Cover image of "Grandfather Anonymous," a dystopian techno-thriller

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Most genre fiction is formulaic. Mysteries may be detective stories, police procedurals, cozy mysteries, and so forth. Romance novels fall into categories of their own. And science fiction encompasses space travel, dystopia, First Contact, military science fiction, time travel, space opera, and a handful of other sub-genres. So, it’s unusual to come across a sci-fi novel that doesn’t easily fit within a single one or two of these groups. But Anthony Eichenlaub’s Grandfather Anonymous qualifies as unusual, indeed. It’s marketed as a techno-thriller, and that label works. But it’s a dystopian techno-thriller with a military science fiction theme in what literary critics call a “coming-of-age” story and a family drama. And it succeeds on all these levels.

A life of endless complications for “Grandfather Anonymous”

Ajay Andersen is seventy, quite old enough to be a grandfather, but he has no grandchildren. Or so he believes until two girls turn up on his doorstep, one fourteen, the other ten. They’re the children of his daughter Sashi, who ran away from home as a teenager nearly twenty years ago. Isabelle and her little sister, Kylie, arrive with their mother. And Ajay’s life, which is already complicated in the extreme, becomes even more challenging.

To say that Ajay is retired is a stretch. In fact, ten years ago he ditched his job as a cyberspy at the National Security Agency. He had been the NSA’s most gifted hacker. There, “he sank corporations and toppled governments.” Then, in one glorious hack, he had used one of the agency’s advanced quantum computers to unlock all the agency’s secrets, making data encryption obsolete and ushering in the Age of Honesty. And during the ten years since he has been on the run, obscuring his identity and his whereabouts with a clever bit of code. It changes his identity every night at midnight without changing his name. “It was always his birthday. Every day.” But those chickens may now be coming home to roost, because Sashi and the girls are attracting unwelcome attention. Lots of it.

Grandfather Anonymous (Old Code #1 of 5) by Anthony W. Eichenlaub (2020) 402 pages ★★★★☆

Diagram of brain implants unlike the software enhancements in this dystopian techno-thriller
Scientists speak today about brain implants as a means to address physical infirmities or enhance our mental powers. But implants are hardware. What if the same goals could be met through genetic engineering and software? Image: Imperial College London – CNN

Ajay Andersen’s world

It’s the year 2045. There is no privacy anywhere. None. Cameras are embedded everywhere, and surveillance drones crowd the skies. (“If you can see the sky, the sky can see you.”) By having access to information about almost everybody, everywhere, all the time, the United States Government maintains a level of totalitarian control over the country that Heinrich Himmler and Lavrentiy Beria could never even have dreamed of. Ajay Andersen is a rare outlier, capable of escaping notice like few others.

The “highly illegal and somewhat stolen diamond-optical quantum computer”—a fist-sized black box—he filched from the NSA gives him the means to enfold himself in anonymity. (“Quantum computing outside of the [Federal government] was almost unheard of and heavily regulated.”) It also enables him to manipulate just about anything electronic within his reach. But, no matter how much protection he has, if the people tracking Sashi stumble across him as well, life as Ajay knows it may be coming to an end.

About the author

Head shot of Anthony W. Eichenlaub, author of this dystopian techno-thriller
Anthony W. Eichenlaub. Image: Facebook

Anthony W. Eichenlaub‘s uninformative bio on his author website reads in part: “Anthony W. Eichenlaub is the author of a wide range of science fiction and fantasy. His novels are a hodgepodge of cyberpunk westerns, space opera, and pulse pounding technothrillers. He loves words like ‘hodgepodge’. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Little Blue Marble, and On-Spec Magazine. He’s a native of southern Minnesota.”

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