A bureaucratic bean counter and a snarky artificial intelligence team up to find a terrorist working to destroy America’s largest near-future city.
Fried (The Great Frustration, 2011) offers a very weird debut novel that somehow manages to transport Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to a futuristic mega-city with a minimum of social satire but grand sociological observations about cities on the scale of Geoff Manaugh’s A Burglar’s Guide to the City (2016). Our Everyman hero is Henry Thompson, an efficiency expert with a murky government entity and, as one nemesis notes, “the biggest milquetoast bean sorter in the history of the United States Municipal Survey.” After a number of the agency’s facilities are bombed and its artificial intelligence platform is infected with a virus, Henry’s boss, Theodore Garrett, sends him to the futuristic city of Metropolis to hunt down the suspect. Henry’s partner in this venture is the aforementioned AI, OWEN, a hard-drinking, newly sentient personality who manifests as a hologram but turns into a bulldog and faints at the sight of blood. These two unlikely partners are chasing Terrence Kirklin, their agency’s station chief in Metropolis, who has clearly gone rogue. Kirklin has disappeared with Sarah Laury, an 18-year-old Olympic gold medalist, playwright, genius, and, oh yeah, the daughter of the mayor of Metropolis. Fried can’t quite decide what he wants to play here—it’s too buddy-cop comic to be a hardcore thriller and too tongue-in-cheek about technology to be a serious social satire, but it’s still a fun read. The narrative is packed with irrelevant but fun-to-read set pieces including a gunfight in a museum, a couple of car chases, and a few deadlocks that are usually solved by OWEN’s deus-ex-machina abilities. Kirklin and Laury are mostly ciphers, and not very interesting ones at that, but the banter between the drab Henry and the supercilious OWEN is worth the price of admission.
A fun, relatively harmless comic thriller about the nature of cities, the threats of technology, and how to blow stuff up good.