Daemon is one of those pleasant discoveries that would never have happened if it weren’t for this blog. We get quite a few emails from people asking us if we’d like to review this or that particular book. Daemon was not one of those emails. Instead, Daemon was listed in the signature of an email asking us to consider a completely different book. Luckily, I read through the brief synopsis for Daemon and was instantly intrigued so I had to track a copy down. I’m glad I did, otherwise I would have missed out on this entertaining, fast-paced read. In fact, I can say that Daniel Suarez writes more convincingly about technology than Michael Crichton. Yes, I said it.
A brief synopsis: A brilliant game designer has recently passed away and upon his death, an unknown daemon is loosed upon an unsuspecting world. Gathering the disaffected, its goal appears to be the overthrow of global society.
Daemon is more techno-thriller than anything else, but it does have some SF elements involved, mostly surrounding technology and its possible uses by a malevolent entity. And when I say Suarez puts the ‘tech’ in ‘techno-thriller’, I mean it. He obviously has a tremendous grasp of the current state of technology, particularly computer, internet and gaming tech. As a software designer by trade, Suarez definitely paints a plausible, if a bit far-fetched, scenario about a software agent given free reign.
The story starts with the death of Matthew Sobol, a game designer responsible for some of the biggest games in history. Once his obituary hits the news, strange occurrences begin to happen: several programmers of Sobol’s gaming company are killed, apparently by an automated process; mysterious phone calls by a voice automation system are received by several characters; Sobol’s house seems bent on killing everyone who comes to investigate. If that interests you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That’s just for starters. From there, Suarez entangles his characters in a web of technology Big Brother would love. Their every move seems to be observed and responded to by the omniscient ‘Daemon’.
The storyline is very plot-centric and the story moves along at a breakneck pace, filled with interesting uses of technology, as the cast of characters move from set piece to set piece, allowing Suarez to build the Daemons power and reach to a cliffhanger ending. Yes, this is book one of a two book series and that’s great, because it means there is more to come. More interesting uses of technology, more uses of gaming ideas in the ‘real’ world and more action. For me, this is the main attraction in this book. I’m a big ‘hardware’ guy and there is plenty of that in the story. Add in the ingenious uses of gaming tech and this book is a winner.
Suarez also gets some brownie points for setting some of the action in and around Houston. He’s either lived here or done quite a bit of research about Houston and it’s surrounding areas. It was entertaining to me to not only read about where the action was taking place here, but also knowing exactly where (with mental pictures) it was taking place, some of it quite close to my in-laws.
As you might expect in a plot-centric story, the characters aren’t necessarily that fleshed out, and Daemon is no exception. All the characters are who they are, with a bit of backstory to get set them up and get them moving. The one exception being Jon Ross who isn’t what he seems, although giving him a mysterious past doesn’t substitute for depth (although he is the deepest). However, the main characters are interesting enough and the bad guys are truly bad. So much so that you can’t wait for them to get their comeuppance. Sadly, this will hopefully take place in the second book.
Another aspect has to do with the tech itself. I found some of the extrapolations to be far-flung at best, bordering on unbelievable. Technology doesn’t always work right at the best of times, you’d expect some sort of failures to occur given the circumstances in the book. The other area I had trouble accepting was the ‘infallibility’ of Matthew Sobol’s code. The complexity of the system he has created is astounding. There’s simply no way he could code for every eventuality and do so with no apparent bugs in his code. Working with code in one form or another every day, this is highly improbable.
Still, those are mere annoyances compared to the rest of the book. If you have any interest in computers, gaming, technology and their intersection, you should enjoy Daemon. I highly recommend this novel.
Fun fact: Daemon was originally self-published. It wasn’t until several high profile people in the tech industry (Stewart Brand) started pushing the book that Dutton picked up the publishing rights to this book, and the next, which I can’t wait to read. So much left hanging, so many needing to get theirs….