Have you ever been reading a book or watching a film and as the plot moves to involve some use of technology you begin to brace yourself, and the cringe as you are ripped out of the story by what is an obviously ignorant treatment of matters you know well? Do you find the idea of creating a “gui interface using visual basic” to see about tracking an ip address as more fit for a sitcom rather than crime drama? And if so, have you ever wondered what it would be like if one of us, a geek, wrote a techno-thriller? What if someone who grokked our culture and understood our tech wrote something? Would it be great, or would it just get bogged down in the techno babble?
It is not necessary to wonder any longer. Database consultant, geek and now author Daniel Suarez has stepped up to the plate with his effort Daemon and he does not disappoint. This is a techno-thriller with a healthy dose of techno but absolutely zero let down on the thrill. The story gains momentum rapidly and then never lets up. I had a terrible time trying to put it down, eventually just giving up and plowing through in an all nighter. It was worth it.
The story of Daemon’s beginnings has already been documented by Wired. Suarez had Daemon finished in 2004 but literary agents found it to be too long and complex. Rather than give up, Suarez pushed ahead on his own and took the self publishing route. The book slowly built up a following and began to be trumpeted by the likes of Feedburner’s Rick Klau and Google’s Matt Cutts. And sales of the book grew and now it is available via traditional publishing channels with a hard back release in January of 2009.
The book introduces us to Matthew Sobol, genius software engineer and creator of one of the world’s most popular MMOs. Sobol is dead when the book begins, having succumbed to brain cancer. But it quickly becomes apparent that while Sobol has moved on out of this life, his code has lived on and his death has triggered events that rapidly take a life of their own. Sobol’s code is working so some unknown end and murder is part of the program.
Suarez may push the envelope at times but his deft handling of current tech and the possibilities is at times frightening. There isn’t really much here that isn’t very possible right now. At no point will a child sit down at a terminal where the operating system is run by flying through a bunch of 3-d shapes that look like building surrounded by network traffic that looks like it is flying about. But there are young people, capable and knowledgeable of current tools and vulnerabilities. People who may not fit into society but who are willing to engage in activities that they believe will build a society of their own.
Of course this is fiction and there are some leaps. But the story is so skillfully woven that the reader is never jarred out of it by some glaring error or lapse in understanding. It’s easy to slip into what is an incredibly energetic ride all the while thinking, “This could happen.” In fact the only real issue I had with the plot was as I thought about the book after I had finished it. Things work out so well for Sobol’s software, and that is the biggest stretch for me. I’ve worked for and with some extremely bright people, but none have ever engineered systems that could achieve such complex goals unattended. That aside, this is an amazing story.
This book really brought back to me the sense of joy I felt in the 80’s when I first began to work with personal computers. It was that sense of infinite possibilities brought on by this new technology. I’ve grown a bit jaded to it all over the years since then. Daemon brought a lot of that rushing back.
And while all the tech aspects of this story are solid, they do not make the story itself. The whole crazy adventure is pushed along by solid characters. These are well written, very real human beings. They are fully fleshed out people with strengths and weaknesses spread out between protagonist and antagonist alike. There are no super heroes and really no super villains, though at times it comes close on both accounts. These characters are locked in an extraordinary series of events that are at times pulling them along and at others they are the ones pushing things forward. Dialogue is believable and well written. All of that is what ultimately makes this such a satisfying and fun read. The tech trappings are just the bonus payoff for the true geek that has been waiting for a story like this.
People who are on the outside, the non-techie types may find this book confusing and hard to understand. That relative that calls you and asks what happened to their toolbar in word that seems to have disappeared may not really get this book. But anyone who spends an appreciable time in our world on-line and plugged in may just find this to be the most entertaining book that they have read in a very long time.
Author: Daniel Suarez
Publisher: Dutton Adult