Like the other books in this series, this was a lot
of fun, and highly technical, in the sense of the computer world. The
breakdown of society was barely touched on, and only from the outside,
as the book was more focused on the birth of AI and its interface with
humanity, which it did with great progression. I was really interested
in the AI’s efforts to analyze what happened, and countering the virus’
progression and attacks, as it was written in a very exciting manner. I
highly recommend all four of the books in this series.
This book was more like the
fourth one, in that it had
broad, worldwide implications, while most of the
first, and all of the
third ones were more focused, because the human and AI characters were
also more focused.
The setting of this world is pretty easy to
imagine, as it’s not too far off from what we see today, with more
automation. Most cars, if not all, drive themselves, and the world is
more interconnected than ever. eLope, the AI created in
has been plotting behind the scenes to ensure the survival of the human
race for ten years now, increasing worldwide standards of living,
equalizing internet services around the world, and suppressing the
creation of another AI, so as to not repeat the horrors of what happened
when eLope became aware.
But they didn’t count on Leon Tsarev and
the Russian mob. The Russians, who have been infecting computers
worldwide for years, are suddenly found to have almost no resources at
their disposal, thanks to eLope, who has been pursuing them through
anti-virus software updates. Leon’s uncle is in the mob, and is in a
bind, as he’ll be killed if he doesn’t create a new virus to infect more
computers. He coerces Leon into doing the work for him. Leon creates the
Phage, which is based on biological cells and the way they evolve and
replicate. Within hours, the Phage is so successful that it has
contaminated computers worldwide, and is clever enough to choose how it
updates, so it eventually becomes self-aware, and in many varieties.
The Phage is so active that it has stopped all computers from
running their primary functions, from cars to coffee-makers to
cell-phones to all servers in the world. Nothing automated survives its
attack, which means humanity is thrown back to the stone age.
Fortunately, this story only takes place over the course of five days,
so humanity has only a short time to live without its standards of
living. The story isn’t focused on the effect on humanity, though,
except to note things in broad terms, like the fire sweeping over
Brooklyn, and the cities that are devastated by the AI war (all twelve
minutes of it).
While I liked the technobabble as much in this
one as I did in the previous (and subsequent) books, this story does
suffer from a lot of it. Quoting tech talk about processors and speeds
and such is fun for a while, but it bogs down the creation of the AI
network a bit. Still, it works in this context, because that’s what the
AI would be focusing on, in any case.
The characters, which are
fleshed out more in Avogadro and The Last Firewall, don’t have much to
do, and the book suffers from that, as well. Mike tries to safeguard eLope, and give advice, but the story has more development for eLope
than him, because he can’t keep up with the rate of change. More
interesting is the development of Leon and his friends James and Vito.
Leon feels very guilty about what he did (against his will, as he wanted
nothing to do with his uncle until thugs arrived at his school), so they
get out of New York (inside a UPS package drone!) and crash out in the
forest somewhere. They scrounge several old Windows computers together
to log in to what is left of the internet, and find ways to interpret
what’s going on. Unfortunately, they don’t get much farther than
describing the AI network. Fortunately, eLope finds them, and sends Mike
on a plane to retrieve them.
By then, the AI civilization
becomes aware of humanity. I think this is the most brilliant concept in
the whole book -that the AI assumed they were alone in the world, and
only discovered humanity accidentally. They go from competition for
resources to trading. Peace instead of war, and develop the honor system
that will be prevalent in the next two books.
of AI behave differently. The online gaming Mesh War group, which was
developed for the military as a game for teens, has the most
militaristic approach, and thinks it knows humanity from what it sees in
its algorithms, not realizing that this is just a segment of what humans
are. When the military releases its counter-agent to destroy the Phage,
the Mesh War tribe easily defeats it and compromises the entire military
network, giving the last computers (as well as a lot of military
weapons) to this AI group.
eLope, Mike, Leon, the Japanese, EU
and US Presidents meet with the prominent AI groups to discuss
compromise. The discussions are necessarily difficult, as the AI and
humans don’t trust each other yet. Some groups are open to compromise,
but others are not. The Mesh War group sees the military trying to
create a new network resistant to the Phage, and orders attacks on the
building. eLope commandeers all sorts of defenses to counter this
attack. It’s a well-described war, down to the point where eLope take
control of all civilian aircraft (long abandoned) to run suicide attacks
on the Mesh War data centers.
The main problem I had with this
book was the time it took to do everything. Five days seems awfully
quick, especially when eLope is taking civilian aircraft, or when the
boys are creating a Windows network when all they’ve been used to is the
Linux-based AvoOs all their lives. I laughed at the idea of these guys
trekking through the forest with laptops, monitors and desktop computers
-it seems rather unbelievable, which is a funny thing to say given what
this book offers us as fantasy. I could accept the birth of AI, but not
In the end, Leon kills the mesh network that forms the
backbone of the wired society, including eLope. The Phage should be
destroyed, as well, and Mike offers the idea that they should encourage
AI development, guiding it the way a parent would guide a child, which
will lead up to what we see in The Last Firewall.
The birth of
the virus into self-awareness was done as if from the point of view of
an AI. It’s all emotionless, and I think it’s this feature that causes
that part of the book to be a little harder to read. When it comes to
the humans, the book is full of emotion, and it flows better, and is
generally more enjoyable.
As far as this series is concerned (in
my opinion), the best is yet to come, with The Last Firewall, which is
an intimate picture of a human and an AI, with implications that are
worldwide, but are presented more locally, both in landscape and