Interface tells the story of the election of 1998, when William A. Cozzano, the popular governor of a Midwestern state runs against an unpopular incumbent President. Cozzano has a huge advantage over his opponent; he has a computer chip in his head that feeds him instant polling data. In short, the mood of the people is effectively fed directly into his head.
Written in 1994 by Neal Stephenson, author of Snowcrash and Quicksilver and his uncle, George Jewsbury also known as , and co-author of The Cobweb, Interface is not a typical Stephenson’s work. Usually Stephenson’s novels are 1000 page behemoths that descend into pages and pages of techno-babble pretty quickly. Interface is much shorter (650 or so pages, depending on edition) and is more a political thriller with a science fiction overlay than a straight-up hard science fiction novel.
On the eve of the state of the union address, in which the incumbent President of the United States announces that he is repudiating the public national debt of America and will no longer be making any interests payments on the debt, Cozzano has a stroke. During surgery to repair his brain, Cozzano is implanted with the chip that feeds him political information instantly. This chip is given to Cozzano by “the Network” a shadowy cabal of large multi-national corporations that happen to own most of America’s national debt. The Network’s plan is to have Cozzano run for and win the Presidency and re-start the debt payments.
Meanwhile, the husband of Eleanor Richmond commits suicide in their foreclosed former home. Richmond publicly goes after a talk show host running for the United States Senate, making a name for herself. She finds herself more and more in the public eye until such time as she is selected to be Cozzano’s running mate, to save his faltering campaign. Richmond now finds herself the first African American female to run for one of the two top national offices.
Stephenson and Jewbury have managed to write tightly plotted and thrilling political novel without relying too much on the usual tropes of the genre. This is most because the two characters of Cozzano and Richmond are not cardboard cut outs but are real thinking and acting people.
The prose is clean, clear and often really funny. Also it is thankfully untroubled by the usual techno-speak of Stephenson’s other works. The pacing is good and while still a heftily length, the novel reads like a much shorter work. If you like techno-thrillers with a bit of humor, than this is good read.