By Derryll White
Sandford, John (1989). The Fool’s Run.
This novel was originally published under the author’s real name, John Camp. It was the second work in the Kidd series. Kidd and his beautiful partner, LuEllen, functioned as very high-priced con artists and corporate raiders and hackers.
‘The Fool’s Run’ is a wonderful time travel piece as well as a fast-paced work of suspense and corporate theft. Written 32 years ago, computers were very large grey boxes with flashing lights and huge spinning tape reels, sitting in air-conditioned isolated environments. How fast our world has moved.
Kidd is an interesting character. Functioning as, and pulled by his own desires to be, an artist he also is very involved in computers, game theory and data architecture. All these diverse attributes and skills make him a careful and remarkable thief. But a moral thief – he always needs to work out his moral stance before committing to a job. I like that peculiar quirk.
This novel looks at large corporate business – how it is transacted and the wars that occur as corporations develop ideas and products in competition with one another. Sandford shows it as a cutthroat enterprise; war with no quarter given.
I like the way the author works with Kidd – carefully, building context and contacts. LuEllen, Kidd’s partner in crime; Bobby Duchamp, Kidd’s deep-source computer hacker; Dace Greeley, Kidd’s investigative researcher-writer – all are anonymous, independent specialists drawn together by Kidd. There is none of the Lucas Davenport ease, humour and privilege that feature in the ‘Prey’ series. Sandford keeps Kidd on a different plane – more abstract, intent and searching for some kind of artistic purity – maybe Sandford’s own quest for a writer’s art outside the mystery genre.
The technical hacker/computer side of this novel is fascinating. It is pretty early generation stuff, but quite understandable because of that. Sandford lays bare the art of corporate warfare, and I bet not a lot has changed more than three decades later. Quite different from the ‘Prey’ series, I enjoyed ‘The Fool’s Run’ very much.
Excerpts from the novel:
PERSPECTIVE – I found a hammer, nails, and hangers, and hung the Whistler on the big interior wall of the studio, surrounded by the work of friends and personal heroes. The other work ranged from simple sketches in India ink to slashing Expressionist stuff in electric acrylics. The Whistler, simple as it was, dominated them. Age and power. The shamans are right.
TRAINING – A kata can really cool out the mind. When you do a kata right, the surface of the brain, the intellectual stuff, turns off. The action is all down in the lizard part, where reflexes and instincts are paramount.
TAROT USE – “You tell the future?”
“No. Almost everything you read about the tarot is bullshit. But if you take the cards as archetypes for different kinds of human motives and behaviors, it becomes a kind of war-gaming system,” I said…. “By gaming a problem you’re forced outside your prejudices.”
HACKERS – Whole nights were spent exploring the guts of various expensive on-line computers. A generation of computer fanatics learned their jobs by doing it. The first illegal entry I made, way back in the early seventies, was to a call-in board that regulated the heating, cooling, water, and other systems of one of the biggest office buildings in Minneapolis. I could have turned off the building’s heat in the middle of a January night, but I didn’t. I left a note for the operator though, and the next time I called, entry was more difficult.
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.