Friday, February 15, 2008

And we become silhouettes when our bodies finally go

PD Smith's Doomsday Men is a mix of science fiction analysis and all too real history. The book covers the fixation on the dream of the ultimate weapon, which evolves from chemical weapons to a true doomsday system put in place by the Soviets. On both the side of scientists and writers there is the great fear of what these more powerful weapons might mean for political power and for society. What drives them is the dream of what they might do. From Nobel with his dynamite on, the dream has been that weapons might become so powerful as to prevent war altogether.

On a more practical front, the dream has been that powerful weapons will drastically shorten war and thereby lessen its effects. The fixation on technical solutions to these problems tend to come up short as demonstrated by chemical weapon which were initially overpowering but were quickly countered. The technologists tend to forget that war is a competition of measure and countermeasure and all the new weapons tend to do is to make it worse.

The book is an excellent introduction to the subject of weapons for non-specialists, but specialists will benefit from the seeing the interplay between science fiction and the development and understanding of what these weapons can do.

It is worth noting that the British cover is a much better representation of the book's contents that the American one.

Here is the British cover:

Here is the American one:

The British cover accurately conveys the mix of science fiction and science, while the American cover makes it look like a conventional history of the H-bomb.

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