Review of Daemon by Daniel Suarez

SFFaudio Review

Daemon by Daniel SuarezDaemon
By Daniel Suarez; Read by  Jeff Gurner
Audible Download – approx. 16 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Cyberpunk / Techno-Thriller / Virtual Reality / Online Gaming / Politics /

Daemon‘s success as a self-published novel that crossed over to attain mainstream success is a testament to its cultural relevance, especially among the technorati. Suarez, who moonlights (sunlights?) as a systems analyst, promoted the novel to the movers and shakers in the technology community, Its positive reception even among this tech-savvy elite suggests that Daemon has its finger on the pulse of technological developments and their implications for politics and culture.

Daemon opens with the death of game developer Matthew Sobol, acclaimed developer of multiplayer games such as first-person shooter Over the Rhine and RPG The Gate, which bears a strong resemblance to World Of Warcraft. Some successful entrepreneurs leave money to their kids when they die, others give it all away to charity. Not Sobol. His legacy is the book’s eponymous daemon, a background process which through distributed computing has spread itself across the net and continues to carry out the developer’s will through a series of intricate commands. The capabilities of this daemon, and Sobol’s talent as a developer of artificial intelligence, become apparent when the police raid Sobol’s mansion in Thousand Oaks, California, and find themselves outclassed by a network of elaborate automated booby-traps, including an almost-sentient Humvee.

The novel pans cinematically between several characters who, in one way or another, become embroiled in the daemon’s plot, which ultimately proves to be global in scale. Dramatis personae include police detectives, government agents, a gamer, a laid-off fashion reporter, a white-hat hacker, ad a convict. It’s not clear from the outset whether these characters will become heroes or villains as the story progresses, and even when battle lines are more firmly drawn most of them still defy simple caricature, exhibiting complex motives and emotions.

The real show-stopper, of course, is the daemon itself, who possesses a high degree of intelligence and resourcefulness despite residing in lines of code. The novel’s conceit still demands the willing suspension of disbelief, but the concept and the technical specifics are so finely conceived and executed that the reader is left with a small but nagging suspicion that somewhere, sometime in a future that may be all too near, Daemon could become a reality. Suarez achieves this feat by investigating the wider political, economic, and social implications of a self-aware autonomous computer system.

The living Matthew Sobol embedded many elements of his daemon into his multiplayer games, and several characters venture into these online worlds in search of clues. These scenes are among the strongest in the book, and they carry favorable resonances with both the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and the simulator in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Like the virtual reality elements in these novels, the online gaming sequences in Daemon succeed because they maintain a strong causal relationship to events in the “real” world.

The action battle sequences in Daemon are high-octane, and like all good action sequences they manage to incorporate the book’s themes rather than standing as mere set pieces. For the most part, the protagonists are fighting against computer-controlled contraptions. Nevertheless, I felt that these ultimately visceral and superficial scenes occupy too much space in the novel, and detract from the book’s otherwise deep and intellectually stimulating themes. Paramount Pictures has optioned the movie rights for Daemon, and I shudder to think that the cultural significance of this novel may be boiled away, leaving only two hours of car chases.

The pacing of Daemon also leaves something to be desired. Suarez has revealed that a sequel is in the works, and the book’s cliffhanger ending promises an exciting continuation to the story. Lots of loose ends also remain dangling free, mostly in the arc of character development. The novel’s ending was certainly climactic, but it somehow failed to provide satisfactory closure. As I’ve said in other reviews, even books in a multi-volume series need to retain a high level of internal cohesion.

Jef Gurner’s narration for Daemon is spot-on. His performance is varied enough that each character’s unique identity extends into the aural sphere. Through some tricks of distortion, Penguin Audio has turned the dialogue of the daemon itself into a performance worthy of classic cinematic computerized villains.

Fans of cyberpunk in particular should consider Daemon essential reading, but any science fiction fan looking for an intriguing and visionary techno-thriller should add this audiobook to their summer reading list. The novel’s fascinating themes make it worth slogging through some scenes of gratuitous violence and tugging in vein on a few loose plot threads. Daemon is an impressive debut novel by Daniel Suarez, hopefully presaging an illustrious writing career.

Posted by Seth Wilson