The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 23.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

BOOK REVIEW

Acts of the Apostles

Pulp Fiction for Nerds

By Frank Dabek
EDITOR IN CHIEF

Written by John Sundman

Published by Rosalita Associates

359 pp., paperback

Big Brother is big news again. Personal information, from readers’ taste in novels to criminals’ DNA, is online and potentially accessible. The accelerating pace of this perceived attack on privacy has recently prompted the Federal Trade Commission to propose legislation for protecting consumer privacy on the web. First-time author John Sundman mixes these privacy concerns with a healthy dose of biotechnology paranoia in his techno-thriller novel Acts of the Apostles.

The result is a book that could have been a smart examination of topical Internet-age concerns but, burdened by plot that escapes any hope of plausibility and amateur language drowned in jargon, is reduced to a pulpy sci-fi thriller. Acts is a good yarn, however, if one is willing to read it with a hefty suspension of disbelief and overlook its linguistic shortcomings.

Acts’ story, though interesting, is far-fetched even for the thriller genre: a Bill Gates equivalent and Saddam Hussain collaborate to enslave the human race using nanomachines and Java. Acts unfortunately mistakes a simply confusing and needlessly complicated story for genuine suspense.

Needless to say, Acts casts its net wide: Sundman touches on nanotechnology, Gulf War Syndrome, the high-tech culture, and, for good measure, throws in a few sex scenes.

Sundman has been a part of the technology culture he writes about and sometimes his observations are dead on. Conversations about “The Media Lab selling out to yet another corporate sponsor” or giant corporations creating collaborations with MIT could be picked out of tomorrow’s headlines.

However, lines like: “Any espresso applett compiled with the common-object request broker flag set to ‘false’ could use the reverse address-resolution protocol to fake out the polynomial checksum by sending a lightweight thread through the kernel to reset the floating-point mircocode” sound more like a buzzword-bingo card than realistic dialogue. It’s painfully obvious that Sundman is straining to add any bit of technical sounding jargon to the book. Other gems sure to be caught by anyone who has even walked past a Course VI class in session include a reference to a “Latex chip” and a self-destructing diskette.

One thing that does keep this work interesting is the characters. The hero of Acts of the Apostles is Nick Aubrey, a software engineer in Digital MicroSystems, who is faced with the daunting task of saving the world from becoming mindless zombies under the control of “Dijjy-Mike” president Monty Meekham.

Aubrey is a code-jockey that many at this Institute can relate to: it’s refreshing to see someone other than an ex-Green Beret dodging bullets and stealing Scud missiles. Aubrey’s failed marriage, failed career and frequent missteps in his pursuit of Meekham only endear him to the reader. On the other hand, it’s hard not to find some sympathy for a character who get fired, is accused of murdering a suicidal madman, is framed as a kiddy-porn distributor, loses his wedding ring, and has his house ransacked -- all in one day.

The supporting cast of characters is notable for providing a faithful portrait of life in high-tech corporate America. The contrasting styles of “left” vs. “right” coast companies provides a much-needed glimmer of interest.

While Nick’s foibles make him endearing, the spelling and grammatical errors in this self-published novel don’t help it earn a recommendation: readers looking for a quality thriller should look elsewhere. For the technophile who’s read everything else, however, Acts is what it hopes to be: an interesting but unremarkable page-turner for that day at the beach.

Acts of the Apostles is available from amazon.com and fatbrain.com or directly from the publisher at <http://rosalitaassociates.com.>