Robert Novaro is a graduate student at a fictitious university in Texas. In his 1994 doctoral dissertation, he describes the separation of isotopes of certain metals by a relatively simple chemical procedure. His faculty mentor applies the method to uranium, a procedure that at once becomes a top military secret. While Novaro, even while disapproving of the uranium connection, is conferring with the mentor, the latter has a heart attack. In the hubbub of cardiac resuscitation, the graduate student carries off the professors notebook, one closely resembling his own lying nearby. He hastily photocopies the purloined text before returning it, pretending he took it by mistake. The FBI, with the help of Novaros jilted girlfriend, soon finds some of the contraband photocopies in his apartment. He truthfully says he copied the material just out of curiosity, but the alibi does not spare his being prosecuted. A radical lawyer finagles a plea bargain and probation but then promptly engineers his clients kidnapping to Angustia, a totalitarian South American dystopia. That country is losing a war with a neighbor, and Angustian dictator Victor Martillo dreams of transforming his countrys uranium ore into atomic bombs. He finds ways to compel his kept yanqui to work on the project, but he soon turns it over largely to his own scientists. Novaro meets Rita, a pretty young war widow, and they soon fall in love and commence living together. The science depicted includes unmistakable fiction but also valid facts about nuclear physics and weaponry. The gringo wizard and Rita flee their home to seek asylum in a friendly embassy but are caught; he is then sent to a brutal work camp adjoining the air base where the bomb reposes. Mere hours before a plane is set to take off to drop the bomb, a disillusioned hireling of the dictator manages a suicidal detonation. The vast explosion kills Martillo but also Novaro. Angustia becomes a democracy of sorts, but some of the projects technicians begin selling their dangerous knowledge. Havoc wrought by the bomb and the gradual spread of nuclear weapons are the tragic achievements of the young antinuclear American chemist hoisted on his own petard.