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Porn for Nerds, the worst of both worlds

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Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent touts itself as a “cyber-thriller”, proving nothing much has changed in 200 years:

Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
Samuel Johnson (attributed)

Written by a committee of hackers, programmers and computer security consultants, Stealing the Network sets out an interesting premise, could a single person coordinate a group of hackers to steal a very large sum of money, and completely cover his tracks? That’s the “thriller” part. However, while this committee may be experts in their respective fields, writing prose or constructing a narrative isn’t in the toolbox.

Keep in mind, the publisher of this book is best known for their IT manuals, and certification courses. And the writers are all IT security consultants, with the writing style somewhere between a technical manual and a letter to Penthouse (if Penthouse was published by Slashdot). Here’s the master plan:

“When I get south of the border, I will have access to a cache of local currency that will allow me to rent living quarters and purchase a computer. The immediate task will be to retrieve a small file, obtain a copy of PGP, make some account transfers, and establish a permanent base.”

I don’t blame you if you can’t wait to turn the page. As a work of fiction, it is unreadable, there are no characters, just badly scribbled stick figures, badly written, which leaves the technical aspects, and given there is no supporting framework, just a shallow scenario, who really cares? You might as well just read a technical manual.

Given that Kevin D. Mitnick was a Technical Reviewer of this book, you’d think they would have taken a clue from his own story. For a thriller to work, it must be about people, all the tech stuff is just a MacGuffin (as Alfred Hitchcock called the device which drove the plot forward). Even Bruce Sterling’s “The Hacker Crackdown” is a far better and compelling thriller, and it is two decades old.

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About Jim Carruthers

  • Kryptic

    Spot on accurate description. This story just plods along and is sheer boredom even for those of us currently working in the security field.

    Ryan Russell published a series of short stories on Security Focus (I think) a few years ago and that should have been where it stopped. Technical expertise? No question. Literary expertise? That’s a negative, ghost rider.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    highly entertaining review, Jim, with possibly the best headline i’ve ever read. if only they had gotten Halle Berry to get naked in the narrative at some point, like in the film about The Swordfish.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    They might have dragged poor Halle Berry into this mess, but to be honest, when I said it was unreadable, I meant it. I got about three chapters in and then just started flipping though to the end. Which was a mess.

    As a coincidence, during the eulogy this week for Larry Tuttle in “Six Feet Under” they mention he collected all of Halle Berry’s DVDs except for “Monster’s Ball”, which he didn’t like.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    how couldn’t he like Monsters Ball?? Undertakers, man. Didn’t he know Billy Bob gets naked in it?

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Nah, it was the DGDJ (twop.com speak – Dead Guy (Gal) De Jour). Larry Tuttle was a comic book geek crushed to death by a shelf of comics. And the eulogy was given by one of his fellow comic book members (who tried to steal the comic book he wanted to be buried with).

    Now, SFU, that’s narrative.

  • Ryan Russell

    Kryptic,

    I used to work at Security Focus, but I think the stories you are referring to are from the “Chasing the Wind” series, by Robert G. Ferrell, not I.
    http://www.securityfocus.com/infocus/1235

    As to the other comments and main review, I like to think the storytelling isn’t quite as bad as you make out, but that is for others to judge. However, if people are picking up the books primarily for story and not tech, then they might be disappointed, as indicated here. I can’t deny that we are hackers first, and writers second. The books are filed in the computers section for a reason. :)

    (Sorry for the late comments, I saw this review for the first time just now while ego-surfing.)

  • http://www.robertgferrell.com Robert G. Ferrell

    Thanks for the plug, Ryan. If anyone is curious if I do, in fact, have any literary expertise, I invite you to check out my novel “Tangent,” based loosely on parts of “Chasing the Wind.” It’s available at Amazon, B&N, or via http://www.robertgferrell.com.