<B>When a good girl' goes bad</B> Who is Gloria 21169 and why is she involved with the residents of Big Dipper Township? The answer to the first question is found in the opening chapter of Mike Heppner's high-tech novel, <B>The Egg Code</B>. Gloria is not a woman, but a high-speed router, technically known as an RS/6000, T-3 compatible bit processor, one of many specialized computers designed to handle the flow of traffic in the emerging Internet.

In 1989, the Internet as we know it today was still in the early stages of development. The Gloria router is an essential part of this development, but as one of the characters explains, It's a very bad router. Gloria has gone rogue taking over the entire network and its developers aren't sure why.

Heppner cleverly dangles the answer just in front of the reader's nose, enticing us with a series of opening vignettes designed to introduce the residents of Big Dipper Township, a small Midwestern community. The introductory chapters veer crazily across time and place, an unusual plot device that Heppner uses to maximum effect. By forsaking a more conventional linear chronology, he injects a tantalizing note of mystery into the early part of the book. In the beginning, it's not clear who all the characters are and what their connection is with one another, which creates a compelling sense of intrigue. By leaping back and forth in time, we're able to see clearly the seeds of dysfunction being sowed and watch as these seeds sprout, and slowly, inexorably shred the fabric of life in Big Dipper Township, sending its residents toward a collision of sorts with the Gloria router.

Heppner's cast of characters includes a motivational speaker whose words are muddled by his impending emotional collapse; a dancer who believes she can fly; a pushy stage mother and her son; an average Joe of a furniture salesman; and a hacker bent on using the Gloria router as a tool of destruction.

In this impressive debut novel, Heppner tackles his complex subject with a sure hand, creating a story that heartbreakingly displays the eternal frailties of human nature. <I>Steve Powers is a freelance writer in Burleson, Texas.</I>

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