Masha Maximow is a hacker in the employ of Xoth Intelligence, an InfoSec company that sells its services to the highest bidder. The novel opens with her posted to the fictional country of "Slovstakia" (which could be any number ex-soviet republics, perhaps one of the Stans in Central Asia, or an Eastern European or Baltic nation) where she helps its corrupt government with surveillance tech to crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. She has a conscience though and has befriended some of the protestors on the side to try and help them, but her efforts are no match for Zoth and the day job.
After her employers discover her moonlighting and she’s fired, she returns to the United States where she rejoins childhood friends who are protesting against oppressive policing in California. Here a previous employer, Zyz, forces her to work for them to suppress the protestors. Through chapters that flashback we learn how Maximow was first employed by Zyz to work in Iraq using her hacking and surveillance tech against insurgents. She was then recruited by Zoth. We learn too, of all the compromises that she has made down the years.
This is the third book in a loose trilogy (though it stands alone, and you don’t have to have read the previous titles to read this), each focusing on tech and oppression, and on the protestors who try to fight it. It’s marketed as science fiction/speculative fiction, but it’s very much near-sci-fi; in fact, I think the genre is misleading, much of what’s included in the book is already current as any reading of the Snowden revelations would reveal.
This is a book that is very heavy on the technical detail, however, and the author is keen to show exactly how realistic the events he depicts are. Unfortunately, I thought this dense knowledge was too much and the book often got bogged down under the weight of it. The book felt far too long as well, the author cramming much too much in one title.
That all said, I was never tempted to stop reading and this is a compelling story with an interesting character arc. The reader never look at their phone in the same light, either. We all know that smartphones can be used to track us, and Attack Surface really brings this home. It also proves the lie to those who say “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” and those who believe that the loss of privacy that social media has ushered in is no big thing.
3 out of 5 stars