years ago Daniel Saurez’s novel Daemon would have been classified sci-fi.
Today it would probably be called a “techno thriller a la Tom Clancy”
instead . . .
In first-time novelist Saurez’s debut novel a malicious
virus – called a daemon in the book - designed by a mega-rich game
designer in the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs income bracket named Matthew
Sobol is spread over the Internet. The “virus” goes about killing two
employees of Sobol’s company. One employee is killed by the virus
requesting a work order over the Internet to span a steel cable in the
path of his regular commute by motorbike. Sneaky.
But the virus has bigger digital fish to fry than
company employees who must be silenced.
The virus is launched on the very day Sobol dies of
brain cancer. Although it employs AI in the way your favorite computer
game might, the daemon isn’t exactly a sentient entity in the way HAL 2000
was. So forget any notions about Daemon being a tired “killer
downloads his consciousness onto the Internet to seek revenge” story as
seen in movies such as the ridiculous
Ghost in the Machine (1993) and episodes of the
The daemon is clearly up to something: recruiting people
in the real world to do its bidding – but what exactly is it up to?
At one point it dispatches all of the spammers across the globe by killing
them off using hired death squads (one can only dream) – but this isn’t
its end goal however. (By the way the death of the spammers results in a
70% increase in Internet throughput! Yay!)
Finding out what Sobol’s end game is, is up to a Luddite
LAPD detective and a software engineer who unwillingly becomes involved in
the investigation when he becomes a suspect himself. Also thrown into the
mix are a sexy data specialist and a shadowy government agent. But no
mater how many resources U.S. government agencies such as the FBI and CIA
throw at the problem, the daemon always seems to be one step ahead of
them. Ultimately it would seem that Sobol has an ambitious plan in mind
that would change the entire world . . .
Paramount acquired the rights to Saurez’s novel upon its
publication last year and it is set for a 2012 release date. No director
or stars have been announced as yet. The book is followed up by a sequel
titled Freedom that is set to be published in April 2010. This is
rather unfortunate. Having read too many part ones in various science
fiction / fantasy trilogies lately we were kind of hoping for a standalone
novel for a change when we picked up Daemon at our local bookstore.
"Might as well have 'Attention: Hollywood Producers – Won't This
Look Great in Your Movie?' stenciled all over it!"
Suarez goes to great lengths to make Daemon as
scientifically plausible as possible by throwing huge dollops of trendy
tech jargon into the mix, which is why we said that Daemon just
might have been sci-fi a decade or so ago, but seems frighteningly
plausible right now. Suarez succeeds at this, but jumps the shark towards
the last quarter of the book when he introduces swarms of robot controlled
motorbikes (that reminded us of those bikes in
and SUVs for an elaborate chase scene through a major metropolitan area.
These chapters might as well have “Attention: Hollywood
Producers – Won’t This Chase Scene Look Great in Your Movie?” stenciled
over them. It is all wildly implausible and unlikely. It also undoes much
of what Suarez managed to accomplish earlier on in the book. (Is it so
implausible? If you read Tom Vanderbilt’s excellent book Traffic
you’d know that the reason why we all don’t have robot-controlled cars
like they do in Minority Report is
because the best we can do with current technology is having a robot car
drive for something like 500 meters at 5 kilometers per hour - on flat
terrain without any road obstructions or hazards - in the middle of the
Daemon falls into the “evil mastermind
controlling everything” category much like the recent Law Abiding
Citizen starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. Evil mastermind movies
are annoying because they really stretch credulity: when last did even
something as simple as your vacation go 100% according to plan for
instance? There are just too many darned things that can go wrong in real
life which we can’t control or predict. (This is probably why conspiracy
theorists don’t dig Chaos Theory.) Simply too many variables to account
for – even for brilliant computer game designers . . .
Somehow we didn’t find the whole “mastermind” thing too
bothersome in Saurez’s book though. But it is unlikely whether this story
aspect will translate well to the big screen. On page Suarez can go to
great lengths to explain how something was accomplished and make it sound
plausible, but in a movie pressed for time many of these techno details
will get dumped along the way.
In fact Daemon is a pretty enjoyable book – even
when it goes over-the-top with those damned robot motorcycles! It is a fast-paced
and slick read. Along the way the author even works in the sort of asides
that more anemic and one-track thriller writers such as Dan Brown leave
out, but makes Daemon a fun read:
And what was there to replace capitalism, anyway?
Communism? Theocracy? Most of the Third World has already suffered nearly
terminal bouts of idealism. It was the Communists, after all, who had
littered the world with cheap AK-47s in order to ‘liberate’ the masses.
But the only lasting effect was that every wall between Cairo and the
Philippines had at least one bullet hole in it. But nothing changed.
Nothing changed because these alternate belief systems flew in the face of
human nature. Of even common sense. Anyone who ever tried to share pizza
with roommates knows that Communism cannot ever work. If Lenin and Marx
had just shared an apartment, perhaps a hundred million lives might have
been spared and put to productive use making sneakers and office