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Signal to Noise by EricNylund (ISBN 0-380-79292-3 (alternate, search))

Synopsis (by SunirShah)

The setting is CyberPunk earth: flooded coastlines, CorporateGovernment, WageSlavery, NanoTechnology, VirtualReality. Dr. Jack Potter is an expert cryptologist (especially cryptoanalysist). His current research involves debunking algorithms that find signals in noise as merely shams. Except, when working with the one invented by his nemesis, Dr. Bruner he finds something. Something buried in the cosmic background radiation... from a hundred years ago.

It's an alien civilization looking to trade information. And that information is bound to cost Jack and his friends their lives as multinationals, governments, and relatives best forgotten want a cut. This book redefines hostile takeover. And, hey, even the aliens want to join the party.

Review

This book was very good. In fact, I ordered the sequel, A SignalShattered from Chapters.ca right after I finished it.

The beginning is disorienting; you are thrown in the virtual environment that the characters seemlessly integrate with. I think this was clever. Perhaps a little too clever, but you get over the disoriented feeling quickly as things are explained to you with good pacing. Nylund makes very good use of VirtualReality (and a lot of ArtificialReality as you learn later) in this book.

In this world, the virtual environment interfaces directly with the brain through inductive neural implants. However, this is a two way street. The circuitry can also feel your thoughts, even your subconscious ones. It will pull them forward, onto the surface where you can see what linkages your mind is making.

If a picture was worth a thousand words, then a well-placed metaphor was worth a thousand pictures, sticking inside your thoughts as you unraveled its nuances.

This interface of metaphor permeates the book, their society, their work. It's very well done.

Moreover, Nylund uses VirtualReality as a useful tool. One can simulate complicated quantum devices in a virtual environment, even zooming in large enough to sit on an atom. The "reality" of the virtual environment is shaped to do work. Also well done. Of course, the standard 2D windows come into play occasionally but not obtrusively. Besides, flat screens are still quite common as proles cannot afford implants (at least not in America).

As for the plot, it's not over the top unlike some CyberPunk novels. While not a psychological adventure into the human condition, Nylund definitely develops many of the major characters past farcical cardboard cutouts. The have complications, which makes the book even more interesting. Even better, the book is full of insights into CorporateGovernment. I highly recommend you read it. -- SunirShah

I'll second that recommendation. The opening of the book almost verged on TechnoFantasy to me (a complaint I have about a few CyberPunk novels), but it quickly settled down into a more "reasonable" form. Still, it's definitely not your typical novel about 1990s street-smart people with shiny toys. (I suppose SignalToNoise might seem old-fashioned and quaint around 2050 or so. :-) The CorporateGovernment aspects were quite well done, including a decent amount of background and even the text of a "Free Market Amendment" to the US constitution. I'll be ordering the sequel soon. --CliffordAdams

Metaphors and VirtualReality are really well done, I agree. But the plot is way over the top. I don't like novels where Alien spaceships destroy Earth. Too far out, "SuspensionOfDisbelief" doesn't work anymore. -- AlexSchroeder

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