Influx by Daniel Suarez

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I recently finished reading the novel Influx by one of my favorite "tech thriller" writers, Daniel Suarez - here's a quick review.

The basic premise of Influx is that humanity's scientific and tech geniuses have created many more technological break-throughs than most of the world knows about, and that a secret department of the U.S. government has taken extreme steps to hide those break-throughs in the name of protecting everyday people from their practical implications. The plot thickens when there's resistance to that department's methods, and I won't say much more about it to avoid spoiling what unfolds, but you can imagine the story-telling fun that can be had when futuristic-and-very-advanced human tech and mindsets meets present day human tech and mindsets.  And most of it is pretty dark stuff - no kibbitzing with humpback whale scenes here.

The particular technologies and scientific achievements discussed in the book are not so grand or preposterous as to seem made up; most of them are things present day researchers are actually working on, and it's not too hard to believe that there might actually be breakthroughs in these areas that we don't yet know about, making the Influx storyline feel all that more relevant and realistic. And whether by coincidence or intention, Suarez's narrative does a great job of tying in to present day speculation about just what lengths our government will go to in its use of technology to ostensibly protect us from bad things. We already know that major world governments and their militaries are driving forces behind technological innovation while keeping many developments secret to maintain a strategic advantage (see DARPA), so it's not too hard to imagine those agencies continuing their paternalistic mission with a technology more advanced than we can imagine right now.

Beyond the exploration and application of the technology itself, Influx's characters are nicely textured in a way you don't always find in such books. Even in a fast paced story, Suarez takes time he hasn't in other books to let us get to know the characters a bit, understand their motivations, and sympathize with their decisions. And it leads to some interesting interactions about technology ethics, enlightened self-interest, the role of a government in protecting its citizens, etc. Here's a random favorite quote:

"She believed the only thing capable of saving humans as a species would be a civic gene— one that caused humans to act not just in their own self-interest but also in the interests of the generations to follow. Evolution hadn’t solved that because few species had ever been in a position to destroy their entire ecosystem before."

I think that Influx is Daniel Suarez's best work since his break-out novel Daemon; it's well-written, focused, unpredictable and manages to stretch our imaginations about the implications of some futuristic technology without seeming over the top. I hope the author keeps writing new books that explore these themes, I'll certainly keep reading them.

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