Set in the near future, DeSain’s first novel is a wide-ranging satire of the workings of the government and the people who comprise it.
Tammy Usher works in the Department of Transportation supervising the scheduling and maintenance of the light-rail system, which has overtaken the car as the primary American mode of transport, as oil prices have risen. She is content with her work, fraught with office politics and headaches as it is. Tammy meets Bob, an inventor, who has a comparatively small invention that’s grand in Tammy’s eyes: an improvement to the rail system that will yield a “point-five-to-two percent efficiency increase.” They begin to work together in an effort to convince Congress to fund Bob’s invention; neither knows exactly how much work it will take to do so. In the course of their quest, they encounter government officials, lobbyists and those who fund them, politicians both liberal and conservative, church organizations and venture capitalists. DeSain pokes fun at all of them with an equally heavy hand. His strength as a writer lies with ideas rather than prose, but those ideas are sharp enough to make the book work. Many of those he spends several pages picking apart are characters who have lost, if indeed they ever had, the courage of their convictions. Liberal politicians who disclaim their radical pasts, religious men who care more about profits than salvation and spineless heirs to familial wealth all stand out as targets of satire. The route Tammy and Bob finally take to adding their small but significant contribution to ease the lives of the masses indicates, however, that unbending adherence to a set of principles is equally laughable. DeSain, himself a scientist with government experience, writes almost lovingly of the infuriating amount of red tape that faces an inventor who wants federal support and with disdain for those who ignore facts in favor of playing politics. Though the imagined near future is bleak in ways, it allows for some victories.
A worthy parable of small changes and large obstacles.