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Daemon 395

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
stoolpigeon writes "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?" Keep reading for the rest of JR's review.
Daemon
author Daniel Suarez
pages 448
publisher Dutton Adult
rating 10/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 978-0525951117
summary A techno-thriller with a healthy dose of techno but absolutely zero let down on the thrill
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 buildings 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.

You can purchase Daemon from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Daemon

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  • by perlhacker14 (1056902) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:35PM (#26610203)

    People watch movies for entertainment, or for thrills - not for technological enlightenment. Tech in movies has a role meant to captivate the layperson - to keep them hooked; it is of no consequence whether it is acurate - it SOUNDS cool, and thus grips the viewer. In real life, it is similar to a high school wanna-be-nerd spewing out long and convoluted words to impress some peon... It seems to work.
    For the enlightened on /.: please tell me that you are capable of sitting down and enjoying a film without nitpicking - if it bothers you, then IGNORE it.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dedazo (737510) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:37PM (#26610233) Journal

    My guess is that's why it was mentioned.

    The video was recently removed from YouTube due to a DMCA takedown request, IIRC. I'm sure there are copies out there.

  • Movies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) * on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:39PM (#26610257)

    Most of time the ignorance is easy to look past and you can just enjoy the movie. I never really had a problem with it in most cases.

    Two Notable Exceptions:

    Wild Wild West - Will Smith, Kevin Kline

    Battle Field Earth - Travolta

    Those two movies took so much license with technology it reminded me of SpongeBob Squarepants and Bikini Bottom.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:42PM (#26610291) Homepage Journal

    What bothers me is when movies like the Dark Knight, with gigantic budgets do things like lift a fingerprint from a bullet hole in the wall or use everyone's cell phone as a radar device. That movie is so great but it is also really cringe-worthy when the entire plot relies and revolves around these.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sketerpot (454020) <sketerpot.gmail@com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:42PM (#26610293)
    See, this is part of why Veronica Mars is such a great show. The tech is unobtrusively right. The hacking is less Hollywood and more "open up a guy's laptop when he's out of the room and copy some of his files onto your flash drive".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:52PM (#26610445)

    please tell me that you are capable of sitting down and enjoying a film without nitpicking - if it bothers you, then IGNORE it.

    So you spend the first part of your post explaining what's wrong with what he wrote, and then you finish with that. But of course it's not nitpicking when you do it - you're simply setting things right.

  • I'll pass (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:59PM (#26610559)

    What if someone who grokked our culture and understood our tech wrote something?

    We'd be so bored we'd finally forgive Swordfish for the blowjob hacking scene? Part of the reason why we consume escapist entertainment is because real life is boring. Do we want to imagine the pretty heroine all made up in perfect makeup and lounging about her luxury flat in lace teddies or do we want the reality where she's wearing her comfy fluffy bathrobe that hides everything, bunny slippers, has a towel around her wet hair and has her face covered with some cosmetic mask cream?

    Ok, having said that, I still cringe at bad tech scenes. "The Cylons can hack any computer that's networked, even if there's not a wireless access point anywhere on the battlestar! Just the act of running a cable from one primitive computer to another will give them a way in!" Or "Hey, this is Unix! I know this!" Or when someone is using the internet and they're instructed to bang away at random on the keyboard when they'd really be mousing around in an undramatic fashion while reading what's on the screen.

  • by anss123 (985305) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:05PM (#26610635)
    I don't really care about tech errors. The Hollywood 'nerd' character annoys me much more.
  • Re:Just two words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oroborous (800136) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:07PM (#26610643)
    Andromeda Strain wasn't written by a geek! It was written by a cheeky medical doctor who (like all clinicians) thinks he knows science, but really just knows how to read abstracts. No way a true geek would create Jeff Goldblum's horrifically bad mathematician character in Jurassic Park!
  • Re:Just two words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajs (35943) <ajs@@@ajs...com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:08PM (#26610663) Homepage Journal

    Well, Andromeda Strain was for a less TV-indulged generation. ;-)

    But seriously, there's lots of good tech written by people who know their stuff. In some cases, they're even popular.

    Authors include:

    • Michael Crichton
    • Neal Stephenson
    • Vernor Vinge

    Also, there's some good movies out there when it comes to technical realism. My favorite is a science fiction film by the name of Primer. It was shot on a $7000 budget, and is the only movie I know of that literally requires a giant Gant chart to figure out.

  • Re:Just two words (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mooingyak (720677) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:11PM (#26610713)

    Neal Stephenson, sure.

    Vernor Vinge, absolutely.

    MICHAEL CRICHTON?? Are you kidding?

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by genner (694963) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:11PM (#26610723)

    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?

    In case you were wondering, that happened in CSI NY recently. Truly cringe-worthy.

    I thoguht CSI NY was a sitcom.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:15PM (#26610795) Homepage Journal

    Oh, that bugs the hell out of me too. It's really the same kind of error: the people making the movie or TV show just don't know anything about X, so they just grab a convenient stereotype for X, whether X is a person, a type of technology, a profession, or even a whole society. Techies, scientists, medical personnel, and soldiers get this treatment a lot, and those are the ones I pick up on, but I'd guess that a lot of other types of people get it too, and react similarly. Cops and lawyers are obvious examples -- and for American movies and TV, pretty much anyone from any country that isn't the US, not to mention Americans from any part of the country that isn't New York or LA.

  • Re:I'll pass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Leafheart (1120885) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:19PM (#26610857)

    We'd be so bored we'd finally forgive Swordfish for the blowjob hacking scene?

    What? that was the only good part of the whole movie. With that "method" of creating worms, you will nitpick with a fairly gratuitous and at the same time awesome blowjob? I pray for your soul.

  • My preference (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:29PM (#26611025)

    My preference would be that the tech-initiated writer would know well enough to simplify descriptions to "computer stuff" when the techie issues are brought up in the book. Like have some techie character explain to the less-techie characters "Well, I won't bore you with the computer stuff, but basically the fax machine is the one who 'dunnit' with the candlestick in the conservatory".

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Yaur (1069446) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:30PM (#26611047)
    I don't watch the show... but really whats wrong with building a GUI in VB to track IPs. I would rather write an tool that does it correctly than try to teach the average detective how to use traceroute and do IP/AS look-ups based on the results. Sure VB isn't the language I would use but we are talking about a simple automation tool, so whatever your developer happens to know will probably work better than picking the best language for the job.
  • Re:CSI NY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The End Of Days (1243248) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:34PM (#26611099)

    I'd like to remind you (and everyone else) that fiction is not meant to represent reality faithfully.

    I suppose my understanding of this is one of the key benefits of my successful socialization as a human being. You guys should have tried it. It really is pretty cool.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:34PM (#26611103) Journal

    Why does it bother you so much if I get more fun out of nitpicking a film rather than simply watching it? Unless I'm in the theater with you, I just don't see how this affects you. If our nitpicking bothers you, IGNORE it.

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kokuyo (549451) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:49PM (#26611335) Journal

    Ah, so what we say to musicians (namely: publish your stuff on your own, RIAA is teh evil) is not automatically valid for book authors because book publishers are even less eviler than He-Man?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:50PM (#26611357)

    People watch movies for entertainment, or for thrills - not for technological enlightenment. Tech in movies has a role meant to captivate the layperson - to keep them hooked; it is of no consequence whether it is acurate - it SOUNDS cool, and thus grips the viewer. In real life, it is similar to a high school wanna-be-nerd spewing out long and convoluted words to impress some peon... It seems to work.
    For the enlightened on /.: please tell me that you are capable of sitting down and enjoying a film without nitpicking - if it bothers you, then IGNORE it.

    People watch movies for lots of reasons - including entertainment, thrills, and enlightenment - and these reasons can overlap. I have no idea if I'm enlightened, but the extent to which I can enjoy a film without nitpicking is a function of how huge or avoidable the nits are.

    I'm perfectly capable of suspending my disbelief, but that state is fragile. I don't need (or want) everything explained to me a la your "high school nerd spewer" example, but I do need plot points and important details to not require me to be stupid. Captivating the audience is only part of the role of tech in movies. It's also a mechanism for moving the plot, and if doesn't make sense then it's (literally) senseless.

    A well-made movie is made by someone who cared enough to make it well. Likewise, a well-written book. If you're going to write a scene about discovering useful information using traceroute, then go ahead and do it. Doing it well involves more than just recognizing that "traceroute" sounds hackish and techie. The effort to do it correctly is only marginally greater than the effort to do it stupidly, and to not bother getting it correct is an insult to your audience.

    Your story needs to play by the rules of the world it inhabits. Otherwise, what's the point?

  • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:52PM (#26611375)

    So far, outside of the South Park episode that mocked World of Warcraft (hilarious, yes) I haven't seen WoW or Guild Wars or any MMO mentioned in a popular feature film, or even YouTube used as a plot device, Twitter or even a realistic depiction of GPS technology. That will all change. The Bourne films started it, with grabbing a SIM card from a airport vendor and using it to dodge the CIA - we will see more savvy use of tech tips and tricks in the years to come used cogently by the screenwriters.

    There was a Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode that dealt with MMOs IIRC.

    That said, I am confident that there are vastly more people who care whether Troi and Riker hook up than believe that WoW deserves a more rigorous treatment within popular entertainment. There is tech savvy, and there is marketing savvy. That is why the Bourne series is still 99% Matt Damon punching, kicking, stabbing and shooting people.

    I doubt that a significant portion of the audience noticed or cared about SIM cards, nor do I think it would have significantly impacted revenue if the Bourne character had evaded the CIA by re-mapping the keypad to scramble all his communications or some-such nonsense.

  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday January 26, 2009 @04:06PM (#26611571)
    If you want technical accuracy then I suggest reading one of those O Reilly animal books. It would by no means be a thriller.
    A techie might cringe when the laws of physics get abused. A relationship psychologist probably cringes when reading chicklit and they all fall in love and hive happily ever after. A ballistics expert probably cringes when the good guy manages to fire two head shots at 50 yards. A real forensic scientist spews when CSI can solve a crime between two ad breaks.

    All works of fiction are just fiction for entertainment purposes. Get over it.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday January 26, 2009 @04:09PM (#26611631) Homepage

    Hey, I still like Tron... even though it hurts my brain to pretend any part of it is plausible it's worth it to watch David Warner chew scenery... end of line.

    Actually, I think the best part about Tron is that it is blatantly computer-based fantasy. I mean, it's one thing to say "I'll crack the government database with Visual Basic" or "I'll upload the virus to the alien computers with my Mac". It's another to say "inside the computer is a virtual world where programs walk around like people and use laser tanks to fight each other and have romances". One is a silly attempt to do something computers "actually" could do. The other just jumps right off the deep end and creates a fantasy world.

    It's way easier to take "Oh, you're a bit!" in stride when you've already got accounting programs playing gladiatorial games than it is to hear "This isn't just a multi-monitor setup. It's a Hydra(tm)(r)!" in a movie that's trying to 'seriously' depict hacking.

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jim4Prez (1420623) on Monday January 26, 2009 @04:33PM (#26612157)

    If you can't even get a small record company (or small publisher, or SOMEONE with at least a little clout) to support your work, odds are there is a good reason for it.

    Yes, because every author or musician should have to give up his copyright to some company, otherwise, you know, it must suck.

    odds are there is a good reason for it

    Maybe the new author doesn't want to have to give up his copyright just to be published? Maybe because old methods are dying and on-demand publishing will be important in the not-to-distant future?

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orangesquid (79734) <orangesquid.yahoo@com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @04:51PM (#26612465) Homepage Journal

    That's one of the funnier short-anecdote-type jokes I've seen lately. Of course, as one squid to another, I would have expected no less. ;) (consider yourself friended!)

    [Back to the concept at hand...] Any good fiction writer researches any part of the background material he doesn't understand well. Period. I read Michael Crichton's _Next_ recently (about genetic research and its ethical implications), and although the pacing seemed uneven (a few times, I had no trouble putting the book down *g*), I was impressed with the level of research he put into it. [semi-spoiler warning: I'm not spoiling the plot here, but I'm spoiling the 'end' of the book. If you're a big Crichton fan and have not yet read _Next_, you may want to skip the rest of my post.]

    There's an appendix containing a bibliography of his source material and another appendix where he speaks to the reader (i.e., a non-fiction essay) about some of the privacy concerns (et al) he has about genetic research. Most of the news clippings inserted to help the story along are actually real, as he explains in the end. This actually adds an extra dimension to the novel, as you reflect back on the technicalities upon which the plotline is based while you looking at the appendices.

    For most stories, the suspension of disbelief is critical, and having the author come out from behind the curtain at the end and tell you how everything worked can take away from the enjoyment, but for stories whose plotlines revolve largely around technicality and detail (probably the kind of stories a lot of slashdot readers prefer, anyway---I can't tell you how many times I've re-read Asimov's Robot stories and pondered the elements of logic that play out), it does add something really neat.

    When you pay attention to detail and are familiar with the subject at hand, the suspension of disbelief necessary for enjoying fiction can only come about when the writer has done good research or is already an expert.

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.

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