Two of my all-time favorite authors have new novels out. Both books are definitely mass-market friendly, but they each have some cyber security twists or plot points that will have cerebral appeal for infosec people. For example, Reamde, by Neal Stephenson, uses a penetration test as a plot device. The much darker, and bigger, world of Flashback by Dan Simmons takes place in the aftermath of a Cyber Attack that destroys much of what’s left of the rotted Western civilization.
Neal Stephenson is a darling in the infosec community. His early novel, Snow Crash, was an instant Cyberpunk classic containing many cool “aha” moments, such as a parallel between the short-syllable Hammurabi language and computer codes. A later work, Cryptonomicon, is almost required reading among propeller-heads. Stephenson had also written an ode to the shell prompt titled “In the Beginning… was the Command Line.” His magnum opus, a three-volume historical called the Baroque Cycle, was a little arcane and he lost me for a time. In that trilogy he crafted amazing sentences, paragraphs and scenes that were so brilliant in their experience and revelation that, to me, they seemed to “get in the way” of the story.
But that’s not the case with 2012’s outrageously fun novel, Reamde, which is a cross between Minecraft,World of Warcraft and James Bond. Much of the novel’s beginning chapters takes place in my old home town, Seattle, and it tickled me to read the scenes taking place in Belltown and Tukwila. The story quickly swirls around the globe, following gangsters, kidnappers and hackers and collecting other characters such as Iowa farmers and Chinese pirates. The infosec reader will smile as the story dips into cryptographic ransom, viruses, gold farmers and application security. Add this to the top of your list of good time books – I’ve given two of my sisters this book (neither of them are security-minded) and they loved it. One of them is hoping that it will be made into a movie and she suggests Daniel Craig should be cast as the Russian hitman, Solokhov. I agree.
Dan Simmons wrote my all-time favorite novel, Hyperion, in 1990. Hyperion was part Cyberpunk, part detective novel, part Keats analysis – in fact, it was seven amazing stories that ultimately blow your mind when they come together (there’s a rumor this will be made into a movie, one can only hope it will be well done). Simmons lives somewhere on the Front Range of Denver, Colorado, my new home, and I hope to run into him in a coffee shop someday. Since Hyperion he’s written a dozen or so novels, including some 19th century novels about a horrifying northern passage journey called The Terror to and a chilling homage to Charles Dickens’ other life called Drood.
His 2012 novel, Flashback, takes place in the aftermath of a Cyber Attack in a wasted, inward-looking America, where 80% of the populace is addicted to the drug Flashback that lets people relive their fondest memories. If today’s Americans are feeling that their best days behind them, then Flashback is a neat metaphor that might resonate with those who feel that the USA has strayed from whatever path had made the nation special. The Amazon reviews of Flashback predictably revolve around the controversial political analysis and the conjecture about the extremes of trending events (such as the national debt prompting the government to hire out its military as mercenaries and the bankruptcy of the wind turbin industry). But even political detractors admit that it’s a great story.
Unlike Reamde, Flashback has a decidedly dark through the first half. However, Simmons has a way, in books like Flashback and Hyperion, of raising the stakes to expand a simple detective tale to the largest possible story involving the fate of all civilization. Colorado residents may take special delight in the side-trip to the Flashback’s “People’s Republic of Boulder,” where pets and cars are outlawed in deference to political-correctness and, as a result, transportation is based on rickshaws powered by immigrants who are housed in bunkers away from the trust fund hippies.
Both Reamde and Flashback feature memorable characters and fantastic storylines that will keep the infosec reader engrossed until DEFCON21 this summer, where you might see the authors, at least one of whom is known to attend.