Freedom™ is the greatest ever liberal utopian fantasy featuring autonomous killer motorcycles. Daniel Suarez’s sequel to his popular Daemon, the story of a deeply buried computer program that slowly takes over the world, Freedom™expands on some of the original book’s ideas of how using computer networks as a model for rebuilding society could work, and its vision of a program that turns the world into one big MMORPG is endlessly creative. But the book is also highly problematic, with Suarez biting off more than he can chew throughout.
Suarez has gotten lots of praise for how much he knows about technology. If you can get past the fact that the story’s central notion is patently impossible, Suarez gets everything else right, from near-future inventions to the nuts and bolts of hacking. And while there’s less of this stuff in Freedom™than there was in Daemon, Suarez also knows his way around the progressive political bookshelf, dropping in ideas and concepts pointing to everything from The Populist Moment to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Again, once you get past some implausibility issues, Suarez knows his stuff, and he has a true believer’s passion for regional sustainability.
Unfortunately, “regional sustainability” isn’t as exciting a premise to build a novel around as “computer program takes over the world.” With most of the horrifying build-up to the revolution in his first novel, Suarez spends a surprising amount of time in the sequel having his characters talk about the virtues of direct democracy or non-factory farming or what have you. Since Suarez isn’t the world’s deftest writer, this consists of lots of scenes of characters standing around, declaiming large swathes of information at each other.
But there’s something so giddy about the way Suarez introduces his concepts or rips through an action setpiece involving a giant battle between privately operated paramilitaries and unmanned vehicles (occasionally equipped with swords) that it’s hard to stop compulsively turning pages, guilty-pleasure fashion. And just when it seems as though the novel is strictly an anti-corporate screed, Suarez adds in new wrinkles that suggest people with too much power can rise anywhere and hurt anyone. Freedom™is undeniably a lot of fun, but it’s too bad Suarez doesn’t write people as well as he writes machines.