The Dark Net, Encryption Keys, and Lethal Secrets: The Silence of Six by E. C. Myers

The Dark Net, Encryption Keys, and Lethal Secrets: The Silence of Six by E. C. Myers

The Silence of Six-smallThe Silence of Six
E. C. Myers
Adaptive Books (368 pages, November 5, 2014, $17.99 in hardcover)

When we meet Max Stein, he and his friends are attending a presidential debate hosted at their high school. This isn’t just any debate — the candidates are there to discuss education and internet regulations, both of which are topics of great concern to the youth of America. To highlight this, the moderator fields questions posted through Panjea, a popular social network. As the debate is about to begin, Max gets a text from an anonymous number: a passcode several digits long from a person who identifies himself as STOP.

Max instantly knows STOP’s identity: Evan Baxter, his best friend and fellow hacker. Moments later, Evan — wearing a hood and masking his voice — hacks into the debate’s live feed and posts a live video question: “What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?” Then, horribly, Evan kills himself with a gun on camera.

Max is devastated. While he and Evan had grown apart over the past several months — Max had left the hacking world behind to pursue soccer and girls and popularity — he still considers Evan his best friend. He knows Evan wouldn’t have committed such a heinous, irreversible act without a good reason; he also knows the passcode that Evan gave him is the key that will unlock everything.

With no one to trust and the Feds on his tail, Max goes on the run in search of what Evan knew. His discovery will change how the world views social media forever. That is, if he can make it public before he becomes the seventh person silenced…

I really enjoyed The Silence of Six. After learning the real-world equivalents of the fictional elements (Panjea = a Facebook/Twitter hybrid, Dramatis Personai = the hacktivist group Anonymous, etc), the story quickly swept me away. The plot is tight and moves quickly, but I never felt lost or confused. While intellectually I knew that the good guys would win and the bad guys would lose in the end, at several points during the story I was genuinely concerned for Max.

The setting is modern-day California, which helps get the reader immersed quickly — Myers doesn’t have to spend a lot of time world building and can instead move right into the action. There’s a lot of hacking culture here — the dark net, encryption keys, worms, and dead drops — and a lesser author would get bogged down in the details. Myers give us just enough to get us immersed in the world but not so much that we’re drowning in it.

The characters and their relationships are well-developed and realistic. During his investigation, Max meets two hackers named Penny and Risse, who also happen to be sisters. The relationships between all three are great — the sisters clearly love each other, and Risse and Max make a good team. The dominant relationship is between Max and Penny. They have to work together to finish what Evan started, but first they have to earn each other’s trust. Myers shows this progression well, and while it does add tension, this tension doesn’t get in the way of the story.

The Silence of Six stuck with me for several days, and not just because the clean prose and the tight plot made writer-me a bit jealous. Modern life dictates that you give up a certain amount of freedom in exchange for safety (boarding a plane) convenience (surfing the web or shopping online) or personal relationships (connecting on social media). The Silence of Six takes a deep dive into who has access to personal data and what could potentially be done with it.

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