Hilarious corporate satire—or, how to succeed in aerospace engineering without really trying.
Engineer novelist Grossbach (Easy and Hard Ways Out, 1975, etc.) takes as his hero one Zack Zaremba. Zack may be new at International Instruments, but he has a feeling that the Air Force project he’s assigned to is a billion-dollar boondoggle. His part of the project: helping design a gizmo that can tell friend from foe electronically; it’s officially called an Advanced Interrogator/Receiver—AIR, for short. Zack’s colleagues: a rogue’s gallery of techie types, including Anton Meissner, pointy-headed project manager; Whispering Bill, Meissner’s graying, gravel-voiced yes man; Edouard Boulot, a fearless Frenchman with a silicon chip on his shoulder; Kushner, a nerd’s nerd and worrywart extraordinaire; Shopper Jim, a cynical philosopher of sorts; a Chinese head engineer dubbed “A Boy Named Hsu”; and Zack’s personal favorite, Lilah Li, a gorgeous Eurasian software expert who gets him hot and bothered every time she walks by. Some of his crazier co-workers are quick to assure Zack that his misgivings about a possible boondoggle are well-founded, but no one seems to care much. The Air Force brass overseeing the project are too dumb to know they’re being hoodwinked anyway. Zack gets through his days, completing the required busywork in record time and amusing himself with various mindgames and pointless calculations—until he decides to get a life, volunteers to coach a local kids’ soccer team, becomes Lilah Li’s hero (she’s a single mom with a son on the team) and, to his delight, her lover. Their lusty romance is interrupted when all hell breaks loose as it becomes clear that the AIR project was indeed bid with impossible-to-meet specs. A scapegoat is found—Edouard Boulot—and promptly fired. But Zack uncovers the real culprit before he himself learns the wisdom of Shopper Jim’s Rule #7: Always keep enough boxes under your desk to carry out your stuff.
Dilbert with the gloves off (and pants down). Laugh-out-loud funny.