May 26, 2003

Big If by Mark Costello

coverI'm pretty sure I put a hold on this from the library because of a review I read in the Powells Books newsletter (one of the best commercial email newsletters there is, BTW). The part of the review I read made it sound like the book would be an interesting mix of politics and computer geekdom.

The book starts out with backstory on the family life of Vi and Jens, daughter and son (respectively) of a New Hampshire insurance adjuster. Costello hooked me with these two people. Vi becomes a Secret Service agent protecting a vice president campaigning for the big chair. Jens works for a pre-IPO computer game startup. I could envision a bunch of interesting story lines with these characters. To his credit, Costello surprised me by not following any of the ones I could think of. Unfortunately, the one he did follow wasn't very interesting. Vi is burned out on the constant scanning of hands in crowds looking for the next Hinckley, Jens is disillusioned with his job writing (in his father's words) amoral software. And a good half the book is dedicated to other characters with similar levels of dissatisfaction in their lives.

There's commentary here about American lifestyles, American politics, American business, American law enforcement. But the commentary is mostly of the form "look how screwed up all these things are!" I have a hard time thinking who might find these observations illuminating, and I don't see any attempt in the book to suggest alternative courses or interpretations.

In short, not particularly educational or particularly entertaining. If there's another reason to read a book, I don't know what it is.

Posted by jeffy at May 26, 2003 04:39 PM