Grace, meanwhile, finds it necessary to flee when terrorists try to kill retired FBI agent John Smith, the man she is traveling with. Before she, Magozzi and Rolseth and the rest of the Monkeewrench crew can figure out if these are all connected and how, they'll need to enlist some new allies and go further "off the grid."
The Lambrechts have maintained their smooth narrative flow and wry wit over the entire series, and the characterization skill that flagged a little in Shoot returns here. Ensnaring the cast in a worldwide terrorist plot seems a little far-fetched considering the more stay-at-home kinds of work that they've been doing, and the ending act is a lot shakier and sketchier than it could be, feeling a little rushed. But the Monkeewrench series is still a lively, peppy read and the Lambrechts have yet to slow down.
-----ago opened up some rereading of his earlier work. His Giants trilogy took its turn here, and now we look at 1979's The Two Faces of Tomorrow, which is probably one of his best.
In the mid-21st century, much of the world's machinery, transportation and infrastructure is operated by a supercomputer network called TITAN. Human society is too complex for anything other than a computer to be able to handle these tasks, and so the semi-independent system takes care of much of it. But the problem is that TITAN is like most computers -- literal and unaware of the immense impact our basic, taken-for-granted knowledge gained through experience needs to have on its decisions. This literalism has been causing accidents around the globe, so politicians and scientists are faced with a choice: They can revert to an older, slower system than will limit growth or try to install a truly artificial intelligence. Raymond Dyer, a leader in developing such systems, warns the leaders that there is no guarantee such an intelligence would agree to be allied with humanity once it developed, and could become very dangerous.
So Dyer and several other scientists, as well as military leaders and troops, create such a system on the space station Janus in order to test it. If it goes wrong, then at the very least the station can be destroyed before endangering the whole world. They install the system, called SPARTACUS, and program it with a "survival instinct" they theorize could prompt conflict between a supercomputer and humanity. They figure that they can always turn off the power and end the experiment. But nobody told SPARTACUS it was all an experiment.
Much more than any of Hogan's other work, Faces is a novel of ideas, among them what it means to be what we call "human." The mere ability to recall data and process it much faster than any person could isn't enough to make computers independent of human agency -- they need intuition as well. How does this combination of intuition and reason develop, and what are its ramifications? Faces works out one set of answers in a world slightly different from our own but still recognizable. Space travel is common and there are bases on the moon, but the characters use personal computers resembling iPads, for example.
Hogan also does a much better job of developing more of his cast of characters than in some of his other books, in which we get a good picture of one or two and sketches of the rest. Although he would write some 30 books over a career that lasted until his death in 2010, he would not really match the height of Faces -- it's not a Great Novel in the common sense of the word, but it is a thought-provoking work that isn't limited by its genre from considering the human condition.