Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1971: Ground Zero Man (Shaw, Bob)

One man as fulcrum between human survival or nuclear destruction (4/5)
From September 1, 2011

Ground Zero Man (alternatively titled The Peace Machine) comes from a long lineage of fiction revolving around the fear of nuclear destruction, Purple-6 (1962) and Level 7 (1959) to name just two. Ground Zero, however, takes a different spin on the same issue- yes, the fear of nuclear destruction is real... but what is you had the power to force disarmament or detention? Hutchman, our protagonist, holds that power.

A humble mathematician for a missile development company, Hutchman proverbially stumbles upon an equation which causes the excitation of neutrons in nuclear devices, which he calls "making the neutrons dance to a new tune." With this dangerous knowledge, our sheepish scientist begins to construct his device amid concerns from his employer and especially his irrationally jealous wife. Squandering his fortune on the device and his time from work, Hutchman soon sees himself as the fulcrum of a massive seesaw bent on survival or destruction. With diagrammed letters being sent out people of influence, the stage has already been set. If he can stay alive till noon on November tenth, his one decision will change the fate of mankind.

Guffaw you may at the near absurdity of the general plot, the reader can identify and empathize with the twists of fate Hutchman is dealt (his work, his wife, the police, etc). With the best intentions at heart, the ignorant world doesn't seem to understand his undying passion for justice. His plea for the disarmament of the devices is seemingly the only option besides the detention of the same devices -- an assured destruction for every country with nuclear weapons.

Shaw has a gift for language at times, which makes the reading a sheer pleasure: "...he looked downwards through angular petals of glass." (Corgi edition, page 75) or "water droplets crawled along the side-windows like frantic amoebae." (Corgi edition, page 56). His flare for the description of the minute is in contrast to his detail for some greater plot details. This is the main reason for the book being 4-stars rather than 5-stars; some events in the plot are too abrupt, jerky, hastily through in. There are a few spy elements which rise with a fortissimo but only to disappear like the tidal ebb. Red herrings to mislead the reader? It would take an additional 40 pages to the 160-page novel to dull the acuteness of the occasional sforzando.

It's my first Bob Shaw novel so perhaps this kind of thing his "his thing." He's definitely shown his skills in Ground Zero and his other novels may be of interest to me (Ragged Astronauts and The Ceres Solution among them).

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