I was walking through the bookstore one day, pretentious coffee in-hand, and I saw a copy of Daemon, by Leinad Zeraus, on the shelf. In attempting to explain what it was about, I realized that we need a new genre of fiction. Books like Daemon, Neuromancer and Cryptonomicon aren’t exactly thrillers, but they aren’t quite science fiction, either. In fact, they’re rapidly becoming science fact, which is what makes them so thrilling.
The term techno thriller was invented to encompass Tom Clancy’s contributions to American literature, but that doesn’t quite cover it, either. Yes, stories like Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Daemon are highly technical by necessity, but Zeraus’s work contains far fewer guns. Even though many works of dramatic fiction may be romantic, we don’t call them romances, unless they fit a fairly strict set of guidelines. We do this for ease of conversation, for the benefit of consumers and, honestly, just so we can keep track. Hundreds of thousands of books are printed each year, and a copy of each resides in the Library of Congress. Imagine trying to find a book about needles under a stack of books about haystacks, and you begin to see why genre classifications are important. Especially to writers and editors.
Which is why a book like Daemon is so confounding. It fits none of the established genres yet employs conventions from them all. It quite clearly exists, but where do we put it? Barnes and Noble puts it in the Science Fiction section, along with Stephenson, and who can blame them, really? Computer game programmers coming to life – inside the internet – and killing people long after they’ve died? Sounds about as far-fetched as walking on the moon must have sounded in the early part of the last century. Yet man eventually did walk on the moon, just like, one would assume from reading Daemon, computers will someday be smart enough take over the world.
Zeraus writes with the pulse-pounding conviction of his contemporaries, and his switch-backed tale easily covers the complexities of computer hacking and game design. He’s set out to tell a tale of startling authenticity about the perils – and triumphs – awaiting us as the internet gaming generation comes of age, and browsing through protected Wi-Fi networks becomes as easy (to some) as surfing channels. He almost pulls it off.
The first hundred or so pages of Daemon are a difficult read, and not because they’re full of densely-packed descriptions of what some might call “technobabble.” They are, but Zeraus does an admirable job of demystifying complex computer and videogame programming concepts. In fact, he’s in his finest form when doing just that, and his scenarios – if far-fetched – seem as plausible as, well, walking on the moon. Unfortunately, what he doesn’t do is make you care.
The characters and events described at the beginning of Daemon make little emotional impact. Having read the thrilling conclusion (Or is it a conclusion? An advertisement at the back of the book suggests a sequel may already be in the works) I now understand why: Pou can’t set up a rambunctious, sweeping tale like Daemon without a ton of convoluted storytelling (or an additional several hundred words of text). But that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow. It’s as if Zeraus himself didn’t quite know how to bridge the gap between our world, in which computer games do not come to life and try to kill you, and his, in which the governments of the world can be brought down by the resurrected intelligence of the equivalent of an arch-evil John Carmack.
Gratefully, once we’re through the excruciatingly complex exposition, Daemon really begins to shine, and Zeraus does a wonderful job of making it possible for one to suspend that disbelief. If only the process were more like ascending in a balloon than erecting the tower of Babel, I’d be able to more heartily recommend Daemon. As it is, it’s a tough sell. For those interested in the not-genre and those who feel an exciting yarn about videogames and computer programming is worth the grind, Daemon will be a good ride. It’s not high literature, but it is fun.