John Sundman

"Acts of the Apostles"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 21, 2000)

"I fear these things."

Acts of the Apostles

Todd Griffith is a hardware guy developing the Kali chip which is severely off schedule. Arrogant or not, Todd's never been late before and he blames it on his new junior partner, Pavel the Weirdo. Rather than working around his design flaws like Casey, his previous partner, Pavel follows the specs precisely and thereby placing the burden on Todd to troubleshoot and fix. On this particular evening, Todd is going after the most elusive bug and when he triumphantly figures it out he realizes that Pavel has been purposely introducing flaws. He calls their boss, Monty Meekman, who says he'll catch the next flight from California to Massachusetts and asks him not to discuss this with anyone. During the night Todd is shot in the back of the head, leaving him in a coma.

Five years later, Todd's best friend, Nick Aubrey finds himself broke, separated from his wife and in a dead-end position at Digital Microsystems. The brilliant software engineer is also being warned that Monty Meekman is behind the downslide in his life and that if the pattern holds, he is about to be offered a lot of money and a opportunity to become one of Meekman's Corporate Research Fellows, a zombie-like group of geniuses. Aubrey meets Meekman, sees that things are as foretold, but actually, worse. He flees. On the flight home, a mad man rages against him about the Gulf War Syndrome and a conspiracy, then swallows a cyanide pill, but not without first loudly and dramatically accusing Nick of being his murderer. Nick now is knee deep in a mess that he doesn't have a clue what it is all about.

Sundman's techno horror story is based on a worst-case scenario of what can happen when a "self-actualized" man mates nanotechnology with genome research. Or at least, lets hope it is the worst case. Actually, I'd feel better if it were never imagined.

Back to the book. I believe this book is accessible to those not in the industry, but for those in it, it's a great "geek" novel. The opening chapter sucked me right in. Hey, I'm a product manager and if anything can hold my interest it's a project schedule. But from reading other reviews, I believe this book has a wider audience appeal. His skills can be compared to early Tom Clancy. In The Hunt for Red October, Clancy surprised us all by making military lingo seem like plain English. Sundman has equivalent skills when writing about the computer and biological sciences. The book is intellectually stimulating because he talks at us and now down to us. And even for a geek novel, he's managed to spin some very credible characters.

It's obvious from the start that Sundman has larger goals than just providing us with a thriller. His book opens with a quote from Ted Kaczynsky, questioning if the human race has "very limited capacity for solving even straight forward social problems. How then is it going to solve the far more difficult and subtle problem of reconciling freedom with technology?" He questions our own proven track record for turning the good of science into destruction. It is not without forethought that the computer chip central to this book is named after the Hindu Goddess of Destruction. He takes it one step further by experimenting with Maslow's theory of self-actualization as a model of human motivation, but the way he represents it, the highest tier seems just another form of megalomania. If Monty Meekman is the embodiment of self-actualization, then the bottom of Maslow's pyramid starts looking fairly attractive. And there you have it, pitting the freedom against the technology, if we are free to invent, we are free to destroy.

For once Bill Gates is not the bad guy. Then again, I worry about whose home the author helped construct and where did he get these ideas from...

  • Amazon reader rating: from 59 reviews


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About the Author:

John Sundman, recipient of the STC Award of Distinguished Technical Communication and Brazil's Rei do Lixo medal, has been a truck driver, chair of the Software Development Architecture Team of Sun Microsystems, and construction laborer on an Internet billionaire's island trophy house. He is now a retired technical writer from Digital MicroSystems, Inc. and lives alone on remote Stanhope Island, Maine, where his chief recreation is correspondence chess.

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