Here’s the blurb from the back of the book. I couldn’t put it better myself, so I’ll just copy it here.
Tracking hackers and crackers for the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center looks like a vivid video game to an outsider, but the outcome of the play is deadly serious. Through her online feline avatar, Sekhmet, Sue Anne Jones stalks the V-net, the ultimate virtual-reality interface, in pursuit of evil in all its online forms. Her partner, ex-cracker Loren Hunter, provides synical commentary along with his expertise in the V-Net’s shadier alleys.
Their days of busting routine identity thieves and insidious corporate spies end when they get a new assignment: Hunt down a cyber-terrorist calling himself Gideon. Gideon has infiltrated the financial system, rerouted supply lines, and murdered the supervisor of an automated factory. Now Gideon is sending taunting messages, quoting scripture, and warning Sue that she must join his crusade or suffer – along with the rest of the virtual world – when he takes total control of the V-net.
Written by the author of the Seventh Seal last-days adventure trilogy, Hunting Gideon is a near-future cyberpunk novel with an optimistic Mormon twist. Incorporating elements from the hard-boiled detective novel, film noir, and postmodernist prose, much of the novel’s action takes place online in cyberspace, blurring the borders between actual and virtual reality. Hunting Gideon sends Sue and Loren on a wild chase as they scramble to avert the ultimate online disaster.
I’m not exactly a computer geek, to put it mildly. I can turn it on, use Word, find my favourite websites, and occasionally access some of the other features available online. (This last consists mostly of trial and error along with tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth.) So I was amazed at how easily I was able to follow the action in this story from the very first paragraph. My mother, on the other hand, who occasionally dusts off her home computer without ever actually switching it on, said she needed a few pages to get into the book, but then she was caught up in the action as well. And speaking of action, there’s definitely a lot of it in this book. A lot of it is shown on the V-net through Sekhmet’s eyes. “I let out a yowl as I was abruptly jerked through the back of the cabinet. I made a three-point landing, all claws extended, my free hand brandishing a tangling to entrap an opportunistic assailant.” Who would have thought the net could be this exciting? But Sue’s life in the real world isn’t boring, either. “I leapt out silently and whacked him with the rolling pin, substituting self-defense enthusiasm for finesse.”
My favourite combination with action is humour, and there are plenty of things to grin or even laugh out loud at in this book. For instance: “Aarrggghhhh,” I said, or an exclamation to that effect – gutterals are so difficult to spell.” Or when Sue is thinking about the Sunbeam class that she teaches on Sundays. “They’d quite liked my earlier lesson on lies, which included getting tied up in soft clothesline. Pity I couldn’t work that into more lessons.”
I like Sue. She’s got a touch of attitude, but wisdom to go along with it. I like the way she’s attracted to her partner Loren, even though he’s not a member and they often spar about God and the scriptures. At one point she tells him, “We’re saved by grace after all we can do – though sometimes it probably looks like we’re saved in spite of all we do,” and then she follows it up with, “And by the way, you’re not fooling me one bit – if you truly didn’t believe in God, you wouldn’t get so mad at him.” I like the way she does Tai Chi and watches television at the same time, although she knows her sensei frowns on it. “Fact is, I’ve never been able to concentrate on something as profoundly dull as exercise without something else to distract me.” I like her attitude towards the subconscious. “I’d always pictured it more as the conduit to extra processing power, the part of the soul that doesn’t have to use logical or rational methods to find answers. It was the part of my brain that went deeper than the monkey mind chattering away on top and the part that could hear and understand God’s Spirit, if I put myself in the right attitude and stayed quiet enough to really listen.”
The character of Loren is complex and fascinating. At the beginning of the book, Sue describes him as “the Black Knight brought out of Darkness to serve the Light,” and that’s exactly what he is. He was brought up Catholic, an orphan, and “had devoted his considerable smarts and skills to finding and exploiting the holes, bugs, and hidden features in the complicated software that ran the worldwide V-net itself.” Once caught, however, he was given a choice between being charged with a felony and joining the “evil empire” of the FBI. Sue had a special part in helping persuade him to choose the right, and they’ve worked together ever since. After Sue told him about the church, he’s been half-interested and half-sarcastic about it. “Is that an example of what you learned in the last mini-class at Home / Personal / Community / Social Propaganda Meeting – how to diagnose antisocial personality disorder over e-mail?” Sue knows that he can be a rascal, but she’s also sure that he cares too much about fairness and people in general to actually carry out any of his cyberthreats. Because of his past, and some of his actions in the present, not to mention his knowledge of the scriptures, Loren becomes a suspect in the Gideon case.
I was fascinated by the depiction of the V-net in this book. It had detail in such depth that I truly felt the author was describing an actual thing, and not just a speculative future. For all I know, there is such a thing already, or perhaps Jessica Draper is creating it in her free time when she’s not writing. According to the “About the Author” page, she has an extensive background in the wired world. There, I also read the statement that there will be a prequel to this book coming soon. Because I enjoyed Hunting Gideon so much, I’ll be keeping my eye on the Zarahemla Books website, looking forward to any news of Dancing with Eddie D’Eath. In the meantime, I can heartily recommend Hunting Gideon to any reader who will not be put off by the “cyberpunk” tag, but who likes adventure, mystery, sly humour, and that kind of male/female banter that signals slow but sure movement down the road of romance.