Like many people, I find my daily commute seriously cuts into my reading time. While I’ve seen more than my share of L.A. commuters driving with a book balanced on the steering wheel, I have no wish to be a part of what seems the inevitable result of that choice. So I’ve been listening to a lot of unabridged audio books. With close to 80 miles round trip every day, that’s about two unabridged books a month. It’s a great way to stay current on recent releases, both fiction and non-fiction, and I’ll be reviewing what I’ve been reading/listening to here. I’m going to begin with a 2009 cyber-thriller by Daniel Suarez, Daemon.

Daemon is a book that’s a little hard to categorize – cyberpunk? near-future sf? modern thriller? Most of the technology in this book already exists, from what I know, and reading this book makes you wonder just why this scenario hasn’t yet happened. Or if it has. That last possibility can make reading the book a little nervous making, especially considering some of the economic dips and swerves of the past couple of years. Suarez surely cuts close to the bone here, creating a frightening plausible (at least for a geek who follows tech news like me) story by combining the worlds of computer gaming, cyber crime, cowboy IT contractors, and a law enforcement system that’s perhaps a little less knowledgeable about technological crime that we might all wish. Stir in corporate espionage, inter-agency non-cooperation, and a mad genius, and you’ve got all the elements for a riveting story that is close enough to reality to also serve as a cautionary tale.

The book opens with a news story announcing the death from brain cancer of Matthew Sobol, the CTO of a very successful computer game company and programmer of some of its most popular games. We then witness the death of a man named Joseph Pavlos and are introduced to Ventura County, CA homicide detective Pete Sebeck and what seems to be the start of a police procedural. It doesn’t take long before a second suspicious death occurs and Sebeck, with the aid of freelance computer consultant and inveterate gamer Jonathan Ross, realizes that there’s a great deal more going on here than first meets the eye. The murders are quickly traced to Sobol, and an attempt to investigate his mansion springs a high-tech booby trap and releases a driverless, armored Hummer that kills or injures an entire police squad. Ross discovers that Sobol appears to have created a daemon (a computer background task triggered by specific events) that seems to be committing murders and attacking computer networks around the globe. The principle attack vectors seem to be associated with the MMOPRGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) that Sobol had created.

Much more detail would start to enter spoiler territory, and this book deserves to be discovered, twist by turn, as it unfolds. Suarez’ pace is relentless, and virtually every page raises the stakes more and more. We’ve got the FBI and NSA at eash other’s throats, corporate intrigue, hackers and identity thieves, autonomous killer automobiles, katana wielding motorcycle assassins, virtual reality weapons, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. There’s even some stuff that blows up real good. Finnegan’s Wake, this ain’t, but it is a massively fun read that also raises some interesting questions about both the blessings and curses of technology and the modern global economy. When it wasn’t making my blood race, it was making my brain work and the balance between the two states worked very well for me.

No audiobook review is complete with a mention of the narration. Jeff Gurner’s work here is excellent, creating distinct voices for each character, but not overdoing it. I’ve occasionally had problems with narrators who fall too far into bad approximations of regional and national accents when attempting character voices, but Gurner has an excellent ear and provides suitable accents when the character calls for it. As with most good audiobooks, this is not just a reading, it’s a performance – it’s theater, and in this case, good theater. The unabridged version runs about 14 hours, and on occasion I found myself hoping that traffic would be bad, just so I could hear a little more of the book on my way to or from work.

I loved this book for being involving in exactly the right way – fun, exciting, occasionally thought provoking, and thoroughly entertaining. The sequel, Freedom(TM) looks to be more of the same, and is next on my list. Expect a review of that as soon as I finish, L.A. traffic jams allowing.

Interestingly enough, this is one of those rare books that was originally self-published and created enough buzz to be picked up by a larger publishing house. Bravo to Dutton for recognizing quality.

by Daniel Suarez
Dutton Books
Audible Audiobook unabridged
Narrated by Jeff Gurner

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