Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 03 10:51:22 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #51

%T Cyber Way
%A Alan Dean Foster
%I Ace Books
%D May 1990
%O paperback, US$4.50 (reviewed in galley)
%P 306
%G 0-441-13245-6

Alan Dean Foster is well-known as the author of the Flinx series (The Tar Aiym-Krang and many sequels) and other novels set in his Humanx Commonwealth universe (most notably the Skua September books; Iceworld, Mission To Moloukin, and The Deluge Drivers). He has also written innumerable movie and TV novelizations of which the best-known is probably Aliens. His books, even at their best, tend to be like the old canard about Chinese food; they're fun, but you want to read something else an hour later. This one is thinner than most.

Vernon Moody, a gentle-minded Good Ole Boy happily toiling in obscurity as a detective in Tampa's police department, is assigned to a baffling murder case. He must discover who broke into the home of a wealthy local businessman and murdered him in a way that leaves forensic experts puzzled...apparently just to destroy a Navaho sand painting.

The case takes him to the Navaho reservation in Arizona, and partners him with a bright Navaho cop, Ooljee, who knows enough stray bits about his people's traditions to be very uneasy about the murder. Now, here comes the McGuffin (and no, this is not a major spoiler): the sand painting turns out to contain a fractal which encodes the granddaddy of all computer viruses -- one which straightaway begins infecting human computers and causing all manner of weird manifestations.

Well, this premise has holes you could throw a starship through. Firstly, fractals don't encode a lot of information -- in fact, in a rather deep sense, the apparent disjunction between their structural complexity and informational simplicity is what makes them interesting. And the issues in how an alien program expressed in goddess-knows-what bizarre language and encoding scheme is supposed to be able to infect a random human computer is just ignored.

Once you get past this crock, the rest of the plot is fairly elementary crank-turning as Moody and his agent of explanation chase the murderer and confront various nasties out of Navaho legend. All this seems to function mainly as a frame for Ooljee to lecture Moody and the reader about various (admittedly interesting) bits of lore. Obviously, Foster really really wanted to write a book with a bunch of Navaho stuff in it.

As usual, Foster's prose tends to pull one along even where the material gets paper-thin. Thank you, though, I'll take my anthropology straight. While I wouldn't claim Cyber Way exudes the malignant badness of some of the stuff I've had to review lately, it's no better than poor-grade yard goods. Yet another Flinx novel might have yielded little more substance, but would have been more fun.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 03 10:51:22 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>