SIGNAL TO NOISE by Eric S. Nylund


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Alien contact yarn from the author of Dry Water (not reviewed). By 2070, earthquakes have destroyed America’s West Coast. On the artificial island city of Santa Sierra, hacker and cryptographer Jack Potter claws his way up the academic ladder, performing shady services for the all-powerful National Security Office, stealing his colleagues’ research—until in an apparently random noise received from space, he detects an encoded signal that yields the key to instantaneous communication with an alien civilization. Jack’s contact, Wheeler, trades information on human genetics for an enzyme that rebuilds human DNA—providing, among other things, a cure for cancer. Jack’s office, however, has been trashed; then his “uncle” Reno grabs him and implants a device in his head that, via ubiquitous VR “bubbles,” allows Jack to influence other people’s perceptions. Jack outsmarts Andropov DeMitri of the NSO, but his friends Isabel and Zero dose themselves with Wheeler’s enzyme, and their personalities begin to change. Panda, a Chinese agent and Reno’s rival, helps Jack evade the vengeful NSO, but the rapacious Wheeler threatens to destroy the Earth unless Jack seeks out new alien technologies for Wheeler to plunder. Zero disappears, while Isabel and Reno try to grab Wheeler’s miraculous computers, intelligent translators, and teleport devices. Can Jack save the Earth? Or, if Wheeler can’t be defeated, should Jack join him? Ferociously inventive and often fascinating, but overcomplicated by several orders of magnitude, with an unsatisfying apocalyptic wrap-up that seems to promise sequels.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-380-97513-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Eos/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998


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