I found this thriller totally plausible, shockingly relevant and very frightening – my sensitivity to the scenarios being somewhat enhanced by waking up that same day to find much of the world experiencing a cyber-attack – spread through the use of the WannaCry ransomware. So severe was the problem that the UK convened a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee as 48 out of 248 NHS trusts in England and organisations across nearly 100 countries found themselves under attack.
The premise of the book is that society throughout the developed world is totally dependent on energy, not just for the light in our homes or the fuel in our car but for everything. Food distribution, water pumping, sewage drainage, removal of dead bodies and of course medical needs are the top of the priority list for most of us – but without energy in the form of electricity everything stops. The plot is simple. A small group of disillusioned techie experts launch a cyber-attack designed to bring down the energy generating and distribution systems across Europe and America. They want to change the political face of the developed world and what better way to disrupt society, create panic and ultimately trigger a public uprising against the established order can there be? What is terrifying is the speed with which their anticipated outcomes start to happen. Within 24 hours there is general disorganisation and mild panic, 24 hours later there are food shortages, within a week price extortionists are selling basic food stuffs for hundreds of times their value. The combination of hunger and thirst, the lack of medicines, no drainage, no communication networks and, before you know it, society is on the verge of collapse. To add to the confusion the hackers have made full use of inadequate security and corporate dependency on phones and emails, to ensure they can monitor and misdirect the Interagency attempts to control the disaster.
The hero, Manzano, is a mature Italian exhacker with principles and a curious nature. He is ably supported by an indefatigable young American reporter named Lauren Shannon and the well-connected Sophia Angstrom who works in EUMIC, the pan European organisation for communications and aid coordination in the event of catastrophe (you understand why they shortened it to EUMIC!). As always those who are on the outside of such organisations in times of crisis can be seen by the authorities to be a source of the trouble and poor Manzano quickly finds that his initial contribution to a solution draws down attention that is less than welcome. The story also follows a couple of characters as they wrestle with the difficulty of wanting to keep their family safe but they have no way of knowing whether their decisions will achieve what they hope. The action zigzags around the various emergency control centres across Europe that are working day and night to resolve the crisis as security analysts, engineers, investigators and police co-ordinate their efforts.The characterisations are adequate for the story and at no point does Elsberg make it overly dramatic – which works in its favour.
The book is a gripping read. Fast paced and extremely well researched; and it is this research that sets it apart from the usual disaster / breakdown of society type films. (I am not a techie person but I was quite fascinated by why the power plants couldn’t just be started up again). This book isn’t just a bit of light escapism unlike a Dan Brown novel, instead it is thought provoking and makes for uncomfortable reading. The moment I finished it I passed it to my husband to read and he experienced a similar response. I was really unsure quite how to rate this book but have given it 4 bites for its sheer plausibility.