Pluralistic: Booklist on "Red Team Blues" (13 Jan 2023)

Today's links

Will Stahle's cover for the Tor Books edition of 'Red Team Blues.'

Booklist on "Red Team Blues" (permalink)

I've published more than 20 books, and I still get nervous in the few months leading up to a new book's release. It's one thing for my agent, my editor and my wife to like one of my novels – but what about the rest of the world? Will the book soar, or bomb? I've had books do both, and the latter is No Fun. Scarifying, even.

My next novel is Red Team Blues, which Tor Books and Head of Zeus will publish on April 25. It is a significant departure for me in many ways: it's a heist novel about cryptocurrency, grifters and crime bosses, the first book in a trilogy that runs in reverse chronological order (!):

The hero of RTB is Marty Hench, a forensic accountant and digital pioneer. Marty got his start when he discovered spreadsheets as an MIT undergrad. He got so deep into the world of Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3 that he dropped out of university, moved to Silicon Valley, and pitted his ability to find money with spreadsheets against people who use spreadsheets to hide money.

RTB opens with Marty on the verge of retirement, when he is roped in for one last job – a favor to a friend who has built a new cryptocurrency that is in danger of imploding thanks to some stolen keys. If Marty can recover the keys, his customary 25% commission will come out to more than a quarter of a billion dollars. How could he say no?

I wrote this book in a white-hot fury of the sort that I underwent in 2006, when I wrote Little Brother in eight weeks flat. Red Team Blues took six weeks. It's good. I sent it to my Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor. The next day, I got this email:



A! Fucking! Ride!


That night, I rolled over in bed to find my wife wide awake at 2AM, staring at her phone. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Finishing your book," she said. "I had to find out how it ended."

I loved writing this book, and after I finished it, I found that Marty Hench was still living in my mind. How could I keep writing about him, though? Red Team Blues is his final adventure. Then, one day, it hit me: now that I knew how Marty's career ended, I could write about how it started.

I could write prequels – as many as I chose – retelling the storied career of Martin Hench, the scambusting forensic accountant of Silicon Valley. I pitched my editor on two prequels – one a midcareer adventure, the other his origin story – and my editor bought 'em. For the first time in decades, in dozens of books, I'm writing a trilogy.

It's nearly done. I finished the second book, "The Bezzle" – about private prisons and financial corruption – late last year. I'm 80%+ through the final one, "Picks and Shovels," AKA Marty's origin story, a caper involving an early eighties PC-selling pyramid scheme run by a Mormon bishop, a Catholic priest and an orthodox rabbi, who run their affinity scam through a company called "Three Wise Men Computers."

But for all that I love these books, love writing these books, I am still nervous. Butterflies-in-stomach. I got some reassurance in December, when the New Yorker's Chris Byrd said some extraordinarily kind things about RTB when he profiled me:

Despite that, though, I continued to have vicious pangs of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, superstitious dread, haunting memories of the mentors and writers I admired as a young man whose careers were snatched away by changing industry trends, market shifts, or just a bad beat. I love this book. Would other people? I'm not a crime writer. Ugh.

Then, this week, my publicist Laura Etzkorn at Tor sent me the first trade review for RTB, Booklist's starred notice, by David Pitt:

Well, talk about timely. In the wake of the late-2022 collapse of cryptocurrency comes this novel about a forensic accountant who’s hired to work a case involving electronic theft of cryptocurrency. The guy’s name is Martin Hench; he’s in his late sixties, with decades of experience, and he thinks he’s seen it all. Until now. Doctorow, author of such novels as The Rapture of the Nerds (2012) Homeland (2013), and Pirate Cinema (2012), is a leading force in cyberpunk fiction, and here he mixes cyberpunk with traditional private eye motifs (if Martin Hench feels a bit like Philip Marlowe or even Jim Rockford, that’s probably not a coincidence).

Doctorow's novels are always feasts for the imagination and the intellect, and this one is no exception: it’s jam-packed with cutting-edge ideas about cybersecurity and crypto, and its near-future world is lovingly detailed and completely believable. Another winner from an sf wizard who has always proved himself adept at blending genres for both adults and teens.

To quote a certain editor of my acquaintance:



A! Fucking! Ride!


Maybe this writing thing is gonna work out after all.

ETA: Well, this is pretty great. Shortly after I finished this, Library Journal published its review of Red Team Blues, by Andrea Dyba:

Cyber detective, forensic accountant—whatever his title, 67-year-old Marty Hench is one of those rare people who tries to prevent financial crimes. He’s spent his whole career as a member of the Red Team, as an attacker, one who always has the advantage. Now ready for retirement, he’s living it up in California and trying to decide what he wants to do when he grows up when he’s hired by an old friend. Danny Lazer, the founder of the new crypto titan Trustlesscoin, needs Marty to recover stolen cryptographic keys and prevent the type of financial crisis that people lose their lives over. Marty delves into the shady underside of the private equity world, where he’s caught between warring international crime syndicates. The sincere and intelligent writing has a noir feel to it, enhanced by Marty’s dry humor. There’s a sense of satisfaction as this unassuming retired man dishes out comeuppance.

VERDICT This absorbing and ruthless cyberpunk thriller from Doctorow (Attack Surface) tackles modern concerns involving cryptocurrency, security, and the daunting omnipotence of technology. Great for fans of Charles Stross.

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Trent Latte: black coffee and steamed milk in separate but equal portions

#15yrsago Filmmakers use DMCA to go after negative review

#15yrsago Ford: Car owners are pirates if they distribute pictures of their own cars

#15yrsago Podcast of Bruce Sterling’s HACKER CRACKDOWN has concluded

#10yrsago Aaron Swartz digital archive

#10yrsago Expert witness describes Aaron Swartz’s “crimes”

#5yrsago Intel’s Management Engine, a secure-computer-within-your-computer, is really, really insecure

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 528 words (94483 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

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