Review: With his first novel, Peninsula author Mike Trigg confuses both the toxicity and the temptations of tech culture | New
For Menlo Park author Mike Trigg, life in Silicon Valley isn’t as simple as either.
Originally from Kentucky and raised in Wisconsin, Trigg earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. Over his 25-year career, he has been a founder, executive, and investor in dozens of venture-backed tech startups. Now, he’s making his debut as a satirical novelist with “Bit Flip,” which releases Aug. 16.
The novel begins as if ready to be the 21st century version of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network”. Tech lead Sam Hughes is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore after he lost his temper on stage at a tech conference and revealed his true feelings about his industry.
“Greed, envy, pride and all the other deadly sins are the shy flywheel of who we are,” he proclaims. “We can wrap it in rhetoric to make the world a better place. But, for the most part, it’s bullshit.”
By the time he returns to his office, Sam is an outcast, at least in the eyes of his mercurial boss, Rohan. Rohan claims to see Sam’s public outburst as proof that his head is “not in the game”. Before he has a chance to do anything, Sam finds himself alone in a stairwell, his meager possessions packed into a cardboard box.
No one likes being fired, but Sam thinks he’ll spend time with his wife and kids and then find a job that’s 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 if he’s in his 40s as he tries to chat up the neighborhood billionaires.
Sam’s job prospects look dire until he inadvertently receives inside information about Ainetu, his former employer. Someone may have cooked the books, giving Sam enough clout to consider joining the company and getting revenge on his former boss.
The more Sam learns about the possible scam, the more he twists his own moral compass. Sometimes his ethical dilemmas are portrayed subtly, as in a scene with his two sons playing basketball. Others allow the rants to run a little too long.
Part of the book’s epigraph defines a bit flip as “the act of going a bit from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0. This also refers to the 180 degree change of mind”.
There’s more than one way to lose his soul, so it’s not too telling to wonder if Sam will survive a drastic change in perspective.
“Bit Flip” straddles at least two genres. As a trade-based thriller, it recalls the work of John Grisham and Joseph Finder, with a mostly energetic pacing. He has a comedic side, but not as sharp as Dave Eggers when he wrote “The Circle” and “Every”.
Although set before the pandemic, the novel works best as a meditation on “the way we live now” on greed and rights in the modern golden age. Loaded with plenty of local Palo Alto, San Francisco, and East Bay flavor, “Bit Flip” will have local readers wondering just how much truth this fiction holds.
In Sam Hughes, Trigg has created a sympathetic and confrontational protagonist – sharp, sarcastic but still vulnerable. He knows that many aspects of the tech industry are toxic, but he can’t help but want another cup of poison.
A chapter in which he travels to Ohio to visit his parents and brother is particularly well done. Overwhelmed resentments surface and each character gets a chance to tell their story, including Sam’s mother, who started driving for Uber on the streets of Dayton.
Sometimes the jargon thickens beyond the point of accessibility, which is sometimes the satirical point and sometimes just a function of the medium. As a first-time novelist, Trigg writes with confidence, clearly at home with startup culture and some of its more insidious inhabitants.
Although tragedy strikes one of the characters and there is trickery throughout, “Bit Flip” feels like it could use an extra jolt of suspense. It’s an enjoyable, often funny, generally engrossing, and always intelligent summer read. Trigg makes an impressive first impression, one that readers will be happy to follow in the future.
Mike Trigg will participate in in-person discussions and book signings on Thursday, August 18 at 6 p.m. at Books Inc Palo Alto, 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, booksinc.net and Thursday, October 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the HanaHaus Community Workspace, 456 University Ave., Palo Alto, hanahaus.com/paloalto. During 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.