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Sunday, July 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Richard Wallace
"Transmission," the wickedly good second novel by Hari Kunzru, is 21st century in every way. Its cast of characters is international; its comic irony is sharp and intelligent; and, best of all, the theme is grand.
No claustrophobic, family-secret novel here Kunzru targets our high-speed, global-information age and its inherent fragility.
Kunzru tracks the lives of two major characters: Arjun K. Mehta, a young, talented East Indian computer programmer, and Guy Swift, "thirty-three years old, UK citizen, paper millionaire and proud holder of platinum status on three different frequent-flyer programs."
Guy is flying high in every sense. He has his own PR company, called Tomorrow*. He has a beautiful girlfriend and all the champagne and coke that plastic can buy.
Arjun, still living with his parents and his sister, also sees his fortune on the ascent. Just hired to be a IT consultant by Databodies, a computer-services employee agency, he's going to the Golden Land of California.
Naive beyond his years, Arjun is quickly disillusioned. Waiting for months for a permanent job in a sleazy Daly City apartment with a bunch of other Databodies hires, he finally lands a plum assignment with Virugenix, a top computer-security firm located in Redmond, Wash.
When the dot.com bubble bursts, Arjun doesn't survive the waves of employee layoffs. Bitter and desperate, he turns to cyber-revenge, unleashing a virus so brilliantly conceived that it nearly brings the world to a standstill, catapulting Guy Swift to places he's visited only in nightmares.
"Transmission" is loaded with colorful minor characters who extend both the comedy and the angst. Kunzru's vision of a borderless planet and the relationship between freedom, fame, uniformity and chaos is so well thought out you have to marvel at his accomplishment.
Here is literature as witty, thoughtful, probing entertainment.
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