I Still Hate Techno-Thrillers
You know, I got out of the whole techno-thriller genre of literature when Tom Clancy really started to suck. Yeah, when Jack Ryan became El Presidente, that was it for me. The single exception that I would make for the corporate techno-thrillers still suck rule is pretty much anything by Neal Stephenson, and the only one of his that might qualify was Cryptonomicon.
So here I am, reading a copy of a book by the guy who wrote The Da Vinci Code, which I've been told to read, but I'm too cheap to pay retail. So, I picked up a mass-market paperback of one of his previous books, Digital Fortress. It took me not even ten fucking pages to say, "Holy shit, I hope the good guys all die, because I don't like them." I haven't felt like this about any sort of media since I watched the movie Dreamcatcher.
Okay, to give you an idea of how retarded this is, it's like reading The Body Farm all over again, because the main character is a tremendously intelligent fortyish female, and the author can't go more than three pages without making some mention as to how very sexy she is. It's tacky and it's formulaic, borrowing directly from the Atlas Shrugged school of literary mechanics by referring to the main character as "slender" whenever possible. Furthermore, she works for the National Security Agency, which is the most popular federal agency to write about because no one really knows anything about it. For all anyone actually knows, the NSA employees just hold tea-parties and talk about the weather, but since the government won't tell us exactly what they do, authors take it upon themselves to do a little imagining.
I made it sound like the guy's use of mechanics was the part that pissed me off. It's really not. The overblown cliche of working for the NSA irks me, but the worst part has to be the way that the author plays off what these guys are doing as a good thing. See, they're basically reading people's emails to decrypt them and find out if these people are planning terrorist attacks or anything, and that pisses me off, because apparently this guy plays it off that the whole decryption angle is very quick and easy for the NSA. Shit, I think I ought to encrypt an entire library of Kenny G music just so their computer destroys itself after figuring out what it is. Or better yet, the Voynich Manuscript.
See, it's his stance on the matter that pisses me off. He's like, "The NSA decrypts and reads -or doesn't mind if they do- your email, in a flagrant civil-liberty-violating, Ashcroftian 'Big Brother, Where Art Thou'-style manner, basically passing it all off as okay because you might be a terrorist. I figure I should at least start encrypting my email just to make it challenging for the guys. "Is Umgawa a terrorist? No, but he sure hates that Affleck." Personally, every time I read a book or see a movie in which any character works for the National Security Agency, my belief in it drops off just a little bit more. They're like the Santa Claus of federal agencies, because you hear about them all the time, you never see them, and yet they still snag the milk and cookies while they're checking to see if you've been naughty.
So, here I am, like seventy pages into the book and these NSA fucks... I mean, NSA employees are dumbfounded because they've found a code they can't break. And I'm like, "Boo-fucking-hoo." And then they say, "But the guy who made it is going to give it away to the world if he dies before he sells it." And I went, "Yay!" So then the NSA people are like, "Oh, by the way, he's dead, but his partner doesn't know," and I was like, "God, I hope he finds out soon. The world needs that code so I can email my fan-fiction without someone in Washington finding out what Buffy and Faith are doing this week."
I'm just kidding about that whole fan-fiction thing, by the way. Anyway, it just pisses me off that a nice idea like nigh-unbreakable crypto would get perverted and distorted by the author into the greatest evil the world has ever known. Privacy is a good thing. And, if you side with the author and are thinking to yourself right now, "I'm glad the government can read my email, and I don't care because I'm not a terrorist," I just want you to go back into the time-tunnel for me:
Remember showering after junior-high gym-class, when you and everybody else just had to dump all beliefs in privacy and walk through the showers as quickly as humanly possible, never taking your eyes off the ceiling, making sure you didn't get too close to the person in front of you by listening to the splashes his feet made on the floor? It wasn't a shower; it was a nearly-public humiliation five days a week. The teacher would say, "Shower," and you weren't allowed to say, "Um, no?" It wasn't a shower, it was just a parade of underage nudity, the point of which has always escaped me. And the teacher would just sit at the end of the tunnel and hand you a towel.
So, what I'm trying to say here is, that's the kind of violation you should feel by the mere notion that someone could be reading your email, outside of yourself and your intended recipient. If you don't feel that violation, maybe you enjoyed those junior-high showers, and that means there's something completely and totally fucking wrong with you, and you should seek counseling as soon as possible.
ICQ, MSN, Yahoo: Yeah, right, like I use those.