Acts of the Apostles

John F. X. Sundman

Rosalita Associates 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001
Software developer Nick Aubrey turns down a job with megalomaniacal computing billionaire Monty Meekman. And then a Gulf War Syndrome conspiracy theorist sitting next to him on the plane commits suicide, leaving him with an encrypted floppy. Nick finds himself on the run, not just from the Salt Lake City Airport Police and the True Patriots of the Natural Law militia but from nanotechnology that will change his DNA and reprogram his brain. Meanwhile his estranged wife Bartlett is part of a biotech research group mapping the human brain, his friend Casey is still grieving for a chip designer shot five years ago and in a coma ever since, and a biologist at a pharmaceutical company in Basel is beginning to have ethical doubts about his work...

Now there's nothing particularly novel about its plot, and Acts of the Apostles has a common problem of mega-conspiracy thrillers, bringing in elements that are never really resolved and sometimes stretching plausibility too far. But the plot, while it holds everything together and keeps one turning the pages, is actually the least interesting part of Acts. What sets it apart is the sophistication with which it deals with ideas and technology and the depth and interest of its characters.

Acts of the Apostles involves chip design and fabrication, the human genome project, nanotechnology, Maslow, Vannevar Bush, the convergence of the digital and the biological, and much more. Not all the science is plausible of course — at least not when set in 1999! — but it's easy to suspend disbelief for a few "big things" when the details are convincing. And Sundman really knows his stuff, whether it's encrypted files, restoring a cracked Unix machine, or an attempt to reverse engineer a chip. The same is true of his characters: though the dialog stumbles occasionally, Sundman convincingly portrays smart, complex people — he knows how geeks and techies and academics actually think and talk, and is obviously familiar with the social life of academia and high-powered IT corporations.

None of this is dumped on the reader in indigestible quantities, however, and Sundman doesn't push any of it too seriously. ("What drivel" is Nick's comment on the first quote from Maslow he comes across, for example.) The most important thing is that Acts of the Apostles works as a novel — not one that will appeal to everyone, but an entertaining read for anyone after an infotech-thriller with real information technology.

August 2001

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%T Acts of the Apostles
%A Sundman, John F. X.
%I Rosalita Associates
%D 1999
%O paperback
%G ISBN 192975213X
%P 359pp