Read: Daemon

I read a lot.

I pretty much have to read before I go to bed or I’ll just lie awake and stare at the ceiling even if it’s 3 in the morning. Even if it’s just a page or a few paragraphs, I find it very difficult to pass out without reading something.

Kind of a false start, that. It doesn’t really relate to what the rest of the blog is about, but I’ll leave it in as a fun fact about myself.

Anyway, recently I finished wading through the 5 book Gap Cycle series by Stephen R. Donaldson which wasn’t bad, but burned me out on science fiction which I had been reading pretty exclusively for the past two years or so… I go through phases like that where I only read one genre or one author for extended periods of time.

I wanted to make a soft transition to something a little different rather than completely diverging and picking up a Thomas Pynchon novel or something. I remembered a recommendation I got from a friend several years ago that I had never taken for a book called Daemon by Daniel Suarez so I grabbed it.

It’s a technothriller so still kind of sci-fi-esque but less fantastical.  In any case it was a good transition book, and a pretty good read in general.

The story takes place in the present or very near future and follows the effects on the world of a background process program (daemon) written by a dead genius/madman computer game developer named Matthew Sobol which infiltrates the global net and begins to disrupt the world economy and balance of power in interesting ways.

The Daemon’s queue to begin operating is the headline announcing the death of its creator. Through backdoors built into Sobol’s video games, it siphons the computing power of legions of unwary gamers and begins to systematically enlist the disenfranchised to accomplish its goals. It shifts its strategy and initiates pre-planned contingencies in response to keywords in media headlines. The Daemon causes death and destruction as well as silent infiltration as it begins to dispassionately execute its functions with brutal if-then logic bereft of considerations for consequence making it more dangerous than any person could ever be. And its mission is to change the world.

I immediately thought the concept was pretty cool. The writing style is very direct and utilitarian; there are very little embellishment added to the fictional events, yet somehow the story still doesn’t feel heartless. Some characters are better developed than others, and some of the character arcs feel a little forced, but generally speaking they feel and act like real people, which is nice.

The storytelling is well paced and the author never falls into the trap of making the technical explanations (of which there are many) unwieldy or tedious; as a non computer guy (I mean, I own one and know how to turn it on and off. I know how to defrag it… when it gets all fragged. But I’m not a hacker or anything. Does anyone say hacker anymore? Are those still a thing? I digress) I was pleased that the jargon and the technical detail didn’t go over my head.

The concept of the Daemon is interesting because it really feels like something that could almost be realized today. Given unlimited time and resources, the systems the daemon employs to accomplish its goals don’t seem all that impossible…only highly difficult and unlikely. This closeness to reality adds another interesting dimension to the story. It’s like imagining a world where Steve Jobs secretly programmed every iDevice to silently call your mom whenever it sensed you having sex.

At times it’s a little far-fetched in that the Daemons scripted response are too spot-on to have been pre-planned even by a super genius like Sobol, but the author still makes it seem somewhat feasible so I’m able to suspend my disbelief.

The book is also surprisingly bloody and violent at times, but the author’s use of violence is very particular. The violence is brutal when it occurs, but it doesn’t occur throughout and when it does it still has an emotional effect because it is so frugally used.

In any case, at the end of the book things are getting pretty serious and the scale of the vision of the Daemon’s creator is just starting to be revealed. The book is a pretty good non-preachy examination of some of the implications of technology in our net dependent civilization. When money and information exist primarily as electrical impulses being shunted around the world at light speed, the question of cyber security and its underlying assumptions becomes more and more crucial. And as the tangible world becomes increasingly and inextricably linked to the virtual one, the immediacy of the danger of its exploitation is increased exponentially.

It was a good book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Freedom™.

3 Replies to “Read: Daemon”

  1. “It’s like imagining a world where Steve Jobs secretly programmed every iDevice to silently call your mom whenever it sensed you having sex.” <- This.

  2. It is very human to project our thoughts, desires and fears onto the “other,” whether it’s a loved one or whole populations. I suppose that technology fits that category as well. In that case, is it fair to depict Daemon’s brutal if-then logic as an inhuman trait?

    1. I would counter that arguing that the Daemon’s logic ISN’T inhuman would be participating in the same animism you describe. Although the Daemon was created by a man, its impartiality is what allows it to carry out its mission. It is beholden to nothing but its programming and, rather than being a true artificial intelligence, is simply an algorithm that responds stimulus. It often effects pre-planned changes through coercion, and it’s threats are effective because it never bluffs; it has no need to. In fact it has no needs at all. I think one of the most interesting things about the book is that the author never falls into the trap of making the Daemon an AI which would lead down a very different path. I’m halfway through the second book and it’s making me wish there were a third…

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