Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles

A thriller about nanomachines, neurobiology, Gulf War Syndrome, and a Silicon Valley messiah

Winner of the Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Award

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Scroll down to get to links to sample chapters.

Synopsis—(what’s this book about?)

Acts of the Apostles is a geekoid thriller, kind of like The Bourne Identity for hackers. Here’s a summary of the plot:

March 1990: Hundreds of thousands of American-led forces assemble in Saudi Arabia for “Operation Desert Storm”, the largest military operation since the Normandy Invasion. Meanwhile, across the globe in Massachusetts, in a former textile mill that’s been converted to the home of legendary computer company Digital Microsystems, computer chip designer Todd Griffith is working past dark during a late winter snowstorm, trying to find out why his “Kali” chip keeps randomly messing up. He discovers a secret function hidden among the circuits—clearly sabotage. He calls his boss in California to report his discovery, then walks home through the blizzard. Seven hours later Todd is shot in the head as he lies sleeping in his bed.

(Nearly six years later) December, 1995: After a grueling week in the Silicon Valley fast lane, burnt-out bi-coastal software engineer Nick Aubrey, Todd’s best friend, boards a “red-eye” flight to Boston and winds up seated next to a very disturbed man who claims to know the secret of Gulf War Disease, a mysterious ailment afflicting thousands of Desert Storm veterans. Over Utah, Nick’s chance companion meets his dramatic demise and the police suspect Nick of murder.

Soon everybody wants a piece of Nick—from the Salt Lake City Airport police to the CIA, from billionaire venture capitalists and paranoid cybermilitiamen to end-of-the-millennium cultists and exotic foreign beauties. The only person who doesn’t want a piece of Nick is his distant wife, a beautiful biologist with a secret or two of her own.

In freeing himself from a web of murder, deceit and double-crosses, Nick comes to learn that the key to the secret of Gulf War Syndrome (and, as it turns out, the real reason behind George W. Bush’s war on Iraq 13 years later) resides in a pharmaceutical laboratory in Basel Switzerland, where scientists are frantically working on submicroscopic machines to rearrange human DNA. When their work is done, the Gulf War will look like child’s play. Only Nick can stop them. But first he’s going to have to find the Trojan horse hidden in the Kali computer chip. He can’t do that without the help of his friend Todd, and Todd’s been in a coma for nearly half a dozen years.

What’s with the title? Is this a religious book?

My Acts of the Apostles has essentially nothing to do with the book of the same name in the New Testament. I called my book Acts of the Apostles because, like the original book of that name, it’s about a charismatic leader who promises a new kind of immortality, and about the lengths that he and his followers will go to in order to confer their “salvation” on mankind. If you’re a Christian person looking for a commentary on the Scriptures, you’ve come to the wrong place. But whatever your religious persuasion, if you want to read an exciting, page-turning technothriller of the Tom Clancy/Michael Crichton/Neal Stephenson/Robert Ludlum/Dan Brown variety, you’re in the right place.

Buy a printed book or PDF of Acts of the Apostles

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Some reviews

Here are excerpts from a few reviews. There are tons of other reviews of this book on the net, including, at last count, 68 reader reviews on Amazon.

On Salon, , Andrew Leonard wrote that Acts is

“…a book infused with a sensibility that you don’t normally expect a ‘hard science fiction’ novel to have: real emotions, real heartbreak and a real sense of the craziness at the core of the human condition.”

Web design guru Jeffrey Zeldman wrote:

Almost everyone I know who is serious about the internet and has spent more than a few years working on web stuff has read John R. Sundman’s novel, Acts of the Apostles, your everyday story of bioengineering, Gulf War Syndrome, Trojan Horses, and millennium cultists. (If you haven’t yet read this classic underground thriller cum paranoid fantasy, do yourself a favor; it’s pretty great.)


A satisfying suspense thriller that is disturbingly thought-provoking. Like [Douglas] Coupland’s work, it is deeply saturated in the geek world view, and full of enjoyable cultural and pop-cultural allusions. Unlike Coupland’s work, it is plot-driven.

Jeff “Hemos” Bates of Slashdot wrote

the thriller develops ranging the world, encompassing favorites like nanotechnology gone bad, mind control, multinational corporate intrigue, computer chip design, seances, and running from the law.
The book is purportedly about Gulf War Syndrome and its causes, but that’s only the starting point: The plot itself is believable, for a thriller. I’ve described it to friends as “What Tom Clancy would write if he were smart.” The plot devices, the characters and topics are all very familiar to the geek audience, and it’s quite refreshing to read a book that understands the mindset its audience will have.

On the open biology site
, molecular biologist Pete St. Onge wrote

Sundman obviously “gets it,” and more importantly, he gets it right. The result is an intelligent, credible story of action and intrigue reminiscent of Mamet’s Spanish Prisoner.

In the Midwest Book Review, John Jurek wrote

Acts of the Apostles is the fin de siecle techno-thriller novel. It is an incredible read. In it a nightmare of nanotechnology and genetic manipulation of uncomfortable believability unfolds before us, the equal if not better of any work by any seasoned big name writer in this genre. As a first novel, its craftsmanship is quite beyond accounting. Author John F. X. Sundman has written a magnificent work of literature, and has simultaneously made a bold ethical statement about the inexorable but blind quest of science, the technological hubris that feeds off of it, and freedom of the individual mind that is threatened by it.

On they had this to say:

[Sundman’s] skills can be compared to early Tom Clancy. In Hunt for Red October, Clancy surprised us all by making military lingo seem like plain English. Sundman has equivalent skills when writing about the computer and biological sciences.

and on, Sam Evans said:

John Sundman has written a really exciting and fun to read technothriller that has everything you’re looking for. This book is totally cool on an amazing number of levels. . . Once you pick this book up, you won’t stop ‘til you’ve read it all—the pages seems as short as a .15 micron process. Too many technothrillers use the ‘tech’ parts as filler; Acts of the Apostles uses ‘tech’ as an integral piece of the book’s and the characters’ development.

and over on Kuro5hin, Rusty Foster paid me this great compliment:

Acts of the Apostles may well be the ultimate hacker book.

If the above isn’t enough to convince you, just read a few of the chapters below.

Buy a printed book or PDF of Acts of the Apostles

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Mind over Matter

Mind over Matter is the name of the three-volume work comprising

  • Acts of the Apostles (Mind over Matter volume blue),
  • Cheap Complex Devices (Mind over Matter volume red) and
  • The Pains (Mind over Matter volume black)

Although each book can be read without reference to the other two, each book is informed by the other two & is really best understood as part of a larger metafictiony tale.

The books are related to each other thematically, not chronologically, so there is no “first” book in the set. In general, however, Acts is the most straightforward book of the three, and most people read that one first.
Acts and Devices are pretty tightly coupled (like a binary star, or like the Earth and its moon) and The Pains is more remote (like a comet that passes near them every once in a while).

Read Cheap Complex Devices

Here are the first two parts of Cheap Complex Devices in HTML format: the Foreword, and Notes on the Source Code. Together these two bits comprise about the first third of the book. There are a few formatting glitches that I’ll get around to fixing one of these days, but these free sections will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Read Acts of the Apostles

Here’s a taste — the first thirteen chapters of the 60-chapter book. There are one or two formatting glitches and a missing illustration, which I’ll get around to fixing one of these days. But this should be enough to get you going. . . I hope.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13


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