Ten years ago Daniel Saurez’s novel Daemon would have been classified sci-fi. Today it would probably be called a “techno thriller a la Tom Clancy” instead . . .

In first-time novelist Saurez’s debut novel a malicious virus – called a daemon in the book - designed by a mega-rich game designer in the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs income bracket named Matthew Sobol is spread over the Internet. The “virus” goes about killing two employees of Sobol’s company. One employee is killed by the virus requesting a work order over the Internet to span a steel cable in the path of his regular commute by motorbike. Sneaky.

But the virus has bigger digital fish to fry than company employees who must be silenced.

The virus is launched on the very day Sobol dies of brain cancer. Although it employs AI in the way your favorite computer game might, the daemon isn’t exactly a sentient entity in the way HAL 2000 was. So forget any notions about Daemon being a tired “killer downloads his consciousness onto the Internet to seek revenge” story as seen in movies such as the ridiculous Ghost in the Machine (1993) and episodes of the X-Files.

The daemon is clearly up to something: recruiting people in the real world to do its bidding – but what exactly is it up to? At one point it dispatches all of the spammers across the globe by killing them off using hired death squads (one can only dream) – but this isn’t its end goal however. (By the way the death of the spammers results in a 70% increase in Internet throughput! Yay!)

Finding out what Sobol’s end game is, is up to a Luddite LAPD detective and a software engineer who unwillingly becomes involved in the investigation when he becomes a suspect himself. Also thrown into the mix are a sexy data specialist and a shadowy government agent. But no mater how many resources U.S. government agencies such as the FBI and CIA throw at the problem, the daemon always seems to be one step ahead of them. Ultimately it would seem that Sobol has an ambitious plan in mind that would change the entire world . . .

Paramount acquired the rights to Saurez’s novel upon its publication last year and it is set for a 2012 release date. No director or stars have been announced as yet. The book is followed up by a sequel titled Freedom that is set to be published in April 2010. This is rather unfortunate. Having read too many part ones in various science fiction / fantasy trilogies lately we were kind of hoping for a standalone novel for a change when we picked up Daemon at our local bookstore.

"Might as well have 'Attention: Hollywood Producers – Won't This Look Great in Your Movie?' stenciled all over it!"

Suarez goes to great lengths to make Daemon as scientifically plausible as possible by throwing huge dollops of trendy tech jargon into the mix, which is why we said that Daemon just might have been sci-fi a decade or so ago, but seems frighteningly plausible right now. Suarez succeeds at this, but jumps the shark towards the last quarter of the book when he introduces swarms of robot controlled motorbikes (that reminded us of those bikes in Terminator: Salvation) and SUVs for an elaborate chase scene through a major metropolitan area.

These chapters might as well have “Attention: Hollywood Producers – Won’t This Chase Scene Look Great in Your Movie?” stenciled over them. It is all wildly implausible and unlikely. It also undoes much of what Suarez managed to accomplish earlier on in the book. (Is it so implausible? If you read Tom Vanderbilt’s excellent book Traffic you’d know that the reason why we all don’t have robot-controlled cars like they do in Minority Report is because the best we can do with current technology is having a robot car drive for something like 500 meters at 5 kilometers per hour - on flat terrain without any road obstructions or hazards - in the middle of the desert.)

Daemon falls into the “evil mastermind controlling everything” category much like the recent Law Abiding Citizen starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. Evil mastermind movies are annoying because they really stretch credulity: when last did even something as simple as your vacation go 100% according to plan for instance? There are just too many darned things that can go wrong in real life which we can’t control or predict. (This is probably why conspiracy theorists don’t dig Chaos Theory.) Simply too many variables to account for – even for brilliant computer game designers . . .

Somehow we didn’t find the whole “mastermind” thing too bothersome in Saurez’s book though. But it is unlikely whether this story aspect will translate well to the big screen. On page Suarez can go to great lengths to explain how something was accomplished and make it sound plausible, but in a movie pressed for time many of these techno details will get dumped along the way.

In fact Daemon is a pretty enjoyable book – even when it goes over-the-top with those damned robot motorcycles! It is a fast-paced and slick read. Along the way the author even works in the sort of asides that more anemic and one-track thriller writers such as Dan Brown leave out, but makes Daemon a fun read:

And what was there to replace capitalism, anyway? Communism? Theocracy? Most of the Third World has already suffered nearly terminal bouts of idealism. It was the Communists, after all, who had littered the world with cheap AK-47s in order to ‘liberate’ the masses. But the only lasting effect was that every wall between Cairo and the Philippines had at least one bullet hole in it. But nothing changed. Nothing changed because these alternate belief systems flew in the face of human nature. Of even common sense. Anyone who ever tried to share pizza with roommates knows that Communism cannot ever work. If Lenin and Marx had just shared an apartment, perhaps a hundred million lives might have been spared and put to productive use making sneakers and office furniture.



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