Daemon

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DaemonDaemon by Daniel Suarez
Published: 2006
Narrated by: Jeff Gurner
Series: Daemon #1
Length: 15:57 (632 pages)

I’ve been getting more and more into science fiction these last few years, and I had a craving for a technological thriller of the computer security variety. I usually have a backlog in my head for every genre, taken from book blogs or interviews or just natural progressions from what I recently read, but I couldn’t think of what to pick up for this. Daemon seemed to be at the top of many random Reddit recommendation threads, though, so I decided to grab the audio book.

A billionaire computer game designer passes away, and when his obituary is posted online it triggers a chain of events that threatens the world economy and millions of lives. This begins as a fairly typical crime novel, there’s a death and a detective is trying to find the culprit, but it quickly turns from a who-done-it to a why-did-they-do-it-and-WTF-is-happening. I don’t really want to go into the plot here too much, as I went in blind and think that’s really the best way to approach this. I was consistently desperate to find out what was happening, and while it was overall very fast-paced, I felt like the flow of information was perfect. Answers spawned more questions, but it never felt like information was being withheld unnaturally to drive you to read on. It really held my attention from the beginning and kept me in suspense.

The writing was serviceable, but it’s not the main draw of the novel. There were an unacceptable amount of ‘deafening silences’ in this. The dialogue got cheesy at times, the characters fall a bit flat, and Suarez got carried away with action scenes, especially at the end, which just aren’t the novel’s strong point. There were also a couple of chapters set in an MMO game, which were just excruciating to read, and I love video games. I can only imagine how painful those sections (only a couple, to be fair) would be for someone who isn’t as excited by video games as I am.

Those gaming chapters were probably made a little worse by this being an audiobook, but I feel like the dialogue was probably made a little better, so it evens out. I’ve seen a few quotes of dialogue that had an awful lot of ellipses, which we are thankfully spared from in audio. Jeff Gurner seems like he could be a great narrator, but some of the choices he made for character voices were so hammy it was pulling me right out of the story. The detective sounded like Tom Waits with a particularly bad hangover, and I think he was in his mid-30’s, which just seemed odd.

The story also doesn’t actually end, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way. Literally not a single sub-plot concludes. The novel just finishes. I understand he had this planned as a trilogy, but after 600 pages you should be able to tie up something.

I work as a software developer, so I have a love/hate relationship with books and movies that feature hackers or system cracking. It’s typically handled in a cartoonish manner, and for good reason I think. I personally find it excited to read or watch console commands being typed in, but I realize that’s not everyone’s idea of thrilling narrative. This book doesn’t take too much time to explain technology, and seems to be targeted at people with some understanding of computers, which I actually really appreciated. Characters will type in a network SSID without stopping to explain networking basics. At one point a character exploits a website with SQL injection, and he also doesn’t explain what that is. It’s done in a way that readers can pick up what’s happening from the context, even if they don’t understand the specifics. I’m sure overall he explains things more than I’m remembering, but it’s certainly less than usual, enough that I noticed.

This turned a lot more negative than I expected. If I look at any individual piece of this, I can see so many flaws, but put it all together and the book worked really well for me. It turned a little bizarre at the end, but I still have high hopes for the sequel, which I plan to pick up in the next couple of months. This was his first novel, and it was originally self-published, so I’m hoping his later books have more input from an editor. I’m curious to see how his writing improves. I feel like he could eventually be a favourite of mine if he keeps improving. He’s written four novels now, and the third book in this series will be released this year, so maybe he’s already miles better.

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