Publisher:Zowie Press (March 20, 2018)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
Matt Ginsberg’s Factor Man is a cerebral read that seems targeted for a selective audience, namely techno-geeks and nerds, especially those knowledgeable in advanced math and science. This is especially true for the first third of the book where Ginsberg lays out the background of what Factor Man can do, how he hides from the entire planet, and just how important his factoring is. Ginsberg’s book couldn’t be timelier with its use of e-mails and blog entries to partially tell the story of online issues with security and privacy and the powers of companies like Google and Apple.
The plot centers on the world-famous “Factor Man” who claims he can break the 256-bit encryption codes making online privacy and secrets completely impossible. There’s lots to worry about if “FM” has really discovered what computer scientists call “God’s algorithm.” The evidence for his claims builds up as the unknown genius who solves increasingly complex factor problems in a public countdown to the day he plans to reveal his identity. Day after day, all sorts of individuals including Will Wheaton, Sylvester Stallone, and Jimmy Fallon submit long strings of numbers for Factor Man to factor—you’d think every celebrity in the world was interested in complexity theory.
Assuming FM can survive to the day he is willing to lose his anonymity is no sure thing. FM sets up a schedule to sell his technology first to the highest bidder, one year later to the U.S. Government, and finally make it available to everyone. The Chinese, with the most to lose, are deeply unhappy and send out an assassin to track him down. The FBI and NSA follow the lead of Congress who pass laws attempting to block FM from selling his tech to any private entity. So law enforcement agents conduct annoying surveillance on innocent citizens in the Texas desert while the Chinese agent kills two innocent Americans. Throw in an investigative reporter who also chases FM all over Europe, especially in Austria and Switzerland. It’s this section of the book where readers don’t need a math or science background to get into what is essentially an espionage thriller.
Along the way, we hear Factor Man telling his own story, including his clever journey to evade discovery and capture. Layered into the tale are the accounts of the reporter, Chinese operative, and officers from various government agencies and other characters sharing their roles in the hunt they tell in the first person.
When I said the book is timely, that’s on several levels. The story opens in 2017 and concludes in 2021. You’d think the short trip into the future would qualify the story as science fiction. However you classify the novel, Factor Man is an original work of fiction with subject matter that is fresh with a mostly lively approach and tone. I admit I could live without the interruptive series of numbers e-mailed to FM which all readers, I presume, will quickly skim over. I also admit I have a hard time buying into a large media event I can’t fairly describe here. On the other hand, the thrill-ride that leads up to this event is as suspenseful a chase as you’ll ever read. Best of all, we get a warm, positive ending. I love it when I’m not experiencing a dystopian future. I like it when the good guys win.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on March 26, 2018: