Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Review: CyberStorm: A Novel by Matthew Mather

Cyberterrorism as an Attack on our Minds as Much as our Bodies

CyberStorm is a story of survival, a tale about Mike Mitchell and his family and friends struggling to stay alive in New York City without power, without water, with rapidly diminishing food supplies, and with limited, unreliable communications. Presumably the result of a cyberattack, the situation deteriorates further when the city is hit with a major snowstorm. Under these dire conditions, the psychological growth of the characters is particularly well portrayed by author Matthew Mather. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Mitchell and his wife change. Their initial discord gave way to a bond they forged under the threat of starvation, illness, injury, and freezing to death. Mitchell’s growth is also well portrayed. The women, in general terms, are disappointingly shallow for much of the book, making their later adaptation seem a bit too little, too late, but it is there. Of course, the threat to life didn’t bring out altruism in everyone. Author Mather’s villains are viable, although not as diabolical as they might have been.

As an attack on our physical existence, the book is somewhat lacking in creativity. If you design a situation where some eight million or so people are trapped in a dying city, which Mather does, it’s not hard to imagine what would happen. Looting at first, then killing to survive when the stores are picked clean. True, these events are chillingly described, but I did not find them surprising or particularly gripping (but then, maybe I read too many dystopian novels).

What is, however, much more insightful is the book’s portrayal of the effect of cyberterrorism on our minds. As a reader, we know what Mike Mitchell believes to be true and what he believes is shaped by his expectations as much as his experiences. In the final few pages, Mather peels back the distorting influences of the main character’s preconceptions and we as readers get a look at ground truth, witnessing how the isolation and deprivation caused by a cyberattack and massive storm might play with our heads. If there is a limitation in this aspect of the story, it is that Mather left it until very late, making it feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped. But from my perspective, this insight, along with a well-told story of surviving against all odds makes this book a stellar read.

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