by Nate Kenyon
Thomas Dunne Books (2013)
I'm pretty good with computers, and by that I mean I can turn one on and off without frying the hard drive. When it comes to hackers and all that techno wizardry, it's just so far over my head, you may as well be talking about alchemy ... or small engine repair ... or knitting. So there was a little bit of trepidation as I started to read this apocalyptic techno-thriller, because the protagonist is a computer programmer and a hacker contending with a technological disaster of epic proportions. Techno-babble is not something I particularly enjoy, no matter what the genre, so I tried to steel myself for a lot of jargon that I wouldn't understand. Thankfully, Nate Kenyon must have realized that readers aren't all computer geeks, because he kept the terminology to a minimum and very accessible, which is remarkable given how insane the plot gets at points in this book.
John Hawke is a journalist with a rep for using his hacker skill to shine a light on the dirty little secrets of those he's writing about. He's already earned the attention of law enforcement for shady practices and vicarious links to Anonymous, but he has still managed to get a gig doing a profile on ousted millionaire tech guru, James Weller. Good news too, because life at home with his wife and autistic son is strained to say the least, with financial issues and a mentally unbalanced neighbor who has an obsession with John's wife. It's while away with his family, crossing the Hudson River into the heart of New York City to cover Weller's latest start-up project, that all hell breaks loose with seemingly random disturbances across the city that grow in frequency and intensity. It doesn't take long for John to realize it's all technology related, with any device with an internet connection malfunctioning, and James Weller appears to know more than what he's letting on. What's worse, whoever is behind the attacks is manipulating information online to trick law enforcement into believing he is one of those responsible.
This isn't The Terminator or Robopocalypse. This is a much more grounded approach to what might happen if our present-day technology suddenly turned against us. Smartphones don't sprout arms and legs to chase us down. Vehicles don't transform into talking robots from beyond the Moon. No, this is basically the nightmarish fantasies of conspiracy theorists brought to life, with America's--and the world's--ceaselessly online existence mutated into a nearly omnipotent force, and a malicious one at that. Anything can happen from a coffee-maker electrocuting someone to a runaway subway train running down pedestrians, and even worse as the book progresses.
It's familiar ground in one sense, the whole technology run amok thing, but Nate does such a great job of offering characters you root for or identity with while the city escalates its attempts to kill them, it is hard to put the book down. My one grip with the novel is that it really takes its time in getting to the action, setting the stage, placing multiple guns on multiple mantlepieces, all before the cataclysm finally hits. Once the high-octane action begins though, it beats just about anything Hollywood has put out in theaters in recent years. And if you're one of those paranoid types who gets his/her knickers in a twist over things like the Edward Snowden affair or Facebook's management of your personal information, then this book will absolutely get your hackles raised.
A remarkably well-crafted thriller from an author who knows how to make the tension between characters as palpable as that from outside forces. And if you read it on your Kindle, you might just start to wonder if your Kindle is plotting against you.
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