I’m long overdue in getting a review of FreedomTM online. Dan sent me a review copy last month, and I read it cover-to-cover. To answer the most critical question: yes, it was worth the wait. If you liked Daemon (and who didn’t?!) then you’ll absolutely enjoy FreedomTM.
I’ll spare you the spoilers – there are some good twists, including a big one I didn’t see coming – and will leave a discussion of the primary plot developments for another post. I’m more interested in talking about some of the themes Dan Suarez presents in FreedomTM that have stuck with me since reading it.
Dan looks at the growing homogeneity of the world we live in – our government, our network, our culture – and sees opportunities for a single point of failure that renders those very systems vulnerable to attack and exploitation.
In FreedomTM, a “darknet” develops – which facilitates locally-organized, resilient groups that are able to leverage the Daemon’s layers of information in addition to their sustainably built communities (farms, businesses, even small militias to defend themselves). These groups lessen their dependence on the government for protection, for food, for commerce… to the extent that the “darknet” becomes more important for the day-to-day commercial interactions (through “network credits”, reputation monitoring of individual participants) and even social interactions (whuffie-like reputations, landmarks which are only visible to darknet members, etc.).
John Robb has written extensively about resilient communities (most recently here, and also about darknets here), and anyone who’s read any of John’s writings will find his thoughts incorporated in a number of places in FreedomTM. On a semi-related front, just yesterday, I read Brad Feld’s review of another book, The Lights in the Tunnel, and it’s about the potentially radical impact that automation will have on society (50% unemployment?). While The Lights in the Tunnel is non-fiction, it sounds like it’s interpreting many of the same themes that informed Suarez’s thinking in FreedomTM and Robb’s writings on resilient communities – and the conclusions one comes to are unsettling (to say the least). This is what sets FreedomTM apart from many other technothrillers: Dan’s got a point to make, and he uses his fiction to show us a possible outcome of the path we’re on. You’ll find yourself thinking about these issues long after you finish FreedomTM, which I consider the height of praise for the work.
None of this is to suggest that FreedomTM is a dry or academic read. It’s most certainly not. The action is fast and furious, the tech is pitch-perfect (as it was in Daemon), and not nearly as futuristic as you might hope. (See TheDaemon.com, esp. the “technology feed” on the right, for more evidence of fantastic-seeming tech from Daemon and FreedomTM that are actually being used today.) As Publishers Weekly noted, “The two books combined form the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured.” I particularly liked where FreedomTM ended, with more optimism for our future than you might have suspected Dan had after reading Daemon. 🙂
If I have any quibbles, it’s that there’s more to the story than what’s in the book. I don’t doubt that this is the book Dan wanted to write (he said so, and I believe him!) but there are details that I’d love to know more about. Ultimately, the main character of this story is the Daemon: it occupies almost every page. The people – Ross, Sebeck, Phillips, Loki – are supporting characters, and often drop from the narrative as we pick up where others left off. I wouldn’t have minded more of their individual narratives, but that’s a minor nit.
A few other reviews of FreedomTM that should help you make your mind up: