For the setting of this novel, Michael Rogers imagines the world of computer technology in a not-too-distant future. In a brief prologue he asserts: "This is not a fable. It is, quite simply, the shape of the future: a future that began where apricot trees once bloomed, in the heart of Silicon Valley."
Those sentences seem an odd invitation to a novel; they seem to embody an assumption that readers of novels greatly desire tips about the future. The novel itself does incorporate a lot of plausible, though entirely debatable, speculations about what computers might be able to do in a decade, but I don't know why most readers would care whether a novel made accurate predictions of fact. That Jules Verne's books are prophetic in this sense may have saved them from oblivion, but they are not good novels on that account--nor on any other, I think.
Rogers comes up with at least a dozen clever inventions. I liked particularly the "electronic novels" that one of the book's minor characters concocts. One doesn't exactly read these novels; one participates in them, with the help of a computer, of course. But a reader of this novel never really gets to see the characters participating in those novels within the novel, and so Rogers' invention, though plausible and rather nice, seemed superficial, stillborn, to me.
Again and again I got the feeling that the characters were left standing outside the technological setting. I couldn't imagine that I was traveling with them through the weird landscape, and I lost interest in that landscape accordingly. I really felt as though I were being taken on a quick tour through a computer show of the future--very interesting but somehow flat and meaningless.
Nevertheless, Rogers has substantial gifts as a writer and uses some of them to good effect in "Silicon Valley." The book reads right along; after a time, it's hard to put down. The best of the characters is the villain, one Burt Mathias. The computer company that Mathias helped to create has fallen on hard times, and in trying to reverse its fortunes Mathias has committed some serious crimes and at least one important blunder.
Now Mathias is trying to get a large, prospering computer firm to take over his company and bail him out; to get this company's attention, he arranges a truly Faustian publicity stunt: a "Turing test," a game designed to settle the question of whether or not a given computer is imbued with something akin to human intelligence. How the computer and its program will fare becomes the book's main source of narrative tension. Mathias, meantime, spins a web of deceit and betrayal around himself. At its best, the novel tells the story of a man's corruption. And there are some real flashes in the portrait of this jerk, Mathias; one knows his type, but one believes in him; one even eympathizes with him sometimes.
I am sorry to say that for me, however, none of the other major characters arose from the pages of this novel. It's as if Michael Rogers had lent too much of his imagination to the game of technological forecasting and not enough to his proper art, which, as "Silicon Valley" occasionally demonstrates, is clearly storytelling.