When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold will be legislators.
—P.J. O'Rourke, quoted in The Syndrome Rule
For anyone who has ever occupied a dot-com cubicle, Chris Jones' elegant techno-thriller The Syndrome Rule will seem terrifyingly possible. His debut novel supplies a wild ride through conflicts between commercial vs. free software, capitalism vs. socialism, and the interplay between the government and a fictional computer colossus located in Redmond, Washington.
Similarities between Jones' fictional Sky Software, "maker of operating systems, office suites and laser mice," and real-world Microsoft are probably due to Jones' former employment with the Redmond-based computer giant.
Sky Software is the 600-pound gorilla in Chris Jones' Redmond, employing so many people that it can skew local fashions—Sky employees all wear fleece jackets with Sky product logos. The company has so much capital that it can drop a billion on a single acquisition, and it wields enough power to define legislation that will mandate use of its products. Driving many of these power-moves is James Hollinrake, a corporate weasel by any definition of the word.
Hollinrake has just concluded the greatest career-move of his life. Challenged to find the next "cool techno-toy," he identifies a Silicon Valley firm manufacturing an "organic" computer case, acquires some prototypes, and puts a "crash team" to work reverse-engineering them. The result is destined to be the next big thing in portable computing, the BizTop. Having proven the concept and acquired the Silicon Valley firm for Sky, Hollinrake is basking in the glory of a promotion to vice-president, and an appointment to head SkyPAC, the company's lobbying organization in Washington, DC.
All Hollinrake has to do now is make sure every BizTop includes the soon-to-be-mandated Digital Rights Management chip. If the organic case-makers disagree with that inclusion, well, he still has his crash team ready to go to make sure it happens. The product is released on time, and sells faster than Sky can supply it.