First Contract by Greg
Hardcover - 288 pages (July 2000)
Tor Books; ISBN: 0312873964
Review by Ernest Lilley
I'm not sure whether to nominate Costikyan for a Hugo (SF's highest literary honor) or for Best Business book of the week. For now, lets just agree that it's fun, full of human and business insights, and and that the author knows (firsthand) an awful lot about the way things are and how to have fun along the way.
Standby by for some hyperbola while I get it out of my system. First Contract is a delightful romp through the universes of science fiction, outer space and really big business. One of most overused praises in Science Fiction reviewing is that so and so is a new Robert Heinlein. Greg Costikan has gone RAH one better. He shows an understanding and affection for the "humanity uber alles" themes of classic SF tendered with the understanding and reality of global commerce. It's Space Merchants meets the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy with a bit of John Ford's How Much For Just The Planet? thrown in.
Johnson Mukerjii isn't your everyday hero. True, he stands alone (well, aided by an aging Science Fiction writer and a beautiful woman) on the airless galactic field of battle to turn back the alien horde and save earth...sort of. But it's a modern battlefield, and he's a modern warrior. OK, it's a trade show and he's a businessman. Would you like air and gravity in your booth?
The story opens with Mukerjii, a first generation Pakistani immigrant and head of a Silicon Valley computer firm, on top of the world. Hard work, daring and the e-economy have made the American dream come true until the Aliens come and sell us all the Sci-Fi gizmos we ever dreamed of back in the 50s and a few more besides. Evidentially Costikyan's aliens haven't watched enough Star Trek, or maybe they've seen too much, but either way, there's no Prime Directive slowing them down. The first thing they do is to deliver on the promises of the future you used to have to read Sci-Fi pulps in the 1930s to see. Flying cars, trips to Mars, full sensory VR, the whole works. So who needs Silicon Valley? Soon it's Chapter Seven for Mukerjii's company, and from tax shelters to homeless shelters for our hero. (I haven't seen anyone lose this much since Bujold made Miles cash in his chips in Memory) and quickly becomes a bum on the streets.
But humans have been doing the same thing to each other for thousands of years...and nothing gets our attention like being kicked in the teeth. If you can't sell high tech toys, why not sell them ashtrays and cheap plastic gizmos...all stamped "made on Earth". The cosmos is, after all, a really big market. If you can figure out how to sell to it. Soon he's off in Mexico dealing with nearly bankrupt plastics manufacturer and plotting his IPO to fund his way onto the alien trade show circuit. He may be able to make it to the trade show...but when they fold up the booth and turn off the air, will there be enough money left over for a ticket home?
Along the way, Mukerjii develops an ally and a nemesis in Leander Huff, a Science Fiction writer of the old guard, who's tales of humanity triumphant have made him rich on the galactic circuit...as comedy. Leander strikes me as a cross between Jerry Pournelle, Joe Haldeman, Robert Heinlein and Hunter S. Thompson. Come to think of it, Jerry Pournelle may be a cross between RAH and HST. Of course, in this day and age, that sort of character is out of time and place, or is he?
I don't know if Costikyan plans a sequel, and right up to the last chapter I didn't think there would be much of a point to one. OK, so I was wrong. If Greg Costikyan does, I'll read it eagerly, if not, I'll be sure to put him on my list of authors to watch for whatever he does.
One final note. Greg Costikyan claims not to have a romantic soul. Keep fighting it Greg, but don't expect us to read your stories and actually fall for it.