WILD CARD by R.Hawkey & R.Bingham

I picked this book up from the dark corners of my own bookshelves, and found rather to my surprise that I hadn’t read it before.  I rather enjoyed it.  It was published in about 1974 so I don’t think I’ll be giving any secrets away by summarising the plot: the United States in crisis; riots; economic instability; terrorism; different factions openly fighting on the streets; a small nuclear device exploded under the Lincoln memorial – you name it, it was happening.  A presidential advisor comes up with a scheme (called Wild Card) – fake a crash by an extra-terrestrial ship, which incidentally emits a lethal gas killing approximately 10,000 citizens.  The idea is that the country promptly closes ranks and pulls together to defeat this external foe.  Lots of scientific stuff – getting the team together, creating the crash site, creating an actually working space machine out of materials not similar to earth design, creating “cerebroids” (sort of living brains) to be blown up and discovered by the crash investigators later.  The team isn’t told that 10,000 people are to be killed.  At the end of the book they themselves are done away with to maintain security, and so is the presidential advisor, but there is one missing informational thread which everyone has missed……. End of story.
   It’s a bit dated.  The attempts to get under the skin of some of the characters is a bit superficial by today’s standards, and of course the technology is out of date.  Curiously, I found it easier to suspend my disbelief regarding the enormous scientific steps the Wild Card team managed to make in a matter of weeks, than I did regarding the notion that they were kept totally isolated from the rest of the world, even to the extent that their TV was edited and piped in by hidden technicians to reflect news items several days old.
   I think today a lot more would go into the writing of what is basically a clever plot.  More on the characters.  Less on flashy psychological investigations which didn’t, in the end, mean much.  More credibility on the scientific advances.  It would be a much bigger book.  But that said, I did enjoy reading it and the “high level concept” of faking an event to make disparate forces pull together is as valid today as it ever was.
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