Interface (book)

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First edition paperback.

Interface is a political thriller / techno-thriller novel written by Neal Stephenson and his uncle, George Jewsbury. It was first published in April 1994 and credited to "Stephen Bury," a combination of their two names. Although it was written and set in the 1990s, it has elements of science fiction and cyberpunk. The two authors would later collaborate on The Cobweb.

The novel takes place in 1996, where a US senator, upon hearing the president suggest a major change in financial stability of the government, has a stroke leaving him partially paralyzed and extremely weak. A shadowy organization called "The Network" convinces him to undergo an experimental treatment where a biological microchip is surgically implanted into his head which can not only fix his damaged brain, but also give them access to it.

Personal

I started reading this book because I loved every other previous Stephenson book I head read, and I suspected I would enjoy this one too. I finished it on 2021-10-01.

Status

I do not own this book, but I've listened to the audiobook read by Oliver Wyman.

Review

— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • The book is chock-full of great characters, most with a fully-fleshed out personality. I liked both the heroes and villains.
  • The commentary on the US political system is pretty biting.
    • Campaign manager Cy Ogle explains that a person's politics are irrelevant, all that matters is their electability (which he admits is based hugely on their appearance). He doesn't even have a problem with helping to make a completely unqualified person the vice president of the nation.
    • William Cozzano, may be an intelligent manly all-American with a strong system of core values, but the fact that his "values" are parochial and vague (and thus easily manipulated) makes him the perfect puppet for the Network. In fact, one person even points out that "values" are all just myths people tell themselves to feel better about being screwed over.
    • All the of the god-fearing Christian politicians are actually quite evil.
    • The media is frequently played for saps by clever dishonest people.
  • I very much appreciate Eleanor Richmond, a strong black female character. Literature needs more characters like her.
  • For the audiobook, Oliver Wyman was a very good choice for a reader. He gives every character a unique timbre, accent, and speech style.

Bad

  • Although I was never bored, the book certainly feels padded. I feel like a large percentage of it could be cut out and it wouldn't have changed much. It's billed as a political thriller, but the story mostly meanders around and is really only suspenseful for a couple pages.
  • The experimental bio-chip technology is far too advanced for the time. It's set in the late 1990s, but the proposed technology still doesn't show any sign of existing even when I read the book in 2021.
  • Trying to get a third-party candidate elected in the USA is pretty much impossible, yet, in the book, it happens seemingly with ease. It would have been nice if the authors gave more details about how the Network could have pulled it off.
  • A handful of characters get introduced late in the book, and several of them are never really important enough to care about.
  • I feel like Eleanor, being an educated black woman who dealt with racism her whole life, wouldn't be so easily swayed by the Colorado senator claiming policies which mention race are inherently racist.
  • The ending paints a very grim picture for Eleanor. If the Network has the means to give prominent politicians strokes and fire guided missiles into a medical research facility full of innocent civilians, how long will she really survive?

Ugly

  • Nothing.

Media

Covers

Quotes

  • "What do you mean by values?" "They were code words like honesty, hard work, self-reliance ... myths, actually, to motivate the people to accept the natural inequities found in a market system."

Links

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