From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review: Freedom (The Daemon Sequel)




Background


In September of 2008, I blogged a book review about a little known techno-thriller called The Daemon, which was penned under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus. I called it the "most thought provoking cyberpunk novel I think I've ever read".

My blog post found it's way in Daniel Suarez's Google Alerts reader, and a few days later, he introduced himself as the real Leinad Zeraus and we exchanged a few emails. I noted my profession as a developer in the open source community, and he responded:
"I sincerely appreciate the kind words. Daemon (and the upcoming sequel) are labors of love to me, and knowing that they strike a chord with folks in the open-source community makes my day."
Eventually, his privately published small printing of the book was picked up by a major publisher and it was re-printed in hardback. Someone from the publishing house contacted me and offered me 3 hardback copies to give away on my blog, however I saw fit.

And so in January 2009, I blogged a set of "challenges", promoting the use of eCryptfs and Encrypted Home Directories in Ubuntu, and offering a copy of the book to the winner of each of 3 increasingly difficult challenges. I enjoyed designing and running the contests, and it was really a booming success, promoting Daniel's book (which itself deals with security, privacy, and encryption), as well as my technical work on Ubuntu and eCryptfs.

So in December 2009, I returned from a holiday and found one of my biggest surprises of the Christmas season -- an advance copy of Freedom, the sequel to Daemon! (Along with a hand-written note from Daniel.) I tore through the book in 3 sittings, thoroughly enjoying it.

As of January 7, 2009, it's now available for purchase.

Here's my review. No spoilers, if you've already read Daemon. If you haven't, then you might want to do so before going further.

'Freedom' Review

Freedom picks up where Daemon left off, a few months later. Most of the major characters are back, in one form or another. And the lines between good and evil are even more fuzzy.

The Daemon itself is still fully operational. The Darknet online community of the Daemon-savvy has grown exponentially beyond it's early rollcall of Gearheads and Slashdotters to include people of all walks of life. Most importantly, the Darknet is evolving at the speed of light. It's at that point when your Grandma joins Facebook, and your Grandpa starts blogging -- you never know who you're going to find on the Darknet. D-space is ever growing, with hundreds of thousands of people wearing D-space sunglasses, able to see objects and meta-data about the world around them. Again, it's at that point when everyone has a smart phone, and even Old Uncle Fester is using GPS and Google Maps.

In the real world, the economic times are all too familiar. Fuel prices are somehow now obeying Moore's Law, doubling every few months. And the US Dollar is falling precipitously, threatening to take the rest of the world down with it. At one point, Natalie (our heroine from the NSA) rifles through her mail, discarding her financial statement in despair. Wow, I've been there...out of school, in the tech industry for 10 years now, maxing out my 401(k) the entire time, and barely have what I've put in. Yeesh.

All financial power is consolidated in the hands of a few large, private corporations, who have contracted private mercenary armies to keep it that way. Governments are becoming stool pigeons of the uber-wealthy. All in the name of control.

I particularly enjoyed more than a handful of "open source" mentions. Heck, the title of the book is Freedom. In any case, the concept of democracy (or lack thereof) is certainly a central theme. I dog-eared page 265, which has (I think) the most important quote of the book. Jon Ross says:
"Democracy requires active participation, and sooner or later someone 'offers' to take all the difficult decision-making away from you and your hectic life. But the darknet throws those decision back onto you. It hard-codes democracy into the DNA of civilization. You upvote and downvote many times a day on things that directly affect your life and the lives of people around you--not just once every few years on things you haven't got a chance in hell of affecting."
Wow. Ain't that the truth! I could spend all day on the phone with Palm's tech support trying to explain to they that their TouchStone charger doesn't work worth a damn, and the Palm Pre's charge-handling software is oh-so-buggy... Or I could spend 1 minute downvoting the item on Amazon.com, and 5 minutes writing a review stating that the $69 accessory doesn't actually work as advertised. Which of those methods are the most effective? (Look for that blog post soon...)

Personally, I can't think of a more robust online community where democracy, up/down voting, and reputations are as important and successful as the Ubuntu community. We're producing an operating system and a vast set of applications (30K+ packages at my last check) in a super-democratic manner. Anyone can open bugs, offer fixes, commentary, review, etc. People gain reputations, and in our online community (Launchpad.net), everyone has a "Karma" score. While fuzzy, it does subtlety help "reward" some people for their contribution and establish/verify reputations. There's a key parallel to Launchpad's Karma in the Darknet.) And we have our own mission, against a nefarious, well-funded, ruthless enemy who restricts our software freedom, our Bug #1, filed by our own fearless leader, who also happens to be a wealthy computer programmer ;-)

Forgive me, Daniel for perhaps reading too much into it, but there's a very interesting parallel between Ubuntu's struggles and successes and those in Freedom. I would be really interested to hear from other readers of the book on their opinions on the idea.

I enjoyed the ending to Freedom much more than the ending to Daemon. Somewhat rare in the techno-thriller genre, we have a sequel that delivers as much of a punch as the original, introduces new concepts, and truly compliments its predecessor. If you're hoping to read more thought provoking literature in 2010, I'm pleased to recommend both Daemon and Freedom. And I believe there are many people in the Ubuntu (and other free software) communities that will identify with our hero's plight in Freedom. Enjoy!

Cheers,
:-Dustin

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