Acts of the Apostles is, well, complex. Nick Aubrey is a bicoastal software manager for "Digital Microsystems", a thinly-veiled amalgam of Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems. After some fifteen-odd years at this, he's burned out.
The Juice, man. Residual perfume, fat feet and yuppie marriage angst were the price you paid to be plugged into it. The Juice was the adolescent Net, the nascent Web; it was intelligent agents, distributed objects, the Human Interface to cyberwhatever... So yes: present at the creation, check. Consequently today Nick's finger was charred black all the way to his shoulder.
After a brilliant start at "Dijjy-Mike", Nick has suffered a long slow decline, being shunted to lower and lower status projects. Finally he's hit rock-bottom: a Novell compatibility project (the horror!).
But suddenly, he's picked out by Dijjy-Mike's enigmatic and cultish guru, "Monty Meekman", and offered money and freedom beyond any of his dreams. And his life goes all to hell.
Sundman paints a world almost exactly like the one we live in right now. For all we know, it may be the one we live in. But it's a world where the rich and powerful are playing a game. They have all the money and power, the game now is, as Monty Meekman puts it, to "rule the roost."
The story ultimately involves Gulf War syndrome, Saddam Hussein testing new biological weapons for a nietzschean software mogul, a brilliant hardware hacker in a coma, and some really creepy surveillance moments. It's the book Michael Crichton would write if he knew anything about hackers.
And that's the real strength of the book. They say write what you know, and it's obvious that Sundman knows hackerdom. All of the characters ring true, which makes the extrapolations Sundman makes all the more believable, and terrifying. Good plot, great characters, action, drama, suspense and all that. But behind the curtain, Acts of the Apostles is posing a few questions that we better get around to asking ourselves pretty soon.
Can humanity be trusted with the technology we're creating? After avoiding nuclear holocaust by only the narrowest of margins (so far), what kind of blunders are we in for when nanotech and re-programmable genetic engineering are within our grasp? Is anyone besides Bill Joy and the Unabomber even considering the potential downside?
Sundman is, and what he sees isn't pretty. The scariest part of this book is how plausible it all is. Sundman takes a few key technologies that we know are coming "eventually", and looks at what might happen if they were suddenly here, now. In his view, we aren't even close to ready.
But I promised you the story behind the story too, and it's a doozy. Sundman's book is self-published. Yes, in a few places, it does show. There are more typos than you'd usually see in a novel, and there are a few rough cuts in narrative. Still, its easily good enough to overlook the formal issues. Sundman was once a technical writer for Sun Microsystems, out here in the evil Silicon Valley. Like his protagonist, Nick Aubrey, he got burned out.
He moved his family back East, to Martha's Vineyard, in 1995 and spent four months writing the first draft of what would become Acts of the Apostles, while living with his wife and three children in a tent in a friend's backyard. After house-sitting for other friends, and a stay with the in-laws in Indiana, the book was finally finished. It would be four more years before it ever saw print at all.
Four years of rejection letters, poverty, homelessness, menial labor, more rejection slips, lawsuits, bounced checks, and more rejection slips later, Sundman decided to publish the damn thing himself. Well, you can read the whole story on his website, but the short version is, it's been a very long, very slow road to, as Sundman puts it, his "microscopic fame". His self-publishing handbook could be titled "How to lose money the hard way." But you have to admire someone who went through what he's gone through because he believed in his work.
It's a book worth believing in. Read it, you won't be sorry. If you're still not convinced, the first 13 chapters are available online.
Acts of the Apostles
by John F.X. Sundman
published by Rosalita Associates, Tisbury MA
Paperback, 359 pp.
Buy this book from Amazon or Fatbrain.
Postscript: John Sundman has graciously agreed to attempt to answer any questions you might have about the book, writing, self-publishing, or the scary post-genetic future. Though he has no crystal ball, so don't expect miracles on that last one. He's known here as "johnny" and would love to hear from you. So ask away.