two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
By: 
Hari Kunzru
user_rating: 
0
A-TransmissionComputer whiz and Bollywood fan Arjun Mehta dreams of making it big in America. But when he arrives in Silicon Valley, ready to strike it rich, he meets nothing but loneliness, disappointment, and near servitude. When he’s told his job at a global security software company is on the line, Arjun releases a destructive computer virus in the hopes of fixing it in front of his boss in order to impress him and keep his job. But Arjun’s virus goes unexpected places. As his world unravels, so, too do those of his bisexual hippie friend Chris, English entrepreneur Guy Swift, and his favorite Bollywood actress.
Dutton. 276 pages. $24.95.
ISBN: 0525947604

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"…the entertaining Mr. Kunzru makes it even clearer that he has a flair for culture clash and metamorphosis. … If Transmission starts out with an eye for literate social satire that suggests Martin Amis or Zadie Smith, it winds up in a Chuck Palahniuk paranoid daydream of systematic unraveling." Janet Maslin

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Kunzru’s vision of a borderless planet and the relationship between freedom, fame, uniformity and chaos is so well thought out you have to marvel at his accomplishment." Richard Wallace

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Kunzru can capture perfectly this monstrous, oh-so-familiar type [drag queen], but his range actually seems quite limitless: bus-terminal derelicts, born-again madmen, German business executives, world-weary, golf-playing sheiks, Indian crime-lords, computer nerds …" Michael Dirda

Boston Herald 2.5 of 5 Stars
"… Kunzru navigates the high-tech world with authority and imagination; however, some of the flaws in his earlier work—lackluster dialogue, opaque characters—are amplified in this spare tech-fable. ... There is intelligent intent behind this novel, but noise ultimately muddles the message." J.L. Johnson

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"A plot formed around [computers’] latest capabilities and influenced by their current limitations is irrelevant by the time the pages are spell-checked. It’s science fiction in reverse. … Like an unsaved file on a computer, Transmission dissolves back into random electrons the moment one turns it off." Walter Kirn

Rocky Mountain News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Kunzru clearly is trying to ride the trailing wave of Y2K hysteria but doesn’t pull it off. … [E]ven though Kunzru’s writing often is witty, hip and clever, the moral of the story remains heavy-handed and trite." Eric J. Blommel

Baltimore Sun 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Maybe it’s his mocking tone. … Perhaps it’s overambition, trying to cram too much of our complicated, comic world between the cover of a single book. Whatever it is, Hari Kunzru’s new novel … is very hard to take." Helene Stapinski

Critical Summary

Is the plot (a virus transmitted everywhere, as the title suggests) outdated, as a few disgruntled critics suggest, or is Transmission a timely meditation on the dark pit of greed, money, and technology? Kunzru, the British author of the award-winning novel The Impressionist and named one of Granta’s best young fiction writers, has written a high-tech thriller that may fit more with the year 2000 than today. Still, it’s a fast-paced, imaginative tale, with insights into culture clash, pop culture, globalization, and the high-tech world. Readers will feel for Arjun, even if the story is not entirely believable. Then again, it contains all the Bollywood flourishes that its anti-hero cherishes—what more could you want?