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Thursday, October 10, 2013

For Silicon Valley Novels, Blurring Fiction and Non-Fiction

Mark Twain once said: “It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” It seems that Dave Eggers has people questioning which of those two types of storytelling he wrote about in his new book, “The Circle.”

The new novel tells the story of Mae Holland, a young idealist who comes to work at the Circle, a Google-like technology company that has conquered all its competitors by creating a single login for people to search, shop and socialize online. As my colleagues  and  noted Thursday, a lot of people are debating whether the book is based on a real truth that could happen, or a fantasy that could prove to be science fiction.

Mr. Eggers isn't the first person to attempt to weave together a narrative about Silicon Valley's culture into a novel.

“Cash Out,” written by Greg Bardsley, takes readers on a journey that has been described as a cross between “The Hangover” and “Office Space.” The story follows a disgruntled Valley start-up employee who goes on a three-day spree to try to sell his  $1 million stock options vesting at a job he despises. It involves a kidnapping by a group of tech-support nerds, blackmail and a lot of drama. Barring the kidnapping, some of the story could veer into the truth category.

“The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest” is a novel written by Po Bronson, which showed how ludicrous the computer industry can be, including Silicon Valley power plays, and makes fun of the tech creative process. The book follows a company in search of a next-generation chip for its computers that will help keep the company's stock from falling after a failed public offering. The book describes itself as a story that “reveals the brutal, absurd side of the industry.” The book did so well it became a movie in 2002, and its stars included ,  and .

“Dot Dead,” by Keith Raffel, is pretty much what it sounds like: a murder mystery worth of a Steve Jobs keynote presentation. The novel follows a high-powered executive with one of Silicon Valley's hottest tech firms, whose life is thrown into chaos when he comes home to find his part-time maid stabbed to death in his bed. (Cue creepy “C.S.I.” music here.) While the evidence points to the executive as the killer, he has to go on an exhaustive investigation to prove he was framed. There's also a little love story thrown in to keep the reader turning the page.

“Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel,” by Robin Sloan, is one of the latest forays into Silicon Valley novels. Mr. Sloan, who is often referred to as a “media inventor,” previously worked at Twitter as a media manager. The story follows Clay Jannon, a hipster Web designer, who comes upon Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and then gets caught up in a global conspiracy, some hacking, and of course, a love story. It's a page-turner for today, and given that Mr. Sloan has worked in tech for years, it's spot on when it comes to its Silicon Valley references.