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Mon, Jan. 9th, 2006, 11:46 pm
Reading List: Sunstroke

Read: Sunstroke, David Kagan.

Sometimes a girl just needs a silly techno-thriller - which is why I picked this up. The back of the book promised an out-of-control satellite armed with microwave technology which was going to Destroy The Earth. I’ve got a weakness for disaster novels, so I thought I’d try it.

Big mistake. This book was no silly thriller - it was an epically bad silly thriller, and it really pissed me off for some very specific reasons. The plot was slender and the characters wooden, but there were two things that really sent me over the edge.

First of all, Kagan really seems to enjoy killing off his female characters. Except for the President’s wife (who appears in all of two scenes, playing concerned wifey in both of them) and the love interest for the male lead (a journalist who spends half her stage time with her clothes off - you know, “to get the story,” like journalists do), there isn’t a female character who survives more than ten pages. It’s clearly safer to be male when the microwave rays strike!

Even worse, Kagan obviously knows nothing about computers, but decided to base his story around an out-of-control AI. (When I realized this was an out-of-control AI story, I almost stopped reading. I’ve almost never seen a good one! But I hate leaving a book half-read . . . .) He casually has his intelligent satellite eavesdropping on voice conversations, making inferences from what people are saying and “redesigning its programming” to respond. Also it proved P = NP and made a lovely cup of tea. I can’t even enumerate all the other ways in which he basically waved his hands and said, “Then a miracle occurs! And my magic AI satellite closes the gaping plot hole! With its teeth!” Sigh.

On the other hand, the climax of the book involved the (white male heterosexual engineer) hero endangering his life in a dramatic race to . . .

. . . change a fuse!

That scene was worth the $1.50 I spent to buy the book and the ninety minutes I spent reading it, so I call Sunstroke not a total loss. Barely.