I have been reading the political-thriller novels of David Baldacci lately. His novels are very good and very intriguing, and they are also generally very accurate. Having said that, I want to point out that I am not writing this post to point out any mistake he made from a technical level (I have found a couple of small errors, but nothing really big at all).
What I wanted to point out actually exists in many modern-day thriller novels. Most (if not all) of these novels have a small character in them that I like to call the "Ubergeek" (I didn’t make up the term – it just fits). One of Baldacci’s first novels is called Total Control, and it is no exception to this rule. One of the main characters receives a disk (this was 1997, so no USB), and she needs to read the information on it. She doesn’t want to use her computer at home since she is fairly sure someone has put some kind of spyware / keylogger software on it (the author never used those terms – not even sure those terms existed then). She was a lawyer working for a large law firm, so she naturally called up the law firm’s computer expert (Ubergeek).
Believe me when I say that this guy was a bona fide Ubergeek! He knew every answer to every question this lady could ask. And when he plugged in the disk she was trying to access and found that it is was encrypted, this guys had the tools to launch a brute force attack on it as well as the experience to ask her a bunch of personal questions and try variations of that information as passwords. The when he couldn’t break it, he figured the guy had used a randomized password with over 14 characters. This guy rocked! At least Baldacci was honest enough (or it just fit his plot line better) not to have this guy capable of anything, including breaking the encryption with his willpower alone. Too many novels do that.
I love this Ubergeek character in novels for a few reasons:
- It signifies how much technology is needed in today’s world when someone has to create such a character to give realism to a novel set in today’s times
- The character usually shines in one of the chapters (in a scene such as mentioned above), so that gives a geek like me a convenient place to break down how thorough the author’s technical research was and how much (s)he actually understands it (Baldacci generally does a pretty good job)
- I love to see general terms like "firewall" thrown about to impress the average reader
- I love to laugh when the "expert" gets it wrong because it gives me a wonderful feeling of superiority
I do have a couple of problems with the Ubergeek in Total Control. I questioned his expertise when I found out the guy used AOL. No true geek would do that, even in 1997. And he was using a phone line?? A true geek would have had ISDN at least!