I went to the dollar store the other day, and totally wasted a dollar on a book.  The Day After Oblivion looked appealing, but then I opened the cover.  Fifty pages in and I stopped reading.  I don’t mind less-than-perfect writing, but I ran into something that bothered me in almost every chapter.

Chapter 3 ends with a windmill repairman taking pictures and “Little does he know the photographs will be the last he takes of ordinary life”.  At the end of Chapter 6, about the same guy: “Gage enjoys the view, having no idea how quickly it will all change”.  Got it the first time – things are changing.

In Chapter 1, the President’s assistant is introduced.  “Chief of Staff Isabella Alvarez consults her iPad”.  In Chapter 4, a long list of meeting attendees includes “the president’s chief of staff, Isabella Alvarez”.  Got it – she’s the chief of staff (or the Chief of Staff, depending on the editor du jour).

In Chapter 2, after the NSA has been cyber-infiltrated, the director of the NSA says “Colonel, I want the best computer operators we have in my office, forthwith”.  No, he doesn’t.  Computer operators make things work.  Cybersecurity personnel investigate breakins (and help them not happen).

Editing bothered me.  In Chapter 3: “Gage pulls up to the closest turbine and kills the engine”.  Of the windmill – really?  By remote control?  No, it’s the car/truck that he turns off.

Technology – well, even basic math – was treated with disdain.  Chapter 3, talking about the big windmills.  “The tower stands 260 feet tall and the blades extend another 126 feet beyond the hub, making the overall height 389 feet”.  No, it doesn’t.  The fact doesn’t matter – it feels like filler, or attempting a minor bit of technology showoff – but it’s wrong.  I blame both the author and the editor.  This is not some self-published bunch of electrons, it’s a real dead-tree book.

In Chapter 4, one of the cybersecurity experts talking to the president is calling out submarines.  “When the submarines surface, there’s a Windows XP chip on the engine that broadcasts the maintenance schedule back to base”.  That hurts my head, between the OS-specific chip, being attached to the “engine” instead of the nuclear reactor, and the idea that they would broadcast private info.  Just no.

In Chapter 5, the cybersleuth decides she’s going to “Look for clues.  Maybe a partial IP address”.  And guess what?  She finds “Maybe a partial IP address.  Three numbers”.  So she “copies the partial address and pastes it into a browser on the NSA’s network. She taps her foot, waiting for a response.  The odds are long, with only three numbers and over six billion number combinations.  She groans when the screen fills with nearly a million hits”.  Umm.  IPv4 addresses consist of four dotted numbers, from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255.  Some of those are reserved, dropping over a half-billion from the approximately 4.3 billion that 256 to the 4th power produces.  But that doesn’t matter – if she has three of the four, there are only 256 numbers possible.

And don’t get me started on a million results on a page.  Reminds me of the million pixel page – I’d groan, too, if Google didn’t filter down the number of responses.  Oh – am I assuming too much when I think Google?  Well, tell us.  Tell us what site she was visiting.  Tell us if the browser returns results (assuming yes, given “hits”) or tries to go to an invalid IP address.  Luckily, we are told in Chapter 8: “I did find a partial IP address.  Ran it through our database and received about ten thousand hits.  I narrowed the search to include likely bad actors and ended up with about a hundred hits”.  OK, so she was doing a database query, and ignored the 99 percent who were good guys, neutrals, or unlikely bad guys.  It’s OK, though, because “They’re almost certainly spoofing the attack”.  And they would only spoof it from other bad guys – got it.

In Chapter 10, a captain in NORAD makes a decision after North Korea detonates a nuclear device over Kansas (don’t worry – I’m not giving away all the secrets).  “Communications, work the phones.  Send an urgent message up the chain of command to alert them of a possible EMP event”.  As opposed to a non-urgent message, or —

Chapter 13.  The sub with the Windows XP chip gets new orders.  “Captain, we are in receipt of a valid emergency action measure that directs the launch of target package one.  Request permission to authenticate?”. And a bit later: “The message is encoded with a cypher to insure –” Nope – it’s ensure.  “to insure that the order originated from the President.  Quigley calls out the code while Garcia authenticates.  Once the message is decoded, Garcia exhales a breath and says “Captain, the message is authentic” “.  So they read the message before it is decoded.  And they can do cryptography in their heads.  Plus, it’s easy enough that a human can verify it, and assumes the reader and listener do not make errors.  And, ya know, there’s a difference between authentication and encryption.  Authentication could be as simple as a code word – rutabaga – to let you know that it isn’t some random stranger asking you for something.  Encryption jumbles the letters to make it non-readable.  Not the same.

My head really hurts.  I stopped reading after that chapter.  My time is worth more than that.

So I started reading a free book – St. Dale, from Sharyn McCrumb (thanks, Mom and Dad!).  In five pages she had me hooked with her writing style, good characters, believable situations, and an all-round better vibe.  She had me at “It was not the end of the world, but you could see it from there”.  Looking forward to it.  And if somebody wants a partially-read copy of The Day After Oblivion, let me know before I donate it to the library’s free book sale.