Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Fear Index

The Fear Index
© 2009 Robert Harris
304 pages

Dr. Alexander Hoffman is a brilliant physicist-turned-financier who may be losing his mind.  It’s not as if the software he designed to manage investments in stocks, securities, and the like isn't still successful; it’s turned him into one of the wealthiest men in town, and in Geneva, Switzerland, that’s saying something. It’s just that strange things keep happening, like a book arriving in the post which he apparently bought, using a bank account he had no idea existed, and the fellow trying to eat him.  A near-fatal break-in and a series of inexplicable incidents  unsettle the doctor, on the verge of making a business deal that would catapult him into Scrooge McDuck-like wealth.  To make matters worse, the software he designed is acting increasingly erratic; it’s always had a mind of its own (it originated, after all, from Hoffman’s research into autonomous machine reasoning, or AI), but lately it’s been acting absolutely mental. Billions and billions of dollars are at stake: this is no time for the man of the hour and his ultimate computer to start  setting things on fire. The Fear Index is the tale of Hoffman’s  and the global economy’s dive into madness. Harris' gifts for writing thrillers, usually in historical settings with The Ghost excepting,, translate well to this interesting mix of science fiction and business. The reader is kept as baffled and increasingly alarmed at what's happening to the doctor,  and Harris cleverly ties the novel's events to real-world financial happenings, making this historical fiction of a sort.  He also provides a twist ending that doesn't spoil all the fun, one which leaves readers pondering at what monster has been awakened even as the storyline's problems are resolved.  It's not as stellar as his other works, limited in part by the odd mix of genres, but it's still a fine psycho-adventure.

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