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First Contract

Greg Costikyan

Tor / Tom Doherty Associates

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-312-87396-4

Publication Date: 07-2000

287 Pages; $23.95

Date Reviewed: 07-24-2002

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction


Summer 2000. The girls were good looking and the stock market was high. High tech was still high profit. We were all going to retire early, live the good life. And then the aliens came, and ruined it all.

In actuality, we didn't need aliens to ruin it all -- humanity did a fine job all on its own. But the alien scenario is played out to near-perfection in Greg Costikyan's pre-crash novel 'First Contract'. The author, a noted creator of various games uses caustic wit, withering satire and an eagle eye to skewer the capitalist cornucopia that reached a zenith in Silicon Valley at the turn of the century. He knows the whole start-up and development scenario like the back of his checkbook. This novel was almost painfully funny when it came out at the very tip-top of one of the longest economic booms in American history. Now, it may seem more painful than funny, depending on your current economic status and the direction you're heading. But it's no less incisive than it was two years ago. The vision of its economic science fiction, a category that doesn't generally get many blips on the radar screen is still as sharp as ever. Just be careful not to check your portfolio while you're reading the novel.

As 'First Contract' begins, life is sweet for Johnson Mukerjii. He's a go-getter jet setter of the Internet startup generation, and he just about has a hot piece of technology that could make him a bundle. He has all the good things that go with the job -- a wonderful house, a hot wife and a couple of fast cars. But when those pesky aliens arrive, they bring more than gifts and greetings. They bring ultra-cheap technology. Suddenly, we're the Aztecs and the aliens are the Spaniards. We don't have a hope of competing with them. Mukerjii finds his life going down the toilet at an alarming rate.

Costikyan evidently talked to a few people in the biz before he did this novel. His locations, his characters and his knowledge of the ins and out of high tech marketing development, engineering and sales are impressive. His aliens are strictly window dressing, but they're remarkably clever window dressing that will bring a chill to the heart of anyone who has worked in this environment, and even those who have witnessed the fall from the outside, looking in. When it came out, 'First Contract' was merely funny and incisive. In retrospect, it seems rather chilling as well. All that throat cutting business eventually led to a bloodbath, only it wasn't aliens doing the cutting. A jacket flap that lets the reader know that "Unemployment soon hit 50 percent and the Dow Jones slipped from tens of thousands to less than one hundred. It was the greatest business bust since the fall of the Roman Empire." That kind of rap is still funny, but it's even more painfully funny now than it was when the novel came out. For some the pain will outweigh the gain.

Costikyan's scenario isn't all doom and gloom, however. Capitalism is a two-edged sword that can be turned against the aliens just as well as it can be used by them. Mukerjii hasn't forgotten how to cut fiscal throats even though he himself has been under the knife. There's more than a bit of a Douglas Adams vibe at work in this novel, and the satire is relieved by some sunnier thoughts. My only regret is that the novel, even in the title, suggests that there would be a follow up. It hasn't come out as yet, which probably means that Costikyan is doing fine in the game business. But if he ever needs a fallback plan, that novelist gig worked out well in 'First Contract'.