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The Weapon to End All Weapons
Legendary science fiction icon Arthur C. Clarke, who in recent years has cowritten several Rama novels with Gentry Lee (Rama II, Garden of Rama, Rama Revealed), collaborates here for the first time with Michael Kube-McDowell on a powerful, near-future dark thriller. The authors manage to flesh out a believable earth not unlike our own that is alive with many of the same social quandaries, cross-fertilizing their narrative with intriguing speculation and slick scenes of gripping action. More than anything, though, The Trigger is an engrossing examination of the effect of sophisticated weaponry on social values and conduct that will keep the reader nailed to the page.
In the early 21st century, physicist Jeffrey Horton and several of his esteemed colleagues, believing they've discovered an antigravity device, instead make another startling scientific breakthrough: Their machine creates a particle wave that will instantly destroy all explosive nitrates. The implications are clear: With this new weapon, called the Trigger, all guns and bombs are rendered useless. Horton and his immediate supervisor, Karl Brohier, are aware that the potential for scientific corruption and mishandling is tremendous.
Soon the group of physicists and the owner of the laboratory, wealthy Mark Breland, are faced with deciding what to do with the Trigger. Do they offer it as an alternative to war in the hopes that armed conflict will become a thing of the past? Allow the United States to reign supreme over the rest of the world? Or destroy the device and forget their breakthrough altogether? Debate rages between pacifists and those who are proarmament until the day when a portable Trigger is used to decimate a vicious street gang terrorizing the sister of one of the scientists. Soon the military becomes involved, forcing Horton to go underground and leaving Brohier to continue his experiments on the Trigger wave effect alone. Eventually pacifist senators, assassins, and fanatical militiamen all become involved, each group fighting for their own beliefs in an effort to shape the face of the future.
Clarke and Kube-McDowell are at ease in melding their styles and techniques, flowing between the high-tech elements and the taut, credible action-packed circumstances propelling the story forward. The authors are capable of wringing great levels of tension from the twisting plot. Protagonists are placed in dangerous situations that anchor characters to their personal belief systems despite all the conflict taking place around them. Clarke and Kube-McDowell have given us a noirish, hardboiled technothriller that pulls out all the stops and roars from steadily escalating antagonism to an exhilarating, and brutal, climax. Although the ending is highly frenetic, the authors capably bring together all the various threads and philosophical doctrines. They not only grab the reader's interest but also fire one's thoughts on how science leads to social and political change.
The reader might be fooled into thinking that the raw edginess and suspense elements in The Trigger might pale in comparison to the SF plot devices or become lost in all the political debates occurring in the novel. That's not the case at all: Clarke and Kube-McDowell's unraveling of the crucial subplots is nearly flawless. They combine issues of a similar future so that The Trigger seethes with the same moral and social delirium we're already experiencing where urban violence and gun control is concerned. It's extremely rare to find a novel that works on so many levels at once -- it excites the imagination but also captures the substance of the ethical dilemmas that affect the entire world.