Infoquake: The Jump 225 Trilogy
by David Louis Edelman
Review by Ernest Lilley
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1591024420
Date: 05 July, 2006 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
David Edleman's character Natch was born the bastard son of a woman who had herself been orphaned by economic disaster, and rescued by a brilliant neurosoftware visionary, Serr Vigal, for whom she became his muse, if not his mistress. Though the genetic data (which Natch has sifted through on his own) makes it unlikely that Vigal is his biological father, he was raised from birth by him after his mother had been killed by a plague while on assignment.
The story follows Natch's boyhood in the "hive" schools that are intended to impart their own culture and clan identity, through the wilderness experience of initiation, which turns, thanks to Natch's winning ability with others (not) into a satisfyingly Lord of the Flies scenario which adults have to step in to defuse. So, Natch winds up working for his mentor/guardian in a painful apprenticeship that at least teaches him how to hack the interface between brain and body, the brainstem.
Off Natch goes on his own to take the bio/logic coding world by storm, though his love of perfection keeps him from being able to compete with other freelancers who can grind out shoddy, but usable, code quickly. Until he realizes, with the help of Jara, a business analyst too abrasive for anyone else to hire, that he's succeeding at the computer hack, and failing at the social hack. By not knowing what the customer actually wants, he's developing products which do far more than they ask, and though they are elegant and reliable, they fail to provide for the needs of the often un-self-aware clients. But he learns, essentially swallowing the Art of War whole as he starts out on a campaign of character assassination on his opponent coders.
On to bigger and better successes he goes, dragging Jara and his "hivemate" Horvil, sort of like Ender's "Bean", along in indentured tow, until he's challenging the rival Patel Brothers, top of the coding food chain with all sorts of little programs people buy to download into their bodies to make them do everything from wake up clear eyed to match the color of their floral arrangements. And one fine day he manages to code, promote and disinform his way to the top of the charts...if only for an hour or so.
His meteoric rise and capacity for showmanship attract the attention of the descendant of the scientist that created the entire bio/logic market, Margaret Suriana. She's been working quietly on a mysterious Phoenix Project that might be the technological underpinning of a new revolution as powerful as the one that her ancestor spawned when he created the code base that allowed humans to hack their bodies, and she's got a distribution problem. If she releases the technology without entrenching it in peoples lives, the World Wellness Council, which functions to keep the data sea and all of humanity safe, will no doubt appropriate it and probably assassinate her. The only path to safety, she reckons, is by getting someone like Natch to flood the market with applications that the world will demand access to.
Unfortunately, the Council's vision of what might be is all too real...and the release of this technology (which isn't revealed until well into the book, so I'm not about to tell you...but the author makes a pretty good case for it) is bound to crack the world open and leave a new one in its place.
There's too much going on in this story, not unusual in a first novel, as it's clear that the author has been saving up ideas for some time and now they're bursting out of him. Fortunately, he's at least paced himself by announcing it as the first book in a trilogy, because after the first four hundred or so pages, I needed a break from the frenetic coding/global business/politics of Natch's life.
Infoquake has the kind of business is life myopathy that Ayn Rand's work was rife with, and for the same reasons. Both writers were molded by periods of great economic development in the country, Rand's characters by the expansion of trains and concrete across the land and Edelman's by the growth of web based business, in which he's worked and written about for the past decade. Not to give Mr. Edelman a swelled head however, because I really don't think Rand could get Atlas Shrugged published today, though it's still a powerful book in its own right. Just one that's badly written and full of outmoded political thought.
The egoist entrepreneur that Edelman envisions is fully as unlikable as any of Rand's heroes, cheerfully, or at least determinedly, putting any notion of good or evil aside in their quest for success, though his internal struggle is to determine what, exactly success means. Besides, as Natch explains to sometimes squeamish associates, "I don't do dirty tricks. It's called business."
Edelman has managed to capture the mania and obsession of Internet moguls nicely, and Natch is just the sort of person who can create a market from a new technology...but that doesn't make him lovable, as Natch's closest associated note, or even sympathetic.
I found Infoquate interesting, and genuinely wanted to find out what happened next...but the characters in the book are quite like people I've known in the world of international entrepreneurship. Work is their life, and much as I channel the puritan ethos myself, it's hard to do anything other than feel sorry for them as they ramp themselves up for another 36 hour stint to prepare for the next dog and pony show. On the other hand, I know just how compelling it can be to stand in the center of that storm and imagine that you can actually affect the winds of change.
I think that the lack of an endgame for Natch keeps the reader from knowing whether to root for or against him, while the sympathetic characters in the story seem bent to go down roads that lead away from their dreams.
I don't expect everyone to get it, and Edelman's writing needs to tighten up considerably before he's ready for prime time, but he's got a good grasp of corporate warfare and I'm interested enough to want to see where he goes with the story from here.