Friday, December 11, 2009

Put your thinking cap on

Freedom (TM)
by Daniel Suarez

How much do you know about technology? Economics? Video games? Agriculture? The military-industrial complex? I hope it's a lot, because Daniel Suarez explores those subjects and many more in his latest thriller, and he's not talking down to anyone. I'll be honest, at times it was a real struggle to keep up.

Freedom (TM) is the sequel to his debut, Daemon. The first thing I'll tell you is this: Under no circumstances should you attempt to read this novel without having read the first. You won't understand a thing. As for what it's about, one of Suarez's characters summarizes it far better than I ever could:

"There is an open-source cybernetic organism called the Daemon that is spreading across the globe. It's created an encrypted social network based on an online video game. Millions of people are joining that network and using it to reinvent human society."

And that's about all you need to know, because while plenty of stuff happens, this is not a plot-driven novel. Nor is it character-driven (though all the main players from the first novel are back). No, this is the rarest sort of novel; it's idea-driven, or philosophy-driven. Characters spend large segments of the book having conversations like:

"America is just another brand purchased for its goodwill value. For its excellent fucking logo."
"And it's all a big conspiracy..."
"No conspiracy necessary. It's a process that's been happening for thousands of years. Wealth aggregates and becomes political power. Simple as that. 'Corporation' is just the most recent name for it. In the Middle Ages it was the Catholic Church. They had a great logo, too. You might have seen it, and they had more branches than Starbucks. Go back before that, and it was Imperial Rome. It's a natural process as old as humanity."

"Words have power in this new age. They are not just sounds. Where ancient people believed in gods and devils that listened to their pleas and curses--in this age, immortal entities hear us. Call them bots or spirits; there is no functional difference now. They surround us and through them word sounds become an unlock code that can trigger a blessing or a curse. Mankind created systems whose inter-reactions we could not fully understand, and the spirits we gathered have escaped from them into the land where they walk the earth--or the GPS grid, whichever you prefer. The spirit world overlaps the real one now, and our lives will never be the same."

There's a worldwide, covert cyberwar going down. Intriguingly, it's not taking place in the fabled halls of power; it's happening in middle America. Suarez has created a scenario I couldn't have imagined, and in fact, a new world order that's like some Comic-con fantasy come to life. The ideas his novel explores are fascinating and worthy of exploration. Five stars all the way for sheer intelligence and creativity. The loss of one star in my rating is due to some small issues of pace, character development, and plotting. But any quibbles are relatively minor, and the end of the novel was deeply satisfying.

As noted above, this is a novel of ideas. As such, it deserves to be widely read. Freedom (TM) is highly recommended for fans of Daemon. And if you haven't read Daemon yet, get crackin'!

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