Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The Trigger by Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell
This book reminded me a bit of State of Fear, by Crichton, or perhaps some of the works of Richard North Patterson, in that it is extremely political. The issue explored in Trigger is gun control. Yet, it is still good science fiction, albeit very near future, because it explores the ramifications of discovering a device which causes nearly all explosives to detonate immediately when they enter the field generated by the device. Aside from a nod or two to particle physics in the first chapter or two, there's not a lot of technical information in this novel.
Where things really take off is when the inventors of the device decide to get the government involved, and turn the prototype over to them. Clarke and McDowell explore pretty thoroughly what sort of strategy might make this technology available to cities and countries so that they can begin to alleviate the suffering caused by weapons in the hands of criminals, militants, and idiots.
One of the less controversial issues addressed by this device is that of "de-mining" places like Cambodia and the Balkans, where land mines have claimed far too many innocent lives. Just turn on The Trigger effect and move through a previously mined area, and the field detonates the mines safely while they are still a hundred meters or so away from the vehicle carrying the device.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the bad guys in this novel are pretty stereotypical "gun nuts," i.e., people who belong to the NRA. The president of the NRA attempts to assassinate a senator who is in favor of widely distributing The Trigger. A Midwest militia captures the inventor of The Trigger and holds him hostage, demanding the secret code that will shut down the device when government troops come to take over (typical militia paranoid fantasy).
I'm not absolutely certain that all of the statistics used to support the gun control/elimination argument in this book are accurate. I'd have to go check the statistical abstract of the US to get some real numbers. Even if they have been fudged for dramatic effect, it makes a pretty good case that something, somehow, must be done to stop the violence. I'm not entirely certain that disarmament is the answer, as mankind has been doing despicable things to one another for millennia, before the invention of gunpowder. Despite all this, The Trigger is a pretty good read, and gets your brain working.