For Menlo Park author Mike Trigg, life in Silicon Valley isn't as simple as either/or.
A Kentucky native raised in Wisconsin, Trigg earned a bachelor's degree at Northwestern and an MBA from University of California, Berkeley. Over the course of his 25-year career, he has been a founder, executive and investor in dozens of venture-funded tech startups. Now he makes his debut as a satirical novelist with "Bit Flip," which publishes Aug. 16.
The novel begins as if it's ready to be the 21st-century century version of Paddy Chayefsky's "Network." Tech exec Sam Hughes is mad as hell and not going to take it any more after he loses his cool onstage at a tech conference and reveals his true feelings about his industry.
"Greed and envy and pride and all the other deadly sins are the core flywheel of who we are," he proclaims. "We may sugarcoat it in rhetoric about making the world a better place. But, for the most part, that's bullshit."
By the time he returns to his office, Sam is a pariah, at least in the eyes of his mercurial boss, Rohan. Rohan claims to see Sam's public outburst as evidence that his head is "not in the game." Before he has a chance to do much of anything, Sam finds himself alone on a stairwell, his meager possessions collected in a cardboard box.
No one likes to be fired, but Sam figures he'll spend some time with his wife and kids, then bounce right back into a position even more lucrative and influential than the one he had before. Instead, he finds himself hanging out at an over-the-top birthday party for a 10-year-old Instagram celebrity, wondering whether he's a 40-something has-been as he tries to make small talk with neighborhood billionaires.
Sam's employment prospects seem dire until he inadvertently receives privileged information about Ainetu, his former employer. Someone may have been cooking the books, giving Sam enough leverage to consider rejoining the firm and exacting revenge on his former boss.
The more Sam learns about the possible swindle, the further he warps his own moral compass. Sometimes his ethical quandaries are portrayed with subtlety, as in a scene with his two sons playing basketball. Others allow rants to run a little too long.
Part of the book's epigraph defines a bit flip as "the act of switching a bit from 0 to 1 or 1 to 0. It also refers to the changing of one's mind 180 degrees."
There is more than one way to lose your soul, so it's not giving away too much to wonder whether Sam will survive a radical change of perspective.
"Bit Flip" straddles at least two genres. As a commerce-based thriller, it's reminiscent of the work of John Grisham and Joseph Finder, with mostly peppy pacing. It has a comedic edge, but one not as sharp as Dave Eggers when he wrote "The Circle" and "Every."
Although set before the pandemic, the novel works best as a "way we live now" meditation on greed and entitlement in the modern Gilded Age. Loaded with lots of local color from Palo Alto, San Francisco and the East Bay, "Bit Flip" will have local readers wondering how much truth is in this fiction.
In Sam Hughes, Trigg has created a likable, conflicted protagonist — sharp, sarcastic but still vulnerable. He knows that many aspects of the tech industry are toxic, but he can't help wanting another cup of poison.
A chapter in which he travels to Ohio to visit his parents and brother is particularly well done. Submerged resentments break the surface, and each character has a chance to tell their story, including Sam's mom, who has started driving for Uber on the streets of Dayton.
Occasionally the jargon thickens past the point of accessibility, which is sometimes the satirical point and sometimes just a function of the milieu. As a first-time novelist, Trigg writes with assurance, clearly comfortable with startup culture and some of its most insidious denizens.
Although tragedy befalls one of the characters and there is skulduggery throughout, "Bit Flip" feels as if it could use an extra jolt of suspense. It's an enjoyable summer read, often funny, usually compelling and always intelligent. Trigg makes an impressive first impression, one that readers will be happy to follow into the future.
Mike Trigg will appear at in-person discussions and book-signings on Thursday, Aug. 18, 6 p.m. at Books Inc Palo Alto, 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, booksinc.net and Thursday, Oct. 6, 6:30 p.m. at HanaHaus community workspace, 456 University Ave., Palo Alto, hanahaus.com/paloalto. At both local appearances, Trigg will be featured in conversation with Mehran Sahami, author of "System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot." For more information, visit miketrigg.com/books.