The Manuscript is a tightly written techno-thriller yarn which draws on an intricate web of betrayal, deceit and conspiracy as well as the less archetypal theme surrounding the discovery of the meaning of life. What I mean is, the entire novel pivots around a lost manuscript that supposedly offers up the absolute meaning of life but still manages to conveniently side-step offering up in any length or detail what that meaning is. Instead, we are taking on a rip-roaring, if somewhat technologically claustrophobic journey with a melee of unlikely characters brought crashing together in an equally unlikely search for said Manuscript. It is very reminiscent of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, minus the Britishness.
FreeBSD, a highly intelligent, high octane character looking for cheap thrills in his mundane yet hazardous life as a crummy drug dealer writes a super ‘bot’ called “Bob” that searches the entire web and finds the Manuscript hidden away in the web underground – lost space on the internet that occurs when computers/servers are not linked to anything else and don’t seem to want to be found. It all sounds rather plausible in a techno-babble way.
Dana and Miles are both Post-grads. Caught up in the race towards FreeBSD and the whereabouts of the missing Manuscript suddenly everything starts to get a little messy – people start to get killed.
Techno-junkies will appreciate the humour that might leave the technophobes in the cold, but thankfully the jargon and proliferation of email text throughout doesn’t really detract from the overall action or pace of the plot. The Manuscript is written with the fluency of an author who knows exactly what he is writing about and where he is going, despite the apparent complexity of both content and direction. Not unlike a data packet that has a specific IP address to go to, but may take an inordinately diverse route to get there.
FreeBSD is my favourite character, although he could do with a swearword bypass on that mouth of his. What he brings to the party is comedy and lots of it. The notion that some two-bit chemist come drug-dealer that thinks he’s a black man can create the ‘bot’ that cracks the location of the Manuscript where presumably bigger corporations and possibly governments have failed is not only far-fetched to the extreme but also done with such nonchalance that we can’t help but love him for who he is.
It is worth persevering with this one – although it doesn’t actually offer us a definitive meaning of life (I think it might allude to it very, very briefly), in the end it doesn’t really matter. This is a clever plot with few twists, just short of brilliance.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012