Wildly unbelievable tale of a sentient computer that—what else?—seizes control of the Internet, the world’s military defense systems, and a medical ethicist.
A great, grab-you-by-the-throat beginning (“If you’re watching this tape, I’m dead”) rapidly loses strength as Iles (Sleep No More, 2002, etc.) piles up several far-fetched premises. Dr. David Tennant, a conveniently widowed medical ethicist who’s partly responsible for the development of Project Trinity, has been troubled by periods of narcolepsy, followed by peculiar visions, ever since his brain was scanned by a tremendously powerful MRI machine. Tennant’s scan, along with others, has been used to create a secret supercomputer for the National Security Agency. Tennant’s medical knowledge leads him to believe that the fatal stroke recently suffered by another member of the computer development team, Dr. Arthur Fielding, was actually murder: Fielding had misgivings about the computer, contemplated halting the project, and used holographic technology to hide information about the project in the crystal of his fob watch. The NSA, with egotistic tech billionaire Peter Godin and scheming NSA Deputy Director John Skow, want the project to continue, and they’ve gotten the psychotically vicious NSA security operative Geli Bauer eager to lie, cheat, steal, and kill to please her superiors. Only Tennant’s psychiatrist, Rachel Weiss, believes that he just might not be crazy as they set off, with $20,000 in cash and NSA goons on their trail, to Fielding’s Nags Head vacation home and then to Israel to learn more about the source of his visions. Meanwhile, Trinity takes over, neutron bomb-tipped missiles are launched and, instead of stopping them, Trinity insists on discussing gee-whiz theology with Tennant in preparation for a final step that might give Trinity godlike powers.
At his best (Black Cross, 1995, for instance), Iles enlivened a tired formula about American WWII commandos behind enemy lines thwarting a Nazi plan. Here, the laughable improbabilities in a Frankenstein/Colossus/2001: A Space Odyssey rehash bring on the literary equivalent of a systems crash.