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On Sale: April 27, 2004
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Like his peers William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, bestselling author Bruce Sterling writes cutting-edge speculative fiction firmly rooted in today’s reality. Now in The Zenith Angle, he has created a timely thriller about an information-age security expert caught up in America’s escalating war on terror.

Infowar. Cybercombat. Digital security and techno-terror. It’s how nations and networks secretly battle, now and into the future. And for Derek “Van” Vandeveer, pioneering computer wizard, a new cyberwarrior career begins on the fateful date of September 11, 2001.

Happily married with a new baby, pulling down mind-blowing money as a VP of research and development for a booming Internet company, Van has been living extralarge. Then the devastating attacks on America change everything. And Van must decide if he’s willing to use the talents that built his perfect world in order to defend it.

“It’s our networks versus their death cult,” says the government operative who recruits Van as the key member of an ultraelite federal computer-security team. In a matter of days, Van has traded his cushy life inside the dot-com bubble for the labyrinthine trenches of the Washington intelligence community—where rival agencies must grudgingly abandon decades of distrust and infighting to join forces against chilling new threats. Van’s special genius is needed to make the country’s defense systems hacker-proof. And if he makes headway there, he’ll find himself troubleshooting ultrasecret spy satellites.

America’s most powerful and crucial “eye in the sky,” the KH-13 satellite—capable of detecting terrorist hotbeds worldwide with pinpoint accuracy—is perilously close to becoming an orbiting billion-dollar boondoggle, unless Van can debug the glitch that’s knocked it out of commission. Little does he suspect that the problem has nothing at all to do with software . . . and that what’s really wrong with the KH-13 will force Van to make the unlikely leap from scientist to spy, team up with a ruthlessly resourceful ex–Special Forces commando, and root out an unknown enemy . . . one with access to an undreamed of weapon of untold destructive power.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

NEW JERSEY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

With eager screams of hunger, little Ted Vandeveer drove his parents from their bed.

Dottie slipped a rubber-coated spoon between the infant's lips. Baby Ted blew out his chubby cheeks. Porridge spurted across the table.

Dottie scanned the mess. Her eyelids flicked upward meaningfully.

"Where's the au pair?" Van hedged.

"She didn't come in last night."

Van rose from his white plastic chair, and fetched a white paper towel. With the wisdom of experience, Van tore off a second towel for Ted to use as backup. Van still felt giddy inside his mansion's bright new kitchen. The new kitchen featured deep steel sinks, thick red granite counters, and a chromed fridge the size of a bank vault. When he'd signed up for a house renovation, Van hadn't known that New Jersey contractors were so enthusiastic.

At least, Van thought, Dottie approved of the changes in their house. The mansion's original kitchen had been a nightmare straight out of H. P. Lovecraft. Dottie's new kitchen was now the only place in the Vandeveer home where the plumbing worked properly.

On a corner of the new stove, a small TV played WNBC out of New York City. Van had hooked the set to a pair of rabbit ears. The township of Merwinster, New Jersey, lacked cable television. This was a serious blow to the Vandeveers, who were dedicated fans of Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, and The X-Files. But Mondiale was the little town's biggest employer, and Mondiale was in the broadband Internet business. Mondiale despised all cable TV outfits.

Van toweled up the baby's spew. Baby Ted enjoyed this fatherly attention. He kicked his chubby feet and emitted a joyous string of syllables.

"He said 'dada,' " Van remarked.

Dottie yawned and stirred the baby's porridge, propping her head on one slender hand. "Oh, Derek, he's just babbling."

Van said nothing. As a telecom expert, Van knew definitely that his son's vocalizations had contained the phonemes "dada." Technically speaking, Van was absolutely correct. However, he had learned never to argue with Dottie about such things.

Van dropped the dirty towel into a shiny kick-top wastebasket. He sat again in his plastic picnic chair, which popped and squeaked under his bulk. Van accepted this embarrassment quietly. He knew that it was all his own fault. He, Dr. Derek Vandeveer, famous computer scientist, owned a decaying Victorian mansion that had no proper furniture.

Historical Merwinster, New Jersey, was a gabled, colonial village, woody and surrounded by horse farms. It also boasted the third-biggest clump of fiber optics on America's Eastern Seaboard. Merwinster was a superb place for advancing high-tech research. Van routinely put in sixty-hour weeks inside the Mondiale R&D lab, so he was forced to live in the town.

Dr. Dottie Vandeveer spent her days in Boston, at the Smithsonian Astrophysics Lab. Van had bought the two of them a house in Merwinster because it seemed wrong to Van for his baby, their new third party, to have no home. Besides, Van had to do something practical with his money. Van was making money, and not just a lot of money. Van was the VP for Research and Development at Mondiale. Van was making a weird amount of money.

The TV muttered through a headache commercial, obscuring baby Ted's eager slurps from Dottie's rubber spoon. Van tapped at his trusty ThinkPad and checked the titles of the 117 pieces of e-mail piled up for him behind Mondiale's corporate firewall. With an effort, Van decided to ignore his e-mail, at least until noon. Because Dottie was home with him. Dottie was sleeping with him, and lavishing her sweet attentions on him. Dottie was cooking and cleaning and changing diapers. Dottie was wandering from room to dark decaying room inside the Vandeveer mansion, and wrinkling her brow with a judgmental, wifely look. Today, furnishing the house had priority.

So far, in his rare moments outside of the Mondiale science lab, Van had managed to buy a crib, a playpen, a feeding chair, a Spanish leather couch, a polished walnut table for the breakfast nook, a forty-six-inch flat-screen digital TV with DVD and VCR, and a nice solid marital bed. Van had also installed a sleek, modern Danish bedroom suite upstairs, for Helga the au pair girl. Helga the au pair girl was Swedish and nineteen. Helga had the best-furnished room in the Vandeveer mansion, but she almost never slept in.

According to Dottie, when she and Helga were alone together in Boston, the girl was always gentle, very sweet to the baby, and was never into any trouble with men. But in quiet little Merwinster, Helga went nuts. Helga was hell on wheels with the local computer nerds. She was a man-eater. The geeks were falling for blond Swedish Helga like bowling pins. Van sometimes wondered if he should charge them lane fees.

Dottie put the baby's yellow goop aside and got up to make toast and eggs. Van took rare pleasure in watching Dottie cooking for him. Dottie was not a natural cook. However, she had memorized an efficient routine for the creation of breakfast. Dottie fetched the brown eggs out of their recycled-paper carton and cracked them on the edge of the white blue-striped bowl, hitting the same spot on the rim, precisely, perfectly, every single time.

This sight touched something in Van that he lacked all words for. There was something silent and dark and colossal about the love he had for Dottie, like lake water moving under ice. The pleasure of watching her cooking was much like the secret pleasure he took in watching Dottie dress in the morning. Van loved to watch her, nude, tousled, and bleary, daintily attacking all her feminine rituals until she had fully assembled her public Dottieness. Watching Dottie dressing touched him even more than watching Dottie undressing.

Baby Ted was eleven months old. Ted had some major abandonment issues. Deprived of his mommy and his rubber spoon, Ted jacked his chubby knees in his high chair, with a wild, itchy look. Van watched his baby son intensely. The baby was of deep interest to Van. With his shock of fine fluffy hair and his bulging potbelly, baby Ted looked very much like Van's father-in-law, a solemn electrical engineer who had made a small fortune inventing specialized actuators.

Baby Ted packed a scream that could pierce like an ice pick. However, Ted changed his mind about howling for his mother. Instead, he picked intently at four loose Cheerios with his thumb and forefinger. Van sensed that picking up and eating a Cheerio was a major achievement for Ted. It was the baby equivalent of an adult landing a job.

Van ran his fingers through his thick sandy beard, still wet from the morning shower. He set his ThinkPad firmly aside to confront an unsteady heap of magazines. Junk-mail catalog people had gotten wind of Van's huge paycheck. For them, a computer geek with a new house and new baby was a gold mine.

Van didn't enjoy shopping, generally. Van enjoyed mathematics, tech hardware, cool sci-fi movies, his wife's company, and bowling. However, shopping had one great advantage for Van. Shopping made Van stop thinking about Nash equilibria and latency functions. Van had been thinking about these two computer-science issues for three months, seriously. Then for two weeks very seriously, and then for the last six days very, very seriously. So seriously that even Dottie became invisible to him. So seriously that sometimes Van had trouble walking.

However, Van's network-latency analysis had been successfully completed and written up. The white paper would be widely admired by key members of the IEEE, and cordially ignored by the Mondiale board of directors. So Van had given himself some time off.

Dottie, slim and delicious and barefoot, was silently reading the instructions that came with her new toaster oven. Dottie always read all the instructions for everything. Dottie always studied all the safety disclaimers and even the shrink-wrap contracts on software.

Back at MIT, classmates at the lab had teased Dottie about her compulsive habits. Van, however, had noticed that Dottie never made the dumb beginner's mistakes that everybody else made. Dottie was pleased to have this quality of hers recognized and admired. Eventually Dottie wrote her own vows and then married him.

Van leafed through slick colorful pages and discovered a Fortebraccio task lamp. The designer lamp looked both spoonlike and medical. It had the robust, optimistic feeling of a vintage Gene Roddenberry Star Trek episode. It rocked totally.

Van ripped the lamp's page from the catalog, and dumped the rest into the recycling bin at his elbow. Van's next catalog was chock-full of chairs. Van, his attention fully snagged now, settled deeply into the problem at hand. He was sitting uncomfortably in a lousy plastic picnic chair, one of a set of six that he had bought on a hasty lunch break at the nearest Home Depot. That situation just wouldn't do.

Dottie repeated herself. "Derek! You want seven-grain bread or whole wheat?"

Van came to with a start. "Which loaf has more in the queue?"

"Uhm, the whole wheat loaf has more slices left."

"Give me the other one." Logically, that bread was bound to taste better.

As a serious programmer, Van used an Aeron chair at his work. The Aeron was in some sense the ultimate programmer's working chair. The Aeron was the only chair that a hard-core hacker lifestyle required. Van hunched his thick shoulders thoughtfully. Yet, a family home did require some domestic chairs. For instance, an Aeron lacked the proper parameters for breakfast use. Spattered baby food would stick inside the Aeron's nylon mesh.

Van winced at the memory of the three FBI guys who had shown up at his Merwinster mansion, seeking his computer security advice. The FBI G-men had been forced to sit in Van's white plastic picnic chairs. The Bureau guys hadn't said a word about the plastic chairs-they just drank their instant coffee and took thorough notes on yellow legal pads-but they got that dismissive FBI look in their eyes. They were reclassifying him as a mere informant rather than a fully qualified expert. That wouldn't do, either.

Dottie didn't know about the FBI and their discreet visits to the house. Van hadn't told Dottie about the FBI, for he knew she wouldn't approve. The interested parties from the Treasury Department and the U.S. Navy Office of Special Investigations had also escaped Dottie's notice.

This was some catalog. It had chairs made of black leather and bent chrome tubing. Chairs like baseball mitts. Chairs like bent martini glasses. Chairs cut from single sheets of pale, ripply plywood.

Dottie slid a breakfast plate before him. Dottie's new toaster oven had browned Van's toast to absolute perfection. Van had never before witnessed such perfect toast. It lacked the crude striping effect that toast got from the cheap hot wires in everyday toasters.

"Derek, can you open this?"

Van put his manly grip to an imported black jar of English jam. The enameled lid popped off with a hollow smack. There was a rush of aroma so intense that Van felt five years old. This was very good jam. This black British jam had such royal Buckingham Palace authority that Van wanted to jump right up and salute.

"Honey, this stuff is some jam."

"It's blackberry!" Dottie sang out from behind her copper frying pan. "It's your favorite!"

Even the baby was astounded by the wondrous smell of the jam. Ted's round blue eyes went tense. "Dada!" he said.

"He said 'dada' again." Van spread the happy black jam across his perfect toast.

Ted slapped his spit-shiny mitts on his feeding tray. "Dada!" he screeched. "Dada!"

Dottie stared at her son in awe and delight. "Derek, he did say it!"

She rushed over to praise and caress the baby. Baby Ted grinned up at her. "Dada," he confided. Ted was always good-natured about his mother. He did his best to mellow her out.

Van watched the two of them carrying on. Life was very good for the Dada today. Van wolfed down all eight pieces of his toast. This was a caviar among blackberry jams. "Where on earth did you find this stuff, Dots?"

"Off the Internet."

"That'll work. Can you get a case discount?"

"You want more?"

"You bet. Point, click, and ship."

Van leaned back and slid his toast-crumbed plate aside, increasingly pleased with the universe. Dottie sidled over, bearing a plate of fluffy scrambled eggs. Van lifted his fork, but then his gaze collided with yet another catalog chair. The spectacle unhinged him.

"Holy gosh, Dottie! Look at this thing. Now that's a chair!"

"It looks like a spider."

"No, it's like an elk! Look at those legs!"

"The legs, that's the most spidery part."

"It's made out of cast magnesium!"

Dottie took away Van's jar of jam. "Paging Stanley Kubrick."

No way, thought Van. Kubrick's movie 2001 was all 1968! Now that it really was 2001, all that futuristic stuff was completely old-fashioned. Van sampled his scrambled eggs. They were very tasty indeed. "Magnesium! Wow, no one in the world can tool that stuff, and now it's in chairs!"

Dottie set her own plate down, with dabs of food on it that would scarcely feed a sparrow. She heaved the restless baby from his high chair and propped him on her slender thigh. Ted was a big kid and Dottie was a small woman. Ted flopped back and forth, flinging his solid head at her like a stray cannonball. "How much does it cost?" she said practically.

"Six hundred. Plus shipping."

"Six hundred dollars for one chair, Derek?"

"But it's magnesium and polycarbonate!" Van argued. "They only weigh seven kilograms! You can stack them."

Dottie examined the catalog page, fork halfway to her tender mouth. "But this chair doesn't even have a real back."

"It's got a back!" Van protested. "That thing that grows out of its arms, that is its back, see? I bet it's a lot more fun to sit in than it looks."

Dottie poured Van fresh coffee as Ted yanked at her pageboy brown hair.

"You don't like it," Van realized mournfully.

"That's a very interesting chair, honey, but it's just not very normal."

"We'll be the first on the block to have one."

Dottie only sighed.

Van stared at the awesome chair, trying not to be surly. Six hundred dollars meant nothing much to him. Obviously Mondiale's stock wasn't at the insanely stellar heights it had been when he had bought the mansion, but any guy who bought his wife emeralds for their anniversary wasn't going to whine about a magnesium chair.

Van couldn't bear to turn the catalog page. The astonishing chair was already part of his self-image. The chair gave him the same overwhelming feeling he had about computers: that they were tools. They were serious work tools. Only lamers ever flinched at buying work tools. If you were hard-core you just went out and got them.


From the Hardcover edition.
Bruce Sterling|Author Q&A

About Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling - The Zenith Angle
Bruce Sterling is the author of ten novels, three of which were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. The Difference Engine, co-written with William Gibson, was a national bestseller. He has also published four short-story collections and four nonfiction books. He has written for many magazines, including Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Technology Review, and Wired, where he has been a contributing editor since its inception. He has won two Hugo Awards for his short fiction. Sterling lives in Austin, Texas.

Author Q&A

Bruce vs. Bruce

The following is a conversation between Bruce Schneier–a renowned security expert and founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc. whose newest book, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, explains how security really works–and Bruce Sterling, whose new techno-thriller, The Zenith Angle, is about computer security and Washington politics. Sterling also wrote The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, a nonfiction book about computer hackers and cyber-police. The two Bruces, long-time admirers of each other’s work, got together to discuss the nexus of security, technology, and the real world.

Schneier: We both write about security and technology. I see technology continually changing the balance between attacker and defender. For example, it's technically feasible for the NSA to eavesdrop on millions of telephone calls simultaneously. But ten terrorists today can kill far more people and do more damage than ten terrorists fifty years ago; they have more "leverage."

Sterling: Terrorists with leverage are scary, but I'm much more scared of nutty, cocksure attempts to build
"technology" that supposedly keeps us safe. Terrorists get tired, give up, or shoot each other over the spoils, but once the hardware's installed, a lousy technology is harder to kill off than a cockroach.

Schneier: When it comes to security countermeasures, people always ask me: "Is this effective?" That's the wrong question; the right question would be "Is this worth it?" When it comes to most anti-terrorist security installed since
9/11, the answer is clearly NO. The "security" we're getting just isn't worth the cost: in money, liberties, or convenience. Security is always a balance of trade-offs. And as security consumers, too often we're getting a raw deal.

Sterling: I like this term you use in Beyond Fear: "security theater." I see a lot of that in airports: every time I buy an airline ticket, I get a front row seat for an elaborate, brazen charade. What's the point here: rationally achieving safety in air travel, or buffaloing Joe Citizen into imagining that something good is being done?

Schneier: A lot of what we're seeing at airports is just that: security theater designed to reassure the public that it's safe to fly. It's important to the airlines because it's good business, but it's not good security. People worry about the wrong threats. Spectacular but rare events, like terrorist attacks, get all the press attention, but more mundane risks are downplayed. Pigs kill more people annually than sharks. Riding in a car is vastly riskier than flying commercially, terrorists or no terrorists.

Sterling: Where's the historical perspective? When I was born 50 years ago, Stalin, a mass murderer, was making hydrogen bombs galore. Am I supposed to shake and shiver all over because some gang or small government might get a Bomb? That's bad, but it's far less terrifying than a dire situation I already survived.

Schneier: There are differences. Giving these smaller groups more leverage makes the world dangerous in ways it wasn't during the Cold War. But more dangerous than the rare and spectacular are the commonplace threats. In the cause of anti-terror, we're dismantling legal constraints on politicians and police, forgetting the dangerous abuses that made those constraints necessary in the first place. Do you ever worry about writing thriller novels like The Zenith Angle involving giant, farfetched superweapons? Is your book supposed to improve the reader's take on security reality?

Sterling: Okay, I write science fiction -- but I can't help but get indignant when I see hucksters baldly selling
"security fiction." Think of all the suckers who've been drinking "Dasani" bottled water because they imagine it's safer than tap water. The stuff IS tap water. We novelists lie for a living, but fear mongers prey cruelly on people's weakness and credulity. Nowadays, we should think long and hard about genuine security, and rid ourselves of the hand-wringing folklore.

Schneier: And I'm getting really tired of companies that make great promises about this or that technology, as if security were just a matter of installing the right set of whiz-bang widgets. Face it, no matter how much technology you use, real security is based on people. I don't know whether to fret over this, or take comfort in it.

Sterling: As a futurist, I like spotting "trends" against "certainties." People being sloppy, phony, and careless about security: that's about as close to an eternal human verity as one can get.

Schneier: Con artists have taken advantage of people's gullibility for millennia. You can see rackets mentioned in ancient Egyptian papyruses that are still used today. And now malicious computer viruses can do this automatically. You can receive an e-mail purporting to be from someone you know, with an enticing subject line and a plausible message body. It's all fake, of course, and if you click on the attachment, your computer is infected.

Sterling: I never blame the user for succumbing to these vicious things. The darkside-hackers who build these wicked chunks of code should be treated like arsonists. We'll never have a universally street-smart population using computers. The real world is full of children, the elderly, foreigners, first time users, the mentally retarded, drunks, injured people in pain, panicked people in a dreadful hurry. If you can't build a system that respects these people and their human qualities, then get out of the mass market and let someone in who can.

Schneier: I agree that people will always be people, but there's a lot more we can do to educate users about security. Viruses and spam have progressed from bad to worse, even though the trend was obvious, and useful steps could have been taken to stop that. The stuff that intrigues me most now is an increasingly dangerous overlap between cyberspace and the real world.

Sterling: Do you mean jazzy, red-hot trends like "ubiquitous computation" and "pervasive computing"?

Schneier: No, it's much simpler than that. Just search Google for the words "send catalog name address city state zip." You'll find hundreds of thousands of catalog request forms. Fill in someone's name, and you'll bury him in physical junk mail. Do that enough times, and you'll destroy the catalog sales business.

Sterling: I wish I hadn't learned that fact. "Ubiquitous computing," thousands of chips penetrating the physical world everywhere we go, that sounds fantastic, mind-boggling. But I feel quite sure they'll develop "ubicomp" in just the same pell-mell, frenzied way that left us so vulnerable to viruses and spam. It's a host of newfangled hazards yet undreamt of.

Schneier: Voice-over-IP, too. Here we have a technology that will drive the price of a phone call to zero. What happens when spammers get hold of that? Why would anyone accept phone calls if 80% of them were prerecorded digital junk?

Sterling: The deeper you dig, the darker that subject gets. User-friendly means abuser-friendly. I've seen serious people tearing their hair over the vulnerability of little SCADA chips. These remote-control knickknacks control a wide variety of industrial processes: "Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition," that's SCADA. There's yet to be a major black-hat effort to take over "supervisory control" of, say, natural gas pipelines, but considering those concentrated, deliberate attacks on pipelines in Iraq, one has to wonder.

Schneier: I think those risks are largely overblown. Sure, SCADA systems have lousy security, but they're not well-defined targets. And strangely enough, the complexity and obscurity of the systems turn out to be a defense. The bad guys are far more likely to drive a truck into a power plant than try to navigate the SCADA control system.

Sterling: I fret plenty about the oil business: it's old, frail, and obscure, and it never got the harsh, comprehensive attacks that the Internet got. Hackers might Google us to death with spam catalogs, but in October 2001 one lousy rifle bullet shut down the Alaska pipeline.

Schneier: Low-tech attacks are always more worrisome than high-tech. There's been a lot of froth written about biological terrorist attacks. Remember the Aum Shinri Kyo Japanese cult? They built a secret laboratory, spent $30 million dollars and several years, and built a chemical death weapon called sarin. The net result: 12 people dead in the Japanese subway. A kid with an automatic weapon could have done more damage.

Sterling: Don't forget the 5000 injured. Cults do go for cornball apocalyptic glamour. But even Al Qaeda's fantastic acts of self-immolation are getting cheapened with overuse. Like these bomb-toting cranks in Turkey who blew up a lodge with some Masons. Masons?! What's next: the Kiwanis? The Woodsmen of the World? There's a very thin line between diabolical mastermind and goofy, self-marginalizing loon.

Schneier: And we're really good at defending against yesterday's threats. After 9/11, we really beefed up airport security. In the weeks after Madrid, I've heard more and more calls to increase security on trains. That just makes no sense. You can't possibly secure every place where more than 100 people gather: theaters, sports stadiums, shopping malls, my neighborhood bar last St. Patrick's Day. It's back to trade-offs; we're wasting money trying to defend against terrorism by securing every possible target.

Sterling: I'm really interested in RFID chips: "Radio-Frequency Identification." They're like tiny, cheap, programmable barcode IDs attached to real-world objects. The idea is that these "smart objects" will be able to interact with us and each other. Well, then what?

Schneier: They're being touted as a security enhancement. Objects could automatically alert the authorities if they're stolen, for example. But people ignore the potential for abuse there. Can a criminal query your home to see if you own anything worth stealing? Can a marketer find out who owns a particular product, or how often they use it? The darker implications of RFID are scary.

Sterling: With online groups like "StopRFID.com," I'm seeing web-savvy people rallying online to become early technology un-adopters. Putting invisible, ultra cheap computer ID tags in common household possessions: there must zillions of possible abuses for these zillions of "spy chips."

Schneier: This is a common trend with new technologies. We fixate on the benefits of a technology, and fail to study the abuse potential. Computerized voting machines are typical. The manufacturers tout their fancy new features, but have ignored security and reliability. And they fight simple, common-sense measures like a paper printout--a backup ballot in case of problems.

Sterling: I take some comfort in watching Taiwan go nuts over ballot-box fraud, by the way. At least it's not just us Americans! An honest election that no one can trust is as bad as a rotten election.

Schneier: I talk about this a lot in Beyond Fear; it's the notion of resilient security. Paper ballots provide a backup in case of malice or intentional error. It's just plain stupid to deploy balloting technologies that have the potential for one person to change the outcome of an election. That's just too much leverage.

Sterling: I see a distressing tendency to fixate on gizmos and ignore systemic decay. The ugly chaos on the Internet today isn't about this hole or that hole, or this patch or that patch, it's about massive failures of governance. Look at your e-mail today: that flood of theft and abuse and malware. We can't call that a civilization. Law and order has broken down. We should feel ashamed about this, not sit on our hands like born victims till some techie finds some magic wand.

Schneier: You have to admit that the Internet does work. It just barely works, but that's true of all civilization. Fixating on technological solutions to human problems is a common theme in security, even though it rarely works. It's comforting to think that technology can somehow save us. Politicians on both sides of the aisle like large technological security systems. They're expensive and they're visible. They encroach on the public, and impress the voters for the next election. This is why you see massive, impractical programs for fingerprinting foreigners at the border, or profiling everyone flying in an airplane, when less visible human security measures like hiring another thousand FBI agents and teaching them Arabic would be far more effective and would make us all much safer.

Sterling: If there's a cheery lesson here, it's that history rolls right along. It took ages to work out the security for coin-operated payphones. Those things were tough and rugged, as highly evolved as a cactus. Now payphones are vanishing like the mighty buffalo: they disappeared into people's pockets as cell phones, and now they have cameras attached! The risks for abuse there are just fantastic -- of course.

Schneier: Again, technology changes the balance between attacker and defender: those who want to protect their privacy, and those who want to invade it with cell phone-mounted cameras.

Sterling: Technological change is a mighty spectacle, a vast, ever-changing parade of light and darkness. I feel privileged to bear witness: I couldn't do that subject justice if I had ten lifetimes.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“A darkly comic fable of info-war, the black budget, über-geek idealism, and the politics of Homeland Insecurity. Sterling’s grasp of the surfaces of contemporary reality is deftly prehensile; his understanding of what underlies those surfaces is both compelling and important.”
—WILLIAM GIBSON, author of Pattern Recognition

“Vibrates with fantastic in-jokes and insights . . . Rockets along like a hijacked airliner heading straight at you, like a flash-worm compromising every unpatched Windows box on the net at once. Lots of books are called ‘thrillers,’ but very few are this thrilling.”
—CORY DOCTOROW, author of Eastern Standard Tribe
and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

“[Sterling offers] great insights about the inner workings of government, private industry, and the threats that could disrupt the online world as we know it. The Zenith Angle mixes technology, politics, dry humor, and suspense to provide a first-rate read.”
—HOWARD A. SCHMIDT, former CSO for Microsoft
and former Special Adviser for Cyber Security for the Bush Administration

“A Catch-22 for the slashdot generation: a wry, cynical, informed peek at the paranoid world of the post-9/11 cyberspookerati. Buy it, read it, be very afraid.”
—CHARLES STROSS, author of Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise

“Perhaps the sharpest observer of our media-choked culture working today in any genre.”
Time

“Known for putting more interesting ideas on one page than most writers include in an entire novel.”
The Seattle Times
OLD BACK AD

“One of America’s best-known science-fiction writers and perhaps the sharpest observer of our media-choked culture working today in any genre.”
Time

“Bitingly satiric—and quite often brilliant.”
The New York Observer

“Known for putting more interesting ideas on one page than most writers include in an entire novel.”
The Seattle Times

“Nobody knows better than Bruce Sterling how thin the membrane between science fiction and real life has become, a state he correctly depicts as both thrilling and terrifying.”
—KURT ANDERSEN, author of Turn of the Century

“The reigning master of near-future political SF.”
Publishers Weekly

“Sterling [has a] gift for creating sympathetic yet fallible characters.”
Library Journal



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