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on September 10, 2007
The Integrated Man was written in 1980 by Michael Berlyn, a game programmer known for the interactive fiction genre he and his colleagues made famous at Infocom during its run of text gaming titles during the 1970s and 1980s. Activision bought Infocom with high hopes in 1986, but the acquisition never bore fruit: with the increase in desktop processing power and improvements in graphical interfaces, the text game format rapidly faced extinction. Activision itself went bankrupt in 1992, although it did emerge successfully and at the time of this review (2007) it was distributing some of the most popular gaming titles in the United States.

Given the nature of his day job it was natural for Berlyn to try his hand at hard copy novels and he managed to get four published--Crystal Pheonix (1980), Integrated Man, Blight (as Mark Sonders) (1981), and the Eternal Enemy (1990)--a more than respectable run for any author.

Berlyn's style is reminiscent of the situational sci-fi that was popularized during the Golden Age of science fiction (1930-1955). Fans of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Leigh Brackett, C. M. Kornbluth, and Lester del Rey will enjoy this book. If you prefer a more dense read (Frank Herbert, C. J. Cherryh, J. R. R. Tolkein), hard science fiction (Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven), or gritty cyberpunk (William Gibson), this is not for you.

The Integrated Man is standard "evil corporation exploits hapless workers" yarn with an interesting twist. The corporation's competitive edge is maintained through a system that requires its employees to accept surgically implanted neural interface sockets which accept sophisticated combination microprocessor and memory circuit modules that grant the receiver instant expertise in any job that is required of them without expensive training. Continuous use degrades the nervous system of the user, however, resulting in eventual death. Death rates are high and the corporation satisfies its constant need for manpower by aggressively recruiting new victims and buying off government officials.

If the concept of hardware enhanced human brains sounds familiar to you, it is because it has been oft repeated since the Integrated Man was written. A worthwhile example of this is George Alex Effinger's Budayeen trilogy (When Gravity Fails [1987], A Fire in the Sun [1989], the Exile Kiss [1991]). Also, for an excellent example of a science fiction based plot of corporate exploitation in a mining environment one would be remiss not to mention Chris Bunch and Alan Cole's Sten (1984 [re-released in 2002], became a six book series that was published through 1990).

Three characters are at the center of the book: the exploited inventor of the neural interface system, the avenging son of two mining victims, and the CEO of the corporation. Each are tightly woven together in the accelerated pace of the plot. The climax of the novel is not unexpected, but it does satisfy the reader's craving for justice. Enjoy its simple pleasures and then recycle it back into circulation for the next reader to discover it.
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on April 20, 2013
A dozen or two science fiction books I read as a kid always stood out in my mind, even if I'd forgotten their titles, authors, or even plots over time.

After posting on a forum recently asking if anyone could remember a book from the 1980s about people with slots in their neck, and chips that allowed them to perform functions and even slot personalities, someone responded with "The Integrated Man".

Indeed, that was the book, and so I recently reread The Integrated Man by Michael Berlyn. I think I only read it once before, about thirty years ago, and yet it always stood out in my mind.

I was not disappointed on the reread. Plotwise, it's about corporate power and employee slavery. The workers are given implants that allow them to slot a chip (console gaming style) to allow them to do their tasks, essentially turning them into biological robots. The protagonist, fighting to take down the ruthless company head, has his personality embedded on a chip, so that he can go from body to body, and he's replicated on four chips, so he can exist four times over.

It blew my mind as a kid. As an adult, I recognize that the writing, characterization, and plot is a bit thin at times, but the core idea is just as tantalizing as ever. Brain implants, purely fiction thirty years ago, are now maybe twenty years away. And even without the implants, we've turned corporate workers into cogs that often don't see the bigger picture and true impact of the companies they work for.

Recommended.
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