Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words
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Prendergast has decades of experience in the computer field and appears to have written or contributed to a few instructional manuals on related subjects. He has one other novel available, When Evil Governs.
“The Department of Defense builds a new malware-immune computer operating system, code-named Cobra. A no-holds-barred battle for it erupts between arch enemies, the Mossad and the KGB.”
Cyber terrorism, foreign governments hacking into government and private computer systems to steal and sometimes wreak havoc, is something that has received a fair amount of attention lately from politicians and others. It is a good subject to base a novel on. Not only could the right story make an entertaining read, it could also educate the populace on the basics of the problem. Unfortunately, this isn’t that novel.
It’s hard to know where to begin with the issues I had with this book and, although long, this review will only touch on some of them. The first big problem happened early: the scene is a naval inquiry board, which goes on and on and on and on and … just imagine someone droning forever with a long speech on computer malware, cyber terrorism, and related subjects. I’m a long-time computer geek and my eyes were glazing over. In fiction writing, what happened here is called a data dump, and usually is done to quickly establish needed back story. There is almost always a better, albeit harder, way of communicating that back story, if it is really needed. Much of this probably wasn’t, at least not for the story.
Another issue was repetitiveness. Normally, when I have this complaint about a book it is due to word choice, using the same word too often in close proximity, like when I saw the word ‘change’ used four times in two sentences in this story. A twist on this was one character who keeps thinking that another character he is spying on is going to recognize him. I got it the first time. By the third time he had this same thought I was just getting irritated.
However, this problem went well beyond the normal issues in The Cobra Exploit. A representative example is one character who breaks into a cabin another character is living in. He needs to get in, see what is there, and get out without leaving any sign that he’s been there. While the first character is doing this, we’re treated to his internal dialogue considering all the steps he needs to take and the logic behind them. This goes into much more detail than a reader needs to convince us that he knows what he’s doing. That’s bad enough, but later the same character repeats the break in to plant a hidden camera in the cabin. Rather than saying the equivalent of “he repeated the same steps as last time,” we’re once again treated to the same internal thought process with all the detailed steps and logic. A good editor would find numerous opportunities for cutting and tightening prose in this book. I suspect by the time he or she cut the parts that were repetitive or did nothing to move the story forward that it would transform the book into a novella.
Another serious problem was verb tense. I think, although I’m far from certain, that the intent was to write this story largely in present tense. This can potentially give the story more immediacy to the reader, but it is hard to pull off. Here, verb tenses kept slipping back and forth from past to present with no rhyme or reason, sometimes mixing past and present tenses in the same sentence. This, along with a tendency to mix short scenes with no transitional clues to realize the story had switched points of view or place, made for choppy reading and a constantly disoriented reader.
While I think the issue of cyber terrorism is one that those who like to stay informed should learn more about and it would be a good subject to build a novel around, it seemed that the author had a goal of informing, and neglected to consider that the priority needed to be a well written story first. In the end, it failed on both counts.
Some relatively tame adult situations.
A large number of proofing and copy editing issues. The most frequent problem is verb tense confusion, slipping back and forth between present and past tense, sometimes with both in the same sentence.
Rating: * One star