Burn-In Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
An FBI agent hunts a new kind of terrorist through a Washington, DC, of the future in this ground-breaking book - at once a gripping techno-thriller and a fact-based tour of tomorrow.
America is on the brink of a revolution, one both technological and political. The science fiction of AI and robotics has finally come true, but millions are angry and fearful that the future has left them behind.
After narrowly stopping a bombing at Washington’s Union Station, FBI Special Agent Lara Keegan receives a new assignment: To field-test an advanced police robot. As a series of shocking catastrophes unfolds, the two find themselves investigating a conspiracy whose mastermind is using cutting-edge tech to rip the nation apart. To stop this new breed of terrorist, their only hope is to forge a new type of partnership.
Burn-In is especially chilling because it is something more than a pulse-pounding listen: Every tech, trend, and scene is drawn from real world research on the ways that our politics, our economy, and even our family lives will soon be transformed. Blending a techno-thriller’s excitement with nonfiction’s insight, Singer and Cole illuminate the darkest corners of the world soon to come.
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|Listening Length||14 hours and 49 minutes|
|Author||P. W. Singer, August Cole|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 26, 2020|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #25,076 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#162 in Technothrillers (Audible Books & Originals)
#163 in Hard Science Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#488 in Technothrillers (Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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Be it the perpetuated smears on J. Edgar Hoover, the positive comments about, now disgraced Andrew McCabe, and how he "lost his pension" (a statement that is factually incorrect - his pension is in fact guaranteed by the Federal Employees Retirement System, although by being fired he lost the ability to "early retire at age 50" and "top off" his already generous government pension - he did not "lose his pension" - as stated in the book, and footnoted to an article in Politico.), or that the Muller investigation "had damned good reasons". As more and more comes out about the actual role of the FBI during the "pre" and "post" Trump election periods, such comments will "date" the novel to a period where such comments often went unchallenged.
The authors have a pretty good basis for a novel, set in the future, with fictional characters, so why they bring in their own personal opinions about current political issues is beyond me.
As I said, they do have a pretty good setting for this novel and have done extensive research on AI and the extent that technology is currently, and is projected to, impact our lives. Good research there, which can teach the reader what is currently available from the "tech world" and where it will lead if some trends continue to their logical conclusions. They even correctly identify that the population as a whole provides a wealth of information about itself, to the tech giants for the privilege of using "free software and services" - information that is of far more value than the services provided. (i.e. "self-surveillance")
The authors set their book sometime in the near future with the pairing of a robot (TAMS) with a female FBI special agent, as a trial to see whether or not the robot improves the effectiveness of the FBI special agent's performance. The pair have a number of experiences as the special agent tries to "train" the robot. Being a novel, of course the special agent, has to be shown as rebelling against the FBI "suits" and is of course always "correct" in the pursuit of these non-approved adventures. But, such is the state of today’s novels, this type of action is expected of the protagonist in all such books, and this one delivers "as promised".
The fact that the authors created the protagonist as a female FBI special agent, of course gives them ample room to explore the issues surrounding an active special agent having a daughter and an underemployed husband.
There are plenty of footnotes as to the sources of the various bits of information and technology referred to in the book.
Overall not a bad science fiction book - but, could certainly done without the political opinions they baked into it.
With that said, don’t lose sight of the narrative. Above all, it really is a fascinating story and the storyline takes precedence as it should.
The prose reads like a response to a Beltway Request for Proposal, or, as the authors would probably say, an RFP. The technobabble is thick and it is shoveled into the mouths of the characters relentlessly where it sets up quickly like concrete. Two characters watching a news feed and giving a running commentary of it with political overtones made me feel like I was watching a golfing commentary with a screen-in-screen of MSNBC or Fox News.
The marketing copy proclaims this book to be a "gripping technothriller and a fact-based tour of tomorrow." I would suggest the authors not quit their day jobs, because this is no Michael Crichton technothriller, or at least it fails to achieve lift-off like a good technothriller. As far as a "fact-based tour of tomorrow," it's more like an annotated catalogue of screen scrapes from online discussion groups.
In short, there is no there there.
I couldn't recommend this read to anyone.
Top reviews from other countries
The entire story is set in Washington DC – the swamp of repute – and this prefigures the narrative. It is constrained in scope, mostly relevant to US readers only, and gets largely flooded – the latter a good metaphor for the storyline; i.e. drawn out, allowing for little detail and with little undercurrent. It sometimes seems the plot was a function of the various technological aspects the authors had collected data on: text analysis, big data mining, integrity of legacy systems, blindly automating, imagery analysis, robotics etc etc. The data drove the narrative, the narrative was an overlay fitting the data points best based on statistical evaluation, but not based on an underlying sense of system analysis which a good story can be – the whole has to be more than the parts.
A critical missing part is the ability to sympathise with the main characters. I could never quite take to Lara Keegan as a mother fighting her past, hiding from it, yet relentlessly pursuing the mission she has been assigned to. There lies her drama, relentless professional dedication against senseless and enduring sacrifice of her personal well-being. In contrast, the ‘Ghost Fleet’ characters featured more gripping features of human interest in as many pages and with a tangible impact on their respective storylines. That is what made Ghost Fleet a bestselling book despite its rather (initial) narrow interest FICINT focus. Not surprisingly, given the theme of the book, I found myself having the most sympathy for TAMS, the robot, whose quasi-humanity is rather well sketched through little details. Perhaps with intent – if so, at the heavy expense of all other characters and the literary interest of the book?
Cole and Singer clearly know how to write a book, they know their tech and the context in which it is employed and abused. Inevitably, we get clueless politicians, the corruption of Washington by big tech (any likeness between Palantir’s Peter Thiel and Willow Shaw is entirely unintended), the blind but dangerous adoption of tech (think Amazon’s Alexa) and silent tributes to 'those who serve' despite their being short changed by Washington. It is a version of a social-media-and-Palantir-meet-Amazon post-Trumpian US, one that feels far away from apple pie and Friends.
Again, this makes Burn-In aimed at a domestic audience unlike Ghost Fleet. Gone are the interesting reflections on Atlanticism, the rising authoritarianism of a China purged by XJP, the role of Europe wedged between two superpowers, the contrast between abstract geopolitics and messy realities on the ground. Near the end – tellingly - Agent Keegan seeks to entice us to accompany her on her investigation, (spoiler alert) the unmasking of Shaw. It is as if the authors belatedly realised they forgot their main storyline. I’m afraid the story to date hasn’t quite enfolded me enough to remain interested that long. I’ll look forward to the far better written FICINT short stories of August Cole for NATO and the US Naval War College.