For a first novel, this one is pretty good.
Others have summarized it, but there are a few details missing, so I will make a few points. This book is about few really central characters, but a cast of a dozen or so important characters, including the titular Daemon. It tells the precautionary story of what can happen when a very bright person gets very angry with society. Or perceives it to have outlasted its usefulness. Choose your poison.
Matthew Sobol, the best game designer in the world, has died. With his death, a stunning series of events begins to take place, starting with the deaths of a few programmers, and extending to the endangering of the entire world. Very few people can hope to stop his plan. These include Tripwire Merritt, "Jon Ross", Natalie Phillips, and a certain police detective you meet at the beginning of the book.
There were a number of thoughts that went through my head as I read this book. First, it is paced to within an inch of its life. There are no slow parts, there are no parts where the plotting moves too fast and loses detail. Second, this is like Michael Crichton, only better. More accurate stories, more realistic, more detailed, more interesting characters (and more of them). Third, this compares well to The Stand and The Matrix, two of the epics of our time. Like the latter, technology plays a central role in this story, and like the latter, it doesn't end here.
The only reason that I don't give this book five stars is that the ending is not complete enough. The last discussion in the book lacks the details, the philosophy, and the explanation, to raise this even further above the bar for techno-thrillers. Instead, it is left for later. The conversation is cryptic, perhaps intentionally, when a little great explication would have been nice. There is little other philosophy in the book, relegating this to a very well written, extremely well plotted and paced, techno-thriller, but not literature.
That said, I still have already recommended this book to three people, and I know that all three will read it and at least one of them will buy it. And they will probably recommend it to others. I have only one question: Why has this not been translated into Russian yet? I know that it would sell there, and well. As it says on the novel, buy it, read it, enjoy it, and pray that we don't have to live it.
Worth your time and money.
on January 28, 2009
Few readers were more saddened by the premature death of Michael Crichton than I was. Ever since his death (and truthfully even before it) I'd read any novel that promised to introduce "the next Crichton." Invariably, I'd come away disappointed. Until Daemon. Daniel Suarez's debut novel gave me hope for the future of smart, complex techno-thrillers. What a read! What a find! Thank you, Amazon Vine!
Daemon is the story of... Well, it's a little hard to summarize. The catalyst of this novel is the death (from brain cancer) of Matthew Sobol. Sobol is the young, multi-millionaire genius behind a computer gaming empire. Specifically, he made his fortune designing MMORPGs, and if you're like me, you're a reader who doesn't know squat about Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games. That's okay, you'll get educated along the way.
So, Matthew Sobol spent a lot of time thinking about society and the world we live in as his death approached, and apparently he found it lacking. Or, perhaps, the tumors in his brain drove him mad. Take your pick. In either case, Sobol set in motion an elaborate plan that would be kicked off, only after a computer read of his obituary in the news. That was the catalyst that released the eponymous computer daemon into the world.
For those that don't know (i.e. me), a daemon is a process that runs in the background and performs a specified operation at predefined times or in response to certain events. And that's precisely what Sobol's Daemon does. The obituary triggers the murders of some of the programmers that took part in the daemon's creation--in quite creative ways, I might add. And that is literally the start of the novel, and how we get introduced to homicide detective Peter Sebeck. Pete is our everyman, the one who asks the questions about technology so that the reader doesn't have to. And initially, it seemed that Sebeck would be the protagonist of a fairly typical police procedural. I could not have been more wrong.
First, rather than have a single (or a few) protagonists and antagonists, Suarez tells his tale with an ever-expanding cast. It's very hard to tell who will be a major character and who will make a brief appearance, never to be seen again. And even among the more major characters, don't get too attached, because no one is safe in this novel. This daemon is playing for keeps. Through the computer attacks, it is almost as if Sobol still lives (all the while begging the question: How do you punish a dead man?). He makes phone calls. He sends videos. And he punishes anyone who gets in the way of his destructive plans. He also rewards those who help him, because even the most powerful computers in the world need occasional human henchmen.
The way Sobol recruits from among society's disgruntled and disenfranchised reminded me so much of Randall Flagg in Stephen King's The Stand that I'm inclined to believe it's Suarez's homage to the man. I found it a little hard to believe how many people were willing to sell their soul to the daemon, but what do I know. Interestingly, none of the heroes in this novel is all good, and none of the villains is all bad. It certainly made for more interesting reading. Sometimes I couldn't even figure out who the good guys were.
Crichton has long been criticized for writing underdeveloped characters. Suarez, quite frankly, isn't even trying to develop many of the characters, sometimes populating entire chapters with characters notated only by the agencies they represent: CIA, FBI, NSA, DARPA, and so on. The stakes in this novel certainly do expand beyond the Thousand Oaks Police Department. The daemon is an enormous, world-wide danger.
The pace of this novel is relentless, and more than a few plot twists took me completely by surprise, including an enormous shocker in the final pages. The novel comes to a satisfying enough conclusion, but quite a few threads are left unresolved. I was sort of okay with the things left up in the air--food for thought, you know--but Publisher's Weekly promises a sequel. I am so there!
on February 9, 2009
As others have said here, this book has a strong beginning. It then abandons a main character in mid-game, so to speak. In the end, other main characters are just suspended or left to literally drift away or simply lifted off stage in a helicopter with no explanation as to what happens/happened next. The climax isn't, and the wrap-up is weak and then, as an afterthought, the author adds text that seems to beg for a sequel.
This book has a number of wonder reviews on the back by people not otherwise known for their critiques of books. That should say everything one needs to know, but let me provide this further note: this book is like taking a wonderful Sunday drive that ends up with a flat tire ten miles from the closest service station. It is an entertaining read, just don't expect a satisfying conclusion.
Don't get me wrong. I will buy other books by Mr. Suarez and I look forward to his next novel(s). I'm just saving my rave reviews for his next works, which I'm sure will be much better and more accomplished.
on March 25, 2014
This book starts off strong, especially for a first novel. The concept is interesting, and the early part of the book starts off strong. An attack on the world's networks? A powerful artificial construct? Sounds good!
Then things go a bit off the deep end. Mr. Suarez has a strong grasp of the technology (at least as far as I can see, being a non-expert) but doesn't really understand either politics or the military -- for example, governments have in fact shut the internet off in response to threats far more minor than the one Suarez poses, and the FBI does have access to armored vehicles which could mince a Hummer.
Things get worse as the show goes on; characters are introduced and then barely developed, and the plot goes on strange asides. Probably the biggest issue, however, is what could be called for lack of a better word "The Dark Knight Syndrome"; much like the Joker, the Daemon and its allies are so clever and all-seeing that it drains the tension from the plot. Since you know they'll always outsmart their opponents there's no feeling of conflict. The Daemon will always win, so why should I get invested? On top of that, the rather high school level philosophy deployed by the Daemon gets pretty annoying when none of the main characters have a response. The amateurish and undeveloped ideas make the book seem poorly thought out in a way reminiscent of internet-based anarchism and other such political laughingstocks. More troubling is the the fact that the author isn't prepared to articulate a vision opposed to the Daemon's, which lends credence to the idea that he himself thinks this way.
Possibly part of these writing issues stem from the desire to set up a sequel, but the assumption that this book deserves one isn't a fair one. In the end, I cannot recommend this book. There are better things you can spend your time reading, and I suggest that you do.
If you know even just a little about AI, encryption, computer networks, gaming and internet technology you're going to LOVE this book. This is one of those books that's a wild ride right from the beginning, a page turner that you can't put down even late into the night when you really should be sleeping. This WILL keep you awake. Every time you start to put it down, the next 'big thing' occurs and you just have to find out the outcome.
It starts out with an obituary on Matthew Sobol, a top computer game designer who's designed a half dozen games and he leaves behind kind of a super game in the form of a daemon that scans internet obituaries and news articles for keywords that trigger a world changing sequence of events. A detective, Peter Sebeck, who is investigating a pair of Internet-related homicides and Jon Ross, who is trying to help his company battle a virus become involved in trying to stop this destructive force from causing irreparable damage to the world.
Anyone involved or interested in online gaming and virtual environments should find the technology aspect of this book especially intriguing. The plot revolves around an online game where it becomes a fine line between a virtual world and the material one.
I understand that this is the first book by Daniel Suarez and that he published it under another name, Leinad Zeraus, a little over a year ago. He's an amazing writer and has another book in the works for next year. This one reads like you're watching a movie. You know how you can see the characters interacting and watch the action unfolding as you read some books? This is like that. It reminded me of a high tech Michael Crichton novel. It's based on real technology, some that you probably know about or have heard of, and some that will have you Googling to figure out what he's talking about.
It's high action, suspenseful, and just a thrilling ride from beginning to end and will leave you asking yourself, "Could something like this really happen?" I wish I could give this book 6 stars. It's really THAT good!
on May 19, 2012
I was sorry I wasted my time with this book. I was drawn in by a fairly intriguing premise, melding themes from cyberpunk, contemporary hacker culture, gaming and geopolitics. But the ideas turn out to be underdeveloped and paper thin - mere window dressing for the silly action scenes populated by cardboard characters.
In particular, the idea of a sophisticated and distributed scripted engine, the Daemon, which is the heart of the story, is never sufficiently explored or explained. Not only are its ultimate aims unclear, but its unfailing ability to brilliantly execute its master plan is simply absurd for a computer program we are explicitly told is not sentient and has no centralized intelligence. Yet this hyped-up computer virus/game engine is able to choose human targets, engage in sophisticated psychological manipulations, falsify accounts, free prisoners, recruit soldiers, takeover corporations - you name it. It is literally dues-ex-machina. What we get instead of anything meaningful or even plausible are fantastically violent scenes of robot cars and motorbikes slashing and crushing their way towards... what again, exactly? A new world order where nation-states are obsolete, consumer and finance capitalism is disbanded and the Daemon is in charge of the world? Somehow? I guess?
The book runs about 40% too long, and gets less and less rewarding as it lumbers towards its unsatisfying quasi-conclusion.
Perhaps the overall story improves with its culmination in Freedom, but Saurez didn't show me nearly enough to get me to follow him there.
The sad thing is, if executed with much more skill, curiosity and restraint, the Daemon premise could have allowed him to craft an interesting and relevant story around our technology-dependent always-online consumer society. That is not this book. But please don't think I am only disappointed because it isn't the book I wanted it to be. I'm afraid it's just not a good one by any measure.
on July 9, 2010
"Daemon" is a unique book. Unfortunately, it's not a particularly good book. I picked it up after hearing several glowing recommendations on Leo Laporte's "This Week in Technology". Well, Leo's guests may be technology gurus, but clearly they aren't literary critics.
Daniel Suarez knows his technology, and goes to great detail to prove it to the reader - over and over and over again. Unfortunately, his ceaseless detailed exposition of computer gaming, networking, and security gets in the way of the story. Suarez tries to use his tech background to justify the Daemon as a plausible possibility, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. Despite what the characters say, no logic tree, regardless of its complexity, could do what the Daemon does. The Daemon has to be true AI; it is omniscient and omnipotent, and once that is established (very early in the story), it could just as easily be based on magic fairy dust and incantations. Suarez's attempts to explain the Daemon's abilities using modern technology don't wash, and as the novel progresses those abilities become even more implausible.
Suarez could take a few lessons from a writer like Vernor Vinge. Dr. Vinge is every bit as capable as Suarez in providing technological detail to a story, but unlike Suarez he is a good enough writer to know when to draw the line. Read "True Names" by Vinge, look at the year that Vinge wrote it, and you'll realize that Daniel Suarez still has a lot to learn as a writer.
Suarez clearly tried to write a technothriller, but it's really a sci-fi novel. As science fiction goes, however, it is completely derivative. Anyone who has read D.F. Jones, Vinge, Gibson, Stephenson, Doctorow, etc., has seen all of this before. "Daemon" is a pastiche of plot elements from all of those authors, mixed with a little gratuitous sex and plenty of bloody action scenes reminiscent of the Matrix and Terminator franchises. You almost have a vision of Suarez saying, "This will make a great screenplay!" as he wrote it. Sorry, Daniel, but "Eagle Eye" and "I, Robot" have already covered the same ground (omnipotent A.I. decides to control and reshape society), and did it better. I doubt Hollywood is going to bite on "Daemon" anytime soon.
The characters in "Daemon" are mostly meat puppets, either doing the Daemon's bidding with barely an ounce of free will or individuality, or swept along by the Daemon's manipulations. You do what the Daemon tells you to do, or you die (and sometimes you die anyway). Several characters rationalize cold-blooded murder with barely a twinge of conscience. The irony is that while Suarez is clearly arguing a thesis that modern corporations and capitalism are bad because they reduce the common man to cogs in the machinery of society, the Daemon is every bit as ruthless with its own minions. Ah, but the Daemon will manage us for our own good. Riiight.
From what I've read, "Freedom (TM)" is oriented even more strongly towards Suarez's vision of future America as some sort of anarcho-agrarian utopia, with all the evil financial and industrial oligarchs put to death. If "Daemon" and "Freedom (TM)" ever do make it to the silver screen, I can guarantee you that those particular plot points won't survive the first script rewrite. As for me, I'll do what Suarez's characters can't, and exercise a little free will by passing on the sequel.
on November 19, 2015
Five stars are really not enough for a book like this. The plot and character development are not outstanding, but the story idea is so original that it alone is worthy of a Hugo or Nebula award. There are plenty of science fiction scenarios about a computer taking over the world; this story explores the more realistic and plausible scenario of not an actual computer, not an actual artificial intelligence, but simply a cleverly written program that can infect the world's computers and take them over. It's also a story that makes you stop and think about how every aspect of our lives is now impacted by computerized technology, and how easy it is for rogue actors to control that technology and thus control us. If that happens, will we resist, or will we submit to the Daemon? Before you answer, consider the technology that controls your bank account, your medical and employment records, your very identity. You might be surprised at how quickly you surrender to the Beast.
on February 16, 2016
The billionaire CEO of an online game company is dead. Brain cancer. But his death isn’t the end, it is only the beginning. Online, *daemons* – automated computer programs – are waiting to read the headlines announcing CEO Matthew Sobol’s passing. His obituary triggers programs that have infiltrated every corner of our society. Detective Pete Sebek is on the case, but soon he is over his head as the online world ushers in a new world order under the Daemon’s control.
Daniel Suarez’s techno-thriller is a fast read with a large cast of characters. Some are merely plot devices, engineers added to give a real sense of the distributed work the Daemon requests of its human servants. Others are more significant, from Detective Sebek to the Daemon’s primary mercenary to the cryptographer trying to bring it down.
Those working for the government run the gambit from idealist to special forces to spook. Each character is well-developed with their own reasons and beliefs. Only “The Major” is a cookie-cutter character, but he divulges none of his past nor his mission in this book.
A few prose issues and an occasional typo in the Kindle edition I read didn’t break me out of the story as much as a few over-the-top scenes did. I could see this as an action movie, although a number of the technical details would need to be simplified for the silver screen.
In exploring the technologies of our modern world, and the degree to which everything is interrelated, this novel takes a frightening look at how computers can manipulate markets and how governments seek these powers for themselves. While the Daemon Task Force is trying to bring this system down, The Major ultimately wants to protect the Daemon and use it as a tool for the government. These conflicting goals ratchet up the tension through the book.
I love a good techo-thriller, and I enjoy reading about hackers and spooks almost as much as the post-apocalypse. The book left a lot of open ends I presume will be answered in *Freedom*, the sequel. I give *Daemon* four stars, and will pick up *Freedom* to keep reading in this world.
on July 24, 2014
I thought everything was much too far fetched even though I was prepared to make the attempt.
I was looking forward to getting to the end so it would be over. Good books I've read, I want to go on and on. This one, I wanted to end already.