The Grid by Philip Kerr

Warner Books, Feb 1997, $6.99, 444 pp.

ISBN: 0-446-60340-6

Review by Paul Melko

The Yu Corporation has commissioned a smart building to be built in Los Angeles, a state-of-the-art skyscraper that manages, maintains, and adapts itself, all by computer control. Only things have gone horribly wrong. Just before the final acceptance of the building by Yu from the architecture firm, Richardson Associates, dead bodies begin appearing in the building. Is it the dismissed senior partner of the archtecture firm, the guard with a criminal record, the chinese nationals picketing the building due to the Yu Corporations's human rights record? The first half of the story builds to the action-packed second half, where a dozen people are trapped in the computerized building, only now the computer is not quite as user-friendly as everyone thought.

Marketed as a techno-thriller, this could also be classified as SF, bad SF at that. Kerr can't seem to create a sympathetic character. Even the main protagonist, project manager Mitch Bryan, is shown as an unsympathetic philanderer, who leaves his mentally ill wife at home while he boffs the Feng Shui consultant. Likewise, Kerr's prose can be clunky, sometimes nearing unreadable. Nonetheless, the action scenes are well-done.

What makes this SF is the extrapolations that Kerr makes in his very near future world (Summer of 1997!). Cadillac has come out with an armed car called the Protector that has two engines, so you never have to stop if one breaks down, and machine guns. Computer programs, such as the one running the building, can program their own subsequent versions, and the old and new versions behave as father and son. Automatic and error-free drug testing occurs every time the toilet is flushed. Dole is named as the current president. And many more smaller speculative ideas that sometimes work and sometimes fall flat.

His knowledge of computer science is obviously flawed and this reflects upon the driving force behind the book: sentient computers. While Kerr postulates many far reaching ideas occuring in his book this year, it will be well into the next century before these things are even possible in a laboratory, let alone a people-populated skyscraper.

In the end, the novel comes across as an anti-technologist action adventure, one where the set-up has to be accepted by the reader to get to the deaths and adventure. This theme may not be appreciated by a true SF reader, and so I suggest you steer clear of The Grid. If you do read it, you may stop taking the elevator, but more likely, you'll stop reading books by Philip Kerr.

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