It's not enough to say that I loved Daemon: after reading it, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to make Dan Suarez successful. (The author originally published under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus - Daniel Suarez in reverse.) I don't know how to explain it, exactly: I've read plenty of books where I've loved the premise, thrilled at the story, or enjoyed a clever new way of telling the tale. But Daemon was different. Dan had self-published Daemon, and was a systems consultant when he wrote Daemon in his spare time. That struck me as, well, wrong. I finished the book on the plane back from a vacation, turned to Robin across the aisle, and told her: "I need to make this guy famous."
Let's start with that ridiculous comment: I don't make people famous. I realize that. But that wasn't going to get in the way of doing something - anything - to chip in. Soon after my review, Dan and I began swapping e-mails and became friends. I introduced him to some other folks who I thought would like the book - and each time, their reaction was the same as mine: Where'd this guy come from? And how can we help?
Eric Olson loved it, and got copies to give out at Tech Cocktail. Steven Vore loved it. CC Chapman loved it. Jim McGee loved it. Matt Cutts loved it, leading to a number of his readers to buy copies and tell their friends. John Robb loved it, and introduced Dan to a few of his friends. Craig Newmark loved it and gave Dan a blurb for promotional materials. Somewhere in all of this, after a few months, things started to snowball. I shared it with a number of co-workers at Google, where it became something of an underground hit - I know of several dozen now who've read the book and swear by it. (Erica even bought a copy for every one in her department!) Eventually, a copy found its way to Stewart Brand (co-founder of The WELL, founder of the Long Now Foundation), who reached out directly to Dan.
Last spring, I got a note from Dan: did I still have an extra copy of Daemon lying around? It turned out that Wired was doing a story on Daemon, and the journalist needed a copy that day. Since it was self-published, there were no copies in the Bay Area at local bookstores. Dan sent a courrier to my house and we got a copy to the writer; the article that resulted is here.
A couple months later, I got an amazing e-mail from Dan: that morning, he'd signed a book deal with Dutton. Daemon was going from a self-published novel to a mass-market hardback release! And, though I couldn't tell anyone at the time, he was in negotiations to sell the movie rights.
Here's where things get a little nutty. That night, at Google's weekly TGIF meeting (our end-of-week what's-going-on-in-the-company meetings with the exec team), we were celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of WarGames - so instead of a typical company meeting, we had a copy of the movie that we were going to watch, and we had the screen-writers and a consultant to the original production on hand to answer questions about the film. (Bear with me, this is related.)
The consultant was a guy named Peter Schwartz. And somewhere in the Q&A, he mentions Stewart Brand in passing - apparently Stewart was a business partner of Peter's, and had a connection to WarGames. Dan's e-mail about his book deal was still on my mind, and I knew Stewart was involved (he'd had something to do with getting Dan introduced to the people at Dutton), so I figured it was too odd a coincidence to pass up. After the Q&A, I walked up to Peter, introduced myself (with the caveat, "I know this is odd, but...") and mentioned that a friend had just received a book deal, that Stewart was partly responsible, and as a friend, I just wanted to say thanks.
"You're talking about Daemon!"
How'd he know? Well, it turns out Peter was who introduced Dan to Dutton, not Stewart. (Stewart introduced Dan to Peter, it was Peter who had the connections to Dutton.) And we both instantly turned into fanboys, both exclaiming our awe at what a great story it is, and how bizarre it is that we'd connect in such a random fashion.
But it gets better. Peter points to Walter Parks - one of the screenwriters who'd been on the Q&A panel. Walter, after a successful run of screenwriting credits, eventually became the head of Dreamworks. And he was who was negotiating with Dan to acquire the movie rights to Daemon.
If you tried to script this, noone would believe that the three of us would be in the same room together - on the day the book deal signed, no less. Yet there we were. Peter walked me over to Walter, introduced me "as the guy who wrote the blog that was in the Wired article" and Walter quickly jumped into his own recollections of his favorite moments from the book.
That the team that brought us WarGames - the seminal cautionary tale of computers, national defense and unintended consequences - would be the same team responsible for making Daemon into a hit, well, it's poetic in the extreme.
Here we are, seven months later. The hardback is out in two days, and it's getting rave reviews. I spoke with USA Today's books writer (who covers thrillers) and she was hooked. It's a starred review at Publishers Weekly ("Suarez's riveting debut would be a perfect gift for a favorite computer geek or anyone who appreciates thrills, chills and cyber suspense"). Booklist called it a "thrill-a-nanosecond novel". USA Today's piece ran yesterday (yes, I'm quoted in there), and Dan tells me more publicity is on the way. Steven Vore notes that Daemon will be in front of every Barnes & Noble starting Thursday.
I eventually met up with Dan in person a few months ago for drinks, and I was glad to find him to be an incredibly engaging, bright guy who was humbled by his soon-to-be success. I couldn't be more excited for him - this is well-deserved. I realize that stories like this are all-too-rare, that many authors struggle to ever find an audience, and few get the kind of trajectory Dan is on now. But I wanted to document just how things played out. What are you waiting for - order your copy now!
The only bad news in all of this? The sequel won't be out for more than a year. ;)
Update: CrimeCritics.com has a great interview with Dan where he talks about the origin of Daemon, the process of going from self-published to an author, and how he stays current on technology while writing Freedom™. I love CrimeCritics' prediction:
Daemon has the potential to be this year’s “Da Vinci Code”. Remember when Dan Brown’s book hit that tipping point, and it seemed like every person walking down the street was holding a copy? It was like an adult Harry Potter, with everyone talking about the book and comparing notes and swapping stories. Daemon is a far better read and has the sort of broad appeal and tight writing that could easily become a cultural phenomenon. And a deserving one, at that. So here is your choice: Do you wait until your aunt Susan calls you and asks if you have read the book, or do you grab it before the revolution starts so you can calmly tell aunt Susan, “Susan, I read that book back when Daniel and his wife were Xeroxing them in their garage”.
Update 2: Completely forgot about another great aspect of this. Last spring, my phone rang. It was Billy O'Brien, a fellow University of Richmond alumnus who wanted to talk about working at Google. Billy had an interesting background - he was a former assistant to Vice President Cheney, and at the time was the White House Director of Cybersecurity. We talked about Google, then when I mentioned we should connect when we were in town in July on vacation, he offered to give my kids a tour of the White House. (Score!) Soon after, I called to thank him, and told him there was a great book that he really ought to read, given his current role. Not only did he like it (doesn't everyone?!) but he gave the book a great blurb, which I understand is on the back jacket:
"Greatest. Techno-thriller. Period. Suarez presents a fascinating account of autonomous, logic-based terrorism, incorporating current and anticipated technologies to create a credible and quite clever story. Experts have long feared the Internet doomsday scenario; the Daemon is arguably more terrifying."--(Billy O'Brien, Director of Cybersecurity and Communications Policy, The White House)