(Tor, $23.95, 223 pages, hardcover; published in March 2004.)
Internet activist, award-winning short-story writer, and self-proclaimed "renaissancegeek" Cory Doctorow has published his first two novels in the past year, the latest of which is Eastern Standard Tribe.
Both books (the first was Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) showcase the Canadian author's savvy speculations about the near future, but, as clever and intelligent as these books are, they also give the impression of being written too quickly and feel too superficial considering the quality of the ideas and talent at work here.
Eastern Standard Tribe is the better of the two novels. It's a fast-paced adventure about a "user-experience consultant", i.e, someone who helps companies figure out how consumers will use their products and how best to tailor these products accordingly. The first-person narrative voice is charmingly engaging, although the author tends to overuse his protagonist as a mouthpiece to gripe about his own pet peeves.
At the heart of the novel lies Doctorow's concept of "Tribes" (elaborated in an article for Wired that shared the same title as this novel). Tribes, according to Doctorow, are the new communities made possible by interactive online and wireless communications technologies.
His protagonist is an agent provocateur for the Eastern Standard Tribe, working undercover in London to further the cultural agenda of his Tribe. The story's impact is somewhat muted by the fact that Doctorow never satisfactorily conveys the culture that unites the Eastern Standard Tribe.
This is a fun read, especially because of the hilariously drawn characters and the density of intriguing throwaway ideas, but it's ultimately disappointing. The concept of the Tribes isn't articulated clearly enough (reprinting the Wired article as an introduction might have been useful), the protagonist's own ethical failings are left conveniently unexplored, and the conclusion is too rushed and too light.
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© Claude Lalumière 17 April 2004, 4 September 2004