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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Turing's Delirium

Edmundo Paz Soldán

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To purchase Turing's Delirium

Title: Turing's Delirium
Author: Edmundo Paz Soldán
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 291 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Turing's Delirium - US
El delirio de Turing - US
Turing's Delirium - UK
Turing's Delirium - Canada
El delirio de Turing - España
  • Spanish title: El delirio de Turing
  • Translated by Lisa Carter

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly entertaining, but doesn't pack enough of a punch

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 26/8/2006 Olga Lorenzo
Entertainment Weekly B+ 21/7/2006 Troy Patterson
The Los Angeles Times . 27/8/2006 Erik Davis
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/7/2006 Pico Iyer
San Francisco Chronicle . 9/7/2006 Andrew Ervin

  Review Consensus:

  Liked aspect of it -- and didn't like others

  From the Reviews:
  • "Edmundo Paz Soldan's Turing's Delirium explores themes of human responsibility and morality, using the premise that technology can be used for good and evil and that often things are not what they seem. Computer hackers may be code-breakers in the war against the exploitation of the poor by multinationals. (...) All the technology designed to enhance communication ultimately serves to facilitate disconnection, control and betrayal, of the "under the chestnut tree" Orwell variety." - Olga Lorenzo, The Age

  • "While Turing's Delirium is a bit too breezy to pull off its weightier aspirations, it's also sleek, brisk, and clever." - Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly

  • "With short, taut chapters and plenty of realistic detail, Turing's Delirium exploits the plot twists found in much popular fiction; at the same time, Soldan keeps the pulp at literary bay by bringing to the foreground the conflicted interiority of his characters. (...) Soldan's stylistic stance certainly has its limits. Besides imprisoning most of his characters in an airless chamber of anomie, realism prevents the author from presenting an adequate portrayal of the Playground, a fictional, massive online game" - Erik Davis, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Yet a novel like this one effectively replaces magic realism with virtual reality, dreamspace with abstraction. Speed-dialed through pages of academic theory, treatises on the history of codes from Khnumhotep II to Xerxes, vague allusions to Nazi fugitives and nostalgia for the antiglobalization riots of 1999, you can easily forget that you are in the poorest country on the continent, and a largely indigenous one at that. (...) The trouble is that the whole scheme feels like a blur of downloaded ideas, or even gestures." - Pico Iyer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The immense pleasure of reading Turing's Delirium derives from a carefully orchestrated moral ambiguity. No one's hands are clean here, and with the exception of the formerly evil dictator Montenegro, it can be tough to distinguish the good guys from the bad. (...) There's a problem, however, with the book's narrative strategy -- it takes Paz Soldán much too long to establish the setting. One must wade through approximately 50 pages of background exposition before anything resembling a story rears its head. Once past the setup, though, Turing's Delirium turns into an exciting and rewarding techno-thriller. It reads like a Robert Stone novel that has been watered down for the mass-market paperback crowd." - Andrew Ervin, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Turing's Delirium is set, like many of Paz Soldán's works, in the appropriately named representative Bolivian city of Río Fugitivo:

Existing in multiple historical temporalities, its inhabitants dream of the modern convenience of cable TV, but are anchored to the premodern past of strikes and street protests. It is no different from the rest of the country. Many Internet cafés do not progress make. Many supermarkets and shopping centers either.
       Turing's Delirium constantly pits and contrasts old against new. Central to the novel is the 'Black Chamber', the intelligence-gathering and code-cracking centre where cryptographers compete with cryptoanalysts, the computer-savvy not always better suited at dealing with codes than those who proceed a more old-fashioned way. Technology, at least of the computing sort, has not led to the progress one might have hoped for: the Black Chamber was and is a tool of a repressive government, while hackers are constantly demonstrating that technology can readily be undermined and defeated.
       Though freely elected (this time around), the leader of the country is the former dictator Montenegro -- a barely disguised Hugo Banzer Suárez (who was president of Bolivia 1971-1978 (as military dictator) and 1997-2001). There's a lot of blood on his hands (and of those who helped him, one way or another ...), and inevitably some of trickles down to the present-day. Democracy doesn't seem to have helped the population out that much either, especially in this rapidly globalizing world: the local power company has been sold out to foreign interests, leading to higher rates and power outages (the name may be GlobaLux, but the policy seems to be: lights out !) -- leading, in turn, to social unrest.
       A politically ambitious hacker is a big thorn in the side of the authorities: he calls himself Kandinsky, and over the course of the novel Paz Soldán describes how he rose from humble circumstances to becoming the most wanted man around. Ironically, it's technology that allows Kandinsky to put his talents to use (and to escape poverty), but:
     Kandinsky would like all of Río Fugitivo to be like the Enclave -- a place frozen in time, its back to the hypermarket that the planet has become.
       Part of his training comes in what has become a national obsession, the online-game of Playground, an alternate reality (think Second City) that many in Bolivia (and everywhere else) prefer to spend their time in. Among the others who spend far too much time in Playground is Flavia, the computer-whiz daughter of Miguel Sáenz (known as 'Turing') who is one of the last of the old guard at the Black Chamber. Flavia's computer skills draw her into the game between Kandinsky's group and the authorities (and dad is involved too, of course).
       Turing's Delirium switches perspective from chapter to chapter, the narrative focussed in turn on, for example, Turing, his wife (who has compiled a book with too many secrets in it), their daughter Flavia, Kandinsky, the new young American-born head of the Black Chamber named Rámirez-Graham, as well as the old head of the Black Chamber, the incapacitated Albert (whose mind is still functioning, if not entirely clearly). Past and present constantly collide, especially with dirty history (was Albert a Nazi ? how complicit was the Black Chamber and those who worked there in Montenegro's dirty deeds ?) tainting the present day.
       Meanwhile, social unrest escalates (leading to, for example, the closing of the university), and some of those possibly associated with Kandinsky's Resistance get killed. It's a world full of conspiracies and secrets, and Paz Soldán does a decent job of keeping up the thriller-tension with the many twists (and characters) he throws into the mix. Ultimately, however, it feels deflated, the crowded book and inter-connected stories not yielding quite as much as expected. Paz Soldán seems to be aiming for the biggest targets -- globalization ! the state spying on its citizens ! virtual worlds competing with real ones ! -- but then tempers his ambition, pulling back and making less of it than he had set the stage for.
       Turing's Delirium is quite well written, and, chapter for chapter, is an entertaining and appealing read, but it doesn't all add up to enough. More -- or less -- is needed, this middle-ground ultimately feeling just a bit unsatisfactory.

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Turing's Delirium: Reviews: Edmundo Paz Soldán: Other books by Edmundo Paz Soldán interest under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       José Edmundo Paz Soldán was born in Bolivia in 1967. He teaches at Cornell.

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