Daemon

A little over a month ago, I got an e-mail from a marketing person at a small publisher in California. We have a book we think you’ll like, she said. Can we send you a copy? she asked.

Now, I’ve received a handful of these e-mails in the past few years. I have a blog that has a few inbound links, and a fair amount of traffic, and apparently the publishers are always looking for a way to get some buzz in the blogosphere.

I’ll be completely honest: I figured the book would be so-so at best. I’d never heard of the author, Leinad Zeraus. I didn’t know the publisher, Verdugo Press. And if they were reaching out to me, well, they were probably scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Guess what: the book is Daemon by Leinad Zeraus, and it’s remarkable. No, really. I can remember the feeling I had, sitting in the audience as the credits rolled after seeing The Matrix on opening day. I knew I’d seen something that was different, important, and something that I’d want to see again. And again. When I finished Daemon this afternoon, I had that same feeling. Daemon is to novels what The Matrix was to movies. It will be how other novels that rely on technology are judged.

The premise is both outlandish and not all that farfetched: a genius programmer has developed a daemon (that is, a computer proram that waits for a predefined trigger in order to execute a series of commands) that looks for word of his death. Once his obituary is published, all hell breaks loose thanks to this computer program. Things quickly spiral out of control, with a computer program exerting increasing influence over individuals, corporations, and even governments.

Remember when you read an early Michael Crichton book, you marveled that he got the little stuff so right? In Andromeda Strain, he knew the brand names of the filters that identified the alien particles. (Millipore, if you’re wondering.) There was just something about it that as you read it, you knew he got it. And he could tell a good story to boot, so the whole experience was satisfying.

Daemon goes quite a bit further. It’s not enough that Leinad Zeraus (the author – a pseudonym? I don’t know) gets all the tech details pitch-perfect, or that the plot is intriguing. It’s the implications of the myriad technological improvements we’ve experienced in the last few years that Zeraus foresees that makes this book such a mind-bender. Is it far-fetched? Yeah. But only in the aggregate: each component on its face is completely reasonable… and as he starts to stitch together where he thinks things might end up, things get scary.

Techies will adore that he gets the details right: cracking a WPA key on a wifi router, scanning a webserver to see if the security patches were applied, tracking a suspect through an MMORPG… it’s all completely authentic. Thriller fans will appreciate the twist on the typical government conspiracy novel: in Daemon, the government may not have the upper hand. And for the politically savvy among you, you’ll enjoy the implications of technology making it easier for “stateless” actors to play a major role on the national stage.

Zeraus weaves these details into a compelling story that is thoroughly engaging. While I doubt we’ll see a scenario quite as terrifying as Daemon play itself out, I do think several of the elements of the book are already upon us. (Indeed, the links at the book’s website point to news stories from the past year that show scenarios quite familiar to the book’s audience.) As Zeraus points out: the video game industry is now bigger than Hollywood. Computers are involved when we talk with friends and family, when we purchase food, entertainment, and travel, and less and less of the details of our daily interactions have physical document trails. GPS makes our location increasingly easy to find, and transmit. The implications of all of this are intriguing, to say the least.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s been years since I was so eager to see where the story went, and so genuinely excited by the attention to detail. I’ve lost count of the number of times an author sullied their work by paying no attention to the technology and just phoning it in. I imagine I’m not the only one who notices when that happens, and anyone who does will be thrilled at Zeraus’s ability to pull it off. If you’re looking for a good read, go buy a copy.