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Tetraktys 216

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
brothke writes "Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct. The challenge Brown and similar authors face is to write a novel that is both compelling and faithful to the facts. In Tetraktys, author Ari Juels is able to weave an interesting and readable story, and stay faithful to the facts. While Brown seemingly lacks the scientific and academic background needed to write such fiction, Juels has a Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley and is currently the Chief Scientist and director at RSA Laboratories, the research division of RSA Security." Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
Tetraktys
author Ari Juels
pages 351
publisher Emerald Bay Books
rating Excellent debut novel by Ari Juels
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0982283707
summary Intriguing cryptographic thriller
The book, which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller, tells the story of Ambrose Jerusalem, a gifted computer security expert, still haunted by his father's death, a few months shy of his doctorate, who has a beautiful and loving girlfriend, and a bright future ahead of him. This is until the government gets involved and Jerusalem's plans are put on hold when the NSA asks him to join them to track down a strange and disturbing series of computer breaches.

Tetraktys, like similar thrillers, has its standard set of characters; from corrupt State Department and World Bank officials, a dashing protagonist with a long-suffering girlfriend, to mysterious and obscure terrorist groups. This terrorist group is in the book is comprised of followers of Pythagoras.

As to the title, a tetraktys is a triangular figure of ten points arranged in four rows, with one, two, three, and four points in each row. It is a mystical symbol and was most important to the followers of Pythagoras. While mainly known as the creator of the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagoras of Samos was an influential Greek mathematician and founder of the religious movement of Pythagoreanism. Those wanting more information can watch a video about the symbol.

As to the storyline, the NSA is trying to recruit Ambrose as they feel that the terrorists, who form a secret cult of followers of Pythagoras have broken the RSA public-key algorithm. Breaking RSA is something that is not expected for many decades, but if a revolution in factoring numbers were to occur sooner, RSA's demise could happen that much quicker. And if RSA was indeed broken by the antagonists, it would undermine the security of nearly every government and financial institution worldwide and create utter anarchy.

A good part of the book centers on the cult of Pythagoras. Its followers believe that truth and reality can only be understood via their system of numbers. The NSA needs Jerusalem's assistance as he is one of the few people who have the mathematical, classical and philosophical background to help them. It is he who ultimately connects the dots that the Pythagoreans have left, which leads to the books dramatic conclusion.

The book is a most enjoyable read and one is hard pressed to put it down once they start reading it. The reader gets a good understanding of who Pythagoras was and his worldview via Juels weaving of Pythagorean philosophy into the storyline.

While the book is not autobiographical, there are many similarities between Ambrose Jerusalem and Ari Juels. From identical initials, to their lives in events in Berkeley and Cambridge, to RSA and more.

For a first book of fiction, Tetraktys is a great read. As a novelist, Juels style approaches that of Umberto Eco, in that he weaves numerous areas of thought into an integrated story. Like Eco's works, Tetraktys has an arcane historical figure as part of it storyline, and an intricate plot that takes the reader on many, and some unexpected, turns. While not as complex and difficult to read as Eco, Tetraktys is a remarkable work of fiction for someone with a doctorate in computer science, not literature.

The book though does have some gaps, but that could be expected for a first novel. The reader is never sure what the Pythagoreans are really after or why they have resurfaced, and one of the characters is killed, for reasons that are not apparent. Readers who want more information can visit the Tetraktys web site.

As to the book's protagonist, Ambrose Jerusalem is to Juels what Jack Ryan is to Tom Clancy, meaning that his adventures are just beginning, and that is a good thing.

For those interested in a cryptographic thriller, Tetraktys is an enjoyable read. The book interlaces Greek philosophy, mathematics, and modern crime into a cogent theme that is a compelling read. And if the exploits of Ambrose Jerusalem continue, we may have found the successor to Umberto Eco.

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

You can purchase Tetraktys from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Tetraktys

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  • by Java Pimp (98454) <java_pimpNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:12PM (#28870335) Homepage
    ...tells the story of Ambrose Jerusalem, a gifted computer security expert, ... who has a beautiful and loving girlfriend.

    Yeah right!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twiddlingbits (707452)
      That's the first incorrect "fact". Wonder how many others there are.
    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      All kidding aside, that bit broke my suspension of disbelief before even picking up the book. Ambrose? Jerusalem? Beautiful AND loving???

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      ...tells the story of Ambrose Jerusalem, a gifted computer security expert, ... who has a beautiful and loving girlfriend.

      Yeah right!

      Oh come on, it says he's a gifted computer expert. You don't think he could program his sexbot to "love" him?

  • While Brown seemingly lacks the scientific and academic background needed to write such fiction, Juels has a Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley

    Does Computer Science really qualify as "science"? It seems much more like mathematics to me.

    One place where CS might be considered a science is in the empirical characterization of software/computer systems. But even there, the nearly complete lack of statistical rigor shown in C.S. papers suggests a big difference between computer scientists and, for example, physicists.

    • by glwtta (532858)
      It seems much more like mathematics to me.

      And you consider mathematics to be what, art?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dr Tall (685787)
        Frankly, yes [wikipedia.org]. Art of the most beautiful kind.
      • Re:science? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by orkybash (1013349) <tim.bocekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @03:31PM (#28871707)
        I consider it to be closest to philosophy, though I don't see why it can't be it's own field. Science and mathematics have completely different epistemological outlooks.

        In science, if you say that anything has been "proven", you get laughed out of all respectable circles. Instead, you demonstrate a hypothesis by providing experimental evidence.

        In mathematics, if you say that something has been demonstrated by empirical evidence, you get laughed out of all respectable circles. Instead, you need to prove everything rigorously.

        Hopefully you can see a fundamental difference.
        • Re:science? (Score:4, Funny)

          by Skrynesaver (994435) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @07:44AM (#28879961) Homepage
          An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician were holidaying in Scotland. Glancing from a train window, they observed a black sheep in the middle of a field.

          "How interesting," observed the astronomer, "all Scottish sheep are black!"

          To which the physicist responded, "No, no! Some Scottish sheep are black!"

          The mathematician gazed heavenward in supplication, and then intoned, "In Scotland there exists at least one field, containing at least one sheep, at least one side of which is black."

      • by wurp (51446)

        Mathematics is not a science - it's its own thing.

        In math, you can prove a theory (theorem) is true: a proof in mathematics is a set of typographical transformations using the rules of a system of mathematics that take you from the lemma in your mathematical system to the thing you're trying to prove. It can be verified by a machine with a VERY high degree of confidence.

        In science, "proving" a theory means you've given a repeatable experiment whose results strongly support your theory. You can never prove

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dr Tall (685787)
      It depends what you mean, and I think a lot of people are conflicted about it. If "science" means to make predictive theories about the way the natural world operates, then no, CS isn't science. If "science" means to make claims in a verifiable, empirical, and unbiased fashion (that is, the scientific method), then CS theory proofs and industry debugging seem a lot like science to me.
    • Re:science? (Score:4, Informative)

      by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:26PM (#28870597)

      Physicists are trying to discover unknown facts by using known facts and empirical testing.
      .
      Computer professionals have a broader scope. Some of what they do is to create known predictable systems from known facts and known rules. Occasionally, they are asked to discover previously unknown facts from these rules. Perhaps only the latter should be called "Computer Scientists" so as to differentiate them from "Computer Engineers" or "Programmer/Journeymen" or the other different positions involving computers.

    • by halivar (535827)

      Mathematics is science. CS is mathematics. Apply transitivity, and Bob's your uncle.

      One thing I disagree with in your post is the insinuation that mathematics and science are separate entities. I should hope that anyone who's taken upper-level mathematics and upper-level physics knows there are significant points of convergence. When you have distinct fields that are both utilizing the same mathematical principles, there's a fairly strong indication that those disciplines belong together.

      But that's not all.

      • Sorry but mathematics != science. Math is used in science but math is not science. Just because "upper-level mathematics and upper-level physics...[have] significant points of convergence" does not mean they are the same. Making that argument is like arguing that statistics and psychology are the same, or at least "belong together", because almost all psychological research relies heavily on statistics.

        Mathematics is a field but it is also a method. Physics (and most other sciences) incorporates mathemati
        • by halivar (535827)

          I disagree. Mathematics, like all other sciences, is the study of a collection of models that are built methodologically. Hypothesis, testing, and proof are used to create and verify these models, just like physics, biology, or chemistry. That those models may or may not have concrete operational representation makes no difference. Furthermore, Computer Science is also the study of a subset of these models that do, in fact, have real-life representation.

          Also, I'm having a hard time understanding your statis

      • by ajs (35943)

        Mathematics is science. CS is mathematics.

        No and yes, respectively.

        Math and science are related fields, but certainly not the same thing. Math seeks to explain relationships in terms of a system of logic and reasoning. This is a required precursor of the development of science, but simply demonstrating that a relationship is logically consistent is insufficient in science. It must also be demonstrated that it bears out in the real world. This is why, for example, many physicists consider string theory to be very lovely math, but math none the less.

        • by halivar (535827)

          All sciences seek to explain relationships in terms of a system of logic and reasoning. The difference is what kind of relationships they are trying to explain. The relationship between mass and energy; the relationship between recreational drugs and the human brain; the relationship between a buttress and gravity; the relationship between two people; the relationship between a sphere's surface area and its radius. All these things are modeled by their respective fields of science to organize, explain, and

      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

        Mathematics is science. CS is mathematics. Apply transitivity, and Bob's your uncle.

        You can apply whatever you want, and my uncle's name still isn't going to be 'Bob', therefore, you fail.

  • by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:16PM (#28870429)

    which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller

    Toast by Charles Stross would be a counterexample to this ludicrous claim.

  • Cryptonomicon??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:17PM (#28870431)

    "The book, which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller"

    Perhaps the reviewer has never heard of Cryptonomicon....

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:56PM (#28871161)
      Perhaps the reviewer felt, as I did, that the only thrill in Cryptonomicon was returning it to the library.
    • by EkriirkE (1075937)
      Digital Fortess, also by Dan Brown, is a year older than that and centers around cryptograpohy. Though it is Fiction.
      • The first edition of Robert Harris' Enigma came out in 1995.
      • by Cytotoxic (245301)

        Digital Fortess, also by Dan Brown, is a year older than that and centers around cryptograpohy. Though it is Fiction.

        It also happens to be possibly the worst piece of fiction ever written. Dan, if you read slashdot I'm sorry for the insult. But I read that craptastic book of yours and didn't get an apology or refund from you either. In fact, the only reason I read past the first 100 pages was that I just couldn't believe that it could be this bad - it had to get better soon. By the time I reached halfway I just finished it out of pure irony. Then I passed it off on a coworker to see if it was just me. He had the sam

  • For believing these claims. WRONG!
    • Dude, if you know of a way to get Internet access in a cave let me know, because that would be totally sweet.

      I'd totally register the domain stalac-site.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by twiddlingbits (707452)
        OSAMA?? Is that you??? I got this guy from the Government that is here to help you with your cave...
      • by TheLink (130905)
        How about using tubes?

        You could put stuff like wires in the tubes. Or just use them as waveguides.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:21PM (#28870507)

    Isn't "cryptographic thriller" an oxymoron?

    • Short Answer: "No"
      Cryptographic Answer: "Ab"

      Cryptographic Mystery, might be though.

      • I've been up for 2 days, scratch that... that's something else that I can't remember the word for...

        But, still Cryptographic Thriller isn't an oxymoron, the thrill could be from deciphering what's encrypted, and something doesn't have to make sense, to be a thrill. Some drugs are like that, you don't *really* know WTF is going on chemically, or in general, but it's a thrill. There are some movies like that as well, on the first viewing, you get a couple glimpses of what the whole story might be, but it's no

  • What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:21PM (#28870511) Homepage

    Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct.

    That's like asking me to imagine what an Agatha Christie novel would read like if no one committed a crime.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Funny)

      by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.vadivNO@SPAMneverbox.com> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:42PM (#28870889) Homepage

      Asking people to imagine a Dan Brown where he got his fact straight is closer to asking people to imagine what an Agatha Christie novel would read like if set in a postapocalyptic future where giant mutant weasels fight off vampire dogs aided by elves from a parallel universe, in a metaphor for the fifth century Roman Empire and the collapse of the Catholic church.

      Performed as a play written in iambic pentameter, and directed by Spike Lee.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I represent a leading film firm, and I'd like to talk to you about optioning this script for a Summer 2011 release!

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by DavidTC (10147)

          You're going to have to talk to Agatha Christie's estate. The play is called 'The Mousetrap', it's been running for over 50 years in West End.

          • Ever since I saw The Mousetrap, I've been very suspicious of Miss Marple's true reasons for always being there when someone has been murdered...
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by DavidTC (10147)

              She's a ghoul. She eats the dead.

              As opposed to Poirot, who, of course, is a necrophiliac.

      • Asking people to imagine a Dan Brown where he got his fact straight is closer to asking people to imagine what an Agatha Christie novel would read like if set in a postapocalyptic future where giant mutant weasels fight off vampire dogs aided by elves from a parallel universe, in a metaphor for the fifth century Roman Empire and the collapse of the Catholic church.

        Performed as a play written in iambic pentameter, and directed by Spike Lee.

        Which is, strangely enough, exactly what happens in the @$$clown

      • I find your ideas intriguing, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct.

      You could conceivably have a factually accurate mystery/thriller. But the result of the above thought experiment would be a factually accurate book that reads like it was written by a semi-literate 4th grader. Dan Brown's writing deficiencies go far beyond the ridiculously improbably fantasy of the content. The fucker has no skill at pacing, plot, characterization, or even choosing appropriate vocabulary. But hey, kudos to him for getting people to buy his asinine tripe.

  • by glwtta (532858) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:23PM (#28870543) Homepage
    While Brown seemingly lacks the scientific and academic background needed to write such fiction

    Now, now, let's not leave out literary background from that list.
  • "World first?" (Score:3, Informative)

    by TerranFury (726743) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:23PM (#28870547)

    brothke starts a sentence,

    The book, which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller[...].

    which of course isn't true. E.g., Cryptonomicon.

    • by EkriirkE (1075937)
      Digital Fortress (Dan Brown) has some cryptology thrills in it as well, a year prior to Cryptonomicon
  • Poor Dan Brown (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @02:26PM (#28870587)
    I'm sure he's crying all the way to the bank. Maybe the reason he writes his books lacking technical authenticity is at least in part because that's what people want to read?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Maybe the reason he writes his books lacking technical authenticity is at least in part because that's what people want to read?

      That's what some people want to read. Hell, maybe even most people. But as long as there are enough people who want to read books with a technical gimmick where the technical part isn't complete gibberish, this one sounds like a good bet. Not every author has to write for every reader, you know? And the fact that Brown's books are popular doesn't make him immune from criticism.

    • by Aladrin (926209)

      Or maybe, they just don't care about authenticity in their fiction and it doesn't affect them either way.

    • I think he writes books lacking technical authenticity because fact checking and research are hard, expensive prospects and the vast majority of Americans are far to dumb to know the difference. Why spend a million dollars on extra research so you can sell a few thousand more copies to the few nerds who give a shit and can tell the difference?
      • It sure as hell wouldn't cost a million dollars. A week in a good university library would do the trick.

      • by pluther (647209)

        Research needn't cost millions of dollars.

        Or even much money at all.

        At Dan Brown's level, it would be nearly free. I read one of his books (Angels & Demons). Ten minutes spent reading the Wikipedia article on antimatter before writing about it could have prevented most of his technical errors there.

        Hell, just having used a cell phone at some point of his life could have prevented the scene where he had the physicist wondering why he couldn't get a dial tone on his mobile phone while deep underground at

    • by radtea (464814)

      Maybe the reason he writes his books lacking technical authenticity is at least in part because that's what people want to read?

      As others here have pointed out, his books also lack literary quality... although say that is a bit like saying positrons lack negative charge. Brown's books are the popular antithesis of good fiction. His big hit--whose title I don't recall, thankfully--is a characterless episodic melodrama based on a wild sub-academic speculation regarding the nature of the Holy Grail. The cra

      • "And since Jesus' bother James, and later his nephew, lead the revolutionary Jewish organization Jesus founded, it is not clear why other family members would have to be hidden away, particularly as other people of nominally royal descent were always available to lead as well."

        Don't you mean James along with Peter, John, Barnabas, Paul, etc.? :)

      • by morcego (260031)

        The crazy book he ripped the speculation off from is called "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail."

        And for anyone too lazy, or for any other reason uninterested in reading that book, just go play Gabriel Knight 3 (Blood of the Sacred; Blood of the Damned) [wikipedia.org]. The game was released in 1999. Dan's book was released in 2003. "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" was released in 1980.

  • Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct... The book, which might be the world's first cryptographic thriller

    Imagine if the reviewer did some research before posting here. Bah! Why bother with even a simple search to see if there are any previous works which might be construed as fiction involving cryptography. You would think that Ben would at least recall Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. If that does not fit ones definition, there's a list suggested by Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

    • by Tacvek (948259)

      Really, Cryptonomicon is heavilly based on fact. Very few of the deviations from the real world in said book were not highly deliberate (since all fiction requires deviation from the real world or they would not be fiction).

      But it is rather how many novels make little or no attempt to follow the facts. But even worse is TV. Look at CSI. That is awful. Similarly 24 is pretty bad in terms of technology realism. One of the few shows I've seen that really tries is Burn Notice. They clearly have a staff of exper

      • by xaxa (988988)

        The BBC make a radio drama called The Archers [wikipedia.org] (the world's longest running radio series), essentially about farmers/farming somewhere in England. My mum listened to it when I was a child. The credits always ended with "The agricultural story editor was Some One". Presumably he had to check they didn't harvest the crops when the weather was wrong, or have calves being born in the wrong month.

  • What has the world come to when we can't rely on our works of fiction for our facts! Oh, Discordia!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Willing suspension of disbelief is easier when you aren't being asked to disbelieve everything you know all at once. In other words, no, people shouldn't rely on fiction for factual information. (Which doesn't stop people from doing it, as the constant "citations" of Gattaca and Jurassic Park in any /. discussion touching on genetics shows nicely.) But for a lot of readers, if the author comes up with a believable background, it makes the story itself a lot more enjoyable.

  • Dan Brown is relevant to this review... how?

    Imagine if Stephen King got his facts right about supernatural entities.... Sheesh. There's a reason it's called fiction. The non-fiction section is on the other side of the book store.

  • Many of you saw The Matrix, despite the people behind it lacking a degree in Artificial Intelligence. You all went and saw Transformers, and (might) have enjoyed it. And let's not get started on how many movies are gutted at Bad Astronomy... And yet, despite this, we watch them anyway and enjoy them, despite the technical inconsistencies and writers lacking in super-special-awesome credentials of doom. Odds are, if you're reading this, you don't have those credentials either.

    P.S. Totally posted this from th

    • by RevWaldo (1186281) *
      Quite right (although I wouldn't see Transformers even on a dare.)

      Better examples:
      - William Gibson gleaned the "cyberspace" concept used in Neuromancer from a PBS special he saw on the future of computing.
      - Kate Bush was inspired to write her groundbreaking hit "Wuthering Heights" after seeing the second-half of a BBC adaptation of the book (she read the book afterwords just to fact-check.)

      There's to be sure loads of others.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)
      Science includes waivers [wikipedia.org] for inaccuracies which are accompanied by slick slow-mo gunfights or Megan Fox.
  • the world's first cryptographic thriller

    Cryptonomicon doesn't count as a cryptographic thriller? Perhaps I misunderstood the term. (Not that I'm claiming it's the first, just that it's the first thing that came to mind when I read "cryptographic thriller".)

  • This terrorist group is in the book is comprised of followers of Pythagoras.

    Did Yoda write this review??

    • No, Yoda speaks in Object-Subject-Verb word order. Yoda's version would be:

      Followers of Pythagoris comprised of this terrorist group is.

      That's what I learned in lingusitic anthropology, btw.

  • Imagine for a moment what his novels would read like if Dan Brown got his facts correct.

    His novels would still read as though written by a cheap hack, whose best friend is cliché.

  • Since when does any work of fiction have to have the "facts" straight? A good story is a good story and what the "facts" are is entirely irrelevant. You might as well say, "Jules Verne's From The Earth To The Moon would be more interesting if he got his facts straight." Sheesh! go buy an imagination.

  • The Da Vinci Code was fiction. Exactly what facts should the author of a work of fiction get straight?
    If the morons that read that particular book took it for truth that's their problem not the author's.

  • If the author is smart enough to write about 'a gifted computer security expert', why does the video of the tektrakys require a plugin from Microsoft?

  • Sounds like NUMB3RS for the big screen.
  • Even if Dan Brown were a scrupulous fact-checker, merely weaving in plot points to his collection of "facts", his books would still be complete and utter crap. I tried to get through one and couldn't make it past twenty pages. It was downright painful to read. The dialogue was horrible and the background text even worse.

    SirWired

  • On my Slashdot??

    ___
    * Religious topics are a subset of fantasy.

  • Speaking of "getting your facts right" ...

    Breaking RSA is something that is not expected for many decades

    Um, [citation needed] much? Seriously does anyone expect RSA to be broken in the next few decades?

    Certainly much longer key lengths will be brute-forceable in the next few decades, but that's a far cry from coming up with a polynomial time algorithm that breaks RSA.

  • He doesn't just make little mistakes. He makes such amazingly wrong claims that they are worth reading by themselves. And it doesn't matter what the subject is. He can screw up math, religion science or philosophy. The most directly relevant work for for this thread is Brown's Digital Fortress. My favorite part of that is the part where he clearly doesn't understand public key cryptography. He thinks that one needs to exchange a secret key to use public key cryptography. Of course, the whole point is that y

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