Unpulped #12: Ground Zero Man by Bob Shaw


Here I am attempting to be immediate in my book-talking again, because my default is to finish a book or a magazine or a game or a movie and want to talk about it immediately, but then end up writing about it weeks if not months later. Luckily, my memory is decent. Luckierly, I also don’t mind making things up. I am a font for fiction after all.

But today I have an immediate response to you on a book by Bob Shaw, a writer I’ve never read before this (unless he was in one of those Analogs, in which case I’m going to feel really silly). This response isn’t immediate because it’s timely or because my hackles were raised, but because I’m trying to be a better person, and we all want to be better people, don’t we, even if we fail again and again and again? (Forgive that–M and I just watched THE VOICES and it was the most horrifying movie we’ve seen in a long time.)

Ground Zero Man tells the story of a scientist who invents a way to set off every nuclear bomb in the world at once. After a nuke is detonated over Damascus, he is filled with horror at the world and the devastation humanity can inflict on itself, and so this invention, which, when it was first described to me, seemed no better than nuclear war. HOWEVER, his plan is to let every nuclear power know about the device and that he is planning to press the button in a few weeks, giving them barely enough time to disassemble all the bombs and, hopefully, not enough time to track him down and kill him.

I almost put this book down several times for good.

First, it was about a subject that seemed more fit for a short story than a novel, and also that story would bore me to no end. However, Shaw managed to keep bringing interesting twists to the novel, cutting off paths I thought he was going on in order to take a new direction into the untrammeled forest. Each of those new paths kept my interest enough so that I managed to speed through the second half of the book.

Second, none of the characters in this book are likable. Granted, what is likability, and does it matter? I suppose what I mean more so is that the view of the writer is very cynical, and that plays out in both his characters and the world they live in, which is depressing. I like dark. I write dark. But a view of gender where women and men are constantly at odds, and a married couple are virtual strangers, unable to crack each other’s shell, it all wears on me. It’s not that I read for pure escapism, to enter into a world where all of reality’s problems don’t exist, but it is taxing to spend so much time in another POV that by its very nature tends towards depression.

SPOILER: This book ends with the main character pressing the button. This is not really a spoiler, as his life has fallen apart by that point and the only thing giving his further existence meaning is the fulfillment of his plan that might, in some way, save the world (in his mind).

SPOILER: This one really spoils (though maybe not if you fully accept the cynical worldview). Though all the nuclear weapons are disabled or exploded, that won’t prevent people from inventing bombs immune to his auto-detonation, and so the end he’s presented as simply making everything worse by funneling so much more money into nuclear weapons research rather than into schools or hospitals or etc.

NOT A SPOILER: This book has a sort of twisted view of women. It’s hard to say whether Shaw is blaming society for that, the resulting behavior of women purely a result of the pressures society puts them under. Most of the women in the book come off badly, and one is killed (the promiscuous one), and another is permanently paralyzed (the jealous wife). It’s not that men are portrayed as paragons of virtue in any sense, but the women seem to get the worst of it.

Overall, not a bad novel, but also not something that spurs me to go out and find everything Shaw has ever written.

So there you go.

A hot take.

Nuclear, even.

This entry was posted in Reading and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply