The jacket blurbs for DAEMON favorably compare Daniel Suarez’s debut novel with the works of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. I would beg to differ. This book put me in the mind of the early cyberpunk work of William Gibson or, perhaps more appropriately, the final novels of Philip K. Dick — VALIS, THE DIVINE INVASION, and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER — which composed a loose trilogy and ultimately served as a capstone for his long and impressive bibliography. VALIS, published in 1981, was an anagram for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, which is what DAEMON deals with at its core. Those with long memories will recall the Y2K scare, which was occasioned by the theory that early computer programming codes did not take into account the turning of the century. It was believed that havoc would result; what occurs here, however, is far worse than anything that was anticipated leading up to 2000.
Suarez picks up and moves right along with the presumption that his audience has at least a rudimentary knowledge of computer programming and cyberspace. Readers who are of a certain age and station may well be served by having a 16-year-old at the ready to interpret some of what is occurring during the course of the work. However, Suarez does define the term “daemon”: it’s a quiet little program that runs in the background of your computer and Internet experience, transferring money, delivering e-mail and monitoring power level. Sounds mundane, almost boring, doesn’t it? That is not the case, at least in this author’s capable hands. What he does is extrapolate what happens when daemons are written with malevolent intent.
The “malevolent” in DAEMON is personified in Matthew Sobol, a legendary online game designer who uses the occasion of his premature death to launch his ultimate creation. When a notice of Sobol’s passing is posted online, it activates a previously dormant daemon that initiates a chain reaction resulting in one death and then another. Law enforcement personnel are just beginning to connect the two deaths and to classify them as murders when a cataclysmic event occurs that results in the horrific killings of a SWAT team and an FBI strike force. The instigator is Sobol, who from beyond the grave begins to unleash new layers of daemons that unravel a system that for the most part functions efficiently.
These acts raise a question: How does one stop a murderer who is dead, but whose plan of attack is constantly evolving in reaction to defenses against it? The answer may lie in part within an online computer game through which a reconstructed Sobol guides his carefully selected minions, planning a series of earth-shaking acts heralding not so much the destruction of the current civilization as midwifing a new one.
DAEMON is definitely a plot-driven work; it would be wise for the reader not to become too enamored with any one character, as just about everyone is potentially disposable. Indeed, there are enough explosions and destruction to satisfy even the most jaded action junkie. And while there aren’t many sex scenes, there is one in particular that will cause those of similar inclinations to stop reading in order to defog their eyeballs.
This is just the beginning of Suarez’s and Sobol’s world. A sequel to DAEMON, titled FREEDOM, is due out in 2010, and parts of it are available online at www.thedaemon.com. But my gut feeling is that the new world that Suarez is creating is too vast, too broad, to be contained on the canvas of two or even three books. Jump on now while you can still catch up. And hang on.
— Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
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