Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deep State, by Walter Jon Williams---Review

Orbit Books, ISBN 9780316098045, Publication Date 1/19/2011

Dagmar Shaw is running an Augmented Reality Game, an ARG, in Turkey to promote the latest James Bond film, Stunrunner. She's not happy about being in Turkey, where a military junta has recently seized power, because she's had some seriously unpleasant experiences with military governments in the past, but, really, what can go wrong? Turkey is benefiting from the positive PR and the increase in tourism, and the generals are very pleased by that. Her company, Great Big Idea, is being very well paid by the movie promoters.

     And then Dagmar and some of her people are invited to meet the generals, and Dagmar accidentally offends the head of the junta, General Bozbeyli.

    Dagmar, her immediate boss Lincoln, and her top on-site American and Turkish employees, have to evade the junta while staging the last live event of the ARG--and that means moving the live event at very short notice. Dagmar and her team work out a way to do it, wrap up the game, and head home.

     But before she leaves, Lincoln offers her a new job. Lincoln, it turns out, works for the US government and is in Special Ops. The current Turkish junta, unlike previous ones, is not interested in restoring a secular state and then turning the government back to democracy; they're in it for the money. Lincoln wants to use Dagmar's game-running skills to peacefully destabilize the current Turkish regime and force a return to democracy.

     Working from a British military base on Cyprus, Dagmar and her team--Turks Ismet, Tuna, and Refet; Americans Judy, Lloyd, Lola, Magnus, and Byron--set to work, running an Augmented Reality Game with the very real-world goal of bringing down a government. Flash crowds form in places where it's hard for the police to respond quickly, and melt away before they can react. They wear scarves, carry towels, postcards, DVDs, flowers--things that look like they have meaning but really only have the purpose of identifying participants in the flash crowds. It's all going well, and the regime is looking more and more foolish and impotent.

     Then demonstrations start that aren't planned by Dagmar and her crew, and the astroturf revolution is becoming a genuinely grassroots one, and shortly after that, the regime feels threatened enough to deploy a secret weapon that Lincoln helped create, years earlier--the High Zap. It allows the power that has it to selectively take down the internet--in fact, anything that relies on TCP/IP protocols--and Turkey has it because two agents were deployed to use it against Syria right before the Turkish coup, and the generals wound up in possession of the laptop containing it.

     Dagmar and her friends find themselves in a wild contest to survive, defeat the High Zap which now threatens the economic stability of the world, and maybe even achieve their original goal, as some of them are killed, some revealed to be traitors, and Lincoln and their government resources and status are pulled because Lincoln's plan has gone so badly wrong.

     It's an exciting mix of spy thriller, adventure, and romance, and as is typical of Williams, it's all extremely well-done.

     Highly recommended.

     I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.