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reading]

Fail Safe   book icon  
by Harvey Wheeler (1964)

read: 30 July 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

This book appeared on the table one day and I read it in an afternoon. I had never heard of it before, but appreantly its legend. It is a story, verging on parable, of the spectre of “accidental war” what can happen when the machines we have created to keep us safe wind up endangering us instead. This story is a hypothetical -- though not too far off, the authors tell us in the preface -- scenario of what could go wrong, and what the disastrous consequences could be.

Like any stories about war, this one has almost no female characters and as near as I can tell, no female leads at all unless you count the secretary/nursemaid of the President. Also, for readers of Ayn Rand, you will recognize a lot of the jut-jawed strong iconoclastic characters in this book. Everyone’s a self-made ubermensch and as a result, what winds up happening to the world is clearly the result of accidents, not any one person’s lapse in judgment. As a result, this story really seems moralistic, as I believe was its intent. Of course, the same problems that plagued the hypothetical US in this book -- unseen technical glitches that, combined with built in “safety” features, lead to war being declared on the world’s other superpower by accident -- are still with us today, sadly, and the book’s cautionary tale and strong message have a new note of pathos since its clear they fell on deaf ears..

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