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PopCo Paperback – October 3, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The code-breaking and -making heroine of Thomas's latest smart, engaging novel (after Going Out) takes a critical view of the corporate marketing of cool, an exploit she knows from inside the rapaciously hip boardrooms of the titular British toy company, the third largest in the world. Twenty-nine-year-old Alice Butler has parlayed her expertise in "crosswords, cryptography, and cryptanalysis";talents she gained from her mathematically inclined grandparents;into a job at PopCo's Ideation and Design department, where she creates sleuthing kits for kids (KidSpy, KidTec and KidCracker). At a companywide countryside retreat (aka "Thought Camp"), the CEO selects Alice to help invent a product that will spark a craze for teenage girls. While Alice looks into her past for insight to this inadequately tapped market;and for clues to her own identity;she also ponders a locket from her grandfather that may contain the code to a centuries-old puzzle. As Alice works on PopCo's blockbuster product and decodes the ancient brainteaser, as well as encrypted messages from an anonymous PopCo colleague, she becomes increasingly disenchanted with her employer's ubiquitous branding, advertising and exploitation of young consumers. Thomas delivers a captivating heroine and a pointed cultural critique that will especially resonate with the No Logo crowd. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Mathematical puzzles. Mind-bending codes. A secret manuscript. And a cake recipe, too. Thomas' latest (after 2004's Going Out) has a chronic case of attention deficit disorder. As the novel opens, Brit Alice Butler is en route to a retreat sponsored by her employer, PopCo, a cutting-edge--and slightly creepy--toy company. (Alice takes the midnight train to avoid colleagues--and human contact in general--an early indication that she is a little off-kilter.) It's no wonder Alice considers herself an outsider; her father disappeared when she was nine, leaving her in the care of her grandparents, two quirky cryptanalysts privy to the whereabouts of a centuries-old buried treasure. Meanwhile, at the company conference, Alice and her colleagues are charged with developing the ultimate product for the teen-girl market. Alice is soon distracted from the task by mysterious encoded messages slipped under her door. Will deciphering them shape her future, or perhaps shed light on the past? Although Thomas' premise is clever, her digressions into esoteric topics (Godel, anyone?) are likely to leave readers more exhausted than amused. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015603137X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031370
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #916,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her other novels include Bright Young Things, Going Out, PopCo and The End of Mr.Y, which was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. She teaches creative writing at the University of Kent.

Customer Reviews

This book inspires me each time I read it.
D. E. Neves
Such a pity for a book with such initial promise to end up like this!
David J. Ree
The prose is eloquent and her characters fully developed.
"switterbug" Betsey Van Horn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By HollyG on November 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
One of the most interesting and intelligent books I've read in a long time, PopCo ties together its spiky protagonist Alice Butler's childhood as a junior cryptanalyst with her current job developing products for a massive toy conglomerate. As she wrestles with her latest corporate challenge--how to market toys to teenage girls--she reflects on the nature of codes, cryptanalysis, cryptography, buried treasure, the ethics of marketing, and veganism.

This is definitely one of those books where you either read it and think it's an utter waste of time and mildly seditious, or you really wish the author was a friend of yours and you could call her up just to chat (to paraphrase Salinger).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Hock on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Popco is an intriguing and intelligent novel that manages to present a smart, interesting and likeable heroine, several engaging plot lines, thought-provoking themes, and powerful writing. If you want a fast-paced action adventure story with lots of movement and dialogue, this isn't it. Instead, this story explores fascinating topics well and with depth, while keeping several mysteries humming along. Cryptology, the hierarchies of teen girls, marketing, virtual worlds, math, religion... this story touches on all of these topics and many more, but without being boring or trite. This novel is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to think about what they're reading.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David J. Ree on April 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a book with so much promise. The central character, Alice, is intriguing and the characters who surround her, particularly her grandparents, are real and likeable. The author keeps several plotlines on the boil at once, and all of them get you in: now-Alice as she struggles through a work conference in rural England, then-Alice as a child growing up in her grandparents' household with a growing interest in codes and cryptography and a mystery where someone at work is sending Alice encoded messages. Scarlett Thomas really gets you in and hooks you into the story, while doing a great job explaining code concepts, as good as Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon.

Unfortunately about two thirds of the way through the novel everything Thomas has built up started to just run out of steam. Alice starts having various crises of confidence both in the contemporary storyline and in her flashbacks and it all just starts to get a bit tedious.

For me, Thomas fails to bring any of the various storylines she has developed to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Most limp to a whimpering conclusion. A couple actually peter out altogether. The main "mystery" that's run throughout the book is a complete disappointment, with the denouement being a large dose of ill-thought out "let's all just only ever buy organic products and oppose globalisation" speechifying. I found myself reading the wooly-headed hugfest ending and exclaiming out loud "oh, please".

Such a pity for a book with such initial promise to end up like this!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is an amalgam of many many stories: a young girl's growing up following abandonement by her father (and living with grandparents); growing up as an adoclescent and dealing with problems of fitting in or not fitting in and what that all means; interpersonal relationships as a twenty-something; the creative approach to problem-solving for a toy company; a "down with corporations" group of guerrillas; codes; mathematical theory; homeopathic medicine; have I left anything out?

And, some of these are more successful than others. For instance, the young girl/adolescent passages are very well written and moving and heartfelt. But, the math seems to be ladled on for reasons that stop the story cold, although I did like the dissertations. But I felt that I had to re-start the story at the end.

It's a fine book, one that I truly enjoyed. But, the parts don't really add up and the end of the book comes with a whimper.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Scott C. Daniel on February 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a four-star book with a one-star ending. I read this for a book club and was enjoying the story, the characters, and the milieu when the book took a dramatic right turn and fell off a cliff. The first four hundred pages were worth reading (a little editing of the parts about the trials of adolescent girls would have been nice), but the last hundred pages sucked.

All of us in my book club pretty much concurred.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on October 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
PopCo brilliantly combines a fun, smart, quirky, yet realistic heroine; mathematical and cryptographical history; a tale of ominous modern marketing ploys that seems to be alarmingly accurate; and even a treasure hunt! Alice, the heroine, is surprisingly easy to warm up to, despite (or because of?) her odd and somewhat paranoid personality. The path that the book takes to the end, in which the reader gets to experience with Alice the awakenings that she has throughout the book, makes the conclusion, which may seem a little too canned otherwise, seem appropriate and not cheesy. The characters are fun to experience, because while they're all clearly hipper than average, they balance it out with a fair bit of geekiness.

The best part of the book is that it's delivering a great message, although it's the kind of message with which a lot of readers will already be on board. To those readers, the appeal of the book (besides the captivating story, interesting subplots, and varied characters), is that in the process of delivering its message, it will make you feel like you're not alone. In the modern world of corporate branding, aggressive, sinister marketing, and massive consumerism, it can often feel as though no one else recognizes the evil effects these have on both society as a whole and on individuals. The book makes it apparent that there are many people who care about these issues, both in Scarlett Thomas' fictional world, and, by extension, in the real world as well.
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