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Monday, January 19, 2009

“Daemon” by Daniel Suarez (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

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INTRODUCTION: Self-published under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus in 2006, “Daemon” built an underground following, which eventually led to a publishing deal with Dutton. I first heard of the book when it received an excellent review in Wired Magazine, but for some reason I never got around to trying it until now. And I have to say that all of the praise was well deserved, since “Daemon” is smart and darkly funny...

SETTING:Daemon” takes place in the near future at several different places including Washington, Houston,and a virtual game universe. Since so much of the action is either virtual or electronic, the accuracy of actual physical places such as buildings, estates, and highways, are less relevant compared to how they are connected to the Web.

There is also a bit of fantasy-like intrusion in reality, with some of the main characters using their virtual powers to act in unexpected ways on the physical plane. You will not look at cars on the highway in the same way after reading this novel.

FORMAT/INFO:Daemon” stands at 448 pages divided over 44 numbered and titled chapters. Some chapters have a small extract from some Web news item that adds to the depth of the setting. The narration is in the third-person via multiple POVs. Outside of Daemon/virtual Matthew Sobol who truly steals the show each time it appears, there are several main characters including a homicide detective with a strange fate named Pete Sebeck, a computer consultant and Sobol “expert” known as Jon Ross, small-time hacker and drug party promoter Brian Gragg, ambitious life style journalist Anji Anderson, and NSA counter-hacking operative Natalie Philips. There are also quite a few other important characters that receive POV scenes, and of these the most interesting are current Texas Department of Corrections “guest” Charles Mosely; and the mysterious Major and official “minder” of Natalie.

The interlude chapters in which various governmental agencies—FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, DARPA—discuss the situation created by Daemon, are absolutely hilarious without degenerating into heavy-handed satire. The ending is excellent though it clearly sets up the table for the sequel, “Freedom TM”, due out next year.

January 8, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Daemon” via
Dutton. US cover designed by Anthony Ramondo with jacket photography provided by Dynamic Graphics / Creatas Images / Jupiter Images. The UK Edition (see inset) will be published on April 2, 2009 by Quercus.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Daemon”, at the top of its game, is a page turner, darkly funny and I enjoyed it much more than I expected. The novel's first short chapter is titled Execution, and after opening with a news item detailing the death of Matthew Sobol, it describes the ingenious murder of Sobol's associate Joseph Pavlos involving a cable, a remote, an Internet data packet and a handyman to occupy the police until the second murder can be committed.

From there, the book really starts rolling as the police investigation, continued by the FBI, starts unfolding and the Daemon/Sobol makes itself known to the world. In the meantime, Anji Anderson, fired from her plum network anchor job and desperate for cash, is made an offer by Daemon that she cannot refuse. Then there’s hacker/drug party organizer Brian Gragg who also receives an offer he “cannot refuse” while playing the famous MMORPG game designed by Sobol...

As expected from its suggestive title, “Daemon” is jargon-laden with numerous computer and game terms, but their explanation is smoothly inserted into dialogue between various characters, most notably between Jon Ross and Detective Sebeck. While the jargon never gets too heavy, anyone who loves MMORPGs will find lots to enjoy in the book :)

Of the main characters, Gragg and Sebeck are the best drawn with their story arcs the most accomplished, while also having the best action and lines in the novel. The mysterious Ross and the attractively geeky Philips are sort of “star-crossed lovers to be”, although the novel does not quite get to that point yet. However, I expect the sequel will expand on this thread. The other major female character, Anji, embodies the “get famous at any cost” mentality of too many people today and is probably the least developed of the main characters. Gragg as a major “villain” is believable, fun and nasty all at the same time, but Anji comes off as smarmy and despicable—too one sided for my taste.

As we see from some of the most memorable scenes from the novel—no spoilers, so go read the book!—the author hates spammers with a passion and detests corporate hierarchy just as much.

The weaknesses of the book are mostly ones associated with the genre—character development is limited, the “hackers running the world” concept is one-dimensional, and there’s a lack of external depth—but we do not read thrillers for those missing qualities. The action is fast, the toys are cool, the book’s style is smooth, many lines are funny, and there is also some serious symbolism throughout the novel although we will have to wait until the sequel to see where the author goes with that.

Overall, Daniel Suarez’sDaemon” is a superior genre novel, a fun read, and highly recommended, and I can’t wait for “Freedom TM” to see where Daemon and his minions will take us next...


Anonymous said...

my art teacher claims to be the authors sister...they do look alike too. it doesnt really have to do with the book...just a coincidence :]


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