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Apocalyptic NYC thriller likely to land on big screen

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Mike Mitchell has a problem: his wife might be having an affair with a neighbour down the hall from their pricey Manhattan condo.

Also: the world is ending. So begins Cyberstorm, a new apocalyptic thriller by Matthew Mather.

Mike, Cyberstorm's protagonist, is a junior partner in a New York venture capital fund. He eloped with Lauren Seymour, who gave up her job as a lawyer to stay home with Luke, the couple's new son.

Mike wants a sibling for Luke, but Lauren worries about getting her law career back on track; he thinks Lauren's spending too much time with Richard, the former footballer down the hall.

The couple's family drama is interrupted by a string of disasters. A bird-flu outbreak hits several U.S. cities. Viruses infect global logistics, bringing down supply and communications systems. Internet and cellular systems grind to a halt. The power goes out. A system glitch shuts down the city's water supply. Two "Frankenstorms" pummel the city, leaving three-metre snowbanks and sub-zero temperatures.

Fortunately, Mike's neighbour and best friend Chuck is a doomsday prepper. Chuck and his wife's survivalist supplies -- freeze-dried food, water, generators, night-vision goggles and infrared flashlights -- allow the group to hunker down and ride out the storm.

Chuck and Mike form the head of a loose group of friends, neighbours and refugees from the outside world who band together to survive, organizing fuel and water runs, rationing food and securing their supplies against intruders. By Day 10, the city's sanitation situation is grim. By Day 14, their food is running out. By Day 28, there's seemingly no option but to flee.

The core group's skills and traits help them, and the book's plot, stay alive as the crisis deepens: Tony, the doorman, is an Iraq veteran with combat skills; the elderly Russian couple next door survived the siege of Leningrad; New York Times journalist Rory serves as a liberal foil for characters debating civil liberties; hacker Damon is glued to his laptop, hatching plans that help the group survive.

Those technical innovations provide the freshest reading in Cyberstorm, which is otherwise a somewhat formulaic staging of two-dimensional characters familiar to fans of the "modern apocalypse" genre of dystopian fiction. The group buries looted food in snowbanks, then uses a geocaching app to mark their locations. A mesh network allows New Yorkers to communicate with their smartphones without cellular service or wireless Internet.

The book is a bit long; the last 100 pages seem extraneous and the last 20 pages, explaining everything that happened, seem written as a movie epilogue. That may be the case; the book's film rights have been optioned.

Perhaps the film adaptation will give weightier roles to female characters who, despite a strong start with Lauren's career concerns, are relegated once the apocalypse hits to background roles as wives, mothers and caregivers.

Mather, dubbed a "leading member of the world's cyber-security community," deftly details the potential pitfalls of technology dependency. Those who don't enjoy pit stops for debate or technical explanation might want to wait for the big-screen version to come.

 

Wendy Sawatzky is associate editor, digital news for winnipegfreepress.com and commander-in-chief at wendysawatzky.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 G6

History

Updated on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8:19 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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