by Matt Ginsberg
As an established book reviewer, I receive a lot of what are known in the industry as ARCS. These are advanced reader copies, essentially novels that are on their way to being produced for the masses and are soft-launching with readers and reviewers and critics. The hope is that through these outlets, publishers, authors, and publicists can help the books they are championing to gain momentum and exposure with reviews and social media blasts.
I receive a lot of these books. A LOT. Nearly half of my monthly book haul is comprised of ARC novels, either by my own design due to the relationships I have with certain publishers and publicists that allow me to pick and choose what I’d like to read in advance, or when the powers-at-be reach out to me due to the reputation I have in the industry as someone who takes their reviewing very seriously. I try to give each book I read it’s proper due diligence. I research the author and their history with writing, their other books, and their fan base. I read the book and spend days allowing it to sink in while also allowing myself plenty of time for reflection. There are some books that I finish that I end up not really enjoying, and most of the time I feel bad about that because I know how hard authors and editors work. I want to like every book I read but that’s just not possible. But sometimes I get lucky and I don’t just like the book . . .
. . . I LOVE IT.
When Factor Man was initially sent to me, I cringed both inwardly and outwardly. Some titles get sent to me without my request in the sender’s hope that I will read and review at my discretion, and this was one of them. I value the time that publicists and publishers take when sending out an ARC; it’s time consuming and it also costs money, and so I really try to read as many of them as I can so that I can provide an accurate and honest review – for platforms like GoodReads and Instagram – in return. Readers around the world flock to these sorts of websites and apps in search of their next best read, and there are so many amazing novels that get lost in the endless amount of books listed. Reviews help an author more than almost anything else, so I really do my best to pay attention to the books sent my way.
Factor Man. The synopsis had a whole lot of math words in it and I was instantly turned off. I liked the graphics on the front, but the idea of reading a novel surrounded by the dense fog of math . . . could I do it? Would I even understand it? I’ll admit something I’m not exactly proud of – I have failed a lot of math classes. It took me three tries to get through remedial math in college. Three. I barely skated by that third time and it was 90% due to my teacher being a completely awesome person who met me at Panera Bread once a week to tutor me in her spare time and I completely dominated that class, asking questions about literally very single problem and studying every spare minute I had at home. I got a B in that class, and I earned that B. So yes, I count with my fingers. I can’t calculate sales prices with percentages. I can’t tally numbers without checking it 17 times. In short, I am a math dummy.
I tend to shy away from books that have computer-based plots or anything too science-y. The Martian? The single most boring book I have ever read, and it made me feel incredibly stupid when my husband raved about the math and the science involved. What are the odds that a creatively-minded-writer-and-lover-of-words would marry an engineer-nerd who builds BitCoin mines in his spare time? I have no idea, because I suck at math.
So not only did Factor Man rely heavily on math and science and computers for its plot, but it . . . no, that was enough to make me cringe. Cringe hard. And then load up on cold-brew coffee and double-fudge brownies before diving in.
Anyway, back to the actual novel. Factor Man is written by Matt Ginsberg. On the back of the book, next to a photo of an attractive older man is the first sentence of his bio – “Matt Ginsberg got a PhD in astrophysics from Oxford when he was 24.” Again, cringe. Not because the guy doesn’t sound cool, but because he sounds TOO cool – like ACTUALLY too cool for school. I began to assume that this novel would have gigantic words thrown in with a convoluted science plot, and probably some misogynistic tendencies (believe it or not, the latter is extremely prevalent in a lot of male-written work, especially when it’s tech or science-fiction based).
But alas, I was so very wrong.
The plot was instead, fast moving, engaging, and full of tiny and delicious morsels of carefully crafted humor plucked straight from a hot oven and served piping hot. The characters were relatable: the villain was wonderfully cruel and eerily confident (the only thing missing from this person was a delightfully high-pitched cackle), the journalist was a bit bumbling and adorably nerdy, and the math and science? It wasn’t a big deal at all. I got through it just fine. Ginsberg has a way of explaining mathematics and science that pulls the reader/listener in and keeps them rapt. It’s an art. It made me actually want to *gasp* learn more about math.
(did I really just say that?)
William Burkett is a journalist of the very basic variety. He writes political and statistical articles for a nondescript website that doesn’t get too much traction, but he’s a hard worker. He believes in what he writes and what he researches. Nothing gets by him without an immense supply of due diligence, and he is always eager for the next chapter in which he can submit to his call of journalistic integrity. Clark Kent has nothing on William Burkett, except perhaps a red cape and a phonebooth. And laser vision.
When Burkett is approached via email by a person who calls themselves Factor Man, he is intrigued. So-called Factor Man claims to have discovered a long-believed mythical slice of code commonly referred to as God’s Algorithm. This code is supposedly the answer to every question ever put forth; it can render each and every computer program completely perfect and devoid of bugs or quirks. It can solve any problem, any puzzle, any mathematical entanglement. It is essentially a cure for the modern world that we live in – an answer to lives that are so completely wrapped up in technology – from our mobile phones to our vehicles, to traffic lights and hospital equipment, God’s Algorithm can master them all and essentially, make the world a better place.
The owner of such technology can either be hailed a God or a Devil. There will be no more unbreakable codes, the possibility of anything being actually protected while this technology is in existence is next to nil. It’s a dangerous business, and Factor Man has reached out to Burkett to help chronicle his story and the progression of the program’s deliverance and also – to help garner Factor Man a bit of legitimacy.
First, Factor Man must prove himself to the public. He sets up a website where he claims he will factor any numbers sent in to the site (that fit the parameters he has set, of course). Factor Man will increase the bit of the numbers to be factored incrementally, beginning with 64-bit numbers and ending, in three years, with 255-bit numbers. It is his hope that in these few years, not only will the public come to understand that he is serious about the technology he claims to have, but also certain governments and companies that rely on privacy technology can find another way to protect their data.
When that time is up, an auction will take place, and at the end of that auction one bidder will be granted the license for the technology, allowing it to become their own exclusive code for one year. After that one year, the technology will additionally be provided to the government of the United States. And after that, it will be released to the general public – and Factor Man will identify himself (consequentially throwing a huge, ticket-only blow-out bash that he hopes Iron Man will attend). He promises that any attempt to hinder this process or alter the plan set forth will be met with dire consequences that will damage the perpetrator both domestically and publicly (and he means it; don’t cross this guy). And of course, William Burkett will be there for the ride of a lifetime, the sole journalist with direct access (of a sort) to the man everyone is talking about.
With great power, of course, come great responsibility. Through Factor Man’s point-of-view, readers will see that he has literally thought of everything; his family, his friends, his environment, his country. The best part about his character is his tangible humanity – there is literally zero ego with the man who has invented God’s Algorithm. He just wants to take his kids to Disney World.
The story pushes and pulls like the tide as readers follow along with Factor Man, the journalist Burkett, and a Chinese operative set upon a mission to eliminated Factor Man at any costs. Fast-paced and thrilling, the novel comes to a stunning crescendo at Factor Man’s coming out party, where all will be revealed and perhaps, all will be lost.
Factor Man is the first novel by Matt Ginsberg, a former Stanford professor and an expert in the field of artificial intelligence. A crossword aficionado and a published playwright, Ginsberg hit the ball out of the park with his literary debut. The writing was smooth and easy, engaging and whimsical. It felt like stepping into the workshop of Tony Stark or the laboratory of Ray Palmer and having a chair drawn up for you, with a glass of whiskey offered so you can sit and have a good visit.
I have to give the novel 5 out of 5 stars, which is something I don’t do *too* often. It was SO fun. I loved it and then immediately passed it on to my husband, who loved it as well. I recommend it to nearly everyone, going so low as ages 13+. The writing has such an easy flow that nearly anyone can follow along with ease, and the plot is devoid of any bad language or sexual exploits. It’s a great, clean thriller complete with one heck of a hero.