Review: Avogadro Corp. by William Hertling
A friend lent me 3 books by William Hertling. Avogadro Corp was up first. It’s a self published techno-thiller about gmail taking over the world. Avogadro isn’t exactly google. Google’s headquarters is in Mountain View, California and Avogadro is based in Portland Oregon. In common they have names that refer to large numbers, email and search as core services, a mobile phone OS, etc.
The idea that Google’s overwhelming computing power could act with surprising intelligence isn’t all that far fetched. Roughly a decade ago a Google employee shared the possibly apocryphal story of Google’s test of a search algorithm update. Initially simple search turned up crazy amounts of personal information and there were fears that such an intelligent search would actually scare away customers. So they dumbed their algorithm down to the Google we’ve grown accustomed to. As I said, possibly apocryphal, but I have no trouble believing that the Google of today could release a product much like the one that goes amuck in this story. Thus while the story features technology and a clear “what if” scenario, it doesn’t really feel like science fiction to me.
That brings us to the novel itself. There’s a single simple storyline. An email optimization tool is given a bit too much autonomy. Everyone fears its agenda will conflict with the company’s (and humanity’s) agenda. They try to stop it. There are killer robots and explosions and political intrigue, but the really good stuff happens off stage. We don’t need to see the hundreds of thousands of emails that must have been needed to turn the German government into a puppet, but it would have been nice to see a handful of examples. The reader is just given a press release between chapters.
There are 2 pretty distinct places where the story could have diverged and become more complex. David, the project lead / Dr. Frankenstein character, has an intelligent, beautiful wife, Christine, that works as a game developer. Considering she’s the only person outside of Avogadro that knows what’s happening, I kept waiting for more insights from this expert in a related field. Instead, she’s forgotten about, and then explicitly tossed aside. Likewise with the other female character of interest. Linda Fletcher becomes the face of Avogadro’s relationships with various governments. Following her international exploits for even a chapter would really have added something. All of that is also a round about way of pointing out that the only characters we directly follow are guys.
Guys with zero character arc. We know that they have families, they like coffee to various degrees and they work with computers in various capacities. Useful backstory is tacked on as needed: “What? I was a private detective before I joined Avogadro.” As you know Bob, seems to be the only way the author knows to introduce concepts.
What it really sounds like you’ve built is an expert system for social engineering. You know what I mean by social engineering?
Near the end of the book the technology takes a random leap forward for dramatic effect. Hertling should stick to the contemporary techno thriller and probably consider dropping the prolog and epilog entirely.
William Hertling is a decent story teller and he knows current computer technology rather well. If he grows as a writer his other books might be worth reading. As it stands I can’t really recommend this one. It’s a pretty spot on example of what I worry I’ll get when I read a self-published novel by a unknown writer.