The Internet, blind faith in the Web, and a good-sized chunk of American culture take a hammering in an ambitious debut.
Heppner has bitten off more than he can chew, but so did Dickens and Balzac, so a little patience is in order. Taking a jittery trip from the first days of the Defense-funded Internet to the post-urban sprawl of the World Wide Web, with looks backward to the origin of movable type and the start of cheap printing, Heppner manages to get good solid licks in on such deserving targets as—well, Target, Calvin Klein porno-ads, motivational seminars, and mindless Internet hype. The technique isn’t for the beginning reader, nor really for anyone who hasn’t spent way too much time mousing around cyberspace, losing track of time, geography, and whatever it was they started out reading about or looking for. Heppner’s construction involves what seem to be thousands of short chapters that click back and forth wildly but not mindlessly through decades and centuries. The big cast includes Olden Field, hard- and soft-ware–savvy child of brilliant, goofed-up scientists; Simon Mould, talentless child of mismatched, miserable would-be merchandisers; Derek and Donna Skye, burned-out superstar of the self-improvement set and his wife; Gray Hollows, a writer-turned-copywriter whose ad-slimeball campaigns just can’t fail no matter how low he goes; and dozens of others, all wandering in what seems, until near the end, to be Brownian motion on the fringe of a city somewhere in the American Midwest, bouncing off each other and the scenery in their quests variously to lay low the ascendance of the Internet with a big dose of disinformation; hook into celebrity culture using a terrified child; preserve the gorgeousness of print; and escape the desert of motel seminars. The faint centripetal force is the Gloria Corporation, mindless controller of a critical mass of motion through the Internet. But the true gravity comes from the author’s old-fashioned grasp of his characters.
A wild ride. Too long and too much fun.