The Curtain by Patrick Ord is a book that left me with mixed feelings. It has every fault I've ever complained about in a first time novel and in indie-published novels. However the premise is fascinating and highly informative. I never thought I would recommend a book with so many technical errors, but this one I do.
The plot is actually quite simple. Professor Henry Maddox has become super wealthy through his consulting business which he operates in addition to his employment as a college marketing instructor. He has no life other than making money. In consulting with various marketing heads, he teaches them to use electronic technology to gather personal data about their customers, then use the data to target those customers with personal market oriented purchasing opportunities. In some cases, particularly with gaming companies, this market analysis leads to freebies that then manipulate the customer toward gambling or porn sites. His strategy includes fragmenting families in order to increase household numbers and therefore more customers. Henry takes no percentage for his customers' increased business, but receives complete access to the data collected. The data he collects puts him in position to obtain tremendous wealth.
When Laroy Eldon, the leader of a pro-family group approaches him for help in getting out his message concerning traditional values, Henry at first laughs at him, then decides this could be his opportunity to gain access to a previously hard-to-reach marketing segment. He then agrees to the challenge. When his assistant and only real friend, threatens to leave him over his plans to exploit this group, he withdraws for a retreat and reads a book given to him by Laroy's wife, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, which starts him rethinking his values. On returning to his office, he finds a student assistant has posted an exposé on one of his client's electronic snooping that has led to a young man's return to a gambling addiction. At this point and with his newfound desire to stop using people, a game of strategy begins. Henry uses his own manipulation of technology to outwit his former clients. Fortunes and reputations are at stake and soon so is Henry's life.
Character development is sketchy throughout this story and dialog is stilted and doesn't feel real. There is too much lecturing and not enough action, leaving a sense of telling rather than showing. The book could use tighter editing and more professional formatting and copyediting.
Where the book excels is in drawing a picture of our technology-oriented world and explaining the uses that can be made of the huge amount of personal information that can be gleaned from our naive use of that technology. Every bit of information users supply through social pages, online games, online purchasing, credit and debit card usage, polls, etc., can all be turned into profiles that tell marketers when, where, and for what we spend our money, which political issues matter to us, which charities we favor, what habits have a hold on us, who our friends and family members are, and much more. This is all fodder for mass and individual manipulation, leading many to spend more than they have, succumb to addictions, and break up families. At a time when most Americans have concerns over the invasion of our privacy by government sources, we are thoughtlessly volunteering this information to businesses that may in turn use it to impoverish the gullible and fatten their bottom lines. Hopefully the author over estimates the gullibility of people in the world wide market, but whether this story is the story of what is happening or if it is a story of what could happen, it is great information for every consumer of electronic communication.
Patrick Ord grew up in California, earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Brigham Young University, served a Spanish speaking LDS mission, worked in the high tech industry in California, and currently owns his own management consulting company. He and his family reside in Utah.
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THE CURTAIN by Patrick Ord, published by Henry Maddox Publishing, 310 pages, softcover $11.69, Kindle $5.99