Fact-based fiction reveals enormous security threat

“Castle Bravo,” by Karna Small Bodman. Publisher Page / Headline Books. 320 pages. $24.95 hardcover, $19.95 trade paperback.

In her latest thriller, Karna Small Bodman raises the possibility that a characteristic of nuclear explosions called EMP (electromagnetic pulse) can bring sections of the developed world to a standstill by rendering useless all devices using modern electronics. Everything from computers to microwaves, from transportation systems to financial systems, would collapse. Cities would be paralyzed. Targeted populations would be seriously threatened as food cannot be delivered, hospitals will shut down, and ATMs won’t function. 

It’s back to the technologies of a half-century ago and more, before everything depended on computer chips and circuit boards.

And this is no mere speculation.  EMP has a real history, and the basic science behind it, as well as discussions of major incidents, can easily be found.

Ms. Bodman’s protagonist, Samantha Reid, newly installed as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, in convinced that the U.S. must develop ways of deterring EMP attacks. Unfortunately, given military cutbacks and front-burner priority for other projects, no one is listening. To some of the higher-ups, she sounds a bit wacky and more than a bit pushy. The president’s Assistant for Political Affairs doesn’t want any news about such threats alarming the public during an election cycle.

Meanwhile, across the country, two UCLA students are concerned about the lack of programs and funding to assist nuclear test victims. Pete is the grandson of a woman who lived on Rongelap in the Marshall Islands and was poisoned, along with many others, by the residue of the 1954 Bikini Atoll nuclear test. He’s become a political activist. Nurlan is an exchange student from Kasakhstan. He has a similar story to tell about Soviet nuclear tests in his country. He, too, is dedicated to fighting against the lack of concern about such unintended consequences.

Karna Small Bodman

Nurlan arranges for Pete to join him in Kasakhstan for the summer, where Nurlan, a computer geek, has a job at a nuclear facility. Nurlan’s beautiful sister, Zhanar, finds a job for Pete. Hoping to minimize its negative consequences, Nurlan modifies the program for a nuclear test so that the bomb is exploded at high altitude. The result? An EMP. A large swath of the country is crippled. Nurlan, his Zhanar, and Pete barely survive. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 6, 2012 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 7 Naples and Space Coast editions, click here:   Florida Weekly – Karna Bodman 1pdf and here: Florida Weekly – Karna Bodman 2pdf

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