REVIEW SUMMARY: Contemporary era thriller with a preference for over-dramatized responses to tense and dire situations. Good for a quick read if you like that sort of thing, but not for readers looking for characters to sympathize with or prose to remember.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mike Mitchell has a problem. His wife is struggling to fit her old-money roots alongside Mike’s blue-collar foundations, and his career plan isn’t shaping up to help matters much. Also, the power is out, the water is off, it’s New York’s worst blizzard since the Ice Age, and the entire city is about to find itself up the Hudson River without so much as a folded paper sailboat.
PROS: Cyberstorm is rich with tension and peril; there’s no trouble sympathizing with New Yorkers trying to survive in the midst of a massive systems failure during one of the worst snowstorms on record; national and international response to the crisis feels authentic and believable; pacing is spot-on with breaks in the action and detours into subplots blended seamlessly with the main narrative.
CONS: The characters in Cyberstorm were dull and half-formed, serving only to be placeholders; other than Mike, everyone else seemed to wait in the wings for their moment and otherwise lingered around so Mike had someone to talk to or look at; women, in particular, got very short shrift in this story; Mather overdoes the gore and amplifies people’s responses to desperation; the conclusion was also a complete let-down.
BOTTOM LINE: As a thriller-adventure story, Cyberstorm will appeal to readers of mainstream contemporary thrillers. With warnings aplenty about what might happen if we’re not careful, Cyberstorm has the pacing, action, technical details, and political intrigue to satisfy readers looking for a story that hints at dangers in our modern computer- and information-dependent landscape. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction escape into the realms of possibility with memorable characters and exciting prose, look elsewhere.
Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather follows protagonist Michael “Mike” Mitchell on a journey to save his marriage, survive the catastrophic failure of New York City’s infrastructure, and, we hope, discover just what it is that led to Mike riding in a metal box with a teenager with a mohawk. The short prologue that opens the story puts us there in the box with Mike and seems meant to whet our appetite with foreboding intrigue. It ended up as a completely forgettable moment until it returned, verbatim, during the novel’s endgame. Thankfully, the story doesn’t take too long to get going with threats that elevate from heavy to dire in short order. I also have to give a personal nod of approval to Mike’s chagrin at missing a Steelers game.
The premise of Cyberstorm is that our global infrastructure is terrifyingly susceptible to near-instantaneous failure at the literal push of a button. All it takes is one cleverly orchestrated hacking effort to reduce the world to chaos. Opportunists rise up to prey on the meek, and we must look to the strong among us for guidance and assistance in survival. Mike Mitchell and his neighbors, Chuck, Pam, and Irena, are the strong. Mike’s wife, 2 year-old son, Luke, and other neighbors are the meek. The opportunists show up from time to time and in various forms: cruel, malicious, and over-the-top desperate.
I’d have enjoyed the book a lot more if the characters hadn’t simply been placeholders. Mike’s wife served no purpose at all to the plot. Ditto their 2 year-old son, Luke. Both of them could have been removed and the story wouldn’t have been much different. Likewise a couple of Mike’s neighbors who got far more airtime on the page than they deserved. Beyond Mike and Chuck, there weren’t any characters who figured in the plot in a significant way at all, except for Pam, whose nursing skills came in really handy when injuries and medical attention were required. Beyond that, however, Pam was yet one more woman who was introduced via her features and figure as seen through Mike’s wandering eyes.
A couple of antagonists do show up, but they don’t stick around enough to feel like a real threat. A reveal at the end may have been meant to twist the plot for the reader, but it fell horribly flat, as did the ultimate reveal about the cyberstorm’s origins. Topping things off, the denouement was clumsily handled with page after page of info-dump rather than a single scene with only the necessary revealing dialogue.
If you like your thrillers set in the contemporary era, and especially if you’ve got a taste for conspiracy theories, Cyberstorm might be a good choice. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for character-driven fiction or stories with more than scare tactics to offer when it comes to advancing the plot.