Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Influx by Daniel Suarez

The nobel prize seems to be within the grasp of Jon Grady.  Being an academic dropout seems to be no longer a real obstacle since he just implemented his first prototype of a gravity reflection device. While the Wall Street bankers bankrolling his startup don't seem too happy about being misled about the direction of his research, their expert confirms the validity of his claims.

But when something seems to be to good to be true, it usually isn't. The visiting "expert" makes a telephone call and the bomb goes off, quite literally. A neo-luddite terror organisation storms the lab, knocks out everyone and blows it all up.

To his own surprise Jon Grady survives the experience and finds himself in the clutches of the Bureau for Technology Control (BTC). As it turns out, they are having both feet on the breaks concerning the deployment of new technology (of course purely due to concern for mankind). Scientists and Developers who threaten to disturb the status quo too profoundly are offered a choice: join, disappear and play with the good stuff or just disappear.  

So Jon has to consider the gravity of his situation. As he soon finds out, the governmental oversight of the Bureau has been slightly neglected.

After his novel "Kill Decision" was published, some complained to Daniel Suarez that he has written more a blueprint than a novel.  Like his works "Daemon" and "Freedom (TM)" it gave the technology-versed reader quite a chill. Since John Brunner passed away, no other author has managed to radiate such feeling of frightening authenticity in his books. Together with the author we can only sincerely hope  that he is further off the mark this time. 

His past as system consultant and software developer gives him his ability to describe just-around-the-corner technology. But the real hitter are his credible predictions on how and where those will be used. While the apparent technology in 2016 (where "Influx" is set in) does not differ too much from today (thanks to the untiring efforts of the BTC), he takes a lot more liberties on the "suppressed" technologies.

His previous books were not short on humor, but he has given it a lot more leash here. One can't do other than appreciate the irony of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies being spied upon by superior technology. There are several of such hidden gems inside the book. Furthermore the clones of the top BTC operative have some QA issues and regularly provide comic relief.

When reading the previous books, my professional personality was never completely switched off.  The job-me was permanently looking myself over the shoulder and doing some appraisal. With "Influx" the entertainment nearly does a solo performance. But Daniel Suarez can't completely get rid of his habits and there are still some very sobering parts. The gulag for scientists comes straight from the worst nightmares.

The pacing of the book is high right from the start and it is hard to lay aside once you begin flying through the 380 pages (hardcover). The story mostly flies straight as an arrow, the supposedly good cause of the bad guys is threadbare right away. With the roles clearly assigned early on, "Influx" makes an relaxing and enjoyable read.

Of course there is another possible alternative explanation for this book: Daniel Suarez got snatched by the Bureau for Literary Control since he was getting close to the reality prediction and was forced to write more freewheeling stuff. If the results remain that entertaining, that is fine with me.

In any case, you find his book on Amazon.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Directive 51 by John Barnes

Directive 51 is the first book of the Daybreak series with currently three novels. The title is derived from from the "Executive Directive 51", a Presidential Directive which claims power to execute procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a "catastrophic emergency". This may give you a "slight hint" about the direction this book is going.

The novel takes place in the near future of the United States of America. Technology has advanced especially in the area of nanotechnology, where even students become capable of creating nanites (nanobots) in their home lab.

The "Daybreak" is a terrorist organisation devoted to bring down the "Big System". It consists of several groups (from radical ecological to radical islamists) which only share their disgust for the status quo. 

It is introduced as a meme that has reached a critical mass. But the author also casts some doubts on that assumption. 

The Daybreak is surprisingly effective in creating a nanoplague (self-replicating nanites) devouring petroleum-based fuels, rubber, plastics and several metals. But it also has a new type of nuclear bomb at its disposal. 

This and some other facts create the impression that "Daybreak" is not what it seems. The riddle is not resolved in this book.

The larger part of the novel is about the executive power trying to fight back and within itself. As one may assume from the title, the original president and his vice-president are not around for long. And even with the end of the world close by, there are enough remains to squabble for. The failure of the leaderships encourages other to claim power for themselves. Only a few, the heroes of the book, are trying hard to hold it all together.

The book starts with a fast, gripping pace, a doomsday plot at its best. When it comes to the political side and dealing with the fallout, the novel remains more interesting than senate proceedings but requires some stamina on the reader side. The amount of characters is confusing (we go through four presidents alone) and even at the end, the purpose of some characters remain unclear. 

I have the followup novels on my reading list, but they are not as high prioritized as they would have been after the first third. 

You find this novel on Amazon,