The jiffy bag containing the first copies of ALIAS has arrived and I’m really pleased with the look of the book. It complements HACKED perfectly. The lag between finishing the contents and actually seeing a saleable copy is a strange time. I try not to let myself think of all the tiny touches that might have made the story better, convincing myself instead that too much fiddling is a bad thing. Opening the cover and reading the first page, I pray that all the eyes that have checked and checked again haven’t missed a typo. Seems all right. The book won’t be released until the official launch date so for a short while I can muse on how it will be received. Lots of the readers of HACKED said they couldn’t wait to hear the other side of the story and see where Angel went after the drone attack on London. Let’s hope they’re not disappointed. HACKED was set in Bristol, where I live. Angel’s story starts in Buckingham, where I grew up, has a temporary home in rural Norfolk and ends up in Leeds. I flick through, reading the odd paragraph, then settle on the last page. As a reader, I appreciate a good ending. Does Angel’s story finish with a flourish? I think it does.
Very pleased with this review on http://www.darkmatterzine.com/
A review by Nalini Haynes.
Dan Langley is your typical 16-year-old geek except for his affinity with code. He goes down the rabbit hole to get an adrenaline rush from hacking, escalating his exploits on a dare from Angel, another hacker he only met online. Before he knows it, Dan has hacked the US military network and might be complicit in the theft of a strike drone.
From script kiddies to the dark net, Counter Strike to Starcraft II, Tracy Alexander knows her stuff. Like in other hacking movies (Wargames, Hackers) the mechanics of hacking is glossed over. The current era of wikileaks and US extradition with threats of Guatanamo Bay-style treatment of prisoners is prevalent with mentions of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange among others.
Hacked should be compulsory reading for all teenage computer geeks, many adult computer geeks and all parents of teenage geeks. Because one book speaking the language trumps lectures from a “dinosaur” every time. When my son was at school, script kiddies regularly dumped the school printers’ ink, which was hilarious until you need to print an assignment and all of the printers are out of ink. [My son knew if he was one of those script kiddies and he was caught, he was banned from the computer for the rest of high school. >:-]
I’m giving Hacked five stars for voice, plot, pacing, relevance and currency. Read it. Pass it on. Make sure it’s in all the libraries in all the schools. Kgo.
I don’t really want to say too much more than this for fear of spoiling it so I’ll stop there on the story details
So, lets instead talk about Dan, I can so easily see how he got himself into the mess to begin with and I loved watching it unravel. There are moments that he shows himself to have a true strength of character. Where he’s in a position to make decisions – decisions where neither outcome is a particularly happy one – but where one is probably what he should choose. And yes he has to decide because to do nothing in this case is making a decision too!
I really liked the unusual way Tracy used usernames for characters (particularly Angel) which we only meet online – not always revealing their real names, shrouding the place in secrecy which makes the twists and turns much harder to spot. It leaves you never really sure about each characters motives which moves me back onto Dan…
Because as much as Dan had a strong strength of character he did seem to dig himself into the hole without too much help. Considering how bright he must be to crack the hacking puzzles it does seem that maybe, just maybe he was a little too trusting.
Oh and as an added bonus you do get a little peak at Bristol as this book is mainly set here – just saying!
Overall, Hacked is a thrilling and fast paced story which won’t take long to take hold and leave you begging for more. Don’t dismiss it just because you think hacking is boring or uninteresting – this book might just surprise you
What better way to celebrate World Book Day than to describe those moments when writer meets reader.
The first question, often, ‘Are you rich?’
I shake my head, apologetically. The disappointment is mutual.
‘Are you famous?’
‘You mean like David Beckham?’
I search for redeeming qualities. Hard-working, enthusiastic, kind – they’re not going to hit the mark. As I can’t be rich and famous, I opt for the complete opposite. I am ordinary, I tell them. I don’t have a special part of my brain that makes up stories. I get it wrong. I give up. I get bored. I have another job because I don’t earn enough to keep a rabbit. I eat Marmite.
Bizarrely, they like this. In the first five minutes I have gone from alien-being-that-by-magic-brain-dumps-entire-book-without-trying to real person. A small leap of logic and that means everyone in the audience could be a writer too. Is it wishful thinking or does the room decide to pay attention after all?
Yesterday, I was with 90 Year 7s at Hans Price Academy. There were little groups within the classroom that may as well have had labels – earnest, excited, looking forward to the bell, disruptive. My goal is always to get the ones that could scupper the session to instead make it better. It’s intensely satisfying if the shouter-out ends up shouting out something brilliant, or insightful, which is what happened as my hour was nearly over. We were talking about viewpoint when, a child I wasn’t sure was even listening, succinctly captured the joy of writing in the first person. *grins*
After the session I signed whatever scraps the Year 7s could find for me to write on and, as usual, had to refuse to give away my books despite the pleading faces.
I may not be rich or famous, but for five minutes after a school visit I feel I am both.
My next book – ALIAS – is the story of Angel, the shadowy character from HACKED. My publisher, Piccadilly Press, likes it – huge relief. That means there’s some downtime while I wait for the copyedit. I need it.
It was a tricky book to write because the protagonist is usually the hero, whereas mine was the villain. Or maybe not. ALIAS is written in the first person, so I had to be in Angels’ head and of course that meant I had to believe the same things. A terrible thing happens to Angel, and all the people that you think would help . . . the military, the government, the police, your MP . . . they all do nothing. So Angel does something. Does that make Angel a villain? Or an activist?
ALIAS is set in the here and now, starting off in Buckingham and migrating to Leeds. I used real events to influence the journey. Angel looks back at the Civil Rights Movement where peaceful protest was met with violence, at the ANC’s struggle in South Africa and at the sufragettes. In the present day Angel follows the march of the US Predator drones across the skies of Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan . . . pilotless weapons incinerating people based on grainy images and unreliable intelligence. Right and wrong aren’t opposites. They merge. What’s right for the drone pilot, is wrong for the villagers massacred without a trial, a judge, a voice. The ‘war on terror’ is on the side of right unless you’re a farmer, midwife, baker caught in the crosshairs because a ‘known insurgent’ is nearby. Wrong place, wrong time and all that.
Step back from Angel’s story and it’s clear. Bad things happen to good people – that’s the way life is. Get on with it. But get close, get inside and the world is a different place. In Angel’s world, horror will win out unless the victims rise up against the enemy. The enemy is American foreign policy.
No one likes to think that violence is the answer, but as Angel would say, “They started it.”
When I had the idea – or rather when James the hacker had the idea – that my character might hack a drone, I had a very rough picture of what a drone was. A thing that flew around snooping, or a toy for a well-off kid. It didn’t take much research to realise that drones are crop-sprayers, wildlife trackers and, much more menacingly, killers. Quite how they kill is fairly brutal, as is the number they accidentally kill. The writers’ cogs started to whir.
While I was writing, drones appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme every week – flying over football matches, nearly colliding with aeroplanes, delivering Amazon parcels, annoying the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). In Alabama, you can get a licence to hunt drones – if they dare to buzz over your land. Gosh!
After I’d delivered the book – not by drone – and the proofs had been handed back, the new Homeland series started with (SPOILER) a drone strike on a wedding party in Pakistan. I mention a similar event in my book. Did we both happen upon the same idea? No. It’s a well-documented true story, that we both adapted.
I’ve been visiting secondary schools with my new book, Hacked, talking about hacking and drones and hard decisions. Dan, my hacker, appears at first to be making poor choices, but – hopefully – the readers’ sympathies are firmly with him. Whether there is any sympathy with the drone pilots, pulling the trigger from thousands of miles away, I don’t know. They hardly feature. What I do know, when I describe the way the unmanned aerial vehicles roam, armed with Hellfire missiles, is that all the kids in the audience that like gaming (most therefore) think it sounds brilliant. Understandable, because it mirrors their own experiences. The pilots – despite the label – don’t leave the ground. They sit looking at a heads-up display full of data with a controller at the ready, coffee by their side I expect.
I’ve changed the way I talk about the ‘drone wars’ because of the reaction from the audience. Leaving any shred of an idea that a drone operator would be a cool job would make me very uncomfortable.
If you’re interested in reading a huge article:
Dan, my hacker, could have just as easily hacked the International Space Station, or his local cinema. But I didn’t want to trample on Mars and Dan isn’t that fussed about the whole film thing. That’s the trouble with characters, they do their own thing.