Brilliant and ambitious, Jack had experienced much over the past few decades. As an early entrepreneur and technology specialist, he had seen the growth of Silicon Valley and the wealth brought about by the computer industry. With a lot of vision and plenty of hard work, he and others like him succeeded in bringing about a revolution in the way people worked and played. Whether it was a practical invention like the PBX that provided businesses with a simpler way of managing their telephone systems or the early modems that would spur the growth of communications, these hardworking men and women created a fundamental shift in our own culture, one toward a global interconnection through technology. This was more than a career for them—it was a life's work.
........While they were intent on changing the world, they, in so doing, benefited greatly in their own lives. As forward-thinking engineers and businessmen pursued the latest in technological advances, they reveled in their influence and prestige. Along with this money and power, the technology industry there in California brought plenty of opportunities for leisure time and expensive pursuits, including the solitary sports, foreign movies, and fine dining enjoyed by Jack. Indeed, the early technological innovators, fueled by optimism and the stimulation of the culture of California, enjoyed a lifestyle undreamed of by many in the United States.
Despite these obviously positive aspects of Silicon Valley, there was also a darker side to it as well. The lure of wealth and advancement also brought about the worst in those who worked within the industry. For people like Carson, Jack's friend and one-time mentor, the drive to succeed led to a cocaine addiction, a flaw with which he would struggle until his violent death. Like these personal downfalls, corporations and their leaders rose and fell depending on the economy; too, even the best of technological advances were suppressed by larger corporations afraid of such innovation. The power and money that so many enjoyed revealed greed and spurious intentions, along with the willingness to save true ethics for those with very little to lose. Some quickly left California and technology altogether while others stayed, being formed by the lathe that is Silicon Valley.
In The Silicon Lathe, Steve Jackowski presents a view of the rise of Silicon Valley and its evolution over the past few decades. A novel, the book portrays technologies that would form the basis of our current culture within the fictional portrayal of the lives of innovators like Jack and Carson. This heavily technical side to the book will perhaps limit the range of readers interested in its insights into this industry; however, Jackowski certainly presents even the most difficult concepts with a clarity that even the most common layman could understand. He is never patronizing in
his writing, but rather displays his own passion for the subject, whether corporate funding or the significance of ARPANET to the modern internet. Indeed, despite the portrayal of greed and betrayal within the book, the story is ultimately one of hope, one that reveals the author's belief in the ability of technology to change the world for the better.
Jackowski's writing is skillful and avoids many of the common pitfalls of a novel that is somewhat autobiographical. Also, reading the book is an enjoyable experience as the descriptions of surfing and hang gliding allow even a land-locked person an entry into such an undertaking. However, perhaps the one thing that detracts from the flow of the book is the length of these descriptions; while displaying the wonders of California living, they sometimes became meditations of their own, leaving the reader desiring to skip ahead a page or two in the book. Still, the writing is excellent and leaves the reader informed as well as entertained. Those readers interested in technology will most certainly find a kindred spirit in Jackowski and his novel, The Silicon Lathe.
The Silicon Lathe, a story about the passions behind technology start-up companies in the Silicon Valley, is an ambitious debut novel for author Steve Jackowski. The novel covers a huge span of the industry’s history beginning in the year 1983 through present-day. We are introduced to our narrator, Jack, who was working for a company called Skynet before switching jobs to work for a start-up company called CIA headed by charismatic industry professional, Carson Ingles. He and Carson end up forming a friendship over the years, which is a recurring dynamic throughout the novel. We are also introduced to Steve, a hyper-ambitious businessman who is not afraid to be aggressive in obtaining what he wants, Steve’s social-ladder climbing wife Shelly, Jack’s coworker from CIA named Ronn, and his best friend who works in the same industry, Georgette. After investing much of his time into CIA, Jack eventually ventures on to starting his own start-up company providing him a whole new experience of navigating through the passions of the start-up industry. The novel takes us through early development in Silicon Valley when ideas about where the Internet would take society and what technologies would sell were mere predictions, through to the booming technological age we are in currently.
Jackowski goes into detail about how tech companies are managed, including everything from administrative support to stock options and outside company acquisitions. The novel highlights the glamour of the tech start-up industry: the wealth, the freedoms, the fine dining, the ambition, and innovation. But it also explores the consequences of being overzealous, of too much wealth, and the legality of tough competition. I also liked how Jackowski juxtaposed the development of his companies in the Silicon Valley alongside other world events, such as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, Chernobyl, the Iran-Contra affair, Tiananmen Square, Y2K, and the rise of the Internet, for example. I think it helped to add depth to a developing industry by including other important events in the same timeline.
Initially, I felt as though this novel may only relate to a niche-market, but by the end, I found that it’s a story that could appeal to a wide range of audiences. It is dense in content, and some sections that tangent off the linear plot are dry, but it is well-written and provides an interesting look into the tech industry. I thought the story only got stronger as it progressed and it’s clear that Jackowski put his personality and passions into this novel.
Mitch Stern’s wife has just left him, and he’s hoping to distract himself in San Francisco. Unfortunately, he ventures where he shouldn’t, and, although he is the first character we meet, he doesn’t last long. His body washes up on shore several days later and is investigated by Mike and May, two detectives from opposite sides of the Golden Gate Bridge. The story switches back and forth between their case (and evolving relationship) and the romance of Jim and Liz. Jim is a reserved software developer in the middle of a divorce, and Liz is a vivacious law school graduate in the middle of an engagement. Their chemistry is immediate.
Steve Jackowski does an excellent job of weaving these storylines together, deftly switching between many perspectives. He also manages a very subtle transition from a romantic adventure (albeit, one that starts with a murder) to a compelling, complex psychological thriller. While the first half of the story is a bit slow, it is still interesting, and the second half just flies by. Once the various puzzle pieces started coming together, I couldn’t put it down.
The only real complaint I have is that the dialogue is occasionally clunky, particularly in the beginning when Jim and Liz are getting to know each other. However, either this isn’t a problem later in the book or I just didn’t notice because the story was so thoroughly engaging.
Jackowski lays out the information in such a way that everything is in place long before you discover it. This is a very smart book, perfect for both readers who like to try to solve the crime before the characters do and readers who love to reread mysteries to see all the hints early on.
Featuring fascinating characters, a rare psychological disorder, and twists that would make even the best mystery writers proud, The Shadow of God is one novel you don’t want to miss.