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A computer program that runs continuously
in the background and performs specified operations at
predefined times or in response to certain events.
Matthew Sobol is the young, genius programmer head of CyberStorm, one of the world's most successful computer gaming companies. At least until he dies from cancer. However, before dying, he spent a good portion of his prodigious talent and vast fortune designing and building custom hardware and writing a collection of sophisticated computer programs that have been left sitting passive on machines scatted around the Internet. Passive, that is, until one of them reads Sobol's obituary. This program sends triggers to other systems which activate a number of other distributed processes; the Daemon awakes.
Among its first actions are to kill two of Sobol's coworkers. When they try to forcibly enter his mansion after connecting Sobol with the aforementioned murders, a number of police and FBI agents are maimed or killed by an impressive set of boobytraps, including an autonomous, murderous Humvee that is nearly impervious to everything they can throw at it. The Daemon then frames its actions on a handful of people to cast doubt on its very existence and withdraws from the public eye. It quietly offers certain people in key positions fame and success if they make a deal with the devil, or more accurately, the Daemon. Then, ominously, it goes silent. When it resurfaces, things go downhill. Fast.
The book is unusual for the standard technothriller in that Daniel Suarez is One of Us. It becomes clear from the very beginning of the book that he is very familiar with computer systems, networking and security. (He is, in fact, a successful systems & networking security consultant.) It starts off a little jargon-heavy—clearly to set up the book as tech-heavy for the uninitiated, and to indicate to those of us on the inside that he actually knows this stuff. He never skimps on the explanations for those who don't already know these things, while not going overboard for those of us who do.
The sequel, Freedom™ (yes, the trademark symbol is part of the title), picks up shortly after where "Daemon" leaves off and focuses further on the motives and goals of the Daemon's actions. As well as those who oppose it.
You thought spammers were bad? Pray you never face the Daemon.
Because of the number of plot twists and the way many tropes are stretched in various directions throughout the story, while many things are hidden below, you might still encounter spoilers. You have been warned.
There is a character sheet that needs a lot more love.
ALLTHETROPES:/Daniel Suarez/Daemon/Tropes$ cat tropes.txt_
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Explicitly subverted. The Daemon is in no way an AI, nor is it ever claimed to be one. Experts repeatedly have to correct people who do refer to it as an "AI" by explaining that at best it is a distributed network of expert systems with a predefined set of actions, and in no way intelligent. Although its actions can be construed as evil, the Daemon itself is just a program and no more evil than a spreadsheet or word processor. However, it is very, very sophisticated and comprehensive.
- An Offer You Can't Refuse: A favoured tactic of the Daemon in recruiting its agents. As an example, when it springs Charles Mozely from prison by cleaning his record, it warns him when he starts getting cold feet that it could easily put him back. Say, as a child molester.
- And the Fandom Rejoiced: "The Wall Street Journal has reported that Walter F. Parkes, who produced the 1983 film WarGames, has optioned the film rights to Daemon with Paramount Pictures." If you can think of a more perfect pairing, do let me know.
- BFG: Nothing less than 50-cal will damage a Razorback or the first AutoM8.
- Black and Gray Morality: As the story progresses, you learn that the Daemon is by far the least evil faction at work. Especially in the sequel.
- Boring Invincible Hero: Total surveillance capabilities. Penetration of all corporate, government and personal databases. Ultra-tech autonomous vehicles and an army of networked minions with superhuman abilities. After a while you have to admi4D8.0xABB9ß1?~?~NOCARRIER
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The Oberstleutenant Boerner bot, purpose seemingly accomplished in the first book, returns in the sequel.
- The Chessmaster: Sobol is a unique case since he's dead for the entirety of both novels.
- Choose Your Own Death: If you want to make a deal with the Daemon, it will test you. You have no idea what answers will lead to fame and fortune and which will lead to a quick, emotionless death. If you are in doubt, do nothing, and it will kill you anyway.
- Complete Monster: The Major. How many times does this guy cross the Moral Event Horizon? Let me count the ways. Let's start with brutally murdering Roy Merritt. Cutting off/out Loki's fingers, tongue, and eyes. Ordering his mooks to throw Sebeck and Laney into a wood-chipper. And of course, rescuing teenage girls from brothels... so that he can get them darknet accounts and then behead them to steal their darknet identity, keeping their heads chemically alive to spoof the biometrics.
- Cool Shades/Sinister Shades: The sports glasses used by darknet operatives.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Several, intentional or otherwise. One of the Daemon's ploys is to completely infiltrate a company's IT department and then demand cooperation or face destruction of all their corporate data.
- In the sequel it becomes clear that Private Military Contractors involved at the highest levels of government are taking every advantage they can of the worldwide economic chaos caused by the continued progression of Sobol's goals to gain private power for themselves and make a quick buck at the expense of the American public.
- Crowning Moment of Funny: The government sets up a task force, very secret, highly classified, accessible by only those with the highest level of clearance. Meanwhile, in the Darknet, the base has a giant glowing neon sign hovering over it in the Darknet's AR space, reading "Super Secret Anti-Daemon Task Force Base". Closely followed (both in hilarity, and chronologically) by Loki dragging a box over the whole base, right-clicking, and selecting "Kill Everyone" to order his minions to... well... you know.
- Deal With The Daemon: Fame and fortune, or quick death. Your choice. The Daemon may also choose you—with the same rules.
- Decoy Protagonist: Oh, sorry, were you thinking this detective story would have the obvious hard-bitten Defective Detective (who knows very little about computers, yet the Daemon seems to be intently interested in) running the case? Subverted when he comes back and does end up a major character.
- Defective Detective: Sebeck is cheating on his wife, whom he felt obligated to marry because he got her pregnant. His son is none too happy with him. And he's got an appetite for danger that borders on self-destructive. Then his mistress turns out not to be what she seems...
- Death by Origin Story: The second type applies to both Matthew Sobol and, later, Pete Sebeck. Except that he gets better.
- Determinator: FBI Agent Roy "Tripwire" Merritt, of the hostage retrieval team that tries to get in Sobol's booby-trapped mansion is set on fire and still manages to breach the interior of the mansion. His run becomes the stuff of legend, the video passed around the darknet as recruitment material, members of which christen him "The Burning Man" as a measure of respect. And he survives, somehow, to later pursue Gragg/Loki and the AutoM8s in an epic chase through the streets of San Francisco.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In Freedom™, Loki ruins a queue-cutter's credit rating.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Major.
- Evil Genius: Matthew Sobol.
- The Evils of Free Will: The Major lectures Peter Sebeck on how modern civilisation needs direction and control.
- The Extremist Was Right: In the end it appears that Sobol's new society reaches the point of self-sustaining growth.
- Eye Scream: The Major has Loki's eyes torn out - along with having his fingertips and tongue chopped off so he can to try steal his biometrics to try to sneak into the darknet.
- Fridge Brilliance/Fridge Logic: On one hand, everything worked perfectly. There were no bugs, glitches, mistakes, etc, despite the fact that there couldn't have been real world testing, beta testing, etc. The Daemon responded properly every time, and all the schematics produced working devices. On the other hand, Sobol was a genius with a ridiculously high IQ of 220. You can probably infer he was among the smartest people to have ever lived. Maybe he was just that good, putting this into Fridge Brilliance.
- Sobol only had to predict how officials would react well enough to give time to get human operatives into the network for resilience. He probably didn't have to guess real hard.. And after all, his goal in the end was to get enough humans into the network that they could sustain themselves without his help. The daemon itself was ultimately just an effective Trojan into human society.
- Gambit Roulette / Xanatos Gambit: Matthew Sobol programmed the Daemon to anticipate every circumstance he could think of and take advantage of it. However you can only anticipate so much before you have to guess. Fortunately Sobol is so very, very good at predicting human nature...
- Rule #1: Matthew Sobol is SMARTER THAN YOU.
- Rule #2: No plan, no matter how well thought out, no matter how well made, no matter how many variables have been taken into account, survives first contact with the enemy.
- Rule #3: Murphy's/Finagle's Law - Anything that can go wrong will.
- Rule #4: Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable.
- Rule #5: Debugging is at least twice as hard as writing the program in the first place. If your code is as clever as you can possibly make it, then by definition you're not smart enough to debug it.
- Rule #6: Sometimes a Gambit Roulette works.
- The Game Come to Life: Early on, the autonomous Hummer is believed to have been programed with videogame-style logic and CyberStorm's games are used to recruit talent for Sobol's cause. As the Daemon network becomes more sophisticated and populated by warm bodies, it's run very much like a MMORPG with the addition of Augmented Reality glasses providing a heads-up display; agents gain levels and earn "network credits" for completing tasks.
- Green Aesop: The Daemon guides its operatives into building sustainable communities based on local manufacture and renewable energy, while striking at Big Business and its long supply chains.
- High-Class Glass: The Oberstleutenant Boerner bot wears one.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Sobol consciously chose to become the villain to achieve his goals.
- If I Wanted You Dead...: Loki/Gragg tells Dr. Philips this when they first meet in Freedom™.
- Immune to Bullets: Razorbacks and the first AutoM8.
- Improbably High IQ: Sobol's IQ is 220. Based on statistics, there is a chance of less than one person in 6 billion having this result.
- Invisibility Cloak: a primitive version shows up in Freedom™ worn by Darknet operatives.
- Jerkass: Gragg/Loki. His character is introduced by describing how he orchestrates the gang-date-rape of a teenage girl at a rave so he can put the video on the Internet for money. He doesn't get any better, although...
- Jerkass Woobie: In the second book, Loki graduates to this from a regular Jerkass when the Major captures and tortures him, chopping off the tip of each finger, cutting out his eyes and his tongue. He briefly returns to being a Jerkass after being saved by his Nazi buddy, but hurriedly returns to Woobie status when the Burning Man bot cuts him down to level 10, stripping him of the power he had worked for years to obtain (and been tortured for). Even the other members of the Darknet agree, gathering around him as he cries.
- Lightning Gun: The LIP-C weapon (Laser Induced Plasma Channel) used by Gragg/Loki.
- Ludicrous Gibs: What happens to anyone hunted by a Razorback.
- Magnificent Bastard: SOBOOOOLLLLLLL!!!
- Malevolent Architecture: Take the dangerous features of your average MMORPG or First Person Shooter and put them in the hands of a crazy-smart game designer. Apply the result to a real building. You have Sobol's
death trapMansion, where Everything Trying to Kill You gets serious.
- Morality Kitchen Sink: Apart from Merritt, the reader will find his conceptions of who's "good" and who's "evil" near-constantly questioned.
- My Death Is Just the Beginning: Matthew Sobol's obituary is the trigger to start the Daemon.
- In the sequel, "Freedom™", Merritt's death at the end of "Daemon" has turned him into a martyr and folk hero to the people of the darknet. The situation avoids any irony by the fact that based on everything the darknet learns about his life, he truly was a man of honor and integrity. Ultimately, "The Burning Man" project is the key to maintaining equality in the new darknet society.
- NGO Superpower: Implicit. The corporations leading the charge against the Daemon have such power that at one point they have the NSA director put away on trumped-up charges.
- Necessarily Evil: Sobol. He firmly believes that Utopia Justifies the Means and was willing to pay the price for it. In the end, it appears his actions are vindicated by the new society he helped create, although being dead, he'll never know it.
- No Place for Me There: Deconstructed somewhat. Sobol knows he is dying from cancer and will never survive to see whether his goals succeed or whether it will have been worth the price. In the end we see a recording he made near his death where he agonizes over his decisions and nearly begs Sebeck to tell him whether it was worth it. Made even more tragic since it's only a recording and the real Sobol would never get his answer.
- One of Us: Daniel Suarez gets so many things about Internet technology right it's ridiculous. When he doesn't, it's clearly for plot-related reasons, but still remains close enough to reality to be easily believable.
- He goes into so much detail, you wonder if he hasn't written his own Daemon...
- He couldn't help geeking out with the Prophetic Names, either: SNOBOL is a classic string-processing programming language, which makes it good for AI, natural language processing, and apparently WORLD DOMINATION. Meanwhile, Sebek is a security tool used to analyze malware infections.
- One Steve Limit: Apparently, there are no other Matthew Sobols in the world for their obituaries to trigger the Daemon. For the Daemon to be able to differentiate between obtiuaries would almost certainly make it sentient, which it's not.
- How many other Matthew Sobols are there that worked at CyberStorm and died of brain cancer? Finding the right obituary really wouldn't be very difficult.
- Please note - The keywords used in each search are pointed out (bolded at the start of each chapter). The algorithm used to determine that this was the right one had a lot of ammo.
- Out-Gambitted: The villains thought they had Sobol and the Daemon beat. They thought wrong.
- Post Cyber Punk: Especially in the second book.
- Powered Armor: Some Darknet operatives show up in Freedom™ wearing the primitive five-seconds-into-the-future "artificial musculature" suits.
- Private Military Contractors: Korr Military Solutions, Inc. is just one of many used to fight the Daemon.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Loki uses every one of his considerable assets to track down and destroy the person responsible for Merritt's death. Nothing and nobody gets in his way, civilian or not.
- The Daemon sends heavily-armed strike teams to surgically eliminate spammer groups around the world simultaneously; it considers them parasites on the system and need to be excised, but you can't help but think it's a bit personal on the part of Sobol as well.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: Sobol's Mansion, subverting the normal sequence:
"Primary data center penetrated. Commencing self destruct sequence." There was a pause. "And there is no countdown."
- Sinister Surveillance: During a meeting of top government TLAs, one of them orders the NSA to track down the Daemon and everyone associated using Echelon. In a realistic subversion of this trope, NSA explains that the Daemon is using a sophisticated darknet for all its communications, and anyway, Echelon doesn't really work like that.
- Played straight when it's discovered that the Daemon itself has infiltrated most of the accessible surveillance systems worldwide, either directly or through Social Engineering. However it's again played in a reasonably realistic fashion.
- Shout-Out: Not an obvious or confirmed case, but you have remote control cars running amok as well as gunfire and explosions at the abandoned Alameda Naval base near San Francisco. Sound familiar?
- "Not obvious"? That's the first thing I thought of as soon as he said "Alameda Naval Base." It's almost too obvious to be coincidence.
- Gragg/Loki's moniker is Stormbringer.
- The Major is a key player in an faction not quite under governmental control. It's a bit of a stretch, but given that this is a cyberpunk work and the author has shown clear knowledge of anime/manga culture, a certain other Major comes to mind.
- Shown Their Work: Daniel Suarez is a successful systems and networking security consultant, and it shows. The few times he varies from actual, implemented technology are for story reasons, and even then he still keeps it within the realm of possibility. See also Five Minutes Into The Future.
- Super Prototype: The first AutoM8 is an Immune to Bullets solid-tired Hummer. Later ones use normal cars as a base and aren't so survivable.
- Tear Jerker: The Major decides Merritt must be liquidated and shoots him in the back from a helicopter during the final, epic chase between Merritt and Gragg. As Merritt is lying on the ground, waiting for the final shot, he struggles to get the two photos of his daughters that he always carries with him. They are the last things he sees before The Major blows his head off. Even Gragg is horrified. I dare you to read that part without your heart breaking.
- Technicolor Eyes: Invoked by Loki/Gragg's special darknet-accessing contacts.
- Thanatos Gambit: The event that kicks off the whole plot, of course.
- Sobol Thought of Everything: He had to, since Daemon is not self-aware.
- Tragic Villain: Sobol.
- Five Minutes Into The Future: Believe it or not, all of the tech in the story has been demonstrated in some way. Most of it has never gone beyond the prototype stage, or is currently too bulky or impractical. By the time the story takes place, most of it is now at least viable, if not perfected and being mass produced. Given the continued speed of the advance in technology (i.e. Moore's Law), most of this stuff is probably not that far off from actually working. Also probably justified since Sobol spent hundreds of millions of his own fortune on R&D to make it all work.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: We don't get to know what Loki/Gragg tells Oberstleutenant Boerner to get what he needs done and it works. Most of the villains' detailed plans don't fare so well.
- Unwitting Pawn: Pete Sebeck.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: As the story develops, you discover this is Sobol's plan.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: It's outside of a videogame, but clearly the same trope - Loki sees people not part of the Darknet as NPCs, and treats them as such. When he is permitted to kill them, he does so eagerly and cruelly. Even when he isn't, he torments them in any way he can.
- Virtual Ghost: The Burning Man is a simulation of Merritt, visible only in the augmented reality of the darknet, and as accurate a recreation of the actual Merritt as the darknet was able to create. His vast power is only possible from "donations" from individuals in the darknet as a means of preventing any single person from becoming too powerful. i.e. he is the embodiment of justice, as the darknet saw Merritt to be in real life.
- The Burning Man censures Loki by pulling him from level 60 down to level 10, which requires it to give up the number of levels he removes from Loki. He is almost instantly recouped up to level Overly High by donations from the audience.
- Loki uses his power to release pseudo-AI Heinrich Boerner from the game "Over the Rhine" and give him full access to the darknet.
- We Are Everywhere: The Daemon has recruits everywhere. If you are not part of the Daemon's plans it's because it either hasn't picked you yet, or you are dead.
- We Can Rebuild Him: In the second book, Loki, after being relieved of his fingertips, eyes, and tongue during torture by the Major, receives cybernetic replacements.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sobol again.
- Worthy Opponent: Gragg and the rest of the Darknet see Merritt this way. (The feelings are not reciprocated.)