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Zer0 Day by Mark Russinovich

2:30 PM, April 27th, 2011

I recently purchased the book Zer0 Day by Mark Russinovich. You probably don't know Mark, but that's mainly because he's not an author. Well, actually, he is an author. But his usual domain is authoring software, not books.

You see, Mark is the man who created many of the best Windows debugging and tracing utilities, such as Process Explorer, Process Monitor, and countless others. He published these as freeware under the name 'Sysinternals'. Microsoft loved them so much that they bought him out; he now works for Microsoft directly.

I've been reading Mark's blog for several years. The posts are infrequent but always interesting. He recently posted that he had written an actual novel! A thriller about cyberterrorism, etc. I downloaded the sample onto my Kindle and found it interesting enough to buy. (I was initially angered over the $2 price increase for Canadian buyers even though the US dollar is worth less than the Canadian dollar right now).

Reading through the book was slow. If I get my hands on a good thriller, I sometimes stay up hours past my bedtime because I just can't put it down. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Mark's book. I feel it took a long time to get going, featuring pages of scenes with nothing but dull background information and huge sections devoted to character analysis. Mark's characters also spend an awful lot of time in front of computers, and the jargon is heavy. Even I as a computer programmer felt a bit overwhelmed at times.

At a few points as I forced myself through the book, I was ready to throw the Kindle across the room and stab Mark in the chest. Specifically, any time any character had an online conversation, via IM, Email, or other, they spoke in bizarre short form that doesn't resemble any kind of common or well-known internet shorthand I've ever seen before. All characters did this, regardless of age, ethnicity, language, or technical prowess.

Here's a sample of a dialog occurring between characters "Daryl" and "Jeff", named "D007" and "JA33" respectively.

    He opened ICQ, saw Daryl was online, and typed:
    JA33: Is thr any pln t leak t media?

    There was a short pause.

    D007: Hello t u 2. I hdnt gvn it any thot. Wht do u thnk?
    JA33: We arent mkng nuff headwa. I cnt see any hrm. Wht do u thnk?
    D007: Less I go off reservtn it wn’t b my cll. Th secrity vndrs knw abt it alrdy. At sum point I’d think 1 f thm wud issue prss rls.
    JA33: I ws jst thnkng we cld gt mre rsorcs t bear if th pblc ws invlvd, + it wld pt heat on t vndrs. r thy coprtng yt?
    D007: Its stll prtty lw n t totem ple so fr. I kp tryng. Rtkts mean mny vrss arnt detectd.
    JA33: Any nw dvlpmnts I shld knw abt?
    D007: More BIOS wipes, prmrly Dell and HP. Thy trnd th mchns to anchr wghts.
    JA33: How about chat rms?
    D007: Sphreak name sumtim bt no help. I dnt hv nuf staff t d t as mch as Id lke.
    JA33: Hv u pstd ny mssgs t sphreak?
    D007: We tlkd bot tht n dcdd gainst t. t wld alrt hm. He’d chng hs pttrn. No one knws mch abut t gy. We fond sm psts fr spreak frm otsde.
    JA33: Wh?
    D007: Smn usng t nme dragon lady. Mean nythng t u?
    JA33: Dragon Lady? Someone Chinese? could b lmst anbdy bt ths isnt cmmn knwldg yt. th IT mngr at t frm is prt Chinese bt sh ddnt sy nythng t m abot pstng. Wht do u thnk?
    D007: Id sy sphreak hs bn tippd off alrdy. If sh hsnt tld u anythng it cus sh ddnt lrn anytng.

    Jeff made a mental note to talk to Sue about it in the morning.

    D007: NYC tomrro. Will call to meet w u if ok.
    JA33: Snds good. Anytng els?
    D007: I think wer scrwd.


I bet you couldn't even read past the 3rd line without feeling really irritated. Both of these characters are adult professionals (one is a government agent) who really should express themselves more clearly.

About 80% of the way through the book, the action finally started to pick up, with the appearance of an assassin. From there pretty much right through to the end, with a few brief stops along the way, it was full steam ahead right to the climax. I stayed up until half past two this morning finishing the book. I just wish the whole book had been like the last fifth.

For the first novel from a programmer-turned-author, I think Mark has made a good start. But there's a lot of room for improvement. If a second edition is published, the "leet speek" should be completely removed.


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