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Computer Terror

Duane Franklet programs a cyberthriller into Houston

With his next novel, he says, he'll be careful from the start, balancing the detail techies crave with the ambiguity that allows a story to age gracefully. He's not setting himself an easy task: As he currently plans it, the conspiracy tale will involve the World Wide Web, one of the fastest-evolving technologies ever.

But like any good techie, Franklet adores the new. He urged his publisher to advertise his book on the Web -- uncharted territory for Pocket Books, but an obvious way to appeal to the people most likely to buy Bad Memory. Now the little ads appear as banners on search engines and various electronic publications. Click on one, and you're whisked to a web page of Franklet's own making (web.wt.net/~duane/badmem.html), with laudatory book blurbs (one from mystery writer Sue Grafton) and a short excerpt. A link takes you to Franklet's personal home page, from which you can glean the outlines of his cheerful life: his favorite obscure rock bands, photos of his infant son, a list of his company's clients.

It's all more proof that for Franklet, and for his comrades in the digital revolution, computers act as an extension of the soul. He speaks wonderingly of the odd intimacy his consulting work creates. "You see people's finances, their e-mail, their work," he says. "It's people's lives that are on their hard drives." He obviously values the trust placed in him, and treats it as a grave responsibility. In Bad Memory, the villain is responsible for the deaths of a handful of people -- and, almost more shocking, for the murder of innocent data.

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