Saturday, June 16, 2007

"The Trigger" (novel): Targetted weapons & anti-weapons

Review of the novel titled The Trigger by Arthur C Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowellThis story is essentially an advocacy for gun control in the US. On me, it had the opposite effect - making an argument that private ownership of guns should be legal everywhere! A look at India's history during the last millennium suggests that the governments that put severe limits on local private access to weapons tend to be utterly impotent against external aggressors.

Tone is generally juvenile. I would have sought such a book out when I was 15! And large parts of plot are about the working of the office of the US President, a typical senator, & Pentagon - I suppose with less than 1% realism. And there are portions that are very preachy. In spite of these, I found the book high on entertainment value; it is generally very readable.

Also, there are cliches galore. Some of them are likely to be offensive to certain audiences.

Story summary (spoiler).
Story has three main characters: Aron Goldstein is a billionaire setting up a philanthropic private research institute, Terabyte Labs, that is expected to compete with what AT&T Bell Labs was in the days of its glory. Karl Brohier is a physicist (?), a Nobel laureate, a friend of Aron, & has the responsibility to start Terabyte as its head. Jeffrey Horton is a young physicist whose work has impressed Karl; so Karl recruits Jeff as his deputy early in the story.

Story is set around 2060 AD, & traces the professional career of Jeff.

A few years into its existence, a team of researchers at Terabyte are working late night. They have spend many days & weeks setting up an experiment that is designed to reveal the existence of graviton (not sure; or may be something else equally elusive & fundamental).

Anyway, while the experiment is in progress in the lab, there is commotion outside. Looks like there has been an accident. We later learn there have been at least two cases of fire - one blew up a car, other seriously injured a watchman.

By morning, we learn some unexplainable aspects of these fires. In case of watchman, e.g., the security camera records indicate all the bullets on his person & in a nearby drawer exploded by themselves!

Institute is shutdown pending an internal inquiry. On a hunch, Karl & Jeff want to figure out if the incidents are related to their experiment. The two quietly setup the experiment, & pop comes the great discovery.

Turns out, their machine is generating some kind of field that makes gunpowder within a certain radius explode! Institute restarts amid great secrecy to find out what is going on.

Over the book, we learn the machine was producing some kind of field that operates over hundreds or thousands of meters, is neither gravitational nor electromagnetic, & behaves like a wave. We are told the "matter" manifestation of "energy" requires a third entity - "information". The field produced by this machine can be used to transform specific kinds of matter at a distance by supplying relevant information in a kind of primeval language of the universe!

But whole discovery is spread through the book. Excitement begins much earlier - when the original machine is shown to explode nitrate based explosives, but nothing else; hence, the field is called Trigger Field.

Discovery reaches the government. Military gets involved. A very benign President wants it to be used for universal disarmaments. Blah, blah, blah. Most of the remaining story is devoted to US gun control debate.

Later, two variants of device are made. First simply disables the explosives rather than exploding them; there have been accidental & unwarranted deaths because of these remotely triggered explosions.

Second variant will likely start a new & chilling arms race, & is the last scene in the book. A lone researcher in the lab has perfected a way to target the machine on a specific DNA sequence. It seems, if they can get someone's genetic material like a scrap of skin, they can kill the individual (human or otherwise) at a distance - even in a crowd - simply by pulling the soundless trigger on this machine!

Fact sheet.
The Trigger, novel, review
Authors: Arthur C Clarke, & Michael Kube-McDowell
First published: 1999
Rating: B

1 comment:

Larry said...

Hmmm, sounds interesting,and the use of the device to disarm weapons is very Clarke!