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THE ZENITH ANGLE by Bruce Sterling


by Bruce Sterling

Pub Date: May 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-345-46061-8
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Geeks got muscles: Mainstream yarn about computer security and surveillance, from the leading SF writer and futurologist (Zeitgeist, 2000, etc.).

Tom DeFanti, telecommunications mogul, Deep Black budget weapons contractor, and astronomy fiend, is slowly going insane. His chief executive, Tony Carew, tries to interest him in the research of computer genius Derek Vanderveer; but Tom prefers not to know just how bad his, and everybody else’s, computer security really is. Then 9/11 changes everything. Derek goes to work for the National Security Council. Forced to live apart from his wife and child—Dottie’s a physicist, working on a telescope project sponsored by DeFanti in Colorado—Derek takes up residence in a grungy Washington neighborhood, where he designs Grendel, a revolutionary, unhackable computer system built out of old servers and run by an operating system he wrote himself. Nonetheless, Tony warns Derek, oddly but plausibly, not to get involved with a project to fix a broken spy satellite. Derek can’t resist the challenge and finds out why the satellite doesn’t work, but then can’t interest the military in his solution. Back in Washington, he catches a couple of spooks trying to bug his equipment, and beats one of them to a pulp. He makes a success of another of Tony’s weird schemes, seizing control of planes in midair. Much later, Derek will learn why Tony warned him off the satellite project; unfortunately, the explanation involves Dottie’s telescope—and a genuine Star Wars death ray.

Despite Sterling’s usual darkly illuminating undercurrents, this one meanders fitfully and uncomfortably: too much happens offstage, and the geeks don’t come alive.