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Daemon
Daniel Suarez
Dutton, 432 pages

Daemon
Daniel Suarez
Daniel Suarez is an independent systems consultant to Fortune 1000 companies. He has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries. An avid gamer and technologist, he lives in California.

Daemon Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'If the Daemon triumphs, tens of millions will die. If it fails, billions will die, and we will fall back to a seventeenth-century agrarian economy.'
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Originally self-published in 2006 using a POD service under the name Leinad Zeraus, Daemon is a top quality techno-thriller about the potential power of the internet. More precisely, it is about what that power could do, if harnessed and exploited by someone who truly understands how virtual and actual reality intermesh. In this case, by computer gaming legend Matthew Sobol, an individual who cannot be stopped in any conventional way, because he is already dead.

The daemon is a web of programs, web 'bots which are released onto the internet upon Sobol's death. Globally famous as the designer of popular on-line games, Sobol left behind narrow AI stealth 'bots that begin to deconstruct the world. They shift around vast fortunes, make or break companies, and twist the lives of individuals, all via manipulation of electronic data. Sobol saw where we were headed, and decided he would literally change the world, when he was no longer personally accountable. Feeling their way into this digital death-trap are Detective Sergeant Peter Sebeck, and IT specialist Jon Ross, both of whom quickly find themselves embroiled in a real life game, being played by the daemon. So how does a dead man direct his deadly servant; by having it read the headlines and react to specific events. It is quickly apparent that anywhere and anyone who is connected to the net or uses the everyday products of high tech can be seen, heard, and ultimately directed. Sebeck, and the forces of law and order, rapidly understand that they need to stop the daemon before it achieves its aims. But they cannot even begin to do this, until they comprehend the vast scope, and even bigger reach, of what the daemon is tasked to accomplish. Shutting it down is impossible, as that would mean closing the modern world.

Sobol's daemon has also anticipated both human nature, and its chosen pawns very well. Like all the best techno-thrillers, the science on offer here is firmly rooted in cutting edge real world developments; hypersonic sounds systems that make voices appear in mid-air, autonomous vehicles, electronically fired stacked projectile technology, non-lethal infrasound weapons, zombie computer systems, virtual 3D worlds overlaid on the real world via HUD glasses, and computer viruses stored in undetectable wrappers that don't run under your operating system -- your operating system runs on them. The author has done his research, and crucially has been able to translate this into a well-paced, riveting tale. The technology inevitably overwhelms the characterisation, but having said that, Suarez does top quality, believable dialogue, and has produced a couple of characters that are strong enough to peep above the power of the ideas.

The publishers of Daemon hail Daniel Suarez as the natural successor to Michael Crichton, and I find myself in agreement with them. Not that the publishers can claim credit for discovering him. Suarez ably demonstrated that POD and viral marketing is a viable route for authors with a great ideas, unable to find editors who will even read their work, let alone take it on. This book was only picked up after a buzz had already been created. Daemon is a novel that is highly plausible, timely, and uncannily relevant to today's world. It lays bare the fragility of modern society, shows how easily manipulated we are by high tech, questions who the real enemy is, and ultimately asks us how we can hope to handle the future, if we can't even deal with the present. Daemon may be to novels what The Matrix was to movies, showing us that we could already be in a Darwinian struggle with narrow AI; 'bots which are potentially a vector for human despotism. As novels go, this is about as good as it gets.

A fascinating talk by the author is available here at fora.tv/media/rss/Long_Now_Podcasts/podcast-2008-08-08-suarez.mp3

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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