“Timing” is the second book in a series involving Mitnash Thakur (“Mit” for short), investigator of interplanetary economic fraud, and his bosom companion Slate, an intelligent computer.
The first book, “Far From the Spaceports,” introduced us to a solar system in the (not-so-distant?) future where humankind has found a way to make travel from planet to planet a matter of weeks rather than months, and has extensively colonized convenient bits of rock, including a set in the Asteroid Belt called the Scilly Isles.
Humankind has also found a way to create an artificial intelligence— called a “persona”— that is more sophisticated (and way more emotionally sensitive) than the remarkable HAL of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” A persona can be so integrated into their user's brain that they can even detect their user’s subconscious thoughts.
But about Mr. Bond.
On the surface, Mit has little in common with 007. He’s a technocrat, an employee of the Economic Crimes Review Board (ECRB), which is charged with investigating hackers who try to exploit the far-flung network of colonies to perpetrate digital economic fraud.
He’s scrupulously polite, fair, loyal, and good— to a fault, it turns out, in this book.
He’s got a steady girlfriend, Shayna, back on Earth, whom he worries he’s neglecting due to his frequent travel for work (In “Timing,” he’s as far out as Jupiter’s moons, and as close as Mars, with the Scilly asteroids in between).
And I’m quite sure he wouldn’t hurt a fly. No super-villain could say to Mit, “Come, come, Mr. Thakur, you enjoy killing just as much as I do.”
But if you spend any amount of time at all with Mit, you notice he’s an ultra-smart, resourceful guy who isn’t above a bit of adventure— a quick-witted improviser, like our James, but much handier with computer code than he is with a Walther PPK pistol.
Also, in this particular novel we see Mit dealing with a bevy, not of “Bond Girls,” but of intelligent and formidable women (including, presumably, his persona Slate, who is referred to as “she”), both on his side and not, romantically and not.
In fact, there isn’t a single male supporting character who makes much difference at all to the plot, and a couple are real blockheads.
So here he is, Mit, a dashing yet ethical nerd, threading his way through entanglements virtual, emotional, and both at the same time, while hunting down the shadowy anarchist group “Robin’s Rebels” and sending down versions of new software written on the fly to his superiors, with the obligatory “interim release note.”
It’s all in the timing, and it's a grand time.
One small glitch in the system might be the jargon-heavy description of most everything that works in this future world where space colonization has almost become routine. If you know nothing about computer programming, you will learn quite a bit or it will go straight over your head, but all of it comes with the territory, and a reader has to be up for it.
To me, it is part of Abbott’s genius as a storyteller that he is able to create a Bond-like character in such a technical environment. Never does a golden gun go off in “Timing,” but the action feels somehow similar to the movie where the villain has one.
You could call it James Bond for the new millennium.