Techno-SciFi for Engineers and Soldiers – Daemon
January 8, 2010 Leave a comment
There is nothing more irritating or annoying to a professional soldier than to watch a movie and find technical errors. A haircut that is out of regulation, a misplaced ribbon or medal, errors in weapon nomenclature, or even unit designations and locations. A soldier knows within a millisecond when there is a technical error – and it dilutes even the best story line. Telecom and Internet industry-related professionals have the same emotion when terms, equipment, or architectures are mispresented in movies.
Then along comes an author who has either really done his homework well, had great advice, or simply knows his subject matter cold. Once the credibility is firmly established, then there is an uncanny ability to lay a story on top of that technical credibility, and keep even the most critical geek engaged.
Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” was the first novel I had read which met this strict criteria. Did a good job, because I spent most of the next year reading everything he ever wrote, and have kept up since with great stories such as “Anathem.” I trust Neal Stephenson, so I am able to freely indulge in his stories without becoming tolerant of an error-prone technical structure to the story.
I like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais because they correctly describe locations around Los Angeles, where I live, and it helps put their stories into context. Did I mention I really like technically accurate stories?
Just when I thought it was safe, and that I would not become addicted to another Techno-SciFi author, I walk past a row of Paperbacks and spy the title “Daemon,” by Daniel Saurez.
OK, for a communicator the word Daemon has a very specific meaning:
A daemon is a computer program that runs in the background, rather than under the direct control of a user. Daemons are usually initiated as background processes. (Wikipedia)
Skeptical, I have the initial thought this would be another silly novel name dropping some lexicon of the Internet in a title to try and suck in unsuspecting readers. I read the reviews, and hold on,… these are not the average reviews writing a couple sentences out of a random word generator. These are real people, and some of them I know! I mean, how often do you see a review from Craig Newmark (Craigslist) or a director of Cybersecurity and Communications Policy writing testimonials?
Guess it was OK to give it a shot, and spend the $10. As I had a week of investment in airplanes and airports to exploit, maybe I would trip into something that was good enough to get me home.
Within the first couple pages a grisly series of murders gets my caveman senses awakened, however the environment in which the murders are committed, is, well, it is technically really accurate and complex enough to keep a geek engaged. I mean, when we start talking about 480 volt power systems, server farms, air conditioning system, biometrics, remote processes – well, it is clear the author has been around the block a few times.
While he quickly goes over my head on topics related to gaming, he attaches the gaming discussion to the underlying infrastructure like a data intelligence to a frequency. And the characters are as equally screwed up in the head as any real life gamer or software engineer I have worked with over the past 30 years. Saurez gets it, is part of it, and has produced a novel that codifies all the sick, twisted fantasies you would expect a systems engineer or software developer to harbor.
Then he ensures there are adequate personalities, education levels, egos, and human emotions t remind us this is not science fiction, it is reality – as we know reality today, adding a bit of creativity to an existing set of intellectual and physical tools. Most of those tools live inside of our known “cloud” of the Internet, but the potential of this creative thinking behind his story line is feasible enough to bring chills to an engineer’s spine.
A Strong Recommendation for your “Geek’s Reading List”
Neal Stephenson and Daniel Saurez are engaging, technically accurate, and tremendously creative authors. Stephenson’s novels are a bit more difficult to read, as he brings his ideas to an abstraction that is a bit above mindless reading. Stephenson almost tests, mocks, or challenges his readers to step back and see the big picture of his story lines. If you read page to page, you miss the point of his books. But still have a lot of fun reading the stories. Sometimes you pick up additional jewels during your third or fourth read through of the books.
Saurez puts it right in your face, and challenges you to discredit his story line. “Go ahead, prove this couldn’t happen today…”
Both are great, and should be required reading for geeks who need to step back from their Cisco manuals and RFC memorization exercises, and actually experience how creative people can apply our existing and emerging technologies to abstractions of thought. Remember, the engineer can design a tool, but only a user can find creative ways to exploit the tool. Engineers can learn a lot from people who apply our visions to solve problems and enable new opportunities. Having recently finished reading Anathem and Daemon, I cannot pass by a router, switch, or server without thinking….
Read the book
John Savageau, Honolulu