Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Daemon by Daniel Suarez

A few months back, I heard a few people going on about a book by a new novelist, who just happened to be a software developer by trade. Suarez wrote his first novel about our world, but with a computer program written by a dead genius who is putting into action a plan he'd generated before his death.

Daemon opens with Detective Sargent Peter Sebeck, who works in a sleepy Southern California town, responding to a suspicious death at a mostly vacant lot. A programmer at CyberStorm Entertainment was going on his normal motorcycle ride through a field in Thousand Oaks, California, when suddenly, he catches his neck under his helmet on a steel cable, cutting his carotid artery. As Sebeck investigates this, another CyberStorm programmer is killed by an electrified door frame as he leaves CyberStorm's server room. Something is clearly going on with CyberStorm, who's CEO Matthew Sobol has recently died of Cancer.

It is soon revealed that Sobol wrote a Daemon, a piece of software which sits waiting for a certain thing to occur before taking a particular action, which is carrying out an unknown will of his. What's most impressive, is that Suarez writes each individual piece of the Daemon such that it's actions seem possible given today's technology. Could one person write a large scale distributed process like this that infiltrated systems all over the world without anyone noticing? Probably not. But then, like I said, each individual piece is wholly plausible.

What's really amazing is that as technologically advanced as the Daemon is, using really advanced Text-to-Speech to communicate with people most of the time, it's limitations are really apparent as well. The Daemon generally offers choices, but it can only accept Yes or No responses, and constantly through the story, people get confused and try to communicate with the Daemon as if it were another person, and it constant has to remind people it can only accept Yes or No answers. Astonishingly, this idea, which is repeated often, never really gets annoying, because it's hard to fault the characters for the error.

The only thing is the book that really required me to suspend my disbelief was Sobol's amazing ability to have seemingly planned for a nearly infinite number of possibilities. While this didn't ruin my ability to enjoy the book, at times it is a fairly painful source of disbelief. As the story goes on, the Daemon's resources grow and the Daemon's Operatives get access to some very, very cool technology. Some of which I don't believe is available today, though if any of it is, it's clearly unreasonably expensive.

If I have one problem with this book, it's that it's clearly a setup to future novels. In fact, Suarez has another book, Freedom, coming out next year. Because of this, the ending sort of leaves you hanging. It's basically a huge To Be Continued at the end of the novel. I'm fine with more books coming. Hell, I'm glad there are. But I really wish that the ending of this had been just a little more complete and satisfying for this novel. As it stands, Daemon doesn't quite stand on it's own, and I'd have been more satisfied had I felt better about the ending. Maybe if the last chapter had been an Afterword instead of a chapter, that small disconnect would have fixed it for me...

Daemon is a great book, and a great first novel for a new author. It's really nice having a novel that deals with technology in an immensely realistic way. Even the things that I'm not sure exist today, had reasonable explanations based on modern scientific research. If you're interested in a good modern thriller, I honestly don't think you could do much better than Daemon. It's well researched and written, and it's a fun read. Pick it up, it's worth it.