Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Fear Index-Robert Harris

The Fear Index

Robert Harris

Knopf, Jan 31 2012, $25.95

ISBN: 9780307957931

When the Feds defunded the Texas super collider, Dr. Alex Hoffmann obtains a position as a physicist at CERN in Switzerland. When he suffers a nervous breakdown, he leaves Geneva. Alex takes with him VIXAL-4, an independent computer with the uncanny ability to self-teach at a speed that humans cannot comprehend.

To finance his research and his machine, Alex sets up a hedge fund run by VIXAL. The algorithm VIXAL uses takes the pulse of investors leading to four years of incredible growth while the stock markets around the world collapse. However, as the creator loses control of his creation, someone inside the firm diligently works on making Hoffman look insane to his staff.

This is an enjoyable modernization of Frankenstein with a touch of Harry Kellerman inside of a contemporary convergence of physics, computers and international finance. The storyline is fast-paced with a terrific late twist although none of the cast including VIXAL is likable as all seem morally bankrupt. With a two prong cautionary plot, Robert Harris provides a fascinating timely thriller as science without passion is dangerous while even more lethal is finance void of ethics and scruples when profit is the feral god.

Harriet Klausner

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