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Saturday, June 23, 2012
Reading List: Abuse of Power
Savage, Michael [Michael Alan Weiner].
Abuse of Power.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2011.
The author, a popular talk radio host who is also a Ph.D.
in nutritional ethnomedicine and has published numerous books
under his own name, is best known for his political works,
four of which have made the New York Times bestseller list
including one which reached the top of that list. This is
his first foray into the fictional thriller genre, adopting
a style reminiscent of
in which the author, or a character closely modelled upon him or her,
is the protagonist in the story. In this novel, Jack Hatfield is a
San Francisco-based journalist dedicated to digging out the truth
and getting it to the public by whatever means available,
immersed in the quirky North Beach culture of San Francisco, and
banned in Britain for daring to transgress
the speech codes of that once-free nation. Sound familiar?
While on a routine ride-along with a friend from the San Francisco Police
Department bomb squad, Hatfield finds himself in the middle of a
carjacking gone horribly wrong, where the evidence of his own eyes
and of witnesses at the scene contradicts the soothing narrative issued
by the authorities and swallowed whole by the legacy media. As Hatfield
starts to dig beneath the surface, he discovers a trail of murders
which seem to point to a cover-up by a shadowy but well-funded
and ruthlessly efficient organisation whose motives remain opaque.
This leads him on a trail which takes him to various points around
the world and finally back to San Francisco, where only he and his small
circle of friends can expose and thwart a plot aimed at regime change
in the country which fancied itself the regime changer for the rest
of the world.
Inevitably, I have some technical quibbles.
This is an enjoyable and promising debut for an author who is embarking
upon the craft of the thriller, and none of the natters above (if you
chose to read them) detracted from this reader's enjoyment of the story.
Is it up to the standard of recent work from masters of the genre such as
Vince Flynn or
No—but it's a good read and auspicious start; I will certainly
give forthcoming novels from this author a try.
- On p. 25, it is assumed that a cellular mobile
telephone can communicate with a like unit without
going through the cellular network (which, in this case,
is blocked by a police jammer) if it is in line of sight
and close enough to the other telephone. This is not the
case; even if it were technologically possible, how
would the Phone Company charge you for the call?
- On p. 144 a terrorist mole is granted a G-2 visa
to work at a foreign consulate in the U.S. In fact, a
visa is granted only to individuals travelling to the U.S.
to attend meetings of international organisations. The
individual in question would have required an A-1 or A-2
diplomatic visa to enter the U.S.
- On p. 149 Jack takes out a Remington shotgun loaded
with 12-gauge rounds, and just two paragraphs later lays
“the rifle across his forearm”. A shotgun is
not a rifle.
- This is not a quibble but a high-five. The shortened
URL in the decrypted message on p. 257 points
precisely where the novel says it does.
- When will thriller authors sit down and read
Effects of Nuclear Weapons? On p. 355 we're
faced with the prospect of a “satchel nuke” being
detonated atop one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and told:
There would have been thousands of deaths within days, tens
of thousands within weeks, over a million within a month—many
of those among people who would have been needed to keep the
infrastructure from collapsing. Doctors, police, workers at
power plants and sewage centers. [sic (sentence fragment)] The
environment would have become so toxic that rescue workers couldn't
have gotten into the area, and poisoned food and water would have
added exponentially to the death toll. Airdrops of fresh supplies
would have led to riots, more death. Silicon Valley would have
been ravaged, all but destroying the U.S. computer industry.
Nonsense—a plausible satchel nuke of a size which Sara (admittedly
a well-trained woman) could carry in a backpack would be something
like the U.S.
which weighed around 68 kg, more than most in-shape women. The most
common version of this weapon was based upon the
W54 warhead, which had
a variable yield from 10 tons to 1 kiloton. Assuming the maximum
one kiloton yield, a detonation would certainly demolish the
Golden Gate Bridge and cause extensive damage to unreinforced
structures around the Bay, but the radiation effects wouldn't
be remotely as severe as asserted; there would be some casualties
to those downwind and in the fallout zone, but these would be more
likely in the hundreds and over one or more decades after the detonation.
The fact that the detonation occurred at the top of a tower taller
than those used in most surface detonations at the
Nevada Test Site
and above water would further reduce fallout. Silicon Valley, which
is almost 100 km south of the detonation site, would be entirely
unaffected apart from Twitter outages due to #OMG tweets.
The whole subplot about the “hydrazine-based rocket fuel”
tanker crossing the bridge is silly: hydrazine is nasty stuff to be sure, but first
of all it is a hypergolic liquid rocket fuel, not an “experimental
solid rocket fuel”. (Duh—if it were solid, why would you
transport it in a tanker?) But apart from that, hydrazine is
one of those molecules whose atoms really don't like being so
close to one another, and given the slightest excuse will re-arrange
themselves into a less strained configuration. Being inside a nuclear
fireball is an excellent excuse to do so, hence the closer the
tanker happened to be to the detonation, the less likely the dispersal
of its contents would cause casualties for those downwind.