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December 1, 2004

Interface - "A 'Manchurian Candidate' for the computer age"


That's what one reviewer wrote about this novel by Stephen Bury, who turns out to be none other than Neal Stephenson, author of "Snow Crash," "Cryptonomicon," "Zodiac," and "The Diamond Age," and his uncle, J. Frederick George.

The book tells the story of William Cozzano, governor of Illinois, who suffers a stroke and is rendered mute and hemiplegic as a result.

A shadowy group of ultra-rich investors decides to offer him a state-of-the-art, experimental computer chip brain implant that may resolve his symptoms.

Governor Cozzano, sitting in his wheelchair drooling, but with his brain intact, says what the heck, what do I have to lose, and signs on.

Only, the chip not only restores his original functioning, it lets the doctors who implanted the chip control his thoughts and actions.

The financiers who paid for his implant then decide to have him run for President, planning to have him pursue policies that will fruitfully multiply their investments for eternity and perhaps beyond.

They then create a kind of political Mission Control, run by one Cy Ogle, who's sort of an amalgam of Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Bob Shrum.

He sits there in his trailer, called the "Eye of Cy," surrounded by 100 video screens measuring the responses of 100 Americans chosen for their representative value as embodying a typical subset of Americana, such as "Economic road-kill gravy-eater," "Stone-faced urban homeboy," "400-pound Tab drinker," "Trade school metal head," "Mall-hopping corporate concubine," "Frosty-haired coupon clipper," "Mid-American knickknack queen," "Tube feeder," "Winnebago jockey," etc.

When the screens show a positive response to something candidate Cozzano says (each of the 100 wears a tricked-out watch that measures their vital signs and skin galvanic responses in real time and instantly transmits them to the Eye of Cy), Cy programs his candidate to continue in this vein.

When the screens turn red, Cy/Cozzano quickly changes direction.

The book, peopled with larger-than-life, memorable characters, is often laugh-out-loud funny, so sharp is its dialogue and description of what's going down.

It's a caricature, to be sure, of the Presidential electoral process in the U.S., but considering that it was written in 1994, "Interface" is uncanny in its realistic portrayal of much that has come to pass, most prominently the overwhelmingly media-driven nature of the campaign process as it now exists.

Highly recommended.

December 1, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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