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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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  • Just two words (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:30PM (#26610133) Journal

    Andromeda Strain [wikipedia.org] oh... two more words, "insomnia cure"

  • Generous Author (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pdragon04 (801577) on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:42PM (#26610297)
    Friend of mine got a copy of this book roughly a year ago back when he wrote/published it under his pseudonym (Leinad Zeraus) and let me borrow it on the condition I'd send a review back to them. I did so very enthusiastically, thanking him for a great novel!

    About a month ago I finally got a response back directly from the author thanking me for supporting his early work. He asked for my address so he could send me a thank you. Last friday I received a package that contained signed copies of both the original and now mass market hard cover! :)
  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kaiidth (104315) on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:43PM (#26610319)

    I thought it had already been done - Cryptonomicon is about as technically rich as any fiction could ever be without being marketable as a sleep aid. Not perfect, but it surely counts in the 'what if someone who grokked the culture and understood the tech wrote something' category.

  • by panoptical2 (1344319) on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:44PM (#26610327)
    Have you not seen the crap that was The Net? [imdb.com] This movie is about a computer hacker/code tester whose life gets hijacked by other hackers. It was dumb and probably one of the worst thrillers I've ever seen. The closest movie that was interesting while at the same time technological-ish would have to be Primer [imdb.com]. Check this out if you want more details. It's not exactly as much technological as it is paradoxical, but it seems to get at the techno-thriller genre (somewhat).
  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:54PM (#26610467) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Honestly, it depends on how much of it there is. One or two pieces of techno-babble, particularly if they're in service to the plot, fine. Someone mentioned the cell phone sonar setup in Dark Knight; there's an example of something that makes basically no sense, but it was fun and it helped move the story along, so what the hell. But when it's done over and over again (e.g. Star Trek's fictional subatomic particle of the week) or when real science and/or technology would work for the plot just as well, it gets more difficult to ignore. "Willing suspension of disbelief" is not the same as "believe six impossible things before breakfast."

    I'm a veteran, who served as both an infantryman and a medic; I've also been a software engineer, and am now a scientist (specifically bioinformatics.) So between the all the bad military stuff, bad medicine, bad tech stuff, and bad science in movies and TV, I end up cringing at gratuitous bullshit a lot. Pretty much any "exotic" field like the above that you put in your story, there's a good bet that someone in your audience -- a fair portion of your audience, actually -- is going to catch the really dumb mistakes and bitch about them. Also being an occasional SF writer, I try to consult with people who have some experience in the field whenever I'm writing about something too far outside my expertise. Most people are happy to talk about what they know, and getting a couple of small details right instead of drastically wrong can greatly improve the story for those in the know, without losing the general audience.

  • by invisiblerhino (1224028) on Monday January 26, 2009 @01:59PM (#26610545)

    Primer is brilliant, but it does have its technobabble moments (as close as I can remember it):

    "Come on, what's the variable you can always change, in mechanics, in the Feynman diagrams without changing anything?"

    "Time."

    (putting pedant hat on)

    While this is accurate (most classical, and for that matter quantum theories are invariant under time reversal), this isn't true for weak interactions or thermodynamics, for example. Also, it struck me at the time as something real people, real physicists wouldn't say. They would just say "it's gone backward in time".

    Still, this is unbelievable nitpicking. Primer was wonderful and thoughtprovoking, and I hope Daemon is if and when I read it.

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:16PM (#26610803)
    The suspension of disbelief is completely jarred when you run into technology that just doesn't work. With "The Matrix" and similar movies, they make the world so radically different that the suspension of disbelief is an all or nothing: you either believe in the world or you don't, and you have to leave your assumptions at the door. With things set in the modern world, they're trying to use your pre-existing knowledge. In the case of most movies, they mess it up badly, which is jarring to someone who knows the field. It's the same with other professions, only their not featured in movies nearly as often.

    That being said, there are still some very good movies that also botch the tech, but those movies don't make the technology the center of the movie. Die Hard was one such movie for me, although there are quite a few others. I believe the criticism is valid.
  • Re:CSI NY (Score:3, Interesting)

    by atraintocry (1183485) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:19PM (#26610841)

    I don't deal with flying men on a daily basis, so something so unbelievable is not likely to pull me out of the story. It's not so much the "that's not possible" but the "they got it horribly wrong".

    But you already knew that, since you were just being facetious.

  • Re:Just two words (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rho (6063) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:19PM (#26610843) Homepage Journal

    Primer was a heck of a good movie. It probably could have been tweaked just a bit so you wouldn't need the voiceover to make sense of everything, but all in all it was brilliant for such a low-budget movie.

    Compare it to, for example, The Butterfly Effect. It cost millions in special effects, but it sucked ass.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld.gmail@com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:23PM (#26610927)

    See, I give movies like Dark Knight a pass when they do things like that, simply because everything else is so surrealistic and overblown that having the 'tech' portion the same way really isn't that inconsistant.

    You don't walk away from a Batman movie (either the new 'reboot' ones, the old 'reboot' ones that Tim Burton started, or even the old Adam West ones) thinking "Oh yeah, that totally could have happened in real life."

    On the other hand, while Jurassic Park was also definatly not 'real', a good portion of the story was dedicated to the idea "maybe this could actually happen, maybe", so having a completely bogus computer scene was completely out of place. Lets not even get into things like "Hacking the Gibson" in movies like Hackers that had actual (although abortive) attempts at authenticity but completely failed the moment those moments were over.

  • Re:CSI NY (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:25PM (#26610963) Journal

    If you think the grasp of technology in CSI is cringe-worthy, check out their grasp on the law and rights. The basic attitude of the show is that the accused is always guilty, and police work is all about getting the evidence to convict, not to find out the truth. If anyone on that show is ever released due to insufficient evidence, it's an injustice of unimaginable magnitude. Fundamental rights like Due Process are portrayed as the enemy of justice.

    I don't care about science or tech gaffes so much. But the whole show is pro-law enforcement propaganda, and that's just unwatchable.

  • by GPLDAN (732269) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:26PM (#26610977)
    The lack of writers everywhere, not just Hollywood (although the problem is acute there) - leads to a morass of bad fiction. Contemporary or even sci-fci. Who out there in Slashdot-dom could not tell when the spirit of Roddenberry and what TOS was trying to achieve left with his death, and the Paramount hacks took over?

    It happened in TNG, and you could start to tell when the stories became character driven, and it became a soap opera in space. Will Deanna Troi hook up with Riker? Who the fuck cares?

    Later, especially in Voyager (I admit, I stopped watching after DS9, and only saw a few episodes) really just became Buck Rogers in space. Action Adventure stories with daring escapes. Tech became an afterthought, and the goals that Roddenberry had of illustrating larger human condition themes? All lost to the ticking time bomb stories and who was learning a personal life lesson.

    If Bond films are interested in going back to the basics, since they have ditched Q - then it would behoove them to start putting serious tech into those films. No more satellites controlled from a GUI laptop interface. And all over, Internet culture is pushing aside mainstream tv culture. The effects that tv had upon the Baby Boomers was profound, and studied by sociologists to death. Gen X (less so) and Gen Y and Busters will seriously be affected by the interactive nature of the net and how it works. No longer will we be happy being portrayed by Seth Green. We will want realistic portrayals of the reality of the world we live in. 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.
  • by Angostura (703910) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:36PM (#26611145)

    No-one's mentioned Gibson yet, so I will. Neuromancer was clearly science fiction and clearly featured technology far removed from what was then available. And yet the technology was clearly reasonable.

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tenco (773732) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:28PM (#26612057)

    Some of the best "hard" science fiction writers of today are geeks

    Indeed. My favourites: Alastair Reynolds [wikipedia.org] and, of course, Stephen Baxter [wikipedia.org].

  • by Eudial (590661) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:40PM (#26612267)

    Meet hard science fiction [wikipedia.org]. Science fiction doesn't need to be written by people completely ignorant of the current state of science only using the sci-fi genre because noisy visible lasers in space sells.

    The problem is that even though they are for entertainment purposes, they fail to entertain (in other ways than scoffing at the author's pathetic lack of understanding of the subject) people with an actual understanding of the matter.

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Matheus (586080) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:44PM (#26612329) Homepage

    Well.. no. The fast-becoming-obsolete music industry depends on taking a very small number of likable tunes and thrusting them on the public in the attempt to get vast volume of sales. Some of this is occasionally good music but much of the time it is vanilla (the average of the masses will like it) and performed by underwear models.

    Meanwhile there is a veritable renaissance going on right now in the music world. Yes, there is plenty of crap out there BUT there is also a mountain of fantastic music that will never see the light of record company forced fame. To put it bluntly: Recording Studios are expensive. Gear is expensive. Creating the music is an expensive endeavor possibly made cheaper with the emergence of the home studio but the chances of hearing a home-studio recording on a mainstream radio station are virtually nil. Marketing is what the big companies are good for (and always will be) but their ability to only push a few hits a year and oft-limited taste in music means more good music gets lost than promoted.

    The difference between music and books is that anyone can burn a pile of CDs and even make them look pretty. For relatively small $$ you can even get an indy distributor to do it right and ship to your favorite store. That is still considered self-published. It is a LOT more expensive to have real books made and distributed. You need a publisher just to get the work printed unless you want to distribute digitally but frankly I would still rather cozy up with a good book than fall asleep on my laptop. Either way you lack the marketing engine to get the word to the masses.

    Your statement is what the record companies and the RIAA want everyone to believe to keep them in business. Their days in the current model are numbered. They have the uses but are no indication of the quality of their product only how many people they can sell it to.

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

    by julesh (229690) on Monday January 26, 2009 @03:47PM (#26612375)

    Yep. Also worth mentioning is Charlie Stross's Halting State, which is about crime in an MMORPG. No, really. Charlie is, I believe, the only successful novelist with a 4-digit slashdot uid [slashdot.org].

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by e2d2 (115622) on Monday January 26, 2009 @04:15PM (#26612899)

    Maybe a while back that was the case with self publishing. But today some authors have realized that self-publishing can be done well in today's world where a global niche market can create a decent profit, the internet can connect like-minded readers, and self-publishing tools are better than ever.

    Also, I'd like to point out that disqualifying books or stories based solely on self-publishing will leave out a good deal of classics that weren't published via traditional channels because at the time there were no traditional publishing houses or they had better means than such houses. For example - Edgar Allen Poe self published some of his works due to the big publishing houses wanting no part. Would you say his works suck ass and have no dignity?

  • Re:Nope. Never. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lgw (121541) on Monday January 26, 2009 @05:42PM (#26614385) Journal

    And never forget Vernor Vinge, my favorite Hard SF writer (or at least, his hard SF works are among my favorite SF).

  • Numbers Isn't Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@gmail . c om> on Monday January 26, 2009 @07:06PM (#26615399) Homepage

    I mean they don't make a secret of the fact that Charlie (the lead actor) has superhuman skills and sometimes his attempts to explain the math the the lay people aren't the best but the math is all solid and most of the applications are plausible. I mean the game theory/psychology ones are pushing it a little but the math is at least as plausible as anything on a crime drama is.

    I mean shows spice up every element to make it more appealing. The cases always involve interesting coincedences or cunning criminals. Everyone knows that real investigators don't end up kidnapped so often or that real serial killers aren't perfect masterminds. We accept that the main charachters never trip at the last minute and die rather than saving the day because we want a good narrative that's fun to watch not a documentary about solving crimes.

    As long as the math and science are treated just like the other elements in the show I'm happy. Sure, make the hero more awesome than most people and let his hail mary passes turn out to work as long as you don't make false claims or misrepresent how the math/science works. Numbers lives up to this and that's all I want.

    Besides, I want more cute mathematicians depicted on TV...we could use more girls in the field.

  • Re:Just two words (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oroborous (800136) on Monday January 26, 2009 @07:09PM (#26615441)
    Hmmm.. I've got 13 peer reviewed Neuroscience publications under my name, 1 book chapter in press, 2 articles in submission (one to Nature Neuroscience and one to Neuron), and several published and unpublished custom-written toolboxes for analyzing brain imaging data. I guess my Ph.D from UC Berkeley also ads to my geek-credit.

    That said, Critchon was trained as a clinician through and through, not scientist. From what I can find, most of his non-fiction work in peer-reviewed journals is a review or meta-analysis. So he might have dabbled in programming and such (to give him some geek cred), I think he knew only the gist of the science he used in his popular works. He was by no means an expert.
  • What about... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SageMusings (463344) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:49PM (#26617909) Journal

    Anyone remember the Cuckoo's Egg? I quite enjoyed that. It's a bit dated today but it was a hoot when I first picked it up.

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