A rambling, intricate, and highly amusing tale of cyberpolitics and spycraft.

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THE KNUCKLEHEAD OF SILICON VALLEY

A debut comic thriller tells the story of a tech developer forced to go up against his own inventions to save the world. 

Hacker Ralph Gibsen has worked in Silicon Valley for decades, gaining experience across the industry by saying yes to every opportunity. Now in middle age, he works as an angel investor in altruistic companies: “Clam Pie made small investments in tech companies that tried to make the world a better place.” Unfortunately for Gibsen—who, in his personal life, is something of a hapless buffoon—he can’t always control who employs his technology or what they use it for. After he invents a tool that studies the human mind in order to pinpoint the exact moment a student learns something, he discovers that certain parties may be harnessing it to try to brainwash the public. What’s more, Gibsen may or may not have been acting as an unintentional spy. He’s forced to rely on some rivals, acquaintances, and strangers—who also may or may not be spies. (Even his own wife, Jen, might be one.) But can he trust them as he deals with the people coming after him? Can he even trust himself? Vachon’s prose is often dense with the jargon of technology and investment but manages to animate even these subjects with a pulpy energy: “After four hours on the third day, the Parties to the agreement finally declared themselves amenable to the deal. Ralph wasn’t happy with the final product, but neither were his new partners.” Gibsen is an oddly compelling protagonist: Not quite an Everyman, he nevertheless frequently finds himself in over his head. The author delivers a complex, meandering plot with frequent hops between years and continents and a wryly conspiratorial worldview that feels more akin to Thomas Pynchon than Tom Clancy. Vachon certainly takes satirical views of Silicon Valley, the global economy, and the intersection of technology and authoritarian control, but the novel never gets preachy and usually errs on the side of theatrics.

A rambling, intricate, and highly amusing tale of cyberpolitics and spycraft.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947521-13-1

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Genius Book Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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