Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Review of Andrew Updegrove's The Alexandria Project

Let's take a journey to Alexandria.  Not Alexandria, Egypt.  Not Alexandria, Virginia.  But a library.

A library you say?  Well yes - there once was a library known worldwide to be the largest repository of knowledge in the ancient world.  But we're not going back in time to witness the conflagration that stole away those vast secrets.  We're talking the present-day Library of Congress - and the resultant threat of doom and destruction.  Join me in reviewing Andrew Updegrove's The Alexandria Project - A Tale of Treachery and Technology.

Book Blurb:
As America’s major institutions grind to a halt, crippled by unending cyber attacks, an eerie virtual calling card is invariably left behind: “Thank you for your contribution to the Alexandria Project.” 

Frank Adversego, a brilliant cyber security expert whose career and reputation are in tatters, stumbles onto the attack.  Suspected by the FBI and CIA and under pressure from the attackers, he is the only one who can trace the Alexandria Project back to its source to defeat it and clear his name.

In the wake of ongoing revelations about the NSA, Target and other cyber security breaches, Andrew Updegrove’s novel vividly portrays our frightening vulnerability to cyberattack, and encourages readers to think about just where the Internet is leading us.  The thrilling twists of this fast-paced, satirical tale of cyber sleuthing and nuclear brinksmanship will leave readers wanting more (happily, a sequel is on the way).

My Review:
The novel opens with an eerie moment where an unknown virtual entity slips in the backdoor of our largest and most secure (we thought) server warehouse.  The U.S. is under cyber attack - and we're clueless to the threat.

Through a purely happenstance moment Frank Adversego, a master cyber-sensation with the Library of Congress IT department, pulls up a file only to receive a message about contributing his file to the 'Alexandria Project'.  The file disintegrates and disappears into the ether.  There's nothing on back-up after back-up as Frank digs through the system all the way to the wall to find it is gone forever - as if it had never existed.  When that and more unintended deletions come to light, Frank is immediately suspect number uno.  But the revelations have only begun.

Frank may be the most brilliant technological mind around, but his personal life is a shambles.  Once harboring an enormous chip on his shoulder, Frank is unable to connect with the greater humanity around him.  Couple that with an inability to focus on a task to completion and events take this once promising individual - a McArthur Foundation 'Genius' Award recipient - down from dizzying heights to barely getting by.  As a boy, his own father left without warning, never to contact Frank again.  As a man, his wife left and took his only daughter with her.  The well-paying jobs have dissipated until he's destitute.  Out of desperation to remain a part of his daughter's life, Frank accepts token employment given him by his daughter's godfather.  Seeking something greater than his own pleasure, Frank sticks with the job for ten years and worms his way back into his daughter's life.

He's never needed either as much as he needs them now.

With the CIA and FBI out to make him the scapegoat, Frank goes into hiding deep in the Nevada desert until he can sort out the truth behind the REAL purpose of the attacks.  Along the way, Frank learns more than he ever bargained for.

There were several exciting moments in The Alexandria Project, but the story overall fell rather flat for me.  There wasn't anything new here and everything was rather anticipated.  Maybe I've read too many cyber-attack conspiracy stories of late, but I was able to pretty much determine from the first chapter who the actual bad individual was and where the story ultimately would go.  There was a touching reveal while Frank was hiding out in Nevada, but this too was really no surprise.

The characters had their moments, but for the most part they felt very one-dimensional.  The venture capitalist guru was rather a caricature that reminded me of the very worst televangelist times ten.  Believe me - having been in the banking and political sphere myself for over twenty years, I've experienced pretty slimy individuals and questionable actions.  However, this seemed more over-the-top and less grounded in reality to the point that instead of being mad I found myself chuckling.  I wanted to connect with the characters, but there was so little to relate to.

There was an awful lot of telling rather than showing.  I would rather have experienced the moments alongside the characters while the action was transpiring instead of having one character recite it to another character after the fact.  I wanted the immediacy to make my heart pound, my hands grip my Kindle tighter, and keep me turning screen after screen to find out what happens next.  Those moments were fleeting, mainly coming toward the beginning and at the very end.
The beginning was pretty clean of grammar and formatting errors, but as I worked my way through the story, more issues came to light.  Extra words, duplicate words, and missing words and quote marks (some backward) were the biggest issues with grammar and punctuation.  Formatting consisted of changes in font size and a few hard returns in the midst of a paragraph or dialogue.  Minor irritations, but another run-through with a set of editing eyes would be good here.

As a reader, I may not know all of the in's and out's of a particular subject, but it is the plot and pace of the story that keeps me reading.  As a writer, I trust that readers are knowledgeable enough to have a general grasp of subject matters I may employ in my stories so as not to spend time over-explaining what I am trying to convey to the audience (or as I like to call it, info-dumping). Throughout The Alexandria Project there were hyperlinks to particular words to take the reader out of the story and to an outside source to read about that particular topic - so much so that this became extremely distracting at times.  There were sections where so much detail was employed it felt like author intrusion.  I had to force myself to continue reading through these sections instead of skipping them, and it slowed the pace to a drag at times.

Overall, I think The Alexandria Project  has promise and is an interesting enough story to garner reader attention.  Be aware also that there is a very strong political bent that may turn some readers off, but if you're able to suspend your personal viewpoints in this regard it will be easy for you to overlook.  I give this one three stars.

Author Bio:
Andrew Updegrove, an attorney, has been representing entrepreneurs, technology companies and venture capitalists for more than thirty years. He also represents many of the organizations that develop, support and apply the standards upon which cybersecurity is based, and is actively involved in dealing with cybersecurity attacks as they happen. A graduate of Yale University and the Cornell University Law School, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.  Visit his website at


  1. Thanks very much for the thoughtful review and the thorough plot summary, and for the reasonable criticisms.

    I'm chagrined that you didn't receive a cleaner copy of my book for review. I had originally hired a professional proofreader for the original files with very disappointing results. I later completely reviewed and corrected all of the issues that the proofreader had missed and was in the process of submitting a new file to my publisher, a copy of which was supposed to have been provided to you. Instead, it sounds like the person I was working with ran a PDF of the original files through an online converter to provide the requested Mobi file, introducing even more errors into the file.

    Although there may be a few printed copies still somewhere in the system, they should be gone soon (the new, edited versions have a 2014 copyright and a second printing reference), and the new versions, I think, should stand up very well to a critical eye.

    As it happens, I had also decided to delete the links to outside sources from the new files (for the same reason you give - they were more distracting than useful), and also deleted most of the snarky political asides, because (again) they added little, but might annoy someone who might otherwise be enjoying the book.

    Besides making a few parts clearer, I did not, however, trim back the explanations. You're perfectly right that it makes for a more detailed read than a normal thriller would be, and slows the pace accordingly. On the other hand, they hopefully make the text more understandable for a lay reader. I don't know what the perfect answer is here.

    Thanks again for the forthright review, and for the useful criticism - both are appreciated.


    1. Thanks for the update, Andy! Sorry to hear I didn't get the re-edited edition, but there were still interesting components. As I always say, the author writes what they wish to convey first and foremost - reviews are completely subjective. :-) Thanks for letting me have an opportunity to read your work.