Review of Interface by Neal Stephenson & Frederick George
I had not read any other of Neal Stephenson's books (at the time of noding this), but I have had the author recommended to me as a cyberpunk. There is no apparent prequel to this book, and I am not aware of it being part of a series - however there is nothing to say that the author has not written one or is writing one. The ending of the book does allow for the possibility of a sequel.
In a nutshell, the book is about a surgical operation to fit chips into the heads of stroke victims, enabling them to recover full use of their limbs, speech and cognitive faculty. It is also about the personal life of one of these stroke victims who becomes President of the United States.
Regarding the author's technical knowledge, I must admit I was disappointed. Especially since there is a co-author; I wonder what Frederick George's role was - clearly not an expert in neuroscience or micro technology.
My criticism of the neuroscience content is that there was no material whatsoever. The author could have named in passing some parts of the brain and included descriptions of their function - this could have been done with Broca's and Wernicke's areas, both of which are speech centres, and their function has been known about for at least 50 years. Shame on the publisher if such details were originally present and were edited out (dumbing down for the readership?). Also, why restrict the application to stroke victims? Why not Parkinsons Disease, Motor Neuron Disease or Multiple Sclerosis? Wouldn't it be great for someone like Stephen Hawking to get the use of his body back!
Regarding the software running in the chip, this seemed to need patches and upgrades. I believe that a future technology replacing functionality of the human brain would require a complex adaptive system. It would thus harness software evolution and emergence techniques and program itself. In the book, it is solely the brain that adapts around and into the chip, not the chip adapting to the brain.
Also knowing something of how pollsters and the market research industry works, the statistical sampling methods described in the book are vastly different from what happens in reality.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and was riveted. This book is best appreciated as an American political thriller. I admit ignorance when it comes to the American electoral process, living as I do in the UK.
I thought that Cy Ogle's "eye in the sky" was a direct plagiarism of the cult 1960s series "The Prisoner" (maybe this book actually explains what The Prisoner is about!) However, the 360 degree suspended swivel chair surrounded by screens has become something of a cliche.
My advice is to suspend reality and enjoy. Much as one does when watching Star Trek. Most of the characters are larger than life, and the most incredible coincidences happen to them. I also found that the plot was completely guessable from the first few chapters.
Regarding the moral or ethical aspects of the technology, the author does not even scratch the surface. There is a group of animal rights activists appearing early on, opposing Dr' Radhakristnan's research with monkeys, but they are merely background furniture to the plot.
In summary, I think that this book would translate very well into a movie. There is no need for any dumbing down of technical details. Nor are there any ambiguous characters - just plain goodies and baddies, making it easy for Hollywood to implement. I would look forward to the film coming out.
This review has also been submitted to diversebooks.com