Book Review – Skinner

9781409124375You’ve never read an espionage thriller like this before. It is complex and twisted and there are no easy answers. Huston challenges you as a reader, which I totally love, to not only keep up but also decipher what is happening both on the surface and below it. Taking a world of unmanned drones, wikileaks and social media Huston has constructed a complex and nuanced spy story that will blow your mind.

Skinner works for a company called Kestrel, a private offshoot, so to speak, of the CIA. His job is to protects assets and do whatever that takes. He has a fearsome reputation built on his own maxim where if someone tries to take, hurt or kill an asset in his protection he will seek revenge against anyone and everyone involved in the threat. But when his employer seemingly sets him up, he breaks from his maxim and goes to ground.

Seven years later a serious cyber attack has taken place on a power station in the US. Jae, a brilliant robotics expert and data analyst, is called in by Kestrel to find what Kestrel’s analysts have been unable to spot. She is a valuable asset and they need Skinner to protect her. Skinner is coaxed out of hiding but he can’t trust Kestrel and Kestrel can’t trust Skinner. Everyone knows what he is capable of, what they don’t know is what Skinner will actually do.

It took me a while to get into the book, to get my head around Kestrel and in particular Skinner, whose backstory is something that needs to be digested. But once the strands of the story started to form together the book just absorbs you. There is something manic to the writing, which is reflective of the book’s characters. It builds in sentences and then calms but there’s always the threat that it will all boil over. But once you get the rhythm, of the characters, you are in all the way.

Huston’s last book, Sleepless, elevated his writing to a new level, Skinner takes it even further. Huston is amongst the best when it comes to action but he builds those scenes around cutting-edge, thought-provoking storylines. In Skinner he taps into issues of poverty, anarchy, terror and despair. He explores the inhumanity of warfare, on the battlefield and behind closed doors, and the power of information in a socially networked world. It will reverberate inside your head for days after you finish reading it.

But the book here…

Scribe Publications to publish WikiLeaks expose

Scribe Publications is the first publisher to acquire English-language rights to Inside WikiLeaks: my time at the world’s most dangerous website by WikiLeaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

Scribe has arranged for the book to be translated from German into English, and expects to publish Inside WikiLeaks in Australia and New Zealand in April 2011. The book will be published first in Germany, by Ullstein, in early 2011.

The book will be a tell-all account of the operations of WikiLeaks from one of the organisation’s highest former figures.

Scribe publisher and founder Henry Rosenbloom said of this acquisition: ‘I’m thrilled that, as an independent Australian publishing house, we’ve become the first English-language publisher to acquire rights in Inside WikiLeaks — a book that is bound to arouse intense interest. I’m also very pleased to report that, as the lead publisher, we’ve been able to commission the translation from a very fine translator, UK-based Will Hobson, who is a contributing editor to Grantamagazine.’

About Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Even before his involvement with WikiLeaks, Domscheit-Berg was active in the online freedom-of-information scene. After meeting with Julian Assange in December 2007,  he started work on expanding the website. He resigned from his job at EDS in early 2009 in order to look after WikiLeaks full-time, and moved to Berlin to do so.

The German IT-specialist has now become the best-placed man in the world to provide an insight into the whistleblower project, to which he dedicated his life and for which he sacrificed all his savings, as WikiLeaks does not pay salaries. The break came in September 2010: Domscheit-Berg, who, under the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt, had until then been, alongside Assange, the face of the organisation, fell out with the founder and left.

Today, Domscheit-Berg is working together with others who have left the original to launch Openleaks, with the aim of building a better WikiLeaks that will avoid what they see as the old project’s mistakes. The Age reports today that Daniel Domscheit-Berg plans to launch his rival site this Monday: http://www.theage.com.au/technology/technology-news/anger-at-slave-trader-assange-wikileaks-loyalists-decide-to-break-away-20101210-18s0w.html

To read about why Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg fell out: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/09/wikileaks-revolt/

The Leak That Launched a Thousand Political Memoirs

News surfaced today of a cache of over a quarter million confidential US diplomatic cables between embassies and consulates and the US State Department. The leak has been released to news organisations and has been made available to the public via the website WikiLeaks, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to releasing confidential documents that may have relevance to public debate. You can read an initial breakdown of the latest and greatest leak on the New York Times website.

The leak, the scale of which is unprecedented, cements WikiLeaks as an institution on the web and as an important tool for journalists the world over. It also raises the stakes for the organisation, as the leaks look to be quite embarrassing for the United States. But although WikiLeaks itself may eventually be destroyed by outside forces, lack of funding or its sheer infamy, it is representative of what the open web means for modern publishing.

The instantaneous availability of confidential source material to anyone with an internet connection is something the publishing industry is really only beginning to respond to. The existence of WikiLeaks (or any organisation like it) is further motivation for publishers to move faster and simultaneously provide deeper and more comprehensive analysis in order to justify the longer schedules involved in putting a full-length book together based on this kind of information.

The other big issue the open web raises for publishers is accountability. Traditionally, publishers rely on authors to do the due diligence in terms of fact checking in non-fiction. Although potentially contentious books are checked by lawyers, and editors certainly do a certain amount of fact checking, the buck generally stops with the author. As readers find it increasingly easy to check facts themselves on the web, it will become more important for this most basic level of quality assurance to take place before publication.

Quite aside from any of these points, there’s something essentially unromantic and lacking in smell-of-bookishness that turns me off WikiLeaks. Although the Watergate scandal would still have happened without All the President’s Men, there is something a bit depressing about Deep Throat uploading his information to WikiLeak’s online drop box.

My question for you all today is this: what do you look for in book-length journalism? Do you want a narrative? Do you want a big-name journalist attached? Does the story just have to be so huge it justifies the length and price? What draws you to reading journalism of this size? Or is the art of book-length journalism dead? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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