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¡Viva La Computación!

Hackers and crackers in delirious novel

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If I put before you the phrase, "Latin American revolutionaries," the images most likely to flicker in your mind are of guerrillas in threadbare camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders as they move silently through the rainforest. There will be a village, harsh words spoken, actions taken that leave it unclear who the good guys are and who the bad. Well, you can hold onto that last bit, but dispense with the rest before you enter the real and virtual worlds of Latin American cryptographers and cryptoanalysts and computer hackers and crackers doing battle in Bolivia in Edmundo Paz Soldán's Turing's Delirium, in an English translation by Lisa Carter.

A "cyberhacktivist" who goes by the code name "Kandinsky" is a high school dropout, prodigal hacker and the leader of the anti-globalization resistance -- the real world incarnation of a revolution that Kandinsky began in a massively multi-player, object-oriented online virtual world called the Playground. Pitted against him are the cryptoanalysts and coders of Black Chamber, Bolivia's answer to the NSA. In the basement archives of Black Chamber, legendary cryptoanalyst Miguel Sáenz -- nicknamed "Turing" after the famous British code breaker -- begins to suspect that his lifelong political neutrality has not left him innocent after all. And now his daughter, a gifted teenage hacker, is being pushed to take a side in a post-modern struggle for which her father is presumed to be obsolete. Meanwhile, Sáenz's mentor, known only as "Albert," is on his death bed, convinced that he is in the body of the latest reincarnation of an immortal "Spirit of Cryptoanalysis."

There's plenty that's fit for a Hollywood cyber-thriller in Turing's Delirium, which owes a lot to the work of Neal Stephenson (particularly Cryptonomicon), but Paz Soldán greatly enriches the story with a sophisticated moral sensibility. There's a dangerous attraction in the pure reason of codes that purrs away the responsibilities of context. In Paz Soldán's world, the pure become obedient "ants" of the villains, and only those willing to adapt -- to hack -- the tools of their enemies are in the end able to do any good.

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