The Analog Series
by Eliot Peper
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Book 1. Bandwidth / 2. Borderless / 3. Breach
Bandwidth is subtitled "an Analog novel," with the first sequel scheduled for release on October 30. The author has already reported a third title complete, in editing phase now. I've now read the second book so thought it best to combine reviews on one page, although I haven't yet deleted the original Bandwidth page. This is set in the same world as Peper's previous novel, Cumulus, which I reviewed two years ago. That company is briefly mentioned here, but another has ascended in the tech world. My best guess as to when the earlier book was set is around 2050, but there's no indication how much later Bandwidth takes place. Considering how quickly tech is advancing now, it may be just a few years, maybe as much as another twenty (or fifty), no way to know. A side plot involves how climate change has wreaked havoc around the world. The main character has had a peripheral effect on that, but later events compel him to change course to correct earlier decisions.
Dag Calhoun works for Apex, a lobbying firm hiring out to the highest bidders on the world stage. One of his major clients is an oil and gas producer, who not only has won major tax incentives for drilling within the Arctic Circle, they have also made a killing by acquiring land in areas not affected by major disasters. Southern California is essentially dead from a combination of rising coastal waters, raging wildfires, and loss of water access, and the Arctic is warmer and less ice-bound with every passing day. Another of Dag's clients is Commonwealth, the tech giant far in advance of what Cumulus had accomplished. Earlier there had been HUD devices (like a supercharged Google Glass), as well as contact lens displays, but Commonwealth developed neural implants to provide the "Feed," essentially an internet in your head. Not all nations have signed on to Commonwealth, instead providing similar but less effective tech for their citizens. As the novel begins, Dag is in Mexico to lobby a prominent Senator to support adoption of Commonwealth services. To avoid spoilers I'll just say the meeting doesn't end well. The ones who provide that type of tech to Mexico have ties to cartels, and Dag later learns one of his other clients also has influence with the cartels to keep the status quo.
Analog is either a group of people, organized or not, or maybe just a place Dag goes to on several occasions. It's a bar where people are cut off from their feed, so information can be exchanged without it being compromised by tech surveillance. Commonwealth is confident of their system's security. Unfortunately, they're wrong. Dag becomes aware of a secretive group able to tap into anyone's feed, not only to compile comprehensive dossiers on prominent people, but also to manipulate a person's news and entertainment feed to shape and direct their attention. They have an altruistic motive, but it's still a massive breach of privacy. They lure Dag into their web by what he at first perceives to be threats of blackmail, but he later is led to believe it was a test to see if he could unravel the clues and find his way to them. He surprises himself by becoming sympathetic to their goals, and decides to work with them to alter world policies concerning climate change. Various events and other information gathered causes Dag to waver in his trust for his new partners, even to question his own motives and commitment to the truth. The plot is continually unpredictable, and the stakes are high. At times it reads like an espionage thriller, at others an examination of corporate malfeasance, but through it all a questioning of whether tech will be our greatest enemy, or our ultimate salvation. Or perhaps both at the same time.
One of the things I felt weakened Cumulus was its short length which did not allow for enough back story for the plot and characters. Bandwidth is only slightly longer, but Peper does a much better job with character development, and every page is packed with either action or the exposition needed to propel the plot at the proper speed. I was lucky in getting this free direct from Amazon since I subscribe to their "First Reads" offerings. That offer has expired now, but the ebook and hardcover are very reasonably priced, since they are from Amazon's 47North imprint. I recommended this book and am anxious for a continuation.
Borderless won't be published for more than two months (October 30). While I normally prefer to review closer to the release date, my patience ran out. I follow the author on Twitter, where he announced its availability on NetGalley. I wasted no time requesting it, and got quick approval in exchange for an honest review. My honest opinion? Peper continues to improve his skills at plotting and character development, and I'm anxious for anything he writes in the future.
The action is once again intense and suspenseful, the stakes even higher than before, but it doesn't preclude interesting looks into the characters' pasts, and their motivations. Dag Calhoun is again part of the story but mainly in the background now, the main character being an ex-CIA agent he had previously consulted, and with whom he has begun a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, Diana is so used to keeping secrets, she does so now out of a mistaken notion of keeping Dag safe, whereas it actually puts him in harm's way. A rogue intelligence operative close to the U.S. President has plans to nationalize Commonwealth and use its powers to establish a world state. Diana travels the globe, first on an assignment to investigate Commonwealth, then when she realizes what her former mentor intends to do with the information, she scrambles to foil her plans. Throughout Diana's career in the CIA, then later as a free-lance contractor, she had utilized her common, unremarkable looks to blend into the background, to go unnoticed by those she surveilled. Now she has to be very visible and very forthright with the information she possesses, so as to make the threat to Commonwealth and the world unmistakable. Other characters from the first book reappear, including the head of the oil company that was one of Dag's clients when he worked at Apex. Dag's actions had persuaded Commonwealth to impose a carbon tax on any group that wished to use their services, which resulted in the first significant curtailment of CO2 emissions in decades.
Not that it shouldn't have already been obvious, that action solidified the enormity of Commonwealth's reach, and many feared them becoming as powerful as any of the world's governments. Nearly everything functioned through the interconnectivity of the feed, from manufacturing to transportation, from power grids to military weapons systems. Commonwealth was based in the United States but was a global conglomerate, at least attempting to be politically neutral. Its founder was probably unique in the tech world, not interested in power or money, and while immensely wealthy, her main concern was in making people's lives easier and more efficient. But such a force in the hands of any one governmental entity, benevolent intentions or not, was a frightening concept. Very little of the action is predictable, the majority of events are not. I was expecting a reappearance of a first book character, which didn't happen, but another background player rose in prominence to aid Diana at the crisis point. Since she is the owner of Analog, I suspect she will have an even more prominent role in the third book. Can't wait.
It's difficult rating books on the 1-5 star scale Goodreads uses. I prefer a scale of 10, so while I gave Borderless 5 stars (just the fifth 2018 title to rate that high), a more accurate score would be around 9.5. Bottom lineóread this, but not before Bandwidth, and it would probably be best to start with Cumulus. That way you can get a better immersion into this world Peper has created, but also better track the improvements to his narrative style.
Once again I was fortunate in receiving an e-book ARC of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Breach will be published in about six weeks, May 14, 2019.
The character I had expected to recur in the second book is the focus of this one. However, everything about her return and what she had been doing in the interim took me by surprise. Emily Kim was an exceptionally intelligent and resourceful woman who had been on her own since her parents died when she was a teenager. Through forged documents and bribes she had been able to fool the courts and child welfare services into thinking she had a guardian. She was even able to gain guardianship over two siblings just a few years younger than herself. Her hacking skills led to lucrative ventures, and she continued gathering others into her orbit, training them in the same skills. They were the ones who were able to hack into Dag Calhoun's feed, which led to him discovering them on their island in the Juan de Fuca Strait somewhere between Seattle and Vancouver. Then they were able to convince him to leave his lobbying position and help them force Commonwealth to enact the carbon tax policies.
Emily was proud of what she had been able to accomplish, yet still felt guilt for the manner in which she did it, the privacy invasions and betrayals, even of her two adoptive siblings. It's thirteen years from the end of the first book. Dag and Diana are married and have twin daughters. Diana is Commonwealth's security chief, while Dag is content to follow his art. Javier, Emily's adoptive brother, also works for Commonwealth, but his sister Rosa has decided to follow her artistic instincts, curating a gallery in Addis Ababa. Emily had dropped off the face of the Earth, her skills good enough to keep her hidden from Javier, Dag, Diana, or anyone else from Commonwealth, or any other surveillance agency. I won't reveal what she had been doing, only say that it was a round-about way for her to put herself into a position to die without actually committing suicide. Then she learns that the lives of Rosa and Javier are in jeopardy, so she comes out of hiding to help them. There are rumors of new policies Commonwealth is considering, with several prominent and wealthy individuals willing to do whatever it takes to prevent them from doing so.
Unfortunately, I have to rate this book a bit below the previous two. I like the situation at the end, what Emily is able to do to make sure Commonwealth stays on the right path. Yet the path she took to that end relied more on action and violence instead of her intelligence and persuasive abilities. Even though practically everyone else forgives Emily, I'm not sure I would have. She may have become more trustworthy, but the majority of her actions were still more selfish that selfless. I had expected, and would have preferred, a prominent role for Nell, the owner of Analog, since that is what Peper chose to name the series, as opposed to Commonwealth. It's still recommended, and I look forward to re-reading all of them as soon as I can find the time, as well as anticipating anything else Peper writes in the future.
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