With all the recent terrorist events it is interesting to look at terrorism as portrayed in Science Fiction and thus, right on cue as it were, comes a book on precisely that topic from Michael Z Willimason. The book is The Weapon ( ISBN:1-4165-0894-5, $25.00 Hardcover (August 2005) and as an ebook).
The Weapon is set in the same universe as Freehold, a book that I have raved about before and is a sort of complementary story to that one, in that some minor characters in Freehold are the major ones in The Weapon and vice versa. I expect the book stands up well as a stand alone, but I can't exactly give an opinion on that since I have practically memorized Freehold. Although the Freehold/Weapon universe is set some five centuries into the future, the government forms of the majority of the worlds are entirely recognizable today. Indeed many of them are only too recognizable being precisely the sort of failed state anarchies that we see today in Africa or the statist bureaucratic nightmare that we Eurosceptics predict that the EU is on its way to becoming. The one standout from this is the libertarian world of Grainne - a.k.a. the Freehold - and both books look at how such a world will likely appear as a threat to the statist rulers elsewhere and thus must be assimilated.
In The Weapon we get to see how a libertarian culture might react against terrorism and how that differs from a society where people are trained to expect others to look after them. The first part of the book is about how the hero becomes an "operative", basically some sort of special operations combat superman. This part of the book is similar to bits of (say) Heinlein's Starship Troopers or any other book where the hero trains to become a soldier before going out to battle - in some ways it is interesting to compare and contrast this book with CJ Cherryh's "The Paladin", which Baen put un the previous month's webscription bundle, because, while one is set in ancient China and the other set in an interstellar future the basic plot of hero plus small band fighting massive tyranny is the same.
The interesting part is when the training ends and the hero and his colleagues go out into the real world, where terrorism and the like are no less common than they are today. One of the things that happens is that a Grainne Citizen - one of the rulers (to the extent that there are any) - is killed by some terrorists and the hero is required to teach the terrorists not to do this again. Without giving away too much of the plot, the method chosen is to visit a level of frightfulness to the terrorists so that they decide to go after easier targets. One might consider this to be an American response that didn't happen when the Achille Lauro was hijacked and Leon Klinghoffer was killed by the PLO.
We also get two different examples of how easy it could be for terrorists with good preparation to use standard conman tricks to penetrate almost anywhere and then cause havoc. The book, as a fictional parable, makes it clear why security specialists such as Bruce Schneier or Joe Huffman are sceptical about profiling, ID cards and the like. Nothing that we see in Iraq, Egypt, Israel or London seems to disprove this and indeed the way that the Iraqi terrorists have evolved their tactics indicates that the surviving Islamist terrorists are quite capable of learning.
Finally we get to see the hero and his group commit the ultimate terrorism against the planet earth. There are two things to note here. The first is that although sucessful in megadeath terms, on its own even such enormous shocking terrorism would have failed to work without some other external acts. The second is that it repeats the observation above that it is extremely hard to stop determined terrorists at the point of terror and relatedly that this gets progressively worse in societies where civilians are conditioned to let the government do things rather than take responsibility themselves. This latter point is key when we look at how we in the west should react to terror. The root cause arguers have a sort of point - we need to remove the conditions that foster terrorism - but the way to do that is not, as the book also makes entirely clear, by giving in to the terrorists demands but by resolving the underlying environment that permits terrorists to gain support.
Back to more mundane matters, the Weapon is a great read, with good characters, flashes of humour and so on to make the story interesting. It isn't perfect, but I think most of my reservations are related to my discomfort with the subject matter rather than the story. In fact I believe this tale has something in it to annoy everyone, be they left wing, right wing, libertarian, communist or what ever and that is probably the best reason why everyone should read it, because those annoyances are the barbs that make you (re)think your positions.