80s Flashback Block Party: Son of SDI


I found that Twain bit during a long web search for something I couldn’t find: a satire on new weapons technology from the 1860s that is anthologized in The Sub-Treasury of American Humor. I can’t find that book in my house yet either; the search continues. It’s a lovely bit of writing and entirely appropriate today.

The whole search was sparked by this hilarious/horrible article on the return of the discredited, stupid, and entirely evil “Brilliant Pebbles” weapons project, part of the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative that was popularly known as the “Star Wars” system.

This is courtesy of Lowell Wood, our current living Strangelove. A disciple of Teller, he believed in every mad science approach to strategic defense: killer satellites, nuclear explosions in space, throwing rocks really fast at missiles, and X-ray lasers. The last one is a beauty: nuclear bombs in satellites would be detonated and their radiation focused into laser beams.

Wood’s still at it. His entire career and ego are attached to the scheme.

4 thoughts on “80s Flashback Block Party: Son of SDI

  1. Haven’t they come up with any new ideas since the 80s? I remember articles in Discover Magazine that had all this shit laid out. Nuclear-ignited excimer lasers, hunter-killer satellites, brilliant pebbles – hell, it’s all from some kind of golden age of sci-fi delusion.

  2. if I recall the x-ray lasers where a good idea with one small problem. How do you get the bomb’s into space in a way that that will not cause major problems if a launch failed.

    1. There’s also the issue of lighting off nuclear weapons in near orbital space, especially ones designed to create the maximum amount of gamma radiation.

  3. I read Teller’s War many years ago. To this day I remember the story of one of the researchers who worked in the same facility. He became increasingly disturbed at the unhinged mania for superweapons that Teller’s people had, and he started coming in at night and working half-heartedly on his own smaller projects.
    One day, sleep-deprived and in a meeting with some X-Ray laser lunatics, he found himself blurting out an idea for focusing a nuclear blast using special rods. Teller’s people pounced on the idea, and it became one of their showpiece concepts: Excalibur.
    But the researcher was horrified at what he’d done. He dropped out of the story after that — it seems he was never quite the same man again.
    (at least I think that’s how it went — I don’t have that book any more.)

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