Confusion and carnage on the information superhighway claim reputations, lives, and corporations.
The Anglo-Indian author’s harshly satiric second outing (after The Impressionist, 2002) opens with a charmingly funny account of young computer programmer Arjun Mehta’s hopeful departure from his smothering Indian parents and arrival in California, where the promised job that lured him there does not materialize. Arjun frets and daydreams, his culture shock soothed by romantic imaginings about “India’s sweetheart,” film star Leela Zahir—until he’s rescued by employment with Virugenix, a virus-fighting software company based in Washington State. After a brief period of security, Arjun is terminated, and, unwilling to return home in disgrace, becomes inconsolable. Then a malignant virus bearing the image of Leela Zahir attacks the world’s computers—and we know who’s created it. Meanwhile (in a comparatively bland subplot), British paper millionaire advertising mogul Guy Swift—whose New Age-y company declares itself “not so much an agency as an experiment in life-work balance”—sees his dream of “promoting Europe” scuttled, and loses his gorgeous coke-addicted girlfriend Gabrielle, who provides p.r. for a film Leela is shooting in Scotland, and beds Leela’s serial co-star, film hunk Rajiv Rana. Transmission (whose witty title is explained in the closing pages) wanders around its subject almost as much as Arjun does up and down the West Coast, fleeing toward Canada, then Mexico, before disappearing into the mists of computer legend, becoming a “hero” to hackers everywhere. Kunzru lays on the technical detail thickly, and computer geeks will perhaps best appreciate the sinuous meanderings and misdirections here. But its antic vision of an all-too-easily imperiled global village has enough charm and bite to engage us all.
An interesting successor to Kunzru’s now-famous first novel.