I think that the Seattle Weekly got it right. Interface is “a Manchurian Candidate for the Computer Age.” In fact, the whole time I read the book I kept thinking that the plot had kind of been covered in that movie a number of years ago. This isn’t to say that I don’t adore Stephenson. When I finally got around to reading Cryptonomicon, thanks to the nagging of my partner, I adored it: really brilliant, enthralling, and exciting. What attracts me to Stephenson’s work is that it is Sci-Fi but not the kind of Sci-Fi with spaceships and aliens, it is a world that looks just like this one except for one little thing… and that one little thing, which always seems like a good idea at the time (i.e. brain implants for stroke victims) turns out to have huge consequences.
Stephenson and George successfully indite the media-savvy political process of the late 20th and early 21st Century. I think they’re also right about how it will be medical technology that get people to surrender at least some of their rights to a computerized network- after all, who wouldn’t want their father back from a stroke he was never supposed to have.
Although I did feel like the plot had already been done, the details were uncanny. Although Stephenson and Frederick wrote in 1994, some of the details could have come from the 2008 election– especially how Cozzano stages a huge rally in Grant Park in Chicago, IL.
In some ways I thought the most insightful part of the book occured right when Cozzano is kicking off his campaign. I underlined and starred when Eleanor says:
[A big campaign] shakes everything up. Everything’s in flux for a moment, you have the chance to go off in new directions, fix old problems in your life. Believe me on this.
Although I personally felt a little like the female characters were one-dimensional (especially Mary-Catherine), Eleanor does serve as a useful speaker of the truth.
The other concept I found interesting was the tension between words and images. The only people who really understand that Cozzano is different after the implant, Mary-Catherine and Floyd, are the ones who’ve listened to what he says. At one point, the authors write that
Images were all fakery and manipulation cobbled together by the evil gnomes of Ogle Data Research… what counted were words.
Along that line, I’ve missed reading fiction. Spending some time with Interface reminded me just how powerful fiction can be. In many ways, because Stephenson and George can push on the edges of reality just a little bit, the point is driven home that much more. Getting lost in a novel that still makes you think is a wonderful way to spend the Thanksgiving holiday.