Level 7 is a 1959 science fiction novel by the American writer Mordecai Roshwald. It is told from the first person perspective (diary) of a modern soldier X-127 living in the underground military complex Level 7, where he was expected to reside permanently, fulfilling the role of commanding his nation's nuclear weapons.
During his forced residence, X-127 is ordered to push the bomb buttons to begin World War III (which lasts a total of 2 hours and 58 minutes). From that point, all civilian life (for military personnel already occupy Level 6 and 7) moves from the surface of the earth to a collection of underground shelter complexes (levels 1 - 5). It later emerges that the orders given had been wholly automatic, and the war had taken place as a series of electronic responses to an initial accident. Toward the end of the novel, the inhabitants of the surviving shelters gradually die, as the surface contamination makes its way down past air filters and into ground water sources. In the end, the inhabitants of "Level 7" are exterminated by a malfunction in their nuclear power pile.
The book is apparently written in such a way to discourage the reader from determining which side is which. References to democracy are structured as to be just as applicable to the statements made about democracy by the Soviet government of the time. The book contains no geographical references or individual names, but does use non-metric measurements. It is left to the individual reader to determine if this indeed identifies a Western setting or merely reflects the author's background. In any case, specific national identities are arguably irrelevant to the book's themes of dehumanization, the abstraction of nuclear warfare, and the danger that this leads to when combined with the destructive potential of the weapons involved. The novel thus acts as a warning against the nuclear arms race, as the original (but removed) postscript makes clear:
This book is neutral - in the sense that it does not defend either the East or the West. It is not neutral in the sense that it accuses both. It is submitted for the benefit of the West and the East, as well as anybody caught in between.
The Diary of Push-Button Officer X-127 is intended as a preventative anti-radioactive medicine, good for consumption in any place in the world. It is especially offered to button-pushers, rocket constructors, nuclear physicists, megaton bomb manufacturers, "small" atomic bomb producers, and last but not least, statesmen and politicians. It is 'not' (!) effective against buttons, robots, rockets, and the bombs themselves.
Originally, the manuscript contained a preface by Martian archaeologists, who discover the diary amongst the ruins of a destroyed Earth. However, this was removed in editions earlier than 2003, because it was felt that it spoiled the ending of the book.
Level 7 was adapted by J. B. Priestley for a 1966 episode of the BBC2 television science-fiction drama programme Out of the Unknown.
Full article ▸