Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Cowards Of The Long Kill

From Cursor, I find out today that...

The New Scientist reports that pain researchers in the UK are "furious" about U.S. research to determine how much pain can be induced in individuals, as part of the U.S. military's development of a Pulsed Energy Projectile designed to trigger extreme pain from a distance of more than one mile.

...which, for reasons that still make no sense to me, made me go off Googling for the source of a phrase that came gibbering to mind when I read the article referenced here and started the process of trying to choose a headline for use in this post. The phrase was "cowards of the long kill" and I wasn't sure where it originated and how it got into my head. Probably because I have a low opinion of the idea of a long-distance non-lethal beam weapon. From reading the story, this thing sounds like it could be like a phaser from Star Trek. And not the hand phaser... the bastards would no doubt want to mount these things on unmanned air vehicles and park them over large public demonstrations. Wouldn't that be fun for the guys in the ground control station? Push a button and watch ten thousand people do the Captain Kirk on the streets.

Come to find "cowards of the long kill" was from an excellent short story I first read about fifteen years ago, by Bruce Sterling, called We See Things Differently. It was reprinted in a now-rare copy of an anthology of SF that I guard jealously in my personal library. The good news is that I found it on the web. Click the link in this paragraph.

Mojo and Sean know this story. I've hauled it out at story readings they've attended. It's the one about post-collapse America where the Muslim holy warrior, who works for a superpower Caliphate, comes to America to do a covert operation. For those who know me, and haven't read this story— I'll recommend it by saying it was the first work of near future SF from the late eighties that I had to go back and re-read after 2001-09-11 to see how well it would likely survive the "post-9/11" Weltanschauung. Sterling got some things wrong. But he got all the important things scarily, frighteningly, terrifyingly right.

Go read We See Things Differently first. Then read the New Scientist article. Make sure you have a stiff drink handy when you're done. My glass is already empty.

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