7 September 1997

Flame War

Jonathan Quittner and Michelle Slatalla
William Morrow, New York, 1997.
291 pp. $24.00
ISBN 0-688-14366-0

Jacket copy:

As the U.S. Congress prepares to adopt a state-of-the-art encryption program with a secret key that would allow government access to all electronic communications, a brilliant codemaker stands ready to expose the program's critical flaw. Together with a determined band of cypherpunks and hacker activists, he plans to unveil his own code, which will ensure the privacy of all communication on the Internet -- and that not even the government will hold the key.

Fresh out of law school, Harry Garnet walks straight into trouble when he accidentally delivers a deadly diskette that explodes inside the computer of a mathematics professor -- and kills him. In the aftermath, Harry joins up with the man's clever daughter, Annie Ames, to track the killer. Ther journey leads from a sleepy Adirondack town to New York city, where -- with the inadvertent help of Harry's scheming hacker friend Blaney -- Harry learns of the professor's connection to the anarchists and computer phreaks who make up the underground Urban Crypto Militia.

The group's leader, Lionel Sullivan, is as talented a codemaker as the professor had been. As the only one of the bomber's intended victims who has managed to survive, he can also offer Harry and Anne crucial insights into the killer's motives. But it's not long before the bomber strikes again -- this time against Harry and Annie, who still possess the professor's secret computer files.

In a riveting race against time, Harry and Annie must navigate secret networks and on-line fantasy worlds as they struggle to unlock the professor's final message. It seems to point to a fatal crack in the Patriot encryption program, which is about to become the national standard -- and which Lionel and his group are about to challenge in a dramatic showdown. Unless the bomber gets to them first.

Jonathan Quittner and Michelle Slatalla's last book, a non-fiction account of rival teenage gangs in cyberspace, was widely praised for its novelistic texture and fast pace. Now, in Flame War, they use their keen jounalistic instincts and eye for detail to create a fictional world that's as fresh as today's news -- and a climax that's plausible enough that it could become tomorrow's headlines.


Joshua Quittner created the website The Netly News and is a columnist for Time magazine. Michelle Slatalla's work has appeared in Wired magazine, among others, and has been syndicated in two hundred newspapers nationwide. Together, they are the authors of Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace. The live on Long Island, New York, with their two daughters (and another one on the way).