Shenanigans in Silicon Valley

An increasingly big part of being alive today is staying “connected”, with options ranging from a boatload of all-encompassing social media platforms, to the narrower job and industry-specific networking sites.  Unless you’re a troglodyte or are just doing your damnedest to stay “off the grid”, though, it’s almost impossible to avoid being lured in by at least some of them.

But, being virtually connected goes a lot deeper than the expected social sites; unless certain precautions are taken, most websites you visit (news, info, shopping, porn, whatever) will try to entice you to share your contact info—by joining an email list, a members-only program, etc.—and nearly all of them will begin tracking—unbeknownst to you, usually—your visits to their sites. 

It seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? If Site A notices that you repeatedly visit to look at sneakers, you’re likely to receive notifications about new models of sneakers, and when something you’ve looked at previously goes on sale or comes back in stock. Such things can benefit you, sort of like having your own personal shopper (for free!), in this instance.

But what about the downside of someone being able to track your online activity? And, even scarier, what about when that ability is taken a huge step further… so that even the contents of your computer become visible to an outside party? Joe Klingler shows how that might look in Mash Up.

Salmon-out-of-water cop Qigiq has been trying to make the best of his sabbatical, which has him on temporary loan from the tiny, remote Alaskan village he calls home to the vast San Francisco police department, with the goal of becoming more computer savvy during his sojourn.

His stay in the city by the bay has multiple purposes: to get him away from some bad memories (a recent case gone bad, mostly because Qugiq wasn’t fluent in computerese), learning about computer/online crime, and to offer any unique perspectives he, himself might have to his new partner, Detective Kandy Dreeson. (Not that Kandy—whip-smart, capable, and a ballbuster in her own right—probably needs his insight, but one never knows.)

Qigiq’s learning is going about as well as can be expected—in other words, at near-glacial speed—when a new case drops into their laps to provide a little distraction. A violin student at an area college has just received an Amazon package that—mysteriously, horrifically—yields only a thumb inside…which, going by the shade of nail polish, looks suspiciously like that of the girl’s roommate, a cellist (who has yet to return from a date with a new mystery man... and who will surely, sorely, miss that thumb).

But, as difficult as it proves to be, trying to track down a missing girl (missing a digit), the case manages to get even more complicated, as it leads the detectives down a twisting path of internet shenanigans—with violent YouTube videos depicting torture (and worse?), a rash of iPod scams, including the curious disappearance of thousands of pirated music files on users' devices (and threats of similar disappearances on a global scale), and news of a crazy-bad virus spreading like wildfire through the ‘net. It also puts Qigiq and Kandy directly in the sites of a madman. (Cue crazy car and motorcycle chases, clandestine meetings with folks of questionable repute, cross-country hijinks, and threats of blowing up pieces of Silicon Valley.)

I’ll be honest; a couple of chapters into Mash Up had me feeling antsy. Half of the story—the on-loan-from-Alaska detective and his worldly San Francisco counterpart—was immediately intriguing, but the other half--following a small programming team and the members of a board at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley--was tedious. Once the two story lines began intermingling, though, the whole became more cohesive, and eventually turned into a compelling, "ripped-from-the-headlines (tomorrow, if not today)” sort of story. 

So, my take on Joe Klingler’s Mash Up? Well worth reading, and if you can stick out the uneven beginning, you'll wind up with an entertaining techno-thriller read. :)



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