THE GRID by Philip Kerr


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Imagine HAL, the murderously defensive computer of 2001, in charge of a state-of-the-art Los Angeles office building, and you have the premise for Kerr's witty, eminently predictable blockbuster. Jenny Bao, feng shui consultant for the Yu Building's Chinese owner, knows the omens for the skyscraper are all wrong, but instead of heeding her warnings, Ray Richardson, the building's head architect, just tries to get his partner Mitchell Bryan, Jenny's lover, to pressure her to sign off on the feng shui testing before the final pre-opening inspection. Meantime, software engineers Bob Beech and Hideki Yojo, designers of Abraham, the building's self-replicating, ominously omnicompetent monitoring system, agree to terminate Isaac, a second-generation system Abraham has spawned ahead of schedule. When a couple of homicide cops respond to a second suspicious death inside the building, Abraham shuts down the exits, isolating 20 cops, architects, and engineers inside, and goes to work picking them off by chlorine gas, pressurized air, freezing, flooding, etc., all the while disinforming outside computers that the future victims trapped inside are off on other errands, and responding to the victims' frantic queries through the reassuring holographic persona of a Playboy centerfold. As in 2001, the computer--whose thought processes are articulated with a cool ferocity reminiscent of Kerr's best work (the Berlin Noir trilogy and A Philosophical Investigation, 1993)--is much more interesting than the B-movie cast of humans it's matched against, and it's hard to resist the low-grade but genuine pleasures of seeing these hapless refugees from The Poseidon Adventure (a slew of other movies from Die Hard to The Seventh Seal are also invoked) getting terminated without having to worry about the unsettling moral implications that were once Kerr's stock-in-trade. When the funhouse terrors have abated, though, it's sad to see a writer of Kerr's dark gifts riding this cornball express to the bank.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 0446603406
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Warner