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by  Biff Mitchell

Open Book

Review by Timothy Mark

Biff Mitchell has provided in Team Player a witty, entertaining, satirical description of life in the workplace of a modern, computer-dominated corporation dedicated to finding software solutions to the world's problems. The action takes place in Bonanno Tower, a 201 storey building, 2,500 feet high, and accessed by jet elevators that travel upwards at over a hundred miles an hour. It is the location of Erectsoft Inc whose supremo is the all-powerful dPisano, a mysterious chief executive who issues his commands sitting behind his gold encrusted bullet proof desk in his alabaster pillared and marble floored office on the top floor.

Characters are deftly drawn: "marketing clone Daryl" in love with "marketing clone Janet"; the enticing Crystal, dPisano's mistress; the unpleasant Paul Dubois with his squeaky voice and stinking after-shave; and Malcolm Gray who takes refuge in the branches of an artificial tree in the corner of his office and who endangers his life by daring to question the strategy and methods employed by the corporation.

The plot, difficult to discern at first, gradually unfolds: amidst the building's spacious floors and offices, keyboards, monitors, consoles and cameras are commonplace. Secret telephone conversations, surveillance, spying and back-biting intensify into violence and intimidation. Employees are hired and fired at will. The atmosphere becomes tense and frightening as more and more employees commit suicide by jumping from the "Tomasso observation deck" to their death 2,000 feet below. Mal, the central character, wants to find out whether, despite all the marketing and planning, any project ever gets completed. As his enquiries meet more and more opposition, he discovers the truth: that the huge edifice of Erectsoft Inc is built on a strategy of corporate espionage which is rotten at the core. Finally, much of the Bonanno Tower building is destroyed and the dPisano's dream of becoming the master of the universe is thwarted. Interwoven with the main story is a sub-plot of a pagan ceremony involving witchcraft with naked women dancing round a cauldron in an orgy of sensual delight. Somehow, this sub-theme is linked (not very convincingly in my view) to the final chapter and conclusion. But the purpose, I am sure, is to warn the reader not to take the story too seriously. This is a good story.

The author is to be congratulated also for providing an imaginary tale that contains clear parallels with modern business practice: for example, the use of e-mails as the dominant method of communication, with its inherent dangers of misunderstanding. A good example was the e-mail headed "a challenging opportunity" sent to employees informing them that their contracts had been terminated! Also the idea of developing software "to monitor the progress of rival companies" must surely be within the bounds of possibility in the modern world of commerce and industry. But I am sure that to regard this as a main aim of the story would be to misunderstand the author's intention. I suspect that his central objective was to provide an easy-to-read, imaginative, interesting and humorous tale and I am sure that in this respect he has succeeded. The satire is secondary.

There are some unusual aspects of the presentation of this book which I liked. Many of the chapters are short and indeed some contain only a single paragraph. This is a good method to hold the attention of the reader, particularly of any reader who is unused to long novels. One chapter heading is simply a "smiley picture" and several more smiley pictures occur in the first paragraph on that page; this change of style is pleasantly provocative, and I wonder whether a few more such graphics might have added to the enjoyment of the book? I was disconcerted at first at the little snippets of dialogue that are presented from time to time of brain cells talking to each other inside Mal's brain! But once I got used to the author's zany humour, I found the conversations enjoyable!

But I have a few further points. First, I think that the story is too long. I suspect that careful revision could reduce the length of the text by at least a third, and this would add to, rather than subtract from, the interest of the plot. The story reads to me almost as though it had been dictated into a tape-recorder. I am sure that some careful editing would add to the quality of the book.

Second, I deplore the frequent use of four-letter words. The use of f*** and sh** and their derivatives are sprinkled liberally throughout, plus other unpleasant turns of phrase. The occasional use of expletives can be justified but the use in this novel is so widespread as to be likely to cause offence to many readers.

In contrast to the racy style which the author adopts generally throughout the story (and perhaps this is inevitable given the nature of the plot) there are a few paragraphs where he provides some beautiful descriptive writing, for example, the account of the way Mal first discovered the delight of climbing trees. I was sorry not to find this quality of writing more often.

There were several occasions when the writing was so far-fetched as to verge on the nonsensical; I assume that this was entirely intentional so as to protect the reader from taking the dialogue too seriously! For example, the image of a "voice drooly like a French poodle in heat" was arresting but then I wondered what exactly it might mean. "He was the poison mushroom in the stew of life" was delightfully evocative although in the context in which it occurred I was unable to ascertain what precisely was intended!

So if you can cope with the racy style and language this is a book that will cause you much amusement and enjoyment.


ISBN 1 74100 129 3 (pbk); 1 74100 127 7 (e-book)
Published by Jacobyte Books, 2002
363pp, paperback or e-book
Retail price $21 (book); $9 (e-book) (Australian)