I'm going to date myself here and recall a novel titled GLADIATOR-AT-LAW, written by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth and published in the late 1950s. Pohl and Kornbluth were quietly but remarkably prescient; this particular novel described a future where nations as we presently know them did not exist. Corporations --- that would be big business to you --- had basically taken over government functions and served as nation-states. There is much more to this fine novel, and after you read Joseph Finder's PARANOIA you should check it out. The reason is that PARANOIA is, in several ways, what Pohl and Kornbluth saw coming.
Finder has made his reputation writing intelligent and gripping novels of international derring-do, as well as a nonfiction work covering the same topic --- and PARANOIA would seem to be a bit of a swerve into another direction. What Finder does in PARANOIA is substitute corporations for nations. Intelligence, research and secrets are as highly prized within corporations as they are within nations, maybe even more so. Wouldn't Bill Gates have loved to come up with the Microsoft equivalent of Apple's iPod a month or so before that toy was rolled out by Steve Jobs? For that matter, when one corporation attempts to swallow another, it may not be called a war, or an invasion. But what else, after all, is a "hostile takeover"?
Adam Cassidy discovers the truth of all this up close and personally in PARANOIA. Cassidy is possessed of a canny intelligence, though he does not tax it to any great extent as he fills his hours working, as he describes it, as a "junior products line manager for routers" at Wyatt Telecom. "Junior telecom mana...zzzz..." One's eyes glaze over. And indeed, Cassidy's do too, as he sits in his cubicle, does his job, and passes the time. But when Cassidy pulls a benevolent but very costly prank on his employer, no one at Wyatt is laughing. Cassidy is given a no-brainer option: Wyatt Telecom is going to have him charged with embezzlement --- unless he agrees to take a job with Trion Systems, one of Wyatt's major competitors.
The quid pro quo does not make sense at first blush. The motive behind the deal, however, is that Trion is working on a project so revolutionary and so secret that most of its own employees don't even know about it. Wyatt wants to find out what the project is and use it for its own purposes.
Cassidy manages to obtain employment and is almost immediately in a quandary. He likes his new employer, as well as his new fellow employees --- especially a fetching young woman named Alana Jennings, who just happens to be working on the secret project. Cassidy is torn between the guilt associated with the duplicitousness of his actions within Trion and his desire to save himself from the charges that Wyatt Telecom is hanging over his head. He has no idea what he is really involved with, or how deeply.
Readers of Finder's previous work will in no way be disappointed by the change of scenery in PARANOIA. Finder is a master of the "frog in the pot" school of suspense writing. He ratchets the suspense level upward incrementally, keeping the reader interested and moving things along faster and faster. By the time things are at a boil, the reader, without even knowing it, is three-quarters of the way through the novel and half a night is gone. It is no surprise that PARANOIA is already optioned for a film, or that the novel is to be translated into seven languages.
This is an exciting, fast-paced work that will be a sure winner with fans of either espionage or corporate intrigue, not to mention Finder's burgeoning legion of readers.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011