the unknown threat.
Throughout the nights Tom's group has heard a weird howling and isolated sreams of terror. During the day, they come across horribly mutilated bodies. Throughout the streets of LA, groups of shambling, zombie-like survivors are murdering anyone who is not like them. Something has taken ordinary people and regressed them into a bestial state. A young woman with tiger-like grace seems to have escaped this regression but controls armies of these "zombies" and sets them against the group of survivors.
How can a small group of people survive in a nuclear wasteland that was once a great city, penned in by government forces and under constant threat by a "zombie" army? Did I mention that somewhere in this group of survivors are some traitors bent on destroying them?
This is just thing if you're in the mood for a fast-paced adventure story that does not veer far from the author's pulp roots and have a couple of spare hours for an enjoyable read.