Art works as a user-experience consultant, which translates as coming up with ideas and figuring out how to implement them for public consumption or private sales and make loads of money for a corporation. He's also a plant for the Eastern Standard Tribe (EST) working undercover in Greenwich Mean Tribe (GMT) territory in his version of industrial sabotage. Currently he's trying to undermine Deutche/Virgin, a huge entertainment conglomerate, by creating ideas that on the surface look and sound feasible, but somehow upon implementation don't work out. Or better yet, they never get past the research and development stage but still end up costing Deutche/Virgin a bundle.
Art is hooked up with a firm in New Jersey, and he and his buddy Fede, who got him the job in the first place, have been working as a team for a few years now. Fede deals with the organizational nuts and bolts and Art is the idea man. So when Art comes up with an idea that will not only do an end run around Deutche/Virgin, put money in Fede's and Art's pockets, and make their EST employer lots of cash too, its only natural that they'll work on it together. Fede's only reluctance is that he wants to sell to the highest bidder and to hell with tribal loyalty, but he lets Art convince him that they owe the folk in New Jersey.
Everything is going great for Art; not only has he come up with a sure fire way to make money and help EST, he's also met a wonderful girl, Linda. Even though she's from Pacific Standard Time (PST) and a little bit crazy, they're hitting it off great. So why does he end up in a sanatorium involuntarily committed by his girlfriend and his best buddy Fede? It turns out that Art attacked Fede and accused him and Linda of stealing his idea and selling it off to another tribe. So he's now locked away and being kept doped up for suffering from severe paranoia. Yet, are you still paranoid if they are really out to get you?
At the beginning of the book we meet Art sitting on the roof of the sanatorium as he's managed to escape the confines of his "room" momentarily. While he's debating with himself on whether it's better to be smart or happy, he recounts the events that led him to this point. All his life he's paid the price for being too inquisitive and demanding answers where others would just merely acquiesce and accept things as they are. It's that type of mind that allows you to see patterns developing which others can't detect, that lets you see, where others wouldn't, that your best friend and girl friend have sold you out.