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Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People by Jim Nelson

My father studied thermonuclear
reactions. He could explain Nagasaki
at the subatomic level.

Welcome to Livermore, California, 1983. Gene Harland introduces you to a world of Cold War politics, swimming pools, crushy love, and genuine loss in Jim Nelson’s new novel Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People. Growing up in sleepy suburbia surrounded by nuclear scientists, teenage Gene witnesses firsthand the culture of arms development and the collision of pure research with Cold War defense.

Ronald Reagan has declared the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. The President calls on the scientists of Livermore to develop a defense system protecting the United States from nuclear missile attack. Gene’s father has spent the last fifteen years inventing and improving weapons of mass destruction, and now he leads the team behind the Strategic Defense Initiative creating “a shield not a sword.”

What if my father can build it?
Then what?

What if he can’t?
Then what?

Skeptical seventeen year-old Gene sets out to wage his own kind of Cold War. He stages a mock protest on the high school quad to rattle his parents’ and the administration’s cages—and then is invited to Sacramento to receive the civic recognition of the California Assembly. He falls in love with the school misfit, a girl with a wild past and a wicked sense of flirtation. Then Gene visits Las Vegas with his father for an underground nuclear test and discovers the terrible secret of his father’s space shield.

Consider this to be a book of
half-unfair jokes and

half-true exaggerations.

By the conclusion, Gene learns what he stands to lose by alienating himself from the world…and what he stands to lose by engaging with it.

Praise for Edward Teller Dreams

“This is a funny book, but it’s also full of heart; you won’t be disappointed.” – Dustin Heron, author of Paradise Stories

“Funny, endlessly funny, heartbreaking, and even a little terrifying.” – D. W. Hill, 5-star Amazon review

“I loved being drawn into Gene’s world at the nexus of both suburbia and the cold war.” – Robert Ancell, 5-star Amazon review

“Gene was likable, frustrating & pitiful all at once…I’ve already recommended it.” – D. Gutowski, 4-star Amazon review

From the Author

I grew up in Livermore, California. During my teenage years, the nuclear research lab there was the technical hub of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Although this is a work of fiction, much of Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People is grounded in personal experience.

The novel’s tone and subject matter will ring familiar with anyone growing up in the 1980s. While the Soviet Union and Mutually Assured Destruction may seem like distant worries tucked away inside history books, I believe young people will discover Gene’s problems, frustrations, and above all his sense of humor to be as relevant today as they were in 1983.

While writing this book I kept in mind books I admired as a teenager, such as Vonnegut’s apocalyptic Cat’s Cradle and the quietly opaque narrator of I Am the Cheese. I also drew on the great teen movies of and about the 1980s, like The Sure Thing, Wargames, Donnie Darko, and everything made by the late John Hughes. Richard Linklater’s Slacker also played a part in my inspiration for portions of Edward Teller Dreams. I want my book to possess the same mix of gravity, humor, and playfulness as these titles.

Edward Teller Dreams is a Generation X teenage memoir about searching for truth and real connections in the world, and dealing with the inevitable disillusionment.

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