Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short, fast and frothy read for netheads, 25 July 2010
This review is from: Eastern Standard Tribe (Paperback)
Cory Doctorow is a celebrated inhabitant of the blogosphere and an authority on intellectual copyright. This is his second novel.

The book's protagonist is a member of an elective community: the Eastern Standard Tribe. Several such communities exist in Doctorow's near future, each cohering around a timezone which dictates a life-schedule to its geographically dispersed members. Each group pursues an agenda, and so each of its members tends to live parallel lives: a straight life as, say, a management consultant, and a covert life as a member of his Tribe. This leads to complications familiar from spy thrillers and the world of industrial espionage. One such complication, centring around the protagonist's ideas for a novel file-sharing technology, generates the plot of the novel.

This makes the book sound quite weighty, and I don't doubt Doctorow's serious interest in the underlying issues. But Eastern Standard Tribe is a short (242 pages, not 432) rapid, almost weightless read - perhaps a good choice for a plane or train journey. I found the plot unlikely and the characterisation thin, but the author's enthusiasm generates sufficient forward momentum.

Doctorow's ideas seem to me to suffer from the typical faults of techie authors: in particular, a groundless optimism concerning the power of technology to improve our lives and solve the major problems we now face. The idea of elective communities based on shared attitudes, interests and styles is a seductive one, but Doctorow doesn't seem to notice that such communities already exist: they're called corporate multinationals and non-state actors, and their influence has been anything but unreservedly benign. He also seems not to notice the parallels between his online communities and nepotistic, undemocratic mutual aid organisations such as the freemasons.

As a result, the novel suffers from a lack of balance. Because there are no real threats - the protagonist's incarceration in a mental hospital notwithstanding - there isn't a sense of much being at stake, so it's hard to care deeply whether our hero succeeds or fails. Although I like speculative fiction, this is the first Doctorow I've read: painless enough, but I can't say it fills me with enthusiasm to read more.
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