Who lives by the joystick dies by the joystick: Noir futurist Stephenson (Anathem, 2008, etc.) returns to cyberia with this fast-moving though sprawling techno-thriller.
Richard Forthrast is a middle-aged videogame tycoon with a problem on his hands: Bad guys have figured out a way to hack his new shooter splatfest with a virus that “took advantage of a buffer overflow bug in Outlook to inject malicious code into the host operating system and establish root-level control of the computer.” Richard has other problems, some big enough to pose a threat to the world currency market. Eek! Fortunately, nepotism be damned, he’s hired his adopted niece to do a little consulting, and she turns out to have the wherewithal to give Geena Davis and Uma Thurman a run for the money in the hot-chicks-with-mad-ninja-skills department. Young Zula has solid possibilities. For one thing, she’s babelicious, “black/Arab with an unmistakable hint of Italian.” For another, she’s got dual degrees in geology and computer science, which come in very handy when she has to scale impenetrable mountains on the hunt for renegade computer jocks. A bonus: She’s quick to learn her way around a shotgun, and her boyfriend isn’t too shabby, either, even though they have a habit of getting into bad predicaments: “As minutes went by and the novelty of being on a private jet wore off, Zula began to understand the same thing that Peter did, which was that they were not meant to get out of this alive.” There are bad guys aplenty, and they’re more diverse than an IHOP menu: There are Russians and Chinese, mutually distrustful, and a small army of very bad jihadists, the kind who give good Muslims a bad name. There are hackers and counterhackers, spies versus spies. And then there are Richard’s kinfolk, the Brothers Karamazov with heavy weapons.
Who’ll prevail? We don’t know till the very end, thanks to Stephenson’s knife-sharp skills as a storyteller. An intriguing yarn—most geeky, and full of satisfying mayhem.