on March 16, 2011
*Rating is 3.5*
Mark Russinovich works at Microsoft in one of the senior-most technical positions. Considering the background of the author, the premise of Zero Day becomes even more compelling.
Zero Day has a thrilling start. Several seemingly unrelated incidents take place all over the world, all involving computer failures. The controls of a British Airways flight fails. So do the computers in a highly reputed firm based in NYC. A glitch in the computer databases in various hospitals causes many patients to die, due to wrong administration of medicines. Jeff Aiken, who used to previously work for the Government, starts to see a pattern in these incidents. What emerges is more deadly than anyone could imagine. It's up to Jeff to stop the impending disaster before all hell breaks loose.
Zero Day involves a very realistic portrayal of cyber-terrorism. It's disturbing and terrifying since it's so real; and it's scarier because of the author's knowledge and background. You can't really discount the scenario presented in Zero Day - the things described in the book can certainly happen. Ever since 9/11 attacks , there has been increasing paranoia in the world. Terrorism has expanded and with advancement in technology, the threat has increased further. Taking into account how depended we've become on computers and internet, the book's premise is only too real. If someone was to launch an attack via the internet, the effects can be enormous and more horrifying than what any one of us can imagine.
Zero Day is a fast-paced, heart-stopping thriller. I was unable to put the book down. The book compels you to ask - "What if?" This thought-provoking thriller, packed with action, will keep you reading late into the night. I instantly connected with Jeff. All through the book, I wanted him to succeed. I felt his emotions as he raced against time to stop the looming disaster.
A major problem I had with the book was the technical aspect and details which were beyond my comprehension. All the technical parts got very monotonous for me. Perhaps if I had more knowledge of programming and cyber-crimes, the book might have been a 5 star read for me. However, the author did manage to make up for the boring parts with some very surprising twists.
Zero Day is a book that's very relevant today. We do need to be aware of how hugely dependent we have become on technology. Our lives are almost run by technology. Most of us will have a panic attack, if our internet suddenly stops working or if we are not able to check our emails. Zero Day forces one to ponder on how vulnerable we are to any kind of cyber-crime. Technology has definitely helped mankind, but like every great innovation, it does have its flaws. Thanks to technology, you can shop at home, book flight tickets sitting at home, talk to a person on the other side of the world, pay your bills online and even control your bank accounts. You hardly even need to step out of your homes. Do we realize how much of ourselves we give out on social networking sites? Almost our entire lives are so out there, so open to any kind of attack. Zero Day, apart from being action-packed, is also informative. It's not just fiction but reality and hence more frightening than any ghost story.
An intelligently written thriller with realistic themes and heart-stopping action
Yes, to those who enjoy thrillers which have more depth to them.
on March 20, 2011
I write technology and network security books, articles, newsletters and white papers for a living. Reading for fun is one of my guilty pleasures. But lately I've been disappointed in the deteriorating quality of the fiction books that I read. Even many of my long-time favorite novelists seem to have gotten sloppy, and most of the new books are badly written from a technical point of view, fail to bring anything fresh to overused plotlines, and/or aren't able to keep the story moving, make me care about the characters or wrap up the plot elements into a coherent whole.
There are, however, a few folks who can still tell a story. The two books I read immediately preceding Zero Day were by Neal Stephenson and Orson Scott Card, old standbys who never let me down. Those guys are tough acts to follow, and as I opened up Mark's book (in the Kindle app on my Galaxy Tab, if anyone cares), I felt a mixture of eager anticipation and a smidgen of worry. Mostly, I was excited to embark on reading a novel written by someone I actually knew personally; that doesn't happen every day.
If you don't know who Mark Russinovich is, check out his bio on Wikipedia. Pretty impressive technical creds, huh? I knew that Mark really knows his stuff when it comes to computers, so I was looking forward to (finally!) reading a novel about technology that wouldn't have me stopping every few pages to shake my head and say "no, no, no - it doesn't work that way." (Dan Brown's Digital Fortress is just one example of a technothriller that, despite the author's storytelling skills, I couldn't enjoy because I wasn't able to get past the technical mistakes).
The worry? I knew it was a first novel, and I know very well that being very, very smart doesn't necessarily ensure that a person can write in a compelling way. Writing fiction is very different from writing technical papers. And in fact, some of the smartest people I know write some of the most boring material. And I also knew, from my own efforts, that writing a novel is hard work. Writing a novel well is even harder. Would he be able to pull it off?
I'm going to be brutally honest here: The opening scene didn't exactly impress me and make me want to read more. Oh, I know starting things off with some gratuitous sex is supposed to be a sure-fire technique for grabbing readers' attention and it probably works just fine with the young male geeks who are likely to make up a large part of this book's audience. But if you aren't a member of that group and you don't really particularly like that sort of thing, hang in there. It's all over in a page and a half and once we get that out of the way, the story starts to take off into the wild blue yonder. Literally. Of course, John Nance is one of my favorite novelists and aviation is one of my special interests so I'm always a sucker for a good barely-averted-air-disaster scene. Scene 2, played out in the cockpit of British Airways Flight 188, had me hooked by the third paragraph. And from there on out, it was a wild and wooly ride.
As I made my way through the book, it only got better and better. Many years ago, I devoured all the popular novels written by Arthur Hailey, whose Airport and Runway Zero-Eight were my favorites (aviation buff, remember). His other titles, such as Hotel (about the hospitality industry), Wheels (about the automobile industry), The Moneychangers (about the banking industry), and Strong Medicine (about the pharmaceutical industry) also kept me up late for many nights in the 70s and 80s. Zero Day is written in the same format as Hailey's books, shuffling the scene back and forth between many different localities and characters, with one strong protagonist tying it all together. Great literature? No - but highly entertaining and also informative, thanks to all the research that went into them. Is it a formulaic style? Maybe so, but it's an effective one. It can also be a maddening one if it's not handled just right - I've read more than one book written in this style that fell apart completely because the author couldn't seem to juggle the plethora of subplots or keep all those characters' personalities consistent. I'm happy to report that Mark did a great job of managing this shifting landscape.
The plot is built around a rapidly evolving set of incidents involving computer system failures that result in serious situations, some of which are only costly in monetary terms, but many of which are life-threatening. Our emergent hero is Jeff Aiken, mild-mannered computer expert who left the frustrations and bureaucratic red tape of his government job (in the CIA, no less) for the private sector, where he makes lots of money doing damage control and clean-up after corporate security breaches, somewhat akin to the way Red Adair sweeps into town to put things right after an oilwell fire. Jeff and his former government colleague, Dr. Daryl Haugen (the somewhat stereotypical beautiful blonde computer genius who wants to be admired for her brains instead of her body) come to realize that the incidents - ranging from the decimation of a law firm's network to the failure of a 787 jetliner's computerized systems to a "glitch" in a hospital's records system that causes several patient deaths from improper medication - are all related and part of a cyberterrorist attack. The race to track down the bad guys and prevent the worst from happening is on.
The story is deadly serious, and it will keep you awake, turning the pages late into the night, as you worry over what's going to happen in the book (and may also keep you awake nights after you've finished it, worrying about just how close we are to a real-life version of these events). There are also moments of comic relief. As the male chauvinist DHS bureaucrat - who's involved in some clandestine activities of his own - watches Daryl walk away, he ruminates over how "these computer types were always getting worked up over nothing" - and how "the few attractive women among them were the worst." As a woman in the male-dominated computer security field, I can't help grinning and thinking I've met this guy before - a few times over.
When I read a novel, especially a first novel, and more especially a first novel about computer-related matters written by a computer expert, I can't help wondering how much of himself the author put into his main character. Jeff taught at Carnegie-Mellon; Mark got his Ph.D. from the same university. Jeff is an entrepreneur who has built a successful business tracking down malware; Mark co-founded Winternals Software. They say every first novel is autobiographical to some extent, so it's hard not to see Jeff as a fictionalized version of Mark. But that only adds to the mystique.
All in all, it's a great read. If you want to get nit-picky, there are enough typos to be annoying - as is the case with almost every novel I read these days, including those by big name authors such as Stephen King and John Grisham. These are little things, such as "then" when it should have been "than" or missing punctuation. Some are the types of mistakes that get introduced in the editing process. Darn, how I wish these publishers would let me proofread these books before they go to print (hint, hint).
I noticed that one reviewer complained about getting bogged down in the technical details. Maybe it's because I'm in the tech industry and already have an understanding of these things, but I thought the technical issues were explained very well, translating the techno jargon to mainstream terms and using analogies that should be easy for anyone, tech savvy or not, to understand. If you're an IT pro, you'll get into it on several different levels - but don't be afraid to recommend it to your friends and relatives who aren't computer professionals (Do, however, be prepared to answer their concerned questions about whether all this could really happen when they find themselves scared to death by what takes place in the novel).
At $14.08 for the hardcover or $11.99 for the electronic edition (on Amazon), this book is a bargain, for both its entertainment and its educational value. Don't just buy one; buy a second one for a friend.
on May 17, 2011
Mark Russinovich is a superstar developer and first rate blogger and speaker, and so I was very much looking forward to reading this book. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed. As many have pointed out, the topic is serious and is worth every bit of light that can be shed on it. At the same time, I have to agree with every negative review here: core message and technical competency aside, this book is quite weak. The characters are cliche and one-dimentional, with every interaction presented through the lens of sex. If you can make it through the first half of the book, the second half reads a bit better, but still, sadly, not worthy of a recommendation.
on March 26, 2011
This is my first review ever, so please be forgiving with the form (not necessarily with the content).
In this book Mark describes a world that is about to be attacked by a group of terrorists. The kind of attack is one that will supposedly bring the World-As-We-Know-It to a halt due to our actual dependency on computers and the Internet. Mark describes the efforts and sacrifices a pair of highly technical individuals have to make in order to stop this attack and save the world. I won't comment on the outcome of these two individuals efforts, that would be an spoiler, but you will pretty much guess what it will be after reading the first quarter (maybe less) of the book.
There are two things that I did not like from this book.
First, I found the plot to be thin and highly predictable. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, from the very first chapters of the book you start knowing all there is from the characters involved: their motives, their flaws and the role each of them are going to play at the end. There are a couple of surprises here and there but at the end, I found them to be inconsequential to the history.
Second, and the issue that bothered me the most (and pushed me to do this review), is that the plot is full of clichés: the Russians are corrupt, the Arabs are all fundamentalists in a quest to destroy America, the Chechen are all criminal, Latin American is the prostitution backyard of the Americans and so on. The only american character that was portrayed under a bad light was because of his uncontrolled ambition and not because of his patriotism. I got the feeling that the message that the book was conveying was that everything that is outside America is bad and dangerous.
I only hope that the world view that Mark built for this book is the by-product of his first work writing a novel and not how he really "sees" and "thinks" the world. For what is worth, for me, a huge fan of his technical work, would be disappointing.
on June 25, 2014
Ever been in a blackout, without battery-operated clocks, radios in the dark? You get up, turn on tv, reach for cell phone and laptop. But now, they won't turn on. ATM out of service. We are so reliant on the technology, what to do when it fails ?
A interesting story. Sometimes, the author , in trying to explain the technology problems, gets a little heavy with the explanations.
Felt like I needed A++to follow. However, I enjoyed the techno-mystery.