THRILLER writer John M Green spent months consulting experts on cyberterrorism from around the world as part of research for his new book, The Trusted.
“I managed to find experts in Australia, Britain, America, Europe and Asia, including hackers, software designers, nuclear engineers, geneticists, risk experts, finance and security people,” says the author on the eve of the book’s launch in Sydney this week.
“Not all wanted to help and some insisted on remaining anonymous; a couple said I could only use their initials.
“When I started writing this book, cyberterrorism was not such a big issue, but now there are articles in the media every day about it.”
The Trusted is Green’s third novel, following the bestselling financial mystery Nowhere Man and the international political thriller Born to Run.
It also introduces readers to Dr Tori Swyft, an attractive, Australian, part-Jewish James Bond-style heroine.
In The Trusted, an eco-terrorist group wants to save the world by stopping the planet’s resource-hungry economy. Members of the group meet at university and lay low for 10 years as they climb to the top levels of business and government.
As sleepers in high positions, they are in a powerful position to implement their plans.
“I’d been toying with the characters for a couple of years and then spent a year of research and plot development before putting pen to paper,” explains Green, who started writing The Trusted in January 2012.
“I thought about current issues that people feel passionate about, such as environmental issues and climate change, and started imagining what a group of brilliant PhD graduates who were radical environmentalists might do.
“I was thinking about the Cambridge Five, who were recruited at university as Soviet KGB spies and infiltrated the highest echelons of the British intelligence services during the Cold War. They were very smart people from the British establishment who looked like us – but they were Soviet spies.
“So I have my PhDs meet at an Australian university 10 years ago under the thrall of a charismatic, radical environmentalist professor and they agree to work their way into high positions of influence to be in a position to smash the global economy, which they see is plundering the planet.”
Green says there is a message in the novel for the real world as well as a wake-up call for government and industry – that most countries are not ready against a cyber attack and have to learn quickly.
“I’ve written the book as a gripping and entertaining thriller and also as a red flag to people everywhere that they need to think about the people they trust.”
Green says that security agencies around the world are still fighting the last war. “They’re profiling terrorists as people who don’t look like ‘us’. But the next generation of terrorists won’t just look like us, they will be us. We need to put strategies in place to anticipate them.”
When Green wrote his first book Nowhere Man, which was set around a global financial crisis, he had to keep reworking it as the real GFC hit.
“Reality kept impeaching on the story,” he says. “My approach to fiction writing is to look at a significant issue and ask myself a big question about it.
“If you put your head in that space and imagine things, it is not ridiculous that sometimes they will eventuate. And we see that more often with fiction.
“In The Trusted I pose the question about environmentalists who go too far and resort to cyber terror – when saving the planet requires them to destroy it – and wonder whether it would be possible.
“When I spoke to the experts, I would put myself in the shoes of people who wanted to misuse the technology to do great harm and asked them how to go about it.
“Most of us assume that those around us are trustworthy like we are and will not misuse the power, but if you are really smart, the modern tools of technology, added together with globalisation, give you enormous power to wreak havoc around the world. That was scary.
“I titled the book The Trusted because while we can’t exist without trusting people, we can’t trust them absolutely.”
Green, a former lawyer and banker, has one foot in the arts world as a novelist and one foot in the business world with his own book publishing business, Pantera Press, and as a director on the boards of public companies.
“I like to write early in the morning when there are no interruptions, so I get up around 4am,” he says. “When I worked as an investment banker I would get up really early and prepare for the day, but towards the end of my time as an executive I found that what was getting me up early was my writing, so I gave up my day job. I love writing.”
Green says that Pantera Press, which he runs with his daughter Alison, releases all books in both the print and electronic versions simultaneously.
“Our attitude is that the readers should decide how they want to read a book. We are interested in people reading stories and we just have to adapt to the economics of this form of publishing,” he says.
“Our mission is to create the next generation of Australia’s best-loved authors.”
The Trusted is published by Pantera Press. $24.99.
REPORT by Danny Gocs
PHOTO of John Green. Photo: Sasha Woolley/Fairfax Syndications