Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turing's Delirium - Edmundo Paz Soldán

New age literature is breaking free from the same old narrative style and the subjects. The technological advancement and the usage of these medium have started appearing in the mainstream literature in the new century. Blog entries, e-mails and web and internet have started appearing often, albeit in the younger lot of writers. Soldan's Turing's Delirium also employs these effectively. What he does well is mixing up the old age style to the newer methodology pretty well. There are technical errors at a few places but that can be overlooked. His the sci-fi, virtual world thriller set in Bolivia, is interesting for this reason apart from his brilliance as a writer.

Cryptography is the theme and its the tussle of the old age tradition carried from the dates of Egyptian rulers , through the modern world, looking for evidences in the writing of Victorian elitists, in Shakespeare, in Bacon following it through the period when the cryptanalysis have taken the main stream of military intelligence especially during the first two world wars. This later enhanced in scope and technology during the cold war era and was used by various rulers around the world for quelling rebellion against their own regime.

Miguel Saenz, nicknamed 'Turing' ( after the legendary code breaker) is the center of the action. An old established 'code-breaker' worked for the dictatorship of President Montenegro during his peak, in the secret establishment called "Black Chamber", established by a mysterious American Albert. Black Chamber as the name suggest is the center of all the dubious information. Now the dictatorship is overthrown, and after a couple of democratic experiments, President Montenegro is back in power as a democratically elected leader. The absence of work and the change of leadership ( Albert is decaying in his apartment , abandoned and hallucinating, awaiting death ), moved Miguel's position to a mere record keeper. The new leadership believe in the newer ways of breaking codes using sophisticated softwares and the fresher recruits with new engineering and software skills.

However, the new challenge that posed to the regime is the constant attack on its websites, and that of leading multinational firms, especially the company that distribute power to the neighborhood. The company ( an Italian-American joint venture) had increased the rate recently after the Electricity was privatised by the government, resulting in widespread protest and agitation. The opposition is now active and there are skirmishes and police action to curb the agitation. It is during this time, there is the new form of cyber attack on the government and the leading companies. The so called cyber terrorism is supposedly lead by the underground hacker community of adolescent students, and is lead by one Kadinsky. Its now the responsibility of the 'Black Chamber' to nab the terrorists and bring them to justice. As expected, the hackers are always a step ahead of the authorities and with their clandestine activities, not easy to track. The only way to get to the thick of the action is to have someone from their own community. It is the teenage daughter and 'nerd' Flavia, daughter of Miguel who was identified as a capable candidate to help them in this mission.

This is the story at the fore front. Soldan uses the multi narrative technique to tell a fast paced gripping story. The cyber world of "Play Ground" where most of the counter Government and the anti - transnational activities are groomed and coordinated by people ( called the Resistance) with secret identities and unknown background joining for the cause. On the real time world of Miguel is copin with his troubled family life, Flavia being a computer genius and a hacker seldom come out of her room, Ruth developing distaste on his activities and his direct/indirect involvement in the atrocities of the regime during dictatorship. His affair with the drug addicted prostitute, whom he is being the guardian and provide for. He is also fighting his own trauma resulted from the guilt of his actions as the truths are now uncovered of his earlier success. Albert on his death bed having visions of the time of World War II, and the stories of successful code-breaking effort, helping the allied forces giving an edge over the Germans.

There is much more serious affairs running at the back ground. It is the revenge of the atrocities of the earlier dictatorship. As in the case of every dictatorship, there are stories of torture and killing of innocents and those who stood for justice. Two individuals are in pursuit of bringing this out. Ruth, the history professor at the University, wife of Miguel, has her research concluded on the involvement of Black Chamber ( that includes her husband) in the killings during the regime. Justice. Cardona, a former minister in the Montenegro government is planning his revenge of the death of his first love Martha. There are murders , cyber crimes , games and twist and turns in the narrative to keep the interest of the readers with some decent finish.

The book is of multi narration. The story is told by various participants, giving us a peep view of their character and their thinking. Hence the language and style vary dramatically from one narration to the other. Rightly so, and voice appropriate to the character. This , on the other hand, suffers from being brilliant writing in one chapter to mediocre in the next. ( I shall give the benefit of doubt to the original, as this might have suffered during translation - so, I hear from my friends from that part of the world). The book, also takes critical look at the globalisation and privatisation of national resources in a very subtle way. Under the pretext of a cyber thriller, Soldan covers these two serious topics of dictatorship ( Montenegro is modelled around Hugo Banzer Suárez, dictator from 1971 to 1978 and an elected president from 1997) and the repercussions of the globalisations in Latin America very well.

A good , fast paced , new age cyber - political thriller with parts of brilliant writing.
Turing's Delirium ( 2003)

Edmundo Paz Soldan ( translated from Spanish by Lisa Carter 2006 )

Mariner Books

291 Pages
Other reviews : Complete Review , Mostly Fiction

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