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Headcrash

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Jack Burroughs was a young, brilliant computer programmer working in the shadows of corporate tyranny. That is, until corporate restructuring forced him down the fiber optic road to subterfuge. This is his incredible story--a melange of betrayal, abandonment, impish wit, imaginary sexcapades and a final, desperate attack against the forces of corporate evil.
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Overview

Jack Burroughs was a young, brilliant computer programmer working in the shadows of corporate tyranny. That is, until corporate restructuring forced him down the fiber optic road to subterfuge. This is his incredible story--a melange of betrayal, abandonment, impish wit, imaginary sexcapades and a final, desperate attack against the forces of corporate evil.
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What People Are Saying

Joel Rosenberg
"Watch out, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and John Shirley. Here comes Bruce Bethke. And he's got a chainsaw."
Gene Wolfe
"My good news is that Bruce Bethke's meglo-merated PC future is at once enthralling, sexy, and very, very funny. My bad news is that it's all true -- and only ten years away."
George Essinger
"Headcrash happily confounds my worst fears about the future in general and the virtual world in particular. I couldn't stop laughing, even while muttering, the horra! the horra!"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446673143
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Headcrash


By Bruce Bethke

Warner Aspect

Bruce Bethke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-60260-4


Chapter One

God, I miss my hypertyper.

I mean, if I still had that thing, I could code this all up in Rich Text Format, lard it down with hotkeys and hyperlinks, and make this sucker dance. You want to know how the story begins, you tap the backgrounder button and zap, Carl Sagan is in the upper right corner of your screen, saying, "Four and a half billyun years ago, a great cloud of hot gas resembling President Gore's 2004 reelection speech-"

Okay, maybe that's a bit wide-focus. So you tap the closelook icon, and a thirty-second sample of Tom Petty's "Refugee" blasts through the audio channel, while the main data thread goes into an explanation of how Mom met Dad at a Heartbreakers concert at the Civic Center in 1980, resulting in me in '81, my sister in '84, a marriage in '85, and a divorce almost exactly six months to the day later. From there I could link out to the Mitchell Motor Vehicle database and give you a fair guess at the current collector's price for a mint condition 1979 Pontiac Trans-Am, as well as some insight into why Dad is still pissed he had to trade his in for something that could carry a stroller and two car seats.

But, no.

No, I'm reduced to working with this stupid, stinking, flatfile editor, banging out a simple linear text file-a sequential text file, for God's sake-so I have to pick an absolute rock-solid point of beginning, follow the thread through the middle ...

And call me a Clipper-burned paranoid, but I have the strangest feeling that someone else is going to be writing the ending.

So, to begin. Where? If this was desktop video, I'd start with a sweeping, dizzying, panoramic virtual helicopter shot of a traffic jam on the Information Superhighway, or maybe with the audio of that message Gunnar left on my phone the night before it all hit the fan. ("Meet me at the club tomorrow, 2300 hours. Your life depends on it.") But why make a big deal out of that? Gunnar was always leaving me weird, paranoid messages.

So I guess the thing to do, finally, is just drive a stake in the time/space continuum, pick a point, and begin. Monday, May 15, 2005. It was a crummy day: dark gray clouds scudding by all low and overcast, the wind gusting through in fits and bursts, a hard spring rain beating down in fat, cold, drops. Our Wonderful MDE Corporate Management still hadn't repaired the bomb damage to the west entrance (the PPLF blew us up on April 15; said they really wanted to bomb an IRS building, but ours was more convenient), so I wound up having to park my '95 Toyota Rustcan out in the far reaches of the south lot, pull on my shoe condoms, and slog a quarter-mile through the cold rain and dead worms to the south entrance.

I was almost within sight of the door when Melinda Sharp came blasting by in her shiny new Dodge "Deathmaster," nailed the largest puddle in the entire lot, and left me wearing most of it. Screeched to a stop in her reserved, double-width, executive parking space: bailed out of the car and was sprinting for the door with a Wall Street Journal over her big blond hair before I had a chance to flip her off. By the time she was inside the Dodge had shut itself down, dimmed back its lights, retracted its steering wheel, raised and sealed its window armor-

And started threatening the rainstorm. "WARNING! THIS VEHICLE PROTECTED BY ARMED RESPONSE! BACK OFF!"

That, at least, broke me out of wondering why Melinda was in so early and let me start the day with a cheap laugh. Three trips back to the dealer and her new car still couldn't tell the difference between being broken into and being rained on. If it was following true to form, it was already using its on-board cellular phone to call the cops, and in about five minutes the MDE parking lot was going to be simply crawling with pissed-off police persons in soaking wet body armor.

I'd "accidentally" strayed into the personnel files a few weeks earlier and pulled her cost-of-benefits numbers. Up and coming Executive Tracker or no, sooner or later the company was going to have to make Melinda start paying her own false-alarm service charges, else we'd be Chapter 11 by July. Personally I had a lot of history with Melinda and couldn't wait to see her finally take the blame for one of her own messes.

And that was the wicked little thought that kept me warm as I splashed the last fifty yards to the south entrance. Just as I was about to step into the covered outside entryway-and into the full, clear view of the security cameras-I caught a furtive movement from the corner of my eye. Someone was lurking behind one of the pillars!

My reaction was purely reflexive. I had a brown belt in schwartztortco Victim Training; in the space of a heartbeat my breathing went fast and shallow, my knee joints locked up and wobbled, and my arms and hands went perfectly limp. My eyes and ears switched into automatic record mode, while my pain sense heightened to an excruciating pitch and an alphabetized list of personal injury attorneys' phone numbers danced before my eyes. My God, if I could just manage to get assaulted on company property, I'd be set for life!

As if in slow motion, the short and swarthy man behind the pillar slid into view. My mind raced. Who was he? An assassin? A corporate spy? Another (albeit strangely thin) PPLF terrorist?

No. He was my boss, Hassan Tabouli. With his head down and his jacket collar up, his thinning black hair and gray-streaked beard plastered down by the rain, water beading the thick lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses; trying to hide from the wind and rain on one hand and the security cameras on the other, and taking a last, desperate, furtive drag on-

Egad, a cigarette. The list of attorneys in my mind instantly jumped to those specializing in personal air pollution, before I finally managed to shake myself out of that damned reflexive mode and start acting like a normal human being again. "G' morning, Hassan."

I'd thought he'd seen me. I was wrong. When I spoke, Tabouli jumped like I'd hit him in the butt with an electric cattle prod. He sucked his breath in sharply, palmed the lit cigarette (ouch!), spun around in a blind panic-

"Oh!" He recognized me and relaxed a very slight notch. "Oh, uh," he coughed, and then, realizing the cat was out of the lung, relaxed the rest of the way and exhaled a thick stream of hot, carcinogenic smoke. "Well, hi. Jack. I, uh-" He noticed the cigarette in his left hand and waved it around helplessly. "I, er, suppose you're wondering-like, I just found this, uh, this-" He pointed off in a vague direction. "In the bushes, over there, and I was just about to, y'know, report it. To Connie. In Environmental Health."

He may have been management, but I liked Tabouli, and considered him something fairly close to friendlike. Very deliberately not looking at the cigarette, I said, "Report what, Hassan? I don't see anything."

He screwed his eyebrows together in a puzzled look and shook the ciggy. "This, uh-" It dawned on him. "You don't?"

I shook my head. "Nope."

Hassan broke out into a big, fuzzy, brown-toothed grin. "Well, in that case," and he went for that filter tip the way my Mom goes for a long- neck Budweiser. A deep drag; an exhale that turned into a heavy, contented sigh; a satiated smile. He nodded at me. "Keep up the good work, Jack. See you inside." I turned and started for the door.

"Oh," Hassan called out after me, "and thanks for coming in Saturday to finish up the mid-quarter statistical report! The Dutfer was impressed!"

Under his breath and mostly to himself he added, "He didn't understand a word of it, but he was impressed."

Tabouli may have said more. I didn't hear the rest of it, because by then I was through the door and into-

Well, first the metal detector grid, to make sure I wasn't carrying any concealed assault rifles. Then the Faraday pulse cage, to make sure I wasn't carrying any hostile software. Then the Olfactory Evaluation Containment Unit, to make sure I wasn't carrying any illegal pharmaceuticals, followed by a quick scan of my Mr. Movies videotape rental card, to make sure I hadn't watched any questionable movies over the weekend. Then I slipped my employee ID badge into the ID card reader with my left hand, laid my right hand on the plate of the palm-print scanner, stared into the laser retinal scanner with both eyes fully open, all the while hopping up and down on my left foot and whistling the first four measures of "Old Man River" ...

And then the inner airlock door chimed and slid open, and I went toe-to- toe with Carl-the last, best line of defense, prototype for the twenty-first-century man, the most heavily implanted rentacop in America and, I suspect, Employee Number 00000002. Every morning, it was always the same. Carl would stand there, gaunt and tall and inhumanly erect (thanks to some extra servo motors in his artificial knees and hips), pacemaker and insulin pump throbbing audibly in three-quarter time, skeletal-thin right hand resting on that ancient revolver on his hip while his palsied left hand held the employee ID badge I'd just handed him like it was an annoyed live scorpion or something, squinting at the ID photo through his floaters and cataracts and trying to decide if the picture matched my face, or if maybe he should just shoot me and save himself some work. I had this mental game I'd play while waiting, of trying to make a picture by connecting his liver spots. Usually I came up with a horsie.

And then he'd smile (nice dentures), and hand the ID badge back to me,

The elevator chimed and said, "Third floor." The doors hissed open. With a certain amount of mooing and bleating, my coworkers jostled out the door and wandered off to their stalls, their cowbells clanking dully in the dewy morning air.

I exaggerate, of course. Our employee nametags didn't actually clank- at least, not in audio frequencies. No, MDE was a high-tech company; we were valued and trusted professionals. Management never spied on workers. It was pure coincidence that each employee nametag contained a tiny coded transponder chip, and that the B305 ceilings had transponder pickups the way other buildings have automatic sprinklers. There was absolutely no connection between the nametags we were required to wear at all times and the monthly reports our managers got listing exactly when and for how long we went to the bathroom, what interesting chemicals were in our excretory streams, and who we associated with on our coffee breaks.

By the way, there is also absolutely no connection between releasing an object from your hand and having it fall to the ground. It is a little known fact that the so-called "Law of Gravity" was actually one of Sir Isaac "Shecky" Newton's best practical jokes, and it was such a wonderful knee-slapper that generations of teachers have devoted themselves to keeping the hoax alive. In truth, there is no such thing as "gravity."

Rather, the Great Earth Goddess sucks.

And speaking of things that suck, thanks to the bombed west entrance and the STS occupation of the first two floors, here's how I got to my office: in through the south entrance, down the corridor to the elevators, up three floors to Document Coding, north through global EthniFoods territory to the skyway access, out through a security door and into the skyway tubes, 200 yards along the north face of the building to the west wing, in through yet another security door, quickly through "Temporary Purgatory" (all the while looking nervously over my shoulder for the ghosts of contract employees past), then a treacherous shortcut through Dynamic InfoTainment Sales & Marketing territory to the fire door, and down six flights of stairs to the MIS office, which is in the basement of the west wing.

I had high hopes of making it that day. Scott Uberman, before the acquisition DIP's VP of S&M and now Division Manager in Charge of Whatever Scut Work We Give Him In Hopes He'll Quit, was sitting there (as usual) with his wingtips up on his desk, the morning Sports section wide open, and his receding blond hairline just barely visible over the headline: Timberwolves May Move to Rangoon. If I could just tiptoe past his office ...

My wet galoshes squeaked on the terrazzo floor. Rats.

The newspaper rustled and collapsed. Uberman looked up and caught me. "Say, Pyle? Good thing I found you. The network's down again."

I stopped and simulated the appearance of caring. "Oh?"

Uberman rolled up his newspaper, leaned forward, and swatted his desktop PC like it was a dog that had done something nasty to a nice carpet. "Dead as the proverbial doorknob." he said.

"Can you still work locally?"

His face flushed pink a moment, and he floundered. "Uh, I, er-"

In other words, he hadn't even thought of trying that. What a surprise. "I'll look into it right away, Mr. Uberman." I started moving toward the fire door again.

"I mean." Uberman cleared his throat, adjusted his necktie, and began delivering his morning whine, which is clearly what he'd been intending to do all along. "This is, what? The third network outage this year?"

I stopped. "We're having some problems porting your database to our server, sir." I edged one step closer to the exit.

"I mean," Uberman scowled, "if I can't depend on your network, I'm screwed. Just totally screwed, you know?"

Then how come you're not smiling? is what I thought, but "We'll have it back up as soon as possible," is what I said.

"I mean," Uberman whacked his PC with his newspaper again, "we never had problems like this before MDE acquired us. Dammit, our old Applied Photonics network never crashed! Not once!"

"So I've heard." And heard, and heard, and heard! And if you gave me just sixteen users in a one-floor office, I could make this network look pretty good, too.

"I mean," he paused a moment, trying to remember what his point was, then settled for, "know what I mean?"

"Uh-huh." I nodded and started moving again. He unrolled his paper and resumed reading it. I got as far as putting a hand on the latch of the stairwell door.

The papers rustled again. "Say, Pyle?"

I stopped and turned around. "Yes, Mr. Uberman?"

"Did you know you're wearing one brown and one blue sock?"

Actually, no, I hadn't known that, but I wasn't about to let him know that. "It's a fashion statement, Mr. Uberman."

"Oh." He thought it over a bit, then decided to go back to his Sports section. I got the fire door open, made it through, and started down the stairs. Just before the door hissed shut behind me, I heard him add, "Looks pretty stupid, if you ask me."

Continues...


Excerpted from Headcrash by Bruce Bethke Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2003

    Hilarious as ish, and Tech oriented, cyberspace is cool

    oh my f-ing goodness, please right another novel bruce. If you haven't read this, PLEASE do. This is like mix between, hitchikers guide to the galaxy, and hackers. Its just absolutely hilarious. I am 30 years old and i peed my pants twice reading this...sadly, but seriously.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2001

    So funny it hurts

    This is absolutely the funniest book I have read in a long time. It also is one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read. The characters are consistant, the plot moves along at a fast pace, and over all it is extremely entertaining. If you like sci fi from W. Gibson and N. Stephenson, you will like this.

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