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Book Review: Zero Day

Zero Day has been an interesting read. First of all, this is of yet another computer guy turned author (Patricia Cornwell and Jim Butcher being two more) — the guy works for Microsoft, of all companies! And honestly, it shows. While the book is not written bad at all, it paints an even worse world than reality is, by having everything based off Windows, including very critical systems…

So how do you categorize this book? I guess you have to call it cyberthriller, although it has very little cyber in it; it takes place in present time, in a not-so-improbable situation if, as I said above, Windows is the only possible operating system out there. You can easily guess from the title and blurb that this relates to a computer virus infection that goes to have damage, which is something that other books try to warn us about. As you’re reading my blog, I expect you to know better than to think that Windows is the only operating system out there and that it’s suitable, for example for avionics.

So while the story is interesting, it has quite a few pitfalls. The first thing I’d complain about is that the author abuses textspeak! I can sort-of understand (but not really accept happily) the stereotypical textspeak among “crackers” and wannabes, but even among high-level IT professionals? Really?! And the same professional who has to be told what l33t5p34k is?!? Honestly it’s painful to have to read through a page fitted with textspeak, and it’s almost as much painful to find that the author still thinks that people speak over ICQ … that’s so ‘98 (and for those who don’t think 1998 isn’t far away enough, it’s 14 years ago.. where were you at the time?).

But, spoiler alert!

Spoiler follows.

Okay you’ve been warned.

The worst problem with the book, though, is the bad stereotypes embedded into its story. The girls in the IT world who’re not up to the job and need to call the main hero for help … one of which is actually said to sleep with her boss to move up with her career (while I can think of a few people who have been doing that, which make it realistic enough, do you really want to spend half a book with such a character, especially given the kind of social turmoil the IT world is in, in the past few years?)… The Russians who can’t stay on the right side of the law for more than a couple of pages… The evil muslim extremists who seek nothing but the destruction of the West, …

Before somebody takes offense about my words, I’ll be quick to point out that I’m an atheist and I don’t really care whether you believe in something or not, and even less I care about what you believe. So please.

Will I read the next book – Trojan Horse – almost certainly yes. I’ve learnt never to judge a whole series from the first book, especially for new authors. But honestly the book I’ll wait for will come out in November, not September, and it’s the new Dresden Files book, Cold Days… which happen to be out the day before my birthday — I’ll go the extra step and pay the full price for the Kindle edition, I don’t want to wait!

Comments 6
  1. Hey Diego, have you read “After the Software Wars” by Keith Curtis?It talks “a little” about Microsoft responses on Free Software efforts, and the “FUD” that is made internally to avoid employees to use Linux 😛

  2. I didn’t know about that book, I’ll certainly read it soon, since the Kindle edition is also quite cheap.

  3. Hmmm, a Microsoft person who has trouble envisaging anything IT related outside the Microsoft ecosystem… who’d have thought? 🙂

  4. I have been wanting to read this ever since I first heard it mentioned on the Security Now podcast when it first came out. It sounds interesting. Thought I have read reviews that says the form of the book is somewhat unusual and hard to follow.Unfortunately, I cannot get the book here in Norway. I asked the author on Twitter if he could do anything about it. He could not. So I then asked him if he thought it was okay if I pirated a copy since I cannot buy it legally. He never responded to that question.If I read enough reviews, I may just get the whole plot anyways. Or maybe it will pop up on Audible.

  5. What really annoyed me is the idea that every computer run Windows -specially the airplane’ onboard computer.

  6. Just finished this book and went looking for reviews.Totally agree with your general feel that the book stank. One thing I don’t agree on is that Russinovich isn’t like Cornwell or Butcher. Anybody who has worked with MS operating system for very long will have used his invaluable utilities. To write these he had to examine the innards of the MS operating system, which isn’t documented or open source, so that wasn’t an easy task. So as a computers guy he’s way out of the league of Cornwell (I couldn’t find any material about Butcher) and to be honest probably 99% of IT professionals.And that’s why I read his book in the first place, which made the nonsense he was peddling all the more irritating. If I wanted to read unrealistic versions of the IT world I would have picked somebody who at least had some writing pedigree.I couldn’t believe the technical inaccuracies in this book, from the mythical salami attack to nuclear power plant control systems running windows and also seemingly being connected to the internet. Even outside of the technical problems there’s the stereotypes you mention such as Daryl being put forward as a beautiful computer genius who doesn’t seem to do anything useful with a computer for the entire novel.I’m left with the feeling of being conned into reading bad pulp by the author’s technical stature. Unlike you I shall not be reading more. I found myself wanting to smash to book against the wall far too many times, which is an unwelcome feeling when you’re reading on a nook.

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