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

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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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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