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[ISN] Book review: The Zenith Angle by Bruce Sterling
[http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345460618/c4iorg - WK]
By GERALD JONAS
Sunday Book Review
Published: June 20, 2004
The Zenith Angle
Hardcover - 352 pages (April 1, 2004)
$24.95 - Del Rey Books ISBN: 0345460618
THE ZENITH ANGLE, by Bruce Sterling (Del Rey/Ballantine, $24.95), also
deals with bureaucratic foot-dragging in the face of clear and present
danger. Sterling, one of the progenitors of cyberpunk, allows his
hero, Derek Vandeveer, a computer genius nicknamed Van, to win one for
the C.C.I.A.B., the Coordination of Critical Information Assurance
Board. A family man whose astronomer wife handles the child care, Van
builds a security system -- based on something called a ''Grendel
supercluster'' -- to safeguard the federal government's computers
after 9/11. ''Grendels,'' he explains, ''are made from obsolete PC's,
but clustered in parallel without any von Neumann bottlenecks.''
And that's just for starters: ''Van was planning to implement
distributed streams within the Grendel. That was overkill, really.
There wasn't a kode-kid, cracker, hacktivist or even intelligence
agency in the whole world that could break into a Grendel. But a
Grendel running streams -- man, that would be beyond all coolness.''
This is the way Van talks, and Sterling sees no reason to translate
his professional enthusiasms into ordinary English. Indeed, Van's
story floats on a Sargasso sea of jargon and bureaucratic acronyms
that grows ever thicker as the threats escalate from ''infowar'' and
''cyberwar'' to vintage mad-scientist ''spacewar.'' At some point,
even Van can't do his duty within the system, so he goes rogue with
some ex-Special Ops to take down a satellite-killing laser.
Van's adventures inside and outside the Beltway are treated with some
amusement, but Sterling underscores their plausibility by dating them
from September 1999 to September 2002. Which raises the question: how
much of this is science fiction and how much is fact? When Van visits
the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force base that commands America's ICBM's,
he shares this technical detail: ''The entire base was supported on
giant, white-painted steel springs. If half of Cheyenne Mountain
vaporized in a 50-megaton first strike, the deep bunker would just
bounce on its springs a little.'' I'm not sure about the Grendels, but
this I believe.
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