Putting the IT in Bloq
Thanks, Peggy, for having me stop over at Peggy Ann’s Post on my Blog tour to launch my latest gritty crime story, Bloq.
You suggested that it would be good to have a chat about the IT (Information Technology) in the book. It’s sometimes hard as a writer to know how much science and technology you can put in a book without being boring or patronising on one hand or making the book hard to understand on the other.
If you take a book like The Martian, which has been incredibly successful for its author, Andy Weir, you’ll realise that it’s almost entirely science based, and nearly every aspect of the book hinges on one scientific principle or another. The very clever thing about The Martian is that all the scientific stuff makes sense. As a reader, you can completely believe that if a mission to go to Mars happened today, everything he’s written about could happen, without resorting to new imaginary technologies like warp drives or stretching existing ones beyond credibility. I’m picky about my science fiction. I like speculative stuff like The Martian where the storyline has a strong grounding in reality and I absolutely loved the book, but probably would anyway; I’m a bit of a science geek at heart.
I’ve talked to people who’ve read it who aren’t technology fans, and many of them liked the book; just maybe not to the extent that I did. A few say that some of the science went over their heads. Fair enough, but it’s easy enough to look up something you really don’t understand on the Internet.
The big problem with science and technology for a writer is allowing for the reader’s level of knowledge. If you assume that the reader has no knowledge at all about computers, and explain every single IT detail, the book can very quickly become tedious for the average reader who has a working knowledge of computers.
Most of the IT content in Bloq surrounds networks, the unseen cables and equipment that let computers talk to each other, within an organisation and to the outside world. The internet is just an example of an incredibly large network, and most people use it every day without knowing how it works.
All of the technology stuff used in Bloq exists today, it’s easily obtainable and it’s also reasonably straightforward for the average person, albeit one with slight geeky tendencies, to set up and use. There should be nowhere in the book where the reader should feel there is too much of a stretch of the imagination when a character uses technology to access data or manipulate a computer system from a distance.
Nearly everyone will have heard about hacking, where people, often criminals, gain illegal access to a computer network to either steal information or disrupt the smooth running of the system. We’ve all been the victim of a computer virus at one point or another, even if it’s just one that causes ’pop-ups’ to irritate us by appearing constantly on the screen and refusing to go away.
But there are many legitimate ways used in the computer world to access networks. Each and every one of us uses a router to access the vast network of the Internet, but it’s also possible to set up a gateway on your router to allow a computer elsewhere to connect up to the devices within the local network at your home or office, as if it was in the building. This is called a Virtual Private Network, or VPN for short. To set one up, you need to access the router via a password from within the network and, before any computer can connect from the outside world, it needs to be verified by password and username, so it is normally a secure way of letting a access your network.
Most commercial networks use a central store for all their data, called a server. It means that all the computers on the network have equal access to the information, all the files are in one place and it’s easy to control and make backups. Even many home networks now use a network storage drive, especially if they stream music or video to devices around the home.
While having access to a network using a VPN is useful, allowing you access to any data stored on any of the machines on the network, including the server, it doesn’t allow you to run the programs or apps used by those computers, or other devices. For that, you need to use a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) program, which allows you to take over one computer from another, as if you were sitting in front of it. Again, you need to set up access on both computers so it is usually a secure way of handing control of a computer over to another one somewhere in the building, or outside.
It’s very often used by IT support teams, who might be hundreds of miles away but they can take control of your computer and sort out any issues as if they’d jumped in a car and travelled to your location to physically sit in front of your screen.
It’s all clever stuff and, the good thing is, once it’s set up, it’s pretty transparent, so just as you don’t have to do anything when you want to connect to the Internet, except click on your browser, it’s the same with a VPN or an RDP program. One click and you’re on!
These two technologies, VPN and RDP, are the main IT concepts I’ve used in Bloq.
As everybody has different levels of knowledge about computers and how they connect together, I’ve tried to explain the technology in Bloq as the story unfolds, but I’ve assumed a basic working knowledge of computers for the reader. Just in case anyone doesn’t understand a term or principles involved, I’ve supplied a glossary at the end of the book, and online at
As a final aside, this post was written on an iPad at home using an RDP program over a VPN to access Microsoft Word running on one of the computers in the office. Sad, but that’s a geek’s version of grandstanding.
Thanks for stopping by and explaining all that to us, Alan!
There are two more stops on Alan’s Blog Tour for Bloq. Stop over and check out what he’s up to there…