Monday, February 23, 2015

The Doomsday Equation

The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel
HarperCollins: 2/24/2015
eBook Review Copy, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062201188

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist comes a pulse-pounding technological thriller—as ingenious as the works of Michael Crichton and as irresistible as a summer blockbuster—in which one man has three days to prevent the outbreak of World War III and the world's annihilation
What if you knew the world was going to end?
What if no one believed you?
Jeremy Stillwater is a genius with computers but not so much with people. Maddeningly self-righteous, he's alienated his girlfriend and infuriated his Silicon Valley financiers and the government agents who saw military promise in his innovation: a program that seemed to be able to predict war.
Even Jeremy has begun to doubt the algorithm's capabilities. Then one day his computer has a message for him. War is coming. Three days and counting until massive nuclear conflict.
Is it real? A malicious joke? A bug?
Isolated yet relentless, Jeremy soon uncovers an ancient conspiracy of unspeakable danger. And it will take every bit of Jeremy's stubborn ingenuity to survive another minute, let alone save the world.
My Thoughts:  

The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel is a highly recommended techno thriller.

Jeremy Stillwater may be caustic, annoying, and have difficulties connecting with other people, but he is a programming genius who has developed a algorithm that harnesses big data to predict large-scale human conflict. The only problem is that government/military officials and others have told him it doesn't work, leaving him plummeting from unbelievable success to abject failure. But did they tell him the truth. Now "his computer is predicting there is going to be a massive global conflict, engulfing the world in death and destruction—and that the calamity is imminent." The world is going to end in 3 days. April’s projected deaths are 75 million.

Jeremy, who is always connected in some way, is on the move with his tablet. He "needs to get someplace settled and run a test. He needs to check the List. The List is a set of 327 statistical inputs that, Jeremy believes, together describe the state of the world. Oil prices and population density and weather systems and all the rest." Jeremy is unsure is someone got in to his computer program and is trying to run a hoax on him or if his program is compiling the data points correctly.

His program collects data in three major areas. "One is Tantalum. The second is Conflict Rhetoric. The third is the Random Event Meter, known as REM." He notices that "there has been a sharp uptick, 14 percent, in the last few days, of the collective language of conflict, material enough for the computer to care. There’s been an even sharper rise in the Random Event Meter. It’s up 430 percent. Jeremy shakes his head, mostly annoyed, vaguely curious. The meter measures whether there has been some event or series of events that, in historic terms, would seem far outside the standard deviation. And the event can be anything." "He turns to the third variable, tantalum. That’s up 4017 percent. The precious metal is integral to the making of cell phones."

While Jeremy is trying to make sense of the data and run new tests, he notices that he may be being watched. As Jeremy tries to run diagnostic tests and look at the information his program is collecting, he is also on the run, always moving while it seems he is being followed. Despite his caustic nature, he does have people he cares about. Can he save them if this threat is real? And why are people setting lions free from zoos?

Jeremy is an unlikeable protagonist, but you will believe that he is also brilliant and that something is going to happen. Since Jeremy doesn't have the answers, just the predicted outcome of events going on in the world, the tension ratchets up in the count down against the predicted time when the world is supposed to end versus Jeremy's attempts to make sense of the data and avoid whoever is following him. We also don't know if Jeremy is just paranoid or if he really is being followed.

Richtel does an excellent job keeping this high tech thriller up to date. Jeremy relies on all the devices many of us carry and use throughout the day. We are almost always connected and Jeremy reflects that new sensibility. There were plenty of twists in the plot and the ending took me totally by surprise. Well done!

With The Doomsday Equation there should be broad cross-over appeal for those who like science fiction or thrillers. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

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