Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: The Thousand

This book is sold as a replacement for Michael Crichton, or maybe Dan Brown, although I've read everything by the former and nothing by the latter so I'll stick with Crichton. It has a promising premise: on the one hand, a brain-box implant that lets a person notice and remember everything in detail (very handy in Vegas, of course), and on the other hand, a secret society of Pythagoreans who have the ability to basically make computers do anything they want because of their deep understanding of math and the theory of unification. Although how the quantum behavior of black holes could be used to make airplanes crash (much less how Pythagoras could've figured it out), I'm not so sure, but I like thrillers enough to go along for the ride.

Unfortunately, after a promising start and some fun stuff in the middle this novel peters out into a confusing climax that is almost literally a barn-burner. The musical connection should be stronger -- as it is, there's a finished copy of an unfinished Bach Requiem floating around which I find fascinating -- but whereas Crichton would find or make up some interesting connections between math and music, Guilfoile just lets the secret be the secret and treats it as a given that such a requiem could be completed. It needs another step, what does it mean, what other cases are like it, and you don't have to spell everything out but you have to give us a reason to think it's not just deus ex machina superpowers that these Pythagereans have. Crichton would come up with something involving Pythagoreans' obsession with waves and numbers, but nothing along those lines is mentioned. My verdict is that Guilfoile simply isn't curious enough to make up intellectual connections (however spurious), and it's those connections that I found truly thrilling about Crichton.

It's a shame, too, because it's a decent premise and Guilfoile's characters are far better drawn and in general more interesting than Crichton (of course, the stock character of the Crichton know-it-all played by Jeff Goldblum is not present, because Guilfoile doesn't have enough for that know-it-all to say). Maybe there's a sequel that will be more fully realized, but much of this novel is really an extended meditation on how to get from Vegas to Chicago when the government is alerted against you, and again, that's just too typical of a subject for a thriller that purports to be an intellectual thriller.

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