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Australian Cyberthriller 'Amnesia' Echoes Julian Assange Story

Peter Carey's new novel, Amnesia, opens just as a computer virus is unlocking the cells of Australian prisons from Alice Springs to Woomera. And because those computer systems were designed by an American company, the virus also worms its way into thousands of U.S. prisons, from dusty towns in Texas to dusty towns in Afghanistan. Around the world, security monitors flash with this message: "The corporation is under our control. The Angel declares you free."

Carey won the Booker Prize twice for his novels Oscar and Lucinda and the True History of the Kelly Gang. He tells NPR's Scott Simon about how WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inspired Amnesia and how his characters navigate a world where anything can be hacked.

Interview Highlights

On Gaby, the "Angel" who made the virus

She's a mere child, from my perspective. ... She's probably about 30. She's a political activist. She's a hacker. She is at war with corporations and the state in all sorts of ways. She happens to also be the child of '60s-era sort of social democrat idealist activists. And a lot about this story is about generational disappointment in the performance of one's elders, or her elders.

On the real-life Australian who inspired the character of Gaby — Julian Assange

Julian Assange really was the reason I started writing the book, but I didn't want to write about Assange. ... I live in New York and I've lived here for 25 years, and the thing that really struck me was it didn't seem to occur to anyone that he was Australian. Because, of course, if he was Australian then he couldn't be a traitor, could he? But he was a traitor. So no one was really thinking that he was from another country.

And because I am from Australia, I felt I knew his accent. I felt I knew a lot about his history. I read a little bit about his mother, who had clearly been a supporter of the 1975 Whitlam government, which was later deposed by the CIA. So I had all sorts of feelings about somebody like that.

On Felix Moore, a veteran journalist who sets out to tell Gaby's story, using a typewriter

Well, if you use a typewriter you really can't be hacked. And so that's about as off-line you can possibly get. You then have the problem afterwards about how are you going to get the words that you typed to somebody else without emailing them. Well, we know how we used to do that.

So Felix is back using the sort of technology that he started with. And you know Gaby's friends drive an old model truck that doesn't have an onboard computer because we know that an outsider can take control of a motorcar and crash it and accelerate it and turn it over if they want to. So I think it's terribly porous. We're all very vulnerable.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff