The Domino Pattern: Quadrail Book 4
by Timothy Zahn
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy; Reprint edition (July 28, 2015)
Since every entry in the Quadrail series follows the same basic pattern, we need a new plot device in each book to keep things fresh. Zahn has arranged these so that the series is building to a crescendo, each victory more desparate, every moment more fraught.
In The Domino Pattern, the escalation is someone has figured out how to smuggle weapons onto the Quadrail. Which is supposed to be impossible. The Spiders who run the interstellar train service employ a screening system that would make the Israelis jealous. It looks not only for weapons that can cut or shoot, but chemical and biological agents effective against the various species that are their clientele, and also anything that can be combined with another mechanism or substance to become something dangerous.
However, since Frank used to work for Western Alliance Intelligence, we know that Earth governments were quietly pursuing projects to find weapons that could slip past the Spiders' sensors. We also know that some of Frank's alien allies in the shadow war against the Modhri have already managed to figure out ways to create bludgeoning weapons that can be carried aboard. Frank himself has an in with the Spiders, and has access to a non-lethal weapon, the kwi, that normally would also be forbidden. We see things much more effective this time.
My favorite part of this book is the feeling that all the players are playing the game to the hilt, all the time, even when you can't see what they are doing. And the willingness to look for an edge even if the price of losing is peace and tranquility. The quiet arms race to develop weapons you can sneak on to a Quadrail train is exactly the kind of thing you would expect real governments to do, even when they benefit from the stability such a policy creates. The greater good is clearly served by the status quo, but no one can pass up the opportunity for a winner-takes-all technological breakthrough. Or can ignore the threat of their neighbors doing so first. This is an unstable equilibrium, just asking for something to come along and break the system. That thing has come. And that isn't even Frank's biggest problem on this train.
Other books by Timothy Zahn