Bookbanter’s Best Reads of 2017



Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Darkness of Evil by Alan Jacobson

Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

“Change Agent” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2017)

What if you could take a medication that could cause your body to go into reactive shutdown, altering your DNA, and when you recovered enough to regain consciousness and look in the mirror, you see a completely different face attached to a completely different body? And what if some truly despicable people were able to manufacture this medication? Welcome to Daniel Suarez’s chilling new novel, Change Agent.

It’s the year 2045, and Kenneth Durand is one of the top agents at Interpol fighting genetic crime. He specializes in tracking down hidden and very illegal labs performing “vanity edits” to an embryo’s DNA to make the future child smarter, or taller, or stronger, or all of the above . . . all for a nominal, or not so nominal fee. Because while the science and ability may exist, these mad scientists cut corners and don’t always comprehend what they’re really doing.

But the man behind one of the biggest cartels in the world known as the Huli jing, who is rumored to have this ability to edit an adult’s DNA, one Marcus Wyckes, is the biggest threat to be taken down. Any members of the cartel that are discovered always turn up dead, while Wyckes seems unable to be found. Durand gets full support to track down the Huli jing with whatever resources he needs.

Apparently this is one step too far for the cartel and they capture Durand, applying their secret supposedly nonexistent medication. The man wakes up days later to find himself in a hospital sore and tender in many ways. He looks in the mirror and Durand finds the face of Marcus Wyckes staring back at him. He has now become the most wanted man on the planet, and the police are on their way to the hospital.

Daniel Suarez has an uncanny ability with his science fiction thrillers to tell a story that not only seems vaguely plausible but makes the reader wonder if all this horrible stuff might be happening right now. Change Agent makes you wonder and think and hope, from the bottom of your heart, that this will never come to fruition, even if there’s a small part of your brain telling you it certainly will. The ending of the book unravels a little with the somewhat over the top action, but overall Change Agent is both a fascinating and gripping book that will keep you glued to every page.

Originally written on March 16, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Change Agent from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Influx” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2014)


It seems logical that if movie rights to a book are sold before the book is even published, then the book must be pretty good. Such is the case with Daniel Suarez’s latest book, Influx, rights to which have been acquired by Twentieth Century Fox. Another book that went through similar motions was Justin Cronin’s The Passage, before it was released, which went on to become a huge bestseller and was also a great book. But perhaps the key to Influx is that it is not only a riveting thriller that the likes of Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy might have written, but it is a book that is uniquely Daniel Suarez and sets the stage for his ability as a great writer and talented storyteller. There aren’t many books when one reads the last page, one feels compelled to flip back to the first page and start reading again, but Influx is definitely one of them.

What if our world was in fact way more advanced technologically than we thought possible? What if fusion power, true artificial intelligence, anti-gravity or even immortality had already been invented but had been kept hidden from humanity because of the possible harm it could cause the human race and the planet? This is the premise for Influx, which opens with particle physicist Jon Grady trying out his newly invented technology with his colleagues as they wrap their minds around the reality that is a gravity mirror. The possibilities are endless! And then they find themselves under attack by a terrorist group who tie them up and leave them in the warehouse to be killed by the bomb that has been left for them.

The bomb goes off and then Grady awakens to find himself in the office of the Bureau of Technology Control, a supposed government watchdog group that snatches up advanced technologies that pose too great a risk for the world. Grady is given the option to continue his work for the bureau or be imprisoned. Refusing to give up, Grady options for the latter and thus begins his tough times that will push him to the limits if he wants to fight back against this clandestine nonexistent government group.

Influx has the techno-thrill of a book that the late Michael Crichton might one day have written, as well as the jargon and complexity of the late Tom Clancy, posing the question as to whether Daniel Suarez is the author to step into these bestselling authors shoes? But the book also has a human side to it with its characters, with a moral to be learned and appreciated, as well as a story filled with cutting edge science that leaves one wondering if they’re reading fiction or nonfiction?

Daemon and Freedom™ were Daniel Suarez’s start as an author, as he told a particular story he wanted to tell. Kill Decision was his follow up book that was a story seizing on the hot topic of drones that were about to make headline news worldwide. Influx is the quasi science fiction thriller that Suarez was destined to write, that shows his full ability and scope not just as a great writer, but as a visionary storyteller that sets the stage for his future books that will no doubt match and exceed Influx in scope and potential. Suarez is a writer you should take note of, because he’s got some very important things to talk about, things that in all likelihood may one day come to pass.

Originally written on February 16, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Influx from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Daniel Suarez will be doing a reading and signing at Copperfield’s San Rafael on February 25th at 7pm. CLICK HERE for more information.

I had the opportunity to interview Daniel Suarez in 2009 with the release of Daemon which you can listen to here.

You might also like . . .

Daemon  Freedom  Kill Decision

Daniel Suarez @ Copperfield’s Books San Rafael February 25th

Be sure to clear your schedule on the evening of Tuesday, February 25th, as you’re in for a real treat at Copperfield’s San Rafael, where we will be welcoming bestselling author Daniel Suarez for a reading and signing. I first learned about Daniel Suarez in early 2009 with the release of his debut thriller, Daemon. I then had the opportunity to interview him and learned that as well as being a great writer, he’s a fascinating guy.

Daemon  Freedom

In the interview he said after the duology of Daemon and Freedom, he wasn’t sure if he’d do any more books. Thankfully, that never came true, as he followed with Kill Decision in 2012, all about those meddlesome drones flying the skies above us, long before they were in the everyday news.

In February 5th, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article on Daniel Suarez and where he is headed as a thriller writer and the big shoes he is skillfully filling. The subtitle of the article alone would pique anyone’s interest:

‘Influx’ may propel the sci-fi writer into the void left by Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton.

Suarez’ new book, Influx, will be released on February 20th. I’m already over a hundred pages into it, and in addition to already been the best thing he’s written yet, it’s some great science fiction in the style of Michael Crichton, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson. It’s a great book that should be the book that launches Suarez to the big author stage known around the world.

So mark this day and time down in your calendar if you live or will be in the Bay Area – Tuesday, February 25th at 7pm – and come meet a great writer who is changing the face of science fiction.

Copperfield’s Books San Rafael is located at 850 Fourth St. in downtown San Rafael. For more information, call 415-524-2800.

Bookbanter Column: In an MMO Far, Far Away (December 16, 2011)

There are many people on this planet who know what an MMO and/or an MMORPG is, but by the same token – like so many things in life – there are also many people who don’t what those acronyms mean.  MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online, and MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  Some examples of these MMOs include EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the forthcoming and constantly-growing-in-popularity Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is still in beta and scheduled to be fully released December 20.  They’re essentially online video games that allow for much more ability and opportunity than usual console-based video games, and have no real end point: with each new expansion, players have higher levels to achieve, more quests to do, and more of the world to explore.  Players get all this and more for a monthly fee, or some MMOs are free to play (ftp), but payment is required for certain quests or items.  There are literally millions of MMO players across the planet, and I’m proudly one of them.

What’s interesting is that MMOs are starting to show up in fiction, mainly science fiction, usually as a construct of the fictional world the author has created.  Sometimes it is a quasi dystopian future where playing the game is all there really is, while other books have the MMO be a main part of the story and play off it in the real world.  It is an interesting growing sub-genre of science fiction that seems to get new additions each year.

Below are the books featuring MMOs that I have come across in my reading and reviewing, though I am sure there are more out there and invite anyone reading this column to elucidate on them in the comments section.  As you read about these books and their respective MMOs, what do you think it says about our world and our society?  More importantly, what do you think it says about where we’re headed?  How likely is it that some form of one of these MMOs will come to be our reality?  You be the judge.


Reamde by Neal Stephenson: Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.  T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection.  And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players.  Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character.  Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him.  Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge. (Read the full review.)

Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: In the not-too-distant future, the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s very much a dystopian world, but within this gloomy, depressing place is an MMO that just about everyone plays.  OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most, where you can have fun, meet friends, got to school, and pretty much lead a full and entertaining life under the guise of your anonymous avatar (whose façade is of your choosing).  Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.

James Halliday, who grew up in the 1980’s when computers were beginning to take off, quickly became addicted to video games and then began making his own.  He is the creator of OASIS, which has gone from a game to life and reality for so many people in this world, and he is many times a billionaire.  When he dies, he activates his will which states that whoever finds the three keys and solves the puzzles will be entitled to his entire fortune.  Wade Watts is an eighteen year old nerd who has hopes of finding all three keys and gaining those untold riches.  His parents are dead and he lives with an aunt who treats him terribly and he cares little for her, scraping by in abject poverty.  And now he thinks he might’ve just found the location of the first key. (Read the full review; read an interview with the author.)

Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane: There are two worlds here: the compelling fantasy world of the massive multiplayer online game (MMO) Omnitopia and the real world where video game companies fight to keep doing what they do best and keep the fans hooked, and make lots of money.  It is the near future and when one sits down to play an MMO – like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft – they can use the familiar screen and keyboard set up, or there is the full immersion into the game, akin to virtual reality only better, where one experiences almost all senses of the game.  It is an incredible complex world of fighting and raiding, of gaining levels and increasing your wealth, and even eating and drinking with friends, while discussing your next strategies.  But Omnitopia is unique as every once in a while it selects one of its subscribers to create their own unique world of their own choosing and actually make money from it.  So there is the world of Omnitopia, and then there are the thousands of other user-created worlds covering all of history and the imagination.  The result is a game that one can quite literally be completely absorbed by, almost forgetting the real world.

Rik Maliani is an ordinary person with an ordinary job who’s been a fan and player of Omnitopia for years.   Then he gets selected to create his own world; it’s a dream come true, especially with the possibility of making serious money, but the question is what type of world to make?  What would make it truly unique and encourage people to come see and play?  As Rik begins creating his world, he notices some unusual events happening in the world of Omnitopia that seem to affect the one he is creating, but at the same time to be affected by his world somehow.

Dev Logan is the CEO of Omnitopia and started the whole enterprise many years ago as a college student, and is now the eighth richest man in the world because of it.  He has a crack team of computer whizzes and geniuses who spend their days monitoring Omnitopia, making sure it’s running as smoothly as possible, and preventing the constant attacks and hacks against the worldwide popular MMO.  And now things are really heating up, as the new expansion is about to be released.  Everyone is working pretty much nonstop and none more so than Dev, who forgets to even eat at times.  Delia Harrington is doing a story on Omnitopia for Time Magazine about the company and the expansion.  As Dev deals with the reporter – who seems to be snooping around a little more than she should be – he’s constantly being barraged by updates and news on what’s happening with Omnitopia.  It seems there are an absurd number of attacks building against the MMO, more so than usual, even for an expansion, but then that’s all in a day’s work for the CEO of Omnitopia.

Finally, there is Phil Sorensen, who was a good friend of Dev’s in college – they were going to revolutionize the gaming world together, but then had a falling out – and is the CEO for Infinity Inc. with his own giant, money-making MMO.  He would like nothing more than to see everything that is Omnitopia come crashing down, and have Dev come crying back to him.  He’s going to stop at nothing to make this happen. (Read the full review.)

For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow: For anyone who’s ever played an MMO game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, you know it can be a lot of fun.  What you might not know is that if you’re really good at it, play it just right, and know where to advertise, you can make a lot of money from it.  There are certain quests or missions that can be repeated over and over for maximum experience points and/or gold; that gold can be turned into cash.  People who do this are known as gold farmers; it’s illegal; thousands of people around the world do it for profit. (Read the full review; listen to an interview with the author.)


Daemon by Daniel Suarez: Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer.  It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world.  In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.”  The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.

It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything.  Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society. (Read the full
; listen to an interview with the author.)

As you can see, each MMO is quite different in each book, and in how the MMO is used as a construct.  Sometimes it is a tool for good, sometimes a tool for evil, and sometimes a tool for something completely different.  Regardless of what the future may hold for us in the growing world of MMOs, and whether any of these possible and seemingly plausible realities will come into being, the fact that this subject is being written about by a growing number of different authors sends a message that this is not something we can just ignore or assume will go away.  MMOs are here to stay, whether some of us like it or not, for good or ill; the question remains: how are they going to stay and what affect will they grow to and continue to have on our lives.  Only the future knows.

“Kill Decision” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2012)

Kill Decision

Bestselling author Daniel Suarez delighted readers with his gritty and hard-edged take on technology gone haywire with Daemon and Freedom, and now he’s back with his next techno-thriller, Kill Decision, scrutinizing the subject of unmanned drones that cover our skies when we’re not looking.  Suarez certainly seems to be fortifying a bridge between the late, great Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, which fans of either or both will thoroughly enjoy.

Told mostly from the viewpoint of Linda McKinney, a talented scientist and studier of the social structure of ants, known as a myrmecologist, she is soon dragged into a big conspiracy covering the globe and going up to the very top of the United States government involving these unmanned drones.  Her character serves as an excellent perspective to clue readers in to what’s going on, as she has very little idea, but at the same time her skills are still important to the mission at hand.  A Special Ops soldier known as Odin “recruits” McKinney to his elite group to find out who is controlling and targeting these drones to attack specific locations within the United States and ordering the kill decision; it’s up to them to get to the bottom of this and prevent an all-out unavoidable war.

Daniel Suarez has once again managed to take hold of a subject that is featured in today’s headlines and spin it into a bunch of what ifs that serve to educate as well as terrify.  Told with skill, tension and drama, Kill Decision is a book that won’t leave you sleeping easy at night as you imagine those unmanned drones flying overhead.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Kill Decision from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Daemon  Freedom

“Freedom™” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2010)


After the runaway success of Daniel Suarez’s debut book, Daemon, the author wraps up the gripping story in the concluding Freedom™.  The daemon that was set lose with the death of Matthew Sobol continues to run seemingly out of control, and yet every event and move it makes has been carefully calculated.  Bank accounts and private information are no longer protected with this daemon loose, and neither is anyone’s identity.  At the same time, the daemon continues to increase its army of killing machines and people to do its dirty work.  This time the daemon is taking over the agribusiness, strategically using its people to create a new sustainable lifestyle in small towns across America.

The members who work for the daemon are able to stay in contact and continue their “quest” with the use of special glasses that keeps them connected with the Darknet, a type of virtual reality world much like that of the Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMO).  It is with the Darknet they know what their quests are, essentially the jobs and duties they are to perform.  In this way they can increase their character levels, experience points, and popularity with a ratings system.  It is a world that has existed on the Internet for some time and has now been transposed into real life.

The government is doing its best to pretend that none of this is actually happening, that they have everything under control, while in reality the daemon continues to be unstoppable, taking over and/or erasing people’s identities and lives in seconds, as well as executing those it deems no longer necessary with its vicious inescapable creations.   People considered long dead are miraculously resurrecting themselves on the Darknet, including Matthew Sobol himself, and then there’s the evil Nazi general from Sobol’s MMO The Grid who is somehow alive and well in the real world.

Freedom™ has less of the background and development, focusing more on Matrix-style action scenes and catastrophic events, so reading Daemon first is certainly recommended, and while Daniel Suarez said in his interview that it would only be a two-book series, there is a storyline left open at the end that could lead to more.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on June 28 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

Another Great Serendipitous Crossover

In an earlier post, titled “Foiled Again,” I managed to get in a literary snag by reading two books at the same time about vampires.  Well, lo and behold, fate has struck me again.

I’m currently working my way through Cory Docotrow’s For the Win, a fun and entertaining book about massive multi-player online games such as World of Warcraft and the gold farmers and people who play them to make a profit.  And I also just finished up Daniel Suarez’s Freedom™, which is the sequel to Daemon, and all about a daemon being set loose through the internet and essentially bringing down the world.  A big part of Suarez’s novels involves MMOs and the people who play them.

Thankfully, while it was a little hard to keep the two vampire stories separate mentally, For the Win and Freedom™ are more two different sides to MMOs and the people who play them.

“Daemon” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2009)


Daniel Suarez has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries, as well as being an independent systems consultant; he’s also an avid gamer.  So it’s no surprise that in Daemon he has created a world and plot that involves all these facets, resulting in a fast-paced, riveting, exciting novel that is a combination of classic Michael Crichton and The Matrix.

Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer.  It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world.  In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.”  The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.

It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything.  Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society.

Whether you’re a gamer, a computer person, a network specialist, an Internet aficionado, or just someone who likes books about technology and possibly the end of the civilized world, Daemon is the book for you.  Expertly written by Daniel Suarez, who knows exactly what he’s talking about, Daemon is a book that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one to the very end, and waiting for the sequel, Freedom, due out in 2010.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on February 8th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Daniel Suarez check out BookBanter Episode 8.

12/22 On the Bookshelf . . .

Today my copy of Kim Stanley Robinson’s new book, Galileo’s Dream, arrived which looks to be an interesting one.  After reviewing it I also hope to see about interviewing him for BookBanter, hopefully an in-person interview since he lives in Davis and is close by.  Also managed to snag a copy of Freedom by Daniel Suarez, which I’m looking forward to after his enjoying first novel, Daemon, Freedom being the sequel and all.

Galileo's Dream Freedom