I read a novel around 2000 where a scientific discovery of some sort of field effect (?) made it possible to build devices that would prevent gunpowder from working over a large area.

I think it had a one word title. "Primer" and "Damper" spring to mind, but I've checked, and can't find either. It was a trade paperback about the size of Jurassic Park. I think it just had a generic explosion behind the title.

I think the book was divided into three sections for three different uses of the field. I don't remember what the first was. The second was the anti-gunpowder field. The third was very short, and demonstrated selectively killing one baby mouse. I think the explanation was each object has some fundamental vibration, and getting a piece of fur let you tune to exactly that frequency?

I remember a few set pieces.

One was some sort of gun-control debate, about whether this device should be banned. The designated villain pulled a gun out of his podium to threaten someone and announced that the field covering the building had been sabotaged, and the protagonist debating him realized that they had only chosen podiums at the last minute, so found a gun in his as well. Which was apparently the villain's plan all along, so that he could prove that only guns could stop him? The logic was a little convoluted.

Another, later set piece was that survivalists had kidnapped the inventor. He discovered that since guns wouldn't work, they planned to defend themselves with saran gas. The military raided them before they could get that ready though. Each side was using crossbows.

Any ideas?


1 Answer 1


This is The Trigger by Arthur C. Clarke and Michael P. Kube-McDowell.

The Trigger starts in the early to mid-21st century. A group of scientists invent, by accident, a device that detonates all nitrate-based explosive in its vicinity, thus providing good protection against most known modern conventional weapons. The first half of the book explores the reactions of society, government and the scientists themselves as the latter attempt to ensure that their invention will only be used for peaceful ends. Although at first beneficial, other uses for the device are found, such as a faultless at-range detonator. The novel also traces the scientists' slow progress in understanding the science behind their invention. The second half of the book begins when the science is sufficiently well understood that a second device can be built - one that does not detonate explosives, but merely renders them permanently harmless. The story ends with the scientists discovering that the hyperdimensional impulse wave can be set to scramble extremely specific DNA - making the device a killer.

The "villain" is John Trent, debating with Senator Grover Wilman. Indeed, the subject is gun control, with Trent stating "I'm here to say without any shame or hesitation that picking up a weapon and killing someone can be an absolutely logical act, the product of the highest level of moral reasoning — and you are going to help me make my case" not long before he pulls the hidden gun, and it is revealed that there is a gun in the other podium. The final punchline being that

only one azide (alternate explosive not based on the blocked nitrates) bullet is loaded in each gun with the release of the second pull triggering a transmitter that triggers an explosion in the auditorium from a bomb delivered after the field was taken down. After Trent fires a single bullet to show that guns are active, he depresses the trigger a second time, and when Wilman shoots him, convinced it's the only way to keep Trent from detonating the bomb he'd threatened earlier, the release of the trigger causes the bomb to go off.

While part of the point was to show that the government, despite preaching peace and disarmament, will still pick up a weapon when necessary to defend, his other point is that the Trigger will not make people safe, that "if Grover Wilman isn't safe, how can any ordinary person hope to be? Better off with my own gun than counting on magic rays."


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