Halo, Maddox's first novel, is surprisingly sparse with a simple and straighforward plot. Surprising to those who have been reading his short stories for years. The main theme is one of self and self-discovery an exploration of what personhood means for man and machine.
The protagonist, Mikhail Gonzales, is an agent of SenTrax corporation. Sent to their orbital space station, Halo, to keep an eye on things, he instead becomes an integral part of the goings-on, first by virtue of his relationships with the humans on the space station, then later by his relationships with the machines.
Foremost among these machines is Aleph. It has sentience and consciousness, or at least a sufficiently good imitation of them that it cannot itself tell the difference. The major project of the book is the attempt by Aleph and the members of the Interface Collective to save the mental life of Jerry Chapman. Chapman's body is being ravaged by a shellfish toxin; only his mind is kept alive in the symbiosis between machine Aleph, and human the Interface Collective. It is this effort which entangles Gonzales and his proto-aware memex (memory-extender computer) in the lives and fates of those aboard Halo.
Halo is an extremely literary work. While Maddox clearly draws from cyberpunk influences, his method of dealing with the essential underlying themes of human/machine interface seems more Byronic than Gibsonesque. Perhaps this is not surprising, considering what Maddox does for a living, but I couldn't help feeling like the author was setting me up. I waited in vain for some bogeyman to spring up.
The book moves smoothly to its predictable conclusion, with time out for interesting side "trips" into hallucinogenic mushrooms and mathematics. It doesn't (to paraphrase Bruce Sterling) get up on the tabletops and dance, but it does provide an interesting approach to contemporary issues.
[This review originally appeared in SF Eye #10, 6/92)
175 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10010
1991, $3.99, 216 pp. (paperback)
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Halo:
[Back cover jive from Halo]
Something strange is happening on the high-orbital space station called Halo, and the men who run the corporations who own Halo don't know what it is. SenTrax has hired freelance data auditor Mikhail Gonzales to find out.
Why are the resources of Aleph, the artificial intelligent that operates Halo's systems, being diverted to the experimental sections? Who authorized the extraordinary life-support systems being built.