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Paranoia – by Joseph Finder

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Excellent book, perfect at bedtime. A corporate espionage thriller, but enlivened by a wonderfully wry, witty tone.

The book is set in present-day Silicon Valley, with two companies – one Oracle-like, with a messianic Larry Ellison-like CEO, the other with an Andrew Grove-type paternal-type leader with a fierce blood-on-the-lips, take-no-prisoners attitude just below the surface – vie for supremacy over a new “killer app.” From the book:

    I was a junior product line manager for routers in our Enterprise Division. I spent my days hearing phrases like “dynamic bandwidth circuit emulation service” and “integrated access device” and “ATM backbones” and “IP security tunneling protocol,” and I swear I didn’t know what half the shit meant.

    I put in the minimum required hours, got in late and left early, but I got my work done. My performance review numbers weren’t good – I was a “core contributor,” a two band, just one step up from “lowest contributor,” when you should start packing your stuff.

    When you work at a big corporation, you never know what to believe. There’s always a lot of tough, scary macho talk. They’re always telling you about “killing the competition,” “eat or be eaten,” to “eat their lunch,” and “eat your own dog food” and “eat your young.”

    You’re a software engineer of a product manager or a sales associate, but after a while you start to think that somehow you got mixed up with one of those aboriginal tribes in Papua New Guinea that wear boar’s tusks through their noses and gourds on their dicks.

    When the reality is that if you email an off-color, politically incorrect joke to your buddy in IT, who then cc’s it to a guy a few cubicles over, you can end up locked in a sweaty HR conference room for a grueling week of Diversity Training.

    He was wearing a tight black long-sleeved shirt that looked like it was made of linen, and probably cost more than I made in a month. He seemed to be more tanned than normal. Maybe he slept in a tanning bed.

    “If you take away nothing else today, I want you to remember this: he’s pathologically honest.” I couldn’t help smiling. This from the chief consigliere to Wyatt, a guy so crooked he’d cheat on a prostate exam.

    “That Camiletti?” I asked. “Cutthroat Camiletti,” he said. “Our chief financial officer. The czar of frugality. You see his face, those acne vulgaris scars? Rumor has it they say ‘eat shit and die’ in Braille.”

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A perfect bedtime book is a rare and wonderful thing to find. Lots of books are fine for during the day, but don’t work at night. Conversely, a perfect bedtime book is never as good in daytime as it is at night, when you’re all cozy and tucked in, your head against your cool pillow, with nothing but the pleasure of peace and quiet and your own company.

For example, nonfiction is no good at bedtime. I can’t lose myself, which is what I most love about a good novel, its ability to create an alternate world and reality more real than the real world I’m actually in.

Same for biographies: true, they take you to another time and place, but you don’t seem to become part of them, instead watching and observing, as if from a distance.

Proust and Joyce and Sterne are too difficult for me at bedtime. I simply can’t make progress in the story, so absorbed do I become in the language itself.

My favorite bedtime writer is, and has been for many years, John Le Carre. Oh, but his “voice” – and if you want to hear something wonderful, buy a book-on-tape or CD of him reading from his work – is perfect: dry, intelligent, original, wise, penetrating.

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