this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Books I own by William Hertling

Kill Process goodreads

William Hertling

This reminds me of the Daniel Suarez books. It's written by someone who clearly is a techie -- Hertling describes himself on Twitter as being a Web strategist (which seems OK, since I'd probably call myself the same thing) and a Ruby developer (nobody's perfect). It's from a small press rather than a major, which is nice because it means I can get it DRM-free from Smashwords.

Hertling is writing about today's world, but all the big companies have alternate names. So, the hero of this story works at "Tomo", who are Facebook. Mentioned in passing are "Avogadro" who are clearly Google (and I believe he's written a bunch of other books about this Avogadro Corp as well), "Braeburn" who are Apple, and so on. This tissue-thin disguise requires a tiny amount of decoding, but anyone who is even close to the tech knowledge required here will not have a problem. This book is heavy, heavy on technology. Now, I didn't have a problem with any of it (and it's rare to find something like this which doesn't shy away from the detail while still being real), but it's hard to tell how much someone who isn't me would get lost by all the throwaway talk about SQL injections and so on. But, if you're on my side of the fence, you'll enjoy the detail. That's good stuff. A diversion into the IndieWeb ideas of POSSE is rather excellent too.

I also think that if you're not a techie yourself you'd be pretty shocked by the level of access that "Tomo" have to data; they can root through everything about you, whether you actively use it or not since the app snoops heavily on everything you do, and more importantly they know this and know how to mine their gargantuan database for best results. Again, someone coming from the same place as me is not likely to be particularly shocked; Snowden opened our eyes to this sort of thing.

A warning: the book deals with domestic abuse. No incidents are particularly graphically portrayed, and the abuse isn't actually a centrepiece of the book in itself, but Angie, the hero, is a survivor of abuse and the story is told from her point of view. This does, at times, make it difficult reading, although frankly reading about this sort of thing ought to be difficult and more importantly that shouldn't stop all of us from doing it.

That aside, there are two issues I have with the book as a whole. Neither are enough to invalidate anything I said above, but they do both separately and in combination rather colour my experience reading.

The first is the book's rather ambivalent attitude towards some of Angie's activities. Without spoiling, she takes a set of exceptionally extreme actions at various points. She believes they're justified, but, well... there's little to no attempt either in-universe or at a meta level to put the other side of that case. Even after moving on from the early extremes, she routinely and unblushingly reaches for some exceedingly invasive and unpleasant techniques, only occasionally even bothering to say "the ends justify the means" inside her own head. I'd have liked to have seen more nuance there. Joe Abercrombie's Last Argument of Kings asks whether the Devil knows he is the Devil, and it might be a question worth asking Angie as well.

Now, I'm not necessarily calling for all bad people to be punished -- this isn't a childrens' fairy-tale -- but the book kinda is, and that's my second complaint. It all goes rather Hollywood. In real actual life, there aren't actually that many moustache-twirling Disney villains. Here, the first two thirds of the book are accurately depicting that -- Angie's troubles are real. She's fighting for funding; she's finding it hard to hold everything together; she's alienating friends when she doesn't want to but can't find a way to get everything she wants done to get done. I sympathised with her rather a lot; this is how the world is, where your problems come greyly on a list and the thing you fight is bureaucracy and indifference and being squashed between the spinning wheels of money with little regard or interest paid to your plan and how much you want it. There isn't a Bad Guy who breaks off from tying damsels to the railroad tracks to cackle and individually target you, and that means that you can't win by revealing that the Bad Guy is in fact a Bad Guy and get him arrested. That's what happens in films, where you want a big swelling crescendo of music and we see the hero win through in the end. Life is not like this. We do not live in the universe from The Mighty Ducks. The bad people don't throw children into jet turbines for a laugh. I know it makes for a good story, and if I'm in the mood for that sort of story then it's good reading. Garion beats Torak; Thomas Covenant beats Lord Foul; everyone gets married and lives happily ever after. But Kill Process is not a fantasy story. The majority of the book is relentlessly real; that reality is totally compromised by how Angie wins at the end like she's Simba getting Scar ousted and sent to the hyenas. So I don't know how to feel about it all. Did I like the tech? Yes. Did I learn something about Angie's situation, and how it might be to see life through those eyes, and perhaps sympathise more than I did before? Yes. But her struggles feel cheapened by the childish quality of the total victory where she pulls off the ghost's mask and it turns out to have been Old Man Withers trying to get the orphanage shut down. Real stories don't actually end with the protagonist "winning". Admittedly this is a story and life isn't a story and nobody buys books that just look like the life they live every day -- you don't need a book for that, just read your own diary. Having Angie "win" by fighting off a hostile takeover bid and then getting to 6% of the market and sticking there, never going above that, would have been something like a documentary rather than a thriller. But the book doesn't know what it wants to be; a hard-nosed tale of technological espionage and startups, or a child's book where the hero gets two hundred billion dollars and vindication while the bad guy goes to jail. If anything, it's too easy. If you want to bring down "Tomo" through the power of the IndieWeb (which I am entirely in favour of), you're not gonna get to do it by getting "Lewis" the CEO banged up for procuring murders. It cheapens the message to suggest that that's the way. That would be easy.

There's a good book here though. If you're into tech, recommended. If you aren't, read it and let me know if it makes any sense to

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