Some books are lucky in their moment, and this is one of them. Let me be clear: this is a thriller, of sorts, in the heart of which is Piero, an Italian hacker of renown. Much of it takes place in France. The premise of the plot is that aggressive hackers manage to infiltrate the European energy grid, to shut down at least one nuclear power station, and to bring to its knees the whole western European system: there’s no electricity, trains won’t work, pharmacies can’t get deliveries of drugs (these are supplied by just-in-time couriers in much of western Europe), foodstuffs cannot be delivered, nor can petrol and there are runs on banks. Since hospitals, too, will have no power, patients will die. And they do. But they can’t be buried individually, so mass graves have to be created, using up precious fuel. As in any disaster, plenty of people lie, cheat, steal, and fend for themselves against the rich, the less rich, and, indeed, those who can’t defend themselves.
What saves the day, or rather who, is the hacker, the good hacker, not one of the bad ones, who figures out what it going on and penetrates the attackers’ cyber movements. He keeps getting shot, arrested, clubbed; he has to keep hiding (there’s almost the love of a good woman, but not so’s you’d notice), to make people in high places listen to him, to keep working.
This is a book by someone who has thought a lot about what would happen if this happened, and its melodrama gets to a high pitch and stays there. Alas, some of the events are even more preposterous than a good thriller is allowed; Piero’s resistance to being beaten up, stabbed, shot, doesn’t set him back in ways such injuries must do—a bit too much like the chair broken over the head of the fighters in a saloon brawl; the writing is pretty poor—at least the translation is pretty poor. For a techno thriller, which is what, in the end, this is, it’s pretty comprehensible. Why, though, are so many of the bad characters German?
Marc Elsberg, Blackout