What is life? Do we, as individual humans, exist as living beings, with free will, accountability and souls? Or are we all nothing but complicated collections of computer code, mostly acting upon our own ideas, but constrained by digital properties?
This concept is at the heart of this imaginative tale by the author of the comic strip Basic Instructions. Martin, an unambitious data entry clerk, spends the vast majority of his free time wandering aimlessly around the Internet. One evening, he stumbles upon a file that, when properly manipulated, has the ability to alter Martin’s time, his location, his altitude and, most importantly, his bank account balance. After a very brief struggle with his conscience, he does what every ordinary lottery winner does — only in his case, federal agents get involved. In a panic, Martin resorts to a poorly designed escape plan and ends up in medieval England, completely unprepared for this particular time (and place) in history.
Lest you think this is leading into some sort of general fish-out-of-water time travel story, consider that Martin is not the first person with a computer to chance upon this particular file. In fact, when Martin attempts to use his modern-day knowledge to get some food, he finds out rather quickly that he is not the only person in the area who has escaped the future.
Scott Meyer has provided a delightful and thought-provoking story clearly directed toward nerds of every generation. The descriptions occasionally drag a bit, but the action moves forward at a steady pace, and these displaced geeks provide some tremendous laughs just by being themselves. There is a mystery to solve, and watching a bunch of highly intelligent techies from other times try to figure it out is some of the best reading pleasure I have experienced in many years.