Joe Hutsko is a very visible high-tech journalist whose byline pops up everywhere from the New York Times to such citadels of nerdiness as Computer Life and Multimedia World. Unlike many of his peers, however, he has an insider's acquaintance with the industry. He spent his early 20s working for Apple Computer--mostly as an advisor to boardroom buccaneer John Sculley, who was then wresting control of the company from Steve Jobs. And indeed, his first novel, The Deal, is clearly a rerun of that celebrated corporate fracas. In this case, visionary wonk Peter Jones is busy running Via Computer into the ground. His rival, Matthew Locke, is determined to put the company's founder out to pasture and restore Via to a sound financial footing. Will the bottom line triumph? Or will the forces of virtue--meaning the spacy, Silicon Valley version of individualism--prevail in the end?
To Hutsko's credit, he's introduced some variation into the story. The Deal is set in the 1990s, which means that the Internet can rear its virtual head at various points throughout the story. The author also ventures into the bedrooms of his protagonists, all of whom seem to have at least a nominal difficulty with boy-girl relations. Still, it's hard not to match up Peter Jones with his real-life counterpart: "Of slight build and tenuous stance, his physical composure was that of a lanky high school student. Yet his eyes revealed more. They were the eyes of a man wise beyond his years, whose mind operated at a cycles-per-second rate equal to ten brains (or so the story went)." Without these correspondences, in fact, Hutsko's debut would be pretty thin grist for the mill. But for people seeking an entertaining, thinly fictionalized Book of Jobs, The Deal will do just fine. --Bob Brandeis