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Paranoia 158

Peter Wayner writes: "The novel Paranoia begins with one of the most tantalizing premises I've read in some time. Young Adam Cassidy was just sliding by as a junior product line manager in the router division of Wyatt Telecom, when he discovered that the company wasn't doing much for the retirement of his pal down on the loading dock. So he impersonated the VP of corporate events, faked a few invoices, and booked the same caterer who brought in the steaks and lobster for the executive suite. Alas, Nicholas Wyatt, the CEO, wasn't happy with the steep bill and gave Cassidy a choice of 20 years in prison or life as a corporate spy. In no time, Cassidy decides he's quite willing to go undercover and find out just what the heck is going on the skunk works over at their competitor, Trion." Read on for the rest of Wayner's review.
author Joseph Finder
pages 432
publisher St. Martin's
rating 9
reviewer Peter Wayner
ISBN 0312319142
summary A fast-paced thriller about a young router engineer who is

It may be hard for anyone who's endured the economic downturn in the computer industry and the ascendance of the DRM lawyers to see the romance of tech, but the computer business continues to be one of the most exciting and explosive corners of the zeitgeist. Fortunes are made and lost in days; products depend upon the synergy of the hackers and the marketeers; and everything turns on the information passed along in IMs, emails and whispers. This world is a rich backdrop for the new thriller by Joe Finder, the spy novelist who set his previous books in the world of the three-letter agencies and the military justice system. This time he's plumbing the depths of corporate politics and industrial espionage with his story of a company racing to deliver the next big Palm Pilot replacement.

The thriller is a reminder that electronic gizmos continue to be a tumultuous and exciting domain where creative people with whip-smart minds can change the company's destiny. I suppose it would be possible to set a similar novel in, say, the auto industry, but it just wouldn't have the same resonance. No engineer, designer, or bright employee is going to make much of a difference at Ford or General Motors. Much of their future is dictated by the cost of medical care for the retired workers and the problems are not about cars qua cars. Producing great cars would be nice, but it's not the main challenge for the companies. At least in Silicon Valley, there can be some direct link between action and reaction. Newton's law still holds.

The beginning of the book is an irresistable hook. Who wouldn't want to throw a party on the corporation's dime?

Many of the elements of Silicon Valley's mythology appear here. There's a boss who keeps stable of young, blonde administrative assistants around. There's another boss who works out of the same size cubicle as everyone else. Secret research labs to develop the next generation of gadgets are locked away in a perimeter guarded by other gadgets that scan eyeballs or examine fingerprints. All of the characters drive slick cars and worry about the quality of their real estate.

As the novel unfolds, Cassidy's allegiance and soul is pulled in a tug-of-war. Who deserves the information he's gathering? Is there right and wrong in corporate espionage? Which company deserves to win?

The novel is similar in tone and structure to John Grisham's The Firm or Michael Crichton's Disclosure, two other novels that mused about the nature of the modern workplace. Finder's characters are richer and better drawn, at least than Grisham's earlier works. The search for the next gadget isn't really the point of Cassidy journey in the labyrinth, it's just an excuse to work through the modern world of corporations and the way they organize people and their creations. The book is not filled with the neo-Marxist questioning of the capitalist system that comes from places like the Baffler , but there are similar themes that echo in the cubicle bins.

This is, of course, because it's a thriller, not some postmodern master's degree thesis. The twists are well-handled, the pacing is good, and the ending may open the doors to debates. I spent some time wondering whether it was the best ending on many different levels. That kind of resolution is something that doesn't come from standard thrillers by people like Tom Clancy or James Paterson. In those books, the author's point of view is as solid and fixed as, say, those opinion shows on Fox TV. Someone's always dying or trying to destroy America in those books and stopping the murder or saving the country is the only possible resolution.

Finder's earlier books delved into the mirror world of espionage and the realm of three-letter agencies. Moscow Club focused on a coup and an assassination in Soviet Russia. Extraordinary Powers explored the possibility that various spy agencies could tap clairvoyance and other extra-sensory powers-- a premise that David Moorhouse later confirmed was very real in his book, Psychic Warrior . The world of covert assassination in Latin America took center stage in High Crimes.

The tone is also much lighter than Finder's early books, with their heavy body count. After watching the movie version of High Crimes, I kept wishing someone would write a nice comedy for Ashley Judd. She deserved it, after the blood and betrayal. This time, death isn't part of the stakes, and this leaves Finder a bit more room to maneuver and play people and allegiances off each other. Cutting down on the raw danger gives him the freedom to build suspense with action and character. The book is really a light-hearted romp through a semi-mythical world where fortunes are huge, dreams are made real through engineering, and everyone drives a slick car. I say "semi-mythical," because despite the downturn, there's still plenty of money in some corners of technology. Will it always be there? Well, that's not the point of this book.

It's worth commending Finder for his insight into the technology world. His background is more in Russian literature and spy things, not in programming. Yet, the tech world he creates is as true to life in Silicon Valley as books like Po Bronson's The First 10 Million is the Hardest and Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. Technology is a wonderful domain for a novelist to work within, and we should be glad he came in from the cold to check it out.

Peter Wayner is the author of 13 thrilling technical books on topics like building secure databases ( Translucent Databases ), steganography ( Disappearing Cryptography ), and stopping cheating ( Policing Online Games ). You can purchase Paranoia from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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  • After what some of us have been through, This might be all to painful to read. I'm sure its good. I'm still stuck on political non-fiction.
    • Re:To Painful (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Golias ( 176380 )
      Don't worry. You're probably not missing much by not reading this. 20 years in prison for stealing steak and lobster from an office via fraud? Sounds pretty hackneyed to me. They don't even lock up hackers who steal credit card numbers that long.
    • I never could get into political non-fiction, but I'm really enjoying a political fiction series right now. It's about this bumbling guy, who's dad was president, and manages to get himself elected president as well, despite having no appreciable talent. The election article is really fantastic, but totally unbelievable. I mean, who would allow shady election results from a state run by the guy's brother? But it just gets better, he gets them involved in an oil war to distract the public from a failing econ
  • by com_64_dejour ( 741320 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:15PM (#7999349)
    But I feel the need to tell all the geeks out there how great Finder's writing is...I know I hate it when people write stuff that has obvious factual holes, and he's able to always get it right without sacrificing creativity. Excelent reading for people who can't stand bugs :)
  • by mcc ( 14761 ) <> on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:15PM (#7999359) Homepage
    There's also Paranoia [], the much-loved and sadly out-of-print Logan's Run meets McCarthyism meets Douglas Adams meets Kafka role-playing game.
    • Logan's Run meets McCarthyism meets Douglas Adams meets Kafka

      I'm not playing unless its Logan's Run meets McCarthyism meets Douglas Adams meets Kafka meets Battle Star Galactica's fem bot
    • Yep. Any novel titled "Paranoia" that isn't set in or around Alpha Complex is a source of treason. Please report immediately to the incineration units. Thank you.
    • by Our Man In Redmond ( 63094 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:41PM (#8000335)
      Here's how West End Games promoted Paranoia:


      The Computer wants you to be happy. If you are not happy, you may be used as reactor shielding.

      The Computer is crazy. The Computer is happy. The Computer will help you to become happy. This will drive you crazy.

      Being a citizen of Alpha Complex is fun. The Computer says so, and The Computer is your friend.

      Rooting out traitors will make you happy. The Computer tells you so. Can you doubt The Computer?

      Being a Troubleshooter is fun. The Computer tells you so. Of course, The Computer is right.

      Troubleshooters get shot at, stabbed, incinerated, stapled, mangled, poisoned, blown to bits, and occasionally accidentally executed. This is so much fun that many Troubleshooters go crazy. You will be working with many Troubleshooters. All of them carry lasers.

      Aren't you glad you have a laser too? Won't this be fun?

      There are many traitors in Alpha Complex. There are many happy citizens in Alpha Complex. Most of the happy citizens are crazy. It is hard to say which are more dangerous - traitors or happy citizens. Watch out for both of them.

      The life of a Troubleshooter is full of surprises.

      Stay alert! Trust no one! Keep your laser handy!

      I knew a few of the people at West End, and they were all certifiable. The world is a slightly more normal place because Paranoia is out of print, and that is indeed a shame.
    • If this doesn't interest you, you must be a traitor. Please report yourself to the nearest incineration booth.

      All hail the computer!
    • Citizen MCC-R-SLD, please report to the termination vats for possessing information above your security clearance. Thank you.
    • Only for a little while longer. The original authors, after getting the rights back a couple years ago, are shopping it around for a brand-new edition.

      Read the interview... oa d&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=7 &page=1
    • Paranoia was awesome. Some of the weapons were hysterical. There was one in particular I remember, the Nuclear Hand Grenade (I can't recall if this was official or one of my friends made it up). Had specs something like this:
      Max throwing distance: 10m
      Blast radius: 50m
      • They based it on a real life weapon: The Davy Crockett nuclear tactical weapon.

        The thing was launched from a jeep, or a bipod, and had a Dial-a-Yield warhead.

        Its blast and fallout radius was larger than its launching radius :)

  • by TrancePhreak ( 576593 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:19PM (#7999399)
    It all started one day when young Joe Bloe Linux user signed onto the web and started reading Slashdot... There was a news story on Microsoft and he just couldn't resist.................
  • One major automaker passed a corporate rule that outlaws the use or possession of a camera-phone within buildings.

    Apparently, a "tourist" glimpsed a model of something, snapped a couple quick shots, and was later sold to the competition. The estimated losses were in the millions.
    • Thats true, I work for them (General Motors). They now don't allow us to bring our phone-enables cell phones into the plant at all! We have to leave them at the security office and pick them up after the workday is over.

      Of course this sucks, since now I need to go get a non-camera phone. I think a lot of companies will follow suit.
      • It's been happening all over the place, too. Corporate and personal privacy are finally in the forefront of many people's minds. My fiancee still doesn't understand why I enforce WEP (soon WPA) on my wireless router. "It slows it down a bit, and who's gonna hack our network?" Of course, she'd probably have a problem if someone with a camera-phone took her picture in the locker room at the gym and posted it on the Internet. *sigh*
        • So your fiancee knows what WEP is, and also knows that it slows down your network? Impressive!

          Also, I have heard of the whole take picture in the locker room thing. I'm wondering how common it really is. I sure as hell wouldn't be taking pics of dudes in the locker room, and don't know any other guys that would either. I would assume the same holds for women. Though if you know of any women that would, I would appreciate an email address. =]

          Personally, I think that camera phones are a joke. Even th
          • I thought I had heard (on /. or somewhere similar) that Japanese police had had problems with people (men mainly, I assume) using camera-enabled celllphones to peer up women's dresses and take unauthorized pornographic pictures. Depending on how good locker room security is, I figure someone could sneak in and take pictures of women in locker rooms and showers (most locker rooms that I've been in forswear responsibility for stolen goods, implying that they cannot control access to them). These are people l
            • "I figure someone could sneak in and take pictures of women in locker rooms and showers"

              I assume you know that camera-enabled cellphones are not the only devices that can take pictures of women in locker rooms, right? It's a device that utilises non-digital light rays impacting on light-sensitive shiny paper that captures images of objects in front of its double-refracting glass housing. I can't remember what those durn things are called at the moment, though...

              • ...but you'd have to use a digital or develop them yourself, and the ability to email said picture to many people/websites rapidly is not possible with (most) digital cameras while it is the main feature of camera phones. Camera phones enable said pictures to be propagated much faster, and are much easier to explain away than an actual camera if you are caught. Thus while you could use a camera for taking these sorts of pictures, a camera phone is more likely to be used for them and taking pictures with one
      • by ryanwright ( 450832 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:47PM (#7999733)
        They now don't allow us to bring our phone-enables cell phones into the plant at all!

        They make phone-enabled phones now?! Where can I get one of these high tech gadgets? ;)
        • They make phone-enabled phones now?! Where can I get one of these high tech gadgets? ;)

          Yes!! so now, instead of spending 30 agonizing minutes keying in "HLO HW R U?" you into those tiny lil buttons on the phone, you can just call them!
    • Pedantic... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jargoone ( 166102 ) * on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:29PM (#7999526)
      passed a corporate rule that outlaws

      Sorry to nitpick, but a company's policy doesn't make something outlawed. It just means that they can make whatever rules they want and kick your ass out if you don't obey them.

      With our corporate-influenced government, I think it's an important distinction.
      • Re:Pedantic... (Score:2, Insightful)

        Law does not simply mean "governmentally passed and enforced" rules. There are laws of physics, law of the land, etc. There are plenty of rules which are laws within their respective contexts. I would consider a law to be any rule that an authority (In the case of physics, is the Universe an authority?) sets and reasonably attempts to enforce. So corporations can have their own sets of "laws." But hey, I'm just arguing for the sake of arguing. Better get back to snapping photos of secret projects.
    • Unfortunately for the competition, the millions of losses were theirs because the pictures were of the Pontiac Aztec.
  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:23PM (#7999461) Homepage
    Can someone write a review of it so I know if it's worth reading?
  • by osullish ( 586626 ) <`osullish' `at' `'> on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:25PM (#7999477)
    I ownder if this book is related to the film Cypher [] - plot sounds very similar, a guy is un-willingly placed in the world of corporate espionage? This got a limited release here in Ireland last year so I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds interesting.
    • I've watched a copy of the DVD, and really liked it. While it could have been better, it was still REALLY good.
      I haven't seen the movie in a couple of months, but the character in the movie is a WILLING corporate spy. However, there is alot about the movie that makes it clear he's not altogether happy with what he's doing.

      I can't wait to buy the R1 DVD...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    After reading that review I'm glued to my seat. No, really. Someone put glue on my seat and now I'm stuck. Help!
  • Does he normally read cereal boxes and other various labels for entertainment? I was annoyed by the premise to be honest, the guy is only bright enough to supervise a production line, steals company funds and impersonates a company officer, he somehow helps his friends retirement account by buying him steak and lobster and then the boss sais either be a spy for us though you have allready stolen from us and shown your lack of loyalty to the company, or go to jail? Uh, are you #^$^# kidding me? And as for Si
    • Only bright enough to supervise a production line? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Personally I'd rather have a production line supervisor's job. Then I can leave work after the day is done and spend time with my family, rather than working 60~80 hrs a week because of a scheduling "slide." As for the interest it creates as a protagonist, that is left up to the indivdual.

      As for cereal box reading you are missing out. Try some shampoo bottles as well.

  • by Bendebecker ( 633126 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:20PM (#8000103) Journal
    Adam Cassidy? Nicholas Wyatt? Sounds like a bad porn story already...
    • Adam Cassidy? Nicholas Wyatt? Sounds like a bad porn story already...

      Tsk, tsk. Everyone knows that those names have nothing to do with porn. Obviously this book is a classic Western tale of gunfights and the wild frontier.

      What, you want me to read the article? Tsk again, say I.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:26PM (#8000182) Homepage Journal

    I have to protect the identity of my sources, but apparently, some studio wants to adapt this book for film, and I've received a leaked copy of the film's theme song.

    Download MP3: "Paranoia Theme" by Naoki Maeda []

  • Unbelievable plot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:27PM (#8000197)
    Alas, Nicholas Wyatt, the CEO, wasn't happy with the steep bill and gave Cassidy a choice of 20 years in prison or life as a corporate spy.

    Except that's called extortion/blackmail, and it's illegal. Being willing to report it would probably get you a plea deal, if not a get-out-of-jail-free card from the DA, because going after the exec = good PR, going after the little guy = bad PR...and besides, what'd this retirement gig cost? $10k maybe? That's not the kind of thing that lands you in jail for 20 years. Hell, Enron execs hid BILLIONS and their accountant's going away for 10-20; his wife got 5-6 months(mostly because they both did plea-deals, but anyway...)

    I know it's fiction, but lets try and have a semi-believable premise, yes?

    • It is actually explained in the book, there are other reasons as to why Cassidy can't get a plea deal.

      The charges are more numerous too, involving hacking (of financial data), counterfeiting (receipts and stuff) and Wyatt was a friend of the DA or whoever it was and could get the book thrown at Cassidy, for these and a number of other federal offences.

      What I'm trying to say is read the book before you dismiss the story as 'semi-believable' There is a lot more to it that the brief plot outline above.

    • I know it's fiction, but lets try and have a semi-believable premise, yes?

      How's this:

      Once upon, in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...
      • If you are going to write about a world and environment your audience is familiar with, you can't go against the common sense of your readership.

        In the example you have provided, we know from the start we should suspend all common sense since the author is going to make all up.
  • his BOSS gives him the choice of 20 years in prison, or a lifetime of corporate espionage.... for ordering CATERING?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:36PM (#8000290)
    Sure its been researched, has plenty of the latest buzz technologies and namechecks in it, and provides something for the bored office worker in all of us. Afterall, who wouldn't appreciate a change of life like Adam Cassidy?

    Aside from that, I thought it was a very ordinary story , that redeemed itself only somewhat by the ending.

    Too me, a book needs to be good all the way through and not just rely on the last few pages, in order to stand out as something worth reading.

    And the ending itself? Inconclusive and rushed. Which is a real shame, as the whole novel was set up in order to spring it.

    I hear that its to be made into a film, which it would be well suited too.

    Don't think I'll be reading it again though.
  • pfft (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Ooblek ( 544753 )
    I've got a better idea Mr. CEO. How about I give you the finger, and you try to put me in jail for 20 years. You're CEO because you see the big picture. I bet you wouldn't even know how to find, much less open, an excel spreadsheet that contains enough evidence to put me away.
  • The opposite of "Joseph Finder" is "Another Loser"

    I'm not joking....Joseph means "Another Son" in Hebrew and the opposite of Finder is Loser.
  • by sdcharle ( 631718 ) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:51PM (#8001893) Journal
    Finder's characters are richer and better drawn, at least than Grisham's earlier works

    That's like saying 'the dinner you prepared was better than the saran-wrapped egg salad sandwhich I got at 7-11 for lunch'.

  • I believe that "Skunk Works" is a trademark of the Lockheed Martin Corporation [].

    The Skunk Works [] is the plant that built the U-2, the first jet fighter (don't know the name), the Blackbird (AKA SR-70, SR-71, etc), F-22, F-35 (the new joint strike fighter), the stealth fighter, and others that are probably still classified.

    The Boeing version is called the Phantom Works, which is their high end idea plant which created Boeing's JSF entry (which lost to the Lockheed version, but that isn't important).

    Just my
  • CEOs are getting shot left and right by a mysterious sniper. Whodunnit? Some witnesses report a white Astro van. Other report a balaclava-clad bicyclist.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun