Daniel Suarez

Book cover

This is a fun book–definitely a page-turner–recommended to me by a friend as a realistic depiction of how we might get from today to dystopia. The basic premise is that a tech CEO dies, and leaves behind a “daemon”–a computer program–that wreaks a ton of havoc in the real world. The story follows both characters who are trying to stop it and characters who are allied with it. The writing was not at all enjoyable for me–think Crichton or the Da Vinci Code–but there are some interesting ideas in the story in addition to it just being an entertaining read.

“Daemon” has a lot of affinities with two somewhat-contemporaneous books that I read and really enjoyed: Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One.” Cline, Weir, and Suarez are all first-time authors, and Suarez and Weir at least were working in totally non-literary fields when their books were published. I would put all three of them under the broad heading of “nerd wish-fulfillment,” although definitely in different ways. Both RP1 and D involve a heavy melding of computer gaming worlds with reality; RP1 via a super-immersive virtual reality system and D via something closer to “augmented reality.” Similarly, both RP1 and D have plots that revolve around someone famous dying and leaving behind a conundrum for others to solve, although D’s is a lot more sinister.

So how does “The Martian” fit in? A friend of mine, actually the same one who recommended D, described TM as “competence porn,” and that’s a description that I think can also be fairly applied to both RP1 and D. Interestingly, in the case of D, that competence is displayed by the nominal antagonist, the Daemon (and therefore really by its creator Matthew Sobol). I think this actually highlights an odd feature of D–that the dead Sobol is really the protagonist of the book. It’s a little bit creepy because basically Sobol is responsible for a pretty high body count and for plunging the world into a (perhaps temporary) dystopia, but I thought the book really encouraged the reader to feel positively about this character. Of course all of his ultra-high-tech stuff is shiny, but also I think you’re meant to be impressed with his ability to foresee and manipulate events after his death, and to wonder about his motivations (which, at least toward the end of the book, are indicated to be potentially virtuous).

At the end of the day I read this book as a wish-fulfillment of the modern tech industry’s buzzword of “disruption”–a playboy billionaire tech genius who is smart enough to divine and manipulate the world-historical forces at play, cheat death, and invent a “killer app” (sorry, couldn’t resist) that completely overturns the sclerotic governments and corporations of the world, while still maintaining a strange aura of virtue. In this sense I think the book has some affinity with “Atlas Shrugged,” although the message here is far less heavy-handed. The other book I would name-check here is Asimov’s “Foundation,” which similarly involves a genius who foresees troubles ahead and sets in motion a chain of events after his death that are intended to push society in a different direction. It is interestingly at odds with the idea that Sobol wants to push the world toward a more “distributed” society, though I can see how they might be squared. Asimov dealt with the limits of foresight in intelligent ways, and I would say that I’m interested to see if Suarez does similarly well in the sequel–except I’m not sure I’m up for pushing through the writing again!

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars