cover image Flame War: A Thriller

Flame War: A Thriller

Joshua Quittner, Josh Quittner. William Morrow & Company, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-14366-4

User-friendliness makes this new cyberthriller accessible but fairly predictable. Revisiting the landscape they first explored in their true-crime expose, Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace (1994), the authors spin a worldwide web of intrigue around a ""Compubomber"" who's mailing Internet users lethal exploding disks. When computer neophytes Harry Garnet and Annie Ames, who barely survived the bomb that took the life of Annie's father, try to track the bomber through the digital underground, they stumble upon a covert war between the U.S. government and the Urban Crypto Militia, a hacker cult promoting an encryption program that will supposedly ensure absolute privacy of communication on the Internet. Quittner and Slatalla try to build a mood of suspenseful paranoia by suggesting that members from either camp could be the bomber. But their characters are too simply drawn to conceal surprises; narrator Harry, a recent law-school graduate, is a bit callow; and the villain's identity will be immediately obvious to most readers. Still, they excel at making hacker jargon understandable to the layman and conjure a believable vision of cyberspace as ""a glorious new world, where physical identity and status no longer mattered. A place where one could reinvent oneself."" Readers intimidated by the complexities of computer culture will find this novel a comfortable introduction to the cyberthriller subgenre. (Aug.)